September’s Painting Project: The Instructions

This month I’ve chosen a subject that’s got bright colour and lots of architecture, the harbour in Portree. It’s a wide scene with a lot going on: buildings, boats, sea, shore, trees, a bit of reflected colour in the sea. I took the photo from the roadside on the other side of the bay, which looks down at the scene; the distant view is hidden by cloud.

Portree Harbour, Isle of Skye

The building with a point at the back is a church, as you probably suspected. The long brown building in front of this to the left is the Skye Gathering Hall. The left-most section of the pier is full of the less aesthetic elements of a working seafront such as fuel storage, which I’d probably leave out.

You could look at all this detail and start panicking about getting it all right, or you could relax and think that with all this variation in real life, some more variation in your painting or drawing will fit just fine. For me it’s foremost about getting the feel of the location, the poetry of the place, not about accurate perspective, which we can all do if we spend enough time learning and practising.

Emotion first, analytical second. Have a go, then compare and analyse, then go over it, perhaps with another medium, or have another attempt. Remove the unrealistic expectation of getting it all ‘right’ the first time, and instead treat it as a painting in which things may move or be repositioned as it develops.

When you’re looking at the row of colourful buildings, notice that:

  • The green building’s roof windows have flat tops rather than pointed and the central one isn’t aligned with the windows on the floor below.
  • The right-most blue/yellow building has roof windows that have tile below them and there are two shades of yellow/orange.
  • The left-most pink building has two roof windows but three windows on the floor below, as does the white building next to it.
  • The left-most white building has a gable end and chimney over the two central windows.
  • Some windows are single, others are double.
  • Some buildings have chimneys, others don’t.

The first decision is how much to include, and how much to leave out. Part of that decision lies in the format of your composition, whether it’s landscape, portrait, square. For me if you’re going to include the whole row of buildings, then landscape. I’d crop off the buildings on the right and the left.


You might decide to focus on a small part of this scene. After I painted the whole scene, I found myself entranced by the chimneys on the right hand side. This became the subject of my second painting:

Buildings at Portree Harbour with multiple chimneys

As always, medium, size and format are up to you. I look forward to seeing what this inspires. If you’ve done a painting in response to a project, whether the current month or any earlier one (see list of painting projects), do email me a photo to put in the photo gallery so we can all enjoy it. Happy painting!


Studio cat Ghost enjoyed helping me with my first attempt at painting this. He also features in the video of this painting (which I will post later this week) and the one of my doing composition thumbnails (which will be available to project subscribers).

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