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 – Choose your moment

Most of you are probably aware that I rather enjoy being out in nature with my sketchbook and a Danish pastry (that’s a cake, of course, not a Scandinavian model). I always try to plan my excursions to coincide with the optimum conditions for my objectives, so last weekend I decided to go over to the Mid-Wales Fjordenland to sketch the snow-covered hills and filled-up reservoirs. This is an area more commonly known as the Elan Valley, a sort of Welsh lake district. With all the rain we have experienced in December and early January I hope to see scenes I have not witnessed for many years: the reservoirs so full that those hideous margins between the landscape and water are covered over.

Sure enough, the reservoirs looked stunning, even without the help of the sun, with Garreg-ddu reservoir (on the right) looking especially magnificent. So, it pays to choose your moment, in this case after heavy rains when the water is high in rivers, lakes and reservoirs and waterfalls are really at their best. Leave it for the hot days of summer and you are quite likely to encounter just a trickle of a waterfall! I didn’t get an opportunity to sketch this scene as the light was fading and I was parked in an awkward spot, so I might return soon on a better day and render it in watercolour.

I did, however, spend some time sketching other subjects, one of which was done in watercolour. As I began the sketch it started to rain, and kept raining until I put it away and then it stopped. That is pretty much par for the course!

Much of the intensity of the colours has washed off, but the black watercolour pencil has kept the image intact. I did this from a rough patch of ground mainly covered in dead bracken. There was no path and the charm of these places from the artists’ point of view is that the awkward approach inhibits most other people from coming over to see what you are up to. An advantage of days like this is that if you wear a large hood it isolates you from the voyeurs and can impart a sort of mysterious non-gender type of person to others – a great advantage!

Watercolour Sketching in Winter

With winter upon us in the UK it is tempting to stay in and curl up in front of the fire with your watercolours, yet there are some lovely days out there when at times, like yesterday afternoon, it was perfect for watercolour sketching outside in the sunshine. What do we do, though, if we’re caught outdoors when it begins to snow or rain halfway through our watercolour?

I always carry around with me a number of Derwent Watercolour Pencils, mainly the darker ones: black, indigo, various greys and a brown or two, and I use these superb pencils to draw into wet washes of watercolour. With this technique I rarely draw an initial outline, simply going straight in with the washes as on this watercolour sketch on the left of Festvagtinden in the Lofoten Islands of Norway. As you can clearly see, rain has enlivened the sketch with many blobs, but the image relies heavily on the marks made by the watercolour pencils.

If you look carefully you will see I have used an indigo coloured pencil for the background mountain and a black one for the buildings and features closer to the foreground. Somehow I’ve managed to avoid any runs into the pristine whites of the snow slopes, mainly by mopping up with a clean, damp brush. Unless the rain is especially heavy the actual pencil line acts as a dam, thus holding off any potential runs.

As well as being able to work in wet conditions, this technique of drawing into wet washes with watercolour pencils also speeds up your sketching considerably as you don’t have to wait around for the washes to dry, so I sometimes use the method in dry conditions. This sketch is featured in my book David Bellamy’s Mountains & Moorlands in Watercolour which if available from our site. See also the excellent Derwent Pencils website. They do a wide range of colours in watercolour pencils and I sometimes just use these for the washes as well as the actual drawing. So if you haven’t tried it yet, get out there and enjoy the winter landscape!