David Bellamy – Capturing colour and texture on tree-trunks

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Trees are some of the loveliest subjects to paint, whether they are part of your composition or the subject itself. Often, the villagers where I live, seeing me setting forth with knapsack will enquire where I am going.

“I’m off to find a tree,” I reply. They tended at first to look in puzzlement as several hundred trees would be visible from where we stood. Now they know I am scouting for good specimens of trees to sketch, for it’s always reassuring to know that your sketchbooks contain many examples that can be placed into a composition that needs just a little extra. Trees that are close by and reveal fascinating trunk detail make exciting subjects.

I loved the way the branches twisted snake-like in all directions on this oak, but it was the colours and textures of the lower trunk that excited me most. Seek out colour in the bark of trees and exaggerate this if need be to accentuate the character of the tree. Find good examples – not all oaks display a handsome profile – and take the outstanding textures of one tree to enhance another, perhaps more shapely specimen to combine them in one within your composition.

This illustration is taken from my new book Landscapes Through the Seasons, just published by Search Press. It includes a great many examples of trees in their various states. Many artists find summer is the most difficult time for painting trees and there are many tips and techniques for tackling all that greenery and making your trees look so much more authentic. Signed copies of the book are available on the website at www.davidbellamy.co.uk

 In the current issue of Leisure Painter magazine there is a competition to win one of my original watercolours, so do check it out.

With England once more in lockdown these are not easy times, but through our painting we can escape into other worlds. With thousands of sketches from many parts of the world I find it a great solace to be able to paint scenes from far-flung places while working in my studio, bringing back memories of exciting times amidst some remarkable people and places. So many of the sketches are linked to stories. I hope you are also able to conjure up these times through sketches, photos, diaries or even books about places where you’ve been. Sometimes all we need is a little spark to set us off on an inspirational painting, and these are some way in which to light that spark.

David Bellamy – Making Still Life more interesting

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The weather continues to be glorious sunshine every day, as though mocking us in our state of lockdown, though even a brief sojourn into the garden can lift our spirits immensely. One genre of painting that is so pertinent in our current situation is, of course, still life. Did I hear a groan? Yes, I’m afraid the thought of painting apples and oranges in a bowl doesn’t exactly set me alight, so when I had to include still life in my Complete Guide to Watercolour Painting many years ago, I really had to rack my brains. My answer was to look for still life subjects based on my hobbies and interests. Ice climbing was one of my interests and when I came across an ancient ice axe and snow shoes in a French refuge I made a sketch of them hanging on a wall.

    As you can see, I’ve lost parts of the snow-shoe rims in order to emphasise other parts. For the book I’d painted a snowy mountain background, but here I wanted to show up the ice-axe much larger. When doing the original sketch I didn’t have much control over the lighting, but if you have the object before you then you can adjust the lighting to create highlights in the right places. If you are a gardener you may like to depict a spade or trowel, or maybe a wheelbarrow. Balls of wool make colourful subjects, perhaps accompanied by knitting apparatus, while fishing reels, old worn-out boots, favourite hats, model ships and the like, and so much more can make challenging objects to paint or draw.

    Many thanks for all your best wishes and comments. Try to keep painting and being creative. Check out the online community of The Artist and Leisure Painter magazines at www.painters-online.co.uk where you’ll get a host of help and ideas. Please note that if you order anything from our shop at the moment there might be a slight delay owing to the current situation. The next blog will feature my painting of the subject I set on the previous blog. Stay safe!

David Bellamy – Painting sheep and lambs in springtime

 The onset of spring nearly always gives us all a sense of hopeful anticipation of more pleasing times to come, perhaps more so this year than ever before as we attempt to recover from this dreadful virus. I hope you are able to get outside and take advantage of the better days, and perhaps manage a sketch or two. For me, daffodils always make a powerful foreground feature, and it’s worth capturing some images of these while you are out.

     This image is part of a painting depicting lambs in early spring. Sheep are relatively easy to draw, but can pose problems for the unwary at the painting stage, especially where you have a light-coloured field caught in sunshine: you need a slightly darker area behind the sheep so that it stands out, and as you can see in this painting I have included several darker patches of grass in order to highlight the sheep. Generally I use Naples yellow for the main body, often leave a white top on head and body to accentuate the sense of light. This is normally left as white paper, but touching in a little white gouache can help rescue one that has not quite worked.

    When including lambs it is important to put across a sense of the relationship between mother and lamb, or between a number of lambs enjoying each other’s company. This makes it look so much more natural. Compare the lamb by its mother in the foreground with the one on the distant right which is lying on it’s own. The closer couple invoke a much more pleasing composition.

    One of the stronger background features is the gate. Although this has nothing to do with springtime I mention it because it is a good example of negative painting. Here, I have worked the darker colour around the gate and posts to define the light woodwork. I never include all five or so bars as it’s good to keep some hidden in the long grass! The painting was done on Saunders Waterford NOT 140lb paper.

    Enjoy springtime, and you can find more help on seasonal work in my book Landscapes Through the Seasons in Watercolour, which you can obtain as a signed copy from my website www.davidbellamy.co.uk

David Bellamy – Painting a mountain bothy

 Amazingly, even during these periods of lockdown there is just not enough time to get everything done, and it’s not just because I am putting exercise as a priority. The weather has not been helpful lately, with an inordinate amount of wind and rain. Trying to film a demonstration watercolour on the moors recently out of the wind, was a real struggle. It affects the microphone badly, so I needed some shelter. Having found a reasonable spot I began the watercolour and then found the washes icing up on the paper – it was far colder than I’d realised, and well below zero. I hope to get it organised before long.

    In the meantime I did an online workshop about ten days ago on Shopkeepeasy, featuring a mountain bothy. With only 45 minutes it is quite a challenge to complete the painting, which is shown above after I’ve included a few little embellishments such as a little detail on the prominent rock pinnacle, some detail on the buildings, touches in the foreground and the addition of some smoke from the chimney. There are several ways of creating smoke even as an afterthought, and in this case I scraped it out gently with a scalpel. You need to be careful with this method of course, but it is useful if other methods fail. Sometimes if you have used staining colours around the chimney it is almost impossible to pull out any colour to form even a wisp of smoke, so this technique does have its uses. You can see the demo on  https://youtu.be/tSwuMvH9WQY

    On Thursday 25th February I have a further online workshop with Shopkeepeasy where I will be demonstrating a mountain farm. You will be shown how to create a sense of place, bringing in local character to enhance your landscapes, how to blend in the sky with misty mountain peaks in the background, introducing rogue colours that are not actually in the scene but will give it a lift, creating a semi-abstract foreground, and much more. You can obtain details from the above link.

    Hopefully, with the onset of the vaccination programme we’ll be able to travel safely once again, before long, and once more be able to take part in courses on location. In the meantime, keep painting! 

David Bellamy – Painting a Downland scene in winter

I hope during this lengthy lockdown you are able to get out for exercise, fresh air and perhaps a little sketching, as these things are so vital to our well-being. Although it’s quite cold today, these winters are pretty mild compared to what it was like when I was a youngster, so there are many occasions when it is fairly comfortable to work outside. I live at the foot of vast moorlands, so I get up there as often as I can. In mid-January I sat on a rock painting distant snow-covered mountains in warm sunshine, in more comfort than many a summer day.

    Today I have a winter scene on the Sussex Downs, which I did many years ago. A light coating of snow gives you the opportunity to bring in some colour while retaining the white of the paper where you wish to indicate pure snow. Keeping the landscape light in this way gives you the opportunity to make the most of cast shadows which will stand out strongly. I have cut a little off the left-hand side so that the details are not too small, although this does make it look as though I’ve plonked the farmhouse in the centre. Note the intermittent lines of ploughed furrows, which keeps it from being an overwhelming foreground. The massed trees in the distance have been enhanced by touches of highlights in places and the closest edge stands out where I have described one or two individual trees. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford NOT 140lb paper. 

    I shall be doing a couple of online watercolour workshops with Shopkeeparty in February, the first being on Thursday 11th at 2pm. This lasts for 45 minutes, is free, and you can join me in painting a simple landscape. All the details, including art materials are shown on the Shopkeeparty site and the free link is    https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/7916124614355/WN_kKSNDBCgQ9CyycEOLCCRgQ

The second workshop is on Thursday 25th February at 3..30pm and lasts 2 to 3 hours, for which there is a fee. Again, all the details are on the Shopkeeparty site. I hope to see you there. In the meantime, enjoy your painting.

David Bellamy – Fun with Foregrounds

A Happy New Year to you all: I hope you had a great festive season and are looking forward to a better year ahead. Keeping our spirits up during these grim lockdown days is vital, and after so long it’s not easy to come up with new ideas to stop our art becoming stale. Like many, I’ve been going through mountains of old stuff with a view to throwing a lot out, and that process itself has thrown up some interesting ideas. Firstly checking through old transparencies I’ve recently found some real gems from which to work up paintings. Secondly, sketches I previously hadn’t given any thought about creating a painting from have inspired me, highlighting how our tastes and perceptiveness change over the years, and why it’s important to revisit some of these old resources. Thirdly, some of the old art books can trigger ideas for new types of subject, a new medium, or perhaps a different approach to observing subjects.

So this time my tips involve the foreground in a landscape where we may wish to include flowers, plants or wild entanglements. Above is a section of detail from a painting reproduced in my book Landscapes Through the Seasons. I painted the dark areas first and allowed them to start drying. When the sheen was off them, but they were still damp I used a painting knife to score out light stalks/grasses in the right-hand red patch. When all was completely dry I then painted on the cow parsley using white gouache applied with a rigger. Finally I spatttered white gouache in places with a toothbrush. There are more foreground methods in the book to give you ideas for this tricky part of a composition. See my website for details.
Enjoy your painting, and do have some fun going through those old treasures – you never know what you may find!

David Bellamy – Five Tips for Painting Snow Scenes in Watercolour

We’re coming to the end of a rather strange year, and like many of you I am so thankful for being able to immerse myself in art, to take away the pain of lockdowns, social distancing and lack of travel opportunities. In my painting mind I’ve travelled to many fascinating places while in my studio: the Bavarian Alps (well, I did actually go there in February), Yemen, East Africa, Jordan, Egypt, Oman, Lebanon, Italy, and many other places. I hope you have had similar reflections on past trips while you paint.

With winter upon us it’s a good idea to prepare for any snow scenes, and as the snow doesn’t often last long in the UK we need to be prepared to move fast. This watercolour of Exton village shows only two thirds of the composition, as otherwise some of the features I discuss would appear too small. When working on snow scenes I have 5 tips to share with you:

    1   With much of the paper left untouched to show the snow areas, throwing cast shadows across this will add interest, break up the flat whiteness, and can show up any contours in the ground;

    2   Pull out highlights in cast shadows with a damp brush while the shadow wash is still damp, as seen in the foreground of the painting;

    3   Introduce warm colours to alleviate the coldness of the snow, as I have done here with light red in the left-hand roof and the bushes, even if little colour shows in the scene;

    4   Flecks of white in bushes and trees will enliven the painting, but avoid over-doing this;

    5   While you can use masking fluid to enable you to create white on branches, fence-posts and the like, you may find white gouache or acrylic easier to render.

Enjoy your painting, and if you can’t get out then do as some of the Impressionists did and work from the comfort of an accommodating window, or of course a car. Monsieur Monet, however, quite undeterred by intense cold would put on three overcoats and take a stove with him to work in the snow!

 Anyway, Jenny and I wish you all a Happy Christmas wherever you are, and may all your Christmas stockings overflow with paints, brushes and all manner of art materials.

    See you in 2021!