As landscape painters why are so many of us obsessed with bottoms? Why do we feel the compulsion to describe everything in minute detail? It’s not necessary and in fact detracts from the overall effect in a painting.
I have cut out some of this composition so that we can get in closer to view the relevant bits. Note the drystone wall on the left, the white walls of the buildings and the small gate immediately to the right of the barn, and how I have not rendered a definite bottom line in each case. By omitting this I have endeavoured to make the effect more natural. Usually I only paint in the top two or three bars of a five-bar field gate. You can see that for the right-hand hedgerow I have indeed given it a fairly distinctive bottom, probably a minor aberration when I was desperate for coffee! It’s not a great problem as it is in the distance and the bottom part of the hedgerow could be softened off with a damp brush.
So watch those bottoms as you’ll get a more natural effect if you keep them soft. Hard boundary lines around a feature can make it look cut-out, rather like a garish sticking plaster on a donkey’s ….er, bottom.
The watercolour was painted on the fabulous Saunders Waterford 200lb rough high white paper in order to make the most of the textures on the hillside.
It’s been almost impossible to do much painting or writing lately, thanks to a very happy event. On 22nd February my daughter Catherine gave birth to an absolutely gorgeous little daughter, so for the first time I am now a grandad. She goes by the name of Guinevere, and I can’t wait to paint her. She’s already had a trek across the mountains at around 10,000 feet in the Italian Dolomites, when Catherine was carrying her last July, and as you can see from the photograph she is obviously deep in artistic contemplation.
For my own contemplation I’m beginning to put together thoughts and images for my next book about coastal scenery, for which I have a whole host of new work from both the UK and abroad. My Arctic book will be coming out in June, so there will be more on that later on, but it’s important to keep thinking ahead when you work on various projects. The sea has always been one of my favourite subjects, and the coastal book will be the fourth and last in my current series of how-to-paint books.
Before I go, just a quick tip on painting those boaty things – you don’t always have to insert a complicated harbour background into the composition, or indeed any sort of complex background. In this watercolour sketch I have simply brought the atmospheric sky down to meet the sand, and left it at that. Just because something is there, you don’t have to include it!
And don’t forget – if you want to get views of a boat from all angles it pays to take along a pair of wellies before you dive into that lovely mud….
So often with landscape painting it is those less significant features that trip us up – that clump of grass in the foreground, or awkward blob of a hill in the background. Dealing with these is often best accomplished by reducing the item to a mere suggestion or hint to reduce their impact. This aspect of painting was recently brought to my attention by one of my blog-readers who was having trouble with river banks and reflections.
The painting I have chosen to illustrate this problem varies considerably from the photograph of Ian’s subject, but does hopefully answer some of the points raised. Where the farther left-hand bank abuts the sparkling part of the stream I have painted mainly yellow ochre, but dropping in some light green and red in places while the paint was still wet. When this area had dried I then modelled the sloping bank by working in the darker hollows with a mixture of something like cobalt blue and raw umber, softening off the darkness of the wash so that it left the original yellow ochre parts light at the top curve of the bank where it catches the light.
Notice the closer left-hand bank is darker, and this helps suggest depth. It’s fine to have part of the bank dark, caused by shadow, but best not to have the whole line of the bank in the same dark tone. You don’t have to paint it exactly as it appears, so introduce some lighter spots and stamp your own creativity on the work. With the field beyond the bank, keep this as a simple wash similar to that on the left side. If there are light or dark lines along the bottom of the bank where it meets the water then make this effect intermittent as it can intrude if taken all the way along the river.
The reflections in this scene were mirror-sharp in the placid foreground pool, but I wanted them to be less prominent and rendered them using the wet-in-wet method, dropping in dark reflections and then pulling out the light ones with a damp brush, but that is best left for a separate blog in the future. I used Saunders Waterford NOT paper for this watercolour.
Water is a devilishly difficult subject to paint, but when you get it right it really does make the painting sing!
Many folk ask why I didn’t use masking fluid in a demonstration painting where I needed to reserve white areas, and this is a constant source of concern to artists. Often the decision depends on how you feel about the use of the fluid, and in my case I normally only use it when there are intricate details in white, or a light tone.
In this detail of a watercolour of the old harbour at Fishguard I made quite extensive use of masking fluid on the roofs and chimneys, the clothesline, steps and white highlights on the water. This allowed me to brush the sky wash vigorously across the paper and over the tops of the roofs, and later to apply the dark washes over the harbour wall and steps and the background to the clothesline without having to fiddle. The same applied to the sparkling water where I used cobalt blue.
I sometimes work round these features to create the negative shapes, but this can make the background appear overworked or splotchy, and take away the freshness. However, developing your skills at negative painting is invaluable, and is an excellent alternative to masking fluid. You will notice in this painting that there are tiny white features such as gulls, masts and ropes hanging from the harbour wall. These were rendered with white gouache, as I prefer this where the feature is so thin that masking fluid can appear clumsy. Gouache is also really effective for tidying up bits that haven’t quite worked.
I hope you all have a great festive season, and maybe Santa has left you an arty treat in your stocking to help get you going again with your painting. I shall try and snatch a few moments in the great outdoors with my paintbrushes. May you have much success with your painting in 2017
Whatever medium you paint with, light is the all-important key. You can bathe your composition entirely in strong sunlight if you wish, but by restricting the brightest parts to one or two localised areas you will achieve more impact.
In this picture I have cut out a large part of the painting just to illustrate the advantages of the sort of effect you can achieve by concentrating the light into a small part of the composition. The turbulent sea gave sketching on the boat a refreshing spontaneity, although it was not long before it was not just the sea that was starting to turn a bit green……
Although I finished my book on the Scandinavian Arctic a while ago, I’ve been trying to catch up on so many things, so there’s been little time for blogging, especially with such a tremendous autumn that has tempted me out time after time. David Bellamy’s Arctic Light will be published in May 2017 by Search Press.
With winter with us once more try to get out to sketch those lovely winter trees whenever you can. Choose your days, wrap up well and if you have all your sketching gear ready to hand you can work quickly before you get too cold. I usually take a thermal travel mug with me as the drink will stay warm for ages, and is a great boost to morale when the sun disappears behind a cloud. My book Winter Landscapes in Watercolour is packed with tips on painting winter scenes, working outdoors in cool weather, and making the most of those warm colours, low lighting and evocative winter trees. You can find a copy on my website together with the film of the same name, which has some stunning winter scenery and was produced by APV Films.
On Wednesday 30th the Christmas exhibition begins at Lincoln Joyce Fine Art and the above painting (in full!) will be on display with several others. You will find the gallery at 40 Church Road, Great Bookham, Surrey KT23 3PW Tel. 01372 458481