Friday, 16 January 2015

Exploiting plastic food wrap in a watercolour

    The first snowfall of the winter arrived on Wednesday, and with glorious sunshine slanting across the landscape I abandoned all work and set off up into the hills. Familiar scenes lay transformed into jewels sparkling in the light. At one point I had a sudden urge to seek out a view at a point I had never stood before, a sort of premonition that I might find something exciting there. It was not far off the path, but about 200 yards across rough dead bracken covered in deep snow - ideal terrain to trip over and get a nice refreshing snow-bath.

     When I reached the point there was no wonderful view, but as I turned back the scene before me really caught my imagination. It was a familiar abandoned house, but from a totally new angle, the whole image enhanced by the deep snow. It certainly brought it home to me that you can often find amazing new scenes simply by approaching the subject from a slightly different viewpoint.

    One technique I sometimes use, mainly for foregrounds is that of covering an extremely wet wash with plastic food wrap, as I did here in the watercolour of highland deer that I came across in Glen Affric. In this instance I used Winsor blue, in places mixed with a touch of cadmium red, and varying the wash so that in places there was less strength in the colour, and even parts without any colour at all. You need to leave the food wrap in place until the wash dries completely. The method gives a spontaneous feel to the finished work. Experiment with various colours. It's great fun to try this without any preliminary pencil work - you can do several examples at once - and when the work has dried you can see the optimum position to place your drawing before doing any further painting, and thus taking optimum opportunity of how the effect has developed.

    This painting appears in my Winter Landscapes in Watercolour book, which you should find especially useful if you enjoy painting snow scenery. It is crammed with tips on how to bring sunshine into your paintings, creating misty effects wet in wet, transforming a scene by altering tonal effects, making the most of warm colours in winter, and much more. If you wrap up well, use a thin pair of gloves and carry one of those vacuum cups with warm coffee, you can make the most of a snow scene caught in the lovely low sunlight of a calm winter's day. Leave the food wrap for the studio though!

Monday, 5 January 2015

Sketching complicated harbours

    It's a tremendous bonus when everything seems to work so well - my Christmas holiday was extended this year by a trip to Devon, and my luck was in: Dartmoor was at its best in frosty conditions with not a cloud in the sky. I was also greeted on the coast with lovely sunshine and some strong atmosphere at times, which suited me down to the ground.

    I carried out a couple of sketches of Teignmouth Harbour in late afternoon lighting, and as it is an extremely detailed scene I really needed to subdue the urge to put everything into the sketch. What really attracted me was how the sunlight and cloud shadow highlighted various aspects of the scene, so this called for patience to wait for the right moment to capture those parts that attracted me. The far hillside was crammed with buildings, so my aim was to use cloud shadow to reduce this overwhelming mass, and also to throw the emphasis onto the white boat. I worked on blue-grey tinted watercolour paper, using white gouache for the highlights, much of the washes being done later. Although some of my houses are a little too large, this matters little in a sketch as the finished work can be corrected. Being selective about what you include in a composition is vital, otherwise the work becomes far too cluttered.

    This paper is kept in loose sheet form in a sketching folder, with several other types of paper, some of which are tinted, some NOT (or cold pressed), rough or hot pressed, and this gives me great flexibility in choosing the right paper for a particular subject. Carrying a pad for each type of paper would probably need a packhorse with me on sketching trips, so think about making up a pack of sheets of your favourite papers when you work away from home, or on holiday. For further guidance on light and atmosphere see my Skies, Light & Atmosphere in Watercolour http://www.davidbellamy.co.uk/shop/52-david-bellamy-s-books

    I hope you all had a great Christmas and wish you much happy painting in the new year.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Sketching in Tenerife

    I've just returned from a week of glorious sunshine in Tenerife - a stunning place for the artist who likes dramatic rock scenery in all sorts of amazing colours. At one stage my feet seemed to be on fire from energetic hiking across sharp volcanic surfaces. Mostly I was alone, hiking and sketching in the mountains, but on one day I wanted to do some work in the amazing Masca Gorge. Unfortunately this would involve no less than 3 buses just to reach the top of the gorge, so to have any hope of actually doing it I needed to join a trekking company group trip. For the artist, however fast she or he works, sketching with a group is quite a challenge.

    I chose the Scandinavian Canary Trek as they are a small company well tuned to the natural environment, and don't take massive groups as some do. It was only when we were halfway to Masca that I mentioned to Victor, the Chilean guide, that I wished to do some sketching. Happily this did not phase him, and he only had three of us to look after. The other two were Finnish friends, Kaj and Krister and we moved quickly down the incredible gorge, seeming to cross the stream about 40 times. I mainly did pencil sketches, working in a linear manner when happily most of Victor's stops to explain features coincided with a good sketching point. When this didn't happen I simply filled in details and tones from memory. Over the years my visual memory has become well developed, though occasionally more than just a little imagination does tend to creep in! In the above photo of the Elephant Victor is on the left and Kaj crossing the stream.

    The one watercolour sketch of that day was finished later, and shows the sunlight striking the top of the massive crag at the end of the ridge on which part of Masca village is clustered. This is the start of the walk, and truly spectacular. For this I used a cartridge pad. In a painting I would move the central palm tree a little to the left, as it bothers me being so central. This is another reason why sketches are so important: they can highlight problems before you make them on the main painting. If you go out with non-artists and wish to do quick sketches then preparation is the key. Sharpen all your pencils beforehand, carry a small box of 5 or 6 colours of Inktense blocks or watercolour sticks, a sketchpad, water and 2 or 3 brushes. Watercolour pencils are also useful, but do keep your kit simple and easily and quickly accessible. Don't forget a camera, of course.

    Tenerife is a great place for the landscape artist - yes, it has mood as well as strong sunshine, and the colours are amazing. My only regret was to forget to include Perylene Red in my paintbox, as it was very prominent in the volcanic areas. If you'd like a little adventure I recommend Canary Trek

Monday, 1 December 2014

Creating a feeling of past times in your watercolour landscape

    The vast range of styles, approaches and emotions generated in our paintings makes the art world such a wonderful place for us to explore. It never ceases to amaze me what an exciting world we have in the arts. I mention emotions in particular, for to respond with passion and feeling is vital in whatever genre we paint. Sure, we all do 'bread and butter' work, as it's not easy maintaining that level of high emotion for our most important works.

    Emotion in art is often triggered by a sense of nostalgia, and one small, yet effective way of introducing this into landscape paintings is to include symbols of yesteryear, whether you are painting old sailing boats, steam locomotives, or whatever your theme may be.
In this watercolour the old county road stretches away towards the Brecon Beacons, and on the right-hand side I have included the old sign-post that still stands there. This style of sign-post is slowly disappearing from the British countryside, and it's amazing how including just a minor element like this can evoke a marvellous sense of the past. Watch out for these little gems if you like to put across this feeling of past times in your paintings. The signpost was created with masking fluid which will give you a strong, stark edge to the feature.

    This is one of several of my paintings now on display at the Ardent Gallery in the centre of Brecon, tel. 01874 610710   Pop in and treat yourself to a coffee there while you look at the Christmas show.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Gearing up for sketching outdoors

    As we pass from autumn into winter it's a time of year when many artists seem to go into hibernation, especially if there are no local art classes to encourage them. When I wrote my latest book Winter Landscapes in Watercolour my aim was to encourage people to take a serious look at the countryside in winter, and if possible to get out and record the scenes in sketches or with a camera. The winter landscape can be breath-takingly beautiful, a time of year when you can find some of the most dramatic and often simple compositions that almost beg to be painted. So how do you make the most of this exciting time of year?

    If you keep an eye on the weather forecast you might get some idea of what's to come, but they seem to get it so wrong so often that it pays to be prepared for those glorious days when conditions are just right, whether snow is on the ground or not. If it takes you an hour or more to get your art gear together then you may well have lost the best part of the day, so having all your kit ready for action is vital. As far as keeping warm and dry is concerned, you can see in the photo that I am wrapped up in a warm fleece jacket, a warm sheepskin hat, scarf and thin gloves in which I can sketch quite happily. My trousers are lined, I have woollen socks and boots, thermal vest and inside the rucsack is my waterproof outer gear, a long neck tube which can cover not just my neck but up over my head as well, if need be, a steel thermos flask, mug, etc, so that I can make soup, coffee, tea, cappuccinos, the lot. I'm there to enjoy myself, so why not?

    My sketching gear varies from time to time, but in less-than perfect conditions it's best to keep it really simple so that you can work speedily. I mainly sketch on hardback cartridge books, even in watercolour, as it dries quickly on the smooth paper unless conditions are truly damp. I take several soft-grade pencils along, including water-soluble ones which can suggest a lovely mood. They are especially effective for suggesting snow conditions. A range of four or five brushes is adequate, and often I use just one on a sketch. I also carry around a plastic aquash brush which holds its own water reservoir in the handle. You only need a few colours. I prefer half-pans when working out of doors, rather than tubes, as they are all ready for action once I open the box, which has its own integral palette.

    Finally, it's also a great idea to have some plan of where you intend to go. I like to plan for different locations for different conditions. If the heavy rain has stopped seeking out waterfalls in spate might be worthwhile. Hoar frost on trees may not settle for long, so in that case it would be vital to be out quickly into the trees. Snow can totally transform all kinds of landscape, which can give you a wide choice, but a thin covering can quickly disappear, and it may be all you get all winter!

    One last tip: try to get a 20-minute walk in before you sketch and you'll find you can cope much easier than if you just stumble out of the warm car to start sketching or painting. So, with winter upon us, now is the time to sort out all that gear and be ready for those good days. Don't forget, afterwards you can treat yourself to tea and cakes and really feel you've achieved something. Oh, and don't forget that camera.....

   

Monday, 3 November 2014

The negative painting technique in watercolour

    This weekend we had our annual watercolour seminar in Pontypool, and as usual we had a very enthusiastic audience. It's always good when lots of questions are forthcoming and people create a real buzz with their obvious excitement about indulging in watercolour painting and learning new techniques. When they can see the techniques being demonstrated close-up on the screen it really fires them up.

    One of the techniques I was questioned about this weekend was that of the negative painting method. In watercolour, because it is a transparent medium and we cannot effectively paint a light colour over a dark one, we need to resort to other ways of working. We can use masking fluid, which reserves the white paper, but can be clumsy at times. Another method is to rub a candle across the paper to form a resist, but this is hopeless if you need intricate detail. A third technique is to paint gouache or acrylic over the dark area, but here the opaque paint can appear intrusive often losing that lovely sense of watercolour transparency and spontaneity.

    The picture shows part of a painting mainly completed out of doors. It reveals a number of negative painting examples: the trunk and branches of the birch tree; the right-hand boulder; where the dead bracken stands out against the dark background; and the edges of the falling and turbulent water. The sole method I have used here for each of these examples is to work round each feature with a darker colour. In the case of the red bracken, this was painted on first, allowed to dry, and then the dark background wash brought down to describe the birch tree, the boulder, the water and of course, the red bracken.

    This techniques is extremely effective and well worth learning. I don't normally put quite so much negative work into one painting, but this was meant as an illustration on how to apply it, and can be seen on my Painting Winter Landscapes DVD, which accompanies the book with the same title. For more information see my website or that of APV Films who produced the film.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Making the most of the winter landscape

    Like boy scouts, we should always be well prepared as artists, for those moments when the weather and atmosphere create stunning effects that we simply cannot ignore. This means not just carrying sketchbook and camera around with us when we're in the great outdoors, but being ready to venture out at short notice when a little seasonal magic appears. At this time of year I'm always aware that snow may well fall at any time on the hills and mountains, and if this coincides with those flaming autumn colours we have stunning possibilities for superb landscape paintings, so keep an eye on them there hills!

    In this watercolour of the Applecross Mountains the contrast in colour temperature between the foreground and the background is striking. You can, of course beef up the warm colours well into winter if you don't want your compositions to appear to cold overall. In this painting, which you will find on a larger scale in my book Winter Landscapes in Watercolour, the mountain details have been rendered in cool blues, apart from where the low sunlight is catching the higher parts. In the sunlit features I dropped in a touch of light red while the dark crags were still wet, and this also helps to place more emphasis on certain parts of the scene.

    During the change of seasons be ready for this effect and look out for it in your local landscapes. Be prepared to move around to set those lively warm colours against the cool mountains and snow. It will really bring your work to life.

    There are still places left on my seminar in Pontypool on Saturday 1st November, on painting winter landscapes in watercolour, and it includes a full demonstration and an illustrated talk on creating exciting winter scenes, with a great many examples of different types of landscape. It is aimed at preparing you for painting the winter landscape both indoors and outdoors, and making the most of this fascinating season. Check it out on my website. In the meantime, enjoy your painting!