David Bellamy – Injecting a sense of atmosphere into your paintings

If you really want to give your landscape paintings a boost one of the most effective methods is to inject a strong dose of atmosphere into the scene. Unfortunately most of the time when you sketch or photograph a subject there may not be much by way of atmosphere, so in many cases you need to inject it into quite an ordinary scene. With time and experience this becomes easier.
 In this view of the Teign estuary in Devon you can barely see the distant Dartmoor ridges, and even then they become lost in the atmosphere at the extremities. To achieve this sense of mood and distance I have used the same wash for the ridges as I have for the lower sky area. Keeping most of the edges softened also helps create mood, as does a very limited palette. There is hardly any detail in any of the background trees and promontory, and even the centre of interest – the cottage with its attendant trees has little extra colour.

This painting is part of my forthcoming exhibition Shorelines and Summits at Lincoln Joyce Fine Art, 40 Church Road, Great Bookham Surrey, KT23 3PW – telephone 01372 458481  Their website is www.artgalleries.uk.com  The exhibition runs from 28th October to 7th November. Both the coastal and mountain scenes include strong atmospheric effects in most cases.

There are still places available at my seminar which takes place from 10 am to 3 pm on 28th October in the Old Barn Hall opposite the gallery, so you can also view the exhibition. Tickets are available from the gallery or Clockwork Penguin or telephone 01982 560237 The seminar comprises a watercolour landscape demonstration and an illustrated talk, both covering how to include animals and wildlife in your paintings – and, of course, lots of atmosphere, and you will have the opportunity of asking questions. I hope to see you there.

How much water?

I’m sure you’ll all agree that water is a pretty important ingredient in the act of watercolour painting, yet the way some people paint you might wonder if there is a permanent drought. How much water should you use? This, of course, varies considerably, depending on what you are actually trying to achieve. The traditional watercolour wash is a very fluid mixture: a liquid pool of colour which can be of varying colour intensity that is easily applied with a large brush.

In this scene, which depicts mainly sky, the whole sky area was first washed with clean water, then, without pause some weak Naples yellow was painted above the white central area, and gamboge slightly to the right and lower down. I immediately followed this with a mixture of French ultramarine and cadmium red across the top of the sky, down the sides and over the bottom, sitting back to watch these colours blend into each other.
At the critical moment when the whole sky began to dry I then applied a stronger wash of the same mixture across the top of the sky to form the darker clouds. There was much less water mixed into this application as I didn’t want it to run, or cause unsightly runbacks. I then moved lower down to suggest the more shapely clouds, still using the stronger mixture, but by now the sky was drying rapidly, which suited me as I wanted these strands of clouds to hold their shape. At this point I also rendered the background forest with the same colour mix to retain a sense of unity and atmosphere, the last applications of this being a fairly dry mixture with little water. Experience will tell you how much water to use, as it also depends on the ambient drying conditions, so practice these wet-in-wet and fluid wash techniques on scrap paper to improve your skill with watercolour.
   The painting is one of many from my new book, Skies, Light & Atmosphere, published by Search Press in June. It contains a wide variety of landscapes and how they are affected by these elements, including how to create interesting skies, the magic of shafts of sunlight, creative use of light and shadow, how to make the most of reflected light, losing mountain ridges in mist, and so much more. If you order the book from our website you can get a special offer with my new DVD on the same subject: this illustrates a few basic techniques for creating interesting skies, light and atmosphere, and has a wide selection of paintings and sketches with commentary on how the effects were achieved.