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.