David Bellamy – Painting Exciting Skies

I had hoped that Covid-19 would have slowed things down and given me much more time to catch up on those jobs that have been abandoned over the years, but I seem to be as busy as ever. I still ensure that I get out more into the hills and have plenty of exercise, as I strongly feel this helps the creative juices as well as one’s well-being.

    We’ve enjoyed some amazing skies lately – beautiful, billowing cumulus clouds have been a stunning feature of the last few days, and it’s an excellent opportunity to sketch and photograph cloudscapes to use in your landscape paintings. I rarely paint a scene depicting the sky that happened on that particular day, as they don’t often make an exciting composition. I prefer to think about the mood that would fit that particular scene and then the kind of sky that might work best with that mood. Usually there are several options with completely different effects, allowing you to paint the same subject several times, each with a widely varying result.

     This watercolour is of Volquart Boonsland seen in evening light from across the polynya at Scoresbysund. It was a beautiful, tranquil Arctic evening, though intensely cold. In the painting my aim was to recreate the moment, that lovely period of tranquility, where there is utter peace completely shut off from a mad world. To achieve this mood I treated the sky with the emphasis on horizontal layers of cloud, with the light coming in from the right.

    The painting is currently featured in my article on painting exciting skies in the Summer 2020 issue of Leisure Painter magazine where it explains how I rendered the sky, and can also be seen in my book Arctic Light. Try doing quick, simple studies of skies, and if you are house-bound then this is something you should be able to do from your windows, as the Impressionists did when they didn’t relish going out in the depths of winter. Set up a comfortable chair by the window in readiness for the next batch of exciting clouds to sally forth.

David Bellamy – Painting different sorts of snow

My snow theme continues from the last blog as we’ve had a considerable amount of snow in Mid-Wales in the last few days – about 12 to 15 inches and it is incredibly beautiful. Before the great snowfall, though we had a dusting of snow and it is this I will concentrate on now as it will hopefully give you new ideas and help hone observation skills.

This is part of the view from my bedroom window, and may appear unremarkable. It does have a number of lessons for us, though. Starting from the top, you will see that on the left the white moorland top is caught white against a medium grey sky, but as the eye travels to the right this changes gradually as cloud shadow falls across the moor. At the far right the moor is now darker than the sky. This counterchange effect is extremely useful to add interest to our work, especially in the less exciting parts of the composition.

Below that top band lies rough ground with dead vegetation. The dusting of snow has all but disappeared here but you can detect a slight warming of the colour. One way of achieving this in a watercolour is to rub a candle horizontally across the paper, then lay a wash which perhaps includes some light red to suggest the warm colour. Rough paper will accentuate this technique, and you can create the white pathways visible in places by combining this with masking fluid.

Beneath the band of warmer, broken colour the snow lies on a smoother field and so is more continuous. Grey cast tree shadows fall across it in places and there is an occasional patch of rough ground here and there.

As you are no doubt aware, snow does not always look a pristine white. Observe and analyse the scene before choosing your paper, methods and approach; alter your cloud shadows and move these various parts around to suit yourself. It’s great, creative fun, so enjoy it!

My Winter Landscapes in Watercolour has a lot more on the subject of tackling snow scenes