David Bellamy – Making powerful compositions

Getting the composition right is critical whatever medium you use. In landscape painting there are many rules, or guides that will help you achieve a powerful composition, although like most ‘rules’ in painting these can be broken at times in order to create more original results. It does pay, however, to follow these rules while you are learning, and then perhaps taking a more creative approach later when you gain experience.

In this watercolour of Angle in Pembrokeshire I have used Waterford 300lb paper with a marvellous rough surface to enhance the textural effects, particularly in the large foreground area. The large foreground pushes back the centre of interest – the cottage – and allows a large lead-in of the creek. A lead-in to the centre of interest like this helps establish it, and the boats, birds, sparkle on the water and strong orange colour in the sky all draw attention to the centre of interest. The cottage also stands out darkly against the sky. These are all devices you can use to highlight your focal point.

The far right-hand boat gives a sense of balance to the composition, so that not everything is concentrated around the centre of interest. It is a good idea to carry out one or two studio sketches to ascertain the optimum positioning and emphasis on the painting to be done. Having the centre of interest around one-third of the way down the paper, or up from the bottom, and one third of the way along from either side always gives a powerful effect, so try not to place it bang in the centre!

The actual painting is on display in the Breath of Nature exhibition at Boundary Art at 3 Sovereign Quay, Havannah Street, Cardiff CF10 5SF   Tel.02920 489869 until 1st May. The other paintings I have on display at Boundary Art are here 

If you want to learn how to add Drama and Atmosphere to your paintings come to my Watercolour Seminar in Pontypool in October

David Bellamy – Making the most of poor weather

I hope all of you out there had a great festive season, or if Christmas isn’t your thing then you have been enjoying yourself. I seem to have been everywhere except by the laptop, hence the long silence. One place I did visit just before Christmas was sunny Devon, but as I found it gloomy and misty I decided to make the most of the atmosphere and capture some wet-into-wet mistiness. Whatever the weather is doing out there it always has something for the landscape painter.

This watercolour sketch was carried out on a cartridge sketch-pad. I chose this because firstly the smooth paper dries quicker than a rougher surface, which in the damp atmosphere would take some time to dry; and secondly I wanted to juxtapose the softness of the wet-in-wet technique with the hard sharpness that is accentuated on smooth paper. If you don’t like cartridge paper for quick washes try a hot pressed paper – Bockingford comes in ideal HP pads for this sort of work. First of all I laid on Naples yellow in the sky, then drifted it to the left where I blended in a light green wash where the two largest trees appear.

Without pausing I painted the fainter tree in with ultramarine and burnt umber using a strong mixture to keep the shape of the tree – working into the damp paper you really don’t want much water on the brush!  Again without pausing I then drew into the green wash with an indigo watercolour pencil while the wash was still damp. I sat back and drank a coffee while the sketch dried and then I laid a medium tone around the trunks of the tall trees, thus highlighting them. Note also how I have left the vegetation under the trees sharp-edged to counter the soft, misty background – much easier to achieve on a smooth surface. It’s only a rough sketch but it gave me great enjoyment and brightened up an otherwise gloomy day.

If you need cheering up then why not tune in to CBEEBIES on BBC Television on Saturday 9th January at 10.45am and 15.40 – Catherine, my daughter is doing some of her whacky stunts. She is out in Australia at the moment and next month will be performing in Adelaide.

A very Happy New Year to you all and may it be your best painting year yet!

David Bellamy – Coping with Painters’ Block

Do you ever get painters’ block? You’re not sure what to paint next, and nothing seems to be working? I’m lucky, meeting so many interesting people and creatures (yes, it’s often those wild things out there that give me so much pleasure when I’m out sketching), that it never seems to bother me. If you are finding it hard to get going again, you can try working on different surfaces – tinted papers, perhaps – or a different medium for a while, to trigger new sensations.

Think also about changing subject matter. This can be totally different to your usual work, or simple extending it in a way, such as adding wildlife into the middle distance of your landscapes, or more detailed figures than you normally paint. While I mainly paint landscapes, the impact of stunning wildlife stumbling into my scene (and sometimes getting a bit too close for comfort) has encouraged me to paint more wildlife. Boats and the sea are also favourites, bringing a pleasant change to inland scenes, and I love doing figure work in various forms.

Here, I’d like to talk about another type of subject I find fascinating – the industrial scene. When the coal mines of South Wales were closing down rapidly towards the end of the 20th century I wanted to capture the last of the mines before they all disappeared. This is a watercolour of Penallta Colliery with the miners coming off duty. I didn’t want to include all the intricate detail of the pithead and environs so I introduced quite a bit of atmosphere. This also had the advantage of making the figures stand out against the background, and the whole composition was created from several sketches and photographs. This was especially important with regard to the miners who had to relate to each other. Here and there I have deliberately lost detail, but note how the smaller background figures in silhouette really suggest a sense of depth to the painting.

There tends to be a lot of detritus lying around in a scene like this, but you don’t need to put it all in: some of it can either be simply suggested vaguely, or you could leave it out altogether. As always with a complicated scene it is vital to do at least one studio sketch before the painting, to work out the optimum composition. Consider also keeping the background as an almost monochrome as I have done here. This will further throw emphasis onto the foreground.

Unfortunately Images of the South Wales Mines, the book that resulted from my mining paintings, has long been out of print, but you may be able to get a rather expensive copy secondhand. Most of all, don’t let that painters’ block stop you – we all get a little stale at times, but trying a different type of subject is often a good way of rejuvenating your artistic impulses.

Sketching on Marloes Beach, Pembrokeshire

Marloes Beach, Pembrokeshire

Marloes Beach, Pembrokeshire

Here I am again harping on about the advantages of sketching in front of your subject over taking a photograph.
Well I make no apologies, these two images illustrate the point perfectly. In the photograph the intense light has reduced the headlands and rocks on the beach to silhouettes. The photograph was taken with a small digital camera and unless you are very familiar with all the functions of your camera this is the most likely result you will get.

Sketch Marloes Beach

Sketch Marloes Beach

Luckily I had time to sit and sketch the scene as well as take the photograph and as you can see the eye can discern much more detail than a camera. I moved the rocks around a little to lead the eye along the shoreline and sketched the figures on the side of the sketch so that I could place them in the most advantageous position in the resulting painting.

Pembrokeshire is my favourite area of the UK for sketching. There is so much variety of unspoilt coastal and rural scenery that there is always something exciting to sketch whatever the season or the weather. One of our most popular courses takes place in St David’s at the Warpool Court Hotel overlooking St Non’s Bay.  The good news is that due to the economic climate we have negotiated a considerable reduction in the price of the course this year. You can find details here. Do come and join us, you can paint in watercolour or pastel as both David and I will be tutoring this course.

Pastel in Serbian, French and Italian

Pastel in Serbian, French & Italian
Great excitement this morning – my book, Painting with Pastels, has just been released in Italian, French and Serbian. From time to time I’ve been asked if there was a version in French or Italian and even once for a Serbian edition. So for those of you who speak one of those three languages and would like a copy in your own language, just let me know.
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During these cold, drab winter months, getting out to sketch and paint in the countryside can be an effort. How much nicer to stay in the warm and work on a painting indoors. However, occasionally we are lucky enough to get a bright sunny day in the depths of winter and then there is no excuse, even if it is freezing cold, time to break out those hats and gloves.
Wye Valley
 Winter sunshine seems somehow cleaner and crisper than the summer sun and winter colours are much more interesting than the ubiquitous green of summer.
This photograph of Aberedw rocks, just above where we live was taken a few days ago on a bright sunny afternoon. The climb up the hill to get here soon warmed me up and I was able to sit and sketch for half an hour before the cold penetrated. Sitting in the sun rather than the shade helped to extend the time available.
The mist kept coming and going but the low sun on the trees and the warm colour of the bracken really enlived the scene. Compare the blue of the distant hill with the warmth of the nearer slope. A good example of recession.