David Bellamy – Enjoying the detail in a painting

How do you cope when you are presented with a complicated scene such as a harbour full of boats of all colours and sizes? Beat a hasty retreat and look for a simpler subject? I love painting and sketching boats, and there’s always a way round the problem: you can leave out craft that don’t appeal, reduce their number, enlarge one so that it hides two or three others, or perhaps cast a dark shadow over the ones further away.

    This is a watercolour I did of Oare Creek in Kent, a place crammed with lots of lovely craft, and although there seem to be a lot in the composition I did leave many more out. This is one of those works that doesn’t have just one centre of interest – there is a whole line of them! I do this sometimes as it makes quite a change, and some buyers do enjoy a mass of detail, and to get a sense of the place you do need to suggest that many boats line the creek, especially if working to commission.

    On occasion in scenes like this I lay shadow across many of the boats, simply suggesting them, and highlight the main ones – the focal point – with strong lighting. If you wish to subdue one or two off-centre then just paint them in silhouette as I have done with the boat on the extreme right background. The masts and gulls were rendered with white gouache when everything else had been completed. If need be I create dark areas deliberately so that white gulls can be placed there and stand out. This is at fairly low tide so much of the mud-banks are revealed. To avoid too much monotony I have made some lighter and on the right bank splashed in some cadmium red to add interest. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford hot pressed, 140lb weight.

    Now most of us are able to get outside do make the most of the summer days to find some new subjects. This is important not just from the point of view of finding new material to paint, but getting outdoors rejuvenates us and gets us away from the lethargic indoors syndrome that can deplete our enthusiasm for creating anything. There is nothing better than perching on a rock warmed by the sunshine, overlooking a stunning view while sipping a cappuccino as you sketch. I’ve been out there with my new Daniel Smith watercolour box of gorgeous half-pans lately, so it’s been a double pleasure!

David Bellamy – Sketch-notes

Last week I did a watercolour demonstration for Hythe Art Society in Kent. It was their 50th anniversary and the event was held in the baronial hall of Lympne Castle, a grand place with marvellous views across to the French coast. It was followed by a splendid cream tea – a most enjoyable occasion, and what a lovely art society! May their next 50 years be a great success.

Naturally I was keen on taking the opportunity while on the Kent coast to do some sketching, and though there was not much time I managed a quick pencil sketch of the fishermen’s beach at Hythe.

The fishing boats were backed by a couple of the old Martello towers that run along the coast, thus giving it a touch of local flavour. As you can see, I included quite a few written notes on the sketch to remind me not just of colours, but any other useful information such as the uniform level of the base of the clouds which was very marked and the whole revealing an obvious diminution in the size of the clouds as they receded into the distance. Tonal values were also important with the main shadow area over the closer tower, so I have emphasised this. Notes on observations can be of enormous help to the artist, and even if you are not sketching it is worthwhile keeping a notebook in your purse or pocket to add to any photographs you may take. Sadly the fishermen’s livelihood is now threatened by building taking place to the right of the picture.
Next week I shall be demonstrating at the Patchings Art Festival in lovely countryside just north of Nottingham. My appearances will be at 1pm on Thursday 4th, 1pm on Friday 5th, and 11am on Saturday 6th, with each demo lasting around one hour, so do come along if you are attending the festival. I shall be using the brilliant Saunders Waterford High-white papers made by St Cuthberts Mill. Hope to see you there!