Friday, 21 October 2011

Drawing action figures

    One of my great enjoyments is drawing and painting the figure, especially the one in action. Life drawing is the finest way of improving your drawing skills, and even now I wish I could do more. During my years of active caving figure work became more important, for without the figure in a cave you get no sense of scale. Sometimes we posed for each other in some climbing/caving position, but some of the best work I did involved catching views of cavers as they struggled through difficult features of the passage. For some reason many seemed reluctant to maintain a difficult pose when perched 80 or 100 feet above a sheer drop with their only means of support being that of thrusting their limbs out to jam themselves in position: no holds, and smooth wet rock. For the artist such a pose can be so dynamic, so tense, and with a look of absolute concentration on the model's face. Jenny was especially good at it.

    To the left is a page out of my sketchbook, showing a caver preparing for a rope-climbing competition, an excellent time to get all manner of models. I draw rapidly, making many mistakes, but every now and then one will succeed. many are abandoned as the model moves away from a certain pose, but with perseverance and practice you will find it becomes easier. Usually the model repeats poses, so that you can go back to an earlier unfinished drawing and continue.

    In a caving environment I often have to work so fast that as cavers move through the passage I only have time to do a leg or arm, so end up with the left leg of one caver, the right of another, the nose of a third, and so one......great fun! It's a bit of a problem when someone says afterwards "You've caught me really well there," knowing full well that not only was that someone else's left whatsit, but that someone else was of the opposite sex!

    At the moment I'm working on artwork for the next Llandoddies book which is crammed with action figures, not to mention a few monsters, so all this practice and recording is paying dividends. I try to capture characters at all opportunities - the London underground is an excellent place, cafes and restaurants also make fine ambush points, and any large event where you can wander around and do some candid sketching. So naturally, it always pays to have that sketchbook on you, perhaps hidden within the pages of The Times or Playboy, as the mood suits you. It's quite surprising the number of monsters that you come across in your day-to-day travels!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Creating space & distance in landscape paintings

    One aspect of landscape painting that causes a few problems for the less experienced artist is that of suggesting a sense of space and distance. This is especially a problem where the air is clear and you can see everything in outstanding detail for miles, thus tempting us to put everything into the composition, in quite strong detail. We usually need to create something of an atmospheric haze, sometimes within a short distance, in order to create a feeling of depth and space in a painting.

    The key to creating a feeling of distance in a landscape painting is to ensure that the more distant feature has less detail, less colour strength and less tonal strength than that which it is in front of that feature. In this small part of a watercolour you can see that the left-hand mountain slope is quite a bit stronger in tone and detail than the ridge disappearing behind it, and this applies to trees, buildings and all manner of features. Make sure that there is very little detail in the more distant feature as it goes behind the closer one, otherwise this will confuse matters.

    The above picture is part of my painting of Glen Feshie, in the Cairngorms of the Scottish Highlands, and is currently on display in my exhibition at Lincoln Joyce Fine Art, at 40 Church Road, Great Bookham, Surrey. Telephone 01372 458481, which continues until the 22nd October

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Granulating Watercolours

    I've always loved colours that granulate - that is, create a varied speckling across the wash which had traditionally been present in certain pigments such as French ultramarine and cobalt blue, for instance. This summer, my attention was drawn to the Daniel Smith watercolours which are imported from America, as so many of the colours in an extraordinarily large range tend to granulate.

    In this small section of a watercolour painting you can clearly see the strong granulating effect in the sky area. This colour is Zoisite Genuine, a grey-green that is especially useful for mixing subtle greens by adding one of the yellows to the mixture. It also has a slight tendency to intermittent sparkle when caught in a certain light, and is excellent for those areas you wish to play down, yet retain a little interest in the form of the granulations.

    Moonglow is another colour that granulates well, a deep violet that would be ideal if you need a 'mysterious dark' with a little warmth. Whilst it may be an exciting addition to your halloween paintings, it could inject some lovely moody atmosphere into your landscapes, and I look forward to experimenting further with it.

    Another exciting colour is Quinacridone Deep Gold which can impart a glorious rich glow to your skies, autumn scenes, or many other applications in a painting, and if you want intensely blue summer skies the Daniel Smith Manganese Blue is a knock-out. I should also point out to those who like Yellow Ochre, but not its opacity, that in this range the pigment is transparent!

    I've only tried a few of the colours in this range, but from what I've seen they do give exciting possibilities. As artists we should always be on the look-out for new colours to try out. You can buy test sheets of the whole range and these contain a small blob of colour of each pigment that you can try out. Many of the colours are metallic, they shimmer and sparkle, so not all are suitable for traditional watercolour painting, but if you wish to look further see

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Exhibition of watercolour paintings

    Wednesday 5th October sees the start of my major 2011 exhibition, From Mountains to the Sea, at Lincoln Joyce Fine Art in Great Bookham, Surrey. The subjects range from coastal scenes, rural landscapes to the high mountains, with a number of overseas locations included. Naturally the mood of a place is a strong feature in each watercolour, as has always been one of my prime aims in depicting the landscape.

    One of the paintings is this view of a farm in Upper Langdale in the Lake District, the tops dusted with a thin layer of snow which strongly contrasts the red of the dead bracken on the mountainside. This was painted from a sketch I carried out many years ago, for I have so many sketches and photographs that I can quite happily put many good ones aside for some time until I feel the moment is right. The only thing that was not actually present when I did the sketch is the group of chickens - these were taken from another source, and it pays to have secondary visual resources like this to beef up a composition, however good the original may be.

    The exhibition runs until 22nd October and Lincoln Joyce Fine Art can be found at 40 Church Road, Great Bookham, Surrey, KT23 3PW, telephone 01372 458481 I shall be there on Wednesday 5th October to conduct the watercolour seminar in the hall opposite. We still have a few places left if you'd like to join us for the demonstration and talk on Skies, Light & Atmosphere, in which case it is advisable to ring the gallery (above) and ask for a ticket to be kept aside for you to pick up on the day. For details see