Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Art Ideas! - relax into drawing - draw what you hear... continuous line

continuous drawn pencil in double-page of A4 sketchbook.
Arthouse, garden, telegraph wires, swifts nesting.

Art can be hard. It can be hard to motivate yourself to get started and it can be hard to decide what to draw. (/paint/sculpt/collage... even deciding that can be hard!)

Here are a couple of often used techniques which might help if you ever feel this way. 

At art college we did lots of this sort of thing but as the years passed gradually I let it slip. I was strongly reminded of the value of such exercises when I treated myself to a printmaking summerschool tutored by my great friend artist Kittie Jones in 2018. The week took place at Off The Rails Arthouse at Ladybank railway station in Fife.

Try these techniques for yourself, perhaps before getting started on a day of art, if you're feeling bored one evening, or simply as a stand-alone bit of drawing. I find both techniques really relaxing - meditative even - though depending on my mood it can take quite some time to start feeling that way.

Try the techniques indoors, try them in a garden, try them in a park. 

Try giving yourself a time limit - one minute (yes, that's short! but try it), then two, then five, then ten. Try half an hour. Try it open-ended.


Technique 1 - Continuous Line

- pick your tool - pencil or pen probably

- make your entire drawing WITHOUT lifting the tool from the paper AT ALL.

- try it with a landscape, a still life, a portrait.

See mine at top of this post.


Technique 2 - Draw What You Hear

Yes, what you hear

Give it a try. Quite a few tries actually. To start with I found this so hard. I remember feeling almost embarrassed when Kittie asked us to do it. We were sitting outdoors, dotted around a lovely wooded garden. I had no idea what to draw, how to draw it. How do you draw sound??

It was a sunny day, bees were buzzing. 

How do you draw the sound of a bumblebee buzzing??

I tried a zigzaggy line. That felt wrong. 

Bumblebees are soft, fuzzy, cuddly even (especially Carder bees). Next time one buzzed by I drew a spiralling line, as on a ring-bound calendar. That felt right. 

I started to get into it. Swifts were screeching, House martins and swallows were twittering. Footsteps on gravel. Trains stopping. A lorry passing. Woodpigeons coo-cooing. House sparrows chattering.

By the end I couldn't believe how satisfying I found it, and how much time had passed.

Here are the two drawings I heard that day:

What's it like to try this in a quiet room? On a noisy street? When the tv or radio is on? While your toddler plays with her Duplo? When it's pouring with rain. When a storm is blowing under your slates...

Let me know what you think and let me know if you have any other techniques you find helpful for getting you started.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Art Ideas! - turning sketches into paintings

Some commentary on how I turn my sketchbook pages into finished painting and ideas for doing the same with yours.


Mallaig Harbour 

For starters this pencil sketch in A5 sketchbook, made whilst I sat watching the comings and goings of a small, lovely, Scottish harbour town. See the Skye ferry at anchor?

Note darker use of pencil in areas closer to the front of the drawing, only lighter pencil used in the furthest off areas. Do this to give greater depth to your sketch.

I had intended a possible large painting (really large for me) of this scene (hasn't happened yet) but wanted first to try out my composition and colour ideas. Using what I had in my sketchbook I drew out the same scene with a bit more detail and on a larger scale (24x48cm). 

I used thick watercolour paper (nearly the thickness of mountboard) as I knew I wanted to paint the watercolour on quite richly and thickly for a bold final scene. I used really thick watercolour paper (weight - 640gsm) as it means you can apply loads of paint and water with very little buckling of the paper. It does seem expensive but I buy very large sheets then cut them down to size.

To achieve the same depth as in my sketchbook page I mostly put my areas of darkest paint towards the front of the scene. Almost-black paint did sneak in on the hull of that second CalMac ferry though.


Blackness Castle

A place I've known well, since fairly early childhood. A good location for family cycles or (long) walks from home, then later in my teens a place for gradually getting into birdwatching with my friend Chris.

More recently, over a period of some days I cycled down there and made these A3 ish watercolour paintings and lots of pages of bird sketches in pencil.

For the two watercolours I tried painting directly onto the paper, no pencil drawing first, not even for the castle. Sometimes tricky but I really recommend trying it for a sometimes more exciting, 'free-er', looser end result.

The final painting in this series,a bit larger and combining different elements from various parts of the sketches and paintings above.


Earthquake House, Comrie

If you don't mind messy fingers (sketchbook... clothes... face [when you scratch your nose]...), chalk pastels are a brilliant tool for an artist. With so few strokes and so little pressure you can achieve such bold marks, colours and contrasts. Try using chalks alongside charcoal too, see what you think of that.

I then made these compositional sketches to decide what I wished the final painting to look like, how much presence I wanted to give to Earthquake House compared to its surrounding landscape.

I chose my preferred composition then worked up this more detailed drawing

and the final painting became this. Different again!

Spot the fox (easy). Spot the figure (a bit harder). Spot the owl (hardest - I can't quite remember!)


Clerkhill Wood

I prefer to work from real life. Most exciting is to paint outdoors, directly from life, but often I make sketches and watercolours outdoors then turn them into acrylic or oil paintings back in my studio.

Now and again I need or wish to work solely from photographs. When this happens I first sit and look at the photos for a long time, trying to imagine myself there. Then I make quick sketches from those photos, again, whilst trying to imagine actually being there, When it comes to making the painting I try to refer mostly to the sketches I've made from the photos, not to the photos themselves. It doesn't always work like this but it's what I aim for.

This small acrylic painting of an Aberdeenshire wood was made in this way. I knew the wood well but hadn't been up recently and hadn't ever sketched in it. I used these two and lots of other photos I had, made a pencil and watercolour sketch from them then used that to paint the final acrylic.

think about adding a detail in the very foreground of your artworks, it can add so much to the scene.


Balvenie Castle 

On a camping trip with Jennifer in our early years. I made this sketch on the spot outside Balvenie Castle then later turned it into two different paintings. One large (for me) at 60x60cm, acrylic on deep edged wooden board. One small, maybe 14x14cm. One I wanted to be bold and dramatic, the other more mysterious and misty.

pencil in sketchbook.

Taking a bit of care and time lightly sketch some of the main outlines of the scene. Once that's done try to loosen up - move your pencil quite rapidly, not worrying about lines crossing one another or ending up where you didn't intend them. Sometimes press lightly, sometimes heavily, sometimes in between. Sometimes hold your pencil on its side to create much broader marks, try this heavily, try this lightly. Such variety of line type  and of tone can make for a really interesting lively drawing.

How different the same location (or ornament on your windowsill) can look in different weathers/seasons/times of day... Try painting the same thing lots of times. Like Monet with his haystacks.


Seven Snow Hares

roe deer in blue felt tip pen, hares in grey felt tip pen, 8x12cm mini sketchbook.

hares sketched in grey felt tip pen in 8x12cm mini sketchbook.

These hares were sketched one winter evening up on the fields above where I live. When we're lucky enough to have snow it gives brilliant opportunity to watch night time wildlife. The whole land and sky was illuminated and I could clearly see these hares as they dug through snow to get at any plantlife below.

Using the sketches I came up with this A5 acrylic painting. I decided to make the final painting lighter than the actual scene had been, more approaching-end-of-day than winter night. You can do that in art.

seven snow hares, acrylic, 15x21cm


Winter Deer
roe deer sketch, blue felt tip pen in 8x12cm mini sketchbook.

 Sketched one still night in winter, snow lying deep, thick warm gloves on.
Me standing at wood edge, sketchbook leaning on old stone wall.
Me mostly hidden by wall and trees. Deer out in open field.

Some time later back in my studio I used these sketches plus photos I took in the same area during daylight to sharpen my memories of the event and come up with this painting:

winter deer, acrylic, 15x21cm

Spot the deer.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Art Ideas! - thinking about space. *Outer* Space

(apologies for very dodgy font sizing and spacing and formatting throughout this post. It keeps glitching and I cannot work out how to solve it)

Following my last two blog posts looking at other worlds here are some ideas for bringing Outer Space Into Your Art.

Re-finding this oil painting

Leo -

and having fun further browsing through the Art in Healthcare Collection

Claire Cooper Walsh
Realms of Possibility
mixed media & collage

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

apologies, I have lost the link for this artwork from the Art in Healthcare Collection

made me think planets. 

Well, you know, circles... sci-fi / fantasy head... = planets.

nb. choose spaceships if you prefer but planets are definitely easier to cut out.


1 - make some circles

- draw around lids, rolls of tape, anything circular

- colour the circles however you choose:


- PVA glue mixed with paint. 

- Brush or drip it on then leave to dry. 

- The PVA makes it dry to a lovely glossy semi-translucent finish. 

- Try different paper colours underneath.

- colour with oil pastel or wax crayon
- make lots of folds in the paper to add texture


- colour with oil pastel or wax crayon
- make lots of folds in the paper to add texture
- gently brush watery paint on top.


- colour with oil pastel or wax crayon

- as above only scratch rather than scrumple at the end. 


- a ' happy accident' using black drawing ink rather than black paint

2 - make a Space Background for your planets to orbit in

This background is painted. Lots of different layers of blues gradually changing from dark to light.  

choose your planet. This one is:

- oil pastel lines of blue and green

- watery paint of yellow and orange and pinkish filling in the rest 

3 - place your planet

Planet Rising

Planet Fills All


(Space background turned upside-down) 


(Space background turned right-way-up again) 


4 - Again with a circular Space background

Circles of paint. 

pva-paint planets placed


added a colourful oil pastel planet

one dark, one bright and bold


5 - one more Space picture

- painted-circles Space background
- planets are coloured with wax crayon,