David Bellamy – Sketching & Painting Wonky Old Cottages

Jenny and I have just returned from running a course on Exmoor where we had the luxury of sketching and painting inland scenes as well as the coast. The delightful village of Winsford provided us with a great many stunning subjects, while the heavy rain showers kept things lively. For many the local pub was a life-saver! The following days improved and we had a hot, sunny day at Lynmouth, with a harbour crammed with colourful boats and cottages climbing high up the wooded hillsides.

One of several scenes I tackled was a cottage high up above the harbour, using a graphite water-soluble pencil, and washing over it with a brush afterwards. Behind the cottage rose the wooded hillside. This highlighted the cottage really well, and I rendered it as a mass rather than outline each tree individually. You can discern a slightly darker shape rising above and between the chimneys – this was my sole indication of any sense of shape within the mass. As the cottage was perched above  many cottages I decided to vignette the foreground by extending pencil lines downwards, some linked to a hint of vegetation, plus some spatter from the brush after I’d picked up some of the watersoluble graphite on it. This technique is an excellent way to isolate your favourite part of the scene and leave out the bits you don’t want. The only worrying aspect to the sketch for me is the absolutely straight line of the roof – in such a wonky building it would be almost de rigueur to provide the finished painting with a supremely wonky roof ridge line.

Our course was organised by Alpha Painting Holidays run by Matthew and Gill Clark, with whom it is a great pleasure to work. They looked after our every need throughout the course, and we thoroughly recommend them. We still have vacancies on my course in Pembrokeshire from 28th September to 3rd October at the splendid Warpool Court Hotel in St Davids, where we have a wide choice of coastal and inland subjects for all tastes. You can get further details from Warpool Court on 01437 720300 or email info@warpoolcourthotel.com  You can also see my website

Sketching and drawing with watersoluble pencils

This post is in response to Michael Bailey’s comments about the Karisma aquarelle pencils – marvellous watersoluble pencils that were so useful for sketching in all weathers as you can lay on the pencil tone and brush water across it to create lovely washes in various degrees of tone. They enabled you to create lovely, moody pencil sketches and drawings.

The rough sketch on the left was done with a medium Karisma pencil many years ago. It shows an ice cave in the Argentiere glacier, with great blocks of ice fallen by the entrance, and gives a fair idea of the variety of tones you can achieve with a watersoluble graphite pencil. You can clearly see the vertical pencil hatching on the side of the large horizontal ice slab where it has not quite washed out.

When the Karisma range sadly disappeared off our art-shop shelves we looked around for a replacement, and after some experiments found the Caran D’Ache Technalo range to be a good alternative. Like Karisma, the Technalo watersoluble pencils come in a range of three: HB, B and 3B, to give you a light, medium and dark tone.

Thanks for your kind comments, Michael – I hope this helps. I don’t, by the way, normally use these pencils with watercolours to produce paintings as some graphite will always wash off and muddy up the colour, although I have used them as an exercise in one of my earlier books to show tone and then applied light washes to help illustrate a point. They are excellent tools for learning about tones.