David Bellamy – In Praise of the Tea-Pot

Maintaining morale when out sketching on location is vital, and while some might find a whisky flask useful, I generally rely on tea. Sadly last week in Pembrokeshire the cottage where I stayed lacked that vital ingredient, the teapot. Naturally, this was pretty disastrous, so when out and about I made the most of any such facilities. In the sketch below the right-hand building is a superb tea-shop selling the most delicious cakes, and this is why you might detect a certain hastiness in the rendering of the pencil-work.

However hasty we may be in sketching, it pays to consider the composition carefully when creating a painting from the sketch or photograph. Unless the subject is quite a simple affair I normally carry out an intermediate studio sketch to work out where I wish to place the important elements and the main emphasis, together with the sort of atmosphere I wish to convey. In this instance I would move the composition to the right a little so that the left-hand house did not appear in the centre of the composition, as this would be my centre of interest. I would need more detail to be included above the left-hand wall and figures (detail missed because of the urgency of the tea situation), so I would have to resort to memory, a photograph, or the good old imagination. The main figures would be placed further to the right, a little closer to the centre of interest, and I would make full use of the dark runnels of water descending from the centre right – I have already bent them slightly to come towards the viewer as a lead-in. These are the kind of thought processes that go through my mind before I begin the painting.

Don’t underestimate the value of tea for the artist. I’ve even used it on a painting outdoors on occasion. Last autumn while I was running a landscape painting course a lovely German lady was painting a cottage, which filled her paper. When I asked her what was her focal point she replied, “The tea-pot.” Sure enough, there was a teapot in the window. Such observations may not only bring a smile to your viewers, but might also result in a sale.

Things to do with your sketching companions

One of the problems faced by many artists who work out of doors is that of companions: what do you do with them when you want to sketch? Finding one who paints can be a great bonus and I’m lucky having Jenny who also loves sketching, so for much of the time we work outdoors together. In the high mountains, though, it’s not so easy for her. So apart from my solo trips I try to get Catherine to join me – she’s used to her old Dad stopping in the most odd places to spend time sketching and painting.

As usual she brought along a large book to read during our recent visit to the Swiss Alps, although in this photograph of her on a lofty crag opposite the Eiger she’s just put it away as we prepare to move on. But what do you do if your companion doesn’t like reading? Some of the ruses I’ve tried over the years with various non-painting companions have been:

  • On a cold, snowy morning provide a hot drink and mince pies on a walk;
  • Plan a route with many interesting places to distract them – I managed four churches in the space of two miles once, which kept everyone happy while I sketched;
  • Take a load of goodies to eat that are wrapped in the most incredibly difficult style that will take them ages to open, and thus give you plenty of time to get the sketch done;
  • Deliberately get ‘lost’ for a while by dodging down behind a wall, bush, rock or whatever is available;
  • I find that ‘consulting a tree’ (or boulder) is a great excuse to give you a few moments, as no-one is likely to stay with you, although you can’t stretch credibility too long!
  • One very effective ruse is to stop and relate some tale or legend that relates to that particular spot and at the same time do the sketch. Too much of this, however, will attract suspicions.

These are just a few of a great many devices to keep your companions happy whilst you sketch or paint. With a little preparation before you go it can become quite sophisticated, and no doubt you’ll have many ruses of your own. This is just a start. There is a further bonus in all this: it can be screamingly funny at times, concocting these wheezes, so much so that at times I’ve almost laughed myself senseless and been totally incapable of doing a sketch…………….