Finish it or ruin it: Gardenstown edition

Seaside Town 2

Seaside Town 2, mixed media on watercolor paper, 27x37cm. Available.

Some paintings go from idea to finished work quickly and fluidly. Plenty of others get started and then cast aside, lingering around the studio in a half-finised state. Over time I manage to figure out some of these pieces, but there are always those that continue to stick around, not making their resolutions obvious to me while also not inspiring me to give up on them all together. Every once in a while I have to declare a “finish it or ruin it” week to deal with these misfits.

I gather up all the unresolved pieces in my studio and get to work. My goal for each one is simple: either resolve the piece, or ruin it trying. It’s always delightful when I manage to produce a few good paintings this way, but even the ruined ones have their value. Failed pieces can teach me a lot about composition, color palettes, the limits of my materials, and more.

Seaside Town 1

Seaside Town 1, mixed media on watercolor paper, 37x27cm. Available.

This week I took up two pieces I started way back in Gardenstown. They consisted of some image transfers and thin washes of acrylic paints on watercolor paper, and I had managed to ignore them for quite a while, not really sure what to do with them next. I taped them onto a drawing board and started in on them, rather confident that they were going to end up in the ‘ruined’ pile. Several layers of acrylics and pencil later, and I’m quite happy with how they turned out.

On my easel this week: Stockbridge, lighthouses, Ardnamurchan

Stockbridge Edinburgh painting

Work in progress: Stockbridge, Edinburgh. Oil on canvas, 40x50cm. The high street in my neighborhood in Edinburgh. I started this one a while ago (last seen here) and put it aside for a while. Now I think it’s almost done.


I’ve been busy inside the studio and out these past couple weeks. It’s daylight out almost all the time these days in Edinburgh, so it’s easy to fit in painting time. My subject matter seems to have drifted to be all Scotland all the time at the moment.

Orkney Lighthouse Painting

Work in progress: Lighthouse (Orkney). Oil on canvas, 30x40cm. There’s still a lot of the canvas showing through on this one, but I might leave it that way. 


I’m also hard at work rebuilding my website. Most of the pages and parts are already there, and I think it looks pretty good so far. I’m still adding paintings to the shop, and tweaking things here and there.  Feel free to pop over and have a look, and let me know if you have any feedback for me, any particular features you’d like to see.

Ardnamurchan Painting

Work in progress: On Ardnamurchan (Western Scotland). Oil on canvas, 40 x 50 cm. This is painted on top of a half-finished Highland scene. I really like the textures that come through from the underpainting.

Sketching outside

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Ardnamurchan view

Aided perhaps by the long days and sunny weather, I’ve been getting back into sketching outdoors recently.

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sketching at Greyfrairs Churchyard in Edinburgh

It helps that I’ve finally sorted out my sketching kit. For the longest time I was unhappy with my options, and could never quite work out how to improve things. I love sketching in charcoal, but don’t like having to bring fixative with me (or worry about smudging). Same with pastels (plus I never seemed to have the right colors with me). These days I’m down to an efficient little set of materials that fit in my purse, so I can carry them every day.

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I’ve got an A5 sketchbook with two binder clips on it (essential for keeping pages in place on a windy day); a small pencil box containing various pencils, an eraser, a sharpener, a paintbrush, and a few bits of charcoal and pastel; a travel watercolor box (with a thumb ring on the bottom, so it can perch on my left hand) and a small container of water.

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It all fits into a 17x24cm ziplock bag (along with a paper towel or two). I also usually have a couple of black drawing pens floating around in my bag, as well.

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Greyfriars Churchyard

Since putting the right materials together and having them with me almost always, I have been much better about using spare moments to sketch rather than play with my phone or whatnot. I look forward to arriving places early, in order to have time to sketch. I know all this sketching is good for my eye, and my art. You learn so much about a subject by sketching it, things that a photograph can miss.

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Old Man of Hoy

Painting the Isle of Skye

Talisker Distillery

Talisker Distillery, Isle of Skye, 40x50cm, oil on canvas, ©2015 Julie Galante. Prints available.

It’s a busy week in the studio, as I’m finishing up some oil paintings and framing some works on paper for the 3 Harbours Arts Festival.

As I was cataloging my new landscapes, I realized that a fair number of them were inspired by the Isle of Skye, a beautiful island off the west coast of Scotland. There’s one of Talisker Distillery, where we did a delightful whisky tasting one afternoon. There’s one of the bay where we went sea kayaking for the first time (we were lucky to get a mirror-flat sea for that). And there are several of coastline or views across bays. Looking at them all together is making me long to go back.

Perfect Day for Sea Kayaking Skye

A perfect day to go sea kayaking, 40x50cm, oil on canvas, ©2015 Julie Galante. Prints available.

I’m pretty happy with the work I’ve got for 3 Harbours, which will be my first time exhibiting at an arts festival. If you’re near Edinburgh between 30 May and 7 June, please stop by and say hello! My work will be in the Chalmers Memorial Church Hall in Port Seton. I’ll be exhibiting paintings and drawings of Edinburgh, Gardenstown, Isle of Skye, and some of my Tokyo work.

View from Skye study

View from the Isle of Skye (study), 24x30cm, oil on canvas, ©2015 Julie Galante. Prints available.

I also realized I haven’t sent out an email newsletter in many months, so I’m going to pull one together soon. If you’d like to receive it, please sign up for my mailing list. And if you’re already on it, thank you so much!

A week in Gardenstown

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The view from our studio.

I’ve just had the privilege of spending a week on the Scottish coast at a workshop led by Gillian Lee Smith, an incredible artist and teacher. The workshop was held in Gardenstown, an impossibly tiny and adorable village with one pub, one cafe, and no mobile phone reception.

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A page from my sketchbook

We started the week with a lot of outdoor sketching. The Scottish weather was unusually good for this, and the Gardenstown scenery provided plenty of subject matter.

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Gardenstown from the cemetery, mixed media on watercolor paper, ©2015 Julie Galante. Available.

Every day in the studio Gillian did a demonstration of one of her techniques. We started with a mixed-media process which involved drawing into a clear oilbar base, which produced a lovely line quality.

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Gillian’s glorious tray of soft pastels

Later in the week we moved onto pastels and then painting. It’s impressive how much we did in just five days in the studio.

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Some quick faces

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Gillian Lee Smith at work on one of her morning demos.

Gardenstown itself provided an idyllic setting for the workshop. Its smallness and relative isolation meant there were few distractions, allowing me to focus on artwork in a way I never quite manage at home. Most nights I was dreaming about drawing. The only road out of town is up an impossibly steep hill, although it is possible to walk to the next (even smaller) coastal town of Crovie along a path that runs along the shore. The locals were friendly and welcoming, and happy to chat with us on the beach or in the pub. Edinburgh feels like a booming metropolis in comparison.

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Gardenstown houses, mixed media on watercolor paper, ©2015 Julie Galante. Available.

Now that I’m back in my home studio, I hope to be able to hold on to the inspiration and artistic momentum that Gillian’s workshop provided. I’ve returned with hundreds of photos and dozens of sketches to work from.

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Inside the Gardenstown heritage center

I’ll be exhibiting several of the pieces I made in Gardestown at the 3 Harbours Arts Festival which starts at the end of May.

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Fishermen study, 18x28cm, acrylic and pencil on watercolor paper, ©2015 Julie Galante. [SOLD]

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Gardenstown study, acrylic and pencil on watercolor paper, ©2015 Julie Galante. Available.

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Gardenstown’s beach on lunch break one day.

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Gardenstown harbor

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Crovie, the even tinier town next to Gardenstown.

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A view of Gardenstown from the ruined church on the hill.

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Gardenstown beach at low tide

Christmas markets and springtime in Edinburgh


Edinburgh Christmas Market, 21x29cm, mixed media on card.

It’s spring in Edinburgh. The sun has been out more than not, trees and flowers are in bloom, and the days are quite noticeably longer. Everyone, even me the winter-lover, seems to be happy about the direction things are heading.

In the studio, I’m a bit all over the place. I like to be able to work on several different pieces at once. I have one area set up for oil painting, and another for mixed-media pieces. I’m also working on a wide variety of subjects at any given time. When deciding on my next subject, I flip through my photos and sketches and go with whichever one inspires me in the moment. Which I suppose is how I ended up welcoming spring with this piece depicting a chilly afternoon at Edinburgh’s Christmas market in Princes Street Garden.

I love working with images that include the skyline of Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town. It distracts me every time I walk through the city.

Highland landscapes show, and getting organized


Feeling a bit more organized this week. On Monday my new Scottish landscapes went on display at Bistro Provence, a French restaurant in Leith (a neighborhood of Edinburgh). They look good on the walls, and people had lots of nice things to say at the opening, so I’m starting to believe that landscapes and I might have a future together.

Highland study with lighthouse

I’ve been working on some long-overdue administrata, as well. I updated my website and added a page for landscapes. I also updated my list of exhibitions, and was pleased to see that I’ve got something on the calendar every month this year through July already. I feel like my art career is finally starting to bounce back from the neglect it received during the year of international move (Munich to Edinburgh, with a long layover in Tokyo) + leukemia (my husband’s; he’s doing really well now). (I should really come up with a catchier name for that year. The Year of Stuff that Happened. The Rollercoaster Year. The Year that was Awesome and then Terrible and then (Slowly) Awesome Again. OK, I’ll keep trying.) Anyway, I’m very happy to have so many exhibitions on the calendar. I better get painting so I’ll have something to show at all of them.

Painting Chattanooga with snow, among other things

ChattanoogaSnow (1)

Chattanooga with snow, 30x40cm, oil on canvas. Available.

I have a lot of different things going on in the studio this week: some paintings of the view out my window, a self portrait that I need to finish quickly for an exhibition, various mixed media experiments, and a small pile of daily paintings I want to re-work. Every single surface is covered with stuff in progress.

Plus there’s an ever-bigger pile of dry daily paintings waiting to be scanned in, cataloged, and posted online. That’s not really going anywhere, because my art database needs to be revamped before I add any more paintings to it. I was using Bento for my database, but as that program has been discontinued, I want to get switched over to something else. I’ve been saying that for a while now, but not really doing anything about it. I think it’s time to bump it to the top of the priority list, before this backlog of paintings on the scanner gets so high it topples over.

Goodness this is a boring post. When I am not sitting down to write an art blog post, I think of all kinds of little thoughts and observations I’d like to share here. It’s all incredibly witty and entertaining, I assure you. Where those charming gems flutter off to when I actually get WordPress open, I have no idea. Perhaps I’ll do a better job of capturing them next time.

January landscapes

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landscape in progress, oil on board

Happy new year, my three readers. It’s cold and drafty in my studio, but I’m pretty sure it’s building my character, or something. This month my art has mainly focused on Scottish landscapes. Landscapes are a new challenge for me. How to create paintings that are interesting? Communicating an aspect of the beauty of a place is not enough for a painting to be successful, even when combined with a strong composition. Something more needs to be happening. My art teacher suggested floating some disembodied body parts in the water in the top painting. What do you think?

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landscape in progress, oil on canvas

It has been an interesting month, with my mood swinging between a feeling of accomplished growth and one of crippling self doubt. You know, artist stuff.

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landscape in progress, oil on canvas

The painting above was starting to look a little too pretty, so I took a scraper to it, which created some interesting effects in the paint. I’m making sure I keep many works in progress going at once, so I don’t get too precious about any of them. Surely one or two of them will have to come out well, right?

Getting bigger

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Stockbridge – work in progress, 30x40cm, oil on canvas

Now that that’s over, I’m moving on to some larger canvases, and now suddenly I have too many options. Do I focus on cityscapes next, as I had planned? Pursue Highland landscapes a bit more, as they turned out to be my favorite new subject last month? Go back to the Edinburgh pub and restaurant series I was starting to sketch out in my head? Sometimes I wish someone would just tell me what to do, so I could know which direction to run in.

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Highlands – work in progress, 30x40cm, oil on canvas

As it is, it seems I’m kind of going the Highlands route, with a little Edinburgh thrown in. It’s cold, wet, and windy outside this week, so I don’t feel like going out to gather new material, but I have 1000s of photos of the Highlands that I’m still sorting through, so plenty to work from there. When I put it that way, it all sounds so logical. More Highlands for me!