David Bellamy – Painting a backlit scene in watercolour

  Some of the simplest watercolours can have the most impact, and one of my favourites in this category is a watercolour sketch done of the Middim Khola river in Nepal, carried out at speed.

Most of this was done with a mixture of French ultramarine and cadmium red, with burnt umber replacing the red for the closer, stronger tones, and closer in the foreground and right-hand trees I have also dropped in some yellow ochre. The strong backlighting eliminated most detail and created a powerful sense of a series of tones that automatically suggested a vast space. Here and there I have deliberately lost the edges of ridges and the shorelines of the river, and emphasised others. Evenings are a good time to capture this sort of effect with backlighting, which also creates a sparkling effect of water. If you are working directly from the scene try painting a monochrome as it is quicker and you can capture the effects before they disappear!

This sketch was carried out during a painting expedition when I took a group of painters trekking in the Himalayas. That morning we had descended from some considerable height and one of our more elderly artists was missing as we sat on the banks of the river for lunch. I wasn’t too worried as she had a Sherpa allocated to look after her full-time, but we waited in expectation of her arrival. She wore a large distinctive white hat and when I gazed up at the mountain we’d descended I suddenly caught sight of what I assumed was her hat coming out of the trees like a bat out of hell. I couldn’t believe it, as she would never have been able to move at such speed, so I grabbed my binoculars and focused them on the hat.

Sure enough, it was our missing artist, hurtling down the mountainside at astonishing speed. She was actually sitting piggy-back style on the back of the diminutive little Sherpa and he was running down the mountain! These little fellows are incredible, and he was quite a bit smaller than our artist friend. They then disappeared into more trees and about fifteen minutes later came sauntering side-by-side out of the bushes on the far side of the river. There were many tales on that trip and it was quite tough for many, but they all relished the experience of a lifetime.

Stay safe and keep painting!

7 thoughts on “David Bellamy – Painting a backlit scene in watercolour

  1. I like it David. The changing tonal values really give it that feeling of distance. As for Nepal, I think I would need the sherpa AND his donkey. I have enough trouble getting up the stairs in our house now. Should have done Nepal 70 years ago instead of squandering my time playing rugby. Hope you are both keeping well and will continue to do so.

    • Thank you Nigel for your kind comment. We are fine here at the moment, thank you, and hope you and your family are all well. Although I was well aware of it beforehand, since being restricted regarding travel I have really appreciated the sketches I have done on the spot, as they bring back so many happy moments……….and the odd tortuous one, of course, when you fall into that damned bog because you’ve been eyeing up a new subject instead of looking where you’re going! Keep well. David

  2. I love the paintings that you do of these types of scenes David. I just wish I could paint those expanses of water and river beds half as well as you do!

    • Thank you Ian – the secret is to keep practising. In the case of this river scene practice using the drybrush method horizontally over rough and NOT papers and you will find it will improve. Be prepared to waste a lot of paper! Best wishes,

  3. Dear David, thank you for such a beautiful painting and a simple lesson of basic principles of watercolour painting at the same time. It is almost two years ago when I was so lucky and spent a few days with you as the participant in your painting course in the Lake District. The course helped me enormously and I enjoy being your virtual student when following your blogs. Many thanks again. Martin Kupka

    • Hello Martin, It’s good to hear from you again and I’m glad you are finding this useful. Keep safe,

  4. The best sort of watercolour David. Thank you so much for all your blogs.
    I don’t know now whether I will ever be able to go on one of your courses but I have been enjoying your Seas and Shorelines book. I have so many sketches and photos of favourite Pembrokeshire haunts that there is plenty to work from as well as local Kentish scenes and the garden so time to stop watching the news and get the paints out instead. Lucky me. Keep safe and well and doing wonderful paintings. Colette xx

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