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!

Using counterchange to good effect

With the current heatwave hitting the British Isles I reckon it’s rather nice to remind ourselves of those lovely cooling days of English drizzle. I’ve been working on sunny landscapes recently and will feature some in future blogs, but for the moment I’d like to discuss counterchange, an interesting feature that someone brought up recently.

Hackney

Counterchange in a landscape scene is a very effective way of adding interest to a passage or solving a tonal problem. At its simplest it could be a change in tone across a ridge, hill, forest, mountain, or any background mass to create a tonal range running from light on one side to dark on the other, while at the same time adjusting the sky in a similar way so that the dark part of the sky stands against the light part of the hill, and vice versa. In this watercolour of a cobbled street in Hackney you can see I’ve used the method vertically on the right-hand wall just to the right of the lampost.

In this instance I’ve included it for interest rather than to solve a problem. Where the method is extremely useful in solving a tonal problem can be, for example, where you have a house with a light-coloured wall set against a dark background: if the roof is dark it will get lost in the dark background, and if it is light it will lose itself against the light wall. By laying a graduated wash over the roof, darker at the bottom and graduating to a lighter top where the roof abuts the darker background, you can thus make both top and bottom of the roof stand out, thus causing a counterchange effect using the graduated wash. One of the most simple examples of counterchange can often be found on telegraph poles or winter tree-trunks where they show up light against dark vegetation at the bottom, and dark against the bright sky at the top, depending on the light of course.

This particular painting is featured in my Skies, Light & Atmosphere book available on my website with a special offer package of book and DVD, available only from the site or my demonstrations. Don’t forget to watch out for these effects in the natural landscape when you are out and about. You can learn a lot even without your painting or sketching gear!