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,