David Bellamy – Ice on the Equator

For many years one of my ambitions has been to climb Mount Kenya to sketch those amazing peaks and the other-worldly plants that grow high on the mountain. Most people head for Kilimanjaro, as it’s the highest in Africa, but Mount Kenya is much more beautiful. So this month I thought if I don’t do it soon I never will.

I aimed to get up to around 14,000 feet from where I would be able to sketch the peaks. It’s not a difficult climb, but I’d been unwell with a chest infection most of the winter, and climbing to high altitude with breathing problems was a pretty crazy thing to do. Interestingly there are many wild animals on the slopes of the mountain: buffalo, elephant, panthers, and possibly the occasional lion, so hiking with that lot round the corner could be quite an experience!

I set off with a guide called Wilson, a cook and porter named Chris and a second porter, Stanley. Apart from my chest ailment I was also suffering from Delhi Belly, which tended to weaken me. Day 2 was an especial struggle. It began badly when, as I was eating breakfast in a hut a monkey ran in and grabbed my pancake, egg and a slice of bread, and shot off, leaving a trail of breakfast debris behind him. As the mountain lies on the equator the daytime heat was overpowering and although I only carried a daysack it was really heavy with extra water, sketching gear and all sorts of other gear. Heavy rain on the second day made things worse and high up I had to make frequent stops. By then we were amongst the exotic plants, so I sketched many of these as I rested. Eventually we found a cave to stay overnight, and as it had its own amazing garden of exotic plants I could happily sketch away from the cave entrance.

 Day 3 dawned bright and clear but I was eating my breakfast before dawn for an early start. After setting off we soon encountered ice-glazed rock. Six am on Mount Kenya is a magical time to be climbing, even when you are functioning well below par and this was the most enjoyable part of the climb. Wilson was extremely knowledgeable and we made better progress in the cool of the early morning. A glorious blue sky was punctuated only by strings of mare’s-tails over the peaks which rose sharply in front of us as we climbed a rocky ridge. I then sketched quickly, well aware that by late morning those peaks were likely to disappear, and sure enough, much earlier than I expected the clouds rolled in – lovely wispy airy clouds, but still gradually blotting out the view. This was disappointing, but I’d had a great few hours before the clouds arrived, and although my sketches were not my best, I had achieved what I came here to paint.

I organised the trip through Mount Kenya Climbers, based in Naro Moru. Their contact address is  info@mtkenyaclimbers.co.ke  and my guide was Wilson Gatoto who is happy to arrange expeditions up many of East Africa’s mountains. His email address is   legohi@yahoo.com   Chris provided some excellent meals, but sadly I had little appetite. Stanley was a really cheerful and considerate fellow and as his daughter enjoyed art I gave him some paints, a brush and paper before I left. I did have further adventures with wildlife, but that’s another story…..

David Bellamy – Losing mountains in clouds with your watercolours

The last six weeks have been a breathless dash and blogging I’m afraid has consequently suffered. The Patchings Art Festival in early June was marvellous as usual and it was good to see some of you there. It is always so well organised and seems to get better every year thanks to Chas Wood and his enthusiastic team.

More recently I’ve been reveling in the Italian Dolomites, a great favourite with such drama, colour and atmosphere for the landscape artist. Although there were lots of blue skies, thankfully the clouds made their presence felt most strongly at times, enabling me to get away from the picture postcard effect, though occasionally they did rather overdo it a bit and totally obscure just about everything except my feet, at high altitude.

The illustration on the right shows one of my low-level watercolour sketches done on cartridge paper. Cloud is obscuring much of the peak and there are a number of ways of tackling this. Here I simply left the white areas as untouched paper, highlighting the white clouds by painting around them with a light grey, or as in some places a darker grey to suggest the darker mountain behind. I softened the edges of the clouds with a damp brush as I progressed, to suggest the light airiness of cloud, but sometimes a hard edge is left inadvertently. When this happens I let the paper dry then brush over the hard edge with just water on a small flat brush – a quarter-inch or 5mm one is fine. When this softens the edge I dab it with clean tissue and a soft edge has emerged.

Other ways to achieve the effect of mountains, ridges and crags disappearing into cloud are described in my book Skies, Light & Atmosphere, published by Search Press. If you don’t have the book you can order a signed copy from my website and we will include a FREE dot card of Daniel Smith watercolours (David Bellamy palette) for a limited time only. I wish you many happy cloudy moments with your paintbrush.

David Bellamy – Painting figures in a mountain landscape

Including figures in a landscape painting is one of the most basic ways of suggesting a sense of scale, but in a vast landscape where do you position them, and how large should they be? These can be critical decisions for the artist, especially as figures tend to immediately attract the eye of the viewer. They therefore become the focal point.

In this large watercolour of Gyrn Las in Snowdonia the two figures are barely discernible in such a small reproduction. They are actually standing at the top of the small stream descending to the right of centre in the lower part of the composition. Even in the original they are not obvious, but once you know they are there they impart a feeling of being completely dwarfed in an immense landscape. They could not have been painted much smaller without completely losing them, but had they been made much larger the scene would appear a great deal smaller.

The optimum position for placing figures is about one-third into the painting from either side and one-third from the top or bottom of the composition, but this can be varied to a degree, to suit the scene. Here they are a little less than one-third in from the bottom, but about one-third from the right-hand side.

This watercolour, and many other works can be seen in the Autumn/Winter exhibition “Harmony” at Boundary Art, Cardiff’s newest art space, where you can enjoy a Chinese tea while contemplating the exhibits which range from traditional to contemporary paintings in oil and watercolour by many artists. The exhibition runs from Saturday 14th November to 31st December. Boundary Art is at 3 Sovereign Quay, Havannah Street in Cardiff Bay, CF10 5SF  Tel. 02920 489869  Check out the website at http://www.boundaryart.com

David Bellamy – Sketching Alpine scenes in Watercolour

Some good folk may well manage to get out blogs while on a camel trek to Samarkand, but alas, when you are carrying all your art gear, a full china tea set and a spare rucsack full of Danish pastries it’s a bit much to include blogging devices as well. Hence the lack of blog posts – I’ve been out at the ‘sharp end’ for a few weeks, though staying at the superb Sunstar hotel in Zermatt was hardly roughing it. The staff were brilliant, providing that marvellous Swiss hospitality, though as I couldn’t get them to provide an after-dinner yodelling session the entertainment for the painting group with us was reduced to the notorious Bellamy’s Bedtime Stories.

   Unsurprisingly, this post therefore covers complicated Alpine scenery, which certainly challenged the painters. In this watercolour sketch of the Matterhorn from the Theodulgletschersee I chose this medium because I wanted to record the colours, many of which were quite extraordinary, especially in the rock band directly beyond the lake. Some of these were violent reds, looking as though they’d just erupted from the earth’s interior – a geologist’s heaven. I’ve also brought out some of the varied colour on the mountain itself, and it pays to look for these nuances in colour when the subject is before you.

The sketch looks complicated, is a little over-worked, but I was more concerned with getting plenty of detail for the finished painting which I will do later in the studio. Even then it is considerably simplified. By all means overload, overwork and over-write on your sketches, as they are a working document, and the main simplification should appear in the final painting. As the painting is usually larger than the sketch you can see why we need more detail than looks right on many sketches. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky but I added one to break up the harsh lines of the mountain to show students a useful device. We had blazing hot sunshine every day so where there was no shade sketching proved quite a challenge when presented with all that glaring white paper, and the consequent difficulties in assessing tonal values.

This autumn I have another of my watercolour seminars in Great Bookham near Guildford, which coincides with my next exhibition in the Lincoln Joyce gallery just across the road. The Old Barn Hall in Great Bookham is a fine venue and my theme this year is painting animals and birds in the landscape.

Over the years wildlife has given me such great pleasure, sometimes great hilarity and occasionally a few scrapes. The first session is a painting demonstration, and after a break for refreshments it will be followed by an illustrated talk which will include British landscapes with farm animals, birds and wildlife, plus many wildlife scenes from the Arctic, Africa and other places. This will cover animals in some detail and those that are hardly visible or in the distance, and how to include them in your composition. Birds will tend to be less detailed by comparison. Naturally, there will be a variety of scenery, skies and atmosphere. For more details please check out my website  Tickets can be obtained from the website or from Lincoln Joyce Fine Art (Tel 01372 458481) Both sessions will be packed with techniques and wild experiences, so do come along and join in the fun.

David Bellamy – Painting rough ground in watercolour

My work tends to gravitate to those places I love most – the mountains, the wild coast and remote places where nature is supreme, where the ground is generally pretty rough. Capturing this roughness in a painting can be very rewarding, and as rough ground is not found only in the wild areas it pays to be able to render this effectively.

In this watercolour of a barn on the Isle of Skye rough terrain dominates the scene. I chose Saunders Waterford rough 140-lb paper which works so beautifully when you wish to create these fascinating rough textures, and effectively does half the work for you. With the highest mountain I began with an overall wash of Cobalt blue, bringing in some yellow ochre near the bottom in a soft graduation. When all this was dry I then used a stronger mixture of the blue with little water on the brush, dragging it down in the direction of the slope to produce an overlaid wash of broken colour which allowed some of the previous wash to show through, thus creating the appearance of rough ground on the mountainside. I employed the same technique on the warm-coloured left-hand hill, making the contrast between the first and second applications much stronger than those on the mountain because the hill is so much closer. In front of the barn I’ve used a combination of drybrush and dabbing on a warm colour to suggest the rough grasses, over an initial wash of Naples yellow. You can apply this broken colour technique in many situations, but for rough terrain it is ideal.

This painting will be displayed in my forthcoming exhibition at the Windrush Gallery in Windrush, Gloucestershire OX18 4TU  Tel. 01451 844425 from Sunday 3rd to Sunday 10th May. Please note it will be limited opening on 7th and 8th May during a workshop. Opening hours are from 11am to 5pm The exhibition covers a wide range of subjects, including mountain, marine, pastoral and several overseas paintings.