Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Skies as part of the composition

    It is a sad fact that in many paintings skies are painted without much forethought, when in fact they should be considered as an intrinsic part of the composition. They not only set the mood and lighting effects, but clouds, sun, squalls, lightning and stormy effects can all be positioned and treated sympathetically in relation to the ground features, especially mountains, hills and trees with which the sky comes into contact.

    In this watercolour from my new book David Bellamy's Arctic Light I have placed the most interesting part of the sky close to the summit of the Geologryggen peak and directly above the polar bear, thus bringing all the main elements together. For this painting, done on Saunders Waterford rough high white paper I began by wetting the whole sky area then working in quinacridone gold around the brightest point, and immediately blending in permanent orange to warm it up even more. I had already mixed up a wash of Moonglow with French ultramarine and applied this to the rest of the sky. While this was all still wet I brought in some much stronger Moonglow to apply the darker clouds wet-into-wet. Note the counterchange where mountain meets sky - the right-hand side shows the mountain slope dark against light, as is the rocky summit, but the rest reveals a sky darker than the snowy ridges. The paints I used here are the Daniel Smith watercolour range which have some amazingly gorgeous colours and are sold by Clockwork Penguin on my website.

    So, when you are doing those thumbnail sketches to work out your composition, don't forget to include the sky, unless it covers a small part of the work. For those who enjoy painting skies and really want some good examples the Arctic book is a real treasury as it is crammed with a whole variety of skies suitable whether you are painting in Bognor, Bornholm or wherever. For further details see my website.

    I will be signing my book at Stanfords map shop in Covent Garden on July 10th, so if you would like to come along and have a chat or ask any questions, then please get in touch with Mary Ellingham at Search Press on marye@searchpress.com or telephone 01892 510 850

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Watercolours in The Arctic

    The sun has just risen and Torben is already up, proclaiming loudly on the beauty of the intense colours in the sky. I fight my way out of the sleeping bag, automatically grasping my painting gear while gasping at the temperature - even with the stove firing away the hut is cold. The window is in the perfect position to view the sun casting warm fingers across the icy wastes, and turning ice hummocks to gold.

    A few pencil strokes shiver their way across the sketchbook and then I apply the watercolour washes, starting with the blaze of light that is burning away at the edge of the vertical crag. This is chiefly quinacridone gold, blending into some less violent Naples yellow, then pushing outwards, away from the point of maximum brightness with a mixture of cobalt blue and cadmium red. In the hunters' hut this is luxury sketching for a change, especially when Jens puts a mug of steaming tea into my hand.

   Later on I sketch Isak tending to his sledge-dogs in his usual kindly manner, and so in the finished painting here you can see how I have brought the two separate sketches together to form a narrative. The secret of making sunlight 'burn' into a feature is to keep the critical edges soft and push the light area into the feature as though it has burnt a hole in the side. In the foreground I have covered the wet blue washes with cling-film and moved it about until I am satisfied, then left it to dry. It is a remarkably effective way of suggesting ice and sastrugi ridges. Beneath the sunburst I included some of the warm gold to suggest the reflections of the colour in the ice. The painting was carried out on Saunders Waterford 300lb not paper.

   This is one of a great many paintings in my new book, David Bellamy's Arctic Light, which has just been published by Search Press. It is crammed with paintings, sketches and anecdotes, and contains one chapter describing some of the methods used to sketch and paint, often in almost impossible conditions.  Subjects vary from glaciers, sea ice, mountains, wild seas, waterfalls, people and many wildlife works are included, from polar bears, walrus, musk ox, Arctic foxes to birds. More details can be seen on my website.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Painting the moving composition

    Have you ever painted outside when the landscape seems to be moving, jumping about or constantly changing in some way? These can be exciting, opportunistic times for the alfresco artist, but often fraught with problems. Most of the movement, apart from animals, figures or vehicles, is usually down to strong winds, which can make painting or sketching outdoors even more difficult than in light rain.

    The scene is a watercolour sketch of Trevone Bay in Cornwall, carried out on a hard-back book of cartridge paper, over a two-page spread. Strong winds were blowing the clouds along at a truly fast rate, so the sky was constantly changing and the cloud shadows over sea and headlands moved astonishingly quickly. Additionally waves crashed in with such force that it threw up great white splashes all the time.

    To render the sky I simply wet the whole area and waited for the excess water to run off before applying cobalt blue, working round the clouds and the wet paper automatically resulting in soft edges. In the wind and sun this did not take long to dry, so then I laid in the lighter colours over the headland, including some red on the central promontory. I had already decided this would be my focal point, and I would keep it light with the further headland dark. I could easily have decided to do it the other way round. Whatever you do, don't try to keep changing these main tonal areas as the scene itself changes, otherwise it will lead to a mess!

    Once that had dried I painted in the green top of the closer headland and used cobalt and pthalo blues in the sea, leaving the white surf and splashes as white paper. I could have positioned the main splash a little closer to the central headland to further support the focal point, but when I'm desperate for a cappuccino I sometimes blob these features in where convenient and leave the refinements for the finished painting. Most importantly, don't feel that because a feature appears in a certain position, that you have to put it exactly there. Finally the dark headland and foreground rocks were painted.

    This was done as a sketching demonstration for a course last week. My new book, David Bellamy's Arctic Light will be published shortly by Search Press, and it's quite different from any of my previous books - more on that shortly.

    Before I go I'd like to highlight a very useful report on watercolour paints that has just been published by www.wonderstreet.co.uk  It covers a great many ranges of watercolours, including some I had never heard of, and I recommend you take a look at it on  http://wonderstreet.com/blog/which-brand-of-watercolour-should-you-choose   While I can't comment on those paints I have not used, it does seem pretty accurate on those I do know. Enjoy your painting!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Obsessed with bottoms

    As landscape painters why are so many of us obsessed with bottoms? Why do we feel the compulsion to describe everything in minute detail? It's not necessary and in fact detracts from the overall effect in a painting.

    I have cut out some of this composition so that we can get in closer to view the relevant bits. Note the drystone wall on the left, the white walls of the buildings and the small gate immediately to the right of the barn, and how I have not rendered a definite bottom line in each case. By omitting this I have endeavoured to make the effect more natural. Usually I only paint in the top two or three bars of a five-bar field gate. You can see that for the right-hand hedgerow I have indeed given it a fairly distinctive bottom, probably a minor aberration when I was desperate for coffee! It's not a great problem as it is in the distance and the bottom part of the hedgerow could be softened off with a damp brush.

    So watch those bottoms as you'll get a more natural effect if you keep them soft. Hard boundary lines around a feature can make it look cut-out, rather like a garish sticking plaster on a donkey's ....er, bottom.

    The watercolour was painted on the fabulous Saunders Waterford 200lb rough high white paper in order to make the most of the textures on the hillside.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Wonderful distractions from painting

    It's been almost impossible to do much painting or writing lately, thanks to a very happy event. On 22nd February my daughter Catherine gave birth to an absolutely gorgeous little daughter, so for the first time I am now a grandad. She goes by the name of Guinevere, and I can't wait to paint her. She's already had a trek across the mountains at around 10,000 feet in the Italian Dolomites, when Catherine was carrying her last July, and as you can see from the photograph she is obviously deep in artistic contemplation.

    For my own contemplation I'm beginning to put together thoughts and images for my next book about coastal scenery, for which I have a whole host of new work from both the UK and abroad. My Arctic book will be coming out in June, so there will be more on that later on, but it's important to keep thinking ahead when you work on various projects. The sea has always been one of my favourite subjects, and the coastal book will be the fourth and last in my current series of how-to-paint books.

    Before I go, just a quick tip on painting those boaty things - you don't always have to insert a complicated harbour background into the composition, or indeed any sort of complex background. In this watercolour sketch I have simply brought the atmospheric sky down to meet the sand, and left it at that. Just because something is there, you don't have to include it!

    And don't forget - if you want to get views of a boat from all angles it pays to take along a pair of wellies before you dive into that lovely mud....

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Painting the river bank

    So often with landscape painting it is those less significant features that trip us up - that clump of grass in the foreground, or awkward blob of a hill in the background. Dealing with these is often best accomplished by reducing the item to a mere suggestion or hint to reduce their impact. This aspect of painting was recently brought to my attention by one of my blog-readers who was having trouble with river banks and reflections.

    The painting I have chosen to illustrate this problem varies considerably from the photograph of Ian's subject, but does hopefully answer some of the points raised. Where the left-hand bank abuts the sparkling part of the stream I have painted mainly yellow ochre, but dropping in some light green and red in places while the paint was still wet. When this area had dried I then modelled the sloping bank by working in the darker hollows with a mixture of something like cobalt blue and raw umber, softening off the darkness of the wash so that it left the original yellow ochre parts light at the top curve of the bank where it catches the light.

    Notice the closer left-hand bank is darker, and this helps suggest depth. It's fine to have part of the bank dark, caused by shadow, but best not to have the whole line of the bank in the same dark tone. You don't have to paint it exactly as it appears, so introduce some lighter spots and stamp your own creativity on the work. With the field beyond the bank, keep this as a simple wash similar to that on the left side. If there are light or dark lines along the bottom of the bank where it meets the water then make this effect intermittent as it can intrude if taken all the way along the river.

    The reflections in this scene were mirror-sharp in the placid foreground pool, but I wanted them to be less prominent and rendered them using the wet-in-wet method, dropping in dark reflections and then pulling out the light ones with a damp brush, but that is best left for a separate blog in the future. I used Saunders Waterford NOT paper for this watercolour.

    Water is a devilishly difficult subject to paint, but when you get it right it really does make the painting sing!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Reserving whites in your watercolours

    Many folk ask why I didn't use masking fluid in a demonstration painting where I needed to reserve white areas, and this is a constant source of concern to artists. Often  the decision depends on how you feel about the use of the fluid, and in my case I normally only use it when there are intricate details in white, or a light tone.

    In this detail of a watercolour of the old harbour at Fishguard I made quite extensive use of masking fluid on the roofs and chimneys, the clothesline, steps and white highlights on the water. This allowed me to brush the sky wash vigorously across the paper and over the tops of the roofs, and later to apply the dark washes over the harbour wall and steps and the background to the clothesline without having to fiddle. The same applied to the sparkling water where I used cobalt blue.

    I sometimes work round these features to create the negative shapes, but this can make the background appear overworked or splotchy, and take away the freshness. However, developing your skills at negative painting is invaluable, and is an excellent alternative to masking fluid. You will notice in this painting that there are tiny white features such as gulls, masts and ropes hanging from the harbour wall. These were rendered with white gouache, as I prefer this where the feature is so thin that masking fluid can appear clumsy. Gouache is also really effective for tidying up bits that haven't quite worked.

    I hope you all have a great festive season, and maybe Santa has left you an arty treat in your stocking to help get you going again with your painting. I shall try and snatch a few moments in the great outdoors with my paintbrushes. May you have much success with your painting in 2017