Are you making the most of the stunning colours in the countryside at the moment? It’s a great time for getting out to capture one of nature’s most flamboyant periods with your camera, sketchbook or maybe even a full alfresco painting. Watch especially for those vivid colours backlit with strong sunlight that will simply leap off your watercolour paper. Birch trees can be especially rewarding when lit up by strong light, as white trunks and warm colours work together extremely well.
My watercolour of the River Wye in autumn on the left includes a great many trees (although this is not the entire painting), but the distant conifers have been left without detail to throw the emphasis onto the trees with autumn colouring. For these I have used new gamboge, cadmium yellow pale, cadmium red and some touches of cadmium orange, with French ultramarine with a touch of cadmium red for the far conifers. The painting was done several years ago, and since then my autumn palette has changed a little: I now use quinacridone gold, transparent red oxide, Aussie red gold and cadmium red in the Daniel Smith watercolour range, as these colours fairly sing out. In the painting note that the trees on the extreme edges of the painting have been kept fairly dull. This is to throw the emphasis onto the brighter trees and to avoid drawing the eye towards those edges.
While the sun doesn’t always oblige us when we need it, don’t forget that autumn scenes can benefit from a little rain, wind and mist – elements most artists prefer to keep at a distance. Rain produces puddles which can be used to reflect these vibrant colours, and if followed by a sunny spell the result can be magical as the scene glistens and sparkles. Mist can throw the emphasis onto a small group of interesting trees and obscure the rest, and wind, that bane of all landscape artists, can send clouds of leaves hurtling through the air. To include a few of these suggests a lovely sense of a windy day. Make the most of these moments as they can add so much authenticity to your work.
You will find further tips and examples on painting autumn scenes in my book David Bellamy’s Winter Landscapes, published by Search Press. It contains a chapter on the subject which is a preliminary to working on winter paintings. Signed copies are available at www.davidbellamy.co.uk
One of the joys of going away on holiday is the anticipation of exciting things to come, and one of the joys of being a professional artist is that this sort of thing is classified as ‘work.’ Whether you are professional or amateur you can still get a real kick in preparing for these exciting moments, and I do recommend that you give some consideration as to how you are going to tackle all this excitement with your methods, materials and choice of approach to the various subjects you have in mind.
This alfresco watercolour of Malcesine on Lake Garda was a demonstration for a painting group. Before flying to Italy I had decided that I would be using pen and wash for some of the lake scenes and limiting my use of colours. For this scene I decided on a palette of cool blues – mainly cobalt blue, with warm colours concentrated on the main features and the centre of interest, ie, the town itself. The warm colours were mainly light red, cadmium red, yellow ochre and quinacridone gold. This approach really does make the buildings stand out.
Because of the intense heat and the fact that I had to use Waterford hot pressed paper to accommodate the pen I had to work fast as the washes dried incredibly quickly. The smooth hot pressed paper tends to dry quicker than a not or rough surface. The pen I used was a fine-tipped sanguine colour to complement the warm-coloured buildings. I did not use it on the mountain features. This lends itself to creating a more unified result.
I’m afraid the reproduction is not first-class as it was photographed by a camera and not scanned at home, but it does give you an idea of the sort of methods you can try out, and not just while you are on holiday, of course. It always pays to think out how you wish to tackle the type of subject matter you will encounter on holiday, and ensure that you have all the right materials to work with.
As landscape painters why are so many of us obsessed with bottoms? Why do we feel the compulsion to describe everything in minute detail? It’s not necessary and in fact detracts from the overall effect in a painting.
I have cut out some of this composition so that we can get in closer to view the relevant bits. Note the drystone wall on the left, the white walls of the buildings and the small gate immediately to the right of the barn, and how I have not rendered a definite bottom line in each case. By omitting this I have endeavoured to make the effect more natural. Usually I only paint in the top two or three bars of a five-bar field gate. You can see that for the right-hand hedgerow I have indeed given it a fairly distinctive bottom, probably a minor aberration when I was desperate for coffee! It’s not a great problem as it is in the distance and the bottom part of the hedgerow could be softened off with a damp brush.
So watch those bottoms as you’ll get a more natural effect if you keep them soft. Hard boundary lines around a feature can make it look cut-out, rather like a garish sticking plaster on a donkey’s ….er, bottom.
The watercolour was painted on the fabulous Saunders Waterford 200lb rough high white paper in order to make the most of the textures on the hillside.
It’s been almost impossible to do much painting or writing lately, thanks to a very happy event. On 22nd February my daughter Catherine gave birth to an absolutely gorgeous little daughter, so for the first time I am now a grandad. She goes by the name of Guinevere, and I can’t wait to paint her. She’s already had a trek across the mountains at around 10,000 feet in the Italian Dolomites, when Catherine was carrying her last July, and as you can see from the photograph she is obviously deep in artistic contemplation.
For my own contemplation I’m beginning to put together thoughts and images for my next book about coastal scenery, for which I have a whole host of new work from both the UK and abroad. My Arctic book will be coming out in June, so there will be more on that later on, but it’s important to keep thinking ahead when you work on various projects. The sea has always been one of my favourite subjects, and the coastal book will be the fourth and last in my current series of how-to-paint books.
Before I go, just a quick tip on painting those boaty things – you don’t always have to insert a complicated harbour background into the composition, or indeed any sort of complex background. In this watercolour sketch I have simply brought the atmospheric sky down to meet the sand, and left it at that. Just because something is there, you don’t have to include it!
And don’t forget – if you want to get views of a boat from all angles it pays to take along a pair of wellies before you dive into that lovely mud….
So often with landscape painting it is those less significant features that trip us up – that clump of grass in the foreground, or awkward blob of a hill in the background. Dealing with these is often best accomplished by reducing the item to a mere suggestion or hint to reduce their impact. This aspect of painting was recently brought to my attention by one of my blog-readers who was having trouble with river banks and reflections.
The painting I have chosen to illustrate this problem varies considerably from the photograph of Ian’s subject, but does hopefully answer some of the points raised. Where the farther left-hand bank abuts the sparkling part of the stream I have painted mainly yellow ochre, but dropping in some light green and red in places while the paint was still wet. When this area had dried I then modelled the sloping bank by working in the darker hollows with a mixture of something like cobalt blue and raw umber, softening off the darkness of the wash so that it left the original yellow ochre parts light at the top curve of the bank where it catches the light.
Notice the closer left-hand bank is darker, and this helps suggest depth. It’s fine to have part of the bank dark, caused by shadow, but best not to have the whole line of the bank in the same dark tone. You don’t have to paint it exactly as it appears, so introduce some lighter spots and stamp your own creativity on the work. With the field beyond the bank, keep this as a simple wash similar to that on the left side. If there are light or dark lines along the bottom of the bank where it meets the water then make this effect intermittent as it can intrude if taken all the way along the river.
The reflections in this scene were mirror-sharp in the placid foreground pool, but I wanted them to be less prominent and rendered them using the wet-in-wet method, dropping in dark reflections and then pulling out the light ones with a damp brush, but that is best left for a separate blog in the future. I used Saunders Waterford NOT paper for this watercolour.
Water is a devilishly difficult subject to paint, but when you get it right it really does make the painting sing!