David Bellamy – Ice on the Equator

For many years one of my ambitions has been to climb Mount Kenya to sketch those amazing peaks and the other-worldly plants that grow high on the mountain. Most people head for Kilimanjaro, as it’s the highest in Africa, but Mount Kenya is much more beautiful. So this month I thought if I don’t do it soon I never will.

I aimed to get up to around 14,000 feet from where I would be able to sketch the peaks. It’s not a difficult climb, but I’d been unwell with a chest infection most of the winter, and climbing to high altitude with breathing problems was a pretty crazy thing to do. Interestingly there are many wild animals on the slopes of the mountain: buffalo, elephant, panthers, and possibly the occasional lion, so hiking with that lot round the corner could be quite an experience!

I set off with a guide called Wilson, a cook and porter named Chris and a second porter, Stanley. Apart from my chest ailment I was also suffering from Delhi Belly, which tended to weaken me. Day 2 was an especial struggle. It began badly when, as I was eating breakfast in a hut a monkey ran in and grabbed my pancake, egg and a slice of bread, and shot off, leaving a trail of breakfast debris behind him. As the mountain lies on the equator the daytime heat was overpowering and although I only carried a daysack it was really heavy with extra water, sketching gear and all sorts of other gear. Heavy rain on the second day made things worse and high up I had to make frequent stops. By then we were amongst the exotic plants, so I sketched many of these as I rested. Eventually we found a cave to stay overnight, and as it had its own amazing garden of exotic plants I could happily sketch away from the cave entrance.

 Day 3 dawned bright and clear but I was eating my breakfast before dawn for an early start. After setting off we soon encountered ice-glazed rock. Six am on Mount Kenya is a magical time to be climbing, even when you are functioning well below par and this was the most enjoyable part of the climb. Wilson was extremely knowledgeable and we made better progress in the cool of the early morning. A glorious blue sky was punctuated only by strings of mare’s-tails over the peaks which rose sharply in front of us as we climbed a rocky ridge. I then sketched quickly, well aware that by late morning those peaks were likely to disappear, and sure enough, much earlier than I expected the clouds rolled in – lovely wispy airy clouds, but still gradually blotting out the view. This was disappointing, but I’d had a great few hours before the clouds arrived, and although my sketches were not my best, I had achieved what I came here to paint.

I organised the trip through Mount Kenya Climbers, based in Naro Moru. Their contact address is  info@mtkenyaclimbers.co.ke  and my guide was Wilson Gatoto who is happy to arrange expeditions up many of East Africa’s mountains. His email address is   legohi@yahoo.com   Chris provided some excellent meals, but sadly I had little appetite. Stanley was a really cheerful and considerate fellow and as his daughter enjoyed art I gave him some paints, a brush and paper before I left. I did have further adventures with wildlife, but that’s another story…..

David Bellamy – Skies as part of the composition

It is a sad fact that in many paintings skies are painted without much forethought, when in fact they should be considered as an intrinsic part of the composition. They not only set the mood and lighting effects, but clouds, sun, squalls, lightning and stormy effects can all be positioned and treated sympathetically in relation to the ground features, especially mountains, hills and trees with which the sky comes into contact.

In this watercolour from my new book David Bellamy’s Arctic Light I have placed the most interesting part of the sky close to the summit of the Geologryggen peak and directly above the polar bear, thus bringing all the main elements together. For this painting, done on Saunders Waterford rough high white paper I began by wetting the whole sky area then working in quinacridone gold around the brightest point, and immediately blending in permanent orange to warm it up even more. I had already mixed up a wash of Moonglow with French ultramarine and applied this to the rest of the sky. While this was all still wet I brought in some much stronger Moonglow to apply the darker clouds wet-into-wet. Note the counterchange where mountain meets sky – the right-hand side shows the mountain slope dark against light, as is the rocky summit, but the rest reveals a sky darker than the snowy ridges. The paints I used here are the Daniel Smith watercolour range which have some amazingly gorgeous colours.

So, when you are doing those thumbnail sketches to work out your composition, don’t forget to include the sky, unless it covers a small part of the work. For those who enjoy painting skies and really want some good examples the Arctic book is a real treasury as it is crammed with a whole variety of skies suitable whether you are painting in Bognor, Bornholm or wherever. For further details see my website.

I will be signing my book at Stanfords map shop in Covent Garden on July 10th, so if you would like to come along and have a chat or ask any questions, then please get in touch with Mary Ellingham at Search Press on marye@searchpress.com or telephone 01892 510 850

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 – Quick sketching in watercolour

Don’t you wish sometimes that life could be really dull, drab and boring? It can get a little too exciting for much of the time, leaving you breathless and with no time to sit back and recall all the fun you’ve had. Being out on the hills tends to energise me and is far more pleasant than sitting in the studio, especially when you have to listen to the racket of builders across the road with their loud radios and screaming stone-cutters. And I usually take a cappuccino and Danish pastry out with me anyway – it’s amazing how it helps the washes flow across the paper!

When I went out recently on the Brecon Beacons, I took with me some small sample sheets of the new Saunders Waterford High-White hot-pressed paper from St Cuthberts Mill. It really is delightfully smooth and as one would expect with St Cuthberts, it takes the washes well. As you can see in the rough sketch, the snow really does stand out on this paper. Note how the terracing of the rock outcrops appears in broken horizontal lines, with a few gullies sweeping down here and there. It’s important to spend a few moments observing these aspects as they give a marvellous sense of place in your work. This paper also works well for wash and line work, and should be in the art shops fairly soon. I can’t wait to work on some big sheets.

I shall be demonstrating at  Patchings Art Festival next month in the St Cuthberts Mill marquee, on the 9th, 10th and 11th June, so I hope you can come along and enjoy the event. It’s always a great pleasure to be there, with so many artists and crafts-people, and of course, all the materials to check out. And make sure you try out some of the Waterford HP paper!

David Bellamy – Reserving whites in a watercolour

One of the greatest problems concerning the watercolourist is that of reserving whites in a painting. There are several ways of tackling this: the use of the negative painting technique, masking fluid or film, scratching with a knife or scalpel, or the use of Chinese white, white gouache or acrylic. Pulling out colour with a damp brush or tissue, or sponging out when the wash is dry, are further ways of achieving a considerable lightening of the tone, although these latter methods rarely are as glaringly white as the aforementioned ones. Down the centuries white body colour has been employed, the equivalent of our white gouache or Chinese white.

These days even the main watercolour societies feature paintings carried out with much use of white gouache or acrylic paint, so there is no stigma attached to using that method, and I shall illustrate it in a future blog. Scratching can be effective for minor features such as ropes or rigging in a harbour, limited sparkle on water, and similar items, but for larger or more intricate work masking fluid or the negative painting technique is a better method.

In the watercolour on the right I applied masking fluid over the actual icefall with all its complexities, in the positions where you see the absolute white. This, of course, is the naked paper after the masking fluid has been removed near the end of the painting. For the snow lying on the peak and crags, and also for the light cloud, I used the negative painting method, that is, I worked round the white shapes with the darker sky, the rocks and shadow areas. When it was all dry I applied further shadow washes using French ultramarine and cadmium red over some of the snow and rock areas that were in shadow. I could have employed masking fluid to some of these parts, but it results in hard edges and much of the edges there I wanted to appear soft, especially the light cloud. I find it best not to mix the two techniques in the same area as it can get confusing, thus causing errors, so I have deliberately kept the top and bottom halves of the composition apart in that sense.

This is one of the paintings that will appear in my exhibition at the Windrush Gallery from 3rd to 10th May (it will be closed on 7th and 8th May), at Windrush, Gloucestershire, OX18 4TU  Telephone 01451 844425 The gallery open times are from 11 am to 5pm daily. The exhibition will cover a wide variety of scenery, including marine and pastoral paintings. I shall also be doing a watercolour demonstration Painting in the Cooler Months in Windrush village hall on Saturday 9th May at 2pm. If you wish to come along please book in advance:  j.neil299@btinternet.com or phone 01451 844425