Saturday, 27 August 2011

Painting an old goat

    Increasingly I'm including more animals and figures into my landscape paintings, as they do create added interest and life, usually becoming the centre of attention within the composition. This interest in adding more life coincided with my visits to the Arctic with its fascinating wildlife, and it certainly pays to take every opportunity to capture animals and birds whenever you can......on paper that is! many of my more entertaining, and sometimes hair-raising moments have occurred because of wildlife, which can be quite unpredictable.

    In this detail from a watercolour of Bedouin goats I've created a main group in the foreground, with two other more distant pairs that are less detailed than those at the front. By over-lapping most of them it suggests a more natural situation, and of course makes it easier to paint - you can even get away with painting a one-legged goat! The danger with over-lapping is that the detail of the two animals can confuse the eye, but if you look at the leftmost pair you will see how I've faded out the detail of the goat that stands behind the other.

    When there is a herd, flock or whatever, how many animals do you put into the composition? In the 18th century the Reverend William Gilpin propounded that the optimum number of cows to put into a painting was 22, but of course you might not have room for so many, and anyway might get bored after the first eleven or so. I rarely put in more than seven unless they are far away within the picture. Try not to cover the foreground area evenly with one animal per three inches, or whatever: every painting needs its quiet moments.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Painting undergrowth and other thorny problems

    When it comes to undergrowth we can quite literally find ourselves with quite a thorny problem, and painting it seems no easier: how do you cope with all those similar, repetitive and often mundane shapes? Firstly, don't dismiss those mundane bits of a scene: in a composition we need quiet, mundane passages in order to make the exciting bits stand out, so they are important parts of a painting. Secondly, when you are out in the countryside don't forget to gather material like this for use in a painting, in sketch and photographic form. Now and again concentrate on these less dramatic features and deliberately record them carefully.

    This photograph taken on Strumble Head in gentle spring sunshine will give you an idea of what I mean by recording the less dramatic. Posts, boulders, a dry-stone wall can break up the mass of undergrowth, as can a gate, tree, bush, rusty farm machinery, and so on. The undergrowth serves the extremely useful purpose of creating a lost-and-found effect here for the wall, which can look too strident if standing up above the ground by itself.

    Of course the wild tangle of vegetation needs simplification by reducing it to fewer detailed shapes. Make some of the grasses and briars stand out more than others. With vegetation the spatter technique of splashing blobs of paint from a brush can work very effectively. If you wish to beef it up, as you will do from time to time, one of the best methods is to introduce more variety of colour - red and orange can be particularly striking and I often carry this out by dropping these colours into an area that I've already wetted with clean water. Substitute detail with colour. There is more on tackling vegetation in my Complete Guide to Watercolour Painting.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Painting reflections in still water

     Ongoing at the moment is an exhibition of watercolours and pastels by Jenny Keal and myself at the Wyeside Arts Centre in Builth Wells, Powys. It covers a wide range of landscape subjects, plus a number of flower paintings, and at the moment the opening hours are mainly in the evenings when the venue is open for showing films, from 5.30 pm to 9 pm. For further information and to check opening times telephone 01982 552555

     One of the watercolours on show at Wyeside is this one of Garreg-Ddu reservoir in the Elan Valley, viewed from high up on a hill. The painting illustrates well the impact of keeping reflections simple. This effect was carried out by liberally wetting the lake area with clean water, then washing in a light tone of blue-grey to suggest the general reflections of the hillsides. Then with a stronger mixture of the same colour, and hardly any water on the fine brush, the reflection shapes of the trees was painted into the still-wet surface, creating a lovely soft effect.

    I then took a small flat brush and while the surface remained damp I pulled out the light reflection of the light crag, just to the immediate left of the dark reflection of the conifers. Full mirror-like reflections in still water lose their attraction because they become so detailed, so remember to keep them simple! You can see this painting in my book David Bellamy's Mountains & Moorlands in Watercolour, and signed copies are available from our website

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The panoramic sketch-book

    When I go off on expedition I like to take a variety of papers - several sketchpads, plus a folder of various papers, some of which are tinted, and with a variety of surfaces. Occasionally I will use a specialist pad, especially when working near home, and an excellent sketchbook that has only recently come on the market is the Derwent Panoramic book. I've started using it for certain types of subject, and it has a lovely smooth surface of 165 gsm and can be used for watercolour sketching.

    This simple watercolour sketch was carried out as a demonstration on a painting course. The panoramic format is particularly useful for extended mountain ranges and coastlines when a normal sketchbook often means you need to turn over a page halfway across a sketch and add the annotation 'PTO' (please turn over), which is hardly satisfactory. With this sketchbook it really makes you think about how you are going to arrange the composition before you start.

    Another great bonus is that there is not really much room for over-working those nasty foregrounds that seem to give so many of us problems. It encourages us to play down the detail. If I know there is a chance of my needing a book of this format I stick it in the rucsack. Details can be obtained from the Derwent Pencil Company.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Nude figure drawing in glacial streams

    Drawing from life is the best thing you can do to improve your drawing skills.....after all, if you can render a good likeness of the human figure where all the legs, arms and other paraphernalia should really all go in pretty specific places, then by comparison drawing a tree should be fairly problem-free. You only need to be vaguely accurate with the branches, for example, provided they are actually attached to the tree-trunk!

    It is, however, rare that you get the opportunity to do some alfresco nude studies, especially at over 6,000 feet altitude as in this case where the model was bathing in water streaming off the Vignemale glacier! Whilst this has happened to me a few times, this is the only occasion that I've had the opportunity to carry out a nude study at such a high altitude.

    The main lesson in this is not only that this sort of thing is excellent practice for you (drawing nude figures, I mean, not jumping naked into freezing lakes), but that it always pays to have your sketchbook with you and be prepared for all eventualities. You never know who or what is round the corner! You will find further advice on drawing the figure in my book David Bellamy's Complete Guide to Watercolour Painting as seen on my website. One final piece of advice: wherever you are always ask permission before sketching or photographing anyone, especially when they are scantily clad or not clad at all.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Suggesting detail in watercolour landscapes

     Last month Watercolour Journey left a comment about my paintings "suggesting a lot of detail without actually cluttering up the painting," and I wanted to follow this interesting point with an example to help you. Not just to prove that I read your comments, for they are invaluable in providing both feedback and ideas for further posts, even if my response time is rather long, but I was in Switzerland at the time enjoying the fantastic mountain scenery.

     This is a small part of a watercolour of a scene in the Cairngorms mountains in Scotland and the point I wish to focus on is the mountainside in the background which I have tried to suggest as rough detail. Unlike the loch and trees, this is not one of the most picturesque aspects of the scene, so I wanted to play it down and not clutter up the area immediately behind the trees, yet still give a sense of place.

     At the top of the mountain the detail stands out more strongly where I have deliberately painted in rock and crag shapes, then dragged dry-brush colour down behind the trees. This is an excellent method for suggesting detail without actually painting any in, and it still allows the trees to stand out strongly. Note that the direction of the brush-strokes is designed to enhance the direction of fall of the mountain-slopes. Before I painted in all this suggestion of distant detail I did lay a weak blue wash over the background and let it dry, and you can see it through the broken colour.

     To see more of this painting of Loch Pityoulish see my book Painting Mountains & Moorlands in Watercolour and you can order a signed copy from my website.