How do you cope when you are presented with a complicated scene such as a harbour full of boats of all colours and sizes? Beat a hasty retreat and look for a simpler subject? I love painting and sketching boats, and there’s always a way round the problem: you can leave out craft that don’t appeal, reduce their number, enlarge one so that it hides two or three others, or perhaps cast a dark shadow over the ones further away.
This is a watercolour I did of Oare Creek in Kent, a place crammed with lots of lovely craft, and although there seem to be a lot in the composition I did leave many more out. This is one of those works that doesn’t have just one centre of interest – there is a whole line of them! I do this sometimes as it makes quite a change, and some buyers do enjoy a mass of detail, and to get a sense of the place you do need to suggest that many boats line the creek, especially if working to commission.
On occasion in scenes like this I lay shadow across many of the boats, simply suggesting them, and highlight the main ones – the focal point – with strong lighting. If you wish to subdue one or two off-centre then just paint them in silhouette as I have done with the boat on the extreme right background. The masts and gulls were rendered with white gouache when everything else had been completed. If need be I create dark areas deliberately so that white gulls can be placed there and stand out. This is at fairly low tide so much of the mud-banks are revealed. To avoid too much monotony I have made some lighter and on the right bank splashed in some cadmium red to add interest. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford hot pressed, 140lb weight.
Now most of us are able to get outside do make the most of the summer days to find some new subjects. This is important not just from the point of view of finding new material to paint, but getting outdoors rejuvenates us and gets us away from the lethargic indoors syndrome that can deplete our enthusiasm for creating anything. There is nothing better than perching on a rock warmed by the sunshine, overlooking a stunning view while sipping a cappuccino as you sketch. I’ve been out there with my new Daniel Smith watercolour box of gorgeous half-pans lately, so it’s been a double pleasure!
One aspect of life I am really missing in lockdown is being by the sea, and especially my native Pembrokeshire with it’s incomparable combination of sandy beaches and stunning cliff scenery. I’m desperately in need of being splashed in the face by some wild breaker crashing on the rocks, so I thought you might like to see how I tackle these fascinating actions of the sea.
This is the sort of sea that all self-respecting sailors should be indoors, but the kind I love to catch in a sketch. Just being there and observing what happens when the sea crashes onto the rocky anvils helps you understand what is going on, and happily it is repeating itself all the time. I often stand mesmerised by these moving images, then snap out of my reverie and consider how I would render the effect in watercolour. By watching every part of that moving scene in succession you will learn a lot about moving water and a sketchbook plus a watersoluble pencil will help you record the moment without any need to be completely accurate.
To capture the white splashes in this painting I brought down the cliff colour – light red with spots of cadmium red here and there at the top, then halfway down introducing purple – a mixture of cadmium red and French ultramarine – for the lower cliff. I laid it down as a very wet wash, but as I came closer to the rocky anvils I wiped the brush on a towel to lose the excess liquid and then rolled the number ten round sable on its belly around the top of the rocks. This created an intermittent and ragged edge of purple around the white of the paper above the rocks. Where it went wrong and left an ugly mark as sometime happens I quickly pulled out the offending splodge with a damp brush, although if I can’t manage that at the time I simply let it dry and then scrub it out with a damp old brush (not your brand new number ten sable!). This was painted on the beautiful Saunders Waterford rough surface which helps enormously to create the ragged edges round the splashes as well as rock textures. A NOT surface will work well but the rough version will help you even more in this instance. There are many examples of these various techniques for rendering waves and sea action in my book Seas & Shorelines in Watercolour which can be obtained from my website http://www.davidbellamy.co.uk
There are other ways of capturing these splashes – sometimes I wet the area above the rocks and then lower the purple wash (or whatever colour I am using) into the wet area, working it round the splash. This has a lovely clean effect but you often will need to adjust the shape of the splash by pulling out colour with a damp brush. Try these lovely effects out on scrap watercolour paper first and have fun! Right, without the sea and on a very hot day here I think it’s time to go and jump in the river………….. take care!
One of the after-dinner features of many of my painting courses has been Bellamy’s Bedtime Stories which developed after requests from students, and I’ve been asked if I can include some of these into the blogs. Robert, one of my students who is sadly no longer with us, had a delightful mischievous streak and asked me to literally tear into his painting at the final critique. He’d painted it especially for the purpose and he was a good painter. With the group gathered I began with Robert’s work, explaining what a marvellous rendition of the subject he’d made, but I didn’t like the right-hand side, so to everyone’s horror I tore a 3-inch vertical strip off the paper and declared that that was much better. However, I then pointed out that it was slightly unbalanced and that we needed to remove the top part of the sky, and so tore another strip off. By now many in the group were eyeing their own paintings piled up on the table and wondering whether they should rescue them.
I continued with a denigration of the over-worked foreground (which was actually well done!), and with a severe frown announced that much of that would have to go as well. By now the painting was less than half its original size. I found a particularly “revolting” passage and tore that off, continuing in that way until the whole thing was reduced to the size of a large postage stamp, at which point I declared it was a truly outstanding work of art. Many of the students were in the know and the non-painting partners found it rather entertaining. I no longer do such severe appraisals, but while Robert was with us anything could happen. We do miss him greatly.
How did you get on with the scene of Carn Llidi? I promised in an earlier blog I would show you my version which you can see below. I decided to work mainly in greys with spots of colour here and there, darkening the sky to highlight the peak. The buildings were pushed nearer to the peak and stand out against the strong darks immediately behind. The telegraph pole was achieved with white gouache which I have also used to scrub in to add interest in places. The foreground is almost abstract with stony shapes and splashes of reds and ochres. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford rough paper which I find superb for creating textural effects. The original photograph shows how much I have altered the scene. Of course there are an infinite number of ways to respond to a subject – there is no one ‘right’ way, but my aim here was to stimulate a different way of looking at a scene and also to encourage you to look at your sketches and photographs with a view to trying all sorts of approaches, perhaps even trying five or six completely different ways to paint a scene.
I often find that when I’m testing a wash or new colour on a scrap of watercolour paper that I produce some marvellous results, yet when I try to repeat the exercise in a proper painting it often falls far short of what I hope will happen. So why not try to capitalise on this perversity by now and then painting on a piece of scrap paper that you might otherwise throw away? This little watercolour was painted on a discarded piece of 300lb Saunders Waterford rough paper 9 inches by 4.5 inches, and I loved every moment painting it. With such a small, insignificant size you tend to lose any inhibitions, and it’s certainly a liberating feeling, as you feel you have nothing to lose even if you make themost astounding mess!
One of the main features I love is the soft wet-in-wet reflections in the water below the cottage. These were achieved by wetting the area of the water below the building and out as far as the central boats, leaving it for a few minutes to start drying, and then applying the dark green-grey reflections of the massed trees into the wet area, leaving the part directly below the cottage as white paper. At this stage it’s vital to watch how the dark reflections creep outwards as though they deliberately want to annoy you. With a damp – a really ‘thirsty’ brush (a number 6 round brush is usually fine for this) – pull out any of the dark colour that edges its way beyond where the reflections should appear. You may need to do this more than once.
This painting appears in my Seas & Shorelines in Watercolour book, recently published by Search Press, which not only covers a really wide variety of coastal scenery and features, but is also crammed with sky treatments of all kinds that you should find useful for adopting in your own work. Signed copies are available via my website ….and don’t forget to make full use of those bits of scrap paper lying around!
For the landscape painter grey is an extremely useful colour, often to set the mood, or equally importantly to provide a passage of quiet dullness that can be vital to make those exciting vibrant and perhaps bright colours stand out. In this scene of a stream in the New Forest, painted on Waterford NOT 140lb paper, I have used the superb Daniel Smith Lunar Blue to create the background, an exciting blue-grey colour that has interesting characteristics that may not at first sight be apparent. At it’s full strength as you can see on either side of the main tree-trunk where it defines the tops of the grasses, it reveals a powerful granulation, yet on the right-hand side where I have simply laid a weak wash of the same colour, there is no granulation. The stronger tone used, the more prominent become the granulations.
Daniel Smith have introduced a number of useful new greys into their collection recently and I’ve been trying out some of them. Alvaro’s Caliente grey is a lovely, warm grey which is quite dark at full strength, and is excellent for creating moody landscape backgrounds. The cooler Alvaro’s Fresco grey can inject a feeling of drama into a composition, for example if you may like to portray a cold sea or stormy sky, or simply cool shadows. The third grey I tried was Joseph Z’s neutral grey, a versatile colour that will be a welcome addition to the landscapist’s palette, again for creating moody scenes. All these greys can of course be modified by mixing, but one great advantage of these Daniel Smith greys is that the artist will already have a selection of interesting and varied greys without having to do any prior mixing, and in each case above the colours can produce a wide variety of tonal values.