I love exploring quiet estuaries, well away from the hubub of modern life, where all you may hear is the haunting cry of the occasional curlew, and to sit sketching the scene as twilight begins can be a memorable experience. Often at such times the colours are reduced and it is easier to get a moody effect, though having to work quickly before darkness descends can induce mistakes. I generally begin with a few quick photographs of the scene at a variety of exposure settings, and then launch into the sketch. Photographs are helpful to back up your sketches and having several at different exposures where there is a strong lighting contrast will give you a better chance of producing a result that is closer to what you actually see with the eye.
In this watercolour I have added birds, with the closer one acting as the centre of interest. A hint of sparkle on the water was achieved by drybrushing a light grey wash across the central areas. The large white parts are simply white paper, but where I went too far with the paint I have scratched out highlights with a scalpel, mainly to the right of the white water. The paper is Saunders Waterford High White, Rough 300lb
This painting, with several others is now on show at Beaulieu Fine Arts, in Beaulieu High Street on the edge of the New Forest, postcode SO42 7YA. See www.beauliefinearts.co.uk or telephone 01590 612089
The painting is also featured in my new book, Seas & Shorelines in Watercolour, which is doing extremely well, and even those who have no intention of painting the sea will benefit, as it includes a wide variety of skies, buildings, rocks, cliffs, figures and birds, as well as some exquisite daubs of mud! For more information see my website. Now that summer is here I hope you are all getting out with your paints – make the most of it.
I will be giving a talk and demonstration at The Galtres Centre, in the Market Place at Easingwold on Friday 26th April, and you are welcome to come and have a chat. The theme will be “Wild Serengeti” and I will be covering encounters and sketching with African wildlife. The event starts at 7.30 pm and for those using satnav the postcode is YO61 3AD. For tickets and information please ring the Galtres Centre on 01347 822472
The scene shows wildebeeste startled by a lion during the annual pilgrimage across the Serengeti, when the line of wildebeeste runs from one end of the horizon to the other. The lion watched them with indifference, probably having eaten so many he couldn’t face any more for a while! I enjoy working on a narrative like this, where there is more than just the visual image. To make the main animals stand out I deliberately simplified the ground directly behind them. Fast movement is depicted not just by blurring the legs slightly and placing them in running positions, but also by the angle and attitude of the body. This is at its clearest in the two beasts 3rd and 4th from the left, where they are moving away from the viewer and their bodies are slightly leaning over to the left as they turn away. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford 140lb rough paper.
Some folk may wonder why I don’t use Facebook, even though there is an account in my name (which I don’t use). I find it almost impossible as I live quite an action-packed life with little time to spare – in fact I don’t paint so often these days because 21st-century life just is too demanding of one’s time. Technology is supposed to make life easier for us, but I find it just adds an extra burden, being so incredibly slow and error-prone. It’s much greater fun to be out in the wilds or at least brandishing the old-fashioned paintbrush somewhere nice and remote.
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!
I have to confess that I’ve neglected this blog lately as I’ve been away enjoying the highlands of Scotland in one of the most beautiful periods of sunshine. As well as climbing some of the peaks I also found myself drawn towards the stunning coastline, and with a combination of light mist and strong sunshine, day after day brought heavenly opportunities for the landscape artist.
One of the sketches I did was of the rugged west coast as shown on the right. Here I used a 5B pencil on a cartridge pad. Most of the horizon was lost in mist, so I only hinted at it on the right. With the sun providing such strong backlighting the rocks stood out dark, with their tops catching the light, as were the areas of beach. For the sparkling water I have simply dotted the area in question, and this can be moved to suit my needs when I carry out the final painting.
A scene like this can look a little desolate without some form of life, so I would introduce bird life or maybe a small boat into a painting. A cormorant stood on a rocky promontory well to the right, and in a nearby beach a number of waders were at work on the wet sand so it would be easy enough to introduce any of these to this scene, perhaps with a strip of sand in the case of the waders. The sand would also break up the monotony of wall-to-wall stones and pebbles in the foreground.
I enjoyed every moment I lingered in this delightful spot. Nature washes away all the stresses of life, and for me always injects a tremendous energy into my work. If you go out into the landscape it will always have a lesson for you, without fail. As someone with a deep love for the natural environment I have always treasured my visits to the Highlands, but for how much longer I don’t know. With the encroach of massed wind turbines across some of Scotland’s most iconic landscapes they will before long be submerged in a ghastly industrial mess. Even if the turbines were effective and didn’t involve highly toxic manufacture, didn’t decimate the bat and raptor population, didn’t pose a considerable threat to human health, they should still be kept out of these overwhelmingly beautiful landscapes for which Scotland is (at the moment) world-renowned. As they are primarily a means of making vast profits for corporations, political parties and even many so-called ‘green’ organisations, it is little short of criminal what is happening in Scotland and Wales. Please go and see these marvellous landscapes before they are decimated, and see for yourself what is happening to one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
Animals can make superb centres of interest in a composition whether they are wild or domestic. Like the landscape itself, if you include animals they do benefit enormously from good lighting conditions. I take every opportunity to sketch and photograph animals not only in good positions, but when they are bathed in good lighting or atmosphere. In that way I build up a reservoir of various features – not just animals – that can be added into a composition where I feel it is needed.
The illustration shows part of a watercolour in which the cows were added from another scene. The whites on the animals are important in suggesting light, and these have been achieved by leaving the paper white, as with the house. After all the markings on the animals had been rendered and allowed to dry I applied the shadows with a mixture of French ultramarine with a touch of cadmium red. Painting this in after the markings tends to soften the effect. Note the underbelly of the right-hand cow has a slight touch of Naples yellow placed while it was still wet, to suggest reflected light bouncing back up off the ground.
As well as appearing in my latest book, Winter Landscapes in Watercolour,this painting is one of several that I’ve just delivered to the Erwood Station Craft Centrein the beautiful upper Wye Valley about six miles south of Builth Wells. It’s a delightful spot to stop for refreshments and check out the crafts. At the moment there are some lovely wool products and pottery to tempt you, and with Christmas coming it’s a great place to get those special gifts that can be so difficult to find. They also stock all my books. For further information give them a ring on 01982 560674 It’s quite likely that you’ll also spot the odd cow around, so don’t forget to bring along your sketchbook.