My Recipe for Artistic Happiness

Recipe for artistic happiness:

  1. Skye
  2. Sunshine
  3. Sea
  4. Sketchbook
  5. Stick
  6. Some black ink.
    (And not spilling any of ink on myself, for once.)

Headed to the north of Trotternish, sat in the sun admiring a favourite view, listening to the sea lapping on the shore. Ice cream enjoyed, I opened my sketchbook, stared out a bit more, then did a few sketches. It’s a location I want to paint again, because the sweep of the bay is so appealing, along with the colours of the rocky shore, the little bit of sand at low tide, the mainland mountains in the distance, the colours of the croftland. (“Two Croft Houses” is the studio painting that developed from this spot previously.)

Ink and Stick Sketching on Skye Scotland

Ink and Stick Sketching

Pen Sketching Skye

Pen sketch

Watercolour and Pen Sketching

A little watercolour added to pen sketch

Ink and Stick Sketching Isle of Skye

Black ink, stick, and waterbrush. This is my favourite from the afternoon.

Waiting for the Perfect Wave Painting

I’ve been working with fluid paint creating some small wave paintings, depictions of memories of watching and waiting for the perfect wave.

Four Small Waves Paintings by Skye Scottish Artist Marion Boddy-Evans

Each of these is 15x15cm.

The enjoyment and challenge are in the dance between the deliberate (where I place each colour), the not-quite-controlled (how much paint I apply), and the mostly-beyond-my-control (how the colours intermingle). The properties of the individual pigments have an influence: their opacity, obviously, but some also tend to pull over others more strongly, and others spread more enthusiastically when you break the surface tension with a spray of water.

Like waiting on the shore for the perfect wave, each “this is it” moment leads you to anticipate the next, which is why there isn’t only one painting but a series. And why there shall be more.

Colours: Titanium white, cerulean blue, indigo, phtlalo blue and teal on a coloured ground of Prussian blue hue mixed with a little orange, which shifts it to a cool, steely blue.

Detail: Four Small Waves

Detail: Four Small Waves

Detail: Four Small Waves

Monday Art Motivator: Create a Tangle of Line and Colour

Art motivational quote

“I realized, as time went on, that I would have a reasonable chance of creating something that is alive if I did not see water, mountains, and sky.

“If, on the other hand, I only saw what was before me as a tangle of line and color only, I might just get excited, as a visual artist, by what I saw.

“And if I got excited, some of that excitement, that life, might find its way to the canvas.”

— Contemporary Impressionist Jerry Fresia, “Get Past The Facts”

How do you stop seeing water, mountains and sky? Like so much else, through deliberate practice.

Take a small section of a subject and try to visualise it as a jigsaw of colour shapes, like a paint-by-numbers outline. You’re ultimately not aiming to create a drawing which you then colour in, but to hold these shapes in your mind’s eye while you paint them. The good news: it does get easier. The bad news: it doesn’t get easier as fast as you’d wish.

How do you not get small sections of white canvas or paper peeking out between colour shapes? By painting on a coloured ground, or by painting large shapes of colour first (blocking in) and then working on top of these. If you do end up with some white, glaze over areas rather than doing some fiddly colouring in with a tiny brush.

Photos: Summer Colours of Skye

An assortment of photos, of things that have caught my eye recently. Lots of foxgloves this year; apparently cold weather helps this profusion.

Monday Motivation: Information + Imagination

Art motivational quote

“A scene before me is information, and my thoughts about it is imagination. Those two are negotiated throughout the session.

“But I try never to forget that I’m making an interpretation called a painting first, then a record of what is there. As a result, I take great liberties with the scene. … It would be a shock to some to see where some of my best paintings were done.”

— Artist Lynn Boggess, from Interview with Lynn Boggess by Brad Teare

A painting needs poetry, a selection from the options presented. Convey the subject through your eyes, the artist’s eyes, rather than reproducing ‘everything you see’ on the canvas. (Think: a few words that say more than several long sentences, and engage your mind more too than long passages of descriptive prose.)

How do you decide what to include and what to exclude, what to emphasise, what colours to enhance? By trying and trying again, seeing how you feel about the result. By reducing detail, dancing between representation and suggestion, realism and abstract. By being willing to change things as you paint, rather than setting out everything rigidly before you pick up a brush. Judge the results from up close and from several metres away, as from a distance brushstrokes merge together and edges/shapes become more defined. Repeat.

Detail from Storm Warning painting

Minch Seascape Painting: Storm Warming

“Storm Warning”
Acrylic on canvas

Sorrow and Creative Block

Thus Nature sorrows, and forgets her sorrow ;
And Reason soberly approves her way :
Why should we shut oor een against to-morrow
Because our sky was clouded yesterday ?

Non Semper Imbres by J. Logie Robertson

Feeling blueThe thought of starting a new painting becomes a munro to cling my way up, scree to negotiate, rather than a path to skip along past the buttercups and foxgloves. Colours seem murkier, brushes harder to clean, compositions falter, tones become darker and darker. Guilt at not creating, not being sufficiently productive, enters the room, stirring up the sediment of doubts and uncertainties. The b-word — block — raises its unsettling head. Sorrow saps enjoyment from the things I know I thrive on doing, drains energy and motivation, seeps into thoughts in unexpected and untimely ways, digs up things that were put behind and clouds the view.

This is not the first time, nor shall it be the last, because that’s how life goes. I know to expect to not feel like creating, to get frustrated by the results far too quickly when I do start. I know it shall pass, not to beat myself up about it. Time rounds off the edges like a river rounds stones in its path, water rushing determinedly and unstoppably towards the sea. Self Portrait from early 2000s

Behind every silver lining there’s a cloud. Behind every cloud there’s another silver lining. Behind the clouds and silver linings are thoughts of iridescent titanium white, interesting greys for clouds, blues for seascapes, that perhaps it’s time to finally try painting that little fishing trawler on the wide open Minch because I’m messing things up anyway.

There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance paint.

Stealth Studio Cat

Stealth Studio Cat

Stealth Studio Cat

Footnote for anyone who’s in the “it’s just a cat” category: It is and it isn’t. It’s also about all the events from all the years this particular cat lived with us, all the family members, both feline and human.

7 Reasons to Paint in Monochrome

If painting in monochrome seems a strange thing to do given all the paint colours available to us, think for a moment about how beautiful and powerful black-and-white or sepia photographs can be. Likewise paintings done with black ink only. We don’t feel a lack of colour when we look at these, yet when thinking about painting with only one colour our instinct is often to feel that we’re missing out somehow.

Monochrome Figure Painting

Colour: burnt sienna mixed with Prussian blue to create a deep, rich brown.

Here are my seven reasons to painting in monochrome (do add your own thoughts in the comments section below):

  1. Only one colour to deal with, so you really get to know its characteristics and what it does (opacity, transparency, tinting strength).
  2. Helps you focus on tone without the distraction of colour. Reminds you that less is often more: tone is often the solution to a problematic painting rather than colour.
  3. Encourages patience and persistence (because you can’t distract the viewer with colour and have to fix things).
  4. No wasted paint from colour-mixing mistakes.
  5. You’ve only one brush to wash (unless you’ve used various sizes).
  6. You can add the art term “Grisaille” into your vocabulary.
  7. Gives you the chance to pretend you’re Rembrandt, working in dark moody browns.


  • Monochrome doesn’t mean it has to be a tube colour, you can mix a colour.
  • Consider using a coloured ground (in a light tone) rather than working on white.
  • Transparent pigments are more versatile than opaque for this.
  • Using the white of the canvas/paper gives a different result than adding white paint.
  • Zinc white is more transparent than titanium white (which is a very opaque pigment).

Discovering how much can be achieved with only one colour is a step on the journey to discovering the joys of working with a limited palette. Using fewer colours but ones that you know intimately will produce better paintings than using lots of colours. It adds a cohesion as the colours work with one another across the whole composition.

Monday Motivator: On the Edge of Painting Abstraction

Art motivational quote

“I was always on the edge of abstraction without being an abstract painter. I was always interested in the brushstroke and the way different forms appeared on the surface.”

“People think that I’m painting Vermont, but I keep saying I’m painting paintings.”

Wolf Kahn: Excerpts from a Conversation with Christopher Volpe

Think about how tantalizing the smell of toast is, how a whiff sends your mind on a journey. Colour, tone and shape can do the same.

If it’s a landscape, we interpret what we see in the painting through our memories and favourite locations. It becomes different places to different people, and where exactly inspired the artist is of interest but ultimately less relevant.

Depicting rather than describing. Portraying rather than delineating. Suggesting rather than telling. Leaving things unsaid and unseen, except in the viewer’s eyes.

New Sheep Painting: Waiting for Summer

It’s been unusually cold and wet this year, with summer failing slow to arrive, which has led me to calling this new sheep painting “Waiting for Summer“.

It was in “pondering mode” for a few days as I decided whether to add “white horses” to the sea or not, and if so how much. There’s a lot of texture in the sea and foreground, created with texture paste applied as I finalized the composition, and I ended up drybrushing over a lot of this with white, so only the tops of the ridges have white on them. (Drybrushing = very little paint of a brush, dragged gently across the surface.)

Here’s the painting as it was in “pondering mode”:

Painting in Progress: First Sheep Painting in New Studio Skye Scotland

Size: 100x100cm

Here’s a detail after I’d added the final layer of white:
Detail of Texture "Waiting for Summer" sheep painting

Here’s the finished painting, which is going to Skyeworks Gallery today:

How Now Brown Sheep?

I’ve been doing some studies exploring what colours will work best for “black” sheep, such as Hebridean. Enter perlyne black (with its green undertones), burnt umber, earthy greens and golds, and blues (yes, Prussian blue, but also phthalo). Golden lower layers, left to dry and then painted over wet-into-wet with various darks. Darks with more darks, then touch of titanium white to create greys. Trying to differentiate head from body, whether tone or texture is the way to go.

About the only certainty is that a tube of black won’t suffice, but I knew that already and this journey on the dark side of colour shall continue.

Painting Studies for 'Black' Sheep Skye Scotland