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