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

Monday Motivator: The Sea Offers the Artist…

Art motivational quote

“…the sea offers …the chance to beat witness to the immemorial rhythms of the world”
Sax Impey, The Power of the Sea, page 129

“Where sea and land meet, begin there.
The ampersand, the join, is a fault
which caused…”
Punctuation Marks by Philip Nanton

Staring out the window as I write this, the sea is a series of horizontal stripes of steely blues and bluey greys, with a dark band on the horizon where it touches the grey-white of the sky. Last night the setting sun dressed it in pinks, purples and oranges. The sea offers the chance to bear witness to colour, and definitely not only blues. The sea offers an excuse reason to have tubes of all the different blue pigments, plus a few yellows, not to forget a magenta for beautiful mixed purples. My favourite ‘recipe’ for mixing “sea greys” was Prussian blue + burnt umber + titanium white, but I’m growing increasingly fond of blue + orange + white.
Sunset on Skye July 2015

New Painting: North Shore

One more coat of varnish and the first large painting (100x100cm) I’ve done in my new studio will be on its way to Skyeworks Gallery in Portree. It’s certainly a joy being able to leave a freshly varnished painting flat on the studio floor and close the door without concerns about pawprints or donations of fur happening overnight.

This is also the first large painting since I was on a Colour and the Figure workshop, where I spent four days mixing “interesting greys” and using complementaries to desaturate colour (with varying degrees of success). It has strong blue/orange complementaries, fulfilling my desire for some strong colour, but in the tree trunks and shadows I found myself thinking far more deliberately about what was going into mixes, trying to venture into “interesting greys” and “colour-filled shadows” and “building a bridge between orange and blue”.

For once the dominant blue isn’t my favourite Prussian, but ultramarine.  Colours used: lemon yellow, cadmium yellow, cadmium orange hue, permanent rose, perelyne green, Prussian blue, cobalt blue, ultramarine and titanium white.

North Shore forest painting by landscape artist Marion Boddy-Evans Skye Scotland

“North Shore”

Detail: North Shore