Thursday, 30 June 2011

Rambling on in Mid-Wales

    For a number of years I have been president of Powys Area Ramblers - part of the Ramblers' Association, which I joined over 20 years ago. It has given me great pleasure supporting a charity that does such marvellous work keeping so many of our footpaths open, and at the same time campaigning on behalf of the countryside, although I tended not to walk with them as my rather odd habit of continually chasing sketches meant that we quickly lost each other......

    Of late, though, things have sadly gone awry in the Welsh Ramblers, with the Welsh RA hierarchy co-opting a controversial new Welsh president in a secretive and what some members feel to be an unconstitutional manner, as it should have been done at an AGM. The new president is Jane Davidson, a former minister within the Welsh Assembly who has been encouraging the building of massed wind turbines across Mid-Wales, industrialising it so much that if most developments proceed there will hardly be a single view without these massive, out-of-scale turbines present. Last autumn, following rumours, I warned Welsh RA that such an appointment would be both controversial and damaging to the RA.

     As far as I know, most members of the RA in Wales are not aware of the arrogant manner in which this decision was carried out, and already some are concerned that they may be unable to protest against wind turbines because of the president's stance. This, of course is not true, but illustrates the potentially invidious effect of having a politician involved in a democratic society.

    So sadly I have resigned my position as president of Powys Ramblers. They are a great bunch and I wish them well, but they, and others deserve a far better hierarchy at Welsh HQ than the present incumbents.

   The watercolour shows typical Mid-wales scenery that will become industrialised before long if the controversial plans go ahead. How soon before this becomes an artistic no-go area?

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Painting Course in Derbyshire

    There were much fewer art instruction books around when I began painting, but one of them gave me to most marvellous advice which I have followed to this day: "The best art tutor you will ever find is Mother Nature." After so many years painting professionally I could not agree more. There is nothing like getting out into the landscape and working direct from the scene in front of you.

    In the photo I am giving instruction to a student on my recent painting course in the Derby shire Peak District. This combination of working directly from the landscape with a tutor to guide you really does push your work forward dramatically. Sure, you still don't get it right first time, but it is amazing how much you learn simply by being out there, and gradually your work improves. Before going out students are given a talk on working outdoors, including materials, what to look for as a subject, methods of working, figuring out the composing, and so much more.

    The course was based at the superb Pear Tree Farm studio run by Sue and Alan Barber, which has excellent facilities and the most delicious meals. My courses always include an outdoors element, followed by studio work where there are numerous watercolour demonstrations and practical work by the students. Where possible I try to include a little walking in search of subjects, but this is optional and should not put anyone off joining in.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Painting waterfalls in watercolour

     I like nothing better than to follow some bubbling rill up a mountain - it makes a delightful companion and almost always will lead me to a superb painting subject. Some of my most memorable moments in the hills has been climbing up a gill or gorge, staying as close to the water as possible, and often right in it! The combination of rocks and tumbling water I find irresistible, and in the current (July) issue of Leisure Painter Magazine you will find my article on painting moving, tumbling water.

    The image shows part of a watercolour from my Mountains & Moorlands in Watercolour book, where a small cascade is falling between rocks. Painting cascades and waterfalls is all about contrasts: the contrast between the hard edges of rocks and the soft ones of the falling water where it passes in front of those rocks; and that of the white, aerated water against the wet, dark rocks. Too much of one or the other will weaken the effect. I also often break up the vertical elements with a small tree or branch, or perhaps a sprig of heather drifting in front of the falling water.

     The preponderance of cool black - grey - blue - white can induce a feeling of cold austerity in the eye of the viewer, so in the above painting you will see that I've included a splash of red in the bottom right. One final tip: a few small flecks of white against the dark rocks and close to the falling water creates a sense of movement and splashing. You can do this with deft stabs with a scalpel, a few blobs of white gouache, or by spotting in some masking fluid before you start the painting, to reserve those tiny whites.

     Another final tip:  waterfalls are at their best after heavy rain, so get out there while it's still sloshing down for the best images, but be sure to keep all your accoutrements dry!!!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Retaining Whites in Watercolour

    Jenny and I demonstrated at the Patchings Art & Craft Festival in Nottinghamshire last week - the best annual show of its kind in Britain in a lovely rural setting with thousands of happy faces enjoying the art, crafts and the band. Jenny showed her pastel-painting techniques in the Search Press tent to enthusiastic audiences, while I did my usual watercolour demonstrations in the St Cuthberts Mill Celebrity Artist marquee, and also taking a couple of forays down to the Search Press tent in my tractor. My daughter Catherine gave us tremendous support, and, in fact, we would have been in trouble without her.

    Patchings is superbly well organised. They place a massive screen on either side of me, on which the audience can see every mistake I make in enormous detail, as you can see on the right where my hand occupies one third of the screen. You can view the composition clearly, although only part is showing.

    The image that you can see on the screen above illustrates clearly how leaving the paper white in places will have considerable impact on that part of the painting. Here the white cottage forms the centre of interest
which is supported by a gate that is mainly white. I often do this even if the building is not white. In this instance I used masking fluid to retain the white areas, although there are a number of ways of achieving this. It pays, therefore, to consider your whites before you touch the paper with the brush, because with watercolour it is almost impossible to get it back to a pristine white once it has been painted over.

    The white paper - here I have used the superb Saunders Waterford High White in a rough surface - is an exceptionally powerful tool in your watercolour painting. Make the most of it!

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Artists and the environment

    The main purpose of this blog is to show the delights of being an artist, helping people foster their creative artwork, and to offer tips on painting, all spiced with as much humour as can be crammed in. The reality so far, has revealed a much greater interest by readers in environmental concern for our glorious countryside, with a marvellous response to my post on Stopping Environmental Destruction on 24th May, and my letter in the national press about the appalling way the landscapes of Mid-Wales are being treated by government.

   As a landscape artist I have always tried to put back something into the natural environment in which I work, but sadly, most of the time this means highlighting threats which are now increasing in scale. Nature cannot fight back - well, apart from the volcanic sort, I suppose - and neither can it argue its case; it cannot entice politicians with incentives, rewards or bribes. Many artists feel that protesting in this way will badly affect the response to their work, but for me the countryside is far more important than my painting, but see

    The photograph shows typical Mid-Wales rolling countryside, the sort that the authorities wish to saturate - and I mean saturate, not just one turbine here and there, not just one wind farm here and there, but obliterate much that is dear to locals and tourists alike, so that all they will see is their hills and mountains through the massive, garish prison bars of the totally out-of-scale wind turbines that are far higher, far more intrusive, and completely alien to anything else in the natural landscape. It will destroy the economy of the region and force people into poverty.

   I grew up with a deep love for the countryside. I never questioned that one day it might be lost, that the greed of man, the voracious appetite to control the world by the corporations and their political acolytes might one day destroy our way of life. I have nothing but disgust for the Welsh Assembly and if you feel the same way please tell the first minster:

   What would the world be, once bereft
   Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
   O let them be left, wildness and wet;
   Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
                                  Gerard Manley Hopkins

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Demonstrations at Patchings Art Festival and Sandpiper Studio

     Jenny and I will be demonstrating at Patchings Art Festival this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and it's a marvellous place to enjoy art with demonstrations, artwork, art materials, crafts, exhibitions and so much more. With a brass band playing, the sun shining and so much to do it's an artist's heaven, so do try to come along and enjoy what's on offer.

    We will also be demonstrating at the Sandpipers Studio on the Wirral in Cheshire: Jenny on the afternoon of 24th June, and David will be demonstrating on the morning of 25th June plus a slide show after a lunch-break, with the opportunity to ask questions on both days.

   There is only limited space at the Sandpiper Studio so you will need to book in advance, either by telephoning Julie McLean on 07788 412 480  or by email  Julie is very well organised and makes everyone very welcome.

    And don't forget................always carry a sketchbook around with you, as you never know when that truly exciting subject will appear, whether you are shopping, on a bus, birdwatching or riding a camel across the Empty Quarter.

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Battle of Aberdod

    Today I've invited Griswallt ap Llechitwyt, author of 'The Grog Invasion' and an authority on the legendary Welsh water-folk, the Llandoddies, to regale us with a rare insight into these fascinating creatures. Grissie, as he is affectionately called, lives somewhere in the heart of the Cambrian Mountains, a recluse who makes occasional forays into the 21st century and has a further Llandoddie book in preparation.

     My involvement with the Doddies, or Llandoddies, as they come from Llandrindod Wells, goes back to the time when I first learned about the Battle of Aberdod. So amazing was the story of these legendary folk, I just had to put it down on paper. The picture illustrates a scene from the battle, which occurred on St Cewydd's Day in 1913, St Cewydd being the patron saint of rain. Here you can see the sense of despair on the faces of the little Doddies as they are being overwhelmed by the villainous Grogs who are intent on putting the Doddies to the sword, stealing their cakes and also the Doddie ladies who bake them.

     How can they possibly survive against such odds? Well, all is revealed in The Grog Invasion which you can get from  Should you visit Llandrindod, or Llandod as it is known locally, be sure to look out for all the Doddie sculptures around the place: in the Rock Park, beside the lake and in the woods. Powys County Council are organising a Llandoddie walk this summer, and who knows, you might well come across one of the little folk if you are quiet, but beware of any Grogs that might lurk in the undergrowth!

    The second book in the series, Terror of the Trolls, is currently being written, but because much of the action takes place underground in the Rock Park it has not been easy to dig out the incredibly awful tale of these monsters from Howey, but for those who have read the first book you may be reassured that many of your old favourite characters make an appearance. I'll be back with more news before long.


Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Painting Snow-covered Mountains

      One of the really good aspects of working at the Hay Literary Festival is that we've had a lot of youngsters taking part in our short workshops, and several of them have produced excellent work. The language is also quite different, and to every technique I demonstrate the illuminating reply always comes back the same: "Cool!"

     I love opening the fantastic world of art and nature to students, and it's sad we're unlikely to see these youngsters again, for it would be lovely to see the enthusiastic ones progress their painting further. I don't do workshops for many reasons, preferring to run occasional courses where I can take folk out into the countryside and show them how exciting it can be working directly from nature.

      Today's tip takes us back into the mountains. So many times I have hiked across mountains through deep snow, up crags and gullies, and taken tremendous efforts to reach a scene to paint. This one, however, is in Snowdonia in North Wales where I simply got out of the car and sketched this view. In places like Snowdonia you don't always need to trek across mountain ranges to get that stunning subject!

     In the watercolour you will see how I've created the shadows with fairly strong ultramarine, while leaving the white of the paper to depict the snow highlights. A snow scene can look extremely cold and forbidding, though, unless you introduce some warmer colours. One of the obvious places to do this is in the sky, where I've laid Naples yellow and some alizarin crimson to warm it up. Had I pushed this further across to the right I could have also included some of these colours as reflections in the stream, but I was happy with the way things were. Beside the stream I've added bunches and strings of reeds with the warm yellow ochre, a useful colour to drop into the foreground of a snow scene to relieve the overwhelming cool - there's that word again. I'd better shut up!

     The painting features in my DVD on Painting Mountains & Moorlands, which is a series of slides covering a whole variety of scenery from valleys to the high peaks and glaciers, and available from