Sunday, 4 October 2015

Injecting a sense of atmosphere into your paintings

    If you really want to give your landscape paintings a boost one of the most effective methods is to inject a strong dose of atmosphere into the scene. Unfortunately most of the time when you sketch or photograph a subject there may not be much by way of atmosphere, so in many cases you need to inject it into quite an ordinary scene. With time and experience this becomes easier.

    In this view of the Teign estuary in Devon you can barely see the distant Dartmoor ridges, and even then they become lost in the atmosphere at the extremities. To achieve this sense of mood and distance I have used the same wash for the ridges as I have for the lower sky area. Keeping most of the edges softened also helps create mood, as does a very limited palette. There is hardly any detail in any of the background trees and promontory, and even the centre of interest - the cottage with its attendant trees has little extra colour.

    This painting is part of my forthcoming exhibition Shorelines and Summits at Lincoln Joyce Fine Art, 40 Church Road, Great Bookham Surrey, KT23 3PW - telephone 01372 458481  Their website is  The exhibition runs from 28th October to 7th November. Both the coastal and mountain scenes include strong atmospheric effects in most cases.

    There are still places available at my seminar which takes place from 10 am to 3pm on 28th October in the Old Barn Hall opposite the gallery, so you can also view the exhibition. Tickets are available from the gallery or  Clockwork Penguin on 01982 560237 The seminar comprises a watercolour landscape demonstration and an illustrated talk, both covering how to include animals and wildlife in your paintings - and, of course, lots of atmosphere, and you will have the opportunity of asking questions. I hope to see you there.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Capturing waves in a sketch

    This is a great time for getting wet in the cause of art - taking your sketchbook and a watersoluble graphite pencil into the shallow surf on a safe beach and getting really close to those waves. You can create some lovely effects with a watersoluble pencil, and either brush over the sketch with a plastic aquash or water brush, or simply dip your finger in the sea and use that! The latter method, of course gives little scope for intricate detail, but that can be an advantage in stopping you fiddling.

    This A5 sketch of boisterous surf on Marloes beach only took a few minutes and it shows the subtle tonal effects you can achieve with a watersoluble pencil. I worked round the small blobs of white foam, and I was especially keen to capture the interaction of hard and soft edges, many of which kept changing with the movement of the water. Even if you don't do a full painting from it, the sketch will teach you a lot about rendering wave action. One of the main advantages such a sketch has over a photograph is the dynamism and sense of movement you can portray with rapid and energetic hand movements.

    So don't forget to take your sketchbook with you when you visit the seaside. There will always be something to catch your eye. I did quite a number of sketches that glorious June day at Marloes beach, some of which only took 3 or 4 minutes.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Sketching Alpine scenes in Watercolour

    Some good folk may well manage to get out blogs while on a camel trek to Samarkand, but alas, when you are carrying all your art gear, a full china tea set and a spare rucsack full of Danish pastries it's a bit much to include blogging devices as well. Hence the lack of blog posts - I've been out at the 'sharp end' for a few weeks, though staying at the superb Sunstar hotel in Zermatt was hardly roughing it. The staff were brilliant, providing that marvellous Swiss hospitality, though as I couldn't get them to provide an after-dinner yodelling session the entertainment for the painting group was reduced to the notorious Bellamy's Bedtime Stories.

   Unsurprisingly, this post therefore covers complicated Alpine scenery, which certainly challenged the painters. In this watercolour sketch of the Matterhorn from the Theodulgletschersee I chose this medium because I wanted to record the colours, many of which were quite extraordinary, especially in the rock band directly beyond the lake. Some of these were violent reds, looking as though they'd just erupted from the earth's interior - a geologist's heaven. I've also brought out some of the varied colour on the mountain itself, and it pays to look for these nuances in colour when the subject is before you.

    The sketch looks complicated, is a little over-worked, but I was more concerned with getting plenty of detail for the finished painting which I will do later in the studio. Even then it is considerably simplified. By all means overload, overwork and over-write on your sketches, as they are a working document, and the main simplification should appear in the final painting. As the painting is usually larger than the sketch you can see why we need more detail than looks right on many sketches. There wasn't a cloud in the sky but I added one to break up the harsh lines of the mountain to show students a useful device. We had blazing hot sunshine every day so where there was no shade sketching proved quite a challenge when presented with all that glaring white paper, and the consequent difficulties in assessing tonal values.

    This autumn I have another of my watercolour seminars in Great Bookham near Guildford, which coincides with my next exhibition in the Lincoln Joyce gallery just across the road. The Old Barn Hall in Great Bookham is a fine venue and my theme this year is painting animals and birds in the landscape. Over the years wildlife has given me such great pleasure, sometimes great hilarity and occasionally great escapes. The first session is a painting demonstration, and after a break for refreshments it will be followed by an illustrated talk which will include British landscapes with farm animals, birds and wildlife, plus many wildlife scenes from the Arctic, Africa and other places. This will cover animals in some detail and those that are hardly visible or in the distance, and how to include them in your composition. Birds will tend to be less detailed by comparison. Naturally, there will be a variety of scenery, skies and atmosphere. For more details please check out my website  Tickets can be obtained from the website or from Lincoln Joyce Fine Art (Tel 01372 458481) Both sessions will be packed with techniques and wild experiences, so do come along and join in the fun.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Substituting detail in a landscape painting

    I've been cramming quite a number of adventures in lately (most of them involving a thorough wetting!), leaving me precious little time to blog, and there's so many more lined up it's going to be difficult keeping up any narrative. A couple of weeks ago I kayaked down the Wye with my daughter Catherine and her partner Nicko, and  she took this shot of me sketching in calm water. The scowl, if you can see it, is obligatory when sketching if you need clear concentration - lose your paddle and all you have to operate the craft with is a number ten round sable....... It was a marvellous day out, in glorious sunshine.

    One of the problems we have as artists painting in the landscape, is the need sometimes to fill a gap - perhaps to replace a rather boring or unpleasant object. In this painting of a scene in the Brecon Beacons I have added in a clothes- line on the left of the building to replace some unremarkable bushes. This is an excellent way of adding interest and colour to a farm or cottage. The horse was actually there and didn't need any changing at all.

    The actual painting is in the Ardent Gallery in the centre of Brecon, together with several other of my watercolours - telephone 01874 610710

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Demonstrating watercolours at Patchings Art Festival

    June wouldn't be quite the same without the Patchings Art Festival, which seems to get better every year thanks to the amazing Chas and Liz who are the brains behind it all. This year was no exception and we had great enthusiastic crowds. It's also a marvellous occasion to meet so many other artists, most of whom we only see once a year, as well as the manufacturers who produce all these mouth-watering artistic products.

    It's always a great pleasure to work with St Cuthberts Mill who make the outstanding Waterford and Bockingford papers, and demonstrate for them in the huge marquee. This year the demonstrations were limited to one hour, so there was no hanging around waiting for washes to dry! One of my demos was the scene on the left, not quite finished, but enough to give a flavour of what the completed work would be like. I have used Daniel Smith watercolours, and when used in combination with Saunders Waterford High White paper the whole thing tends to give an extra WOW!! factor.

    This is a composition based on an illustration in my Winter Landscapes book, and I shall complete it in the studio before long. This leads me to the point of this post: I have scanned the painting as it stands, and will do so again once it is complete. You might like to do this yourself, photographing your painting at a stage where you are nearly at the end, but maybe a little unsure how much more detail to include. After photographing it on completion you will then be able to compare the two different stages. This will help you to judge if you are overworking your paintings during the final stages. It will not help your current painting if you have indeed over-cooked it, but gradually you will have a better idea when to put your brushes down.

    Maybe I'll see you next June at Patchings?

Friday, 29 May 2015


    Last week I did a watercolour demonstration for Hythe Art Society in Kent. It was their 50th anniversary and the event was held in the baronial hall of Lympne Castle, a grand place with marvellous views across to the French coast. It was followed by a splendid cream tea - a most enjoyable occasion, and what a lovely art society! May their next 50 years be a great success.

    Naturally I was keen on taking the opportunity while on the Kent coast to do some sketching, and though there was not much time I managed a quick pencil sketch of the fishermen's beach at Hythe.

The fishing boats were backed by a couple of the old Martello towers that run along the coast, thus giving it a touch of local flavour. As you can see, I included quite a few written notes on the sketch to remind me not just of colours, but any other useful information such as the uniform level of the base of the clouds which was very marked and the whole revealing an obvious diminution in the size of the clouds as they receded into the distance. Tonal values were also important with the main shadow area over the closer tower, so I have emphasised this. Notes on observations can be of enormous help to the artist, and even if you are not sketching it is worthwhile keeping a notebook in your purse or pocket to add to any photographs you may take. Sadly the fishermen's livelihood is now threatened by building taking place to the right of the picture.

Next week I shall be demonstrating at the Patchings Art Festival in lovely countryside just north of Nottingham. My appearances will be at 1pm on Thursday 4th, 1pm on Friday 5th, and 11am on Saturday 6th, with each demo lasting around one hour, so do come along if you are attending the festival. I shall be using the brilliant Saunders Waterford High-white papers made by St Cuthberts Mill. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Granulating Watercolours

    It's always a pleasure to try something new. As artists we are constantly being bombarded with new products and it is easy to find ourselves overloaded with stuff we will rarely use. When it comes to colours it pays to check them out first: if they are new colours seek out reviews. Check out their permanency. How do they differ from what you already possess? Buy only a few at a time and get to know them well before taking on any more. See how well they mix.

    One feature I love about watercolour paints is the manner in which some colours granulate. In the Daniel Smith range quite a number of the colours granulate beautifully. Here you can see the stunning granulation of Zoisite Genuine, an interesting grey with which you can create dramatic washes, and on the right some German greenish raw umber which is excellent for vegetation and foliage. Whilst you can introduce granulating medium into your colours, it does need copious amounts, but the colours shown on the right really do sing out with a lovely sense of textures. Check the labels for those that granulate and give one or two a try before committing yourself further.

    This example was painted on Saunders Waterford rough paper - if you use a rough paper it will enhance any granulation effects. I shall be demonstrating at the Patchings Art Festival in Nottinghamshire on 4th, 5th and 6th June, so do come along and see us in the St Cuthberts Celebrity Marquee. It's also a great place to look out for some new colours.