Monday Motivator: Embrace Mistakes

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

“In creative work, sometimes the best way to reach a level of quality is through embracing quantity. You simply have to create quickly, iterate on the fly, and embrace mistakes as a part of the learning process.”

John Spencer, Making Time for Project-Based Learning (PBL), 26 March 2024


Multiple attempts or multiple failures. Your choice of wording predicts your longer term outcome.

Embracing mistakes is not embracing failure, it is acknowledging that learning takes persistence and practice. Doing something once and expecting perfect results is setting yourself up for frustration. It can happen, but what you are after is acquiring repeatable skill not mere happenstance.

It’s frustrating watching someone spend hours repainting something as they are unable to feel satisfied at any of the multiple occasions it could have been declared finished, yet also unable to articulate what it needed that was different from where it was before. If you keep painting on top of the same piece, you can’t compare and analyse. Paint several so you can put them side by side and figure out what differs, what you prefer and why. Take a step aside from painting “a real, finished painting” to learn.

Monday Motivator: If You Want Your Paintings to Have Brilliance

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

“If you want your paintings to have brilliance, think in terms of more color, not lighter color. … Most students do little more than dirty their brushes with a little color and then try to wipe them off on the canvas. To mix color properly, you must have enough pigment on the brush in the first place.”

Paul Strisik, “The Art of Landscape Painting”, page 13-14

How much “enough pigment” is depends on the size of my canvas or sheet of paper. It’s one of the reasons I find changing the scale I’m working at takes me out of autopilot, as I’ve once again got to think about how much paint I’m going to need for an area. It’s a lost cause trying to remix a colour created from leftover bits on my watercolour palette.

Monday Motivator: Bad Drawing

Monday Motivator

The question “How old do you have to be to make a bad drawing?”, asked by cartoonist and teacher Lynda Barry on Instagram, had me thinking about how it is near impossible not to judge a drawing, yet it is possible to teach yourself to not be so emotionally invested in one piece. Give yourself permission to spend your time drawing and to use up your materials, to do another drawing and another and another.

What do you do with the drawings you judge to be bad? Turn the sheet over and use the other side. Draw into it with an eraser or paint. Keep drawing and see where it goes; you already think it’s bad, so what does it matter. Cut out a bit you do like. Don’t be too fast ripping it up but leave it a few weeks so you see it with fresh eyes.

Monday Motivator: The Allure of Semi-Abstraction

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

“Semiabstraction is not a style; it is a viewpoint toward nature that results in paintings which integrate identifiable subject matter and formal design structure. This integration establishes an independent equilibrium between nature and design in which neither dominates the other.

“… Look for shapes that have a certain energy or vitality to them … If a shape is unclear or uninteresting, redesign it, improve on it. Make a painting that appeals purely on the level of shape and pattern relationships.”

Edward Betts, “Creative Landscape Painting”, page 84

A painting is a conglomerate of shapes. As the artist, it’s up to us to decide what to include and to leave out, how to represent them, what to dictate and what to suggest. That’s why impressionist, expressionist, semi-abstract art is ultimately the more interesting artistic playground for me.

Colours of Skye

Monday Motivator: Practice

Monday Motivator

“If you do not practice feeling joy in your every day relationship with art, the idea that one day you will be good enough to not hate your work is not going to pan out…

“It is possible to enjoy the process, to have real love for the end result, and to continue to improve and grow.”

Winona Nelson, “Stop Hating Your Own Work“, Muddy Colors 23 Oct 23

It’s all too easy to say you hate a painting and throw your brushes down in frustration and anger. If this is always your reaction, you’re developing your ability at being angry not your painting skills.

You’re lying to yourself if you say you hate everything about it, because then you would never have started painting it in the first place. We don’t hate the first brushstroke, nor the second; what we hate is that at some point things went awry, that we didn’t fulfil what we promised ourselves when we started. If you truly hated every brushstroke, then give your paints away and do something else with your time.

Find the “I liked until I did X” and “I never did Y” moment(s), think about what you might have done instead, and have another go.

Sometimes it might be a while before I try again, as with the viaduct at Cullen below, from 2019 and 2023.

From 2019: Cullen, acrylic ink
From 2023: Cullen viaduct acrylic ink

Photos: Details From Portsoy

It wasn’t only the wider views of the old harbour at Portsoy that had me contemplating paintings (see this post) but also smaller elements full of texture, pattern, colour, possibilities.

The wider context of the reflections in the photo above, with the sun catching on a few windows to create the bright reflection.

Monday Motivator: Ideas

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator

“We all share a common misconception: that ideas pop into mind fully formed by themselves, fresh, new, and creative …

“Ideas are not new, as thoughts are not new. They come from the thoughts that came before them. We don’t really start thinking, we simply join the thinking that’s already going on. In other words, we jump onto the train of thought. Thoughts come from thoughts. …

“Finding the one you want to express is more about you than the idea.”

Gregory Manchess, “10 Things… Generating Ideas“, Muddy Colors

Procrastination can happen because we believe we don’t have any ideas to paint, we’re waiting for an idea we judge to be the perfect, or we can’t choose between all our ideas.

If it’s the first: reuse a previous idea. There isn’t a rule stipulating that ideas may be used once only. Imagine if Monet had decided to stop at one lilypond painting. And did you know Munch did more than one version of “The Scream“?

If it’s the second: go with the last idea you rejected. Give up on perfect and see where a less-than-perfect idea takes you. Would you do a perfect painting from a perfect idea first time anyway?

If it’s the third: put several in a hat and pick one. They’re all equally valid, and it matters more that you get started and persist.

When I picked each up, it was a perfect pebble for one reason or another. Together they become painted friends not competitors.

Photos: Old Harbour at Portsoy

The old harbour at Portsoy in northeastern Aberdeenshire, Scotland, was started in 1679. The different styles of stone show stories of rebuilding across the centuries, with intrigues such as now-inaccessible stairs in a corner.

After enjoying a treat from Portsoy’s renowned ice cream shop (there was a parking spot right outside when I went past, surely a sign to stop and support a local business!), I wandered around in the cool winter day’s sun.

There are so many possibilities for paintings before you even consider whether the tide is in or out, the sea calm or stormy, the day is sunny or overcast. On this occasion I mostly had another look at things that had stuck in my mind from previous visits and filled in some missing bits of info (such as where the stream emerges from under the road and houses).

A painting of Findochty harbour by Ian Fleming (not the writer!) has had me pondering what you might include of a harbour wall in a foreground, rather than starting the foreground with water. It might have to be a series of paintings!

I wonder what other colours that yellow door has been. I drew in a concertina sketchbook with pencil for about 10 minutes, but got cold. I’ll continue another day, and perhaps add colour to this in the studio.

I went to look at a stretch of coast near the harbour that I’m itching to paint (a stormier version of this scene is on the cover of my 2024 photo reference book). I still have to find a spot where I don’t feel too close to the edge or think about what erosion there may be hidden beneath.

Stormy Sea: My Biggest-Ever Print

This piece started when I found I had a piece of perspex that was just a little long for the bed of my printing press. Enter the in-house art critic, the Dremel and a tiny circular saw attachment, and it now fits, giving me the possibility of doing prints that are almost A1 in size.

The ink I’m using is an oil-based printing ink that can be cleaned up with water rather than solvent (Caligo Safe Wash). The colour is Prussian blue mixed into my “leftovers grey” (leftover ink I keep in a little glass jar) to make it a bit darker. I put some directly onto the sheet using a palette knife, then use a roller to spread it out, leaving an edge that would become a white border to the print.

To create the image, I worked into the ink using various things to remove parts and create marks, including paper towel, a coarse-haired brush, and scrim (a stiff, open weave fabric). I tried not to leave any area of ink untouched, having learnt that these print as very solid, flat colour, which I didn’t think would enhance the sense of sea. I was visualising the tempestuous sea I’d watched last month as I did this.

When I was happy with how it looked and found myself fiddling with little bits, I put it onto the press, placed a sheet of dampened paper over it (the moisture in the paper encourages the ink to transfer), put in the printing blankets, and ran it through the press. I got so caught up in in all that I forgot to take any photos until after I’d made the ghost print (a second print done to use up any leftover ink). The paper was a little too damp in places and created a watercolour-type effect where the ink has spread; another variable I need to remember.

Ghost print using a sheet torn into three long pieces, which I’m envsaging making into concertina sketchbooks. Doing a ghost print also makes cleaning the sheet of perspex easier as there’s minimal ink left on it.

This is the print as it came off the press, with my hand for scale. It’s hanging up to dry using clips with magnets, out of reach of the studio cats.

There were two areas where the ink had spread because the paper was too wet that I felt dominated the image. The most obvious is on the horizon above my hand. I left the ink to dry before trying to resolve this. I first tried scratching into the paper to see if I could reveal some white, but the ink had soak into the paper and it was blue beneath the surface too. So I took out some white acrylic ink with the hope it wouldn’t be too different a white to the paper, and added some of this.

Spot the ‘fix’

Here are a couple of close-up details, to give a sense of the variations in mark making. When I look at this, I’m trying to remember what gave me which mark.

This is the final piece, the biggest print I’ve every made. I like the dark blue, which I think conveys the sense of a stormy sea, and the sense of movement.

“Stormy Sea”, approximately 60x50cm (32×20″). Available from my studio.

Whether you’d frame it with the edge showing or not would be a matter of personal preference; I can’t decide which I prefer.

Monday Motivator: Hope

Monday Motivator
Monday Motivator
HOPE

Hope has holes
in its pockets.
It leaves little
crumb trails
so that we,
when anxious,
can follow it ...

Poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, "Hope"

Picking up a pencil or brush to create a painting or drawing is an act of hope. Follow the bread crumbs of all the redrawn and erased lines, the overpainted and wiped off brushmarks, the smudged bits. These draft a map of where we’ve been as we draw and paint, whether or not a piece is finished, incomplete or abandoned.

As we journey, the map becomes increasingly familiar: paths we love, paths perhaps best avoided when travelling alone, and those not yet ventured down. Choose what suits that drawing session.

Watercolour and blind embossing