Monday, 25 August 2014

Foreground techniques in watercolour

    Foregrounds can often be a pain in the neck, and are often not considered properly until the rest of the painting has been completed. This is not good practice, of course, as it's by far a lot better to give the foreground some thought before you start painting. Anything but the simplest of landscapes will benefit from one or two studio thumbnail sketches to help you decide on the main features and relationships of the composition.

    Foregrounds vary considerably, and sometimes completely different types of foreground may well suit a scene. Having a lead-in to the focal point can be very effective, and in this watercolour of cottages on Skye the track undulates and wriggles, losing itself in places until it disappears completely round the right-hand side of the buildings. A lead-in doesn't have to be continuous, and there are times when it helps to be less conspicuous. The warm colours in the foreground here counter the cool ones in the distance, accentuating the sense of space, although I have mashed some strong blues into the foreground vegetation with a spatula in places to create interest. I used the edge of a piece of card to apply the paint here and there - this introduces a change of style from the brushwork, tending towards the abstract. Drystone walls, posts and boulders can be useful for breaking up masses of vegetation. Experiment with all sorts of objects with which to apply the paint if you'd like to try something new.

    On a hike recently I wanted to find a spot where the river created a really good lead-in to a mountain, but there was no path. The dense vegetation simply got worse as I battled upstream (without a machete - they don't like you carrying them around these days, and my Swiss Army knife wasn't quite up to the job). If, rather than fight it, you wish to paint such dense vegetation, then the semi-abstract system as in the bottom left of this painting, can be the best option. Enjoy your painting/hacking!

Monday, 11 August 2014

What on earth is that?

    Do you ever look through your sketches and sometimes think 'What on earth is that?' You simply can't remember what it was and thought at the time you had enough detail to work from. I sometimes deliberately make a sketch a little obscure, although more often I make certain parts of the sketch less definite, with perhaps hardly any detail, or maybe make it more abstract.
    In this rough pencil sketch, which I did on my recent visit to the Scottish Highlands, my aim was to create a simple record of an interesting composition for some future painting. I could easily see many features on the distant hill and shore, and I could see so much more around the houses, but I was only interested in the basic composition, a few shapes and a couple of colours. This method makes it easier for me to impose my own atmosphere and colouring on the scene, and not painstakingly follow every scrap of detail and colour in the actual scene.

    I've sketched hundreds of Highland scenes, so I'm familiar with many of the standard colours. When I come across prominent or new colours that have impact, such as the strips of dull pink pebbles and orangey yellow weed as in this scene, I make a note, as that's the sort of thing that's so easy to forget. There were a few small boats on the other side of the dark concrete pier, so I will probably add one or two of those in just below the buildings when I do the painting, and maybe add some figures and gulls for life, otherwise the composition is fine as it stands - the far hill will dissolve into a light mist or squall. This approach to sketching will help you simplify your paintings and impart more impact.

    The Highlands were at their most beautiful, but sadly the onset of vast wind turbines, hundreds of them, is now encroaching into the classic Highland scenery itself, such industrialisation being completely alien to the natural environment, but making enormous profits for energy companies and landowners. As more turbines come on-stream the grid becomes less stable, and there is strong evidence that blackouts have already started because of this. For this to happen in one of the most beautiful countries in the world it is unforgiveable. The Scottish tourist organisation recognise this beauty and implore visitors to help keep it this way, yet this is at odds with their lack of protest against this industrialisation, and I take every opportunity to tell them so. If you want know more, visit Scotland Against Spin

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Painting Watercolours in Intense Heat

   With such a lot of intense heat of late in Britain it's been excellent for painting out of doors. Getting out early in the morning or in the evening light is more preferable for those of you who find it just a little bit too hot, and finding some shade in the heat of the day is advisable, for the watercolour if not for the artist! Bright sunlight on white paper can really hurt your eyes, dry your washes too quickly, and give you a false sense of tonal values, so that when you return indoors your painting may look a little stark and contrasty. Take along and umbrella or other form of shade if you intend sitting in the sunshine to paint, and make sure it keeps your painting in shadow.

    A few weeks ago I was asked how to depict intense heat in a painting. In this watercolour sketch I left much of the tops of the rocks as white paper, with much stronger tones on the sides forming a strong contrast. There was much more detail present, but adding too much detail can destroy the suggestion of sunlight, so keep it to a minimum in the lit areas. Cast shadows highlight the sunny effect, but here the sun is almost directly overhead, so there is not any great length to the shadows. The sense of intense heat has been further enhanced by laying a weak wash of blue-grey over the background.
 
  The sun beat down every day on our recent landscape course at Builth Wells, although happily we did have some welcome fluffy white clouds at times for variation. The ideal spot was down by the river running through the hotel grounds, where several students took the opportunity to dangle their feet in the water while they sketched. In the photo Jenny is giving advice as they paint a mixture of delightful cascades and still water punctuated with stunning colour reflections. Make the most of this lovely sketching weather.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Painting Alpine scenery in Switzerland

    Some of the best painting holidays where we have taken groups have been those which combine spectacular scenery with the more rustic, and this is usually very true of mountain landscapes. Next summer Jenny and I are taking a group to Zermatt in Switzerland, not just to paint mountain icons like the Matterhorn and the Obergabelhorn, but many other peaks, as well as lakes, mountain streams and the local vernacular architecture. The region is full of exciting prospects for the artist.

    The watercolour shows a pair of stadel barns above Zermatt - these make excellent subjects, especially when set against a backdrop of Alpine peaks. The roofs in this instance particularly interested me with their strong textural variations and colour. It is always good to look for colour in a scene and I often exaggerate warm colours on a focal point such as this, both to reduce the amount of greenery (which can overwhelm a landscape in summer), and to draw the eye towards the centre of interest.

    Note that the greens in the painting are not really intense greens - the summer grassy pasture is a light, but subdued green, while much of the conifers greenery is more a blue-grey, achieved with French Ultramarine and burnt umber. You don't have to make the green trees in front of you green!

    Our painting holiday to Zermatt is in conjunction with Leisure Painter and The Artist magazines, and is being organised by Spencer Scott Travel  Tel. 01825 714311   The holiday runs from 4th to 11th July 2014  With all that amazing Alpine scenery it's a truly exciting prospect.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Painting desert and tropical scenes in watercolour

    I was asked recently about painting tropical scenes and how this differed from my usual British landscapes. Although I haven't done any tropical work for a while, over the years I've painted quite a number of scenes in the tropics, especially in East Africa with its wide range of spectacular scenery. Desert scenery is one of my favourite genres, as the figures and colours can be quite exotic, and one tends not to find the painting water freezing up, as in more northerly climes. Unfortunately I don't have any record of earlier jungle and tropical plant scenery paintings, so this is the closest I can find, until I manage to paint further tropical scenes, which probably won't happen until next winter.

    This watercolour shows a wadi in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco towards evening, with women washing clothes in the river. We were returning from an expedition when I spotted this marvellous composition, and did a quick pencil sketch of it, even though I felt pretty tired and was likely to be assailed by hundreds of kids demanding pencils.

    I take much the same colours with me to the hotter climates, as I do in Europe, but tend to use more of the brighter colours. This watercolour was done on Saunders Waterford 140lb hot-pressed paper which is excellent for bringing out the vitality of the brighter colours, really making them sing. I used vermilion in the sky, with gamboge in the brighter parts. As with most landscape work it helps to suggest space and distance with cooler colours in the more distant passages, and this can also throw the emphasis on to those areas of brighter colours, whether lush vegetation or other features. Here I used French ultramarine for the background. You can create really striking colour effects by juxtaposing complementary colours, for example bright red flowers or plants set in vivid green foliage. I hope these tips will help those of you who like more exotic scenery...........until I can get back into the jungle.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Creating the effect of old stone walls

    Writing blogs on a steam-driven laptop is an extremely slow process, and with extremely poor internet connections it can take me hours, which is the reason I've slowed down the number of blogs I do. Technology in Wales seems to be in some sort of reverse decline, and once the black-outs start hitting us it will be even worse. Progress is a funny thing!

    Jenny and I enjoyed Patchings Art Festival, where I did two demonstrations in the St Cuthberts marquee to large, enthusiastic audiences. It's always a joy to work with St Cuthberts Mill, and the Saunders Waterford High-White paper is superb for getting the best out of your watercolours.

    I've just taken some new watercolours to Art Matters in White Lion Street in Tenby (Tel. 01834 843375) and this is one, showing a quiet corner of Tenby harbour. The lovely old stone walls provide an interesting backdrop, and these were done by laying an initial wash of Naples yellow over the entire area, and once this was dry painting in the stonework with cobalt blue plus cadmium red, to which I added a few drops of yellow ochre while the stones were still wet. I left some of the Naples yellow showing as light-coloured mortar between the stones. Once again I waited until the whole area had dried and then glazed it all with a weaker wash of cobalt blue and cadmium red. This both imparted a greater sense of unity and slightly softened off the edges of the stonework.

    The background has been considerably simplified so that the emphasis is thrown onto the figures in conversation, and the surface was Waterford 140lb NOT, which is excellent for taking repeated washes if necessary.
   

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Highlighting a landscape feature with a glaze

    Some of you asked if I would show the full image of the promontory watercolour published on the post on 5th May, so here it is - the scene is in the central Highlands of Scotland, easily seen from the roadside as you approach Rannoch Moor to the north.

    As you can see, I've positioned the lightest part of the composition behind the row of Caledonian pines on the further promontory, to give them more emphasis. The more shadowy parts of the background mountains were achieved by washing a mixture of French ultramarine and cadmium red over those parts which had already been painted. This was done with a large wash brush and quite a weak mixture, creating a thin transparent glaze across those areas I wanted to subdue, and thus emphasising the light section.

    The painting is part of the exhibition at the John Muir Trust centre in Pitlochry (Tel.01796 470080) which I should point out ends on the 11th June, not 18th as previously announced. This is due to a mix-up, and I hope no-one will be inconvenienced.

    Next week Jenny and I will be at the annual Patchings Art Festival in Calverton, just north of Nottingham, where I'll be demonstrating for St Cuthberts Mill on the mornings of Thursday 5th and Friday 6th June. St Cuthberts Mill make the marvellous Saunders Waterford and Bockingford papers that are such favourites with amateur and professional painters alike. Do come along and say hello.

    On the 20th and 21st June Jenny and I will be demonstrating at the Sandpiper Studio on the Wirral in Cheshire. Jenny will be demonstrating pastel painting on the afternoon of Friday 20th and I shall be demonstrating in watercolour on the Saturday morning and giving an illustrated talk on how to rescue watercolours that have gone astray, after lunch. You can find out more about these events from Julie McLean on 07788 412480 or email her at   info@thesandpiperstudio.co.uk