David Bellamy – Creating an illustrated journal

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!

David Bellamy – Happy Christmas


Whether you are spending Christmas stomping round some mountain-top in search of picturesque holes in the ice to paint, or relaxing with your family, have a great time. For my part I can’t stay cooped up for long over the holiday, and have to get out – taking the old sketchbook is, of course de rigueur, but these days I more often encounter mudscapes rather than pristine snow!

2017 has been a good year for me with so many things happening, and I hope it’s been kind to you. I know some of you will be alone this Christmas, and maybe you will gain comfort from indulging yourselves in your painting. Art is a wonderful and much underrated pastime, hobby, way of life, however you see it, and it has a powerful way of transporting us away from the ills of reality and into new worlds.

Enjoy the season, take care and I will be back in the new year

David Bellamy – Losing mountains in clouds with your watercolours

The last six weeks have been a breathless dash and blogging I’m afraid has consequently suffered. The Patchings Art Festival in early June was marvellous as usual and it was good to see some of you there. It is always so well organised and seems to get better every year thanks to Chas Wood and his enthusiastic team.

More recently I’ve been reveling in the Italian Dolomites, a great favourite with such drama, colour and atmosphere for the landscape artist. Although there were lots of blue skies, thankfully the clouds made their presence felt most strongly at times, enabling me to get away from the picture postcard effect, though occasionally they did rather overdo it a bit and totally obscure just about everything except my feet, at high altitude.

The illustration on the right shows one of my low-level watercolour sketches done on cartridge paper. Cloud is obscuring much of the peak and there are a number of ways of tackling this. Here I simply left the white areas as untouched paper, highlighting the white clouds by painting around them with a light grey, or as in some places a darker grey to suggest the darker mountain behind. I softened the edges of the clouds with a damp brush as I progressed, to suggest the light airiness of cloud, but sometimes a hard edge is left inadvertently. When this happens I let the paper dry then brush over the hard edge with just water on a small flat brush – a quarter-inch or 5mm one is fine. When this softens the edge I dab it with clean tissue and a soft edge has emerged.

Other ways to achieve the effect of mountains, ridges and crags disappearing into cloud are described in my book Skies, Light & Atmosphere, published by Search Press. If you don’t have the book you can order a signed copy from my website and we will include a FREE dot card of Daniel Smith watercolours (David Bellamy palette) for a limited time only. I wish you many happy cloudy moments with your paintbrush.

David Bellamy – Observing the Landscape

Learning to draw and observe properly are essential skills for the landscape artist in watercolour, and although most artists can see objects clearly, so many have appalling problems when trying to observe and record a scene. This is one of the fundamental skills I try to teach students on my painting courses, but it does take quite some application and determination to continue practising the skills once the course has ended.

This is a photograph of Skelwith Bridge, taken during my recent painting course in the Lake District. Whilst the lighting is a little flat, it is still pretty clear that the distant features viewed under the arch are a little darker in tone than the left-hand side of the bridge, though they are lighter than the underside of the arch to the right. Comparison of tones in this way is a vital method of working out these tonal relationships. Always think not just about the shapes before you, but the main tonal relationships as well. This will bring forward your art in leaps and bounds, and I would urge you to practice this with deliberate emphasis for at least the next month or so.

My rough sketch of the bridge on the right was done in about 12 to 15 minutes and this is the sort of drawing that will help you with your tones. Breaking away from a pure linear response to a subject is absolutely essential in your development as an artist.

I shall be demonstrating at the Patchings Art Festival  on Thursday 9th, Friday 10th and Saturday 11th June, in the St Cuthberts Mill Marquee, painting on the fabulous Saunders Waterford and Bockingford papers. Do come and chat. It’s always a great show with superb demonstrators, marvellous crafts, paintings and art materials. I will be painting with Daniel Smith watercolours and will have available the dot-card palette of the colours I mostly use in their range, so come along and pick one up.

David Bellamy – Nature’s Little Jokes

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…….