David Bellamy – Reserving whites in a watercolour

One of the greatest problems concerning the watercolourist is that of reserving whites in a painting. There are several ways of tackling this: the use of the negative painting technique, masking fluid or film, scratching with a knife or scalpel, or the use of Chinese white, white gouache or acrylic. Pulling out colour with a damp brush or tissue, or sponging out when the wash is dry, are further ways of achieving a considerable lightening of the tone, although these latter methods rarely are as glaringly white as the aforementioned ones. Down the centuries white body colour has been employed, the equivalent of our white gouache or Chinese white.

These days even the main watercolour societies feature paintings carried out with much use of white gouache or acrylic paint, so there is no stigma attached to using that method, and I shall illustrate it in a future blog. Scratching can be effective for minor features such as ropes or rigging in a harbour, limited sparkle on water, and similar items, but for larger or more intricate work masking fluid or the negative painting technique is a better method.

In the watercolour on the right I applied masking fluid over the actual icefall with all its complexities, in the positions where you see the absolute white. This, of course, is the naked paper after the masking fluid has been removed near the end of the painting. For the snow lying on the peak and crags, and also for the light cloud, I used the negative painting method, that is, I worked round the white shapes with the darker sky, the rocks and shadow areas. When it was all dry I applied further shadow washes using French ultramarine and cadmium red over some of the snow and rock areas that were in shadow. I could have employed masking fluid to some of these parts, but it results in hard edges and much of the edges there I wanted to appear soft, especially the light cloud. I find it best not to mix the two techniques in the same area as it can get confusing, thus causing errors, so I have deliberately kept the top and bottom halves of the composition apart in that sense.

This is one of the paintings that will appear in my exhibition at the Windrush Gallery from 3rd to 10th May (it will be closed on 7th and 8th May), at Windrush, Gloucestershire, OX18 4TU  Telephone 01451 844425 The gallery open times are from 11 am to 5pm daily. The exhibition will cover a wide variety of scenery, including marine and pastoral paintings. I shall also be doing a watercolour demonstration Painting in the Cooler Months in Windrush village hall on Saturday 9th May at 2pm. If you wish to come along please book in advance:  j.neil299@btinternet.com or phone 01451 844425

David Bellamy – Painting misty mountains in watercolour

Jenny and I have just returned from Austria where we took a group to paint Alpine scenery. It was a great trip, with many memorable scenes, despite rather a lot of cloud and mist. So we had rather a lot of practice in rendering misty mountains in watercolour!

Here I’m doing a watercolour demonstration way above the clouds, with marvellous views all round as the mountains rise out of the inversion. Alas, there were even more clouds above us, so we did get a little rain near the end of the demo, but not enough to spoil things. A cappuccino and an apple-strudel quickly restored morale.

Mist on mountains can, for the artist, sometimes be both magical and a misery. I love the way it can blot out unwanted features, but as we all know, it often blots out the very features we want to see!

There are a number of ways of creating mist in watercolour. In this scene above the Inn Valley in Austria I ran colour into wet areas to create soft edges to the clouds. I had to work quickly as I was painting on a cartridge book. With such a lot of cloud edges, inevitably some dry hard-edged before they can be corrected.

This is not usually a problem as they can later be softened with a damp brush when the paper is completely dry, though the odd hard edge here and there might well enhance the clouds.

Alternatively a soft sponge is an excellent tool for softening off, but take care if you use cartridge paper as it won’t stand too much surface friction. Enjoy your clouds!

David Bellamy – Painting Alpine scenery in Switzerland

Some of the best painting holidays where we have taken groups have been those which combine spectacular scenery with the more rustic, and this is usually very true of mountain landscapes. Next summer Jenny and I are taking a group to Zermatt in Switzerland, not just to paint mountain icons like the Matterhorn and the Obergabelhorn, but many other peaks, as well as lakes, mountain streams and the local vernacular architecture. The region is full of exciting prospects for the artist.

The watercolour shows a pair of stadel barns above Zermatt – these make excellent subjects, especially when set against a backdrop of Alpine peaks. The roofs in this instance particularly interested me with their strong textural variations and colour. It is always good to look for colour in a scene and I often exaggerate warm colours on a focal point such as this, both to reduce the amount of greenery (which can overwhelm a landscape in summer), and to draw the eye towards the centre of interest.

Note that the greens in the painting are not really intense greens – the summer grassy pasture is a light, but subdued green, while much of the conifers greenery is more a blue-grey, achieved with French Ultramarine and burnt umber. You don’t have to make the green trees in front of you green!

Our painting holiday to Zermatt is in conjunction with Leisure Painter and The Artist magazines, and is being organised by Spencer Scott Travel  Tel. 01825 714311   The holiday runs from 4th to 11th July 2015

With all that amazing Alpine scenery it’s a truly exciting prospect.

David Bellamy – Painting the right sort of bad weather

We’ve just finished the studio filming with APV Films for my forthcoming DVD on painting Winter Landscapes, due out in September with my book of the same title. Most of the filming went smoothly, although the last part was heavily punctuated by wild gusts of wind and heavy rain lashing the studio, accompanied by a bombardment of artillery fire from the Sennybridge range. Thankfully they were not firing at us! It rather reminds me of the time I was sketching and camping on a Northumberland bombing range, having missed the signs somehow……….

At the moment I’m working on Wild Highlands, an exhibition in conjunction with the John Muir Trust, which will run from 16th April to 18th June in Pitlochry, Scotland. One of the aims of the exhibition is to highlight the ongoing devastation of the Scottish Highlands by industrialisation by massed wind turbines and their supporting power lines, which are now encroaching on some of the stunning mountain landscapes that epitomise the Highlands. Many of these will be on peat blankets and former forestry areas, which are the closest equivalent we have in the UK to rain-forests.

This painting of Beinn Eighe will be in the exhibition, and you can see that the mountain has several summits. Painting all these in good weather can invoke a feeling of having too many summits, so this is where it’s often a good idea to bring in some bad weather to hide one or two. It also adds a sense of mystery, which viewers love. I usually achieve this effect of mountains hidden in clouds by running the mountain washes up into a wet area in the sky – in this instance where you can see the pink effect. An alternative technique is to soften off the mountain peak with a wet sponge.

As you can see here, I’ve actually made my ‘bad weather’ rather more user-friendly by painting with alizarin crimson and French ultramarine mixed with cadmium red, so make sure you utilise the right brand of ‘bad weather!’

Sketching mist streams in the Canadian Rockies

I’ve not long returned from a trip to the Canadian Rockies, where the mountains rise high in truly awesome splendour. I managed around a hundred sketches, many in watercolour, and the hot, sunny weather made it really a pleasure to be out sketching. Luckily I had some bad-weather days as well, even some snowfall, and this gave my work that added atmosphere: when you can see everything there is no mystery.

Canadian Rockies

This watercolour of Stoney Squaw Mountain near Banff was done on a cartridge sketchbook, showing fresh snow and wreaths of mist, which many find difficult to tackle. If you use copious amounts of water and keep your edges soft (sometimes you need to soften edges that have dried hard with a damp brush). Obviously experience with the wet-into-wet technique helps here, and you may well need to re-wet some areas to create misty shapes of crags, trees and ridges.

One of the great advantages of the colour sketch over a photograph in a situation like this is that you usually find the camera will record simply stark contrasts of dark rock and white snow, losing any sense of colour, unless strong light is highlighting  any colour. When sketching, observe carefully any colour present in rocks and vegetation, even exaggerating it if necessary, to avoid the work looking too cold or sombre.

I can’t wait to get going on some enormous compositions of the Canadian scenes.