Finishing off my Seas & Shorelines book, a hiking trip to northern Italy, and a host of demonstrations, workshops and other items has left me little time to write blogs of late. I know some folk are quite happy to create their blog while riding across snow-encumbered steppes, I tend to leave most of my electronic appurtenances at home.
The Italian trip in northern Lombardia was really special, and accompanied by wonderful autumnal sunshine. The mountain scenery was outstanding, the granite peaks positively gleaming a brilliant white in the strong sunlight, and especially striking when set against the warm autumn colours on the trees. This brief sketch was carried out with a very soft Lyra sepia pencil in a few minutes, smudging the tones in places with my fingers as I tried to capture the beautiful evening light illuminating the peaks. Lyra make lovely pencils, and this simple approach is an excellent way to improve your drawing.
Back in Wales it came as quite a shock to learn that a wind turbine development is being allowed to go ahead by the Welsh Assembly in a truly beautiful area, despite being thrown out by the local planning committee and the inspector at the public inquiry, and with very strong opposition from local people. The environment minister, who appears to have no experience in the natural environment, decided to give the scheme the go-ahead ‘because of the national interest!’ Which national interest she had in mind is not clear as it is certainly in the interests of the foreign company constructing the turbines.
The photograph shows the glorious Llandegley Rocks ridge which makes for a really interesting walk. There are starling murmurations with up to around 80,000 birds, which the developer intends to get rid of by cutting down their trees and bushes. The World Health Organisation has recently produced a report that shows that wind turbines cause hearing loss, tinnitus, high blood pressure and heart problems, yet the Welsh Ass has not bothered to carry out an investigation into the health of people living near these contrivances. Mid-Wales relies heavily for tourism for its economy, but unlike other countries the Welsh Ass cares little. If they can do this to Llandegley Rocks then nowhere is safe in Wales from this industrialisation. There is no control, this outcome has indicated that public inquiries are a waste of time, effort, money and emotional resources, and that local democracy is absolutely dead in Wales. Planning control appears to be a thing of the past, and this decision throws all efforts to strike a fair balance into utter confusion. It is a very black prospect for the principality. God help the children of Wales.
One of my great enjoyments is keeping an illustrated journal, although because of a lack of time it tends to be rather intermittent – it’s just so stress-free to paint or sketch for yourself and add notes about your experiences, and this is especially rewarding on a holiday or journey. I am therefore pleased to announce that I have teamed up with Leisure Painter Magazine over the next six months to offer a monthly competition to encourage folk to get out and try their hand at producing a journal. Jakar International have kindly agreed to supply the monthly prizes, so do please have a look at the current (April) issue of Leisure Painter. The illustration shown right is taken from my sketchbook-journal done on a visit to Holland, and shows the typical notes I often add beside the picture. I don’t really class this as a sketch, as I feel it is more of a diagram drawn solely to illustrate the fascinating architectural styles in Old Amsterdam. I had no intention of creating a finished painting from this: it was done for my enjoyment, although many other sketches in the A4 book were intended as sources for future paintings. Working this way, with no pressure to produce a brilliant piece of artwork can be liberating as well as helping your work to improve.
The houses varied from colourful to a more drab colour, so it’s a good idea to pick out those colours that appeal most to you, rather than paint every house exactly as you see it before you. Note that I have run most of the house colours into one another, rather than paint each one with individual exactitude. I have left out a great many windows, but feel I should have omitted even more, or at least reduced the strength of detail is some.
I shall look forward to seeing how you all fare in these competitions, and I must point out that this is not limited to those who travel far and wide – you are very welcome to join in even if you are house-bound, and there are many ideas for you in my current article in Leisure Painter. Make sure you don’t miss out on the fun!
My recent silence is a result of being up in Snowdonia, at last finding some snow this winter to sketch and roll around in. At times ferocious winds made sketching something of a challenge, but I returned with several good compositions to work on. One subject I spotted while driving along first thing, and luckily there was somewhere to park. The scene that caught my eye was dominated by Esgair Felen – not perhaps an outstanding subject under normal conditions, but under deep snow and with the early morning light catching it, I just had to go for it.
I usually prefer to photograph a superb subject before sketching it, but as I arrived in position the sunlight faded. Still, I took some shots then hurried back to the car. Halfway back along the 150 or so metres the sun came out again, tempting me back. But I wasn’t playing that game. Without moving, I focused the camera on the mountain despite the fact that I could only see the top two-thirds or so, and fired away, catching the glorious light on the critical part at the top. Then I realised that I’d caught a new composition – the foreground in the shots was made up of crags and rocks, making the scene look far more remote than in actuality. OK, I didn’t have the lake in the scene, but I had a second exciting composition to play with.
The watercolour sketch includes the lake and I finished it off with Derwent Inktense pencils, which are excellent for giving a watercolour sketch a bit more power. Even for my sketches, however rough, I like to paint with the beautiful watercolour sables produced by Rosemary & Co. as they come to such a lovely point and make it a pleasure to sketch in this way. You can now buy my favourite ones from our web shop
By playing its little joke on me – albeit the pretty common one of making the subject disappear before my eyes, or losing its appeal – it had actually given me two compositions instead of one, so in future I must watch for this phenomenon more closely, as perhaps I’m missing out on many secondary scenes…….
I have to confess that I’ve neglected this blog lately as I’ve been away enjoying the highlands of Scotland in one of the most beautiful periods of sunshine. As well as climbing some of the peaks I also found myself drawn towards the stunning coastline, and with a combination of light mist and strong sunshine, day after day brought heavenly opportunities for the landscape artist.
One of the sketches I did was of the rugged west coast as shown on the right. Here I used a 5B pencil on a cartridge pad. Most of the horizon was lost in mist, so I only hinted at it on the right. With the sun providing such strong backlighting the rocks stood out dark, with their tops catching the light, as were the areas of beach. For the sparkling water I have simply dotted the area in question, and this can be moved to suit my needs when I carry out the final painting.
A scene like this can look a little desolate without some form of life, so I would introduce bird life or maybe a small boat into a painting. A cormorant stood on a rocky promontory well to the right, and in a nearby beach a number of waders were at work on the wet sand so it would be easy enough to introduce any of these to this scene, perhaps with a strip of sand in the case of the waders. The sand would also break up the monotony of wall-to-wall stones and pebbles in the foreground.
I enjoyed every moment I lingered in this delightful spot. Nature washes away all the stresses of life, and for me always injects a tremendous energy into my work. If you go out into the landscape it will always have a lesson for you, without fail. As someone with a deep love for the natural environment I have always treasured my visits to the Highlands, but for how much longer I don’t know. With the encroach of massed wind turbines across some of Scotland’s most iconic landscapes they will before long be submerged in a ghastly industrial mess. Even if the turbines were effective and didn’t involve highly toxic manufacture, didn’t decimate the bat and raptor population, didn’t pose a considerable threat to human health, they should still be kept out of these overwhelmingly beautiful landscapes for which Scotland is (at the moment) world-renowned. As they are primarily a means of making vast profits for corporations, political parties and even many so-called ‘green’ organisations, it is little short of criminal what is happening in Scotland and Wales. Please go and see these marvellous landscapes before they are decimated, and see for yourself what is happening to one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
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.