Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Sketching in Tenerife

    I've just returned from a week of glorious sunshine in Tenerife - a stunning place for the artist who likes dramatic rock scenery in all sorts of amazing colours. At one stage my feet seemed to be on fire from energetic hiking across sharp volcanic surfaces. Mostly I was alone, hiking and sketching in the mountains, but on one day I wanted to do some work in the amazing Masca Gorge. Unfortunately this would involve no less than 3 buses just to reach the top of the gorge, so to have any hope of actually doing it I needed to join a trekking company group trip. For the artist, however fast she or he works, sketching with a group is quite a challenge.

    I chose the Scandinavian Canary Trek as they are a small company well tuned to the natural environment, and don't take massive groups as some do. It was only when we were halfway to Masca that I mentioned to Victor, the Chilean guide, that I wished to do some sketching. Happily this did not phase him, and he only had three of us to look after. The other two were Finnish friends, Kaj and Krister and we moved quickly down the incredible gorge, seeming to cross the stream about 40 times. I mainly did pencil sketches, working in a linear manner when happily most of Victor's stops to explain features coincided with a good sketching point. When this didn't happen I simply filled in details and tones from memory. Over the years my visual memory has become well developed, though occasionally more than just a little imagination does tend to creep in! In the above photo of the Elephant Victor is on the left and Kaj crossing the stream.

    The one watercolour sketch of that day was finished later, and shows the sunlight striking the top of the massive crag at the end of the ridge on which part of Masca village is clustered. This is the start of the walk, and truly spectacular. For this I used a cartridge pad. In a painting I would move the central palm tree a little to the left, as it bothers me being so central. This is another reason why sketches are so important: they can highlight problems before you make them on the main painting. If you go out with non-artists and wish to do quick sketches then preparation is the key. Sharpen all your pencils beforehand, carry a small box of 5 or 6 colours of Inktense blocks or watercolour sticks, a sketchpad, water and 2 or 3 brushes. Watercolour pencils are also useful, but do keep your kit simple and easily and quickly accessible. Don't forget a camera, of course.

    Tenerife is a great place for the landscape artist - yes, it has mood as well as strong sunshine, and the colours are amazing. My only regret was to forget to include Perylene Red in my paintbox, as it was very prominent in the volcanic areas. If you'd like a little adventure I recommend Canary Trek

Monday, 1 December 2014

Creating a feeling of past times in your watercolour landscape

    The vast range of styles, approaches and emotions generated in our paintings makes the art world such a wonderful place for us to explore. It never ceases to amaze me what an exciting world we have in the arts. I mention emotions in particular, for to respond with passion and feeling is vital in whatever genre we paint. Sure, we all do 'bread and butter' work, as it's not easy maintaining that level of high emotion for our most important works.

    Emotion in art is often triggered by a sense of nostalgia, and one small, yet effective way of introducing this into landscape paintings is to include symbols of yesteryear, whether you are painting old sailing boats, steam locomotives, or whatever your theme may be.
In this watercolour the old county road stretches away towards the Brecon Beacons, and on the right-hand side I have included the old sign-post that still stands there. This style of sign-post is slowly disappearing from the British countryside, and it's amazing how including just a minor element like this can evoke a marvellous sense of the past. Watch out for these little gems if you like to put across this feeling of past times in your paintings. The signpost was created with masking fluid which will give you a strong, stark edge to the feature.

    This is one of several of my paintings now on display at the Ardent Gallery in the centre of Brecon, tel. 01874 610710   Pop in and treat yourself to a coffee there while you look at the Christmas show.

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