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 Snow Scenes

 Well, at this time of year we’re supposed to see some snow, but the only time I’ve come across the white stuff this winter is on the high mountains, so last week I did encounter brilliant snow effects in the Brecon Beacons, accompanied by the most divine light flooding the western face of Cribin. Alas, I’d left my paintbox in my Viper haversack and the resulting sketch done with watersoluble pencil failed to capture the amazing colours, and I was too high up to make a quick dash for the car.

 So here I will show you a pen and wash sketch I did of New Radnor church many years ago in beautiful snow conditions.   

This was done in an A4 cartridge book with limited colours. Everything is cool, except the yellow ochre on the buildings. In a painting I would simplify the scene, as the cottages compete with the church, which is the main centre of attention. I’d probably put these cottages into shadow, making them quite dark to throw the emphasis on the church caught in strong sunlight.   

Christmas was a happy, but wild affair of tearing round Kent, Sussex and Hampshire to see various members of the family. Still, I was able to relax at times with a riveting novel set in the French Alps around Chamonix, Running Water & The Guide, by A E W Mason, himself an Alpinist active in the early 20th century. It has been brought to life again by Professor Roberta Grandi with an excellent scholarly introduction and notes on Mason’s life and career. I thoroughly enjoyed the plot and recommend it whole-heartedly. The cover shows my watercolour of the Brenva Ridge and the misty slopes of Mont Blanc. It’s available on Amazon.

The sun is beckoning me out, so I will leave you with the hope that 2022 will be a great year for you all, after all the problems of Covid, and I wish you much happy painting!

David Bellamy – Frolicking in the Desert

Most of this year I’ve been painting subjects from the Middle East, a part of the world I’ve been fascinated by since I first visited in 1963, and these works will illustrate my forthcoming book, Arabian Light, due to be published by Search Press in May 2022. The subjects cover a wide variety of scenery, buildings, figures, interiors and many others, and for a taster I show below a painting of our expedition guides dancing in the desert hundreds of miles from the nearest village. For the intense darkness I’ve used the Daniel Smith Lunar black slightly mixed with French ultramarine. The granulation strength of this colour is truly mindblowing! There’ll be more on this in future blogs.

 Another book I’m pleased to be associated with is Green Parrots in my Garden, a book of poems from the Arab Middle East by Jane Ross, a Canadian poet who has lived in the Middle East amidst threats of war, but concerns herself more with the warmth of human relationships, the wisdom of ancient desert values and the beauties of artefact and design that bring her into the hearts of the people and the essence of the region. She writes of the oasis of Wadi Bani Khalid where ‘the winds are gentle zephyrs in the thick warm air,’

      ‘But ontop of Jebel Shyams the winds are sharp and piercing,
      like needles thrusting their way through the blanket;
      fiendish, dervish, absolute and wild.’

Yes, that mountain presented so many exciting images that I forgot myself in a fiery sunset, when the light vanished so suddenly that without a torch I found myself trying to pick up all my scattered brushes and pencils in the dark then navigate across a rock-strewn plateau on the edge of a canyon. 

The books features two of my paintings in monochrome, and  Jane’s website is www.janeross.ca

It will be available on Amazon via this link.

 I wish you all a very and peaceful Happy Christmas. May you have many lovely artful arty presents, and thanks for your patience in my extremely slow blog production rate in 2021

David Bellamy – Painting limestone scenery in watercolour

I’ve managed a pretty wild and wonderful autumn this year, though it has left me breathlessly out of kilter on the blog-writing front, I’m afraid. How I wish there was more time for writing, which I love, but sadly in this robotic world there are so many threats to writers and their writing-time. For eample, in New Zealand their libraries archive has intended to put thousands of books’ contents onto the internet, but it seems that after world-wide protests they’ve just realised there’s a thing called copyright involved!

 We’ve been blessed with a gorgeous little grand-daughter by the name of Beatrix, and look forward to meeting her on the run-up to Christmas. Her Dad’s going to be performing in pantomime at Margate, so it’s going to be a bit riotous, Covid-permitting, of course.

 This is a watercolour sketch of Gordale Scar in Yorkshire, carried out on a beautiful calm, sunny afternoon in October while sitting in a most uncomfortable position on extremely steep ground high above the valley. The light falling on the limestone really made the rock stand out, particularly against the shadowy parts. It is deliberately overworked so that I have all the details to produce a large studio watercolour, and my awkward position didn’t help. This is actually only the right-hand half of the composition and the cartridge paper has been left unpainted where the sunlight is hitting the limestone. 
   
There is too much green for my liking, but grass growing on limestone has that intense colour, and I wanted to record a faithful rendering. In a studio painting I will doubtless take more liberties, lose a lot of hard edges and make other adjustments, but my point here really is to show how working out of doors like this is to me not just a means of acquiring the information for a finished painting, but also of observing how the traditional approach will appear, so that I can see where I need to be more creative in the later attempt.

The Covid-induced layoff has been a real nuisance, but we are now organising courses for 2022 as you will find on my website .  There is one in Mid-Wales in April, and another in Cornwall in September, both popular locations with lots of interesting subjects. I may well be adding more in due course. Also on the website you will find information on my books, the last one published being the Landscapes Through the Seasons in Watercolour, and they are all available via the website

I hope you are managing to get out and about with your sketching and painting gear – even in December we can get some lovely days, and the low light can create some fabulous cast shadows.

David Bellamy – Creating Autumn Still Lifes

Wandering through the woodlands at this time is a real pleasure for the artist, with the great variety of warm colours as the leaves turn. I can’t resist picking up a handful of leaves and taking them back to the studio to play with. There’s nothing like the process of experimenting with artistic ideas for stimulating our work, even if you have tried the particular process before.

    A branch of leaves – or perhaps I should say, a twig of leaves in case we get too carried away – can make a superlative still life subject, but here I have pushed the leaves into thick watercolour paint straight out of the tube, applying a few different colours for each leaf before placing them on the paper. With a sheet of tissue paper over the leaf I then rub it with fingers to create the image. It can be hit or miss, but when it works the result can be inspiring. You can work in two or three leaf images in this way and perhaps add some spatter and further detail, lettering, collage or whatever. The addition of a little thickener such as Winsor & Newton’s Aquapasta may help improve your results.

    You can get ideas on painting autumn scenes in my Landscapes Through the Seasons book, available through my website  

    We are now planning painting courses for 2022, and details of these should be released before long. At the moment I’m spending a lot of the time away from the studio, so these blogs have been in short supply. Anyway, enjoy your autumn painting and do have a go at recording those stunning leaf shapes in one form or another!

David Bellamy – The importance of your little blobs

 I see my last blog was on 1st July, the long gap being the result of an all-action summer with little time for writing. In August I visited Germany, partly to do some research and partly as a holiday. Getting round the Covid tests proved quite a challenge, creating stress and uncertainty on occasion. In Wales I ordered a self-test from Boots, only to find I could not send it in time because there were no Priority Post-Boxes in the area, although the Royal Mail showed plenty of these around, including one apparently in Llanelwedd Quarry of all places! This is totally unacceptable behaviour.

In Pembrokeshire I’ve recently dropped off a number of paintings at the Waterfront Gallery in Milford Haven. The gallery shows a wide variety of paintings styles and is a very pleasant place to visit. 

This is part of one of the paintings at the gallery, and shows a quiet corner of the composition. The centre of interest is away to the left, off-picture here, and the boat acts as a means to balance the composition. I did not wish to make it too prominent, so I lost the bottom of the blue hull in the muddy foreshore and dotted in white gouache blobs here and there to add interest in suggesting seagulls. On such a small scale it’s not easy to give the impression of birds, but I used a number one rigger and tested the white gouache on dark rough paper before applying it to the actual painting. This method also has the advantage of getting rid of excess white paint on the brush before doing it for real. If you over-blob and get a ghastly mess, simply wash it off with a damp brush, dry the area with a tissue and wait till the paper is dry and then try again. With practice you’ll find this will improve enormously.

I shall try to make my blogs more regular in future, but the call of the wild is hard to resist……..