Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Painting boats in harbour

    Jenny and I have just returned from running a watercolour course in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, where we were blessed with some fine blasts of wind that made the sea froth, heave and crash onto the rocky coastline in a truly dramatic fashion. In Solva habour, however, things were tranquil, with hardly a ripple disturbing the reflections. The place seemed to be crammed with boats, making it a marine-painter's paradise.
Picking out a good composition with the more shapely boat or two takes some time when you're wading through a veritable forest of masts. Any sensible artist would sport a pair of wellies and a suitable chair that keeps one well clear of the mud....and perhaps a small table for the water-pot and cappuccino, for then, if the tide rises during your painting you can gallantly continue even if your lower regions are below sea level.

Mud, as I have ruminated on before, is a particular favourite element in my paintings: easy to get right and you can stick it all over the place - well, in the foreground, anyway. You can also use it to hide any mistakes. In this photograph the muddy channels act as an excellent lead-in to the two main boats, and can be moved to suit the composition. The ropes and chains can also be employed in this way. Emphasise rusty red chains and green seaweed-draped ropes (there is a magnificent example in the centre right) to include some colour variation, and perhaps change a white buoy (as seen on the far left) to a more colourful orange or red. Reduce the number of masts and perhaps break up their reflections with a lump of mud or two in the water. If you would wish to include the background boats they should be painted in a far less distinct manner, otherwise the background becomes too cluttered and confusing.

There are still places available for my watercolour seminar on painting skies, light and atmosphere, at Pontypool on Saturday 27th - if you are interested please telephone Jenny on 01982 560237  The mixed exhibition at Barnabas Arts House in Newport Monmouthshire has been extended until the end of October. A percentage of the profits will go to the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. I had to re-supply them with new paintings. Telephone no. 01633 673739

Thursday, 11 October 2012

In Turner's Footsteps

    If you enjoy autumn landscapes the October issue of Leisure Painter magazine has an excellent article by my adorable wife, Jenny Keal: pastel is such a striking medium to capture those vibrant colours, and Jenny utilises the medium to the full. In the same magazine I have an article on painting a waterfall scene in Yorkshire, on the same spot that JMW Turner stopped in 1816 to carry out his sketch on a lovely summer evening.

My visit, however, on a dismal April afternoon was met with steady rain that began the moment I opened my sketchbook. Without the excellent Derwent watercolour pencils, which I used to draw the linear image onto the wet paper, the sketch would have been completely washed away. The white highlights of the falling water have remained because the pencil line is fairly thick and physically holds back a wash that is not too wet, another useful attribute of these pencils when working in rain. The composition, as you can see, has two competing centres of interest, with the two attractive waterfalls. In the sketch I have rendered both with equal importance, but in the finished painting (which appears in the magazine) I gave the left-hand falls more prominence, and thus the main centre of interest.

    One lesson here is that no matter how bad the sketch may be, so long as it is meaningful to you, then there is no reason why the finished painting should not be a good one. This sketch was done on a narrow ledge high above the beck, and above Turner's viewpoint, and while sketching I also filmed myself working. The filming aspect worked really well, apart from one point: I accidentally pressed the backlighting button and the whole film was over-exposed and thus useless!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Leaving out detail in a painting

    It's never easy to resist that marvellous detail out there, even on distant mountains, and perhaps it does seem a shame not to include at least some of it. Don't forget, however, that we are not trying to create a scene with photographic adherence to detail. If you can see it, that doesn't mean you must put it in - if you come along another day the scene could be quite different, with atmosphere hiding all that detail!

    This inset shows just a small part of an alpine watercolour. When I did the original sketch I could see much more detail on each of the ridges, and also more colour variation in the closer ones. With the far jagged mountain ridge I  picked out the most striking gullies, buttresses and crags and left out the others. With each ridge the highest part is a little darker in tone than its lower parts, a phenomenon that is not only present, but helps to ensure that with several such ridges we are not going to end up with extremely dark tones.

    This painting is in an exhibition I have just started at the Erwood Station Crafts Centre just a few miles south of Builth Wells, just off the A470. It also features the stunning sculptures of Glenn Morris. A week ago I had no idea that this was going to happen, but an artist let down the gallery at the last minute, so Glenn and I were asked to step in. The exhibition is on daily and the centre is a marvellous place to stop for refreshments when travelling through Mid Wales. Telephone 01982 560674