David Bellamy – Watercolours in The Arctic

The sun has just risen and Torben is already up, proclaiming loudly on the beauty of the intense colours in the sky. I fight my way out of the sleeping bag, automatically grasping my painting gear while gasping at the temperature – even with the stove firing away the hut is cold. The window is in the perfect position to view the sun casting warm fingers across the icy wastes, and turning ice hummocks to gold.
A few pencil strokes shiver their way across the sketchbook and then I apply the watercolour washes, starting with the blaze of light that is burning away at the edge of the vertical crag. This is chiefly quinacridone gold, blending into some less violent Naples yellow, then pushing outwards, away from the point of maximum brightness with a mixture of cobalt blue and cadmium red. In the hunters’ hut this is luxury sketching for a change, especially when Jens puts a mug of steaming tea into my hand.

Later on I sketch Isak tending to his sledge-dogs in his usual kindly manner, and so in the finished painting here you can see how I have brought the two separate sketches together to form a narrative. The secret of making sunlight ‘burn’ into a feature is to keep the critical edges soft and push the light area into the feature as though it has burnt a hole in the side. In the foreground I have covered the wet blue washes with cling-film and moved it about until I am satisfied, then left it to dry. It is a remarkably effective way of suggesting ice and sastrugi ridges. Beneath the sunburst I included some of the warm gold to suggest the reflections of the colour in the ice. The painting was carried out on Saunders Waterford 300lb not paper.

This is one of a great many paintings in my new book, David Bellamy’s Arctic Light, which has just been published by Search Press. It is crammed with paintings, sketches and anecdotes, and contains one chapter describing some of the methods used to sketch and paint, often in almost impossible conditions.  Subjects vary from glaciers, sea ice, mountains, wild seas, waterfalls, people and many wildlife works are included, from polar bears, walrus, musk ox, Arctic foxes to birds. More details can be seen on my website.

David Bellamy – Obsessed with bottoms

As landscape painters why are so many of us obsessed with bottoms? Why do we feel the compulsion to describe everything in minute detail? It’s not necessary and in fact detracts from the overall effect in a painting.
I have cut out some of this composition so that we can get in closer to view the relevant bits. Note the drystone wall on the left, the white walls of the buildings and the small gate immediately to the right of the barn, and how I have not rendered a definite bottom line in each case. By omitting this I have endeavoured to make the effect more natural. Usually I only paint in the top two or three bars of a five-bar field gate. You can see that for the right-hand hedgerow I have indeed given it a fairly distinctive bottom, probably a minor aberration when I was desperate for coffee! It’s not a great problem as it is in the distance and the bottom part of the hedgerow could be softened off with a damp brush.

So watch those bottoms as you’ll get a more natural effect if you keep them soft. Hard boundary lines around a feature can make it look cut-out, rather like a garish sticking plaster on a donkey’s ….er, bottom.

The watercolour was painted on the fabulous Saunders Waterford 200lb rough high white paper in order to make the most of the textures on the hillside.

David Bellamy – Hand-bagged in Dubrovnik while painting

The sun beat down as I sat in a pleasant, shady spot beside Cavtat harbour demonstrating a watercolour, when Tarzan and Jane hove into view, both bronzed as they stood before us brazcavtat-harbourenly flexing their pectorals. Both were clad solely in thongs, otherwise naked and obligingly creating a combined landscape and life class all rolled into one. They moved round us, causing titters among the group, and at times my brush went distinctly wayward as I heaved with laughter at this incredible display of narcissistic clownery. Jane sat down in front of us, smiling like a Cheshire cat at the group, and presumably hoping someone would paint her.

This sort of distraction can un-nerve the alfresco artist, but the group chuckled valiantly and took it in their stride, producing some excellent work. Later in the week I demonstrated again in Dubrovnik, which unfortunately was so choked with cruise-ship tourists that there was hardly room to swing a sable, and as I painted I did get hand-bagged several times.

    So, it was with relief we sailed to the island of Sipan where I found a shady spot to demonstrate watercolour pencils. An old bicycle formed an excellent centre of interest – it was leaning against a wheelbarrow, which was leaning against the tree, so in the interests of simplicity I left out the barrow and about a million other equally exciting things lying around, to illustrate the need for keeping things simple. I faded out the buildings adjoining the old barn. The pencils were applied first in the various colours and then this was washed over with water, blending in the colours and then drawing into the wetness with a dark watercolour pencil where I wanted to emphasise details. If you feel your watercolours get a little out of control then try the watercolour pencils. This work was done on Bockingford 140-lb hot-pressed paper, an excellent surface for these pencils.

Our annual Watercolour Seminar is just about upon us, and this year we are back in The Settlement in Pontypool, a superb venue. It takes place on Saturday 1st October and there are still places left if you feel like coming along. The theme will be injecting mood and drama into a landscape and I will be using the exciting range of watercolours from Daniel Smith, demonstrating how to take advantage of these amazing colours and give your paintings some extra zip. As well as a demonstration I will be giving an illustrated talk on the same theme, covering a wide range of landscape subjects. Details of the seminar are on my website. We look forward to seeing you there.

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.