Thursday, 21 January 2016

Choose your moment

    Most of you are probably aware that I rather enjoy being out in nature with my sketchbook and a Danish pastry (that's a cake, of course, not a Scandinavian model). I always try to plan my excursions to coincide with the optimum conditions for my objectives, so last weekend I decided to go over to the Mid-Wales Fjordenland to sketch the snow-covered hills and filled-up reservoirs. This is an area more commonly known as the Elan Valley, a sort of Welsh lake district. With all the rain we have experienced in December and early January I hope to see scenes I have not witnessed for many years: the reservoirs so full that those hideous margins between the landscape and water are covered over.

     Sure enough, the reservoirs looked stunning, even without the help of the sun, with Garreg-ddu reservoir (on the right) looking especially magnificent. So, it pays to choose your moment, in this case after heavy rains when the water is high in rivers, lakes and reservoirs and waterfalls are really at their best. Leave it for the hot days of summer and you are quite likely to encounter just a trickle of a waterfall! I didn't get an opportunity to sketch this scene as the light was fading and I was parked in an awkward spot, so I might return soon on a better day and render it in watercolour.

    I did, however, spend some time sketching other subjects, one of which was done in watercolour. As I began the sketch it started to rain, and kept raining until I put it away and then it stopped. That is pretty much par for the course!

        Much of the intensity of the colours has washed off, but the black watercolour pencil has kept the image intact. I did this from a rough patch of ground mainly covered in dead bracken. There was no path and the charm of these places from the artists' point of view is that the awkward approach inhibits most other people from coming over to see what you are up to. An advantage of days like this is that if you wear a large hood it isolates you from the voyeurs and can impart a sort of mysterious non-gender type of person to others - a great advantage!

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Making the most of poor weather

    I hope all of you out there had a great festive season, or if Christmas isn't your thing then you have been enjoying yourself. I seem to have been everywhere except by the laptop, hence the long silence. One place I did visit just before Christmas was sunny Devon, but as I found it gloomy and misty I decided to make the most of the atmosphere and capture some wet-into-wet mistiness. Whatever the weather is doing out there it always has something for the landscape painter.

    This watercolour sketch was carried out on a cartridge sketch-pad. I chose this because firstly the smooth paper dries quicker than a rougher surface, which in the damp atmosphere would take some time to dry; and secondly I wanted to juxtapose the softness of the wet-in-wet technique with the hard sharpness that is accentuated on smooth paper. If you don't like cartridge paper for quick washes try a hot pressed paper - Bockingford comes in ideal HP pads for this sort of work. First of all I laid on Naples yellow in the sky, then drifted it to the left where I blended in a light green wash where the two largest trees appear.

   Without pausing I painted the fainter tree in with ultramarine and burnt umber using a strong mixture to keep the shape of the tree - working into the damp paper you really don't want much water on the brush! Without pausing I then drew into the green wash with an indigo watercolour pencil while the wash was still damp. I sat back and drank a coffee while the sketch dried and then I laid a medium tone around the trunks of the tall trees, thus highlighting them. Note also how I have left the vegetation under the trees sharp-edged to counter the soft, misty background - much easier to achieve on a smooth surface. It's only a rough sketch but it gave me great enjoyment and brightened up an otherwise gloomy day.

    If you need cheering up then why not tune in to CBEEBIES on BBC Television on Saturday 9th January at 10.45am and 15.40 - Catherine, my daughter is doing some of her whacky stunts. She is out in Australia at the moment and next month will be performing in Adelaide.

    A very Happy New Year to you all and may it be your best painting year yet!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Gearing up for winter sketching

    It's a pretty miserable, wet, misty day here in Mid-Wales, the sort that puts many people right off going out to sketch the landscape, but even in winter we can get some fine days when being out with a sketchbook is a real treat. Recently we had a fall of snow and the Black Mountains looked glorious in the late November sunshine as you can see below.

    Now that winter has arrived it's worth gearing up ready for that day when you wake up and the scenery outside is stunning, and begging to be painted. Preparation in advance is the key: if you have to search for everything the snow may well have melted, the early morning atmosphere dissipated and the best part of the day gone before you are ready for action.

    For sketching if you want to work quickly with minimum fuss a few pencils, watercolour pencils or sticks and a small cartridge sketchbook are all you need, plus your camera. Thin gloves of the Thinsulate sort help you draw in cold conditions, but a flask with a hot drink or soup can be a great morale-booster. Even better while you are sketching is a thermal travel mug which keeps your drink hot for hours - very welcome as you wait for a wash to dry or contemplate how much more of the composition to include. Note how the flask is prominent on the sledge during this sketching break amidst Arctic icebergs! The trouble with ice and snow is that watercolour is the best medium to capture their subtleties, but in temperatures below zero this is not the easiest option..........

    You can get further tips and techniques in my book Winter Landscapes in Watercolour which is available from all good bookshops, or if you would like a signed copy, from my website. At the moment there is a special free offer of a pack of Christmas cards with each copy of the book. Whatever you do don't miss out on the marvellous opportunities for capturing winter landscapes when the colours, the light and the trees are all so evocative. Just make sure you choose the right day to venture out!

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Painting figures in a mountain landscape

    Including figures in a landscape painting is one of the most basic ways of suggesting a sense of scale, but in a vast landscape where do you position them, and how large should they be? These can be critical decisions for the artist, especially as figures tend to immediately attract the eye of the viewer. They therefore become the focal point.

    In this large watercolour of Gyrn Las in Snowdonia the two figures are barely discernible in such a small reproduction. They are actually standing at the top of the small stream descending to the right of centre in the lower part of the composition. Even in the original they are not obvious, but once you know they are there they impart a feeling of being completely dwarfed in an immense landscape. They could not have been painted much smaller without completely losing them, but had they been made much larger the scene would appear a great deal smaller.

    The optimum position for placing figures is about one-third into the painting from either side and one-third from the top or bottom of the composition, but this can be varied to a degree, to suit the scene. Here they are a little less than one-third in from the bottom, but about one-third from the right-hand side.

    This watercolour, and many other works can be seen in the Autumn/Winter exhibition "Harmony" at Boundary Art, Cardiff's newest art space, where you can enjoy a Chinese tea while contemplating the exhibits which range from traditional to contemporary paintings in oil and watercolour by many artists. The exhibition runs from Saturday 14th November to 31st December. Boundary Art is at 3 Sovereign Quay, Havannah Street in Cardiff Bay, CF10 5SF  Tel. 02920 489869  Check out the website at http://www.boundaryart.com

Monday, 2 November 2015

Sketching and painting autumn scenes

    As usual, life is so full of exciting activities that it's hard to find time to blog, especially when I'd rather be communing with nature than with a computer. What a tremendous autumn it's been - the combination of lots of sunshine and amazing autumnal colours has really provided some stunning images for the landscape artist.
    My autumn course in Mid-Wales benefited from the colours and sunshine so much that we were able to paint out of doors in October, even quite high up in the Brecon Beacons. Here the group is painting the main peaks with a stream leading nicely into the focal point. There is still a lot of colour around, so you may well find it rewarding to get out and capture those scenes. A few dabs of masking fluid can be very effective for rendering those bright-coloured individual leaves that still hang around.

    Don't forget though, that a drop of rain can liven things up by creating puddles. These can form really useful features in a foreground, and can be introduced into a painting quite easily. They really come alive if you stand on the opposite side of the puddle to the sun, as the backlighting can create extremely bright and contrasting tones as you can see in the photograph on the right. It gets even better if you can get some of those autumn colours to reflect in the puddle, See how the light part of the puddle stands out against the darker leaves on the right-hand side, and the dark water stands out against the glistening wet surface of the path at other points. We can learn so much simply by observation like this, but it's even better if you can manage a sketch and  a photograph of the scene, as it will really drive the effect home.

    It was great to meet so many enthusiastic folk at my seminar in Great Bookham last week, and the response was really heart-warming. Thanks to you all who came along for the event. My exhibition across the road in the Lincoln Joyce Fine Art gallery continues until November 14th, so there is still plenty of time to pay a visit. Tel. 01372 458481    www.artgalleries.uk.com

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 www.artgalleries.uk.com  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.