Monday, 11 April 2016

Making powerful compositions

    Getting the composition right is critical whatever medium you use. In landscape painting there are many rules, or guides that will help you achieve a powerful composition, although like most 'rules' in painting these can be broken at times in order to create more original results. It does pay, however, to follow these rules while you are learning, and then perhaps taking a more creative approach later when you gain experience.
    In this watercolour of Angle in Pembrokeshire I have used Waterford 300lb paper with a marvellous rough surface to enhance the textural effects, particularly in the large foreground area. The large foreground pushes back the centre of interest - the cottage - and allows a large lead-in of the creek. A lead-in to the centre of interest like this helps establish it, and the boats, birds, sparkle on the water and strong orange colour in the sky all draw attention to the centre of interest. The cottage also stands out darkly against the sky. These are all devices you can use to highlight your focal point.

    The far right-hand boat gives a sense of balance to the composition, so that not everything is concentrated around the centre of interest. It is a good idea to carry out one or two studio sketches to ascertain the optimum positioning and emphasis on the painting to be done. Having the centre of interest around one-third of the way down the paper, or up from the bottom, and one third of the way along from either side always gives a powerful effect, so try not to place it bang in the centre!

    The actual painting is on display in the Breath of Nature exhibition at Boundary Art at 3 Sovereign Quay, Havannah Street, Cardiff CF10 5SF   Tel.02920 489869 until 1st May

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Nature's Little Jokes

    My recent silence is a result of being up in Snowdonia, at last finding some snow this winter to sketch and roll around in. At times ferocious winds made sketching something of a challenge, but I returned with several good compositions to work on. One subject I spotted while driving along first thing, and luckily there was somewhere to park. The scene that caught my eye was dominated by Esgair Felen - not perhaps an outstanding subject under normal conditions, but under deep snow and with the early morning like catching it, I just had to go for it.

    I usually prefer to photograph a superb subject before sketching it, but as I arrived in position the sunlight faded. Still, I took some shots then hurried back to the car. Halfway back along the 150 or so metres the sun came out again, tempting me back. But I wasn't playing that game. Without moving, I focused the camera on the mountain despite the fact that I could only see the top two-thirds or so, and fired away, catching the glorious light on the critical part at the top. Then I realised that I'd caught a new composition - the foreground in the shots was made up of crags and rocks, making the scene look far more remote than in actuality. OK, I didn't have the lake in the scene, but I had a second exciting composition to play with.

    The watercolour sketch includes the lake and I finished it off with Derwent Inktense pencils, which are excellent for giving a watercolour sketch a bit more power. Even for my sketches, however rough, I like to paint with the beautiful watercolour sables produced by Rosemary & Co. as they come to such a lovely point and make it a pleasure to sketch in this way.

    By playing its little joke on me - albeit the pretty common one of making the subject disappear before my eyes, or losing its appeal - it had actually given me two compositions instead of one, so in future I must watch for this phenomenon more closely, as perhaps I'm missing out on many secondary scenes.......

Monday, 29 February 2016

Sketching with pen and watercolour

    One of the most effective ways of sketching is by using pen and wash. I carry around hardback bound sketchbooks of cartridge paper amongst the many odd items in my rucsack, and these accept pen drawings well. While the dip-pen and bottle of ink are the ideal way, it is less practicable to carry around bottle of ink, so I normally resort to a technical pen, although this has a uniform line.

    This sketch was done in evening light in the Maritime Alps, on cartridge paper. I began with the ink drawing using a .02 nib. Where you have considerable depth in a scene, and especially with distant mountains, or wish to draw clouds, it is imperative not to be too heavy-handed with the pen on these distant elements. I prefer more intermittent line work rather than continuous lines as seen on the building, as this will suggest distance. In places I have totally omitted the line work and relied solely on the watercolour wash outline to describe the shape of far ridges and trees. The ink line is also an excellent way of rescuing a painting or watercolour sketch that is too weak in tones.

    My recent trip to the Alps was aimed at capturing snow scenes, but there was no snow until the final day when I had to leave. Somehow the snow appears to have been deliberately eluding me this winter!

    There are still one or two spaces left on my Croatian painting holiday in September. This is an easy, relaxed painting holiday in congenial surrounding amidst lovely scenery, and will not involve any wild mountain work! For details check out my website at http://www.davidbellamy.co.uk/painting-holiday-to-croatia-2016/


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