Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Gearing up for sketching outdoors

    As we pass from autumn into winter it's a time of year when many artists seem to go into hibernation, especially if there are no local art classes to encourage them. When I wrote my latest book Winter Landscapes in Watercolour my aim was to encourage people to take a serious look at the countryside in winter, and if possible to get out and record the scenes in sketches or with a camera. The winter landscape can be breath-takingly beautiful, a time of year when you can find some of the most dramatic and often simple compositions that almost beg to be painted. So how do you make the most of this exciting time of year?

    If you keep an eye on the weather forecast you might get some idea of what's to come, but they seem to get it so wrong so often that it pays to be prepared for those glorious days when conditions are just right, whether snow is on the ground or not. If it takes you an hour or more to get your art gear together then you may well have lost the best part of the day, so having all your kit ready for action is vital. As far as keeping warm and dry is concerned, you can see in the photo that I am wrapped up in a warm fleece jacket, a warm sheepskin hat, scarf and thin gloves in which I can sketch quite happily. My trousers are lined, I have woollen socks and boots, thermal vest and inside the rucsack is my waterproof outer gear, a long neck tube which can cover not just my neck but up over my head as well, if need be, a steel thermos flask, mug, etc, so that I can make soup, coffee, tea, cappuccinos, the lot. I'm there to enjoy myself, so why not?

    My sketching gear varies from time to time, but in less-than perfect conditions it's best to keep it really simple so that you can work speedily. I mainly sketch on hardback cartridge books, even in watercolour, as it dries quickly on the smooth paper unless conditions are truly damp. I take several soft-grade pencils along, including water-soluble ones which can suggest a lovely mood. They are especially effective for suggesting snow conditions. A range of four or five brushes is adequate, and often I use just one on a sketch. I also carry around a plastic aquash brush which holds its own water reservoir in the handle. You only need a few colours. I prefer half-pans when working out of doors, rather than tubes, as they are all ready for action once I open the box, which has its own integral palette.

    Finally, it's also a great idea to have some plan of where you intend to go. I like to plan for different locations for different conditions. If the heavy rain has stopped seeking out waterfalls in spate might be worthwhile. Hoar frost on trees may not settle for long, so in that case it would be vital to be out quickly into the trees. Snow can totally transform all kinds of landscape, which can give you a wide choice, but a thin covering can quickly disappear, and it may be all you get all winter!

    One last tip: try to get a 20-minute walk in before you sketch and you'll find you can cope much easier than if you just stumble out of the warm car to start sketching or painting. So, with winter upon us, now is the time to sort out all that gear and be ready for those good days. Don't forget, afterwards you can treat yourself to tea and cakes and really feel you've achieved something. Oh, and don't forget that camera.....

   

Monday, 3 November 2014

The negative painting technique in watercolour

    This weekend we had our annual watercolour seminar in Pontypool, and as usual we had a very enthusiastic audience. It's always good when lots of questions are forthcoming and people create a real buzz with their obvious excitement about indulging in watercolour painting and learning new techniques. When they can see the techniques being demonstrated close-up on the screen it really fires them up.

    One of the techniques I was questioned about this weekend was that of the negative painting method. In watercolour, because it is a transparent medium and we cannot effectively paint a light colour over a dark one, we need to resort to other ways of working. We can use masking fluid, which reserves the white paper, but can be clumsy at times. Another method is to rub a candle across the paper to form a resist, but this is hopeless if you need intricate detail. A third technique is to paint gouache or acrylic over the dark area, but here the opaque paint can appear intrusive often losing that lovely sense of watercolour transparency and spontaneity.

    The picture shows part of a painting mainly completed out of doors. It reveals a number of negative painting examples: the trunk and branches of the birch tree; the right-hand boulder; where the dead bracken stands out against the dark background; and the edges of the falling and turbulent water. The sole method I have used here for each of these examples is to work round each feature with a darker colour. In the case of the red bracken, this was painted on first, allowed to dry, and then the dark background wash brought down to describe the birch tree, the boulder, the water and of course, the red bracken.

    This techniques is extremely effective and well worth learning. I don't normally put quite so much negative work into one painting, but this was meant as an illustration on how to apply it, and can be seen on my Painting Winter Landscapes DVD, which accompanies the book with the same title. For more information see my website or that of APV Films who produced the film.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Making the most of the winter landscape

    Like boy scouts, we should always be well prepared as artists, for those moments when the weather and atmosphere create stunning effects that we simply cannot ignore. This means not just carrying sketchbook and camera around with us when we're in the great outdoors, but being ready to venture out at short notice when a little seasonal magic appears. At this time of year I'm always aware that snow may well fall at any time on the hills and mountains, and if this coincides with those flaming autumn colours we have stunning possibilities for superb landscape paintings, so keep an eye on them there hills!

    In this watercolour of the Applecross Mountains the contrast in colour temperature between the foreground and the background is striking. You can, of course beef up the warm colours well into winter if you don't want your compositions to appear to cold overall. In this painting, which you will find on a larger scale in my book Winter Landscapes in Watercolour, the mountain details have been rendered in cool blues, apart from where the low sunlight is catching the higher parts. In the sunlit features I dropped in a touch of light red while the dark crags were still wet, and this also helps to place more emphasis on certain parts of the scene.

    During the change of seasons be ready for this effect and look out for it in your local landscapes. Be prepared to move around to set those lively warm colours against the cool mountains and snow. It will really bring your work to life.

    There are still places left on my seminar in Pontypool on Saturday 1st November, on painting winter landscapes in watercolour, and it includes a full demonstration and an illustrated talk on creating exciting winter scenes, with a great many examples of different types of landscape. It is aimed at preparing you for painting the winter landscape both indoors and outdoors, and making the most of this fascinating season. Check it out on my website. In the meantime, enjoy your painting!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Bringing animals to life with that special light

    Animals can make superb centres of interest in a composition whether they are wild or domestic. Like the landscape itself, if you include animals they do benefit enormously from good lighting conditions. I take every opportunity to sketch and photograph animals not only in good positions, but when they are bathed in good lighting or atmosphere. In that way I build up a reservoir of various features - not just animals - that can be added into a composition where I feel it is needed.

   The illustration shows part of a watercolour in which the cows were added from another scene. The whites on the animals are important in suggesting light, and these have been achieved by leaving the paper white, as with the house. After all the markings on the animals had been rendered and allowed to dry I applied the shadows with a mixture of French ultramarine with a touch of cadmium red. Painting this in after the markings tends to soften the effect. Note the underbelly of the right-hand cow has a slight touch of Naples yellow placed while it was still wet, to suggest reflected light bouncing back up off the ground.

    As well as appearing in my latest book, Winter Landscapes in Watercolour, this painting is one of several that I've just delivered to the Erwood Station Craft Centre in the beautiful upper Wye Valley about six miles south of Builth Wells. It's a delightful spot to stop for refreshments and check out the crafts. At the moment there are some lovely wool products and pottery to tempt you, and with Christmas coming it's a great place to get those special gifts that can be so difficult to find. They also stock all my books. For further information give them a ring on 01982 560674  It's quite likely that you'll also spot the odd cow around, so don't forget to bring along your sketchbook.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Painting on the Pembrokeshire Coast

    Jenny and I have just returned from running a painting course in St Davids in Pembrokeshire, where we were blessed with some wonderful autumn sunshine for most of the week. Solva looked especially appealing in the clear light. The picture at the bottom shows me demonstrating with a 'lay-flat sketchbook'.
  The lay-flat sketchbook is made up of the superb Saunders Waterford NOT paper backed with strong card, and designed so that each double page lays flat, so that it is easy to create a painting across both sides as shown in the illustration opposite. As the paper is flat and taut it is the watercolourists' dream surface to work on, and I enjoyed producing the alfresco watercolour. Although this is not quite the finished painting it does show how I altered the strident background ridge above the buildings to become a misty, indefinite background which throws the emphasis onto the cottages. Changing elements of a composition to suit your creative ideas is fine. We did however, find one or two of our old favourite subjects very much changed by nature, though. The storms of last winter did much damage - by comparison a few artistic changes hardly seem significant! The line down the centre is the centre-fold. The lay-flat sketchbook is available from the Society for All Artists (SAA). Check out their site on  www.saa.co.uk

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Livening up your autumn and winter landscape paintings

    How often do you find yourself in a superb location for painting, but with poor, flat light and dull, lifeless colours? This happens to me rather too often, and while it pays to go out to seek painting subjects in fine weather, this is not always possible. As a result we find ourselves with a scene that needs livening up quite a bit, and this is best done by introducing some exciting light and atmosphere, and changing the colours to a degree. In this watercolour of a farm in snow I warmed up the sky with a touch of alizarin crimson, and while the mass of trees to the left of the farm were still wet I washed in some light red to warm that area up. Cast shadows, created with French ultramarine with a touch of cadmium red liven up what would otherwise be quite a dull foreground.

   Every autumn I do a watercolour seminar, which is extremely popular, as it involves not just a landscape demonstration, but an illustrated talk and an opportunity to fire any questions at me. This year it takes place at the Pontypool Community Education Centre (The Settlement), in Pontypool, Monmouthshire on Saturday 1st November. The centre has tiered seating and excellent access roads, and the seminar begins at 10.30am and finishes around 2.30pm. The demonstration is projected onto a screen, with techniques highlighted and shown in enlargement, enabling the audience to follow each procedure more clearly, and ask questions as it unfolds.

    The illustrated talk covers many aspects of painting winter and autumn scenes, from initial sketching and how to work comfortably out of doors in the cooler months, what to wear outdoors, to painting back indoors with methods to make the most of low winter light to bring your painting to life; bringing warm and rich colours into a drab scene; making the most of snow in its various forms; describing those graceful bare trees; capturing the magic of autumn; tackling foregrounds, with examples of various types of foreground; and much more. Many watercolour techniques are shown in detail and discussed.

    To find out more about the seminar visit http://www.davidbellamy.co.uk/watercolour-seminar-2014/   Make the most of winter and autumn painting by planning your approach now.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Painting Winter Landscapes

    Winter is a time when most artists feel they should stay indoors, yet in many ways the winter landscape is more colourful, more varied and not covered in overwhelming greenery that also has the habit of hiding many fascinating subjects. Yet there are many days when getting out to sketch, or even just to photograph the landscape is not only rewarding, but pleasurable as well. You just have to choose your days, but to really make the most of it I have produced a package that should really help those who want to make the most of this fascinating season.

    Winter Landscapes in Watercolour is my brand-new 80-page book published this month by Search Press, and I have produced a companion DVD with the same title, filmed by APV Films to accompany it. The combination of book and film really does give you an all-round idea of how to produce a watercolour landscape and the thought processes behind it. The image on the right, for example, appears in both book and film, with the film showing me working on location, then in the studio. It's a farm on the Staffordshire moorlands, a simple subject which I have made even simpler by bringing in mist at the two extreme ends of the ridge and reducing the mass of white snow patches that were present. Sweeps with a large mop brush have created a drybrush sparkle over a lighter, earlier wash that had dried, and this is especially noticeable to the right of the buildings. It's an effective technique for suggesting rough ground without actually having to paint in a lot of detail. In the dark areas on and in front of the buildings I have left flecks of white gouache. This is clearer in the book and DVD, and really livens up the focal point.

    It's important to be well-prepared for working outdoors in winter, and this is covered in the book, together with ways of working quickly. But it's not all about working outside. The book and DVD are crammed with advice on painting the seasons from late autumn to early spring, and even if you don't intend going outside you will find much to help your landscape painting here. At the moment we have a special offer if you buy both book and DVD from my website at http://www.davidbellamy.co.uk/davids-page/  I really enjoyed working on these two projects as for me winter is a marvellous time to be out sketching, so I hope you will make the most of this fascinating season with these useful companions during long winter evenings.