Friday, 20 December 2013

Painting figures in action

    Drawing and painting figures is always fascinating, whether to include in a landscape painting, as subjects in themselves, or in a fantasy context as you will see below. Life drawing is easily the best way of learning to draw the figure, though this may hardly be necessary if you are simply wishing to add a few tiny figures into a wide open landscape. I love drawing figures, especially action ones, really doing something interesting, and much of the time these tend to be humorous.

 This is a small part of one of the illustrations from my children's book Terror of the Trolls, where several trolls are gorging themselves - one is eating a leg of some sort, the one on the left is warming his feet in the soup, and the third is flat out after a heavy drinking session. Getting people to pose for these activities was not a real problem, though some of the more gymnastic poses in other parts of the book did rather leave me scratching my head! Note here how you cannot see the whole body of any one troll, and this makes it look more natural, especially in non-fantasy situations. Try to have your figures relating to each other, and not there just to 'fill the gap'. Back-ground figures can remain as silhouettes, thus throwing the emphasis more onto the main figures.

    One especially effective technique that occurs repeatedly in this scene is that of creating soft edges. This not only lends atmosphere, but suggests depth and distance as one sharp-edged feature will come forward, in front of the softer-edged one. Terror of the Trolls is the second book of the Llandoddie tales and is available from our website

    Last night Jenny and I enjoyed the Erwood Station Craft Centre Christmas Party, where the lovely Lorraine King entertained us with her wonderful repertoire of songs. It was a wild night (outside!), and in addition to the bridge being closed, three other roads were cut off by fallen trees, so it was a wonder that so many folk attended, having hiked over hill and vale or probably coracled across the Wye. Nothing stops the Erwood Station Stompers! It closes for Christmas and re-opens on 14th February.

    Jenny and I thank all of you who have sent in so many kind messages over the last year, and wish you and your families a very Happy Christmas wherever you live, and may your painting give you many moments of great pleasure and success in 2014

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Creating small flecks of white in your watercolours

    I've been away in south-east England last week, and for two of the days working on the stage-by-stage paintings for my next book, Winter Landscapes in Watercolour at the Search Press studio. One of those awkward little problems facing the watercolourist is when you need to include small spots or lines of white in a scene, a particular necessity with snow subjects.

    You can try masking fluid, but this often induces larger blobs than you want and can sometimes look wrong when it is rubbed off. Scratching with a scalpel is another method, and this can be very effective, though not everyone is confident with using one. In this scene showing part of a painting I have painted on white gouache where I wanted patches of snow on the upper side of branches close to the trunk, where they tend to remain longer as there is less motion in that part of the branch. I've also dabbed some on the window sill of the barn. The roofs were left white, and you can see that because the sun is so low the tops of the roofs are slightly darker in shadow than the strips at the end where the snow is quite thick. I often use white gouache for tiny areas like the branches and sills.

    The book will be published by Search Press in September, and will be accompanied by a DVD from APV Films. As well as winter landscapes it will cover late autumn to early spring, covering a wide variety of scenery and techniques. It is the third in the series, following Mountains & Moorlands in Watercolour and Skies, Light & Atmosphere in Watercolour, both of which are available on my website

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Painting woodland scenes in watercolour

    My last blog featured autumn trees, and as it's such a good time to be working on trees I'll follow it up with summer trees which can be adapted for autumn trees if necessary. Woodlands are great places at this time of year when the autumn mists create fascinating, soft backgrounds. Even in sharp visibility I tend to make woodland backgrounds less harsh as it adds a sense of mystery and simplifies the composition.

    This is part of a painting of a beechwood and you will see that I've given a different treatment to each of the three main tree-trunks. The right-hand tree was painted in while the background was still damp, and this included the foliage as well as the trunk. The soft, cool colour suggests distance. When the paper was dry I painted in the middle tree-trunk onto dry paper. The sharper edges tend to bring it closer, yet there is still no detail on the trunk. Finally the closest tree has been made larger and with strong detail and dark tones, thus really bringing it forward. I've also made use of the dead leaves of the previous winter lying on the ground, to enhance the warm foreground and hence push the rest of the scene into the distance.

    The complete painting can be seen at Erwood Station Craft Centre, with several others. I shall be demonstrating there on Saturday 23rd November from 2pm to 4pm, on how to rescue watercolours that have not quite worked, and how to improve parts of a painting with which you may not be happy with. The cost of the demo is £7 which will be donated to the Welsh Air Ambulance. Erwood Station lies beside the beautiful River Wye, about 8 miles south of Builth Wells, and is a lovely place to explore, stop for tea and refreshments and walk some of the footpaths. At the moment Erwood bridge is closed, so you either need to approach the centre from the north via the B4567, or if coming from the south cross the Wye at Boughrood bridge and drive northwards with the Wye on your left. Ring 01982 560674 for information.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Capturing autumn colours in watercolour

    Autumn colours have been late arriving this season. I've just returned from running a painting course in Snowdonia, hoping for a blaze of colour, but sadly only a few trees co-operated. Despite the strong winds a lot of leaves remain on the trees and it is still worth getting out and seeking colourful subjects out there.

    This is a small demonstration piece I did for the group. While I use a number of warm colours for autumn trees, here I've applied gamboge, a lovely warm yellow, with cadmium orange. To make your autumn colours really sing you need to juxtapose them against a mauve or blue-grey, as these are complementary colours. You will see this phenomenon at its best where autumn trees stand against distant hills or mountains, or against a dark sky as in the painting.

    There are some good examples of this in my Mountains & Moorlands in Watercolour book, and the DVD of the same name. There is a special offer on this package, which is only available in our website shop.

    At the moment Jenny is working on a fascinating staged pastel painting of a Moroccan scene - I pop into her studio every now and again to have a peep, and you can find on her blog

    Don't forget, my exhibition in Lincoln Joyce Fine Art continues until Saturday 9th November, where you will find some watercolours from some of my books, as well as new paintings. They can be found at 40 Church Road, Great Bookham, Surrey,  Telephone 01372 458481

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Painting in harbours

    Harbours and moorings are often not the easiest places to sketch and paint when you find a mass of boats, masts and other nautical paraphernalia confronting you. How can you work out which mast is attached to which craft, and is that an oversized cabin or a bouncy castle in the distance - this can be especially difficult to work out in poor lighting.

   This is part of a watercolour painting of Heybridge Basin in Essex. There were many more boats than I've shown, but I've eliminated much of the visual clutter, concentrating on the more handsome vessels. This is the best way of avoiding the effect of a jungle of massed detail. When you want to identify the important and most attractive boats it helps to move around and sketch and photograph from slightly different angles. This helps to see which feature belongs to which boat. A pair of binoculars can help if you are some distance away, and watch for changes of light which can give further clues.

    In your rendering of the scene try to keep the background fairly simple, otherwise too much detail will confuse the composition. Harbours can be notorious places for strong background features that can
dominate if you are not careful. In this scene I have kept the background trees devoid of any detail so that the emphasis is on the boats.

    You can see the whole of this painting in my exhibition at Lincoln Joyce Fine Art, at 40 Church Road, Great Bookham, in Surrey telephone 01372 458481. The exhibition continues until 9th November and is open 10am to 5 pm, Tuesday to Saturday. There are more details on my website.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Improving the sky in a watercolour

    On Tuesday 22nd October my exhibition opens at Lincoln Joyce Fine Art in Great Bookham. The watercolours cover a wide range of subjects, from mountains and pastoral scenery to coastal scenes. It's many years since I featured any of the lovely old sailing barges in a collection, so I'm pleased to say that I've included some in this one.

    The image shows a barge moored on the Blackwater near Heybridge Basin: the original sketch was carried out on a really gloomy afternoon not long before the Essex monsoon arrived. As so often happens, I tend to paint a different sky in the finished work, and have many sketches and photographs of skies for reference. In this instance I felt a brighter sky with an atmospheric distance would work well. The blue part of the sky was done with coeruluem blue, while the main clouds are a result of mixing French ultramarine and cadmium red, which was also used in the distant shore.

    However, skies are not just about colour and atmosphere. Giving the compositional aspect of a sky some consideration can really enhance your painting, and here I have arranged the cloud shapes to lead towards the barge, which is, of course, the centre of interest. Note that even the soft-edged cloud in the lower right arrows its way towards the prow of the vessel. The soft edges were created by running the colour into damp areas, wet-in-wet. Also, the orangey-yellow area in front of the mainmast with its associated reflection in the water, helps to draw the eye towards the barge.

    You can learn more about skies in my book Skies, Light & Atmosphere, available from my website  If you would like to attend the preview of the exhibition on Saturday 19th or Sunday 20th October, or attend the watercolour demonstration and talk on the Sunday in the Barn Hall opposite the gallery, then please ring the gallery on 01372 458481 The gallery will be open from 10am to 5pm. Lincoln Joyce Fine Art is at 40 Church Road, Great Bookham, Surrey KT23 3PW The exhibition ends on 9th November.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Sketching mist streams in the Canadian Rockies

    I've not long returned from a trip to the Canadian Rockies, where the mountains rise high in truly awesome splendour. I managed around a hundred sketches, many in watercolour, and the hot, sunny weather made it really a pleasure to be out sketching. Luckily I had some bad-weather days as well, even some snowfall, and this gave my work that added atmosphere: when you can see everything there is no mystery.

    This watercolour of Stoney Squaw Mountain near Banff was done on a cartridge sketchbook, showing fresh snow and wreaths of mist, which many find difficult to tackle. If you use copious amounts of water and keep your edges soft (sometimes you need to soften edges that have dried hard with a damp brush). Obviously experience with the wet-into-wet technique helps here, and you may well need to re-wet some areas to create misty shapes of crags, trees and ridges.

    One of the great advantages of the colour sketch over a photograph in a situation like this is that you usually find the camera will record simply stark contrasts of dark rock and white snow, losing any sense of colour, unless strong light is highlighting  any colour. When sketching, observe carefully any colour present in rocks and vegetation, even exaggerating it if necessary, to avoid the work looking too cold or sombre.

    I can't wait to get going on some enormous compositions of the Canadian scenes.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Rescuing a watercolour that's gone adrift

    I'm afraid things have been quiet on the blogging front lately as I've been in the Canadian Rockies for the past few weeks, painting some truly stunning scenery, and this will be the subject of a forthcoming blog.

    This post covers the tricky subject of how you rescue watercolours that have gone slightly awry, or perhaps have somehow spectacularly misfired. It happens to us all. Many folk think you have to tear up the wayward masterpiece, but many watercolours can be effectively rescued even when they appear to be something of a disaster. I've just produced a DVD on the subject, and this covers a whole variety of techniques you can use to put things right, or simply alter a composition where you feel the need for change.

    On the left you see one of my old watercolours that I discarded years ago as I didn't like the finished treatment: the peaks were too repetitive, the edges too hard, and the atmosphere didn't really convince me. I felt I'd made a mess of it. When I was persuaded to do a rescues DVD I thought this would be a good lesson for illustrating methods of changing a scene.

    Unlike a recent painting, over time it becomes more difficult to sponge out details and passages, but I have the advantage that most of my watercolours are carried out on Saunders Waterford paper, one of the most robust watercolour papers on the market, so I could really work hard into the paper. I also rarely use the manufacturers' greens, preferring to mix my own, which are less staining and therefore easier to remove. Because of the hard-edged striking shapes of the peaks in this painting I realised that I would have to completely change the format to a landscape one and not include those strident peaks.

    My first task was to reduce the background by heavy sponging with plenty of clean water, then subduing it further with a transparent glaze of French ultramarine and a little cadmium red. This had the effect of creating a misty distance, cooler in temperature. By placing some shadow across the foreground it emphasised a lighter patch in front of the bothy, and while this was still wet I dropped in some Indian red to warm up the immediate foreground. Thus, the cool background and warm foreground suggested greater space and distance, and the buildings stand out more.

    Copies of the Rescue Watercolours DVD, available for the first time this month, are available from my website  If you have any old watercolours lying around that haven't quite worked, or have encountered a mistake you'd like to rectify, then there are many techniques on the DVD which will help improve your work. Some of the techniques are also useful to employ as a deliberate method to create special effects. There is nothing worse than finishing a watercolour only to find there is a niggling little problem to which your eye is drawn time and time again, when in fact there are almost certainly ways of solving the issue.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Simplifying Foregrounds with the Vignette Technique

    One of my favourite techniques for dealing with those troublesome foregrounds is the vignette method, which can be equally effective when used on watercolour sketches. This is especially true when you don't want to include every bit of detail in front of you. The method can be carried out with a softening effect as though the viewing frame becomes more and more misty as it gets further away from the centre of the composition, or it can be accomplished by abruptly stopping detail while adding a few stray examples - perhaps stones, pebbles, grasses, plants or whatever is present, in the foreground.

    In this example of a cascade plunging between rocks I've simply splashed in a few hints of falling water with weak French ultramarine, and to the left-hand side have spattered some flecks of paint. The rocks have been faded out, although the method works equally well by rendering a few strong, hard-edged features at this point. If you find the latter method is too strident you can softly sponge away the hardness with a natural sponge and clean water until you achieve the effect you are seeking. It's also a useful technique when you are out sketching and see those heavy rain-clouds approaching and need to finish it off at speed! Try it out - you have nothing to lose, as if you feel it doesn't work you can always superimpose a more normal foreground over it.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Sketching in remote places

    I've just returned from a trip to South Greenland with my friend Torben Sorensen, hence the lack of blog posts over the past month. Our objective was to sketch and paint the spectacular mountains near Nanortalik, which is about 45 miles north-west of Cape Farewell, the southernmost tip of Greenland. To gain access to the area we hired an inflatable zodiac to go up Tasermiut fjord, a 50-mile stretch with stunning peaks on either side: a rather crazy idea as neither of us had 'driven' such a boat before, and perhaps when we found it had a hole in the bottom we should probably have abandoned the idea rapidly.

    We carried on, and had to do quite a bit of baling out, as well as heaving the craft over rocks and beaches at anything but high tide. Sunny weather blessed us most of the time, but clouds and cloud streamers added greatly to the atmosphere. When you can see everything the view tends to lose its aura of mystery.

    Watercolour, of course, is supreme in conveying a sense of atmosphere. This is a rough watercolour sketch of icebergs near Cape Farewell, done on cartridge paper, which generally dries rather quickly and so makes laying complicated watercolour washes quite difficult, as in this case where I've had to work the darker sky round the light foreground berg. Even wetting the paper first still leaves one prone to ugly brushmarks across the cartridge paper. However, as it's just a sketch this doesn't matter. The important thing was to capture the subtle colours in the ice, the slightly darker overall tones on the further skyscraper-like icebergs, and a general sense of the atmosphere. At the same time I wanted to suggest the coldness of the Arctic sea. These aspects are difficult to render with a pencil.

    I regard sketches as working documents which will give me all the information I need to complete a full watercolour painting at home. Photographs help a lot, but often lose the subtleties of tone and colour that is needed to produce an authentic portrait of the scene. And naturally, being out in the natural wilderness sketching is a wonderful therapy, especially when you know that you really don't have to exhibit the result!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Using counterchange to good effect

    With the current heatwave hitting the British Isles I reckon it's rather nice to remind ourselves of those lovely cooling days of English drizzle. I've been working on sunny landscapes recently and will feature some in future blogs, but for the moment I'd like to discuss counterchange, an interesting feature that someone brought up recently.

Counterchange in a landscape scene is a very effective way of adding interest to a passage or solving a tonal problem. At its simplest it could be a change in tone across a ridge, hill, forest, mountain, or any background mass to create a tonal range running from light on one side to dark on the other, while at the same time adjusting the sky in a similar way so that the dark part of the sky stands against the light part of the hill, and vice versa. In this watercolour of a cobbled street in Hackney you can see I've used the method vertically on the right-hand wall just to the right of the lampost.

    In this instance I've included it for interest rather than to solve a problem. Where the method is extremely useful in solving a tonal problem can be, for example, where you have a house with a light-coloured wall set against a dark background: if the roof is dark it will get lost in the dark background, and if it is light it will lose itself against the light wall. By laying a graduated wash over the roof, darker at the bottom and graduating to a lighter top where the roof abuts the darker background, you can thus make both top and bottom of the roof stand out, thus causing a counterchange effect using the graduated wash. One of the most simple examples of counterchange can often be found on telegraph poles or winter tree-trunks where they show up light against dark vegetation at the bottom, and dark against the bright sky at the top, depending on the light of course.

This particular painting is featured in my Skies, Light & Atmosphere book available on my website with a special offer package of book and DVD, available only from the site or my demonstrations. Don't forget to watch out for these effects in the natural landscape when you are out and about. You can learn a lot even without your painting or sketching gear!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Painting on the new Bockingford Hot Pressed paper

    It's always great fun to try out new materials and lately I've been testing the new Bockingford hot pressed paper from St Cuthberts Mill. Bockingford is, of course, a well established and popular make of watercolour paper, so how would the addition to the range fare? It did not take me long to find out when I painted a rural farm scene.

I enjoy working on hot pressed paper, although it can be a little more challenging for the inexperienced watercolourist because it dries so much more rapidly than a NOT or rough paper. The advantages of using a hot pressed surface are that you can achieve really sharp, crisp edges, and it lends itself to detail. Colours can also appear more vibrant. The biggest dangers caused by the quicker drying is the possibility that you may find runbacks forming and messy brushmarks can look unsightly if not enough water is used with your colour application and washes.
    Make sure that your mixtures are really fluid, and work quickly once you begin applying a colour. With large washes, unless you need hard edges within a wash area it will help if you lay a wash of clean water over the area first - do this after you have mixed the wash you are about to apply, otherwise the water may well dry before you can lay the wash.
    I painted this scene on a Bockingford 140lb (300g) pad of 14" x 10" hot pressed paper and was absolutely delighted with the response of the paper. It is a superlative product that took the washes well and should be in the possession of every watercolour artist. It is also excellent for line and wash work. The paper comes in both pad and sheet form and is superb value in its high quality and economical price. I cannot rate it highly enough.
    For further information see the St Cuthberts Mill site

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Painting holiday in Canada

    I've just returned from East Anglia, where I indulged in my passion for maritime scenes and collected a number of sketches of old sailing barges under way in Harwich Harbour. Despite the distractions of a giant ferry crashing into the quay and the subsequent charging around of lifeboats, harbour patrol launches, tugs and kitchen sinks, I managed to achieve some lively images which will be the subject of a future blog.

    We still have vacancies on our painting holiday to Canada on September 1st when Jenny and I take a group to the Rockies to paint some amazing scenery. I shall be demonstrating how to paint the sublime natural scenery.  It is easy to be overawed by such spectacular scenery, so I will be showing how to cope with the big landscape and produce an exciting composition, as well as many other aspects of painting, whether you like to work in watercolour, oils, pastels or whatever. There will be plenty of time to paint and sketch, and if anyone wants to do a little walking that would be great, but it is optional.

    The holiday runs from 1st to 14th September, and is organised by Spencer Scott Travel in conjunction with The Artist and Leisure Painter magazines. For further information please email or telephone +44 (0)1825 714310 or check the website

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Finding time to blog and sketch

    Trying to maintain a regular blog is pretty much impossible for me, especially at the moment with so much happening. There simply isn't enough time to do all I want. Since the previous post Jenny and I have joined in a major protest in Mid Wales at the start of a public inquiry into five wind farms which, if given the go-ahead will industrialise vast swathes of beautiful landscape and trash the main economy based on tourism. Following that I demonstrated in a slightly different style at Patchings Art Festival in the St Cuthberts Mill and Search Press marquees, and without a break continued to Derbyshire to run a painting course at Derbyshire Arts.

    Hardly back from Derbyshire and I had a rather significant birthday party, which unfortunately was interrupted by the local health and safety officials as pictured above. Nevertheless, much fun was had by all concerned, and nobody got too wet. This interlude was then followed by a spot of filming for another project, until at last! - yesterday I could disappear off into the hills and relax for the first time in a few weeks.

    There's been some marvellous weather for working out of doors lately, and long may it continue. I have a number of sketching kits, ranging from large expedition ones to pocket-sized pads with a pencil or two plus an aquash brush - it really is worth taking a few materials with you, plus a camera, to catch a fascinating composition while you are out. If you feel embarrassed sketching out on doors then hide your sketchbook in a copy of the Beano or other comic and pretend to be doing the crossword......enjoy the summer.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Creating a strikingly moody landscape in watercolour

    The combination of a striking centre of interest with a soft, misty background can be a powerful recipe for a stunning composition. To achieve this is it hard to beat the combination of masking fluid and the wet-into-wet watercolour technique. In producing a strong contrast between the soft, ethereal misty background and the hard-edged focal point you will be creating a really head-turning image.
This watercolour of Hisley Bridge on the edge of Dartmoor illustrates the effectiveness of painting masking fluid over the bridge before doing any painting, then applying very fluid washes wet-into-wet for the background, bringing the wash down over the bridge with impunity, as you can lift off the masking fluid once it has dried and hey presto! the bridge appears again. The sense of mood has been accentuated by limiting the background colours in the wet-into-wet wash, with warmer colours being applied in the bridge and foreground.
    If you are interested in this particular scene there is a stage-by-stage demonstration of the painting in my book Painting Wild Landscapes in Watercolour, published by HarperCollins, and for more information see my website.
On Friday 7th June I shall be demonstrating at Patchings Art & Craft Festival, in the St Cuthberts Mill marquee at 11am, and the Search Press marquee at 3pm, then again on Saturday morning at 11 am in the St Cuthberts Mill marquee. On each occasion I'll be using the marvellous Saunders Waterford High White paper manufactured by St Cuthberts Mill, with whom I've worked for a great many years now. You can take it from me that when you are demonstrating you have to have total faith in the paper, and Waterford has never let me down.
Sadly Jenny won't be at Patchings this time as she has not been well. It's a great disappointment  as she loves demonstrating at the festival, but hopefully she'll be back in action at next year's event.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The Pure Watercolour Society Exhibition

    This weekend I had a very pleasant sojourn in the Cotswolds, invited to join in the exhibition of the Pure Watercolour Society at the Windrush Gallery situated in the delightful village of Windrush, just west of Burford. This was formerly the studio and home of James Fletcher-Watson who was passionate about traditional watercolour painting, and became the first President of the PWS in 1999. This exhibition marks James' centenary and includes a great many of his original paintings.

    The picture shows members of the PWS hard at work in a Cotswold farmyard. We were sketching the lovely old buildings, but what caught my eye was the wonderful collection of decaying rubbish hidden behind a barn: don't ignore those rusting old drums and bits of machinery half-hidden in the weeds. There was even an old anvil lying in the midst of it all. These little features can add so much to a painting.

    As well as James' paintings the artists represented include David Curtis, Trevor Chamberlain, David Howell, Winston Oh, Tony Taylor, Peter Cronin, Andrew Hucklesby, John Yardley, Philip L Hobbs and Ian Piper. The exhibition continues until 28th May and is open 11 am to 5 pm daily. Tel: 01451 844425 The exhibition launches a new book commemorating James' work, and in which several of us were privileged to include an example of our work. Try to get along and see the exhibition if you can, as it contains a wonderful variety of styles by a number of watercolour masters.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

And now for something different

    Now and then we get into one of those dreadful artistic ruts that leave us rudderless for periods, not quite knowing which direction to take, and finding little inspiration in anything. One great way of snapping out of these doldrums is to try a different medium, perhaps only slightly different, but enough to spur you on to greener pastures. Derwent are always bringing out exciting new ideas, and many of them are related to watercolour, which has the advantage of taking us into new areas of working, but ones which can also give our watercolours a new lift.

    I've just been trying out the new Derwent XL Graphite blocks - a set of six chunky watersoluble blocks, and as you can see in the picture on the left, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between these and watercolour. I began by laying olive green across the foliage areas, blending it in with a finger and then washing over it with a number 10 round brush with clean water. I had already laid more olive green on a piece of scrap paper and picked up a quite strong mix of this with a fine number 2 brush, drawing the tree trunks and branches into the wet wash, wet-in-wet style. Quickly I then applied more olive green strongly into the upper parts and directly with the block. Going on to a wet surface it produced a deeper tone which I then worked into with a brush to suggest the loose leaves and some of the ground cover. The paper was still wet enough for me to work in a soft grey colour with the number 10 brush to suggest the more distant rocks. I then drew burnt umber in with the block for the darker rocks, softening it off in places with a brush before completing the work with blue over the foreground. including a touch of green reflections here and there.

   Derwent have also come up with a really useful sprinkler tool - a small grid across which you rasp the XL Graphite block to create a spatter effect. I did this on a different composition, and the technique works deliciously when dropped onto a wet surface as here where I'm suggesting a bush. The branches were created with a fine rigger, picking up colour directly off the burnt umber block.

    These blocks can be used for many purposes, apart from creating paintings by themselves. They can be combined with normal watercolour, can be used to rescue a wayward watercolour, and are great for doing quick studio sketches in planning out a larger painting. Give them a try, they really are tremendous fun, and if you wish can be readily combined with the Graphitint pencils. The only problem I have now is that Jenny has just seen my work and has run off with my XL blocks........

Friday, 3 May 2013

Painting foliage in summer

    I recently ran a course in the Welsh lake district - the Elan Valley reservoirs, where there are many marvellous subjects to paint, including glorious river scenery. With this rather cold spring weather it was important to find locations where students could work out of doors in reasonable comfort, and as there are many sheltered spots in the Elan Valley area we were able to work quite happily.
The picture shows a part of a watercolour of the River Elan which I did a few years ago on site. It's a fairly rough watercolour, as I painted it while standing the middle of the river, using an easel. This was the optimum spot, and as it was painted to support the John Muir Trust, the Scottish-based charity that fights for the wild land of Britain, a photographer came along to record the event. Alas, after taking a few shots he fell into the river, but his camera was OK and all he got was a bit of a wetting.

Although it was mid-summer, I haven't used many greens in the painting, much of the foliage achieved with a deliberately dull blue-grey, created by mixing French ultramarine and yellow ochre, a rather opaque colour. This dullness helps to accentuate the bright yellow tree. With foliage, edges get lost easily, as they run into one another, and you can see how I've introduced light edges of foliage by painting the darker washes around the edge. It pays to look at the scene through half-closed eyes as this will eliminate much detail and allow you to pick out the more important aspects of the scene, both in terms of tone and detail. Please don't try jumping into rivers to get your paintings done - not only can it be costly in lost equipment, but it can also be rather dangerous in the wrong place!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Reserving your whites, 19th-Century style

    I've been somewhat distracted over the last week or so, with members of the family sick, hence the lack of posts. We're experiencing marvellous walking and sketching weather in Wales at the moment, and it's a lovely time of year for getting out with your sketchbook, flask and sandwiches. Being out amidst nature is one of the most therapeutic ways of casting off the stresses of life.

    In a recent comment Mark has enquired about the manner in which 19th-century artists preserved the whites in their watercolours. They did not have any masking fluid available in those days, but they did employ a number of the alternatives that we currently use, although I don't know many artists these days that rub out areas of watercolour with stale bread, which was a method much used by JMW Turner.

    The most obvious alternative is that of negative painting, ie, painting the dark spaces around a light object as in the tree-trunks and fence in this watercolour detail. With practice this is an extremely useful technique. You will see that some blue-grey shadows have been painted over the light trunks directly under the foliage where it casts a shadow, yet the trunk still stands out, though less stark. John Cotman, in the early 19th Century exhibited marvellous control of this method, and is a water-colour master well worth studying.

    Well before the 19th Century artists used white bodycolour to create highlights, or to render small features such as seagulls, and Turner certainly used it in many of his works. Writers of that period would often refer to this as 'chalk', so that the medium used might be referred to as 'watercolour heightened with chalk'. Turner used numerous techniques to achieve whites, scratching through the darks with a knife, thumbnail or the wrong end of a brush; removing colour with blotting paper; and even stopping out areas with glue size to prevent washes being laid there. The glue size was washed off afterwards, but this technique obviously required great care and expertise, as it would be easy to mess things up at the washing-off stage, but expertise was something which Turner, of course, was not short of!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Adding another colour to a monochrome painting

    I've not been at home much lately, which makes it difficult to maintain a regular blog, and this week we're running a painting course in Mid Wales. The beautiful sunshine on the last two days made excellent light for sketching outdoors, although it has been a little on the cold side. The weather forecast told us that it was going to be quite different from this, which makes us rather sceptical about their forecasts of doom for our planet.

    Now and then I rather like to put a little 'doom' into a painting, often a sense of impending horribleness as in this watercolour of Grassholm Island off the Pembrokeshire coast. Its northern cliffs are mainly black and dire, with the great contrast of white gannets and gannet guano in spring, so to achieve a dramatic effect I have painted it mainly as a monchrome using indigo, but injecting some colour in the form of cadmium orange in the sky. Because I've painted this on a biscuit-coloured tinted paper I had to add the highlights with white gouache. There are many gannets in the sky and on the crags.

    As I've mentioned before, carrying out a monochrome is an excellent way of learning to apply watercolour without the problem of colour mixing, but when you add a further colour like this it will take you one stage further and possibly increase the drama. Dark, moody paintings like this can convey a striking sense of mystery, so don't be afraid to apply some really strong darks in your watercolours.

    Our exhibition at Art Matters in Tenby is now running and continues until the 28th April see details on our website

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Injecting Dramatic Lighting into your Paintings

    In a painting in any medium, treatment of light is a vital consideration. While the landscape photographer has to work with available light, artists can manipulate it to their advantage, changing it, intensifying it, rendering a much softer, atmospheric light or create a dramatic sense of light and dark, and so much more. It pays to study how the top artists have treated the light in their compositions when you visit an important exhibition or collection.

    This scene on the Norfolk coast shows part of the composition bathed in late afternoon sunlight, as it throws the emphasis on the central building, the two figures and the boats. I achieved hard edges on the buildings set against a dark sky by using masking fluid, rubbing it off once the background washes had dried, and then painting in the details on the buildings and the rest of the scene, completing everything apart from the shadows in the foreground. At that point I often trundle off for a coffee, or if it's late I'll finish for the day. This allows the washes to dry completely - in fact I'll often get on with another painting at that point.

    With the whole painting completely dry I wash clean water right across the foreground, taking it up into the lower sky area. Make sure that you take the water some distance beyond where you intend to create the soft edge, as water has a habit of creeping further than you might think. I then apply a mixture of French ultramarine and cadmium red over the shadow area, including the darkened left-hand buildings and the far right-hand hedgerow. This wash blends nicely into the wet paper, creating soft-edged shadows, with the area I wished to highlight being left untouched. If you are a little wary of this technique try it out firstly on old paintings that have not worked well, so that if things really do go wrong it won't matter.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Painting sparkling water and shafts of sunlight

    I've been off the air for some time because the blog site was being transferred to a new site linked to our new website. Alas, not only has it taken rather a long time, but the blog I created did not get out to folk. I'm sorry about this delay, but as we don't want to inconvenience people I am reverting to the old blog. Jenny has put a lot of work into trying to get things to work, and while she has done brilliantly on the website, it has been frustrating for her on the blog side of things.

     Our new exhibition starts at Art Matters in the White Lion Street Gallery in Tenby on Saturday 30th March, and continues until the 28th April. You can view the paintings on their website Jenny's work is in pastel and mine in watercolour, and we will be there from 11 am to 4 pm on 30th March. The painting below is one of the watercolours I am exhibiting, although it does not show the whole picture.

    The scene shows sunbeams falling over Dinas Fach on the Pembrokeshire coast. To create the ragged edges to the clouds I stroked the blue-grey sky colour on with the side of a large round brush, rather than using the point. The shafts of sunlight were left until the very end of the painting, when everything was dry: I simply put two pieces of thin card together, slightly apart with the lower sections splayed out slightly more than the top parts, and then with a soft sponge soaked in clean water I stroked downwards over the lower sky and the craggy headland. I then did the same with the second shaft. It's important to ensure that all the shafts of light come from the exact same spot, even if as in this case, the sun itself is hidden behind cloud.

    Sparkling water can give a lovely inviting appeal to a scene, and this was achieved by spattering masking fluid over the area with a toothbrush, masking out those parts that I wanted to avoid spraying. I did add a few more little spots of masking fluid with a fine brush afterwards, where these were needed. When the masking fluid was dry I then painted over it with the sea colour, eventually removing the grey-coloured masking fluid to reveal the sparkling area. Shafts of sunlight work well with sparkling water, and you can add this to your sea, lake or river scenes when you wish to beef them up a bit.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Making the most of complementary colours

    Most of us have heard of complementary colours, but what are they, and how can we make the most of them in our paintings, whether we paint in watercolour, pastel, oils, acrylics or perhaps a mixture of sand and sheep droppings? Complementary colours are those that stand precisely opposite each other on the colour wheel, such as red and green; blue and orange or yellow and purple. One of the most exciting ways of exploiting this is to juxtapose the complementaries  as shown below.

    In this watercolour showing part of the composition the autumn tints of warm yellow and orange come directly up against the warm blue of the background. Being complementary colours they are extremely effective in creating an attractive and dramatic colour relationship. This effect can be accentuated or reduced by intensifying or reducing the colour strength.

    Note also that away from the blue background the colours are closer related - analogous colours that will be found within a small segment of the colour wheel. This suggests a calmer feeling, and an interesting foil to the more dramatic juxtapositioning of the complementaries.

    This painting is reproduced in my Skies, Light & Atmosphere book, which is aimed at artists who wish to put a little extra into their landscape painting, and you can find details on my website. Our new website is almost ready to run, and we apologise to those of you who have had problems accessing the old one which is starting to creak a little.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Painting complicated mountain scenery

    Even experienced professionals can get overwhelmed when confronted by the mass of panoramic detail found in the high mountains. Where do you start? What do you leave out - as you can't possibly put it all in? This is especially a problem in really good visibility, when there is not a cloud in sight. As if this wasn't enough, some of the most spectacular places are so beautifully composed that it is all done for you, and it is easy to think that all you need do is copy the composition in front of you.

    This picture-postcard view is in the Canadian Rockies where we will be going in September. Everything stands out beautifully, but in a painting you need some mystery with part of the motif just hinted at. One device for working out the best composition in front of you is a simple card rectangle with an oblong hole cut out so that you can view the scene you want. Hold it up before your eyes, closing one, and moving the card frame around until you light on the most exciting part of the scene. You may need to move it towards you, or away from you to achieve the optimum size, but this will certainly help you to isolate the scene.

    Where ridges pass behind a closer feature you can reduce the detail, perhaps bringing in some cloud or mist at this point, or even a snow squall. In this scene the centre of interest could well be the 'V' where the two dark ridges descend in the centre to the lake, but it would be a good idea to push this either to right or left a little, so that it's not plumb centre. A hint of red or orange there might be a nice touch, and you could also use this in the reflection. The far shoreline cuts right across the picture, a common problem, but easily fixed with some foreground trees or other features.

    If you like this type of landscape then why not join Jenny and myself in the Canadian Rockies from 1st to 14th September? I shall be covering all manner of techniques for painting these scenes in watercolour, but painters in other mediums are welcome. The painting holiday is organised by Spencer Scott Travel Telephone +44 (0)1825 714311 or Email:

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Painting Landscapes in Pastel

    Although I work in watercolour, I do some painting in other mediums, one of which is pastel. I have neglected it for many years and keep promising myself to do some more, especially when I see what Jenny is producing these days. If you find watercolour difficult, or maybe you are in a rut at the moment, why not try pastels? They make a wonderful change, and you can always return to watercolour later. Many artists find pastel painting so much easier, but some don't like the dust and mess on their fingers.

    Jenny has excellent ways of managing pastel dust and the mess on your fingers, and she is only too willing to show you her methods. She has superb techniques for creating areas of tranquil water with reflections and sparkling highlights. On the right you see one of her paintings of the Clydach Gorge with reflections in deep water. Pastel, with its rich colours, is excellent for autumnal scenes, which can at times be tricky in watercolour, especially when you want to juxtapose light yellow or orange foliage against a darker background. The medium is also much more forgiving - you can alter features fairly easily compared to watercolour. Pastel is also great for fading away the more distant features, as you can see here.

    One of my favourite subjects is rocks, and I've just seen Jenny's latest works on rocks, and they certainly have the WOW! factor. Check out Jenny's blog where she gives free tips, but if you'd really like to give pastels a try why not enroll for her course in Lynmouth from 20th to 23rd May, when she'll be showing students how to paint the stunning coast and countryside of North Devon?

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Painting less for more effect

    One of the most thorny problems confronting the painting tutor is putting across the need to eliminate unwanted detail from a subject when the student has already been told to work directly from the subject and produce a careful rendering of the scene. As landscape artists we go out into the countryside to seek out visual material to work from and use as a basis for a composition, yet in order to produce an interesting painting we need to filter out a lot of extraneous detail. I am not interested in producing a photographic response to a scene where everything is laid out meticulously.

    In this view of a cottage you will see that certain edges have been lost - there is no defining line for the bottom of either the house wall or the drystone wall, as this approach provides a more painterly response, rather than a photographic one. Also the stones are only described in a minimalistic way. In both these cases the eye of the viewer will subconsciously include these elements. An effective method here is to splash in a different colour in lieu of detail - note the patch of red to the left of centre. This can be a useful device even if the colour you apply does not appear in the scene, as it can both enliven a subject and avoid the need for too much detail.

    For these stones I used a number one rigger brush - a very fine instrument with long hairs, ideal for fine work. Where I describe a number of stones in a wall I tend to ease off on the pressure where I want the stones to become lost, but another method I employ is to draw in a few more stones than I actually need, again with the rigger. Whilst these are still wet I then wash over the edge of the painted stones with one of the colours found in the wall, thus losing some of the stones at the edges, and at the same time creating a gradual losing of the detail that can appear more natural. An interesting exercise you can do is to paint the same scene twice: once in extremely strong detail all over the composition, and then again in the manner I've described above. By comparing the two results you will learn much about restricting the urge to include everything in a painting.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Painting snowy landscapes

    At last, real winter has arrived, and for the landscape artist having the countryside cloaked in deep snow is a great inducement to get out and capture some new scenes, even if you can't stand the cold for long and have to rely on the camera. I've just returned from an extremely rewarding trip to North Staffordshire where we did some filming for a DVD on winter landscapes. Snow simplifies the landscape considerably, making it easier for the artist.

    In this view on the North Staffordshire Moorlands I selected a back-lit angle by choosing mid-afternoon to visit the spot - back-lighting tends to add drama to a scene, and lose detail in more distant features. The road acts as a good lead-in and the right-hand electricity pole breaks up the far ridge, so it might be worth leaving in. One of the cows in the middle distance (left) is looking out of the picture, so I would turn her round to look at the house. After I'd finished the sketch the chimney on the left-hand building started to emit smoke, so I then adjusted the sketch to include smoke, but had it emerging from the right-hand house, which was my centre of interest.

    My first painting course this year is at the Caer Beris Manor Hotel in Builth Wells, Mid Wales from the 7th to 12th April, and there are still a few places left. The gentle, rolling landscapes provide a wealth of subjects, with the more dramatic Brecon Beacons to the south, so there is something for most tastes, and plenty of interest for non-painting partners. Although it is primarily for watercolourists, Jenny will be on hand to demonstrate pastel landscapes as well as offering tuition in the medium. You can check it out on our website, or telephone the hotel on 01982 552601, or email them at 

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Painting courses

    This is the time of year when many artists think about taking up a course to improve their painting skills, and naturally to do this in beautiful scenery, in the comfort of a truly welcoming hotel and with a tutor whose work you wish to emulate, can provide the most rewarding experience. Many find that at home there are too many distractions, and getting away with like-minded folk for an intensive week of painting can be the optimum way of pushing your work forward.

    Jenny and I work hard on our courses to ensure that everyone gets plenty of attention and demonstrations. One of our favourite locations is Snowdonia in North Wales where there is an infinite choice of a wide variety of painting subjects, with so many of them visible from the road or nearby, which means, of course that you don't have to walk very far to find a superb subject.....but you can, if you wish, hike into the more remote locations.

    This autumn our course in the Sygun Fawr Country House in Snowdonia runs from 27th October to 1st November, timed to coincide with the autumn colours. You will find details  here, or you can telephone the Sygun Fawr Country House on 01766 890258

    I am sorry there is no illustration with this blog, but Blogger keep changing the set-up almost every time I wish to set up a post and this time I've failed to get the painting up, so I'll have to move elsewhere I guess. I'll try to make it as smooth a transition as possible. Keep watching this space.

    A HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all, and enjoy your painting in 2013