I missed doing an intended blog last week as I had three short videos to produce in connection with the forthcoming Patchings Virtual Art Festival next week. It starts on July 9th which was the intended date for the original festival, and you can find information on www.patchingsartcentre.co.uk Of the other two videos I made, one was for Painters Online at www.painters-online.co.uk run by Leisure Painter and The Artist magazines, and this shows ten tips I’ve put together for landscapists, while the third one was for Search Press which you can find on www.searchpress.com and this features a number of my crazy anecdotes on sketching expeditions. All three videos are quite different and I hope you enjoy them.
You’ve had to wait a little longer than intended for my version of Llyn Mymbyr, so here is my effort together with the two photographs shown in the earlier blog:
This is the original scene that shows afternoon light catching the Plas y Brenin Mountain Centre buildings on the far side of the lake. As some interesting crags dropped into the water to the right of this composition I wanted to include them in the painting and illustrate how I go about bringing two visual sources of reference together for one painting.
This is the shot of the crags to the right of the above view, though it’s in shadow, a common problem when we are working outdoors, but it’s easy enough to bring two prints together and even better when you have a sketch as well. Getting these to fuse together on a laptop for the purpose of showing you, however, is not so easy for a non-tech neanderthal……..
In my version I have reduced the buildings so that interest is focused on the craggy peak, Clogwyn Mawr, which I’ve featured in strong evening light, while bringing in some mist behind the line of trees. I often change the atmosphere of a scene completely, and that really is my main lesson here: you don’t need to paint the scene as you see it, but as you would like to see it. Try small versions as studio sketches before you make a start on the painting. There are so many different ways of tackling a scene with a variety of moods and seasonal changes. Enjoy your 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.
Some of the simplest watercolours can have the most impact, and one of my favourites in this category is a watercolour sketch done of the Middim Khola river in Nepal, carried out at speed.
Most of this was done with a mixture of French ultramarine and cadmium red, with burnt umber replacing the red for the closer, stronger tones, and closer in the foreground and right-hand trees I have also dropped in some yellow ochre. The strong backlighting eliminated most detail and created a powerful sense of a series of tones that automatically suggested a vast space. Here and there I have deliberately lost the edges of ridges and the shorelines of the river, and emphasised others. Evenings are a good time to capture this sort of effect with backlighting, which also creates a sparkling effect of water. If you are working directly from the scene try painting a monochrome as it is quicker and you can capture the effects before they disappear!
This sketch was carried out during a painting expedition when I took a group of painters trekking in the Himalayas. That morning we had descended from some considerable height and one of our more elderly artists was missing as we sat on the banks of the river for lunch. I wasn’t too worried as she had a Sherpa allocated to look after her full-time, but we waited in expectation of her arrival. She wore a large distinctive white hat and when I gazed up at the mountain we’d descended I suddenly caught sight of what I assumed was her hat coming out of the trees like a bat out of hell. I couldn’t believe it, as she would never have been able to move at such speed, so I grabbed my binoculars and focused them on the hat.
Sure enough, it was our missing artist, hurtling down the mountainside at astonishing speed. She was actually sitting piggy-back style on the back of the diminutive little Sherpa and he was running down the mountain! These little fellows are incredible, and he was quite a bit smaller than our artist friend. They then disappeared into more trees and about fifteen minutes later came sauntering side-by-side out of the bushes on the far side of the river. There were many tales on that trip and it was quite tough for many, but they all relished the experience of a lifetime.
One of the after-dinner features of many of my painting courses has been Bellamy’s Bedtime Stories which developed after requests from students, and I’ve been asked if I can include some of these into the blogs. Robert, one of my students who is sadly no longer with us, had a delightful mischievous streak and asked me to literally tear into his painting at the final critique. He’d painted it especially for the purpose and he was a good painter. With the group gathered I began with Robert’s work, explaining what a marvellous rendition of the subject he’d made, but I didn’t like the right-hand side, so to everyone’s horror I tore a 3-inch vertical strip off the paper and declared that that was much better. However, I then pointed out that it was slightly unbalanced and that we needed to remove the top part of the sky, and so tore another strip off. By now many in the group were eyeing their own paintings piled up on the table and wondering whether they should rescue them.
I continued with a denigration of the over-worked foreground (which was actually well done!), and with a severe frown announced that much of that would have to go as well. By now the painting was less than half its original size. I found a particularly “revolting” passage and tore that off, continuing in that way until the whole thing was reduced to the size of a large postage stamp, at which point I declared it was a truly outstanding work of art. Many of the students were in the know and the non-painting partners found it rather entertaining. I no longer do such severe appraisals, but while Robert was with us anything could happen. We do miss him greatly.
How did you get on with the scene of Carn Llidi? I promised in an earlier blog I would show you my version which you can see below. I decided to work mainly in greys with spots of colour here and there, darkening the sky to highlight the peak. The buildings were pushed nearer to the peak and stand out against the strong darks immediately behind. The telegraph pole was achieved with white gouache which I have also used to scrub in to add interest in places. The foreground is almost abstract with stony shapes and splashes of reds and ochres. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford rough paper which I find superb for creating textural effects. The original photograph shows how much I have altered the scene. Of course there are an infinite number of ways to respond to a subject – there is no one ‘right’ way, but my aim here was to stimulate a different way of looking at a scene and also to encourage you to look at your sketches and photographs with a view to trying all sorts of approaches, perhaps even trying five or six completely different ways to paint a scene.
I often find that when I’m testing a wash or new colour on a scrap of watercolour paper that I produce some marvellous results, yet when I try to repeat the exercise in a proper painting it often falls far short of what I hope will happen. So why not try to capitalise on this perversity by now and then painting on a piece of scrap paper that you might otherwise throw away? This little watercolour was painted on a discarded piece of 300lb Saunders Waterford rough paper 9 inches by 4.5 inches, and I loved every moment painting it. With such a small, insignificant size you tend to lose any inhibitions, and it’s certainly a liberating feeling, as you feel you have nothing to lose even if you make themost astounding mess!
One of the main features I love is the soft wet-in-wet reflections in the water below the cottage. These were achieved by wetting the area of the water below the building and out as far as the central boats, leaving it for a few minutes to start drying, and then applying the dark green-grey reflections of the massed trees into the wet area, leaving the part directly below the cottage as white paper. At this stage it’s vital to watch how the dark reflections creep outwards as though they deliberately want to annoy you. With a damp – a really ‘thirsty’ brush (a number 6 round brush is usually fine for this) – pull out any of the dark colour that edges its way beyond where the reflections should appear. You may need to do this more than once.
This painting appears in my Seas & Shorelines in Watercolour book, recently published by Search Press, which not only covers a really wide variety of coastal scenery and features, but is also crammed with sky treatments of all kinds that you should find useful for adopting in your own work. Signed copies are available via my website ….and don’t forget to make full use of those bits of scrap paper lying around!