Sunday, 29 May 2011

Pastels, Watercolours & Vikings at Hay Festival

     Over the last few days Jenny and I have been demonstrating and running brief workshops at the Hay Festival in the shadows of the Black Mountains. This has been sponsored by Sky Arts in an endeavour to kickstart people's creativity, and it has meant that we are reaching a different audience. What has been really exciting is the number of youngsters taking part and enjoying themselves.

     The picture shows Jenny demonstrating her pastel-painting techniques, and in the short time available she produced a lovely landscape. Pastel, though needs careful handling when you are not used to it: somehow one young lady managed to get more pastel on her face than on the paper! However, they did some really good work, especially as so many were absolute beginners, all benefitting from Jenny's excellent teaching.

     I don't normally do workshops, and to attempt to shoe-horn them into 45 minutes or so is tempting fate. At times things became almost riotous, but everyone put in a marvellous effort to produce a finished painting. Alas, the brushes for the workshop had disappeared overnight, so we had to scratch a few together, not quite having to resort to a stick of rhubarb!

    We are lucky in being sandwiched between two marvellous acts - Opera Playhouse with Pippa Longworth and Karl Daymond, and Hip-Hop Shakespeare. Pippa has a stunning voice and looks quite formidable clad in Viking gear, complete with horned helmet as she launches into a Wagner piece, while Hip-Hop Shakespeare is a marvellously original way of interesting young folk in the works of the great bard.

     Jenny and I will be there again on 30th May, 3rd and 4th June, and will be delighted to see any of you who can come along.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Stopping environmental destruction

      They came from Ceredigion, they came from Carmarthenshire, Denbighshire, Radnorshire, Snowdonia, from Shropshire, Devon, Cornwall, Cheshire, and many more places; but most of all from Montgomeryshire. They descended on Cardiff to protest against the destruction and industrialisation of the beautiful Mid-Wales countryside by over 600 wind turbines, with their associated tall pylons, substations and other structures. To protest against the gridlock of main Powys roads every weekday for six years or more, with the associated works of building new roads, bridges, and moving road furniture to carry massive turbine structures and thousands of tons of concrete for their bases, concrete production being one of the most polluting processes known to man. At the same time destroying peat blankets that store CO2, thus releasing the very thing these turbines are supposed to be reducing.

      Jenny and I travelled down with a coach-load of protesters. My first problem was when they handed out the song-sheet - no-one else on the bus appeared to be able to read Welsh, so Muggins had to blast away.....anyone who has witnessed my singing will recoil with the awful memory, and in the confines of the coach it must have sounded dreadful - I'm no Katherine Jenkins!  We're deeply concerned that it is clear that most of Mid-Wales will become one vast windfarm if these plans go ahead. We certainly would not want to walk and sketch amongst these useless structures. They would devastate the local economy that relies so much on tourism.

     This was the largest demonstration they had seen at the Welsh Assembly. All the political parties sent out a representative: Labour sent out a girl who had only been an AM for a couple of weeks, while her leader hid away in the Senedd; the Lib-Dem leader, an AM for Mid-Wales shamefully made no appearance; Plaid Cymru, the party whom one would expect to stand up for Wales, made it sound as though he'd fought on our side, which was patently not the case; only the local Conservative MP for Montgomery, the man who galvanised the growing protest movement, stood up for our glorious countryside. Most magnificent was Myfanwy from Meifod who tore into the Welsh Assembly with a ferocity and touch of humour that received a tremendous applause.

     But then, not to be outdone, stepped forward that wonderful organisation that strikes terror into the heart of any British government, should they step out of line - the WI. The representative from the Womens' Institute told the Welsh Ass in no uncertain terms that this wasn't good enough - a rethink on their energy strategy was necessary. Then, finally, as is always fitting in Wales, we all sang, and sang......

     Whether we are artists, walkers, riders, tourists seeking solitude and peace, or whatever, we need the countryside for our health, our sanity and to de-stress. Nothing works better than nature, but if we are not careful we have so much to lose now. If you feel you would like to sign the Welsh Assembly petition against these proposals please see

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Painting with Pastels

      Many people turn to pastel, that lovely rich, direct medium, after experiencing the horrors of watercolour, which seems to have a mind of its own, and sometimes it seems, a vindictive one. Pastellist Jenny Keal has just brought out a new book Painting With Pastels, a superb guide for both beginners and the more experienced artists. It is mainly concerned with landscapes, although she has included a number of flower paintings as well.

      Barafundle Bay in Pembrokeshire has a gem of a beach and in this painting Jenny has done it proud. She turns a good subject into an outstanding composition with a number of devices. Firstly, the long background cliff-top can intrude, but see how she has softened it off in places, introducing mist here and there with a judicious smudge. She has not been tempted by the cold, featureless sky, but has warmed it up to echo the foreground sand colour. All the background has been achieved in tones of grey, but she emphasises the power and solidity of the rocks with bold, determined strokes of a dark pastel that bring them closer to the viewer and thus creating a marvellous sense of space and distance.

      Pastel is a lovely medium for suggesting reflections in wet surfaces, and Jenny's rendering here has a mouth-watering quality, with lovely soft edges all round. One of her outstanding techniques with pastels is that of flaking - scraping the pastel stick and letting the droppings fall onto a selected area on the painting, then pressed in with a painting knife. Here you see the method used on the white splash, which truly brings the painting to life!

      I was with her when she did the original sketch on the beach, which is why I know how much she has tweaked the scene with the eye of the master painter. Her book is crammed with tips and techniques like this, and even if you do insist on sticking with the dreaded watercolour medium (as I do!), you will still learn a lot from this inspiring book, which includes a number of stage-by-stage paintings. Jenny will even sign it for you if you order it from our website

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Enlivening your landscapes

          There are a number of ways to enliven your landscapes, and in this watercolour of a farm in the English Lake District I have employed a few devices to add interest. A clothes line can be used to add colour and by not having the clothes hanging straight down you can give them a sense of being blown about - white, pink and red are excellent colours to use on the clothes. Just in front of the house I have emphasised blossom on the trees, and many of the trees around the house are bright green, adding to the feeling of spring and further drawing attention to the centre of interest, which is the house.

          However, once you include figures the centre of interest will then transfer to them, unless they are extremely small. The cyclists were not present, but I added them to bring life into the work. Always try and get your figures to be doing something, rather than standing around with their hands in their pockets, and for this try introducing some prop like a wheel-barrow, bucket, or as in this case, bikes. Finally, remember that sunshine will always liven up a painting.

          This watercolour is featured in my book David Bellamy's Mountains & Moorlands in Watercolour where I show the original sketch and photograph of the scene. For details of the book see:

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Blog followers and drawing figures

Some followers have told me they are not receiving automatic notification when I post a new blog. Hardly surprising if you are following a blogospheric idiot who doesn't know the difference between a geek and a slashdotter, however much he may know about watercolours. I'm sorry if you have had no joy with this, but I believe the problem is now sorted: on the top right of the blog page you will see a 'Follow by Email' slot. If you enter your email address there and click 'submit' that should hopefully ensure you are kept informed.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have become followers, left comments and sent emails about the blog, and I encourage you to leave comments as it helps me to find out what you like, or don't like. As I live a rather varied life, from the rip-roaring exciting bits to the boring ones, there will be a wide range of subjects and approach. Some may be completely mad, while others will cover serious topics, and of course a considerable amount of painting ideas, tips and information. It will be covering areas that often do not appear in my books and films.

This time I've included a sketch done many years ago of the Bedouin singer Abd Disardeq. I love figure work of all sorts and this was a delightful evening in Bahariah Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt. In the sketch it may look as though Abd is playing music on an old chair-leg, but in fact it is a Bedouin musical instrument called a simsemeia. He is accompanied here by one of his sons. I painted a full watercolour from this, and kept it as it so reminds me of a wonderful evening in the company of many extremely kind and hospitable local people. So the lesson is: don't go anywhere without your sketchbook!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Shock & Draw

I followed the major across the rough, pathless mountainside, often stumbling in the pitch blackness of the winter night. Eventually we stopped close to a Ghurka machine-gun post and waited. Using my headtorch was out of the question - it would alert the enemy to our position. I would have to start sketching in absolute darkness.

Suddenly an all-mighty explosion erupted behind us, followed by more, causing the ground to vibrate: not good for the jolly old pencil. With more explosions the scene became lit up to a degree, the flashes illuminating conifers and the dying smoke of the previous explosions. Although still not able to use my torch, at least I could draw vaguely accurate impressions of the rather lively barrage with a water-soluble pencil. Still no sign of the attackers, so my drawing was devoid of figures.

Then, with an almighty whoosh something nasty flew through the air, rose high and then illuminated the whole scene. Parachute flares began dropping as the enemy located our position and turned night into day. Machine-guns opened up on the flank and the Ghurkas began firing from their bunker as shadowy figures advanced on their lines. My pencil worked overtime, and now I could turn on my torch and illuminate my sketchbook. What a mess! Still, I managed to turn it into something reasonable. The atmosphere was incredible, with flares, bangs, automatic gunfire, figures hurtling by and smoke grenades going off. In less than half an hour it was all over.

This all took place in the wilds of Mid-Wales at an infantry battle course. My objective was to produce a large watercolour to donate to the Help for Heroes charity which supports our wounded soldiers. The army were absolutely brilliant in helping me record this amazing spectacle. In all I did three sessions, one with live ammunition, complete with bullet-proof vest and armour-plated watercolour box. I can't thank them enough.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Painting and mountaineering in Holland

So what can Holland offer the mountain painter? Well, not many mountains, but there are marvellous opportunities for other subjects. I've not long returned from a few days in the Netherlands where I wanted to visit the Arnhem battlefield site and also sketch some Dutch maritime subjects, which I've always admired. But there was so much more: Amsterdam offered great opportunities for sketching those lovely traditional Dutch barges, the picturesque waterways, which at this time of year are fresh with new foliage on the trees, the incredible canal houses with their hugely varied gables, and bikes, bikes, bikes!

There was a sketch everywhere and not enough time to do it justice, and even sitting at an outdoor cafe sipping a cappuccino brought no relief, for the figures walking, cycling, hopping and shuffling past demanded so much attention from my pencil. What intrigued me was the number of blokes who came up and photographed me painting and sketching, though not one took the slightest interest in the work being done. Many artists shy away from working outdoors because of onlookers, but there are many ways to counter this.

Wear a large, wide-brimmed hat. This will isolate you from all but the most persistent onlooker, especially if you are sitting down. Have a second hat with some coins in placed upside down in front of your position - this will distance many, but at least if they approach closer you may be rewarded. When asked a question reply in a foreign language - Welsh is excellent for this, as even Berber children in Morocco, the true afficionados of artist-baiters, are hard pushed to counter this. If you are truly desperate then take along a disreputable-looking friend to stand beside you. My friend Michiel finds that when he is out walking with his friend Griswallt most people will immediately cross to the other side of the road when they see old Grissie approaching. So don't be too alarmed if you find some wierd characters staring at your painting and making the most awfully nice comments about it.......

I'll be showing some of the work from Holland in a future blog, but do enjoy it when you're out there sketching - it can be great fun!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Rearranging a Composition

Very few scenes in the countryside happen to be exactly as we would wish them to be when we are about to paint them - a little jigging around with the composition is usually necessary. In the photograph of the Meon Valley in winter shown below, there are a number of basic changes that can be made before beginning to paint. Study the scene for a few minutes and consider what you might do to improve the way the main elements hang together.

The placid stream reflected warmer colours as the afternoon wore on, while the constant coming and going of the birdlife enlivened the scene. It cried out to be sketched and with such lovely, delicate colours I plumped for a watercolour sketch. The first thing that struck me was the direction of the stream: it would be much improved if it led into the picture and not to one side as it does here. That, in fact is what the stream actually did, but within the confines of a photograph I couldn't show this.

While I sometimes include telephone poles, here they simply add clutter, so I left them out for a cleaner tree-line. Quite a bit of simplifying was necessary, firstly in the sky - although the sky is quite washed out, in reality there were a great many small clouds, so I reduced these to one simple line of dark cloud; secondly the foreground demanded a broad-brush approach, eliminating most of the clumps of grass. I also warmed up the sky and associated reflection in the water.

You can see my response in the watercolour sketch in the June issue of Leisure Painter magazine, on page 26, in an article on painting placid water. The July issue will include my article on painting turbulent water, followed in August by one on painting summer landscapes, and how to cope with all those greens. Why not visit the magazine's painting community at