Many landscape painters love working on tranquil village scenes where time seems to stand still and locals engage in conversation. Here I am deviating from the traditional village composition to add a strong ingredient of atmosphere, drama and the sublime, for this village stands high on the very edge of a vast canyon in the mountains of Oman.
In this watercolour the morning mist cloaks the background mountains and subdues detail in the further parts of the village, in places aided by strong light bleaching out features so that they are only half-seen. Two figures stand near the centre, drawing the eye – you don’t need to make your figures large in order to emphasise the human aspect, but note how there is no detail behind them. This really makes them stand out. They stand at the edge of a sheer drop, thus dramatically creating a sensation of the sublime, a feeling of possible danger. While this latter sensation is rarely found in a British village you can still enhance such paintings with carefully considered atmosphere and even a little drama with the right lighting.
This painting is featured in my new book, Arabian Light, published this month by Search Press, and packed with paintings and sketches of my travels in the Middle East. Details of the book are on my website. The book will be launched at my exhibition in the Osborne Studio Gallery, at 2 Motcomb Street, London SW1X 8JU Telephone +44(0)20 7235 9667 The exhibition runs from 18th to 27th May and I will be in the gallery for much of 18th if you would like to pop in for a chat
Most of the time I find there is too much action happening and not enough talking – it’s great fun, but leaves little time for communicating, and there is not enough room in this blog to cover everything. I’ll have to leave my sketching adventures in Snowdonia of last week for the next blog.
On Sunday in Aberedw we had an event to raise money for the Ukrainian refugees. We are only a tiny village but we raised over £1,000 and will be trying to get another event organised soon in which I hope to be able to sell paintings in support of these unfortunate people. It’s hardly believable that this is happening in Europe in the 21st century, and sadly we have a pretty poor political representative locally, so I’ve been active in ruffling some political feathers as well.
As with Covid, it is amazing how art, like nature, can help us in wartime, whether to take our mind off the dangers of war, or perhaps cooling our anger at the appalling and brutal actions of dictators like Putin. With spring about to burst upon us it’s a good time to get out into the landscape. One of the things that causes many students problems is when trees are massed together. Trying to make sense of it all can seem unsurmountable at times.
In this section of a painting you will see the varying tones on the four blocks of conifers, the strength of tones suggesting a sense of depth in the scene, aided by a feeling of a misty day. It’s usually a good idea to include a bright colour amongst duller ones as you can see in the bottom centre. The light is coming from the left so the edges on the right-hand side of the trees have been kept soft, while those to the left are harder-edged where they are caught in the sunshine. The bright yellow foliage does not appear in the centre of the full painting as that would not be compositionally helpful.
My watercolour course in Builth Wells from 3rd to 8th April still has a few vacancies, and anyone who would like to join us on a non-residential basis will be welcome. The Caer Beris Manor Hotel will charge a modest fee for refreshments and hotel facilities, plus a tuition fee of £215. You can check the course information on my website and book the course with the hotel on 01982 552601 We shall be using the hotel ballroom as a studio this time, so there is plenty of room for us all to work and keep apart.
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!
Sketching moving objects can be quite dramatic, especially if it’s an enormous tank churning around in mud with bits of earth flying in all directions. Vehicles make for complicated subjects, and tanks are no exception, but when they are moving across rough ground they often throw up a lot of dirt, dust, smoke and all kinds of things that are very handy for losing parts of the vehicle and giving a strong impression of movement.
This sketch of a Soviet T-72 tank of the Cold War era was done with a 4B pencil. The cloud of dust behind it and the loss of detail in the lower wheel and track suggest movement. I’d already sketched one coming directly towards me as I tried to capture the sense of atmosphere and a fast-turning tank, but in this view I wanted to bring in more detail as it moved broadside on from my viewpoint. The advantage here was that it paused enough for me to render a lot of the detail before it resumed a steady progress to the right.
Simply suggesting some of the wheels helped to give a sense of a moving vehicle and of course it made my task easier. To indicate greater speed I would normally lose more detail at the rear, but here I wanted to include detail I might need later. Spattering more muck around at the rear would also emphasise this effect.
Whilst you may not wish to sketch in the middle of tank manoeuvres these points can help when you are painting a scene with moving tractors in a field, or excavators digging up your local green space, and it makes quite a change from a still life after weeks of lockdown!
I will be doing a free 45-minute online demo at 2pm on Tuesday 4th August which you are welcome to join in with your own painting at the same time – details are at https://www.shopkeeparty.com/artyclasses
and on Tuesday 11th March at 3.30 pm I will be doing an online watercolour masterclass details can be found at https://www.shopkeeparty.com/artyclasses Both will be live online so you’ll be able to ask questions.
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!