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.
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.
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…….
One of the most effective ways of sketching is by using pen and wash. I carry around hardback bound sketchbooks of cartridge paper amongst the many odd items in my rucsack, and these accept pen drawings well. While the dip-pen and bottle of ink are the ideal way, it is less practicable to carry around bottle of ink, so I normally resort to a technical pen, although this has a uniform line.
This sketch was done in evening light in the Maritime Alps, on cartridge paper. I began with the ink drawing using a .02 nib. Where you have considerable depth in a scene, and especially with distant mountains, or wish to draw clouds, it is imperative not to be too heavy-handed with the pen on these distant elements. I prefer more intermittent line work rather than continuous lines as seen on the building, as this will suggest distance. In places I have totally omitted the line work and relied solely on the watercolour wash outline to describe the shape of far ridges and trees. The ink line is also an excellent way of rescuing a painting or watercolour sketch that is too weak in tones.
My recent trip to the Alps was aimed at capturing snow scenes, but there was no snow until the final day when I had to leave. Somehow the snow appears to have been deliberately eluding me this winter!
There are still one or two spaces left on my Croatian painting holiday in September. This is an easy, relaxed painting holiday in congenial surrounding amidst lovely scenery, and will not involve any wild mountain work! For details check out my website at http://www.davidbellamy.co.uk/painting-holiday-to-croatia-2016/
Most of you are probably aware that I rather enjoy being out in nature with my sketchbook and a Danish pastry (that’s a cake, of course, not a Scandinavian model). I always try to plan my excursions to coincide with the optimum conditions for my objectives, so last weekend I decided to go over to the Mid-Wales Fjordenland to sketch the snow-covered hills and filled-up reservoirs. This is an area more commonly known as the Elan Valley, a sort of Welsh lake district. With all the rain we have experienced in December and early January I hope to see scenes I have not witnessed for many years: the reservoirs so full that those hideous margins between the landscape and water are covered over.
Sure enough, the reservoirs looked stunning, even without the help of the sun, with Garreg-ddu reservoir (on the right) looking especially magnificent. So, it pays to choose your moment, in this case after heavy rains when the water is high in rivers, lakes and reservoirs and waterfalls are really at their best. Leave it for the hot days of summer and you are quite likely to encounter just a trickle of a waterfall! I didn’t get an opportunity to sketch this scene as the light was fading and I was parked in an awkward spot, so I might return soon on a better day and render it in watercolour.
I did, however, spend some time sketching other subjects, one of which was done in watercolour. As I began the sketch it started to rain, and kept raining until I put it away and then it stopped. That is pretty much par for the course!
Much of the intensity of the colours has washed off, but the black watercolour pencil has kept the image intact. I did this from a rough patch of ground mainly covered in dead bracken. There was no path and the charm of these places from the artists’ point of view is that the awkward approach inhibits most other people from coming over to see what you are up to. An advantage of days like this is that if you wear a large hood it isolates you from the voyeurs and can impart a sort of mysterious non-gender type of person to others – a great advantage!