David Bellamy – Enhance your watercolour landscapes with simple cloud effects

I’ve just returned from running a sketch & walk course in the Lake District with a lovely group of students, where the biggest problem was a lack of water! This is something which is rarely encountered in Lakeland, and it did confound attempts to sketch certain waterfalls rather devoid of water. Still we had a great time and at least we eventually found some in Coniston Coppermines Valley.

The watercolour on the right is the view we painted, though I actually did this three years ago during autumn when there was more water in the beck, and the hillsides were alive with warm colours. This also happens to be on the cover of the summer issue of Leisure Painter magazine, featured in an article on creating wisps of cloud and streamers, which can so enhance your work. It was painted on Saunders Waterford rough 140 lb paper, and to achieve the soft misty edges I scrubbed with a damp half-inch flat brush. Losing ridges and parts of a hill or mountain can add so much mood and mystery to a landscape, and the article covers various ways in which you can achieve these effects.

These softening-off techniques are a common feature in my books, especially the Winter Landscapes in Watercolour and Skies, Light & Atmosphere in Watercolour. Some artists feel that a standard broad-washed blue or grey sky can fit any landscapes, but I put great effort into my skies to introduce exciting and interesting cloud and atmospheric effects that suit a particular landscape, so there are a great many examples of these in both books.

In Lakeland my biggest problem with the students was keeping up with the three octogenarian ladies, one of whom was leaping up and down precipitous slopes like an over-active monkey. What a great pleasure it is to see people respond so well to the beauties of nature.

Painting complicated mountain scenery

Canadian Lake

Canadian Lake

Even experienced professionals can get overwhelmed when confronted by the mass of panoramic detail found in the high mountains. Where do you start? What do you leave out – as you can’t possibly put it all in? This is especially a problem in really good visibility, when there is not a cloud in sight. As if this wasn’t enough, some of the most spectacular places are so beautifully composed that it is all done for you, and it is easy to think that all you need do is copy the composition in front of you.

This picture-postcard view is in the Canadian Rockies where we will be going in September. Everything stands out beautifully, but in a painting you need some mystery with part of the motif just hinted at. One device for working out the best composition in front of you is a simple card rectangle with an oblong hole cut out so that you can view the scene you want. Hold it up before your eyes, closing one, and moving the card frame around until you light on the most exciting part of the scene. You may need to move it towards you, or away from you to achieve the optimum size, but this will certainly help you to isolate the scene.

Where ridges pass behind a closer feature you can reduce the detail, perhaps bringing in some cloud or mist at this point, or even a snow squall. In this scene the centre of interest could well be the ‘V’ where the two dark ridges descend in the centre to the lake, but it would be a good idea to push this either to right or left a little, so that it’s not plumb centre. A hint of red or orange there might be a nice touch, and you could also use this in the reflection. The far shoreline cuts right across the picture, a common problem, but easily fixed with some foreground trees or other features.

If you like this type of landscape then why not join Jenny and myself in the Canadian Rockies from 1st to 14th September? I shall be covering all manner of techniques for painting these scenes in watercolour, but painters in other mediums are welcome. The painting holiday is organised by Spencer Scott Travel Telephone +44 (0)1825 714311 or Email:  info@spencerscott.co.uk

Painting courses

This is the time of year when many artists think about taking up a course to improve their painting skills, and naturally to do this in beautiful scenery, in the comfort of a truly welcoming hotel and with a tutor whose work you wish to emulate, can provide the most rewarding experience. Many find that at home there are too many distractions, and getting away with like-minded folk for an intensive week of painting can be the optimum way of pushing your work forward.

Jenny and I work hard on our courses to ensure that everyone gets plenty of attention and demonstrations. One of our favourite locations is Snowdonia in North Wales where there is an infinite choice of a wide variety of painting subjects, with so many of them visible from the road or nearby, which means, of course that you don’t have to walk very far to find a superb subject…..but you can, if you wish, hike into the more remote locations.

This autumn our course in the Sygun Fawr Country House in Snowdonia runs from 27th October to 1st November, timed to coincide with the autumn colours. You will find details  here, or you can telephone the Sygun Fawr Country House on 01766 890258

I am sorry there is no illustration with this blog, but Blogger keep changing the set-up almost every time I wish to set up a post and this time I’ve failed to get the painting up, so I’ll have to move elsewhere I guess. I’ll try to make it as smooth a transition as possible. Keep watching this space.

A HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all, and enjoy your painting in 2013