David Bellamy – Taking a painting break

There are so many times these days when I just want to get off this mad conveyor-belt of constant action, and be back in the wilds, away from phones, the internet and all the trappings of 21st-century life as it becomes more and more dehumanised. Being amongst wildlife and the mountain peoples is a great pleasure, and one of the marvellous aspects of being an artist is that your paintings and sketches recall so many wonderful moments in these places.

This scene shows a group of buffalo, wary of the intruders to their patch in the Gol Mountains of Tanzania. I’d just been sketching the frenetic activities of a gaggle of Nubian vultures gorging themselves on a carcass. These were days of constant excitement amidst outstanding scenery. In this watercolour I broke up the skyline with wreaths of mist as it tended to intrude right across the composition. The cliffs have been rendered with Daniel Smith Watercolour Ground, which is similar to Gesso, but easily painted over with watercolours. This was applied with a painting knife and injects strong texture into this large work.

The painting is on view at Brecon Library in a small exhibition entitled Wild Moments, and I will be giving an illustrated talk there at 11 am on Saturday 9th March. Many Powys libraries are now under great threat of closure and I feel it is so important to support them. Do come along if you can. I will also be taking new paintings to the Ardent Gallery in Brecon next week – telephone 01874 623333

There are still a few vacancies on my course at St Davids in Pembrokeshire from 2nd to 7th June. It takes place at the superb Warpool Court Hotel overlooking St Brides Bay, and we have such an outstanding wealth and variety of painting subjects both on the coast and inland, not to mention the amazing display of flowers along the coast path and hedgerows.

Enjoy your painting and don’t forget to get off that mad conveyor-belt every now and then to recharge your batteries!

David Bellamy – Ice on the Equator

For many years one of my ambitions has been to climb Mount Kenya to sketch those amazing peaks and the other-worldly plants that grow high on the mountain. Most people head for Kilimanjaro, as it’s the highest in Africa, but Mount Kenya is much more beautiful. So this month I thought if I don’t do it soon I never will.

I aimed to get up to around 14,000 feet from where I would be able to sketch the peaks. It’s not a difficult climb, but I’d been unwell with a chest infection most of the winter, and climbing to high altitude with breathing problems was a pretty crazy thing to do. Interestingly there are many wild animals on the slopes of the mountain: buffalo, elephant, panthers, and possibly the occasional lion, so hiking with that lot round the corner could be quite an experience!

I set off with a guide called Wilson, a cook and porter named Chris and a second porter, Stanley. Apart from my chest ailment I was also suffering from Delhi Belly, which tended to weaken me. Day 2 was an especial struggle. It began badly when, as I was eating breakfast in a hut a monkey ran in and grabbed my pancake, egg and a slice of bread, and shot off, leaving a trail of breakfast debris behind him. As the mountain lies on the equator the daytime heat was overpowering and although I only carried a daysack it was really heavy with extra water, sketching gear and all sorts of other gear. Heavy rain on the second day made things worse and high up I had to make frequent stops. By then we were amongst the exotic plants, so I sketched many of these as I rested. Eventually we found a cave to stay overnight, and as it had its own amazing garden of exotic plants I could happily sketch away from the cave entrance.

 Day 3 dawned bright and clear but I was eating my breakfast before dawn for an early start. After setting off we soon encountered ice-glazed rock. Six am on Mount Kenya is a magical time to be climbing, even when you are functioning well below par and this was the most enjoyable part of the climb. Wilson was extremely knowledgeable and we made better progress in the cool of the early morning. A glorious blue sky was punctuated only by strings of mare’s-tails over the peaks which rose sharply in front of us as we climbed a rocky ridge. I then sketched quickly, well aware that by late morning those peaks were likely to disappear, and sure enough, much earlier than I expected the clouds rolled in – lovely wispy airy clouds, but still gradually blotting out the view. This was disappointing, but I’d had a great few hours before the clouds arrived, and although my sketches were not my best, I had achieved what I came here to paint.

I organised the trip through Mount Kenya Climbers, based in Naro Moru. Their contact address is  info@mtkenyaclimbers.co.ke  and my guide was Wilson Gatoto who is happy to arrange expeditions up many of East Africa’s mountains. His email address is   legohi@yahoo.com   Chris provided some excellent meals, but sadly I had little appetite. Stanley was a really cheerful and considerate fellow and as his daughter enjoyed art I gave him some paints, a brush and paper before I left. I did have further adventures with wildlife, but that’s another story…..