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Painting Cliffs

These two were painted yesterday on a walk along the coast at Reay.

There are some dramatic cliffs around Caithness, but often there is no way of getting to the foot of them. So far I have mostly painted them from the few places where it is possible to get down to the shore, but I think I need to work from the cliff tops more. I tried it with 'Cliffs at Sandside' and I was quite pleased with the result.

I had problems with 'Sandside Head'. The sun was very bright and there was no shade to work in, so there was a lot of glare from the white paper. Looking from the bright paper to the subject and then back again, it was difficult to judge the tonal values properly. The temptation then is to keep adjusting things, with the danger of the painting becoming overworked.

Cliffs at Sandside
6.5 x 10 inches, 16.5 x 25.5 cm

Sandside Head
9.5 x 6.5 inches, 25 x 16.5 cm


  1. Hello Keith,

    I love the freshness in the cliff top paintings. I can almost hear the gulls and feel the up-draft! It makes me pine for the rugged West Coast and I am determined to take my watercolours down to Cornwall this year. Hopefully I'll get in some sketching on the beaches, and of course at the more rocky places like Kynance Cove, and Tintagel Head.

    So 'watch my space' for some more coastal pictures.

    I know what you mean about the element of distance and I shall have to push the figures further back!

    Thanks Keith. Take care and happy painting.


  2. yes sandside head is not up to your ussual the values look a bit off,had the same problem yesterday,came home with a painting much to light,anyway the cliffs painting makes umore than up for it,i love the feeling of depth and space.

  3. The first one, Cliffs At Sandside is fabulous. Composition, values, all of it. I feel like I can actually hear that painting.

  4. Thanks for your comments John, Rob and Kevin.

    I wasn't sure about this idea of painting cliffs from above, but you have inspired me to try a few more.

    Incidentally I have been looking at the paintings of Ed Terpening, which I expect you have seen. Some of his subjects are very similar, although the weather looks warmer!

  5. Hi Keith
    You've certainly caught the atmosphere of the cliff tops. I know what you mean about trying to cope with the glare on white paper.
    Last year I was doing some sketches of Peregrines nesting in a limestone quarry in the dales. There was so much light bouncing around from the pale rock of the quarry walls that trying to get any accurate colour values down on paper was well nigh impossible. At the time I thought I'd done ok but when I got back home and looked at the drawings the colour studies were pretty much useless.

  6. Limestone + white paper + sunshine, what a nightmare. Talk about a 'white-out'


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