Thursday, 12 May 2022

Lost and Found effects in a painting

     In any painting, if you include everything you see the result will just be an overworked photographic version. While some people appreciate this approach, most see the benefit of 'editing' the image to produce a cleaner, more atmospheric and painterly work. One of the most important aspects of my creative process is that of using atmosphere and the 'lost and found' technique to heighten the effect of a moody scene.

    This watercolour of the tombs of the caliphs in Cairo shows the scene bathed in warm evening light after the sun has set, using the atmosphere to completely eliminate any detail in the distance, while also subduing much of the architectural information on the main buildings. Not only does the rising smoke hide much detail, but the lost and found effect can be observed further to the left where some of the elements have been faded out. You can achieve this by deliberately reducing the detail until that passage becomes almost blank, or another extremely effective method is to simply paint in the main architectural features as normal, and when this is dry fade part of it out with a damp sponge or by lightly scrubbing out with an old soft-haired brush.

    I shall be painting a similar scene to this as a demonstration at The Bookshop  in East Grinstead at 7pm on Thursday 19th May. It is pretty much fully booked, but because of Covid there are likely to be a number of cancellations, so it might be worth telephoning the bookshop on 01342 322669  They will, of course, have copies of my new Arabian Light book. The exhibition of the same name will be continuing from 18th to 27th May at the Osborne Studio Gallery in London  Tel. 020 7235 9667, where you can see the paintings from the book.

    Watch out also in Leisure Painter Magazine for my on-line webinar on 21st June where I will be painting a sunset scene on the River Nile - more about that in due course.


Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Bringing atmosphere, drama and the sublime to a village painting

     Many landscape painters love working on tranquil village scenes where time seems to stand still and locals engage in conversation. Here I am deviating from the traditional village composition to add a strong ingredient of atmosphere, drama and the sublime, for this village stands high on the very edge of a vast canyon in the mountains of Oman.

    In this watercolour the morning mist cloaks the background mountains and subdues detail in the further parts of the village, in places aided by strong light bleaching out features so that they are only half-seen. Two figures stand near the centre, drawing the eye - you don't need to make your figures large in order to emphasise the human aspect, but note how there is no detail behind them. This really makes them stand out. They stand at the edge of a sheer drop, thus dramatically creating a sensation of the sublime, a feeling of possible danger. While this latter sensation is rarely found in a British village you can still enhance such paintings with carefully considered atmosphere and even a little drama with the right lighting.

    This painting is featured in my new book, Arabian Light, published this month by Search Press, and packed with paintings and sketches of my travels in the Middle East.  Details of the book are on my website. The book will be launched at my exhibition in the Osborne Studio Gallery, at 2 Motcomb Street, London SW1X  8JU  Telephone  +44(0)20 7235 9667   The exhibition runs from 18th to 27th May and I will be in the gallery for much of 18th if you would like to pop in for a chat.

Monday, 14 March 2022

Painting massed trees in a landscape

     Most of the time I find there is too much action happening and not enough talking - it's great fun, but leaves little time for communicating, and there is not enough room in this blog to cover everything. I'll have to leave my sketching adventures in Snowdonia of last week for the next blog. 

    Yesterday in Aberedw we had an event to raise money for the Ukrainian refugees. We are only a tiny village but we raised over £1,000 and will be trying to get another event organised soon in which I hope to be able to sell paintings in support of these unfortunate people. It's hardly believable that this is happening in Europe in the 21st century, and sadly we have a pretty poor political representative locally, so I've been active in ruffling some political feathers as well.


    As with Covid, it is amazing how art, like nature, can help us in wartime, whether to take our mind off the dangers of war, or  perhaps cooling our anger at the appalling and brutal actions of dictators like Putin. With spring about to burst upon us it's a good time to get out into the landscape. One of the things that cause many students problems is when trees are massed together. Trying to make sense of it all can seem unsurmountable at times.


    In this section of a painting you will see the varying tones on the four blocks of conifers, the strength of tones suggesting a sense of depth in the scene, aided by a feeling of a misty day. It's usually a good idea to include a bright colour amongst duller ones as you can see in the bottom centre. The light is coming from the left so the edges on the right-hand side of the trees have been kept soft, while those to the left are harder-edged where they are caught in the sunshine. The bright yellow foliage does not appear in the centre of the full painting as that would not be compositionally helpful.

    My watercolour course in Builth Wells from 3rd to 8th April still has a few vacancies, and anyone who would like to join us on a non-residential basis will be welcome. The Caer Beris Manor Hotel will charge a modest fee for refreshments and hotel facilities, plus a tuition fee of £215. You can check the course information on my website and book the course with the hotel on 01982 552601  We shall be using the hotel ballroom as a studio this time, so there is plenty of room for us all to work and keep apart.

Monday, 28 February 2022

Warming up your Landscapes

     When you begin a painting do you stop to consider your colour management or simply copy the colours in the original scene or photograph? Whether you are a serious artist intent on improving your work, or perhaps painting simply for enjoyment, it is so much more rewarding to create a composition where you can inject some of your own ideas to add interest.


     In this watercolour of the Brecon Beacons I decided to create a much warmer feeling than was present in the scene on that particular day, and enhance the summery mood. Apart from the cobalt blue in the sky most of the scene embodies warmer colours, and after establishing the clouds with the blue I laid on permanent alizarin crimson over the lower sky. The blues on the mountains are French ultramarine with a touch of cadmium red added, resulting in a lovely warm purpley-blue. The greens on the fields have also been warmed up with touches of gamboge, and there are also some gamboge and cadmium orange fields to liven things up. In the foreground I dropped in some Indian red wet-in-wet to produce soft edges and when this was dry spattered Indian red and white gouache before finally scratching out reeds with a scalpel.

    At the end of this week I am starting once more to do live workshops, this one at the excellent Sandpipers studio on the Wirral, while on 3rd April I start my first post-Covid course at the superb Caer Beris Manor hotel in Builth Wells. There are still places available on this course, so if you feel like getting out into beautiful landscapes again you will be very welcome. We will be sketching outside (hopefully painting as well if the weather is fine), and also working indoors in the ballroom which has plenty of room for us to keep apart from each other. Details are on my website  Emphasis will be on injecting atmosphere into your landscapes and putting something of yourself into the subject.

    Sadly we haven't had much snow this winter, but with spring about to burst upon us let's hope that this will herald better times for getting out and about with our paintboxes.

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

Painting an tranquil evening sky

     I've just delivered some paintings to the Attic Gallery in Swansea's Maritime Quarter for a mixed show running until 26th March, and there are some excellent works on display. You will find the gallery at 37 Pocketts Wharf, SA1 3XL and the telephone number is 01792 653387. My mainly Pembrokeshire scenes includes one of my favourite locations of East Angle Bay.

    This watercolour shows a tranquil winter evening with Angle church forming the centre of interest. I've kept the main design in harmony with the emphasis on horizontals on the creek, the lie of the land and with the clouds. In the sky the Aussie red gold also has a horizontal bias and is deliberately strong around the lightest part of the sky to heighten the glow. Positioning the church with the creek leading towards it, and the reflected light on the water brings it all together and it is important to ensure that all these varied elements support one another in this way. Sometimes nature needs a little tweeking to produce a good composition. 

    If you are planning on exploring more of the UK rather than travelling abroad this year you may well find the Great British Wildlife & Environment Map of great help. It features over 1,500 wildlife hotspots, eco events, conservation projects and days out in the natural environment, places where it holds interest for those artists who love to get out amidst nature and perhaps sit quietly to observe wildlife. It has an amazing amount of detail on both sides and is produced by marvellousmaps.com


Wednesday, 19 January 2022

Painting Snow Scenes

     Well, at this time of year we're supposed to see some snow, but the only time I've come across the white stuff this winter is on the high mountains, so last week I did encounter brilliant snow effects in the Brecon Beacons, accompanied by the most divine light flooding the western face of Cribin. Alas, I'd left my paintbox in my Viper haversack and the resulting sketch done with watersoluble pencil failed to capture the amazing colours, and I was too high up to make a quick dash for the car.

    So here I will show you a pen and wash sketch I did of New Radnor church many years ago in beautiful snow conditions.   


    This was done in an A4 cartridge book with limited colours. Everything is cool, except the yellow ochre on the buildings. In a painting I would simplify the scene, as the cottages compete with the church, which is the main centre of attention. I'd probably put these cottages into shadow, making them quite dark to throw the emphasis on the church caught in strong sunlight.

    Christmas was a happy, but wild affair of tearing round Kent, Sussex and Hampshire to see various members of the family. Still, I was able to relax at times with a rivetting novel set in the French Alps around Chamonix, Running Water & The Guide, by A E W Mason, himself an Alpinist active in the early 20th century. It has been brought to life again by Professor Roberta Grandi with an excellent scholarly introduction and notes on Mason's life and career. I thoroughly enjoyed the plot and recommend it whole-heartedly. The cover shows my watercolour of the Brenva Ridge and the misty slopes of Mont Blanc. It's available on Amazon.


        The sun is beckoning me out, so I will leave you with the hope that 2022 will be a great year for you all, after all the problems of Covid, and I wish you much happy painting!

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Frolicking in the Desert

     Most of this year I've been painting subjects from the Middle East, a part of the world I've been fascinated by since I first visited in 1963, and these works will illustrate my forthcoming book, Arabian Light, due to be published by Search Press in May 2022. The subjects cover a wide variety of scenery, buildings, figures, interiors and many others, and for a taster I show below a painting of our expedition guides dancing in the desert hundreds of miles from the nearest village. For the intense darkness I've used the Daniel Smith Lunar black slightly mixed with French ultramarine. The granulation strength of this colour is truly mindblowing! There'll be more on this in future blogs.


    Another book I'm pleased to be associated with is Green Parrots in my Garden, a book of poems from the Arab Middle East by Jane Ross, a Canadian poet who has lived in the Middle East amidst threats of war, but concerns herself more with the warmth of human relationships, the wisdom of ancient desert values and the beauties of artefact and design that bring her into the hearts of the people and the essence of the region. She writes of the oasis of Wadi Bani Khalid where 'the winds are gentle zephyrs in the thick warm air,'

      'But ontop of Jebel Shyams the winds are sharp and piercing,

         like needles thrusting their way through the blanket;

        fiendish, dervish, absolute and wild.'

Yes, that mountain presented so many exciting images that I forgot myself in a fiery sunset, when the light vanished so suddenly that without a torch I found myself trying to pick up all my scattered brushes and pencils in the dark then navigate across a rock-strewn plateau on the edge of a canyon. 


   The books features two of my paintings in monochrome, and  Jane's website is www.janeross.ca

It is available on Amazon via the link above.

    I wish you all a very and peaceful Happy Christmas. May you have many lovely artful arty presents, and thanks for your patience in my extremely slow production rate in 2021