I have a great affection for rural lanes, especially old rutted cart-tracks. While they are superb for leading you into a composition they are also excellent subjects in their own right. When I plan a sketching trip I often seek out winding lanes on the walking map, and where they lead to an interesting-looking subject such as a mountain or hill, then there is a strong chance of a good subject.
This particular lane heads towards the Brecon Beacons and I tramped it on a sunny winter day. I particularly liked the way the low sunlight cast shadows across the lane, and was keen to include this aspect, as well as giving the feature a few extra ruts for good measure. Ruts, puddles, clumps of grass and weeds and stones can be exaggerated or even added if they are not present, to give the composition more character. Keep a file of drawings, sketches and photographs of these countryside features so that you can add them in when needed. Undulating hedgerows with gaps here and there enhance the rustic nature of the place as do mature trees and bushes, and if you’re feeling really bold why not include a rustic shepherd wending his weary way home?
The painting was done on a sheet of quarter-imperial Saunders Waterford rough paper, a beautiful surface to work on, and the rough surface enhanced the track, especially where I used drybrush strokes.
It’s been all-action since my last blog, from the marvellous annual festival at Patchings Art Festival in Nottingham’s Robin Hood country where I demonstrated the Saunders Waterford papers for St Cuthberts Mill, and had the pleasure of meeting a lot of you. I’ve also just returned from an immensely rewarding trip to Germany, so that has a lot of potential for some great artwork.
I do hope, like me, you’ve enjoyed this amazing summer and made full use of it with your paintbrush!
Artists who work solely from photographs really do miss out on those marvellous energizing sensations of being tossed around in the wind, or being spattered in face and sketchbook by rain, snow, hail, or whatever. These sensations link you with the natural world, and provide a tremendous advantage when you wish to really make your paintings more dynamic and full of movement. But, of course, not everyone wishes to go through such experiences.
This section of drystone wall and wind-swept bush is part of a watercolour painting where I began with masking fluid painted over where the stonework would appear. The dark bush throws up a strong tonal contrast with the top of the wall, and after this had dried I removed the masking fluid and brushed a light blue-grey wash over the right-hand end of the wall to subdue that part.
For the branches I mixed some burnt umber and French ultramarine and applied it with a number 1 rigger. To give a sense of strong wind and movement I painted with vigorous strokes outwards from the centre of the bush. When this was done I spattered a number of small blobs or spots with the same mixture, to further enhance the feeling of robust movement in the branches. With all the branches bent in the same direction it suggests a rather windy day.
Watch for these effects when you are out and about, and note them, even if you don’t have a sketchbook or camera with you. You can, of course, include them in a composition where there is no wind, just to liven things up a but, or to create a sense of movement. This can be really effective on water – I’ve just returned from a few days in London and when sketching on the Thames the water was alive in the wind, creating a real sense of sparkling movement in the sunshine.
Have a go at this more vigorous approach – it really does give your work a marvellous boost.
The vast range of styles, approaches and emotions generated in our paintings makes the art world such a wonderful place for us to explore. It never ceases to amaze me what an exciting world we have in the arts. I mention emotions in particular, for to respond with passion and feeling is vital in whatever genre we paint. Sure, we all do ‘bread and butter’ work, as it’s not easy maintaining that level of high emotion for our most important works.
Emotion in art is often triggered by a sense of nostalgia, and one small, yet effective way of introducing this into landscape paintings is to include symbols of yesteryear, whether you are painting old sailing boats, steam locomotives, or whatever your theme may be.
In this watercolour the old county road stretches away towards the Brecon Beacons, and on the right-hand side I have included the old sign-post that still stands there. This style of sign-post is slowly disappearing from the British countryside, and it’s amazing how including just a minor element like this can evoke a marvellous sense of the past. Watch out for these little gems if you like to put across this feeling of past times in your paintings. The signpost was created with masking fluid which will give you a strong, stark edge to the feature.
This is one of several of my paintings now on display at the Ardent Gallery in the centre of Brecon, tel. 01874 610710 Pop in and treat yourself to a coffee there while you look at the Christmas show.
When it comes to undergrowth we can quite literally find ourselves with quite a thorny problem, and painting it seems no easier: how do you cope with all those similar, repetitive and often mundane shapes? Firstly, don’t dismiss those mundane bits of a scene: in a composition we need quiet, mundane passages in order to make the exciting bits stand out, so they are important parts of a painting. Secondly, when you are out in the countryside don’t forget to gather material like this for use in a painting, in sketch and photographic form. Now and again concentrate on these less dramatic features and deliberately record them carefully.
This photograph taken on Strumble Head in gentle spring sunshine will give you an idea of what I mean by recording the less dramatic. Posts, boulders, a dry-stone wall can break up the mass of undergrowth, as can a gate, tree, bush, rusty farm machinery, and so on. The undergrowth serves the extremely useful purpose of creating a lost-and-found effect here for the wall, which can look too strident if standing up above the ground by itself.
Of course the wild tangle of vegetation needs simplification by reducing it to fewer detailed shapes. Make some of the grasses and briars stand out more than others. With vegetation the spatter technique of splashing blobs of paint from a brush can work very effectively. If you wish to beef it up, as you will do from time to time, one of the best methods is to introduce more variety of colour – red and orange can be particularly striking and I often carry this out by dropping these colours into an area that I’ve already wetted with clean water. Substitute detail with colour. There is more on tackling vegetation in my Complete Guide to Watercolour Painting.