A bump in the road

Every now and again our plans are thrown off course and we have to adapt to the new circumstances. In April I suffered one such ‘bump in the road’,  a slipped disc and I ended up in hospital. At the same time I was given the news that I need a major operation for an unrelated issue this summer so I have had to cancel all my demonstrations and events for the foreseeable future. I am sorry if any of these cancellations have affected you. I may not be accompanying David at his events either and will miss seeing old and new friends. but I hope to be back on course again by the autumn.

The pastel painting below was the last demonstration I did this year, for Llantarnam Grange Art Group in Cwmbran in March. The theme was ‘creating atmosphere’ and pastel is the ideal medium for this purpose. Softening the edges of the distant features in order to create a sense of atmosphere is relatively simple with pastel. To create this effect of clouds over the hilltops, just gently stroke some of the sky colour down over the distant hills. This pushes them into the distance.


Crickadarn, Mid Wales, Pastel by Jenny Keal

The same method was used lower down in the distant hills, softening the green colour of the lower slopes into the blue/grey. This softness is emphasized by making the edges of the focal point sharper and the tones darker. All these techniques help to create the illusion of recession in a painting.

You can see this technique and many others, demonstrated in live action on my DVD, Painting with Pastels, available in our online shop.

I hope you find time to get out in the countryside this summer to paint and sketch and store up subjects for the coming winter months. Nature has a way of invigorating and at the same time restoring tranquility in our busy lives.

Injecting Dramatic Lighting into your Paintings

In a painting in any medium, treatment of light is a vital consideration. While the landscape photographer has to work with available light, artists can manipulate it to their advantage, changing it, intensifying it, rendering a much softer, atmospheric light or create a dramatic sense of light and dark, and so much more. It pays to study how the top artists have treated the light in their compositions when you visit an important exhibition or collection.

Brancaster Staithe

Brancaster Staithe

This scene on the Norfolk coast shows part of the composition bathed in late afternoon sunlight, as it throws the emphasis on the central building, the two figures and the boats. I achieved hard edges on the buildings set against a dark sky by using masking fluid, rubbing it off once the background washes had dried, and then painting in the details on the buildings and the rest of the scene, completing everything apart from the shadows in the foreground. At that point I often trundle off for a coffee, or if it’s late I’ll finish for the day. This allows the washes to dry completely – in fact I’ll often get on with another painting at that point.

With the whole painting completely dry I wash clean water right across the foreground, taking it up into the lower sky area. Make sure that you take the water some distance beyond where you intend to create the soft edge, as water has a habit of creeping further than you might think. I then apply a mixture of French ultramarine and cadmium red over the shadow area, including the darkened left-hand buildings and the far right-hand hedgerow. This wash blends nicely into the wet paper, creating soft-edged shadows, with the area I wished to highlight being left untouched. If you are a little wary of this technique try it out firstly on old paintings that have not worked well, so that if things really do go wrong it won’t matter.

Creating soft edges in a landscape

Lately I haven’t been at home much, but I have managed to do a number of watercolours of local scenes for an exhibition on landscapes under extreme threat when I’ve had a moment or two.

This is one of the paintings in the exhibition – not all the painting is shown here, but the lesson here is in the edges. Note how the distant edges – the top of the hill where it meets the sky and those edges beyond and below the central crag – are soft, indeed, varying in softness along their length. This tends to push them away into the distance and gives more emphasis to the closer, harder edges, such as the almost razor-edged rocks in the foreground. Too many hard edges will create a harshness and detract from a moody feeling in the scene.

The exhibition is at the Mid Wales Arts Centre, near Caersws in Powys, and runs from Sunday 30th September to Sunday 28th October, 11am to 4pm daily, and features the pastels of Jenny Keal, my own watercolours, and also paintings by other artists. It was Jenny’s idea to hold an exhibition at which a high percentage of the sales would go to raise funds to protect Wales and the Borders region from wind developments and associated infrastructure, especially vital given the number of public inquiries that will be taking place. We shall also be giving talks on 9th October at the gallery: Jenny will do a pastel demonstration from 2pm and I shall follow it with an illustrated talk on painting and sketching in the Arctic at 4.30pm. Telephone 01686 688369 for details and tickets. Yesterday our county council valiantly rejected the proposals for three giant wind farms, putting us on a collision course with the British and Welsh governments.