Saturday, 30 July 2011

Dirt, dust and watercolour: paintings of coal mines

    I have always been fascinated by industrial subjects and they make an excellent change from landscapes, especially if you feel yourself getting into a rut. Many years ago I wrote a book Images of the South Wales Mines, and did quite a lot of work in and around the mines at the time when they were being closed down as the government of the day wrought its vengeance on the mining industry. Now all deep mining has ended in Wales and I have been working on a few more paintings of this vanished era.

     The painting is a watercolour and charcoal work of Marine Colliery, Cwm, showing a coal train getting up steam. When it comes to painting industrial subjects I am a great fan of dirt, dust and steam, as it not only can create instant atmosphere, but can hide the bits you don't want people to see. This is especially useful where you are painting a scene that no longer exists, and are not sure about what exactly went where! While this was not true of the painting depicted, I have used the ploy in other situations, so if you are painting such scenes do make full use of the dirt and dust.

     This is one of a collection of paintings that will be on display at the Corner House Gallery at 38 Quay Street, Ammanford in Carmarthenshire. Tel. 01269 594959  They will be exhibited from the afternoon of Thursday 4th August onwards, and I shall be there on that afternoon, so do come along and have a chat. To see some of the paintings in the collection click here.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Painting Greens in the Summer Landscape

    Summer is a lovely time of the year to be out sketching and painting in the countryside and it is hard to beat sitting beside a babbling brook with your picnic and at the same time painting the water sparkling and dancing in the sunlight. However, when confronted with so much greenery in a profusion of varied greens many artists find it quite overwhelming.

     This small watercolour of a Derbyshire hay meadow is featured in my article on painting summer landscapes in the current issue (August) of Leisure Painter magazine which covers the three different approaches to tackling greens as well as mixing your greens. Often, though, not everything we see as being green is actually that colour. Grass-heads are often a different colour to their stems and you see the effect of a mass of warm-coloured grass-tops in the painting above in the horizontal band just below the cottage. In the tree shadow areas and much of the foreground detail the darks have been created with a mixture of French ultramarine plus either burnt umber or raw umber, not green.

    Try not to have too many different greens in your composition: if you attempt to emulate every green you see before you the painting will become too disparate and messy. Bring more blues and greys into the more distant green areas, as this will not only relieve the overwhelming sight of so much green, but will also suggest a greater sense of distance and space.

    There is much more on the subject in the article, and you will also find further advice on the subject in my DVD Painting Summer Landscapes, produced by APV Films, and available from my website

     For something completely different see the Forthcoming Events page on this blog for my landscape paintings at the Welsh National Eisteddfod, and mining paintings at Corner House Gallery. Painting coal mines is the perfect antidote to those summer greens, of course!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Jenny Keal Landscape painting demonstration

     For those who love to paint landscapes and are keen to improve their work, they can do no better than to pop round to Erwood Station Craft Centre on Saturday afternoon (24th July) to see a demonstration by Jenny. She is one of the finest tutors on landscape painting around, and does an excellent demonstration. Unlike many demonstrators she paints a different subject every time and is eager to help students with their work.

     While Jenny works mainly in pastel, a great deal of her advice applies to all mediums, so even if you work in watercolours, oils or acrylics, do come along and see her in action. She is also keen to help those artists who enjoy working in pastel, but find the pastel dust a problem - she has excellent techniques for coping with this, and is happy to answer your questions.

     She will be at the centre from mid-day onwards and will be signing her new book. Her demonstration will begin at 2 pm, and you will be able to see her superb exhibition at the same time. Erwood Craft Centre is a lovely place to visit, not just for the paintings and crafts, but they do excellent teas and there is a lovely riverside walk along the Wye. Their telephone number is 01982 560674

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Things to do with your sketching companions

     One of the problems faced by many artists who work out of doors is that of companions: what do you do with them when you want to sketch? Finding one who paints can be a great bonus and I'm lucky having Jenny who also loves sketching, so for much of the time we work outdoors together. In the high mountains, though, it's not so easy for her. So apart from my solo trips I try to get Catherine to join me - she's used to her old Dad stopping in the most odd places to spend time sketching and painting.

     As usual she brought along a large book to read during our recent visit to the Swiss Alps, although in this photograph of her on a lofty crag opposite the Eiger she's just put it away as we prepare to move on. But what do you do if your companion doesn't like reading? Some of the ruses I've tried over the years with various non-painting companions have been:
  • On a cold, snowy morning provide a hot drink and mince pies on a walk;
  • Plan a route with many interesting places to distract them - I managed four churches in the space of two miles once, which kept everyone happy while I sketched;
  • Take a load of goodies to eat that are wrapped in the most incredibly difficult style that will take them ages to open, and thus give you plenty of time to get the sketch done;
  • Deliberately get 'lost' for a while by dodging down behind a wall, bush, rock or whatever is available;
  • I find that 'consulting a tree' (or boulder) is a great excuse to give you a few moments, as no-one is likely to stay with you, although you can't stretch credibility too long!
  • One very effective ruse is to stop and relate some tale or legend that relates to that particular spot and at the same time do the sketch. Too much of this, however, will attract suspicions.   
    These are just a few of a great many devices to keep your companions happy whilst you sketch or paint. With a little preparation before you go it can become quite sophisticated, and no doubt you'll have many ruses of your own. This is just a start. There is a further bonus in all this: it can be screamingly funny at times, concocting these wheezes, so much so that at times I've almost laughed myself senseless and been totally incapable of doing a sketch................

Monday, 11 July 2011

Creating a Sense of Scale in a Mountain Painting

     Most mountain paintings benefit from a sense of space and scale - we need to make them look huge and impressive whether they are a backdrop to a valley scene, or viewed from high up. In this watercolour of the Brenva Arete in the French Alps the cool colours make the distant features recede into the distance, helped by the warm red introduced into the left-hand pinnacles.

    What really emphasises the sense of vastness, however, are the three small figures that you can see crossing the glacier on the left, just above the savage-looking crevasses. By including figures in your mountain paintings you can achieve this quality of space and scale, but be sure to make them small. Giants in the foreground will simply have the opposite affect!

    In the previous blog you were asked to think about the position of the dhow. The reason I placed it in that position was because it is pointing towards the centre-line of the painting, and not 'sailing' or 'looking' out of it. The same treatment should be given to people, animals, vehicles, or whatever, as the viewer's eye is distracted by these seemingly innocuous aberrations.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Painting in the Middle East

    One of my favourite painting places is the Middle East, with all its colour and exciting desert scenery, and of course some of the most hospitable people in the world. Unlike many locations, I find it almost imperative to include figures, and much of the time you don't have to paint those dreadful legs on people, as most wear a djellabah or dishdash. However, in this painting I'm not going to show any people as the scene is viewed from the sea.

    This is Mutrah fort in Oman, with a typical dhow anchored in the harbour. Note how the mountains are almost a monochrome - this pushes them back on to a different plane from the fort and dhow, and is a useful device for throwing the emphasis on certain parts of a painting. Treatment of the sea has been achieved by painting little horizontal flecks of ultramarine and cadmium red across the area, gradually making them slightly larger as they approach the viewer. When this was done I laid a weak wash of the same colour right across the foreground. This softened off the edges of the flecks and made them appear more unified.

     Now look hard at the dhow. What do you think I took into account when I considered where to place it? The answer is a useful compositional trick. No marks for comments such as "after much deliberation you decided not to stick it on top of the mountain." The answer will be in the next posting, so you've plenty of time to think about it. Enjoy your painting!!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Thanks to Old Proggie you can now leave comments

   HI!!!  This is Old Proggie - you'll know me if you've read The Grog Invasion, the first volume in the definitive guide to the Chronicles of the Llandoddies. Anyway, old Bellamy has packed his lederhosen and pencils, and is making his way to the Swiss Alps, leaving me in charge of the blog.....well, plus Jenny and numerous clockwork penguins of course, but while she's in the garden I have free rein.

    None of that poncy art stuff here, I'm afraid, unless you regard me (see left) as a rather dashing work of art. No, being the brains behind it all, I shall be trying to improve matters for the blognoscenti. I see that some of you are not able to leave comments so I've done some investigating, and already I've found that the old fool hasn't been clicking some of his buttons properly. So now anyone should be able to make comments (give him some cheek!), not just registered users of the blog.

    I also thought some psychedelic fairies would enhance the blog masthead, and perhaps add a View a complete profile of Old Proggie page, so watch this space. Trouble is, he'll change it all when he gets back...........

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Painting With Pastels Exhibition

    Jenny's exhibition has just started at Erwood Station Craft Centre, in the new carriage gallery. It will be open every day from 9.30 to 5.30 until 18th August, and she will be demonstrating there on 23rd July - see the events page. Set in the lovely upper Wye Valley the centre makes a lovely day out to see arts, crafts and beautiful countryside. Michael Cunningham is taking the Centre from strength to strength. This, of course is Llandoddie land, so be prepared for mysterious happenings, such as the cat changing colour.

     The exhibition features paintings from Jenny's new book, Painting With Pastels, published by Search Press, and shows the great versatility of the pastel medium. In her painting of Lindisfarne, seen above, I love the soft blending of the foreground vegetation into the sea, together with the variegated colour and the occasional blob. It is so easy to over-work a foreground, but one of her lessons here is to show how to understate this vital part of a painting.

    We sketched this scene together on a beautiful evening, looking across at the incoming tide, so I'm not surprised that she has emphasised the romantic nature of the moment, and it is this sense of mood, whether emotional or physical, that can inject that marvellous added ingredient to lift the painting beyond simply a graphic record of the moment.

    For details of the book, which is on offer with her latest pastel painting DVD, see our website