David Bellamy – Getting in the mood for painting

 It’s really heart-breaking to see some of the problems besetting the world at the moment, which put into perspective my frustrations at not being able to travel. In many ways we are seeing the best and the worst of humanity, and we wonder how it will all end. While art is giving so many people a great relief from all this misery, I know some artists are finding it difficult to concentrate on painting at the moment.

If you are finding it hard to get going then consider doing a few minutes of quiet meditation before you begin to think about what you would like to paint. I am not an expert on meditation but I do sometimes retire to a quiet spot – usually the studio – where I visualise myself back in some of the lovely locations I’ve explored and sketched, doing this for 5 or 10 minutes, helping to get myself in the mood. You may like to try it with some gentle music, or even some more lively stuff if you wish. When I do this I often start dancing and swinging the brush around more vigorously and my audience starts to get nervous at this spectacle – when I go out to the studio in the morning I am greeted raucously by them, the adulating noise often being terrific as I open the door. This is especially loud if I am carrying a bag, as the sheep think I’ve got food for them!

I’ve put together another scene for you to paint from if you wish, and I will show you my version in about ten to 14 days’ time. This scene is Llyn Mymbyr in Snowdonia, with the Plas y Brenin Mountain Centre just left of centre. You can leave the building out if you wish, just show the trees at that point. My painting will be from slightly to the right, and will include a crag descending into the right-hand side of the lake as shown in the second photograph.

Unfortunately my photographs are not filed with any precision, so I often struggle to find suitable matches, unless I’ve only recently done the painting. It takes quite some time to organise one of these mini projects. Working from more than one photograph or sketch is common and helps us introduce additional features like these crags, so this is a good exercise. Try to introduce more light and colour into the work, as the scene as it stands is rather dull, and feel free to change the tonal values where you feel this would enhance your composition.

If you don’t feel up to producing a full painting at the moment then try little sketches or small vignettes, perhaps simple experimenting with one or two techniques. Stay safe!

David Bellamy – Painting a backlit scene in watercolour

  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.

Stay safe and keep painting!

David Bellamy – Making Still Life more interesting

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The weather continues to be glorious sunshine every day, as though mocking us in our state of lockdown, though even a brief sojourn into the garden can lift our spirits immensely. One genre of painting that is so pertinent in our current situation is, of course, still life. Did I hear a groan? Yes, I’m afraid the thought of painting apples and oranges in a bowl doesn’t exactly set me alight, so when I had to include still life in my Complete Guide to Watercolour Painting many years ago, I really had to rack my brains. My answer was to look for still life subjects based on my hobbies and interests. Ice climbing was one of my interests and when I came across an ancient ice axe and snow shoes in a French refuge I made a sketch of them hanging on a wall.

    As you can see, I’ve lost parts of the snow-shoe rims in order to emphasise other parts. For the book I’d painted a snowy mountain background, but here I wanted to show up the ice-axe much larger. When doing the original sketch I didn’t have much control over the lighting, but if you have the object before you then you can adjust the lighting to create highlights in the right places. If you are a gardener you may like to depict a spade or trowel, or maybe a wheelbarrow. Balls of wool make colourful subjects, perhaps accompanied by knitting apparatus, while fishing reels, old worn-out boots, favourite hats, model ships and the like, and so much more can make challenging objects to paint or draw.

    Many thanks for all your best wishes and comments. Try to keep painting and being creative. Check out the online community of The Artist and Leisure Painter magazines at www.painters-online.co.uk where you’ll get a host of help and ideas. Please note that if you order anything from our shop at the moment there might be a slight delay owing to the current situation. The next blog will feature my painting of the subject I set on the previous blog. Stay safe!

David Bellamy – Travelling the World during Coronavirus

 I’ve just returned from wonderful times in Egypt and Yemen this week, immersing myself in fabulous scenery, although I’m afraid it’s all in the mind, as they are places that I’ve been painting, not actually visiting! That’s one of the marvellous advantages of being an artist – you can transport yourself to anywhere for a while, and I’m especially glad that at the moment I’m working on a book on the Middle East, and enjoying every moment, with so many memories flooding back.

    Given our unremitting lockdown I thought you might like a little exercise to do over the Easter holiday. This is where I show you a photograph of a landscape scene and invite you to paint it. In about a week’s time I will then show you how I tackled it. Don’t worry, you’re not expected to get the result like mine as we all have different ways of working and even hundreds of ways of producing a different painting of the scene can still all be right. The idea is to stimulate innovation and inspire you to put your own slant on the composition.

    The scene is Carn Llidi in North Pembrokeshire with the foreground in strong sunshine, but with a dull band behind the buildings to two-thirds up the peak. That dark band is extremely useful as it highlights the buildings. It covers a slope covered mainly in bracken, with some grass showing in places. In summer it is very green and in autumn the bracken becomes a definite light red colour. Move elements around to suit yourself, and for this it would be good to start with a small thumbnail sketch to ascertain where you want to place these elements. Then think about the sky treatment and the sort of mood you wish to convey: sunny, stormy, tranquil, warm evening light, or whatever appeals. Will you leave out some of the features? What will you do with the foreground hedgerow? Most importantly what will be your centre of interest? I’m afraid the small scale of this photo will not show much detail, but this can be an advantage, stopping any fiddling.

    Have a go at this composition if you wish and I’ll show my version in a week’s time. In the meantime I wish you a happy and peaceful Easter. Stay safe and enjoy any worldwide travels you do in the next few days……….in your paintings, of course!

David Bellamy – Liberate your painting with scraps of paper

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!