David Bellamy – Painting the moving composition

Have you ever painted outside when the landscape seems to be moving, jumping about or constantly changing in some way? These can be exciting, opportunistic times for the alfresco artist, but often fraught with problems. Most of the movement, apart from animals, figures or vehicles, is usually down to strong winds, which can make painting or sketching outdoors even more difficult than in light rain.

The scene is a watercolour sketch of Trevone Bay in Cornwall, carried out on a hard-back book of cartridge paper, over a two-page spread. Strong winds were blowing the clouds along at a truly fast rate, so the sky was constantly changing and the cloud shadows over sea and headlands moved astonishingly quickly. Additionally waves crashed in with such force that it threw up great white splashes all the time.

To render the sky I simply wet the whole area and waited for the excess water to run off before applying cobalt blue, working round the clouds and the wet paper automatically resulting in soft edges. In the wind and sun this did not take long to dry, so then I laid in the lighter colours over the headland, including some red on the central promontory. I had already decided this would be my focal point, and I would keep it light with the further headland dark. I could easily have decided to do it the other way round. Whatever you do, don’t try to keep changing these main tonal areas as the scene itself changes, otherwise it will lead to a mess!

Once that had dried I painted in the green top of the closer headland and used cobalt and pthalo blues in the sea, leaving the white surf and splashes as white paper. I could have positioned the main splash a little closer to the central headland to further support the focal point, but when I’m desperate for a cappuccino I sometimes blob these features in where convenient and leave the refinements for the finished painting. Most importantly, don’t feel that because a feature appears in a certain position, that you have to put it exactly there. Finally the dark headland and foreground rocks were painted.

This was done as a sketching demonstration for a course last week. My new book, David Bellamy’s Arctic Light will be published shortly by Search Press, and it’s quite different from any of my previous books – more on that shortly.

Before I go I’d like to highlight a very useful report on watercolour paints that has just been published by www.wonderstreet.co.uk  It covers a great many ranges of watercolours, including some I had never heard of, and I recommend you take a look at it on  http://wonderstreet.com/blog/which-brand-of-watercolour-should-you-choose   While I can’t comment on those paints I have not used, it does seem pretty accurate on those I do know. Enjoy your painting!

David Bellamy – Making the most of poor weather

I hope all of you out there had a great festive season, or if Christmas isn’t your thing then you have been enjoying yourself. I seem to have been everywhere except by the laptop, hence the long silence. One place I did visit just before Christmas was sunny Devon, but as I found it gloomy and misty I decided to make the most of the atmosphere and capture some wet-into-wet mistiness. Whatever the weather is doing out there it always has something for the landscape painter.

This watercolour sketch was carried out on a cartridge sketch-pad. I chose this because firstly the smooth paper dries quicker than a rougher surface, which in the damp atmosphere would take some time to dry; and secondly I wanted to juxtapose the softness of the wet-in-wet technique with the hard sharpness that is accentuated on smooth paper. If you don’t like cartridge paper for quick washes try a hot pressed paper – Bockingford comes in ideal HP pads for this sort of work. First of all I laid on Naples yellow in the sky, then drifted it to the left where I blended in a light green wash where the two largest trees appear.

Without pausing I painted the fainter tree in with ultramarine and burnt umber using a strong mixture to keep the shape of the tree – working into the damp paper you really don’t want much water on the brush!  Again without pausing I then drew into the green wash with an indigo watercolour pencil while the wash was still damp. I sat back and drank a coffee while the sketch dried and then I laid a medium tone around the trunks of the tall trees, thus highlighting them. Note also how I have left the vegetation under the trees sharp-edged to counter the soft, misty background – much easier to achieve on a smooth surface. It’s only a rough sketch but it gave me great enjoyment and brightened up an otherwise gloomy day.

If you need cheering up then why not tune in to CBEEBIES on BBC Television on Saturday 9th January at 10.45am and 15.40 – Catherine, my daughter is doing some of her whacky stunts. She is out in Australia at the moment and next month will be performing in Adelaide.

A very Happy New Year to you all and may it be your best painting year yet!

David Bellamy – Painting on the Pembrokeshire Coast

Jenny and I have just returned from running a painting course in St Davids in Pembrokeshire, where we were blessed with some wonderful autumn sunshine for most of the week. Solva looked especially appealing in the clear light. The picture at the bottom shows me demonstrating with a ‘lay-flat sketchbook’.

  The lay-flat sketchbook is made up of the superb Saunders Waterford NOT paper backed with strong card, and designed so that each double page lays flat, so that it is easy to create a painting across both sides as shown in the illustration opposite. As the paper is flat and taut it is the watercolourists’ dream surface to work on, and I enjoyed producing the alfresco watercolour. Although this is not quite the finished painting it does show how I altered the strident background ridge above the buildings to become a misty, indefinite background which throws the emphasis onto the cottages. Changing elements of a composition to suit your creative ideas is fine. We did however, find one or two of our old favourite subjects very much changed by nature, though. The storms of last winter did much damage – by comparison a few artistic changes hardly seem significant! The line down the centre is the centre-fold. The lay-flat sketchbook is available from the Society for All Artists (SAA). Check out their site on

David Bellamy – Painting Watercolours in Intense Heat

With such a lot of intense heat of late in Britain it’s been excellent for painting out of doors. Getting out early in the morning or in the evening light is more preferable for those of you who find it just a little bit too hot, and finding some shade in the heat of the day is advisable, for the watercolour if not for the artist! Bright sunlight on white paper can really hurt your eyes, dry your washes too quickly, and give you a false sense of tonal values, so that when you return indoors your painting may look a little stark and contrasty. Take along and umbrella or other form of shade if you intend sitting in the sunshine to paint, and make sure it keeps your painting in shadow.

A few weeks ago I was asked how to depict intense heat in a painting. In this watercolour sketch I left much of the tops of the rocks as white paper, with much stronger tones on the sides forming a strong contrast. There was much more detail present, but adding too much detail can destroy the suggestion of sunlight, so keep it to a minimum in the lit areas. Cast shadows highlight the sunny effect, but here the sun is almost directly overhead, so there is not any great length to the shadows. The sense of intense heat has been further enhanced by laying a weak wash of blue-grey over the background.

Jenny teaching by Irfon sm  The sun beat down every day on our recent landscape course at Builth Wells, although happily we did have some welcome fluffy white clouds at times for variation. The ideal spot was down by the river running through the hotel grounds, where several students took the opportunity to dangle their feet in the water while they sketched. In the photo Jenny is giving advice as they paint a mixture of delightful cascades and still water punctuated with stunning colour reflections. Make the most of this lovely sketching weather.

Capturing autumn colours in watercolour

Autumn colours have been late arriving this season. I’ve just returned from running a painting course in Snowdonia, hoping for a blaze of colour, but sadly only a few trees co-operated. Despite the strong winds a lot of leaves remain on the trees and it is still worth getting out and seeking colourful subjects out there.

autumn trees

This is a small demonstration piece I did for the group. While I use a number of warm colours for autumn trees, here I’ve applied gamboge, a lovely warm yellow, with cadmium orange. To make your autumn colours really sing you need to juxtapose them against a mauve or blue-grey, as these are complementary colours. You will see this phenomenon at its best where autumn trees stand against distant hills or mountains, or against a dark sky as in the painting.

There are some good examples of this in my Mountains & Moorlands in Watercolour book, and the DVD of the same name. There is a special offer on this package, which is only available on my website.

At the moment Jenny is working on a fascinating staged pastel painting of a Moroccan scene – I pop into her studio every now and again to have a peep, and you can find it at on her blog 

Don’t forget, my exhibition in Lincoln Joyce Fine Art continues until Saturday 9th November, where you will find some watercolours from some of my books, as well as new paintings. They can be found at 40 Church Road, Great Bookham, Surrey,  Telephone 01372 458481