Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Creating a Splash

    One aspect of life I am really missing in lockdown is being by the sea, and especially my native Pembrokeshire with it's incomparable combination of sandy beaches and stunning cliff scenery. I'm desperately in need of being splashed in the face by some wild breaker crashing on the rocks, so I thought you might like to see how I tackle these fascinating actions of the sea.

    This is the sort of sea that all self-respecting sailors should be indoors, but the kind I love to catch in a sketch. Just being there and observing what happens when the sea crashes onto the rocky anvils helps you understand what is going on, and happily it is repeating itself all the time. I often stand mesmerised by these moving images, then snap out of my reverie and consider how I would render the effect in watercolour. By watching every part of that moving scene in succession you will learn a lot about moving water and a sketchbook plus a watersoluble pencil will help you record the moment without any need to be completely accurate.

    To capture the white splashes in this painting I brought down the cliff colour - light red with spots of cadmium red here and there at the top, then halfway down introducing purple - a mixture of cadmium red and French ultramarine - for the lower cliff. I laid it down as a very wet wash, but as I came closer to the rocky anvils I wiped the brush on a towel to lose the excess liquid and then rolled the number ten round sable on its belly around the top of the rocks. This created an intermittent and ragged edge of purple around the white of the paper above the rocks. Where it went wrong and left an ugly mark as sometime happens I quickly pulled out the offending splodge with a damp brush, although if I can't manage that at the time I simply let it dry and then scrub it out with a damp old brush (not your brand new number ten sable!). This was painted on the beautiful Saunders Waterford rough surface which helps enormously to create the ragged edges round the splashes as well as rock textures. A NOT surface will work well but the rough version will help you even more in this instance. There are many examples of these various techniques for rendering waves and sea action in my book Seas & Shorelines in Watercolour which can be obtained from my website http://www.davidbellamy.co.uk

    There are other ways of capturing these splashes - sometimes I wet the area above the rocks and then lower the purple wash (or whatever colour I am using) into the wet area, working it round the splash. This has a lovely clean effect but you often will need to adjust the shape of the splash by pulling out colour with a damp brush. Try these lovely effects out on scrap watercolour paper first and have fun! Right, without the sea and on a very hot day here I think it's time to go and jump in the river..............    take care!

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Introducing humour into your watercolours

    I much appreciate the comments you make, and hope you are all keeping well and free from Covid-19. It's certainly changing life at the moment, and surprisingly I'm managing to do more walking than normal, as I'm not travelling around with work. Getting out into nature is really the best thing we can do if possible, and May is a great time to be out on the hills with the sketchbook.

    Another vital ingredient at times like this is a touch of humour to counter the appalling news coming through every day, and relieve any worries about where it will all end. Adding a little visual humour into your paintings, even in a small way can appeal to many folk. A while back I was sketching by a farm track when no less than three red tractors came along, driven by three rotund, red-faced farmers. I grabbed my camera and waved as they rattled past, then carried on sketching as they disappeared over the horizon. After several minutes they reappeared, coming the other way, and I managed to get some more shots of them.
   
    I continued with my sketch, but then, back came the three tractors yet again, belching out fumes. This time they turned off at the junction where I stood and into the lane shown in the painting, which was my composition. Off past the farmhouse they roared and there was peace for a few minutes. Sure enough, shortly after they once again hove into view, still in perfect formation, coming back towards me, so I have included one of them in the painting. Unable to hold back my curiosity I stopped them as they approached to find out what they were up to. They were lost and were looking for a farm in the vicinity - probably for some agricultural soiree. I wasn't familiar with the local area but I had a map and soon put them on the right course, and off they went.

    What I hadn't noticed during all the coming and going was that the lead tractor had a little passenger on one side, which you can see in this close-up detail. Watch out for this sort of thing as it can enliven your work. I could have made the tractor a bit more wonky and the farmer more of a cartoon character, and these are things worth considering before you touch the paper. When out and about I do like to engage with farmers and other folk as I often learn a lot and have more time to notice any little gems like this. It's also worth carrying a few of your greetings cards with you to give away as you sketch someone's farmhouse. They might well buy a painting off you!  Mind how you go.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Painting a backlit scene in watercolour

    Some of the simplest watercolours can have the most impact, and one of my favourites in this category is a watercolour sketch done of the Middim Khola river in Nepal, carried out at speed.
Most of this was done with a mixture of French ultramarine and cadmium red, with burnt umber replacing the red for the closer, stronger tones, and closer in the foreground and right-hand trees I have also dropped in some yellow ochre. The strong backlighting eliminated most detail and created a powerful sense of a series of tones that automatically suggested a vast space. Here and there I have deliberately lost the edges of ridges and the shorelines of the river, and emphasised others. Evenings are a good time to capture this sort of effect with backlighting, which also creates a sparkling effect of water. If you are working directly from the scene try painting a monochrome as it is quicker and you can capture the effects before they disappear!

This sketch was carried out during a painting expedition when I took a group of painters trekking in the Himalayas. That morning we had descended from some considerable height and one of our more elderly artists was missing as we sat on the banks of the river for lunch. I wasn't too worried as she had a Sherpa allocated to look after her full-time, but we waited in expectation of her arrival. She wore a large distinctive white hat and when I gazed up at the mountain we'd descended I suddenly caught sight of what I assumed was her hat coming out of the trees like a bat out of hell. I couldn't believe it, as she would never have been able to move at such speed, so I grabbed my binoculars and focused them on the hat.

Sure enough, it was our missing artist, hurtling down the mountainside at astonishing speed. She was actually sitting piggy-back style on the back of the diminutive little Sherpa and he was running down the mountain! These little fellows are incredible, and he was quite a bit smaller than our artist friend. They then disappeared into more trees and about fifteen minutes later came sauntering side-by-side out of the bushes on the far side of the river. There were many tales on that trip and it was quite tough for many, but they all relished the experience of a lifetime.

Stay safe and keep painting!

Friday, 24 April 2020

Rip-Roaring Tales from the drawing board

    One of the after-dinner features of many of my painting courses has been Bellamy's Bedtime Stories which developed after requests from students, and I've been asked if I can include some of these into the blogs. Robert, one of my students who is sadly no longer with us, had a delightful mischievous streak and asked me to literally tear into his painting at the final critique. He'd painted it especially for the purpose and he was a good painter. With the group gathered I began with Robert's work, explaining what a marvellous rendition of the subject he'd made, but I didn't like the right-hand side, so to everyone's horror I tore a 3-inch vertical strip off the paper and declared that that was much better. However, I then pointed out that it was slightly unbalanced and that we needed to remove the top part of the sky, and so tore another strip off. By now many in the group were eyeing their own paintings piled up on the table and wondering whether they should rescue them.

    I continued with a denigration of the over-worked foreground (which was actually well done!), and with a severe frown announced that much of that would have to go as well. By now the painting was less than half its original size. I found a particularly "revolting" passage and tore that off, continuing in that way until the whole thing was reduced to the size of a large postage stamp, at which point I declared it was a truly outstanding work of art. Many of the students were in the know and the non-painting partners found it rather entertaining. I no longer do such severe appraisals, but while Robert was with us anything could happen. We do miss him greatly.


    How did you get on with the scene of Carn Llidi? I promised in an earlier blog I would show you my version which you can see on the right. I decided to work mainly in greys with spots of colour here and there, darkening the sky to highlight the peak. The buildings were pushed nearer to the peak and stand out against the strong darks immediately behind. The telegraph pole was achieved with white gouache which I have also used to scrub in to add interest in places. The foreground is almost abstract with stony shapes and splashes of reds and ochres. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford rough paper which I find superb for creating textural effects. The original photograph shows how much I have altered the scene. Of course there are an infinite number of ways to respond to a subject - there is no one 'right' way, but my aim here was to stimulate a different way of looking at a scene and also to encourage you to look at your sketches and photographs with a view to trying all sorts of approaches, perhaps even trying five or six completely different ways to paint a scene.

Keep painting and stay safe.......

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Making still life more interesting

    The weather continues to be glorious sunshine every day, as though mocking us in our state of lockdown, though even a brief sojourn into the garden can lift our spirits immensely. One genre of painting that is so pertinent in our current situation is, of course, still life. Did I hear a groan? Yes, I'm afraid the thought of painting apples and oranges in a bowl doesn't exactly set me alight, so when I had to include still life in my Complete Guide to Watercolour Painting many years ago, I really had to rack my brains. My answer was to look for still life subjects based on my hobbies and interests. Ice climbing was one of my interests and when I came across an ancient ice axe and snow shoes in a French refuge I made a sketch of them hanging on a wall.

    As you can see, I've lost parts of the snow-shoe rims in order to emphasise other parts. For the book I'd painted a snowy mountain background, but here I wanted to show up the ice-axe much larger. When doing the original sketch I didn't have much control over the lighting, but if you have the object before you then you can adjust the lighting to create highlights in the right places. If you are a gardener you may like to depict a spade or trowel, or maybe a wheelbarrow. Balls of wool make colourful subjects, perhaps accompanied by knitting apparatus, while fishing reels, old worn-out boots, favourite hats, model ships and the like, and so much more can make challenging objects to paint or draw.

    Many thanks for all your best wishes and comments. Try to keep painting and being creative. Check out the online community of The Artist and Leisure Painter magazines at www.painters-online.co.uk where you'll get a host of help and ideas. Please note that if you order anything from us at the moment there might be a slight delay owing to the current situation. The next blog will feature my painting of the subject I set on the previous blog. Stay safe!

Friday, 10 April 2020

Travelling the world during Coronavirus

    I've just returned from wonderful times in Egypt and Yemen this week, immersing myself in fabulous scenery, although I'm afraid it's all in the mind, as they are places that I've been painting, not actually visiting! That's one of the marvellous advantages of being an artist - you can transport yourself to anywhere for a while, and I'm especially glad that at the moment I'm working on a book on the Middle East, and enjoying every moment, with so many memories flooding back.

    Given our unremitting lockdown I thought you might like a little exercise to do over the Easter holiday. This is where I show you a photograph of a landscape scene and invite you to paint it. In about a week's time I will then show you how I tackled it. Don't worry, you're not expected to get the result like mine as we all have different ways of working and even hundreds of ways of producing a different painting of the scene can still all be right. The idea is to stimulate innovation and inspire you to put your own slant on the composition.

    The scene is Carn Llidi in North Pembrokeshire with the foreground in strong sunshine, but with a dull band behind the buildings to two-thirds up the peak. That dark band is extremely useful as it highlights the buildings. It covers a slope covered mainly in bracken, with some grass showing in places. In summer it is very green and in autumn the bracken becomes a definite light red colour. Move elements around to suit yourself, and for this it would be good to start with a small thumbnail sketch to ascertain where you want to place these elements. Then think about the sky treatment and the sort of mood you wish to convey: sunny, stormy, tranquil, warm evening light, or whatever appeals. Will you leave out some of the features? What will you do with the foreground hedgerow? Most importantly what will be your centre of interest? I'm afraid the small scale of this photo will not show much detail, but this can be an advantage, stopping any fiddling.

    Have a go at this composition if you wish and I'll show my version in a week's time. In the meantime I wish you a happy and peaceful Easter. Stay safe and enjoy any worldwide travels you do in the next few days..........in your paintings, of course!

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Subjects to paint in self-isolation: flowers

    Spring is always a great pleasure in Mid-Wales: buds are springing out, daffodils caught in the spring sunshine invoke a joyous feeling as they are set against the sparkling water of the garden pond, while the birdsong is especially uplifting at the moment. The frogs have come and gone after their annual orgy in the pond, their massed croaking drifting into the house in waves of communal ecstasy. The sparrows are forever darting about, but with the mating season in full swing they are pretty aggressive: at times the undergrowth is waving about madly with their exertions! All this I see from my studio window, as well as the new-born lambs gambolling around in the field next door.

    All this seems utterly surreal given our present predicament with this nasty virus, but as artists we are lucky to have an occupation or hobby that transports us to other worlds, if only for a brief period. Your response to my last blog post was so rewarding and I'm glad so many of you found it helpful. I've just completed a deadline for my book on Landscapes Through the Seasons, so while I am still working on another book, I now have more time to push out blogs that will hopefully give you some ideas during this difficult period when we have to self-isolate. Although I am mainly a landscape artist I will try to cover a number of genres to provide as much variety as I can, including imaginary subjects and maybe even fantasy - we all need a little fantasy now and then. I know many of you are flower painters, for example, so why not start there?

    Flowers and still life are obvious subjects to fall back on when we are house-bound. My work on flowers is almost exclusively on wild flowers as part of a landscape, but I did touch on cut flowers in my book Complete Guide to Watercolour Painting. If you are painting a vase of flowers pick out one or two blooms that stand out and play the others down slightly by losing edges and running colours into one another. Suggesting background shapes with a plain, shadowy wash can accentuate a sense of depth in the composition, and introducing some spatter effect as I've done round some of the edges in this watercolour, gives a sense of spontaneity and life. You don't always need a background but if you do include one then play it down so that the flowers take pride of place. A simple suggestion of perhaps the edge of a table can also set it up well. Saunders Waterford high white is an excellent paper for flowers as its white is so brilliant, and Bockingford is a good alternative.

    Those without a garden may find it difficult at the moment, unless you have a window-box. Now, of course is the time to set seeds so if you are bereft of window-boxes or flower baskets try to get one, even if you have to rely on a rusty old bucket - sometimes these decrepit old things can have far more character than the latest gleamingly spotless container. Plant a few seeds and before very long you will have new subjects to work on, but don't ask me what to plant - unlike my late namesake Professor David Bellamy or my brother Malcolm, I'm not a horticultural expert! Also consider getting miniature trees and exotic plants.

    More tips and ideas soon, and maybe I should shortly do one especially for the lads, perhaps on how to paint the Cold War era Soviet T-64 main battle tank in action, although I doubt that many of you will have one of those in your garden.......  Keep safe and keep painting!