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

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

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  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.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Sketching Alpine scenes in Watercolour

    Some good folk may well manage to get out blogs while on a camel trek to Samarkand, but alas, when you are carrying all your art gear, a full china tea set and a spare rucsack full of Danish pastries it's a bit much to include blogging devices as well. Hence the lack of blog posts - I've been out at the 'sharp end' for a few weeks, though staying at the superb Sunstar hotel in Zermatt was hardly roughing it. The staff were brilliant, providing that marvellous Swiss hospitality, though as I couldn't get them to provide an after-dinner yodelling session the entertainment for the painting group was reduced to the notorious Bellamy's Bedtime Stories.

   Unsurprisingly, this post therefore covers complicated Alpine scenery, which certainly challenged the painters. In this watercolour sketch of the Matterhorn from the Theodulgletschersee I chose this medium because I wanted to record the colours, many of which were quite extraordinary, especially in the rock band directly beyond the lake. Some of these were violent reds, looking as though they'd just erupted from the earth's interior - a geologist's heaven. I've also brought out some of the varied colour on the mountain itself, and it pays to look for these nuances in colour when the subject is before you.

    The sketch looks complicated, is a little over-worked, but I was more concerned with getting plenty of detail for the finished painting which I will do later in the studio. Even then it is considerably simplified. By all means overload, overwork and over-write on your sketches, as they are a working document, and the main simplification should appear in the final painting. As the painting is usually larger than the sketch you can see why we need more detail than looks right on many sketches. There wasn't a cloud in the sky but I added one to break up the harsh lines of the mountain to show students a useful device. We had blazing hot sunshine every day so where there was no shade sketching proved quite a challenge when presented with all that glaring white paper, and the consequent difficulties in assessing tonal values.

    This autumn I have another of my watercolour seminars in Great Bookham near Guildford, which coincides with my next exhibition in the Lincoln Joyce gallery just across the road. The Old Barn Hall in Great Bookham is a fine venue and my theme this year is painting animals and birds in the landscape. Over the years wildlife has given me such great pleasure, sometimes great hilarity and occasionally great escapes. The first session is a painting demonstration, and after a break for refreshments it will be followed by an illustrated talk which will include British landscapes with farm animals, birds and wildlife, plus many wildlife scenes from the Arctic, Africa and other places. This will cover animals in some detail and those that are hardly visible or in the distance, and how to include them in your composition. Birds will tend to be less detailed by comparison. Naturally, there will be a variety of scenery, skies and atmosphere. For more details please check out my website  Tickets can be obtained from the website or from Lincoln Joyce Fine Art (Tel 01372 458481) Both sessions will be packed with techniques and wild experiences, so do come along and join in the fun.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Substituting detail in a landscape painting

    I've been cramming quite a number of adventures in lately (most of them involving a thorough wetting!), leaving me precious little time to blog, and there's so many more lined up it's going to be difficult keeping up any narrative. A couple of weeks ago I kayaked down the Wye with my daughter Catherine and her partner Nicko, and  she took this shot of me sketching in calm water. The scowl, if you can see it, is obligatory when sketching if you need clear concentration - lose your paddle and all you have to operate the craft with is a number ten round sable....... It was a marvellous day out, in glorious sunshine.

    One of the problems we have as artists painting in the landscape, is the need sometimes to fill a gap - perhaps to replace a rather boring or unpleasant object. In this painting of a scene in the Brecon Beacons I have added in a clothes- line on the left of the building to replace some unremarkable bushes. This is an excellent way of adding interest and colour to a farm or cottage. The horse was actually there and didn't need any changing at all.

    The actual painting is in the Ardent Gallery in the centre of Brecon, together with several other of my watercolours - telephone 01874 610710

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Demonstrating watercolours at Patchings Art Festival

    June wouldn't be quite the same without the Patchings Art Festival, which seems to get better every year thanks to the amazing Chas and Liz who are the brains behind it all. This year was no exception and we had great enthusiastic crowds. It's also a marvellous occasion to meet so many other artists, most of whom we only see once a year, as well as the manufacturers who produce all these mouth-watering artistic products.

    It's always a great pleasure to work with St Cuthberts Mill who make the outstanding Waterford and Bockingford papers, and demonstrate for them in the huge marquee. This year the demonstrations were limited to one hour, so there was no hanging around waiting for washes to dry! One of my demos was the scene on the left, not quite finished, but enough to give a flavour of what the completed work would be like. I have used Daniel Smith watercolours, and when used in combination with Saunders Waterford High White paper the whole thing tends to give an extra WOW!! factor.

    This is a composition based on an illustration in my Winter Landscapes book, and I shall complete it in the studio before long. This leads me to the point of this post: I have scanned the painting as it stands, and will do so again once it is complete. You might like to do this yourself, photographing your painting at a stage where you are nearly at the end, but maybe a little unsure how much more detail to include. After photographing it on completion you will then be able to compare the two different stages. This will help you to judge if you are overworking your paintings during the final stages. It will not help your current painting if you have indeed over-cooked it, but gradually you will have a better idea when to put your brushes down.

    Maybe I'll see you next June at Patchings?