Bookshop Find: On the Mastery of Water-Colour Painting

A chance find in Leakey’s bookshop in Inverness.

Book: On the Mastery of Water-Colour Painting by Adrian Hill

Book: On the Mastery of Water-Colour Painting by Adrian Hill

Book: On the Mastery of Water-Colour Painting by Adrian Hill

What I’ve found out: Adrian Hill presented BBC “Sketch Club” from 1958 to 1962 (way before Tony Hart‘s show), was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum in London during the First World War (the first, according to his Wikipedia entry, which also says he went back to art college afterwards, worked as a professional artist and art teacher, and coined the term art therapy) and he wrote quite a few books. There are a dozen of his paintings on the UK public art collection website, and a short BBC radio interview.

But back to the book I found. It’s written in a style you don’t find in contemporary photo-led books, when sentences could be longer and have more complex constructions, language more descriptive and poetic, and opinions more strongly stated. It’s like listening to an artist thinking aloud on various aspects, with the thoughts organized not random.

I suspect quotes will make their appearance as Monday Motivators, but here’s one for today, from Chapter 6 which is called “Timidity and Courage”:

“…once perfect freedom of execution has been enjoyed, a little self-disciple will generally make itself felt, and the rebel will turn docile; whereas the law-abiding student will rarely ‘break bounds’ without persuasion.”

I do wonder if it caught my eye because my mind’s been on my introduction to watercolour workshop on Monday (still spaces if you’d like to join us). How when you know next-to-nothing about a workshop attendee other than they want to learn about watercolour painting you have to prepare approaches that’ll work for wherever they turn out to be on the spectrum from cautious (timid) to expressive (courageous).

“Colors into which a Sunset will Collapse”

“Colors into which a sunset will collapse”

This line is from a poem, Wolf’s Trees, by JD McClatchy.

I came across it via a circuitous journey that involved a new book on trees by the photographer Art Wolfe. Initially it wasn’t anything in the poem that struck a cord, but rather that it’s dedicated to the painter Wolf Kahn, who’s on my list of favourite artists.

The poem overall is one that’s in the “mmmm” category for me, but the line above intrigues my imagination. I find myself replacing “colour” with “branches”. Possibly because at certain times of year the sun sets ‘through’ the woodland at Uig. As yet ill-defined thoughts of a tree painting with sunset colours collapsing into the branches.

Uig Trees Sunset

I Can’t Paint It Like That!

Sitting in the sunshine listening to the tinkling of the river at Sligachan today (I mean sketching), I looked left towards the Bundt-cake peak (I mean Glamaig) and noticed a triangle of cloud that you could impossibly put in a painting as it’ll just look wrong.

Photos: Sketching on Location (aka The Radioactive Green)

The last three days have seen us (the American artists on an art retreat on Skye and me) sketching on the Quiraing, Staffin beach, and Eilean Donan Castle. Shades of green from deep blue-green to improbably intense yellow-sap green (which I mentally think of as radioactive green). It’s not only been sunny enough to dig out the sunblock, but I even ended up looking for a shady spot yesterday at the castle.

My thanks to Michael Chesley Johnson for the pastel demo of rocks at Duntulm. It’s so intriguing, mesmerising, inspiring to see familiar landscape through the eyes of artists seeing it for the first time.

You can read Michael’s blogs on Skye here: Scotland Plein Air Painting Retreat

Waiting for the little Glenelg turntable ferry.
That spot on the bend on the A87 where most people photograph the waterfall, looking the other way.

Photos: Trees at Higham Hall

Being at Higham Hall in April for my workshop meant it was a bit early for most flowers (sorry daffodils, don’t meant to ignore you), but it did mean fewer distractions from beautiful trees like this:

There was a splash of non-daffodil yellow by the pond:

I won’t be sharing my spot-the-red-squirrel photo, but here’s something else I saw in the garden that’s much easierto photograph:

higham Hall Dickinson poem quote garden

My next workshops at Higham Hall are:
4 to 9 November 2018 and 31 March to 5 April 2019.
Contact Higham here…

Fake Cloud (or why you need to leave things out of a landscape painting)

Picturesque cloud stretching high above, a sea of calm grey-blue rhythms, and parts of the band of islands that is the Outer Hebrides. As paintable as it comes.

Except for one thing. And I don’t mean the patch of pines poking in on the left.

It’s that improbable bit of sun-light cloud on top of the island.

1. Leave it out if you know the shape of the island.
2. Omit the sunshine on it if you don’t.

The One That Won’t Swim Away

Goldfish on Gold Painting

This little painting of a goldfish on a gold background was supposed to be for the fish-themed exhibition opening on Thursday* at Skyeworks Gallery. It’d been sitting on my studio table for a while waiting for me to paint an eye, which required me to get over my “I’m going to ruin it” hesitation. No sooner had I done it — and I somehow got it right first time — and had just said to myself “I think this is one for me”, than the in-house art critic came in. He took a look, then said: “Let’s put it on the wall next to Morag’s cat.” So it’s going to be “one that didn’t get away”.

Goldfish on Gold Painting

*If you’re hereabouts, do join us for the exhibition opening at 6pm for Bubbles & Bait. Skyeworks will be open Easter Sunday too, and I’ll be on gallery duty Saturday and Sunday.

Goldfish on Gold Painting

What Santa Left Under the Tree (aka the Joys of Books at Christmas)

Christmas Art Books 2017

The joy of printed books, with paper pages to feel, hold, turn. The quality of the printing, the weight of the paper, the style of the binding. The typography, page layout. Joys before reading starts.

Fiction books filled with imagination. Non-fiction books filled with things to be learned and discovered. Art books opening with a creak to release that new-book-ink smell. Books to read from cover to cover, others to dip in randomly. Joys of deciding which book next.

For me, Christmas is synonymous with books, a pile of treasure. Some I’ve mentioned to the in-house-art-critic, others are a surprise. They’re bought across the year and saved in the Christmas box. This is what I’ll be reading into next year:

Christmas Art Books 2017 Stack

Top to bottom:

  • Artemis — science fiction set on the Moon, by the author of a book I’ve read multiple times, The Martian, which was made into a film I’ve watched several times. I stayed up reading it, and will read it again to enjoy the writing more slowly now I know the plot.
  • Barbara Hepworth: Writings and Conversations — a long-time favourite artist of the in-house art critic and an artist whose geometric abstracts have increasingly grown on me. We visited her studio in St Ives once.? No doubt it’ll be a source of some Monday Motivators.
  • Perennial Seller : The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts by Ryan Holiday — a book for the business side of life.
  • Paintings by Peder Balke — a relatively unknown Norwegian artist.
  • Australia’s Impressionists — catalogue from an exhibition at the National Gallery in London.
  • What Color is the Wind? — an inspiring illustrated children’s book; not only the answer to the question, but the tactile elements on the pages.
  • Turner’s Sketchbooks — guess the in-house-art critic has been listening when I’ve enthused about looking at Turner’s sketchbooks in Tate Britain. Becoming more Turner-esque in my painting of skies is on my current artistic wishlist.
  • The Artist’s Model — a book figurative painter Alan McGowan showed us during the life-painting workshop I went on in October.
  • Mondrian and his Studios: Colour in Space — explores how Mondrian developed his iconic geometric abstracts.
  • A River of Words — illustrated children’s book on William Carlos Williams, a poet I’ve loved since I first encountered the poem “This Is Just To Say“.
  • Donald Teskey — exhibition catalogue of a contemporary Irish landscape painter.
  • Paul Klee: Painting Music — “One day I must be able to improvise freely on the keyboard of colours: the row of watercolours in my paintbox”.
  • The Anatomy of Colour: The Story of Heritage Paints and Pigments — for heavy-duty colour enthusiasts, a look at the use of colour and paint in interior decoration history (or the answer to “would my painting have matched the walls” through the ages).
  • Drawing and Painting by Kate Wilson, who as an evening-class art tutor at City Lit in London taught me so much, not least about the art of constructive critique.
  • Monet The Collector — a book on the artwork that Monet collected rather than his own paintings.
  • Norman Ackroyd: A Shetland Notebook –?watercolours from a journey to Shetland islands by an artist known primarily as a printmaker.
  • Missing from photo: The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century — a tome for bedtime reading. First random opening I was at a piece about the impact of artists fleeing war-torn Nazi Europe and arriving in New York.

For studio cats, it’s a simpler joy:

Christmas Art Books 2017 Cat
Studio Cat Graphite testing the theory that you can absorb what’s in a book by putting it under your pillow and sleeping on it.


Paolozzi’s Master of the Universe in Edinburgh

There’s something about this statue that always makes me stop, look, and walk all the way around. Granted, it’s by the gate on the path between the two halves of the Scottish Modern Art Museum in Edinburgh, but there are other sculptures you pass too, yet none of them captivate me so.

By?Eduardo Paolozzi, it’s called “Master of the Universe” and is based on a drawing by William Blake of Isaac Newton. I enjoy the realism-meets-Frakenstein’s-steampunk-monster, the divided and rejoined, geometric vs natural shapes.


Paolozzi statue in Edinburgh

I also love the lettering on the gate … a quirky divide that always makes me smile., and a reminder that functional (it’s just the name of the place) need not be dull.

Visiting Scottish National Museum of Modern Art

Scottish National Museum of Modern Art gate

I do wonder if anyone’s ever fallen over the Gormley statue. Not only is it “sunk” into the pavement but its colour means it merges visually.

Gormley statue in Edinburgh

I was at the museum for the Joan Eardley exhibition. If you get a chance, you should go see it!




My Favourite Location on Skye

I’ve been asked by the children of the local primary school what my favourite location on Skye is, for a project they’re working on. Needless to say, there’s an abundance of inspirational landscape on Skye, without even considering how different the same locations look as the seasons change (and the weather). But if I were to pick one, there’s a spot in the Uig woodland, next to a river through a wooden gate, where I love to sit. It might come as a surprise that my favourite location isn’t a sea view, but that’s my everyday joy; the river I have to go to specifically.

In mid-summer it’s a cool leafy respite from the sun. In mid-winter it’s frosty and bright as the low sun penetrates past the trees. In autumn there are yellows and browns; in spring fresh greens. The sounds: birds singing, leaves rustling, water gushing or trickling depending on how full the river is. Yes, there are days when it’s wet and less poetic, but I don’t go here on such days. And, yes, the main road is nearby but, for me, the traffic noise doesn’t penetrate. I find it an ever-enticing dance of colour and shadow that never fails to charge my creative batteries, even if I don’t stop for long. Park at the Uig community hall, stroll along the beach, through the gap in the stone wall, follow the path amongst the young tree trunks then past the oaks, around the corner and on a bit, and I’m there.

Gate at Uig River My Favourite Location on Skye

The reflected colours, light and shadows in the water are mesmerizing, constantly flickering as the water flows past.

Uig River My Favourite Location on Skye

This January light became a 100x100cm painting called “Summer Glow”. (I didn’t call it “Winter Glow” because the painting doesn’t feel wintry to me.)

Summer glow painting

Detail from Summer Glow painting
Detail from Summer Glow

One autumn, after strong wind, all leaves had blown off the taller trees, but the leaves on a short tree had been sheltered, creating a splash of bright colour.
Sketching the river at Uig, Isle of Skye

The page from my sketcbook, with my colour and observation notes.

Sketchbook page from river at Uig, Skye

Sketching at the River in Uig, Skye

It became a 100x100cm painting with the official title “Flowing Past”, though I think of it as “The Little Tree That Could” painting.

Painting In Progress: The Little Yellow Tree

This is what I generally have with me when I’m sketching on location (plus a sketchbook).
Sketching art supplies

Sketching in October.

Sketching Uig Woodland Skye Autumn Colours
Look closely, there is a stream amidst all the greenery!

Sketching Uig Woodland Skye

Sketching Uig Woodland skye autumn leaves