Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Creating soft edges in a landscape

    Lately I haven't been at home much, but I have managed to do a number of watercolours of local scenes for an exhibition on landscapes under extreme threat when I've had a moment or two.
This is one of the paintings in the exhibition - not all the painting is shown here, but the lesson here is in the edges. Note how the distant edges - the top of the hill where it meets the sky and those edges beyond and below the central crag - are soft, indeed, varying in softness along their length. This tends to push them away into the distance and gives more emphasis to the closer, harder edges, such as the almost razor-edged rocks in the foreground. Too many hard edges will create a harshness and detract from a moody feeling in the scene.

The exhibition is at the Mid Wales Arts Centre, near Caersws in Powys, and runs from Sunday 30th September to Sunday 28th October, 11am to 4pm daily, and features the pastels of Jenny Keal, my own watercolours, and also paintings by other artists. It was Jenny's idea to hold an exhibition at which a high percentage of the sales would go to raise funds to protect Wales and the Borders region from wind developments and associated infrastructure, especially vital given the number of public inquiries that will be taking place. We shall also be giving talks on 9th October at the gallery: Jenny will do a pastel demonstration from 2pm and I shall follow it with an illustrated talk on painting and sketching in the Arctic at 4.30pm. Telephone 01686 688369 for details and tickets. Yesterday our county council valiantly rejected the proposals for three giant wind farms, putting us on a collision course with the British and Welsh governments.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Woodland magic

    One day recently I planned a walk, and arriving at the start point I was about to set off when I heard the sound of falling water in the opposite direction. When I investigated the falling water it failed to interest me, but beyond it I could see a lovely woodland scene with a river gliding serenely amidst the pinewood. I forgot my original walk and followed the stream as it meandered along through the sunlit-dappled wood. Normally I can pinpoint likely spots of interest as an artist, but this took me by surprise, rather like entering the magical kingdom of Narnia.

    Mossy banks, sunlit glades and artistically-placed fallen trunks added to the visual delight. I crossed a makeshift bridge and continued, photographing and sketching. The pines stood not in regimented rows, but as though placed by some great artist. Soon they gave way to a deciduous woodland, the stream became a more lively companion, tumbling and sparkling.
    I sat on a mossy bump and ate my lunch, sketching at the same time the scene shown on the right. I also photographed it about 20 times, zooming in and out and trying different exposures. The results gave quite a startling variety of tones and even colours, driving home the lesson that these days, with digital cameras, it is worth taking loads of shots, trying to slightly change position, exposure and length of zoom with each one.

    Looking at the scene here, the two bottom corners disturb me in that they are lit up, thus drawing the eye away from the centre, so I would subdue them with a dark wash, probably highlighting the right-hand ferns closer to the centre. Several of the trees also need subduing and simplifying, otherwise it becomes overwhelmingly detailed.

    These landscape surprises are typical in Wales, and we shall be seeking out more in Pembrokeshire next month during my course in St Davids  There are still a few vacancies on the course.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

The importance of light in paintings

    Light is precious to all painters, whatever medium they use. Without it we would have no picture, but how much thought do we give it when we are about to embark on another painting? To avoid dull, lifeless paintings it is worth taking a few minutes to consider how you will organise the lighting effects in your painting. Strong lighting does give the composition a boost - think about highlighting part or parts of the work to emphasise features, or create overall cast shadows that suggest strong sunshine coming from one side, or even backlit with haloes of light around prominent features.
    Of course, you need an image to reference if you are going to make a decent job of depicting the light, so sketches and photographs of what you have in mind are vital to success. This sketch of an old house-boat in Amsterdam was achieved with a water-soluble graphite pencil, brushed over with water once the image and tones had been put in. It was a glorious evening and I returned with many sketches and photographs of features lit by stunning lighting effects which can be used on other subjects. Take advantage of such days: not only do they supply you with excellent reference material, but they teach you how to treat a variety of lighting situations.

    This approach to light and atmosphere is a strong element in the watercolours I shall have on display at the Barnabas Arts House in Newport, Monmouthshire from 15th September to 3rd October, in their exhibition on Welsh landscapes in support of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales  tel. 01633 673739   

    You can see more on achieving lighting and atmospheric effects in my book and DVD, both entitled David Bellamy's Skies, Light & Atmosphere in Watercolour and currently there is a special offer if you buy the pair. The DVD is only available from our website