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.