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?