Making life easy for ourselves isn’t really the done thing in painting – we do love striving to find the most complicated and difficult way of producing a painting. In my new book, David Bellamy’s Seas & Shorelines in WatercolourI have outlined a number of ways to simplify and ease our ways of working, from basic use of French curves and rulers to mono-printing and highlighting alternative ways to cope with painting those nasty rocks and cliffs, and much more.
In this painting of waders in an estuary I have used low-tack masking tape to create the horizon and also streaks of colour depicting different tones in the water on the mid-left of the composition. These latter might not be so obvious in this small image, but this method is so simple and can be used to create many features involving straight lines. The horizon line, by the way is not exactly halfway down the composition – I have cut out some of the sky to try to show up the lines better!
The book is crammed with paintings, sketches, diagrams showing a great many techniques, and has four step-by-step works. I have introduced many alternative methods of working with watercolours, bringing in additives to create various textural effects, introducing collage to create rock and cliff structures, pulling out colour with greater force, and producing effects with sponges, knives and other tools. A number of different methods have been demonstrated to illustrate how to achieve the white highlights, sparkles and splashes on boisterous and calm waters, and there’s a number of ways of coping with boats.
Signed copies of the book are available via my website It’s a great companion to take away on a summer holiday or break by the sea, and though subjects are mainly around the British coastline there are many from abroad. It includes a chapter on painting on holiday and a variety of ways of working on the spot, including pen and wash, watercolour pencils, critical observation methods, making the most of figures and seabirds in your work, and beefing up your compositions with a completely different sky to that in your photograph or sketch, plus a host of other ways of achieving a more exciting result, whether you want a tranquil estuary scene, raging seas, a gentle beach or harbour composition or dramatic cliff scenery.
We are blessed with so many stunning river and stream subjects of great variety in the UK, and whatever the weather may throw at us there is something truly pleasurable to sit beside a bubbling brook or fast-flowing mountain cascade. These features can also make excellent lead-ins to an interesting focal point, and there is something almost lifelike in a moving stream.
In this watercolour I’ve played down the actual river, to concentrate more on the surrounding forested hills and the large crag on the right. By introducing a lot of mist I’ve simplified the background, although there is still much detail visible. With a river or canal it will add a sense of mystery and interest if you have the further part of the river turning round a bend – we are all eager to see what’s round the bend!
For the misty effect use plenty of water and build the scene up gradually, dropping the blue-greys or green-greys of the distant trees into a damp area to create lovely soft edges where tree masses appear and disappear into the mist. By placing hard-edged forms with strong tones such as those just above and to the left of the crag, in front of misty passages you will create a powerful sense of depth in the painting.
On Monday 29th April Jenny Keal and myself will be demonstrating for Holderness Arts at Burton Pidsea Memorial Hall, Back Lane, Burton Pidsea HU12 9AN, from 10am to 3pm. I shall be doing a watercolour demonstration in the morning and Jenny will be carrying out a pastel demonstration in the afternoon. Information and tickets are available on 01964 670269 or from the Burton Pidsea shop. Tickets won’t be available at the door on the day. Do come along if you can. We will have books, DVDs, art materials and a number of paintings for sale, and are happy to answer your painting questions. Click here for more information
I will be giving a talk and demonstration at The Galtres Centre, in the Market Place at Easingwold on Friday 26th April, and you are welcome to come and have a chat. The theme will be “Wild Serengeti” and I will be covering encounters and sketching with African wildlife. The event starts at 7.30 pm and for those using satnav the postcode is YO61 3AD. For tickets and information please ring the Galtres Centre on 01347 822472
The scene shows wildebeeste startled by a lion during the annual pilgrimage across the Serengeti, when the line of wildebeeste runs from one end of the horizon to the other. The lion watched them with indifference, probably having eaten so many he couldn’t face any more for a while! I enjoy working on a narrative like this, where there is more than just the visual image. To make the main animals stand out I deliberately simplified the ground directly behind them. Fast movement is depicted not just by blurring the legs slightly and placing them in running positions, but also by the angle and attitude of the body. This is at its clearest in the two beasts 3rd and 4th from the left, where they are moving away from the viewer and their bodies are slightly leaning over to the left as they turn away. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford 140lb rough paper.
Some folk may wonder why I don’t use Facebook, even though there is an account in my name (which I don’t use). I find it almost impossible as I live quite an action-packed life with little time to spare – in fact I don’t paint so often these days because 21st-century life just is too demanding of one’s time. Technology is supposed to make life easier for us, but I find it just adds an extra burden, being so incredibly slow and error-prone. It’s much greater fun to be out in the wilds or at least brandishing the old-fashioned paintbrush somewhere nice and remote.
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!