Once again, autumn is with us, and the opportunity to indulge in bright, warm colours in our landscape paintings. This time last year I found the striking colours in the Bavarian Alps absolutely mind-blowing, with every day in brilliant sunshine.
This scene shows a track leading to Little Langdale in the English Lake District. I was lucky at the time to encounter snow on the distant fells, and this accentuated the bright colours of the right-hand small tree. For this I used two of my favourite Daniel Smith colours – Aussie red gold, which was applied first and when this was dry I added transparent red oxide. These two work extremely well for autumn scenes. The dark ridge in the middle distance was rendered with Moonglow, another useful colour, and in places I have pulled out the colour with a small sable to indicate lighter patches.
The painting is reproduced in my Landscapes Through the Seasons in Watercolour book, signed copies of which are available from my website
Watch out for those autumn colours and make sure you are armed with the right colours……..and if you get some snow as well, then that’s a great bonus!
A few weeks ago I received an interesting query about how one determines what colours to use in response to a landscape. I could write a book on this fascinating subject, but I’ll try to answer that as best I can in this limited space and perhaps follow it up with an article on the subject later.
In some of the practical art books I read during my early days we were warned against relying too much on the colours in photographs taken of landscapes as the colour reproduction was often unrealistic, and it was best to work from the landscape first-hand to achieve the precise colours in the scene. This approach, however, adopts the premise that we simply want to copy exactly what is in front of us, and to blazes with any of our own artictic creativity. In our paintings we are not trying to emulate photography.
In this painting the topographical features and buildings are fairly faithful to the scene, but the colours could not be much more different to what was actually present on this occasion. I have grossly romanticised the colours with mauves, orange, alizarin and other colours for both sky and land, and created a glimmer on the water. JMW Turner likewise used colour on many occasions for its emotional power, rather than sticking to what was before him, much to his contemporaries’ astonishment. Colour is closely bound to mood and emotion, so much thought should be given to your proposed palette before you begin painting.
You may wish to take a less romanticised approach, but even so it is perfectly legitimate to alter the colours from the original scene. Colours are affected by the weather, light, seasons and a host of other factors. For example, one day a field can be a pale green perhaps, and the next when the farmer has cut the hay it can be a distinct Naples yellow. Fields get ploughed up and lighten in tone and colour when the dry out, and I have seen a cottage roof change in brilliant sunshine from black to the most brilliant gleaming whiteness after a shower of rain followed by more sunshine. I often change a field by the centre of interest from a dull green to a shimmering yellow to draw the eye in, and perhaps do the opposite to the landscape at the edges of the composition so that it doesn’t draw the eye away from the centre of interest.
Landscapes are commonly overwhelmed with greens, but if you try to copy every green you can see you will be ovewhelmed, and the result can look chaotic. What may look right in reality or a photograph simply may not work in a painting. We need to interpret colour as much as we need to do so with other aspects of a scene. Choose a maximum of three or four greens. Variegate them by dropping in other colours while they are still wet, but also consider changing them for a totally different colour. I’ve even seen red grasses out there, so you have quite a range to choose from!
OK, but what if you see a colour out there that you really like, and want to replicate? Study it carefully and experiment with as many colour mixes as you can in an effort to achieve a decent result, but you need to do this on separate paper, not on the composition you are working with. If it’s still not working touch in a third colour into the mix. Another way is to take out colour swatches of various greens (or whatever colour you wish to relicate) and try to match one as close as possible to what excites you, noting whether it is darker, lighter, warmer, cooler, more or less intense, and so on. Back at home you can then experiment further and study other artists’ work to see if they have created a similar colour, and by which mixtures have they achieved the result.
I hope this helps. I’ve recently returned from Cornwall where I ran a course organised by Alpha Painting Holidays. Matthew not only organised a great location, but also organised some truly wild weather which brought us some amazingly dramatic seascapes with huge breaking waves. It was great fun.
I have a zoom demonstration on Saturday 24th September at 12.30 pm in conjunction with Patchings Art Centre, so do please join us if you can. It’s free and will last one hour. I shall be demonstrating coastal scenery, and the link is as follows:
Where I live we are blessed with countless streams and waterfalls tumbling down the hills and mountains, and I like nothing better than to wander beside a mountain stream with sketchbook, well away from the hurly-burly of life. One mountain stream is worth far more than a thousand mental health quacks for our well-being. In my short demonstration painting last week on the Shopkeeparty site I painted a mountain stream on a misty day, as seen below, and on Thursday 13th will be doing a much longer, more considered workshop on the site.
In the painting I aimed to lose much of the mountain and its detail in background mist, using the wet-in-wet technique, pulling out some of the colour on the left-hand buttresses with a damp brush to suggest light catching the boiler-plate slabs of rock. This was accentuated when the paper had dried by painting in the left-hand buttress which contrasts the softer-edged wet-in-wet approach used on the right-hand one. The central group of conifers was also painted wet-in-wet so that a real sense of distance was created when the dark-tones trees on the left were added. Notice on the cascade how the rocks are placed with hard edges at the tops and soft ones where the rocks rise out of the tumbling water.
Next Thursday at 3.30pm I will be running a 2 to 3- hour workshop on painting a waterfall with sunlight and autumn colours, and you are welcome to join me. I shall be showing you how to tackle many fascinating features:
how to introduce striking light effects
creating effective rock structures
making the most of exciting autumn colours
the magic of wet-in-wet passages
how to capture the energy of falling water
the importance of lost and found edges …..and so much more!
Amazingly, even during these periods of lockdown there is just not enough time to get everything done, and it’s not just because I am putting exercise as a priority. The weather has not been helpful lately, with an inordinate amount of wind and rain. Trying to film a demonstration watercolour on the moors recently out of the wind, was a real struggle. It affects the microphone badly, so I needed some shelter. Having found a reasonable spot I began the watercolour and then found the washes icing up on the paper – it was far colder than I’d realised, and well below zero. I hope to get it organised before long.
In the meantime I did an online workshop about ten days ago on Shopkeepeasy, featuring a mountain bothy. With only 45 minutes it is quite a challenge to complete the painting, which is shown above after I’ve included a few little embellishments such as a little detail on the prominent rock pinnacle, some detail on the buildings, touches in the foreground and the addition of some smoke from the chimney. There are several ways of creating smoke even as an afterthought, and in this case I scraped it out gently with a scalpel. You need to be careful with this method of course, but it is useful if other methods fail. Sometimes if you have used staining colours around the chimney it is almost impossible to pull out any colour to form even a wisp of smoke, so this technique does have its uses. You can see the demo on https://youtu.be/tSwuMvH9WQY
On Thursday 25th February I have a further online workshop with Shopkeepeasy where I will be demonstrating a mountain farm. You will be shown how to create a sense of place, bringing in local character to enhance your landscapes, how to blend in the sky with misty mountain peaks in the background, introducing rogue colours that are not actually in the scene but will give it a lift, creating a semi-abstract foreground, and much more. You can obtain details from the above link.
Hopefully, with the onset of the vaccination programme we’ll be able to travel safely once again, before long, and once more be able to take part in courses on location. In the meantime, keep painting!
I had hoped that Covid-19 would have slowed things down and given me much more time to catch up on those jobs that have been abandoned over the years, but I seem to be as busy as ever. I still ensure that I get out more into the hills and have plenty of exercise, as I strongly feel this helps the creative juices as well as one’s well-being.
We’ve enjoyed some amazing skies lately – beautiful, billowing cumulus clouds have been a stunning feature of the last few days, and it’s an excellent opportunity to sketch and photograph cloudscapes to use in your landscape paintings. I rarely paint a scene depicting the sky that happened on that particular day, as they don’t often make an exciting composition. I prefer to think about the mood that would fit that particular scene and then the kind of sky that might work best with that mood. Usually there are several options with completely different effects, allowing you to paint the same subject several times, each with a widely varying result.
This watercolour is of Volquart Boonsland seen in evening light from across the polynya at Scoresbysund. It was a beautiful, tranquil Arctic evening, though intensely cold. In the painting my aim was to recreate the moment, that lovely period of tranquility, where there is utter peace completely shut off from a mad world. To achieve this mood I treated the sky with the emphasis on horizontal layers of cloud, with the light coming in from the right.
The painting is currently featured in my article on painting exciting skies in the Summer 2020 issue of Leisure Painter magazine where it explains how I rendered the sky, and can also be seen in my book Arctic Light. Try doing quick, simple studies of skies, and if you are house-bound then this is something you should be able to do from your windows, as the Impressionists did when they didn’t relish going out in the depths of winter. Set up a comfortable chair by the window in readiness for the next batch of exciting clouds to sally forth.