Thursday, 20 December 2012

Painting the magic of snow scenes

    We're still waiting for our first fall of snow in mid-Powys - it seems to be taking a long time to get here this winter. For the artist, the landscape is transformed by a coating of snow, making it an exciting time to be out sketching. The manner in which the scenery is simplified, with much detail hidden, will help those less experienced artists who find it difficult to filter out unwanted clutter.

This watercolour shows a lonely farm on Tideswell Moor in Derbyshire, where you can find many similar compositions, at times without even needing to get out of your car! While it's tempting to think of snow as being white, the snow as we see it varies considerably in tone, sometimes appearing almost black when in deep shadow and backlit by strong sunshine. If you wish to push a snowy hill or mountain back into the distance lay a weak wash of blue or blue-grey over it, as you can see on the right-hand distant hill where I used cobalt blue. By comparison the left-hand hill, which is simply the white of the paper, really does come forward. To accentuate the white roof I've set it against a mid-tone background: planning your tones like this is easy with some forethought before starting to paint.

Don't just use blue over the snow areas. Watch out for reflected colours in the snow - pinks, yellows, mauves - these can really give your painting a lift, and also note where the snow cover is quite thin some of the vegetation might well show through. A good example of this is where large bands of grass are visible, where I might wash a warm colour such as yellow ochre or light red over the paper. For this, the dry brush technique where you have a large brush with little water on it, is extremely effective, especially on a rough paper surface.

This painting is featured in my book Painting Wild Landscapes in Watercolour, and for details see my website. Our website will shortly be upgraded, as it is starting to creak a bit of old age. In the meantime, Jenny and I wish you all a very Happy Christmas wherever you live in the world, and may you have a very rewarding year of painting ahead of you. We're now about to set off to the local cinema and I've been warned to take waders and carry a life raft as the waters of the Wye are rising rapidly.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Watercolour painting blocks

    Jenny and I have been in Paris on a short break to see my daughter, and we were blessed with glorious sunny weather. This enabled us not only to have a very enjoyable time, but for me to do the occasional sketch during our pauses. There's usually some time during the day, even in a place as busy as Paris, to spend a few moments recording a scene, and it makes a lovely souvenir of the trip.
As I've mentioned before, we often produce an illustrated journal from our travels, but sometimes it's nice to carry out a watercolour on proper watercolour paper, even if it is more in sketch form than a completed painting. I nearly always take a folder with a variety of watercolour papers, NOT, rough, hot pressed, tinted, and so on, on my serious trips, but often it's great to keep things simple and just take along your favourite watercolour paper. We should all have favourites, so if you haven't you really should try to find out which papers suit you best.

For me the real star is Saunders Waterford, as it has an interesting surface texture combined with a truly robust nature, because it has been internally and externally sized. This can be an absolutely vital attribute if like me you make mistakes and need to sponge or scratch the paper to remove mistakes, or indeed, as a technique for creating certain effects.

St Cuthberts Mill produce the Saunders Waterford blocks containing their classic watercolour paper in convenient sizes for all three surface types, and they are ideal for painting while you travel, or if you don't like stretching paper. It's a great pleasure to work on really superb paper, so if you haven't tried Waterford you are in for a treat. Check out their website

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Terror of the Trolls

    This week sees the launch of my latest book, Terror of the Trolls, the second book in the Llandoddie series based in the spa town of Llandrindod Wells in Mid Wales. As in the first volume, this one is peppered with chaos, mad-cap humour and dire peril in the form of a band of disgusting trolls who think nothing of eating the smaller Doddies for breakfast. Or afternoon tea.

    Little Rhiannon is kidnapped by the trolls, and is whisked away into the sinister dark depths of the Pwll-du mine. A crack Doddie rescue team is sent in, equipped with the latest weaponry produced by Professor Megawattie, such as his exploding hedgehog. "It's perfectly safe," he boasts, but is it? All the main characters from the first book, The Grog Invasion, are back, with Big Dewi in splendid form as the anti-hero, making a pig's ear of just about everything.

    Written for children from 9 to 99, the book has 27 illustrations, mainly in colour, 128 pages, is written under my pseudonym, and copies signed by old Griswallt are available from my website - it makes a suitably terrifying Christmas present.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Pen and Wash Method

    Many people find watercolour difficult to control - in fact, most of us do at times, and it can be especially frustrating for those folk who enjoy and are good at drawing, but want to turn their drawings into watercolours. One excellent method of achieving this is to use the wash and line technique, where you draw the image in ink - laying down a preliminary pencil drawing if you are not confident to begin straight away with the pen - and then lay watercolour washes over the image.

    In this scene of a fishing boat I began with a fine fibre-tipped pen, drawing in the boat, ropes, bird and beach features, then once the outline was complete I worked in the tones by hatching with the pen, more intense in places, such as the underside of the craft, mainly by drawing the hatching lines closer together. When all this was done I washed colour over the image, weak washes, as the tone was already there, apart from the sky and one or two other parts. Pens are not especially good for creating interesting atmospheric skies, so I did use the wet-in-wet technique to include clouds and a darkened lower sky, but it could have been left as a plain weak wash, and the same applies to the beach. On the cabin I did lay a medium-toned blue-grey wash for the shadow side, although I could have hatched it lightly with the pen.

    Of course, you can simply do the drawing without any hatching and then lay washes in the usual way, mixing darker tones where needed, so there is much scope for variation with wash and line. Some prefer to lay washes first and then draw with the pen, a very effective exercise when the work has gone slightly awry! This was actually a sketch done on smooth cartridge paper, but you might like to try it out on hot pressed watercolour paper.

    The scene is taken from my book, Skies, Light & Atmosphere, recently published in the USA, and we are doing a special offer with the DVD of the same title on our website. The DVD is only available from us and all details are available on the site. ....and don't forget to have a go at the pen and wash!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Stretching watercolour paper

    Do you stretch your watercolour paper? This can be an exasperating process for many artists, and although it can be avoided by working on the thick 300lb paper, or even 200lb if you don't flood it with water, these heavier papers are of course more expensive. Watercolour blocks are another alternative, and are extremely useful if you are travelling, but again they are more expensive when compared to sheets.
In the photograph I'm discussing a point during a demonstration, and using 300lb paper held to the board with two clips, as it is essential to keep the paper firmly in position. In the studio I normally use stretched 140lb paper. Firstly I cut four strips of gummed tape to correspond in length with the edges of the paper. Then I immerse the paper completely in water for not more than 15 to 20 seconds. If you leave it in water too long there is a danger that it will tear the tape away from the board. I then hold the paper by one corner and allow the water to drain off before laying it flat on the drawing board, before wetting each gummed strip in turn and sticking it down over one edge of the paper. Finally I lay the board flat and leave it to dry out completely before using it.
Every art tutor will give you a different formula for stretching paper, and if one method doesn't work for you after several attempts then try someone else's recipe. Alternatively you can buy stretchers for the purpose, but you are then limited to certain sizes, and if like me you have many boards stretched at once this may not be to your liking. Depending on the amount of water you use, as well as the paper itself, you may find it still cockling with really fluid washes, even though you have stretched it well. Some papers are more prone to this, but good paper like Waterford, Bockingford and Fabriano should not give you any problems. Worst of all, perhaps, is de Wint tinted paper, which can rise up to half an inch off the board, even after stretching. However, you won't have any problems with it, as it's no longer available! Further advice on stretching can be found in my Watercolour Landscape Course book, which is available on my website.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Painting & Sketching with Inktense blocks

    I've been trying out the Derwent Inktense blocks, a lovely and exciting alternative to normal watercolour paints that will produce really strong tones. They are excellent for working outdoors, and well worth trying if you are having difficulty with watercolour paints, or enjoy approaching it in a slightly different way.

This is a simplified composition of the river that runs through our valley, and my aim was to try out some basic techniques. Creating a wash was achieved by applying the stick across dry paper and then wetting it with a round brush - a number ten worked well on a painting this size (approx. 5" x 8") - use as large a brush as you can so that you employ fewer strokes.

Mixtures were achieved by overlaying colours again on dry paper, and then applying the water. With the foreground water I laid a second application of stronger colour after the initial wash had dried, and then re-wet the passage.

    Wet-in-wet techniques can be effectively carried out by picking colour off the stick with a damp brush, then brushing it into a wet area on the paper as you can see with the tree on the far left. Don't have much water on the brush when you do this. On the right of the composition you can see small trees painted with a number one rigger brush onto dry paper, but here I've had more water on the brush and tested it first on scrap paper to ensure the tone was not too dark, as I wanted it to recede into the distance, but not mist-like as with the left-hand tree.

    These are just basic methods done on the excellent Derwent 140lb paper which has a smooth surface that takes these Inktense sticks very well. I'll be back with some more techniques with these superb sticks before long.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Losing mountain peaks in cloud

    It's always good to leave some parts of a painting indefinite, especially when it is a busy composition. With mountain scenery it can become a little boring if the whole scene stands before you in crystal-clear detail, so when we do come across such a scene beneath blue skies it will usually help if we can deliberately obscure part of the background peak, yet still retain a sense of a majestic mountain range.

In this scene, while much of the background mountain is depicted with a fair amount of detail, the left-hand slopes are only partially visible because of the cloud streaming off the summit ridge. This not only simplifies that part of the mountain, but it creates a different shape encompassing both mountain and cloud formation, and this can be varied according to the strength of tone you employ for the cloud and shadow areas, as well as the overall shape. I achieved this soft transition by working the cloud-shadow washes (in this case French ultramarine and cadmium red) onto paper that had already been wetted.
    If you enjoy painting majestic mountain scenery without the hassle of hiking far into the mountains, why not join Jenny and myself on our painting holiday to the Canadian Rockies in September 2013? The holiday is organised by Spencer Scott Travel in conjunction with Leisure Painter Magazine.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Painting boats in harbour

    Jenny and I have just returned from running a watercolour course in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, where we were blessed with some fine blasts of wind that made the sea froth, heave and crash onto the rocky coastline in a truly dramatic fashion. In Solva habour, however, things were tranquil, with hardly a ripple disturbing the reflections. The place seemed to be crammed with boats, making it a marine-painter's paradise.
Picking out a good composition with the more shapely boat or two takes some time when you're wading through a veritable forest of masts. Any sensible artist would sport a pair of wellies and a suitable chair that keeps one well clear of the mud....and perhaps a small table for the water-pot and cappuccino, for then, if the tide rises during your painting you can gallantly continue even if your lower regions are below sea level.

Mud, as I have ruminated on before, is a particular favourite element in my paintings: easy to get right and you can stick it all over the place - well, in the foreground, anyway. You can also use it to hide any mistakes. In this photograph the muddy channels act as an excellent lead-in to the two main boats, and can be moved to suit the composition. The ropes and chains can also be employed in this way. Emphasise rusty red chains and green seaweed-draped ropes (there is a magnificent example in the centre right) to include some colour variation, and perhaps change a white buoy (as seen on the far left) to a more colourful orange or red. Reduce the number of masts and perhaps break up their reflections with a lump of mud or two in the water. If you would wish to include the background boats they should be painted in a far less distinct manner, otherwise the background becomes too cluttered and confusing.

There are still places available for my watercolour seminar on painting skies, light and atmosphere, at Pontypool on Saturday 27th - if you are interested please telephone Jenny on 01982 560237  The mixed exhibition at Barnabas Arts House in Newport Monmouthshire has been extended until the end of October. A percentage of the profits will go to the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. I had to re-supply them with new paintings. Telephone no. 01633 673739

Thursday, 11 October 2012

In Turner's Footsteps

    If you enjoy autumn landscapes the October issue of Leisure Painter magazine has an excellent article by my adorable wife, Jenny Keal: pastel is such a striking medium to capture those vibrant colours, and Jenny utilises the medium to the full. In the same magazine I have an article on painting a waterfall scene in Yorkshire, on the same spot that JMW Turner stopped in 1816 to carry out his sketch on a lovely summer evening.

My visit, however, on a dismal April afternoon was met with steady rain that began the moment I opened my sketchbook. Without the excellent Derwent watercolour pencils, which I used to draw the linear image onto the wet paper, the sketch would have been completely washed away. The white highlights of the falling water have remained because the pencil line is fairly thick and physically holds back a wash that is not too wet, another useful attribute of these pencils when working in rain. The composition, as you can see, has two competing centres of interest, with the two attractive waterfalls. In the sketch I have rendered both with equal importance, but in the finished painting (which appears in the magazine) I gave the left-hand falls more prominence, and thus the main centre of interest.

    One lesson here is that no matter how bad the sketch may be, so long as it is meaningful to you, then there is no reason why the finished painting should not be a good one. This sketch was done on a narrow ledge high above the beck, and above Turner's viewpoint, and while sketching I also filmed myself working. The filming aspect worked really well, apart from one point: I accidentally pressed the backlighting button and the whole film was over-exposed and thus useless!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Leaving out detail in a painting

    It's never easy to resist that marvellous detail out there, even on distant mountains, and perhaps it does seem a shame not to include at least some of it. Don't forget, however, that we are not trying to create a scene with photographic adherence to detail. If you can see it, that doesn't mean you must put it in - if you come along another day the scene could be quite different, with atmosphere hiding all that detail!

    This inset shows just a small part of an alpine watercolour. When I did the original sketch I could see much more detail on each of the ridges, and also more colour variation in the closer ones. With the far jagged mountain ridge I  picked out the most striking gullies, buttresses and crags and left out the others. With each ridge the highest part is a little darker in tone than its lower parts, a phenomenon that is not only present, but helps to ensure that with several such ridges we are not going to end up with extremely dark tones.

    This painting is in an exhibition I have just started at the Erwood Station Crafts Centre just a few miles south of Builth Wells, just off the A470. It also features the stunning sculptures of Glenn Morris. A week ago I had no idea that this was going to happen, but an artist let down the gallery at the last minute, so Glenn and I were asked to step in. The exhibition is on daily and the centre is a marvellous place to stop for refreshments when travelling through Mid Wales. Telephone 01982 560674

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Creating soft edges in a landscape

    Lately I haven't been at home much, but I have managed to do a number of watercolours of local scenes for an exhibition on landscapes under extreme threat when I've had a moment or two.
This is one of the paintings in the exhibition - not all the painting is shown here, but the lesson here is in the edges. Note how the distant edges - the top of the hill where it meets the sky and those edges beyond and below the central crag - are soft, indeed, varying in softness along their length. This tends to push them away into the distance and gives more emphasis to the closer, harder edges, such as the almost razor-edged rocks in the foreground. Too many hard edges will create a harshness and detract from a moody feeling in the scene.

The exhibition is at the Mid Wales Arts Centre, near Caersws in Powys, and runs from Sunday 30th September to Sunday 28th October, 11am to 4pm daily, and features the pastels of Jenny Keal, my own watercolours, and also paintings by other artists. It was Jenny's idea to hold an exhibition at which a high percentage of the sales would go to raise funds to protect Wales and the Borders region from wind developments and associated infrastructure, especially vital given the number of public inquiries that will be taking place. We shall also be giving talks on 9th October at the gallery: Jenny will do a pastel demonstration from 2pm and I shall follow it with an illustrated talk on painting and sketching in the Arctic at 4.30pm. Telephone 01686 688369 for details and tickets. Yesterday our county council valiantly rejected the proposals for three giant wind farms, putting us on a collision course with the British and Welsh governments.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Woodland magic

    One day recently I planned a walk, and arriving at the start point I was about to set off when I heard the sound of falling water in the opposite direction. When I investigated the falling water it failed to interest me, but beyond it I could see a lovely woodland scene with a river gliding serenely amidst the pinewood. I forgot my original walk and followed the stream as it meandered along through the sunlit-dappled wood. Normally I can pinpoint likely spots of interest as an artist, but this took me by surprise, rather like entering the magical kingdom of Narnia.

    Mossy banks, sunlit glades and artistically-placed fallen trunks added to the visual delight. I crossed a makeshift bridge and continued, photographing and sketching. The pines stood not in regimented rows, but as though placed by some great artist. Soon they gave way to a deciduous woodland, the stream became a more lively companion, tumbling and sparkling.
    I sat on a mossy bump and ate my lunch, sketching at the same time the scene shown on the right. I also photographed it about 20 times, zooming in and out and trying different exposures. The results gave quite a startling variety of tones and even colours, driving home the lesson that these days, with digital cameras, it is worth taking loads of shots, trying to slightly change position, exposure and length of zoom with each one.

    Looking at the scene here, the two bottom corners disturb me in that they are lit up, thus drawing the eye away from the centre, so I would subdue them with a dark wash, probably highlighting the right-hand ferns closer to the centre. Several of the trees also need subduing and simplifying, otherwise it becomes overwhelmingly detailed.

    These landscape surprises are typical in Wales, and we shall be seeking out more in Pembrokeshire next month during my course in St Davids  There are still a few vacancies on the course.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

The importance of light in paintings

    Light is precious to all painters, whatever medium they use. Without it we would have no picture, but how much thought do we give it when we are about to embark on another painting? To avoid dull, lifeless paintings it is worth taking a few minutes to consider how you will organise the lighting effects in your painting. Strong lighting does give the composition a boost - think about highlighting part or parts of the work to emphasise features, or create overall cast shadows that suggest strong sunshine coming from one side, or even backlit with haloes of light around prominent features.
    Of course, you need an image to reference if you are going to make a decent job of depicting the light, so sketches and photographs of what you have in mind are vital to success. This sketch of an old house-boat in Amsterdam was achieved with a water-soluble graphite pencil, brushed over with water once the image and tones had been put in. It was a glorious evening and I returned with many sketches and photographs of features lit by stunning lighting effects which can be used on other subjects. Take advantage of such days: not only do they supply you with excellent reference material, but they teach you how to treat a variety of lighting situations.

    This approach to light and atmosphere is a strong element in the watercolours I shall have on display at the Barnabas Arts House in Newport, Monmouthshire from 15th September to 3rd October, in their exhibition on Welsh landscapes in support of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales  tel. 01633 673739   

    You can see more on achieving lighting and atmospheric effects in my book and DVD, both entitled David Bellamy's Skies, Light & Atmosphere in Watercolour and currently there is a special offer if you buy the pair. The DVD is only available from our website

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Rapid sketching on the move

    When I'm travelling, especially in a foreign country, I like to make the most of every minute, and this includes my sketching. So often when in a train, bus or other vehicle I see things flash past that I really wish I could have captured on paper. Obviously a lot of the time it is impossible to record a fleeting image, even with a camera, especially if it is in close proximity to your mode of transport. There is, however, a lot you can to to catch those fleeting images.

    Firstly, make sure you are prepared with camera, sketchbook and pencils or pens. You can do a lot with ordinary pencils, and watersoluble pencils are also really effective when combined with a brush-pen filled with water. A few watercolour pencils can also be useful if colour is important, but attempting watercolour paints can be extremely tricky at speed! In open country it is so much easier because often the subject is some distance from you, thus giving you time to react and get the essentials down quickly.

    This photograph, taken by my friend Torben Sorensen, shows me rather laid-back sketching on a dog-sledge. Yes, we are moving steadily along, across the Greenland sea-ice, with vast vistas all round. This is one of the easiest forms of sketching on the move - very comfortable until the sledge hits a series of ice-ridges, or sastrugis, when the sketching becomes a series of jabs which you have to link up later with lines and tone. A few miles of that and your teeth start dropping out!

    When sketching like this I use a sort of visual short-hand, not including much by way of repetitive features, applying tone only to parts of critical areas, and outlining objects like trees, rocks, mountains, then filling in more detail once I have the basic outlines done, if time permits. Later on I then fill in those features that I have only suggested, and inserting tone over the rest of the main areas. It is interesting to learn how your visual memory responds to these challenges once you've sketched in this way a few times. You can, of course, practise rapid sketching at home, or perhaps in the car when someone else is driving, and this will teach you how to instantly register the most important aspects of a scene. The added bonus to all this is that it really does help your normal sketching immensely, because it is teaching you to seek out the essentials of a scene. And of course, it's great fun!!!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Tones in landscape painting

    Many newcomers to painting find the terms 'tone' and 'value' confusing: what is their significance and how do they relate to colour? The two terms actually mean the same thing in painting, that is, the degree of darkness or lightness of a colour. With indigo, for example, you can obtain a very dark tone by not adding too much water, but when you reduce its intensity with water you will achieve a lighter tone, and thus it is possible to create a wide range of tones. In comparison, however, a lemon yellow will have a much smaller range of tones because it is a far lighter colour.
    In this extremely simple watercolour you can see how tones have been used effectively to highlight the cottage by describing its outline with a mass of dark green tone behind it. The roof is a mid-tone which sits well between the white wall and dark background. The pathway remains light in tone, though slightly darker under the trees where it is caught in shadow, and it is defined by making the adjacent ground darker. This darker ground ranges from quite dark in the foreground to being almost imperceptible in places. The light-toned field between cottage and foreground trees helps to show up the dark tree-trunks and fenceposts.

    I don't cover tones in great depth in all my books, but my Learn to paint Watercolour Landscapes has a useful section on the subject, and can be obtained from my website.

    This week Jenny and I will be in action in Doddieland at Art in the Park, in Llandrindod Wells in Powys. It is the Llandrindod Victorian Festival week - a sight to behold with so many in Victorian dress and many events taking place. Jenny will be demonstrating pastels most of the day on Wednesday 22nd, and I shall be demonstrating watercolour painting at 2pm on Thursday 23rd. It's all taking place in the Rock Park, a delightful place to take the airs, especially this week with so many colourful characters around.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Including Life in your paintings

    An excellent way of creating more interest in your paintings is by including some form of life, whether human, animal, bird, or whatever, and preferably of the sort that may well be found in the type of location you are painting. Scenes of farmyards, for instance, benefit enormously from a few hens, a cockerel or two, geese, sheepdogs, and even larger animals such as cattle and horses, not to mention the farmer. Building up a reservoir of sketches and photographs of these is fairly easy: I walk through a great many farms on public footpaths, and almost without exception stop to chat to the farmer if he or she is around. If the farm is especially attractive it's worth asking for permission to sketch there, and I usually carry a few of my greetings cards around to give away as a thank you on these occasions.

    The geese in this watercolour were reserved by applying masking fluid over them before laying any paint on the paper. Where you have intricate shapes like this, the rubbery fluid comes into its own. I painted the scene, positioning the geese where they would be juxtaposed against a shadow area, which would make them stand out. At the end I rubbed off the mask and painted in the beaks and legs. The farm itself was done from a sketch, but the geese and tractor came from photographs from other farms. Tractors can not only suggest life, but add a splash of colour to a drab farmyard.

     The actual scene is in Cwm Senni in the Brecon Beacons, and I have just delivered the painting - this is only a part of it - to the Cornerhouse Gallery in Ammanford, with several of my other watercolours and Jenny's pastel paintings. The gallery is at 38 Quay Street, Ammanford in Carmarthen shire, telephone 01269 594959. From a distance you might mistake it for a florists as Anthony Richards, the owner, has an amazing display of flowers and plants outside.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Capturing figures in action

    Including figures in your paintings can sometimes be tricky, especially with action figures, so you need to get out and find reference material whenever you can. Maybe the Olympic Games is too remote for many of us, but the wide variety of sports, some fast-moving, some at a much slower pace, give us ample opportunities for capturing a sense of the moving figure.
    Attending events around the country where people are actively engaged in perhaps a county show, some sport or other form of activity, however bizarre, is another excellent way of getting material for your paintings. A little bit of colour, as in this view of the annual Llanllufni beach head-ball games, goes a long way, and competitors get into some fascinating positions, often head-butting each other as well as the ball. Having to work so quickly does sharpen your sketching skills, and sometimes I find myself drawing so quickly that the images often overlap each other. That isn't really a problem, though, as with a sketch you are not trying to produce a finished work of art.

    While understanding the rules of the game is not really vital for the artist, having an affinity with your subject is definitely an advantage, for example, if you are sketching boats with complicated rigging, or perhaps the actions and image of a combined harvester in operation - but there again, it does depend on how close you are to the action.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Painting with pencils

    Many folk find watercolour painting rather a challenge: all that water seems to have a mind of its own, and rarely conforms to our own plan of how we want the painting to appear. An excellent alternative, especially if you love drawing, is to use water-soluble pencils. When I go out sketching I always take along some watercolour pencils, sometimes using them in conjunction with watercolour paints, sometimes on their own. They are also very effective in rescuing a wayward watercolour painting, or if you feel you are in a rut and need to try something slightly different.

    For this small painting I used Derwent Inktense pencils with which you can produce a wide range of images, from quite subtle to deeply intense or vivid colours. If you lay the colours on first, on dry paper, blending them into one another where needed, and then wash over with clean water you can create lovely washes. While the washes were still damp I drew into them with the darker pencils, to create detail on crag, cliffs, cottages, masts and foreground detail. For this scene I chose a sheet of the new Derwent watercolour paper, an excellent 300gsm hot-pressed surface that is sympathetic to their pencils, an excellent surface for both drawing and laying washes. One of the beauties about this medium is that you don't need much space to work and you can carry the materials around quite easily. Note that wet colour dries quicker on hot pressed paper, so ensure that your pencils are really sharp before you apply the water if you are going to draw into the damp colour.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

In search of the Lava Demon of Leirhnjukur

    When she was young, Catherine my daughter had a video film which featured a Lava Demon skate-boarding down a river of molten lava, a great favourite with both of us. On the recent painting holiday to Iceland I met another, less dynamic lava demon in the great lava fields of Leirhnjukur, and of course just had to sketch least I assume it was male. He was about 60 to 80 feet high and belched steam out of his nostrils, as you can see in the watercolour sketch below.

    Whether or not you wish to seek out the odd lava demon, the technique for rendering the steam emerging from his nostrils is just the same as for mist on mountain-tops or circling round crags: I normally use the wet-in-wet method, firstly liberally wetting the area where the steam or mist will appear, and a little way beyond, and then brushing in the colour of the mountain, rock or crag to shape the mist as required. You shouldn't have much water on the brush when you apply this colour. Sometimes I need to reshape the misty effect a little, and I do this as quickly as possible with a clean, damp brush, before it has a chance to dry. Note the undetailed shapes of rocks near the steam, and how they contrast with the strong darks of the strident foreground rocks.

    Enjoy your hunting/sketching, but don't fall down any of those nasty steaming holes.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Watercolour Demonstration at Erwood Station

    We're having a lot of rain here in Wales at the moment. This always makes sketching a challenge, especially if you use watercolour quite a bit, as I do. Nevertheless, a dousing of rain does tend to freshen up the landscape, gives the waterfalls an extra zip, and can create exciting puddles for our foregrounds. Even flooding, desperate as it has been here of late, has at times changed the scenery so drastically that I have on occasion managed some fascinating, at times dramatic compositions in these conditions. It pays, therefore, always to have our sketchbook and camera on hand.

    I'm hoping for plenty of sunshine next Saturday as I shall be giving a talk and demonstration at Erwood Station Craft Centre, and as Jenny Keal is doing in the photograph, it would be great to do it alfresco to the sound of birdsong and the laughter of Llandoddies in the woods. It's a lovely venue, especially in summer, with the River Wye flowing past, and the centre itself crammed with paintings, crafts and all manner of interesting things, where you can be served tea and cakes in a delightful atmosphere, the most wonderful watering-hole between Cardiff and Colwyn Bay.

    Come rain or shine, I shall be there illustrating watercolour techniques and signing copies of my latest book, Skies, Light & Atmosphere, from 2pm onwards on Saturday 14th July. The event is free to all, though we will be delighted if donations, however modest, are given in aid of the Wales Air Ambulance and Help For Heroes. For further information telephone 01982 560674 or check the Erwood Station website at  Erwood Station Craft Centre. The Centre can be found about half a mile north of Erwood village, by turning off the A470 to cross the Wye onto the B4567. It is well signposted.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Painting a rainbow

    Spectacular! Stunning! Beautiful! Mere words, even superlatives, fail to describe the amazing scenery of Iceland where I've just been exploring with a group of painters. Even the plague of midges brought on by the hot weather failed to dampen enthusiasm, and we managed a lot of sketching, often of some of the most sublime scenery you can imagine. The waterfalls of Dettifoss and Gulfoss will leave an awesome impression on us for the rest of our lives.

In this view of Dettifoss the figures will give you a sense of the vast scale of the canyon and waterfall. In the afternoon the waterfall appeared, coming from behind the crag and stopping abruptly in mid-air, in fact where the semi-transparent cloud of spray thrown up by the falls ends. In a painting this would look slightly odd, so I would extend it a little further to the right and gradually fade it out rather than stop abruptly. It adds a sense of drama as well as welcome colour. As it is soft-edged and semi-transparent I would lift out the shape of the rainbow from the backdrop and then paint in the rainbow colours onto a damp surface to encourage soft edges, but not having the paper so wet that the colours run into one another. This takes practice, but it's great fun experimenting with the effect. If you really find it difficult in pure watercolour try applying watercolour pencils over the rainbow area once the paper has dried, but avoid laying them on too heavily as you need to suggest an airy effect. Then sweep a large round brush over the coloured pencil-work, applying the stroke in the curve of the rainbow. This will blend them together beautifully. You might like to try adding a rainbow to some of your existing watercolours - initially to paintings that perhaps have not quite worked out too well.
See the excellent Derwent range of watercolour pencils for further information.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Painting winter trees in watercolour

    Even in the heat of summer I enjoy painting winter trees. Perhaps it makes me feel cooler, or maybe long for the cooler months. Certainly they have the advantage that you can get away from all of those nasty greens!

    I love getting out for these lovely early morning scenes when the light is really special - a quick trip out first thing can be extremely rewarding. In this small watercolour the more distant trees have been rendered in the same tone and colour - rather weaker than the main tree on the left, in order to push them further into the distance. With the large tree I painted the trunk with a number 4 round sable, changing to a number 1 rigger brush for the thinner branches. If you are not used to using a rigger it will take some practice to acquire the skill to draw accurately with it, but it really is worth persevering with the exercise as it gives excellent results once you become adept.

    By putting more pressure on the rigger you will create a wider, stronger line, and correspondingly when you use a lighter touch you achieve a thinner result. This technique also works well on fracture lines in rocks and crags. Once I've delineated all the branches I then pick up some very liquid blue-grey colour with a number 5 or 6 brush - a weak mixture of French ultramarine and burnt umber works fine, but there are many alternatives - and with the brush on its side I place it on the extreme limit of the outer branches and brush inwards towards the centre of the tree, sweeping the brush off the paper at the same time. This creates a sense of massed twigs and fine branches and works well on NOT and rough paper surfaces. You will find this painting featured in my Complete Guide to Watercolour Painting

Monday, 18 June 2012

In search of a foreground

    Jenny and I have just returned from the Patchings Art Festival, a tiring but very rewarding experience for us, as we were kept busy all the time. It was lovely to see so many friends, and so many people enjoying themselves amongst the art and crafts. Catherine, my daughter also joined us and just about took over the running of our stall.

    As you can see, the large screens make it easy for everyone to see all my mistakes in absolutely clear and close-up detail - you can't hide anything on that scale! Over the two days I did four demonstrations, using the superb Saunders Waterford High White paper produced by St Cuthberts Mill, and was concerned that my cold would wreck any speech, but my throat held out for each of the demonstrations, thank goodness.

    Jenny demonstrated pastel painting in the Search Press tent on Thursday and in the Patchings tent on Friday, and was extremely popular. I hardly saw her all the time we were in the showground.

   Jenny and I are taking part in the Barn Gallery Summer Exhibition at Patchings Art Centre from 28th July to 30th September, along with a few other artists. Do go along if you can.

    Today I've been up in the mountains getting some fresh air and exercise, taking a route that led my to a handsome stand of conifers which I wanted to place as a foreground frame to the background peaks. Foregrounds are so important in a landscape painting, and I regularly plan a route which takes me to potentially picturesque features that might act as a useful foreground or lead-in to a composition. Enjoy your painting!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Demonstrating at Patchings Art Festival

    June is that time in the year when the Patchings Arts Festival takes place near the village of Calverton, just north of Nottingham, and this year will be my 17th appearance there at the St Cuthberts Mill Celebrity Marquee. It's a marvellous, summery art event in the countryside, with lots of fantastic artists demonstrating, and equally fantastic crafts-people displaying their wares, not to forget the band lending a festival note.

Jenny and I will both be demonstrating at Patchings this Thursday and Friday, 14th and 15th June, something we both enjoy as you can see above where I'm demonstrating sketching techniques to a few friends. Jenny will be in the Search Press tent demonstrating painting landscapes in pastels, while I will be in the St Cuthberts marquee using watercolours. St Cuthberts Mill produce the marvellous Saunders Waterford watercolour paper that I have loved using for a great many years now, not just for its attractive surface, but I really appreciate the robust nature of the paper, especially when I want to use techniques such as sponging, scratching and masking fluid, all of which work well without destroying the surface of the paper.

We will also be selling my new book, Skies, Light & Atmosphere, and the associated DVD, and these will be on special offer. Come along and enjoy the day.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Twilight of the Welsh countryside

    The natural environment has always been close to my heart, and I was lucky enough to be born and brought up in a rural idyll in Wales. Walking and painting in this stunningly beautiful countryside has heightened my awareness of what we are about to lose if the British government's plans for the industrialisation of most of Mid-Wales with gigantic wind turbines goes ahead. This is not confined to Mid-Wales, and the devastating effects on a hitherto unprecedented scale will most certainly not be limited to just the destruction of this glorious landscape, but has cataclysmic consequences for the local population.
    Tourism is the lifeblood of our region, but how many tourists will come to see hills and moors flooded with wind turbines, completely dwarfing every other feature in the landscape? The local economy will be destroyed and a great many small businesses, including artists and crafts-people, will fold up. The authorities tell us that there will be around seven years of over-size, slow-moving convoys carrying turbines, clagging up our roads, needing new bridges, re-aligned bends and demolished street furniture, while at the same time under-mining old buildings beside the roads: visitors, locals and emergency services will be badly affected. Turbines, despite government 'reassurances', create an insidious low-frequency noise that many people simply cannot live with, and some have to abandon their homes. Many homes become unsellable. Most have their value reduced considerably. Turbines explode and catch fire at times, when they become highly dangerous as they emit toxic fumes over a wide area. A report in Scotland states that for every wind energy job created 3.7 jobs are lost.

    Would all this sacrifice be acceptable if wind energy was an effective energy system? This is rather academic, as wind, given its intermittency, produces such little power and needs so much back-up from conventional power stations that large-scale wind farms can only be seen as a great liability. It is, however, an extremely effective source of income for the developers, for energy corporations (most of whom are foreign and therefore making a joke of government policy), for large land-owners and for many politicians. At the expense of local people, many on the poverty line.

    We now know in Wales what the West means when it insists on democracy created at the point of a rifle: it does not exist here, in its acceptable form, and unless this vindictive assault on our communities and countryside is not stopped, before long there won't be a landscape here for us to paint. See also National Opposition to Windfarms     Artists Against Windfarms

Friday, 25 May 2012

How much water?

   I'm sure you'll all agree that water is a pretty important ingredient in the act of watercolour painting, yet the way some people paint you might wonder if there is a permanent drought. How much water should you use? This, of course, varies considerably, depending on what you are actually trying to achieve. The traditional watercolour wash is a very fluid mixture: a liquid pool of colour which can be of varying colour intensity that is easily applied with a large brush.

In this scene, which depicts mainly sky, the whole sky area was first washed with clean water, then, without pause some weak Naples yellow was painted above the white central area, and gamboge slightly to the right and lower down. I immediately followed this with a mixture of French ultramarine and cadmium red across the top of the sky, down the sides and over the bottom, sitting back to watch these colours blend into each other.
At the critical moment when the whole sky began to dry I then applied a stronger wash of the same mixture across the top of the sky to form the darker clouds. There was much less water mixed into this application as I didn't want it to run, or cause unsightly runbacks. I then moved lower down to suggest the more shapely clouds, still using the stronger mixture, but by now the sky was drying rapidly, which suited me as I wanted these strands of clouds to hold their shape. At this point I also rendered the background forest with the same colour mix to retain a sense of unity and atmosphere, the last applications of this being a fairly dry mixture with little water. Experience will tell you how much water to use, as it also depends on the ambient drying conditions, so practice these wet-in-wet and fluid wash techniques on scrap paper to improve your skill with watercolour.

   The painting is one of many from my new book, Skies, Light & Atmosphere, published by Search Press in June. It contains a wide variety of landscapes and how they are affected by these elements, including how to create interesting skies, the magic of shafts of sunlight, creative use of light and shadow, how to make the most of reflected light, losing mountain ridges in mist, and so much more. If you order the book from our website you can get a special offer with my new DVD on the same subject: this illustrates a few basic techniques for creating interesting skies, light and atmosphere, and has a wide selection of paintings and sketches with commentary on how the effects were achieved.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Sketching peculiar characters

    It's been rather wet here lately, bucketing down at times, but I haven't been able to get out much to take advantage of such atmosphere because of too many deadlines. Sunshine is marvellous for walking and sketching, but the countryside has such glories to show us, whatever the weather. Rain can be quite stimulating, and of course you never know who you're going to meet on the hills - this chap was clearly enjoying himself, and was well equipped for the conditions.
    Whether it was his wife's frilly pink parasol, or his own, I cared not, though the sharpened pole might have caused concern amongst some. Had I not ventured forth into the Alpine monsoon I'd have missed this glorious spectacle, and naturally my sketchbook was quickly whipped out and the vital aspects of the figure rendered on paper that became rather wet after only a few moments.

    I have to hand it to these characters, allowing themselves to be seen with such outlandish accessories. Over the years I've accumulated many books of sketches of this more outgoing type of person, a wonderful antidote for those rainy days when you are stuck indoors feeling miserable when your sketching/painting/bog-snorkelling or pancake tossing efforts have gone slightly astray. A small A6 sketchbook, a soft pencil and a few quick lines is all it takes to capture the important points, and the image can be embellished later.

    I shall be demonstrating watercolour painting for PONTERWYD & DISTRICT ART CLUB at Syr John Rhys School Hall, Ponterwyd, in Ceredigion between 7 and 9pm on Wednesday 6th June. You are welcome to come along - there is a charge for non-members and information is available from Jenny Dee on 01970 890664

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Direct sunlight bleaching out detail in trees

    Capturing sunlight effects in watercolour can be a magical, though sometimes a little less than magical experience, depending on the result. One effect that many artists ignore is that of the sunlight burning out the detail of branches when you look directly into a low sun, yet it can enhance a landscape immeasurably. Usually we observe it only when it intrudes on our scene as backlighting towards sunset, but it is easy enough to go out on a sunny evening and seek out a suitable example.

  Looking directly into the sun can be dangerous to your eyes, so wear dark glasses and don't look right into the sun. If you use a camera be sure you don't look at the sun through the lens. Staring into bright light for any length of time can be extremely uncomfortable and cause spots before the eyes, so if you are keen on capturing this effect then keep your gaze away from the brightest part of the sunlight, making sure you are fully protected with sunglasses. 
This scene is detail from one of the paintings in my forthcoming book Skies, Light & Atmosphere, and you can see how the strong direct sunlight has bleached out the ends and parts of branches, while at the same time turning them to red and gold. It also has the effect of weakening the strength of tone in the affected parts. Most of this effect was achieved with a fine sable brush - a number 2 or 3. Try out the effect of changing colour and strength of tone on scrap paper, and with a little practice you'll find it won't be too difficult a technique to master. Ease the pressure off the brush as you describe the branch, moving outwards from the trunk.

Skies, Light & Atmosphere covers a wide range of landscape subjects and will be available in early June. There is an associated DVD of the same name, available exclusively from our website or at my demonstrations and courses. Watch out for our special offer on the book and DVD

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Making the most of stunning light effects

   Jenny and I have just returned from a tour of demonstrating in Yorkshire, to a number of really enthusiastic art societies who gave us a marvellous welcome, as indeed they usually do in Yorkshire. In between we managed some walking, sketching and visiting people. Lovely weather, of course, that is, until we went out sketching and walking!

    This scene of stunning evening light we came across in Wharfedale as we were driving along, the stormy sky emphasising the brightness of the incredibly strong light. Rather like a snow scene with a dark sky, watercolourists would normally paint the sky after rendering the light hillside, but how would you cope with such a sharp edge all the way across the composition?

    The answer is actually in the photograph if you examine it closely. On the extreme left-hand side the light does not actually reach the topmost part of the hill - a thin slither of the upper section lies in shadow, and you can accentuate this by making the shadow area larger and having a shadow tone about halfway between the dark sky and the light part of the hill. Then again, on the right-hand side the hill-top is in darker shadow, creating counter-change with the lighter sky above it. The larger right-hand tree also breaks up the background line very effectively. It's an extremey useful exercise to consider these things when you are presented with interesting features, and take photographs and sketches even if they don't give you a completely satisfactory composition. You can always use the effects in another scene.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Making the most of spring-time

    Here in Mid-Wales the landscape is looking lovely as the leaves spring forth and everything looks so fresh. I've been out a lot on the hills walking and sketching in sunshine and showers: the perfect weather for the landscape artist. With clouds scudding past at quite a rate it's creating a marvellous series of rain-squalls followed by intense light, and if you are happy to put up with the odd dousing you can learn so much from these dramatic atmospheric effects.

    With the ever-changing light you can study how the shadows lose parts of the landscape, whilst throwing the emphasis onto those sunlit areas. Shadows cast partly across a mountain face as in the watercolour above can be really appealing, and often a great improvement on painting the whole face the same tone. The device of a darker foreground is an excellent method for suggesting a sense of depth and space in a composition.

    The original of this watercolour can currently be seen in the Ardent Gallery at 46 High Street, Brecon. I have recently started exhibiting there and it's a lovely gallery to visit. They make a delicious cappuccino, as well! Their telephone number is (44) 01874 610710  Make the most of spring-time - it's a great time for artists to be out.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Having fun with aerial perspective

    The glorious, sunny weather that lasted so long has departed and we now have cloud and cold, but a clearer atmosphere. During most of the sunny days visibility was limited by haze, yet this was quite magical even on the mountain-tops, losing a considerable amount of unwanted detail in the scenery. Often we see too much and end up putting far too many complicated and highly-detailed features into our paintings, so it's worth looking out for those days when visibility is more limited.
    In this section of a watercolour painting of Lether Tor on Dartmoor I have slightly exaggerated the sense of distance and space by reducing the amount of detail beyond the small tree, as well as weakening the tones of the background area. By superimposing the dark tree in front this has the effect of suggesting distance. The cool blue-grey colour of the background ridge further adds to this impression as cool colours recede, while warm colours like reds or oranges, for example, will tend to come forward. Splashing a hint of warm colour into your foreground can be extremely effective, even if that colour is not actually present. In this scene I have used light red and yellow ochre in the foreground.

    Murky days, therefore, do have their advantages, and can provide a fascinating surprise from time to time, and if you love the countryside as much as Jenny and I do, then you'll want to be out in it as often as possible, so make the most of the Easter break and enjoy it, come sunshine or gloom!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Drawing people

    Whilst landscape is my main subject material, I am fascinated by people - not just as small figures within the landscape environment, but as subjects in themselves, especially those with plenty of character. Most of the time I draw them without them realising I am doing so, but occasionally I ask if they would make a particularly interesting study. Overseas I do sometimes get asked to draw them, even if they just see me drawing a plant or a landscape, and it can lead to fascinating encounters.

Cafes, trains, stations and all forms of gatherings are all good places to find people worth sketching, though I've also done such sketching in really diverse places. If you feel bashful you can always keep your sketchbook hidden inside a copy of the Beano or similar comic, and use a stub of a pencil so that it's not obvious that you are drawing. The last thing you want to do is attract unwanted attention by being too blatant about it! Rather than aiming to achieve a great likeness to the person, I tend to be more interested in the way people hold themselves, whatever they are doing. Action drawings are fine, but what do people do with their hands, arms and legs when they are just sitting or standing? This can be a real problem for artists if you have no reference material.
    The key is often where the main weight of the body lies, and how it is balanced. Begin with an overall faint, loose drawing and when you are confident that you have everything where it should be, then you can apply bolder strokes of the pen, pencil, or whatever you use. Note how the head appears: is it bent forward, held straight or to one side, or what? If you go straight for the detail you will miss these vital points, whether you are doing a serious character study or a madcap caricature.

    The scene (the sort of thing you would best avoid if possible!) is from The Grog Invasion, an illustrated tale about the Llandoddies, the water-folk of Llandrindod Wells, and available on our website,

Monday, 26 March 2012

Painting three-legged sheep

    This is a lovely time of year in the British countryside: the lanes are rife with daffodils around us, blossom is appearing, the hawthorn is already budding in profusion and lambs are chasing each other across the fields. With week after week of glorious sunshine it's been a great time to get out sketching, and as you can glean so much from engaging the locals I stop to chat whenever I can. The previous weekend I met a farmer who simply wouldn't stop talking.

    "Had triplets last night," he said, matter-of-factly.
    "Really?" I half-queried, trying to keep a straight face.
    "Trouble is, only got two t-ts."  I raised my eyebrows, unsure of who or what he was describing.
    "But I got the old ewe to give one away, with a bit of persuading." At this point I felt we were probably discussing the problems of the mother sheep, and turned to my sketchbook.

Sheep can add life to a scene and are not that difficult to draw. I rarely give them four legs as it can appear over-crowded in a painting: three is quite sufficient. I sometimes give white-faced ones a black head to make them stand out, otherwise paint in a darker tone around them as I've done in this part of a watercolour composition. When out I do photograph them, but enjoy drawing them as it can usually convey a better sense of movement and dynamism - not that the sheep is especially dynamic!
This weekend I was again out on the hills when several sheepdogs raced into view around the sheep. Quickly I reached for my pencil as the farmer drove into sight in his land-rover. Alas, the dogs were ignoring the sheep, and simply hurtling past. I had hoped to get an interesting round-up scene. Even the farmer didn't stop, just hurtled past with a wave, so I missed that one. You can't win them all, I guess, but you have to keep trying. It's all part of the fun.......

Monday, 19 March 2012

Painting on the Pembrokeshire coast

    I've been away enjoying the mountains for a while, which makes blogging a trifle difficult, and my crazy lifestyle hardly lends itself to regular postings. Today though, I'd like to talk about the coast, which like mountains, deserts and the Arctic, is very close to my heart.

This is part of a watercolour painting of Porthliskey Bay in Pembrokeshire, named after an Irish pirate - the Irish, like the Welsh have some amazing pirates of great fame, and I'm fairly sure that the notorious Black Sam Bellamy might well have been one of my ancestors. Evening light is striking the rocks, and I've used mainly cadmium red. To give the impression of the wet lower parts I have darkened them with a mixture of cadmium red and French ultramarine, leaving the paper white in places for the foam splashes. Most of this was done by negative painting, but masking fluid used carefully will also work well.

    Notice how the main rocks have been isolated by splashes, with no detail directly behind them. This gives them prominence, further emphasised by placing the boat nearby, with its prow pointing towards the most important rock. I'm not sure that I'd be terribly keen to be out in such boisterous seas. One useful tip is to stab or scratch out blobs of white with a scalpel or craft knife to suggest flecks of foam flying about, as it creates a feeling of liveliness in the work.

    If you enjoy this type of scene, or the more gentle coastal, harbour or beach scenes, why not join us in Pembrokeshire this autumn for the course at the Warpool Court Hotel in St Davids? The good news is that due to the economic climate we have negotiated a considerable reduction in the price of the course. See my website  for details. We are blessed with an amazing variety of subjects to paint and sketch around St Davids in a lovely hotel overlooking the sea.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Getting the blues

    French ultramarine is without doubt my favourite blue - I use gallons of it. It does pay, though to vary your colours, not excessively, but in an endeavour to avoid all your paintings having too similar a colour scheme. Blue is especially important as I use it very much as a base colour for landscape work, mixing the chosen one with many colours for different parts of a watercolour. Pthalocyanine, Winsor, Manganese, cobalt and cerulean blues also have their uses, but it's always marvellous when you find a new one that is versatile in rendering skies and water.

I'm always looking for new blues to try for my Arctic scenes, and one that caught my eye recently was the Daniel Smith Lunar Blue, a rather steely blue that granulates and mixes well, and able to produce a fine range of tones. You can see it in use on the watercolour to the right for the darker clouds. Applying it very wet, my aim was to create darker and lighter tonal variations within the lower sky cloud mass, and also to achieve a 'lost and found' effect whereby in some places you see the cloud edge while in other places it becomes lost, thus maintaining interest throughout the whole mass. This method involved smudging in darker mixtures in certain areas, but still only using the same colour throughout. The granulations are especially visible near the lower sky centre. In the foreground I added in some Lunar Violet to warm up the water in the stream running down the beach, while keeping the wet sand as a highlight by applying little colour to it.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Help For Heroes

    I have always been interested in military affairs, but passionately against all wars where we are under no direct threat, as we have only too sadly seen over the last few years. Equally it is tragic to see young service personnel come home so badly injured it will affect them for the rest of their lives, while our crazy politicians seem to have little respect for humanity. It was a great pleasure therefore when the Infantry Battle School in Brecon bought my painting of a night battle and the resulting sum was handed over to Help For Heroes, the charity that cares for our wounded when they return home.

The photograph shows me with Lt-Col Andrew Ward, the commanding officer of the School of Infantry in Brecon. The actual painting of the night battle scene can be seen at an earlier post entitled Shock & Draw on 14th May 2011, together with an account of the joys of sketching charging soldiers in the dark on a wet, windswept mountain on a February night with nasty things flying through the air. It was a great pleasure to work with these professionals.

    Thanks for your comments, those of you who have made the effort - I do appreciate it. You will have noticed that posts are fewer at the moment. This is not because there is a lack of anything to say, but a distinct lack of time with so much happening. Hopefully things will calm down soon!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Painting and Sketching in Iceland

    We still have 3 rooms available on my painting holiday to Iceland from 20th to 28th June if any of you are interested in the amazing natural scenery of this fascinating country. There's no camping involved, although we shall be doing some walking to the subjects which will include spectacular waterfalls, mountains, glaciers, rivers, lakes, lava formations and much more, so it will be a fairly easy way to reach and paint these scenes, many of them world-class wonders.

The holiday has been organised by Spencer Scott Travel in conjunction with Leisure Painter magazine, so for details either click the link for Spencer Scott above, or telephone them on (+44) 01825 714310. Their email address is  if you to write. I shall be demonstrating sketching and watercolour painting techniques, with particular emphasis on creating that marvellous sense of space and distance so common in Iceland, together with methods for injecting atmosphere and light into the subject. The picture on the left of a scene in North America illustrates these aspects of landscape painting. Even though it is only part of a composition it evokes a sense of vast space by the use of cool blue-greys and the tonal range which shows strong dark values in the foreground and only vague, faint ones in the far distance. By limiting the colour range this unifies the scene and creates a feeling of moodiness.
You will see that some features have been left white - the white of the paper, with other parts of the peaks overlaid with shadow washes. This effectively throws the emphasis on to the light areas. In Iceland we shall have a tremendous range of colours, including probably a number of truly dramatic black interesting challenge for the watercolourist.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Watercolour Sketching in Winter

     With winter upon us in the UK it is tempting to stay in and curl up in front of the fire with your watercolours, yet there are some lovely days out there when at times, like yesterday afternoon, it was perfect for watercolour sketching outside in the sunshine. What do we do, though, if we're caught outdoors when it begins to snow or rain halfway through our watercolour?
    I always carry around with me a number of Derwent Watercolour Pencils, mainly the darker ones: black, indigo, various greys and a brown or two, and I use these superb pencils to draw into wet washes of watercolour. With this technique I rarely draw an initial outline, simply going straight in with the washes as on this watercolour sketch on the left of Festvagtinden in the Lofoten Islands of Norway. As you can clearly see, rain has enlivened the sketch with many blobs, but the image relies heavily on the marks made by the watercolour pencils.

    If you look carefully you will see I have used an indigo coloured pencil for the background mountain and a black one for the buildings and features closer to the foreground. Somehow I've managed to avoid any runs into the pristine whites of the snow slopes, mainly by mopping up with a clean, damp brush. Unless the rain is especially heavy the actual pencil line acts as a dam, thus holding off any potential runs.

    As well as being able to work in wet conditions, this technique of drawing into wet washes with watercolour pencils also speeds up your sketching considerably as you don't have to wait around for the washes to dry, so I sometimes use the method in dry conditions. This sketch is featured in my book David Bellamy's Mountains & Moorlands in Watercolour which if available from our site. See also the excellent Derwent Pencils website. They do a wide range of colours in watercolour pencils and I sometimes just use these for the washes as well as the actual drawing. So if you haven't tried it yet, get out there and enjoy the winter landscape!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Golden Eagle Award

    It's always a great pleasure when someone famous acquires one of your paintings, and especially so when he is such a great guy with a marvellous sense of humour. Last week Jenny and I were in Cambridge for the presentation of one of my watercolours to best-selling author Bill Bryson by the Outdoor Writers & Photographers' Guild at the prestigious Scott Polar Research Institute. The event was organised to present Bill with the Golden Eagle Award, presented annually by the guild to someone who has given outstanding service to the great outdoors. As president of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England Bill has been doing sterling work, especially in his Stop the Drop campaign against litter.

    The photograph shows Bill holding the painting with OWPG president Roly Smith on his right and Jenny on his left, while I lounge on Jenny's left. Others who have received the award over past years include Sir Chris Bonington, Doug Scott and Sir David Attenborough. The painting is always some wild location and has to feature a golden eagle flying across the scene. I once perched high on a cliff in the highlands disguised as a sprig of heather, waiting for an eagle to return to its nest some distance away, but after several hours all I got was a load of ants and vegetation down the back of my neck! On returning to sea level I looked up and saw a pair of eagles hovering over my earlier hideout.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Painting Tranquil Scenes in Watercolour

    It's always nice to know your books are appreciated and the heartening news is that my Complete Guide to Watercolour Painting has been awarded the distinction of 'one of the best How-to books of the year' by the US Library Journal in New York. This, I believe covers all sorts of how-to books, not just art, so it is really pleasing that it has been recognised in this way.

    This watercolour, Norfolk Wetlands, is featured in the book, and looking at it I can still hear the water lapping against the shoreline and the sheer peace and tranquillity. Notice how although the main emphasis of detail is on the left-hand side it still works as a composition. Sometimes it's good to break the rules and try for something a little different. I've placed the birds leading away from the focal point (the trees), and also highlighted the focal point with strong tonal contrasts. If you want to emphasise tranquillity then keeping your composition mainly horizontal will help enormously. Avoid to many strong verticals.
    The Complete Guide to Watercolour Painting is now available in paperback, with a great many hints and tips crammed into its 128 pages. Signed copies are available from

Monday, 16 January 2012

Painting massed trees

    The other day, despite poor weather I went out for a walk, optimistically taking my sketching gear along........but then, I'm never without it anyway. The morning became even drabber, the weather forecasters had really screwed this one up! However, we shouldn't be too despondent as we can learn so much outdoors, even in the direst of weather.

    I suddenly came upon this view of a conifer wood, and marvelled at the simple moody beauty. Apart from the closer trees, all detail is lost in the atmosphere - here was a superb lesson on how to cope with massed trees in a painting, courtesy of Mother Nature herself. You can easily make out the various tones, getting stronger as the massed trees get closer, and it makes the rendering of them so much easier when approached this way. In a painting you would do best to lose some of those edges - perhaps have an intermittent edge on the rows of trees, as in fact you see in the middle line.

    This technique can be used in good weather as well, of course. I've been out again today in glorious sunshine and the same effect on massed trees was clearly visible when viewing them against the sun. Practice the method with your watercolours. If you have a large area of massed trees try to avoid putting in too many of the lines of trees, and often a half-line can be equally effective. These lessons are all around us, so keep your eyes open - you don't even need a sketchbook!