A self-confessed colour enthusiast, pebble painter Elspeth McLean shares the fascinating journey behind her creative career, as well as revealing her top tips for beginners…
Hi Elspeth! First things first, what led you to start painting on pebbles?
I have always been creative at heart. Some of my earliest memories are of drawing. My family has always supported my creative spirit so I was blessed with a lot of opportunity, encouragement and supplies to express myself. I always knew that when I ‘grew up’, I was going to be an artist. Painting on pebbles happened quite unexpectedly. I was walking a beach in New Zealand in 2013 when I found a perfectly round stone. I love to paint mandalas so finding this stone was an opportunity to paint on a new and unexpected surface. The first collection of mandala stones I painted were created for the simple pleasure of doing something different – I never expected them to become as popular as they did.
You have such a distinctive style. How was this changed and developed over the years?
Another lifelong love of mine is colour. I have always been attracted to bright and bold colour and my artwork has always reflected this. I used to get told off in high school for my colours not being “realistic enough”! Pattern has also been a great influence on my art. My earlier works were bold and colourful. I would use dots to highlight certain areas, such as a shimmer across the ocean, a blazing sun or a glowing moon. These finishing details of a painting were my favourite part of my process. I would find myself rushing through the actual painting itself so that I could dot. Over the years I began to add more and more dot detail to my work to satisfy my need! Eventually it evolved until my work became pretty much entirely dots.
How do you decide which colours and patterns to pair together? Is it something that comes naturally to you as you’re painting?
My artwork is a process of playing around with colour. I go through phases: sometimes I favour warm tones, other times cool shades and also different combinations. Whatever phase I am going through has usually been inspired by something I have experienced or witnessed. For example, right now I am going through a red/orange/aqua/indigo phase after being inspired by a recent trip to Morocco. I usually do have a colour plan with each piece that I create. However, I definitely let these flow and speak as I paint. I may begin with a plan but as I begin to paint I may feel drawn to add a different colour. I always follow that inner guidance and I have created some of my favourite pieces through this process.
What advice would you give to others who are looking to give stone painting a try?
I always tell people to first make sure that you’re sourcing your stones from a place where they are allowed to be collected from. If you are collecting stones directly from nature, make sure to research the local beach and conservation rules. You can also buy stones from hardware and craft stores. Always wash stones in warm soapy water to remove any dirt or debris. I favour acrylic paints because they dry fast and keep their texture. I find that I have to slightly water down my paint to create a smooth – but not runny – consistency. I always use a paintbrush – usually size 0-1 – to create my dots, but any small watercolour brush will suffice. I encourage people to experiment to find the right materials and tools for them. What works for one artist may not for another so make material choice and discovery be part of the journey. As with any activity, my best words of advice are practise, practise, practise and of course, have fun with it! Don’t be too attached to the outcome – enjoy the creative process!
Finally, do you have any exciting future plans for your stone art that you can share?
Yes, I recently teamed with Ravensburger to create a puzzle from a photo of my Rainbow Mandala Stone Collection. I have always loved puzzles so to have the opportunity to create one of my own was a dream come true. I do have more exciting plans for this year, but those will be revealed very soon! You can sign up to my email subscription to be kept in the know.