Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Painting view blocked by a mounted army

    How often have you been out sketching or painting a favourite view, when just after you've put brush to paper a dirty great truck comes along and parks right in the way of your view? It's pretty frustrating, though up in the mountains I'm normally spared that sort of thing, apart from a very occasional helicopter making a nuisance of itself.

    It's a right turn-up though when you find your subject blocked by an army of mounted knights, all in full armour with shields, swords, spears and helmets gleaming in the sunshine. The best weapon I was carrying was a number ten round sable, not much use against that crowd! Luckily, Marloes Beach is huge and when the tide is out there is plenty of room even for several hundred knights together with several hundred artists, if it came to the push, so Jenny and I drifted off to the south end of the beach and found a superb subject set against a delightful, shimmering sea.


Friday, 23 September 2011

Painting holiday in Iceland

    Next June I shall be taking a group of painters to Iceland to paint and sketch the amazing landscapes there, ranging from the most spectacular waterfalls that take your breath away, to violently-coloured mountainscapes that will challenge your palette, sublime ice and glacier scenery, the blackest of lava and so much more. Truly "Lord of the Rings" stuff that promises to be a visual feast.

    When I was last exploring Iceland I camped much of the time, and of course, always take every opportunity to sketch people as well as the landscape and wildlife. At one site this lady Viking passed our tent carrying an armful of lager cans, so I couldn't resist a quick rendering in my sketchbook. My companions sometimes get rather concerned when I do this, as they know full well that the result is not always complimentary, but not many people realise they are being studied in this way.

    Next year we will not be camping, as it's quite a luxurious trip as far as accommodation is concerned, and I can't guarantee we'll bump into any lady Vikings, but I'm sure there will be plenty of interesting characters around. Many Icelandic artists themselves include odd characters in their landscape paintings, some quite mythical. If you are interested in the painting holiday do get in touch with Liz Drake at  telephone 01825 714310  or

Friday, 16 September 2011

Painting skies, light & atmosphere

    Skies, Light & Atmosphere is the theme of my watercolour demonstration and seminar at Great Bookham in Surrey on 5th October, three inter-linked elements that play such important parts in landscape painting. The event features a demonstration followed by a coffee break and then an illustrated talk covering a multitude of scenes showing techniques for achieving a great many effects for skies and atmosphere, and how to make the most of the light in a variety of forms.

    This watercolour of the lovely old village of Bradwell in Derbyshire embraces all three of the elements I shall be covering in the seminar. Early morning mist creates an atmosphere that loses a great deal of background detail, aided by smoke drifting up from the chimneys, while the backlighting lends itself to a dramatic effect, the figures caught in the sunlight have haloes around them - achieved by leaving the immediate surrounding rim of their bodies as untouched white paper.

    The most intense light in the sky is also untouched paper, as are the silver linings, the rims at the edge of some of the clouds close to the sun. Much of the sky has been rendered with a wash of French ultramarine mixed with cadmiun red, and this has also been taken down into the background behind the immediate houses, thus retaining a sense of moody unity which a lot of conflicting colours would destroy.

    My exhibition starts on 5th October at the Lincoln Joyce Fine Art gallery at 40 Church Road, Great Bookham in Surrey on the same day as the seminar which takes place in the hall opposite the gallery. The gallery telephone number is 01372 458481. The seminar starts at 1pm, although doors will be open at 11 am for a discount sale of art materials, books, etc. Entry is by ticket only and you can book online at  Click on seminar tickets in shop menu.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Sketching in high winds

    It's been rather difficult of late trying to set up postings: slowness of the laptop, repetitive errors, plus the fact that I've been away. Sketching all the lovely mud on the Kent coast in pouring rain, doing stage-by-stage paintings at Search Press for my next book, Skies, Light & Atmosphere, attending a British Mountaineering Council conference on wind energy, crossing a bog in Snowdonia with violent headwinds that hardly improved the sketching, and setting up an exhibition in Aberglasney Gardens near Llandeilo. It takes my breath away just recalling it all.

     Our exhibition is by four artists - Wendy Powell-Jones, Anthony Richards, Jenny Keal and myself, and is on until 22nd September. Aberglasney is a few miles west of Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire, in lovely rolling countryside. Come and see the gardens at the same time, and they have an excellent cafe. Jenny will be there on Thursday 15th.

    Wind tends to be one of the most awkward conditions to sketch in, and the ferocious gusts up high on the mountains in Snowdonia made it extremely difficult, with pencil marks going everywhere except the intended place. Crossing stepping stones at one point was quite entertaining, as not only were they submerged under deep water, but balance in those gusts was somewhat tricky. Not a good weekend to be out on the hills!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Including wildlife in your landscape paintings

    Sometimes you may come across a lovely spot to paint, a truly heartening scene, but without an actual focal point. Without that important ingredient it is unlikely to be a great success as a composition, so what do you do? There are a number of answers to this question, and one of my favourites is to add wildlife, usually in a manner that allows the landscape to dominate, unless the wildlife is something iconic such as a polar bear, rhino or similar large creature, but we rarely find any of these around the Brecon Beacons where I do much of my sketching!

   While this is only the central part of the watercolour, I have focussed at this point to illustrate how to suggest rapid movement in wildlife by softening off the edges of the birds in places such as the wing-tips, the trailing edges of the wings and the tails, while keeping the beaks and heads in reasonably sharp focus. This was one place where I appreciated having other people and their dogs around, as they caused the birds to fly off in sudden bursts, thus giving me the opportunity to sketch and photograph the action as they flew past.

    I shall return to the issue of highlighting and creating centres of interest within a scene in some future blogs, but capturing fleeting moments of wildlife can be an exciting part of our work, even for landscape painters.