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.