I’ve managed a pretty wild and wonderful autumn this year, though it has left me breathlessly out of kilter on the blog-writing front, I’m afraid. How I wish there was more time for writing, which I love, but sadly in this robotic world there are so many threats to writers and their writing-time. For eample, in New Zealand their libraries archive has intended to put thousands of books’ contents onto the internet, but it seems that after world-wide protests they’ve just realised there’s a thing called copyright involved!
We’ve been blessed with a gorgeous little grand-daughter by the name of Beatrix, and look forward to meeting her on the run-up to Christmas. Her Dad’s going to be performing in pantomime at Margate, so it’s going to be a bit riotous, Covid-permitting, of course.
This is a watercolour sketch of Gordale Scar in Yorkshire, carried out on a beautiful calm, sunny afternoon in October while sitting in a most uncomfortable position on extremely steep ground high above the valley. The light falling on the limestone really made the rock stand out, particularly against the shadowy parts. It is deliberately overworked so that I have all the details to produce a large studio watercolour, and my awkward position didn’t help. This is actually only the right-hand half of the composition and the cartridge paper has been left unpainted where the sunlight is hitting the limestone.
There is too much green for my liking, but grass growing on limestone has that intense colour, and I wanted to record a faithful rendering. In a studio painting I will doubtless take more liberties, lose a lot of hard edges and make other adjustments, but my point here really is to show how working out of doors like this is to me not just a means of acquiring the information for a finished painting, but also of observing how the traditional approach will appear, so that I can see where I need to be more creative in the later attempt.
Sketching moving objects can be quite dramatic, especially if it’s an enormous tank churning around in mud with bits of earth flying in all directions. Vehicles make for complicated subjects, and tanks are no exception, but when they are moving across rough ground they often throw up a lot of dirt, dust, smoke and all kinds of things that are very handy for losing parts of the vehicle and giving a strong impression of movement.
This sketch of a Soviet T-72 tank of the Cold War era was done with a 4B pencil. The cloud of dust behind it and the loss of detail in the lower wheel and track suggest movement. I’d already sketched one coming directly towards me as I tried to capture the sense of atmosphere and a fast-turning tank, but in this view I wanted to bring in more detail as it moved broadside on from my viewpoint. The advantage here was that it paused enough for me to render a lot of the detail before it resumed a steady progress to the right.
Simply suggesting some of the wheels helped to give a sense of a moving vehicle and of course it made my task easier. To indicate greater speed I would normally lose more detail at the rear, but here I wanted to include detail I might need later. Spattering more muck around at the rear would also emphasise this effect.
Whilst you may not wish to sketch in the middle of tank manoeuvres these points can help when you are painting a scene with moving tractors in a field, or excavators digging up your local green space, and it makes quite a change from a still life after weeks of lockdown!
I will be doing a free 45-minute online demo at 2pm on Tuesday 4th August which you are welcome to join in with your own painting at the same time – details are at https://www.shopkeeparty.com/artyclasses
and on Tuesday 11th March at 3.30 pm I will be doing an online watercolour masterclass details can be found at https://www.shopkeeparty.com/artyclasses Both will be live online so you’ll be able to ask questions.
I missed doing an intended blog last week as I had three short videos to produce in connection with the forthcoming Patchings Virtual Art Festival next week. It starts on July 9th which was the intended date for the original festival, and you can find information on www.patchingsartcentre.co.uk Of the other two videos I made, one was for Painters Online at www.painters-online.co.uk run by Leisure Painter and The Artist magazines, and this shows ten tips I’ve put together for landscapists, while the third one was for Search Press which you can find on www.searchpress.com and this features a number of my crazy anecdotes on sketching expeditions. All three videos are quite different and I hope you enjoy them.
You’ve had to wait a little longer than intended for my version of Llyn Mymbyr, so here is my effort together with the two photographs shown in the earlier blog:
This is the original scene that shows afternoon light catching the Plas y Brenin Mountain Centre buildings on the far side of the lake. As some interesting crags dropped into the water to the right of this composition I wanted to include them in the painting and illustrate how I go about bringing two visual sources of reference together for one painting.
This is the shot of the crags to the right of the above view, though it’s in shadow, a common problem when we are working outdoors, but it’s easy enough to bring two prints together and even better when you have a sketch as well. Getting these to fuse together on a laptop for the purpose of showing you, however, is not so easy for a non-tech neanderthal……..
In my version I have reduced the buildings so that interest is focused on the craggy peak, Clogwyn Mawr, which I’ve featured in strong evening light, while bringing in some mist behind the line of trees. I often change the atmosphere of a scene completely, and that really is my main lesson here: you don’t need to paint the scene as you see it, but as you would like to see it. Try small versions as studio sketches before you make a start on the painting. There are so many different ways of tackling a scene with a variety of moods and seasonal changes. Enjoy your painting!
The recent Patchings Art Festival in Nottinghamshire was something of a whirlwind for us, with almost non-stop activity on our stand, and interest in my new book, Seas & Shorelines was astonishing. The book sold out and that was not including the other books. Having meetings with a number of people, I really didn’t manage to see even half the show this year, and had to miss out meeting many artists, but as usual it was a fabulous show, easily the best in the UK. It was a delight to meet so many students even though I was torn away so often by sheer numbers. I did three demonstrations in the St Cuthberts Mill marquee on their superb Waterford and Bockingford papers, and had the privilege of being accompanied on stage by some local wildlife: at the rear of the marquee a nest of bees became interested in the demonstrations. Having these massive bees circling round your head as you paint away does tend to inject a real buzz to your work!
Getting back home was no picnic. The next day my two-year-old grand-daughter arrived and more or less took over the place, causing delightful mayhem and scattering my toys all over the place. About a week after returning from Patchings things returned almost to normal and I decided to go for a hike in a local gorge. Unfortunately it was massively overgrown with vegetation and I’d forgotten my boots and stick. It took some time to break through to the lip of the gorge, but once there I managed a couple of pencil sketches, one of which appears above. I had to leave out most of the background tree detail.
I continued upstream, high above the rocky course of the stream along a slippery, eroded pathway, but by now armed with a sturdy pole I’d found lying on the ground. Under some cliffs and round the corner I descended into the undergrowth from hell. Nobody had been this way for years probably. I was confronted by a dense area of briars, nettles, branches and other vegetation, all covering many fallen tree-trunks. I didn’t want to return the way I’d come so I literally thrashed my way through the undergrowth, mounting each tree-trunk and attacking the undergrowth beyond before leaping down the far side. This took ages and in the heat the perspiration was running off me. At the far end – some 70 yards or so – I looked back and realised it would have been better to have jumped into the river and waded up, thus avoiding the undergrowth.
There was much more to the day, but I shall pause there. I returned home happy with a brace of sketches and having had plenty of exercise. Just being in such a marvellous spot and enjoying the natural environment is something really special. Even for a few scratches!
Signed copies of Seas & Shorelines are available from my website
I will be giving a talk and demonstration at The Galtres Centre, in the Market Place at Easingwold on Friday 26th April, and you are welcome to come and have a chat. The theme will be “Wild Serengeti” and I will be covering encounters and sketching with African wildlife. The event starts at 7.30 pm and for those using satnav the postcode is YO61 3AD. For tickets and information please ring the Galtres Centre on 01347 822472
The scene shows wildebeeste startled by a lion during the annual pilgrimage across the Serengeti, when the line of wildebeeste runs from one end of the horizon to the other. The lion watched them with indifference, probably having eaten so many he couldn’t face any more for a while! I enjoy working on a narrative like this, where there is more than just the visual image. To make the main animals stand out I deliberately simplified the ground directly behind them. Fast movement is depicted not just by blurring the legs slightly and placing them in running positions, but also by the angle and attitude of the body. This is at its clearest in the two beasts 3rd and 4th from the left, where they are moving away from the viewer and their bodies are slightly leaning over to the left as they turn away. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford 140lb rough paper.
Some folk may wonder why I don’t use Facebook, even though there is an account in my name (which I don’t use). I find it almost impossible as I live quite an action-packed life with little time to spare – in fact I don’t paint so often these days because 21st-century life just is too demanding of one’s time. Technology is supposed to make life easier for us, but I find it just adds an extra burden, being so incredibly slow and error-prone. It’s much greater fun to be out in the wilds or at least brandishing the old-fashioned paintbrush somewhere nice and remote.