Sunday, 5 April 2020

Subjects to paint in self-isolation: flowers

    Spring is always a great pleasure in Mid-Wales: buds are springing out, daffodils caught in the spring sunshine invoke a joyous feeling as they are set against the sparkling water of the garden pond, while the birdsong is especially uplifting at the moment. The frogs have come and gone after their annual orgy in the pond, their massed croaking drifting into the house in waves of communal ecstasy. The sparrows are forever darting about, but with the mating season in full swing they are pretty aggressive: at times the undergrowth is waving about madly with their exertions! All this I see from my studio window, as well as the new-born lambs gambolling around in the field next door.

    All this seems utterly surreal given our present predicament with this nasty virus, but as artists we are lucky to have an occupation or hobby that transports us to other worlds, if only for a brief period. Your response to my last blog post was so rewarding and I'm glad so many of you found it helpful. I've just completed a deadline for my book on Landscapes Through the Seasons, so while I am still working on another book, I now have more time to push out blogs that will hopefully give you some ideas during this difficult period when we have to self-isolate. Although I am mainly a landscape artist I will try to cover a number of genres to provide as much variety as I can, including imaginary subjects and maybe even fantasy - we all need a little fantasy now and then. I know many of you are flower painters, for example, so why not start there?

    Flowers and still life are obvious subjects to fall back on when we are house-bound. My work on flowers is almost exclusively on wild flowers as part of a landscape, but I did touch on cut flowers in my book Complete Guide to Watercolour Painting. If you are painting a vase of flowers pick out one or two blooms that stand out and play the others down slightly by losing edges and running colours into one another. Suggesting background shapes with a plain, shadowy wash can accentuate a sense of depth in the composition, and introducing some spatter effect as I've done round some of the edges in this watercolour, gives a sense of spontaneity and life. You don't always need a background but if you do include one then play it down so that the flowers take pride of place. A simple suggestion of perhaps the edge of a table can also set it up well. Saunders Waterford high white is an excellent paper for flowers as its white is so brilliant, and Bockingford is a good alternative.

    Those without a garden may find it difficult at the moment, unless you have a window-box. Now, of course is the time to set seeds so if you are bereft of window-boxes or flower baskets try to get one, even if you have to rely on a rusty old bucket - sometimes these decrepit old things can have far more character than the latest gleamingly spotless container. Plant a few seeds and before very long you will have new subjects to work on, but don't ask me what to plant - unlike my late namesake Professor David Bellamy or my brother Malcolm, I'm not a horticultural expert! Also consider getting miniature trees and exotic plants.

    More tips and ideas soon, and maybe I should shortly do one especially for the lads, perhaps on how to paint the Cold War era Soviet T-64 main battle tank in action, although I doubt that many of you will have one of those in your garden.......  Keep safe and keep painting!

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Fun techniques during Coronavirus

    It has been a chaotic year so far, making it difficult to find time to write even though there is so much to say. Coronavirus has made things even more difficult, of course, but we persevere. Thankfully, as artists we can beaver away at home on our paintings, but what can we do if we feel inspirationally challenged?

    One way is to get out all those old paintings that have not worked. I have loads and sometimes go through them to see if I can use them in some way, or find just a part of the overall composition that might offer some hope. Overpainting with a weak glaze is a favourite technique, sometimes over part of the painting, sometimes over everything, and this can subdue parts you don't like and at the same time highlight those parts you don't touch.

    I'm always looking for ways to improve paintings and often it can be fun working on old paintings, perhaps not taking it too seriously. One technique you might like to try is brightening up dull colours with Derwent Inktense pencils. Because they are so intense I work over colours such as a dull green with an Inktense light green or yellow as I have done in this small watercolour of a rustic cottage, and this has resulted in a much more pleasant scene with a sunnier accent than previously. Note also the sky - a very simple one, but because I used sodalite genuine, a strongly-granulating colour from Daniel Smith it still has impact even without any cloud detail. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford high white NOT paper which is absolutely great when you want to rough it about a little with extra rubbing with the Derwent pencils, for example. The paper can take quite a lot of punishment and I love working on it.

    I'll get back with more ideas shortly, so try to keep up the painting. Sadly all my workshops and demos have had to be cancelled until the end of July, including our great favourite, the Patchings Art Festival. The course in St Davids may well now be rescheduled for late August or early September, Coronavirus permitting, and I hope that the one at D'Alvaro in Spain in October will still be able to go ahead.  Keep safe, and keep painting!

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Painting a wildlife narrative

    A belated Happy New Year to you all, and thank you so much to all of you who sent good wishes over Christmas. The Festive period was a bit of a blur this year, having to be in so many places, the highlight being taking little Gwinny to see her Mum performing in Cinderella in East Grinstead. Those Ugly Sisters seem to get worse every time I see them!

    I love creating something of a narrative in a painting, and this is something well worth thinking about when you are working on a wildlife composition. After many visits to the Arctic polar bears have become a favourite subject of mine, combining a magnificent creature with stunningly dramatic scenery.

    In this watercolour my aim was to put across the studied interaction between bear and bird. There were many gulls around, watching the bear with concern, and this one appears to be just a little too close for comfort, although it was some distance away. The gull is keeping a beady eye on the animal, while the bear attempts to look uninterested, yet ready to pounce when she spots a drop in the guard of the gull. These were magical moments watching these creatures play out their deadly game against a backdrop of savage glacier scenery. I've only suggested the background so that emphasis is placed on the antagonists, fading the glacial detail out as it goes behind the bear, and keeping the colours muted.

    If you wish to see the original it's hanging in Beaulieu Fine Arts on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire, tel. 01590 612089   www.beaulieufinearts.co.uk

    Enjoy your painting in 2020 and try to get yourself well prepared early on for those artistic sojourns in search of new subjects. I shall shortly be off in search of some decent snow.

Friday, 20 December 2019

Bringing warmth into your snow landscapes

    I've just returned home from doing some staged paintings in the studios at Search Press. They are aimed at the next book which is about landscapes through the seasons. More on that before long. It's been a truly busy autumn, so busy that I was only able to squeeze in one trip, a visit to the Cinque Terre in Northern Italy, where I managed quite a number of sketches despite appalling weather for much of the time.

    There have been so many demonstrations and workshops that my own work has had to be put aside for a while, but at least I might do some of my own painting over Christmas - painting is like a disease, I just have to keep throwing the paint around!

     Hopefully we'll have some snow at some time, when we can get some new subjects. How it changes the landscape, so be ready to go forth with paints and camera - it might not last long. The
watercolour shows Pen-y-fan, the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons, which is currently on show at the Ardent Gallery in Brecon (the painting, that is, not the mountain!) I sketched it in colour during the middle of the day a few years ago, but felt it needed more colour, so I added a warm, evening sky and heightened the warmth of the vegetation and on the central tree. It's always a good idea to add some colour to a cold scene if you can manage it.

    Have a great Christmas and I wish you much success with your paintings in 2020

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

With watercolours to Austria

    September was another of those all-action months where there was no time to write blogs: sadly there are many things happening which I simply don't have time to relate. On 14th September I had one of the proudest moments of my life when Catherine, my daughter, married Nicko. They met at clown school in Paris many years ago and had an amazing wedding with the reception in a delightful woodland setting. Overwhelmingly, the guests were actors, actresses, directors, producers, musicians, magicians, clowns (of course), singers, and folks from the entertainment industry. The Bollywood-style dance was truly jaw-dropping, and the church service rocked.

    A few days later Austria beckoned: a painting group holiday arranged by Richard Cartwright of West Norfolk Arts with the assistance and local expertise of our friend Christof Hoelzl who found us some exciting locations to paint.

    Based in the beautiful Stubaital valley we painted and sketched the surrounding peaks, and on a very wet day tackled a waterfall. Although I don't do many city and town scenes we spent a day in Hall which has many splendid old buildings, and I found myself really enjoying the change. The watercolour of Rosengasse was done quickly in a cartridge sketchbook while it was spitting with rain. I could see much more than I've included, particularly beneath the church tower, but I did not want to over-work it, and eliminating distant detail further suggests distance.

    I've run the colours of the walls into one another, assisted by the falling rain, while Christof gallantly held his umbrella over the sketchbook as I demonstrated. One feature I love about these Austrian towns is the ubiquitous hanging signs with their ornate metal hangers. I took the opportunity of photographing many of these to use elsewhere, possibly as collages. Note how I have vignetted the interesting stonework of the street so that only few stones are shown in the foreground.

    With autumn upon us do get ready for those glorious colours. Don't wait just for those lovely sunny days, as the bright yellow and orange leaves reflecting in puddles can work wonders for your painting.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Liberate your painting with scraps of paper

    I often find that when I'm testing a wash or new colour on a scrap of watercolour paper that I produce some marvellous results, yet when I try to repeat the exercise in a proper painting it often falls far short of what I hope will happen. So why not try to capitalise on this perversity by now and then painting on a piece of scrap paper that you might otherwise throw away?

    This little watercolour was painted on a discarded piece of 300lb Saunders Waterford rough paper 9 inches by 4.5 inches, and I loved every moment painting it. With such a small, insignificant size you tend to lose any inhibitions, and it's certainly a liberating feeling, as you feel you have nothing to lose even if you make the most astounding mess!


    One of the main features I love is the soft wet-in-wet reflections in the water below the cottage. These were achieved by wetting the area of the water below the building and out as far as the central boats, leaving it for a few minutes to start drying, and then applying the dark green-grey reflections of the massed trees into the wet area, leaving the part directly below the cottage as white paper. At this stage it's vital to watch how the dark reflections creep outwards as though they deliberately want to annoy you. With a damp - a really 'thirsty' brush (a number 6 round brush is usually fine for this) - pull out any of the dark colour that edges its way beyond where the reflections should appear. You may need to do this more than once.

    This painting appears in my Seas & Shorelines in Watercolour book, recently published by Search Press, which not only covers a really wide variety of coastal scenery and features, but is also crammed with sky treatments of all kinds that you should find useful for adopting in your own work. Signed copies are available via my website  ....and don't forget to make full use of those bits of scrap paper lying around!

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Thrashing around for a sketch

    The recent Patchings Art Festival in Nottinghamshire was something of a whirlwind for us, with almost non-stop activity on our stand, and interest in my new book, Seas & Shorelines was astonishing. The book sold out and that was not including the other books. Having meetings with a number of people, I really didn't manage to see even half the show this year, and had to miss out meeting many artists, but as usual it was a fabulous show, easily the best in the UK. It was a delight to meet so many students even though I was torn away so often by sheer numbers. I did three demonstrations in the St Cuthberts Mill marquee on their superb Waterford and Bockingford papers, and had the privilege of being accompanied on stage by some local wildlife: at the rear of the marquee a nest of bees became interested in the demonstrations. Having these massive bees circling round your head as you paint away does tend to inject a real buzz to your work!

    Getting back home was no picnic. The next day my two-year-old grand-daughter arrived and more or less took over the place, causing delightful mayhem and scattering my toys all over the place. About a week after returning from Patchings things returned almost to normal and I decided to go for a hike in a local gorge. Unfortunately it was massively overgrown with vegetation and I'd forgotten my boots and stick. It took some time to break through to the lip of the gorge, but once there I managed a couple of pencil sketches, one of which appears above. I had to leave out most of the background tree detail.

   I continued upstream, high above the rocky course of the stream along a slippery, eroded pathway, but by now armed with a sturdy pole I'd found lying on the ground. Under some cliffs and round the corner I descended into the undergrowth from hell. Nobody had been this way for years probably. I was confronted by a dense area of briars, nettles, branches and other vegetation, all covering many fallen tree-trunks. I didn't want to return the way I'd come so I literally thrashed my way through the undergrowth, mounting each tree-trunk and attacking the undergrowth beyond before leaping down the far side. This took ages and in the heat the perspiration was running off me. At the far end - some 70 yards or so - I looked back and realised it would have been better to have jumped into the river and waded up, thus avoiding the undergrowth.

   There was much more to the day, but I shall pause there. I returned home happy with a brace of sketches and having had plenty of exercise. Just being in such a marvellous spot and enjoying the natural environment is something really special. Even for a few scratches!

   Signed copies of Seas & Shorelines are available from my website