David Bellamy – Introducing humour into your watercolours

I much appreciate the comments you make, and hope you are all keeping well and free from Covid-19. It’s certainly changing life at the moment, and surprisingly I’m managing to do more walking than normal, as I’m not travelling around with work. Getting out into nature is really the best thing we can do if possible, and May is a great time to be out on the hills with the sketchbook.

    Another vital ingredient at times like this is a touch of humour to counter the appalling news coming through every day, and relieve any worries about where it will all end. Adding a little visual humour into your paintings, even in a small way can appeal to many folk. A while back I was sketching by a farm track when no less than three red tractors came along, driven by three rotund, red-faced farmers. I grabbed my camera and waved as they rattled past, then carried on sketching as they disappeared over the horizon. After several minutes they reappeared, coming the other way, and I managed to get some more shots of them.

    I continued with my sketch, but then, back came the three tractors yet again, belching out fumes. This time they turned off at the junction where I stood and into the lane shown in the painting, which was my composition. Off past the farmhouse they roared and there was peace for a few minutes. Sure enough, shortly after they once again hove into view, still in perfect formation, coming back towards me, so I have included one of them in the painting. Unable to hold back my curiosity I stopped them as they approached to find out what they were up to. They were lost and were looking for a farm in the vicinity – probably for some agricultural soiree. I wasn’t familiar with the local area but I had a map and soon put them on the right course, and off they went.

    What I hadn’t noticed during all the coming and going was that the lead tractor had a little passenger on one side, which you can see in this close-up detail. Watch out for this sort of thing as it can enliven your work. I could have made the tractor a bit more wonky and the farmer more of a cartoon character, and these are things worth considering before you touch the paper. When out and about I do like to engage with farmers and other folk as I often learn a lot and have more time to notice any little gems like this. It’s also worth carrying a few of your greetings cards with you to give away as you sketch someone’s farmhouse. They might well buy a painting off you!  Mind how you go.

David Bellamy – Travelling the World during Coronavirus

 I’ve just returned from wonderful times in Egypt and Yemen this week, immersing myself in fabulous scenery, although I’m afraid it’s all in the mind, as they are places that I’ve been painting, not actually visiting! That’s one of the marvellous advantages of being an artist – you can transport yourself to anywhere for a while, and I’m especially glad that at the moment I’m working on a book on the Middle East, and enjoying every moment, with so many memories flooding back.

    Given our unremitting lockdown I thought you might like a little exercise to do over the Easter holiday. This is where I show you a photograph of a landscape scene and invite you to paint it. In about a week’s time I will then show you how I tackled it. Don’t worry, you’re not expected to get the result like mine as we all have different ways of working and even hundreds of ways of producing a different painting of the scene can still all be right. The idea is to stimulate innovation and inspire you to put your own slant on the composition.

    The scene is Carn Llidi in North Pembrokeshire with the foreground in strong sunshine, but with a dull band behind the buildings to two-thirds up the peak. That dark band is extremely useful as it highlights the buildings. It covers a slope covered mainly in bracken, with some grass showing in places. In summer it is very green and in autumn the bracken becomes a definite light red colour. Move elements around to suit yourself, and for this it would be good to start with a small thumbnail sketch to ascertain where you want to place these elements. Then think about the sky treatment and the sort of mood you wish to convey: sunny, stormy, tranquil, warm evening light, or whatever appeals. Will you leave out some of the features? What will you do with the foreground hedgerow? Most importantly what will be your centre of interest? I’m afraid the small scale of this photo will not show much detail, but this can be an advantage, stopping any fiddling.

    Have a go at this composition if you wish and I’ll show my version in a week’s time. In the meantime I wish you a happy and peaceful Easter. Stay safe and enjoy any worldwide travels you do in the next few days……….in your paintings, of course!

David Bellamy – Fun techniques during Coronavirus

 It has been a chaotic year so far, making it difficult to find time to write even though there is so much to say. Coronavirus has made things even more difficult, of course, but we persevere. Thankfully, as artists we can beaver away at home on our paintings, but what can we do if we feel inspirationally challenged?

 One way is to get out all those old paintings that have not worked. I have loads and sometimes go through them to see if I can use them in some way, or find just a part of the overall composition that might offer some hope. Over-painting with a weak glaze is a favourite technique, sometimes over part of the painting, sometimes over everything, and this can subdue parts you don’t like and at the same time highlight those parts you don’t touch.

 I’m always looking for ways to improve paintings and often it can be fun working on old paintings, perhaps not taking it too seriously. One technique you might like to try is brightening up dull colours with Derwent Inktense pencils. Because they are so intense I work over colours such as a dull green with an Inktense light green or yellow as I have done in this small watercolour of a rustic cottage, and this has resulted in a much more pleasant scene with a sunnier accent than previously. Note also the sky – a very simple one, but because I used sodalite genuine, a strongly-granulating colour from Daniel Smith it still has impact even without any cloud detail. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford high white NOT paper which is absolutely great when you want to rough it about a little with extra rubbing with the Derwent pencils, for example. The paper can take quite a lot of punishment and I love working on it.

 I’ll get back with more ideas shortly, so try to keep up the painting. Sadly all my workshops and demos have had to be cancelled until the end of July, including our great favourite, the Patchings Art Festival. The course in St Davids may well now be rescheduled for late August or early September, Coronavirus permitting, and I hope that the one at D’Alvaro in Spain in October will still be able to go ahead.  Keep safe, and keep painting!

David Bellamy – Seeking out a rural lane to paint

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!

David Bellamy – Hand-bagged in Dubrovnik while painting

The sun beat down as I sat in a pleasant, shady spot beside Cavtat harbour demonstrating a watercolour, when Tarzan and Jane hove into view, both bronzed as they stood before us brazcavtat-harbourenly flexing their pectorals. Both were clad solely in thongs, otherwise naked and obligingly creating a combined landscape and life class all rolled into one. They moved round us, causing titters among the group, and at times my brush went distinctly wayward as I heaved with laughter at this incredible display of narcissistic clownery. Jane sat down in front of us, smiling like a Cheshire cat at the group, and presumably hoping someone would paint her.

This sort of distraction can un-nerve the alfresco artist, but the group chuckled valiantly and took it in their stride, producing some excellent work. Later in the week I demonstrated again in Dubrovnik, which unfortunately was so choked with cruise-ship tourists that there was hardly room to swing a sable, and as I painted I did get hand-bagged several times.

    So, it was with relief we sailed to the island of Sipan where I found a shady spot to demonstrate watercolour pencils. An old bicycle formed an excellent centre of interest – it was leaning against a wheelbarrow, which was leaning against the tree, so in the interests of simplicity I left out the barrow and about a million other equally exciting things lying around, to illustrate the need for keeping things simple. I faded out the buildings adjoining the old barn. The pencils were applied first in the various colours and then this was washed over with water, blending in the colours and then drawing into the wetness with a dark watercolour pencil where I wanted to emphasise details. If you feel your watercolours get a little out of control then try the watercolour pencils. This work was done on Bockingford 140-lb hot-pressed paper, an excellent surface for these pencils.

Our annual Watercolour Seminar is just about upon us, and this year we are back in The Settlement in Pontypool, a superb venue. It takes place on Saturday 1st October and there are still places left if you feel like coming along. The theme will be injecting mood and drama into a landscape and I will be using the exciting range of watercolours from Daniel Smith, demonstrating how to take advantage of these amazing colours and give your paintings some extra zip. As well as a demonstration I will be giving an illustrated talk on the same theme, covering a wide range of landscape subjects. Details of the seminar are on my website. We look forward to seeing you there.