Monday Motivator: Brighter Not Darker

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote
Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

‘There is a bit of an issue with semantics afoot: when many people say they want to mix a “darker” color, they in fact mean more intense, brighter, higher chroma, etc. Black is dark, but a lighter shade of black is grey. Mixing in black to darken a color will make it more grey. If your object is to tint your color or knock down the chroma, then black is a perfect choice. However, if you wish to maintain chroma while darkening a color, choose a pigment with a similar hue but a wide value range to do the trick’

Jess Greenleaf, “Understanding Value Range for Watercolours

The rule of not using black in a painting, blamed on the Impressionists, ought to have an accompanying rule of not automatically reaching for white to lighten a colour. It’s somehow easier to get to grips with black dulling a colour than realising white does the same. I think it’s because when we’re thinking of a colour we’re got three things simultaneously: the hue (the colour of a colour), chroma (its intensity or saturation) and value (or tone, how light or dark).

It’s simple to lighten the tone of a colour by adding white, and to darken it by adding black, and this is where we generally start. Forgotten is that we’re simultaneously reducing the chroma, or intensity of the colour. It’s perhaps easiest to demonstrate with red. Add titanium white, and you head into pinks, getting lighter and lighter as you add more white. Add yellow, and you head into orange-reds rather than paler reds. And this “not white first” is where colour mixing becomes more complex and interesting discoveries lie.

Photos: My “Expressive Skye” Painting Workshop at Higham Hall

My workshops at Higham Hall (near Cockermouth in the Lake District in northwest England) run from the evening meal on the first day to breakfast on the last, with four full days for painting inbetween. Higham Hall is a characterful, historic building on top of a hill, with gardens stretching to either side.

My workshops are held in the studio off the back courtyard, what was once the stables. Here’s a short video of the studio, when I’d set up my painting space and shop but before any workshop participants arrived, to give you an idea of the space. (The plans Higham have to make the studio fully accessible were unfortunately set back by the pandemic lockdown, which saw the funds for this used to keep things going, so it’ll be a few more years before the studio’s step free.)

(If you don’t see the video above, click here to see it on my Vimeo channel)

The first evening session in the studio is getting settled in, doing a little painting, and a chance for me to talk to everyone individually. The days that follow are a combination of exercises on expressive techniques and colour mixing, plus plenty of time to work on your own paintings with my help and to enjoy what everyone else is painting. The studio becomes alive with creative energy and all sorts of paintings emerge.

I did a demo one evening, showing how I’d paint if I started with a coloured ground (rather than white of the canvas) and how much things can change whilst I paint if I follow an impulse (in this instance, moving from stormy sky to sunnier weather). Acrylics on A2-size watercolour paper. This is what the painting looked like at the end of the demo, with the orange still very visible beneath the sea:

And this is what it looked like at the end of the workshop after I’d painted on it some more:

For the dates of my forthcoming workshops at Higham Hall, see my Art Workshops page. You can ask Higham to be put on the list for a forthcoming workshop if it’s not yet open to bookings, which will put you amongst the first to be notified when bookings do start. If you’ve any questions, get in touch.

Photos: My “Expressive Skye” Painting Workshop at Higham Hall

Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans

My thanks to all participants in my workshop at Higham Hall for your enthusiasm and to everyone at Higham for all you do to make it happen in such a special venue. I thoroughly enjoyed the week, and look forward to next time.

The week started and ended with blue sky, with beautiful sunrises, hail, storm winds, and snow inbetween. Felt just like Skye!

Higham Hall in the Sunshine
Higham Hall sunrise
Sunrise, taken in front of the hall.
Higham hall in the snow
Standing in about the same spot as where I took the photo above, looking in the opposite direction, on the morning it had snowed.
Higham Hall in the snow
The bedrooms at Higham are on the second floor of the building.
The studio (left) is in the old stables at the back that form a courtyard with the three wings of the hall.

It’s up to tutors to decide how to use the space. I like to set the studio up with an area with tables where we work together as a group on specific activities I set, and then use the three alcoves as areas where people work alone if they wish. All those hours playing Tetris came in useful to fit in 10 of the high-adjustable tables so everyone could have one to themselves.

Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
Spot the Creative Skye booklets!
Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
From left to right: Acrylic on canvas board, pastel on dark blue pastel paper and watercolour, by B. Acrylic on paper by J. My acrylic on paper version, one of the example paintings I brought with me to the workshop.
Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
A limited colour watercolour and ink interpretation of one of the photos in my photo reference books (buy online).
Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
Exploring working in layers, from loose and expressive to detail, with my photo of daisies as the starting-point.
Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
One of the mornings is spent exploring colour mixing, creating “interesting greys”
Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
Painting using “interesting greys” inspired by my reference photo of seaweed and rocks at Camus Mor.
Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
Painting inspired by a reference photo of rapids in the river at Sligachan, using “interesting greys” and “strong, varied darks”. On A2 size watercolour paper.
Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
Workshop at Higham Hall by Marion Boddy-Evans
My Thursday evening demo painting.
The demo painting before it rained and the sheep arrived.

Emotional Vampires and Imposter Syndrome (art workshop conversation topics)

Many things come up during a multi-day workshop, and last week’s at Higham Hall was no exception. It’s part of the fun. That said, though I could possibly have anticipated imposter syndrome being discussed, I certainly didn’t anticipate emotional vampires.

Imposter syndrome is that nagging voice of doubt that someone is going to expose you as not being a “real artist”, to point a finger and declare that you clearly don’t know what you’re doing and you should stop pretending that you do.  (Quite who that someone might be is never clear.)Thing is, it’s the doubt that makes you question and assess what you’re doing, and thus grow artistically rather than stagnating. Embrace it, but don’t  wallow in it, and use it as a motivator. (See here too.)

Emotional vampires are those folk who suck the energy and joy from you. That person who’s always insisting how you ought to be painting something for it to be right (and almost always this means “detailed realism”), the one  always after reassurance that their painting is good (by which they mean better than other people’s), the one perpetually armed with two L-bits of card to crop your composition to fix it. Your opinions and preferences are not invalid. Different is not inherently wrong. An urgent need to wash a paint brush will get you away from emotional vampires.

Practising Layers

Painting from reference photos by Marion Boddy-Evans

I’ve been practising for next week’s workshop at Higham Hall near Cockermouth. I’ve been trying to get a bit more systematic and specific about what I do so I can explain it, making a list of what individual layers are or might be because “be intuitive” isn’t a sufficiently helpful instruction. Also with the aim to have some examples of “layered paintings” “informed by” (based on) the photos in my new photo reference book (which workshop participants get) as well as some that combine elements from various photos.

Here are two of my paintings. Each has bits I like and things I don’t think are resolved, yet, or I would do differently next time. When I was telling the in-house art critic how I felt about them, when he finally got a word in edgeways, his response was that I was being way too harsh. He might be is right, and only I can see the gap between what was in my head and what’s on the paper.

Painting from reference photos by Marion Boddy-Evans

Here they are with the reference photos alongside. 350gsm, A3-size, NOT watercolour paper, using pencil, coloured pencil, acrylic ink, acrylic paint, and oil pastel.

Painting from reference photos by Marion Boddy-Evans

Painting from reference photos by Marion Boddy-Evans

Photo reference book by Marion Boddy-Evans
Buy photo reference book direct from me

Art Workshop Photos: Looking at Blues

Art Painting Workshops Isle of Skye Scotland with Marion Boddy-Evans

One of the (many) joys of painting is exploring the properties of all the different pigments we have to use. Each has its own personality, and some we’ll like more than others. A few will become best friends, some drift in and out of our lives, and some forever kept at arm’s length.

For yesterday’s workshop I took along a dozen or so different blues from my stash. We started by creating a colour chart with all the blues, making notes of what pigments were in a colour and a opacity/transparency line on the edge.

Art Painting Workshops Isle of Skye Scotland with Marion Boddy-Evans
Looking at different blues, and the pigments in each.

We discussed what was meant by hue, specifically Prussian blue hue, and compared different versions which have different pigment combinations in them. Consensus was that Schmincke’s version, which has black in it, was suitably moody for a Skye winter. We also talked about how many blues you really need, and why I have so many.

We had some debate whether turquoise was a green or a blue, or a bit of both. The ultimate question was: if you were sorting tubes of paint out into boxes labelled “green” and “blue”, which one would you put “turquoise” into? I’d put it in blue.

In the afternoon we looked at working in layers, focusing on shapes of colour (rather than “it must look like XYZ” or “I’m painting an XYZ”) and patterns. An approach where no one single mark or layer makes or breaks a painting.

Art Painting Workshops Isle of Skye Scotland with Marion Boddy-Evans
Looking at different blues, then working in shapes and layers.

There were two layers of in pencil/coloured pencil before the first paint layer. It’s an activity that also gives a feel for glazing — transparent layers of paint over one another — vs blocking bits or breaking shapes using opaque colours.

A great day all round!

Be Comfortable Being Out of Your Creative Comfort Zone

Not being systematic in learning has its drawbacks, but it makes for a more interesting journey. I believe that if you’d like to draw and/or paint you should jump in at whatever point appeals to you, then find your way out from there.

You need not first learn to draw to perfection, spending two years working in black-and-white as if you were in a 19th century Parisian art school before you got to play with colour. Who’s got the time or patience for that? (That’s rhetorical, I know some people do.)

What you do need is a willingness to try. Or to use the term I learnt from one of the participants in a recent workshop: “behavioural flexibility”. Sounds a lot more focused and dedicated than “being out your comfort zone”.

It’s a mindset: accepting what you can’t do right now; not beating yourself up for not instantly succeeding; granting yourself time to explore, discover and learn; trying new things and see what happens; telling the nagging critical voice that says it’s too scary and you may fail to shut up and wait and see.

Painting Workshop Photos: Starting with Rosehips & Sunflowers

Working with black ink and dip pen you have to keep going forward with it, you can’t stop to erase, rethink and redo like you can with a pencil. At one point in my recent workshops at Skyeworks, there was a “try it with both hands” moment:

Without this out-of-comfort-zone yet playful moment, would the free mark making with the black ink and pen in this subsequent mixed media painting have happened? It’s impossible to say, but I do think it’s part of why there’s such a sense of joy in this painting (enjoyment in exploring the mediums and the exploration of the subject, some rosehips in a glass jar).

And while this next painting (work-in-progress) may look like a graphite pencil and watercolour drawing in the middle of a realist painter’s comfort zone, in fact it was out of comfort zone because it’s graphite and acrylic ink. What’s reassuringly familiar to one person is unfamiliar to another. What’s scary is relative and individual, and changes as we progress on our artistic journeys.

It was a joy watching both of these paintings being created and develop, the enthusiasm, and tenacity.

The sunflower painting below was done by the same person who did the rosehip pencil drawing, after a weekend’s break. It’s mixed media, started with soft pastel, then acrylic inks and paint, and black ink. Much further out of comfort zone but at the same time easier because of the time spent earlier in the session just trying out? materials without worrying about results, being a kid again and enjoying pushing colour around.

Parts of it are still work-in-progress, less resolved, but I think it’s beautiful and painterly — a celebration of both the joy of sunflowers and paint — particularly the top left sunflower.

The next painting was done by someone who started the session never having been near acrylic paint. We were focusing on looking at a subject with an eye towards abstraction and impressionism rather than realism, suggesting rather than telling, reducing detail.

I enjoy all sorts of things about this, such as the sense of a surface in the bottom right, which starts my mind on a journey of “is it a table cloth or…?”. The suggestion of shapes in the background, the sense of depth behind the centre top. And something, which you wouldn’t know unless you had been there: the last-minute joyous adding of a glaze of magenta to the vase because it’s a favourite colour, and ties into the magenta in the flower centres, changing the overall dominance of yellow in the painting.

I had my own version, started as a demonstration piece (e.g. “this is how dark a shadow I’m thinking you might add, yes, really, this dark”) then continued a bit as I tidied up at the end of the session, using up the little bits of leftover paint. Parts were still wet when I took this photo and I’m interested to see how much the last layer of acrylic ink on the petals has sunken into the paper.

But I left it on the table in the workshop area of Skyeworks Gallery, so it’ll be a couple of days before I see it again. At the moment I’m thinking: “that jug is awfully tall!”




Higham Hall Workshop: Capturing Skye #3

Higham Hall Class of May 2017 painting

A few last photos from my recent painting workshop at Higham Hall, and my thanks to everyone — workshop participants and the team at Higham — for an inspiring week.

Higham Hall Class of May 2017 painting
Class of May 2017

Higham Hall Workshop: Studio
“The Circle of Creativity” aka tables in the main area of the studio.

Higham Hall Workshop: Studio Work

Higham Hall Workshop: Sunset painting
Colours that came out of us exploring “interesting greys”, which then proved perfect for a painting inspired by one of my sunset photos.

Higham Hall Workshop: Student Work on Orange Ground start
Painting on an coloured ground, and focusing on painting faster, not considering every single brush stroke too meticulously but trusting the process.

Higham Hall Workshop: Student Work on Orange Ground
The painting above, a bit later on Thursday.

Higham Hall Workshop: Gold paint
To any art groups out there with members who suddenly arrive with tubes of gold and bronze. Yes, it’s all my fault. Once you’ve got over the shock, you might ask to try a bit yourself.

Higham Hall Workshop: Detail from Painting
Tiny detail of a painting that “rewards close looking”.

I’ll be doing another “Capturing Skye in Expressive Acrylics/Watercolours” workshop at Higham Hall next April, and possibly something in October/November 2018 too. Contact Higham Hall to ‘register an interest’ and you’ll be amongst the first to know the details.

You can read feedback on this workshop on my Higham profile page here.

Higham Hall Workshop: Capturing Skye #2

Mixing interesting greys

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard photographers bemoan grey days because grey is supposedly uninteresting. Grey days are beautiful in a different way, sometimes for the gentle gradations in tone, sometimes for narrowing the range of tones, and sometimes for strong contrasts between dark grey skies and sea.

When painting, grey doesn’t mean simply “black + white”. We’ve a bounty of “interesting greys” at our colour-mixing fingertips, which is one of the things we’ve investigated during this week’s workshop at Higham Hall.

Mixing Interesting Greys

Mixing Interesting Greys

Mixing Interesting Greys

Mixing interesting greys

We’ve also looked at using coloured grounds, such as orange beneath a seascape (which plays on the fact orange and blue are complementary colours):
WOrking on an orange ground

And, of course, the joy of splattering paint around to add that final layer of energy to a painting:
Just add a splash of paint