Hornel as a young artist was closely associated with the Glasgow Boys. This group of artists concentrated on capturing naturalistic light effects especially in their distinctive paintings of figures in landscapes. Hornel's interest in strong colour applied with a palette knife resulted in densely patterned networks of strokes which became a feature of his later work. He collaborated on several decorative paintings with his friend George Henry which reflected their interest in folklore. The two artists also travelled to Japan in 1893. Hornel returned to his adopted home Kirkudbright and concentrated on commercially successful paintings of children in the Galloway countryside.