David Bellamy – Sketching complicated harbours

It’s a tremendous bonus when everything seems to work so well – my Christmas holiday was extended this year by a trip to Devon, and my luck was in: Dartmoor was at its best in frosty conditions with not a cloud in the sky. I was also greeted on the coast with lovely sunshine and some strong atmosphere at times, which suited me down to the ground.

I carried out a couple of sketches of Teignmouth Harbour in late afternoon lighting, and as it is an extremely detailed scene I really needed to subdue the urge to put everything into the sketch. What really attracted me was how the sunlight and cloud shadow highlighted various aspects of the scene, so this called for patience to wait for the right moment to capture those parts that attracted me. The far hillside was crammed with buildings, so my aim was to use cloud shadow to reduce this overwhelming mass, and also to throw the emphasis onto the white boat. I worked on blue-grey tinted watercolour paper, using white gouache for the highlights, much of the washes being done later. Although some of my houses are a little too large, this matters little in a sketch as the finished work can be corrected. Being selective about what you include in a composition is vital, otherwise the work becomes far too cluttered.

This paper is kept in loose sheet form in a sketching folder, with several other types of paper, some of which are tinted, some NOT (or cold pressed), rough or hot pressed, and this gives me great flexibility in choosing the right paper for a particular subject. Carrying a pad for each type of paper would probably need a packhorse with me on sketching trips, so think about making up a pack of sheets of your favourite papers when you work away from home, or on holiday. For further guidance on light and atmosphere see my Skies, Light & Atmosphere in Watercolour 

I hope you all had a great Christmas and wish you much happy painting in the new year.

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