The subject of the project

Last month I set you the task of painting the quaint old fishing village of Pennan on the Moray Firth, and suggested that you might like to try alkyds as your painting medium. I find that alkyds are a pleasure to use. They have a lovely creamy consistency, are brilliant in colour, dry in several hours, can be painted onto watercolour paper (suitably treated with gesso), canvas or boards, and are applied in exactly the same way as traditional oils.

To start my painting, I took a piece of medium density fibreboard (MDF) which I treated with an application of acrylic gesso and stained with a turpsy wash of burnt sienna and raw sienna. When the stain was dry I completed an outline drawing using burnt umber diluted with white spirit or turpentine. The stained board already gave a warm middle tone, so I added the darks with a heavier application of paint and wiped out the highlights with a rag dipped in white spirit (see figure 3 below). For me, this is the most satisfying stage of the process. If the composition works well and the tonal values create the desired effect, the groundwork has been successfully completed.  

A pencil sketch is used to establish composition

Now to the actual painting. Armed with an assortment of brushes, Liquin as my medium and a selection of colours that included cadmium yellow light, raw sienna, burnt umber, burnt sienna, cerulean and ultramarine blues, olive green, viridian, cadmium red and titanium white, I commenced by establishing the shadows in the focal area (the triangular section created by the people, the prow of the boat and the fishing hut).

For the gable ends I used cerulean blue, raw sienna and a touch of cadmium red and for the shadow area on the front of the main house, the same three colours plus viridian. The green colour was added to suggest reflected light, which bounced off the white buildings onto the grassy slope and then into the shadow area of the house. The slate roofs were painted with my two blues (ultramarine and cerulean), burnt sienna and white while the tiled roofs of the house and the fisherman’s shed to the right were painted with burnt and raw sienna plus cadmium red.

Having dealt with the shadows my attention next turned to the sunlit areas on the house. Each area was treated separately with varying amounts of raw sienna, cadmium yellow light and white. With the exception of the cliff, which was scrubbed in with a hog bristle brush using olive green, viridian, cadmium yellow and burnt umber, the only remaining areas were the boats and huts. For the former I used my two greens, plus ultramarine for the shadows and for the latter, burnt umber and ultramarine blue.

Figure 3 - The outline drawing and tonal values were applied to a pre-stained MDF board

To aid the composition, some artistic licence was necessary. An example of this can be seen in the middle ground where I have removed the row of lobster pots from behind the boats to expose the life belt. Of course, most of you wouldn’t have known of its existence, but with harbour scenes these colourful objects can be added anywhere to brighten up a dull or monotonous stretch of quayside. After an hour and a half of painting I decided to put it aside until the next morning. The following day, with a fresh eye, I started to refine certain areas and added an assortment of bright colours to the line of washing and glazes of greyish blue to suggest smoke issuing from some of the chimneys. The painting had dried overnight so accepted these glazes without any problem. In 24 hours a coat of retouching varnish can also be added to provide an even, protective sheen to the work.

A final check of the painting, (including viewing it upside down and in a mirror for mistakes) made me realise that whilst I was pleased with the overall result I needed to include some of the ever-present seagulls to finish the scene. So in they went, along with a lobster pot, some rope and an orange buoy.

The finished painting.  Pennan, Moray Firth.  Alkyd by Michael Kitchen