How do you cope when you are presented with a complicated scene such as a harbour full of boats of all colours and sizes? Beat a hasty retreat and look for a simpler subject? I love painting and sketching boats, and there’s always a way round the problem: you can leave out craft that don’t appeal, reduce their number, enlarge one so that it hides two or three others, or perhaps cast a dark shadow over the ones further away.
This is a watercolour I did of Oare Creek in Kent, a place crammed with lots of lovely craft, and although there seem to be a lot in the composition I did leave many more out. This is one of those works that doesn’t have just one centre of interest – there is a whole line of them! I do this sometimes as it makes quite a change, and some buyers do enjoy a mass of detail, and to get a sense of the place you do need to suggest that many boats line the creek, especially if working to commission.
On occasion in scenes like this I lay shadow across many of the boats, simply suggesting them, and highlight the main ones – the focal point – with strong lighting. If you wish to subdue one or two off-centre then just paint them in silhouette as I have done with the boat on the extreme right background. The masts and gulls were rendered with white gouache when everything else had been completed. If need be I create dark areas deliberately so that white gulls can be placed there and stand out. This is at fairly low tide so much of the mud-banks are revealed. To avoid too much monotony I have made some lighter and on the right bank splashed in some cadmium red to add interest. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford hot pressed, 140lb weight.
Now most of us are able to get outside do make the most of the summer days to find some new subjects. This is important not just from the point of view of finding new material to paint, but getting outdoors rejuvenates us and gets us away from the lethargic indoors syndrome that can deplete our enthusiasm for creating anything. There is nothing better than perching on a rock warmed by the sunshine, overlooking a stunning view while sipping a cappuccino as you sketch. I’ve been out there with my new Daniel Smith watercolour box of gorgeous half-pans lately, so it’s been a double pleasure!
It has been a chaotic year so far, making it difficult to find time to write even though there is so much to say. Coronavirus has made things even more difficult, of course, but we persevere. Thankfully, as artists we can beaver away at home on our paintings, but what can we do if we feel inspirationally challenged?
One way is to get out all those old paintings that have not worked. I have loads and sometimes go through them to see if I can use them in some way, or find just a part of the overall composition that might offer some hope. Over-painting with a weak glaze is a favourite technique, sometimes over part of the painting, sometimes over everything, and this can subdue parts you don’t like and at the same time highlight those parts you don’t touch.
I’m always looking for ways to improve paintings and often it can be fun working on old paintings, perhaps not taking it too seriously. One technique you might like to try is brightening up dull colours with Derwent Inktense pencils. Because they are so intense I work over colours such as a dull green with an Inktense light green or yellow as I have done in this small watercolour of a rustic cottage, and this has resulted in a much more pleasant scene with a sunnier accent than previously. Note also the sky – a very simple one, but because I used sodalite genuine, a strongly-granulating colour from Daniel Smith it still has impact even without any cloud detail. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford high white NOT paper which is absolutely great when you want to rough it about a little with extra rubbing with the Derwent pencils, for example. The paper can take quite a lot of punishment and I love working on it.
I’ll get back with more ideas shortly, so try to keep up the painting. Sadly all my workshops and demos have had to be cancelled until the end of July, including our great favourite, the Patchings Art Festival. The course in St Davids may well now be rescheduled for late August or early September, Coronavirus permitting, and I hope that the one at D’Alvaro in Spain in October will still be able to go ahead. Keep safe, and keep painting!
For the landscape painter grey is an extremely useful colour, often to set the mood, or equally importantly to provide a passage of quiet dullness that can be vital to make those exciting vibrant and perhaps bright colours stand out. In this scene of a stream in the New Forest, painted on Waterford NOT 140lb paper, I have used the superb Daniel Smith Lunar Blue to create the background, an exciting blue-grey colour that has interesting characteristics that may not at first sight be apparent. At it’s full strength as you can see on either side of the main tree-trunk where it defines the tops of the grasses, it reveals a powerful granulation, yet on the right-hand side where I have simply laid a weak wash of the same colour, there is no granulation. The stronger tone used, the more prominent become the granulations.
Daniel Smith have introduced a number of useful new greys into their collection recently and I’ve been trying out some of them. Alvaro’s Caliente grey is a lovely, warm grey which is quite dark at full strength, and is excellent for creating moody landscape backgrounds. The cooler Alvaro’s Fresco grey can inject a feeling of drama into a composition, for example if you may like to portray a cold sea or stormy sky, or simply cool shadows. The third grey I tried was Joseph Z’s neutral grey, a versatile colour that will be a welcome addition to the landscapist’s palette, again for creating moody scenes. All these greys can of course be modified by mixing, but one great advantage of these Daniel Smith greys is that the artist will already have a selection of interesting and varied greys without having to do any prior mixing, and in each case above the colours can produce a wide variety of tonal values.
I now have a number of paintings on display at Beaulieu Fine Arts, an excellent gallery with several rooms full of exciting and varied art. It’s a delightful spot to visit as you can also spend time exploring the New Forest, which is especially glorious in spring-time. The watercolour shown here is of a tranquil view of the river near Bucklers’ Hard, one of several local scenes I’ve painted. I have not neglected my wilder compositions, though, so you will find a mixture. In summer the massed greens can appear a little overwhelming, so I have introduced more grey into the further tree-clad ridges.
The gallery is at Manor House in High Street, Beaulieu, Hampshire, SO42 7YA and the telephone number is 01590 612089 Check out the website at www.beaulieufinearts.co.uk
I’ve just returned from an exciting trip to the Lebanon, returning with bagfuls of sketches. I encountered much dramatic mountain scenery, incredibly deep snow, amazing Roman ruins and not least so many kind and friendly people. And of course, the food was outstanding, and sometimes overwhelming, as when I went into an Iraqi restaurant for a lunchtime sandwich and ended up with seven courses – all at once!
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!