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.