I often find that when I’m testing a wash or new colour on a scrap of watercolour paper that I produce some marvellous results, yet when I try to repeat the exercise in a proper painting it often falls far short of what I hope will happen. So why not try to capitalise on this perversity by now and then painting on a piece of scrap paper that you might otherwise throw away? This little watercolour was painted on a discarded piece of 300lb Saunders Waterford rough paper 9 inches by 4.5 inches, and I loved every moment painting it. With such a small, insignificant size you tend to lose any inhibitions, and it’s certainly a liberating feeling, as you feel you have nothing to lose even if you make themost astounding mess!
One of the main features I love is the soft wet-in-wet reflections in the water below the cottage. These were achieved by wetting the area of the water below the building and out as far as the central boats, leaving it for a few minutes to start drying, and then applying the dark green-grey reflections of the massed trees into the wet area, leaving the part directly below the cottage as white paper. At this stage it’s vital to watch how the dark reflections creep outwards as though they deliberately want to annoy you. With a damp – a really ‘thirsty’ brush (a number 6 round brush is usually fine for this) – pull out any of the dark colour that edges its way beyond where the reflections should appear. You may need to do this more than once.
This painting appears in my Seas & Shorelines in Watercolour book, recently published by Search Press, which not only covers a really wide variety of coastal scenery and features, but is also crammed with sky treatments of all kinds that you should find useful for adopting in your own work. Signed copies are available via my website ….and don’t forget to make full use of those bits of scrap paper lying around!
The recent Patchings Art Festival in Nottinghamshire was something of a whirlwind for us, with almost non-stop activity on our stand, and interest in my new book, Seas & Shorelines was astonishing. The book sold out and that was not including the other books. Having meetings with a number of people, I really didn’t manage to see even half the show this year, and had to miss out meeting many artists, but as usual it was a fabulous show, easily the best in the UK. It was a delight to meet so many students even though I was torn away so often by sheer numbers. I did three demonstrations in the St Cuthberts Mill marquee on their superb Waterford and Bockingford papers, and had the privilege of being accompanied on stage by some local wildlife: at the rear of the marquee a nest of bees became interested in the demonstrations. Having these massive bees circling round your head as you paint away does tend to inject a real buzz to your work!
Getting back home was no picnic. The next day my two-year-old grand-daughter arrived and more or less took over the place, causing delightful mayhem and scattering my toys all over the place. About a week after returning from Patchings things returned almost to normal and I decided to go for a hike in a local gorge. Unfortunately it was massively overgrown with vegetation and I’d forgotten my boots and stick. It took some time to break through to the lip of the gorge, but once there I managed a couple of pencil sketches, one of which appears above. I had to leave out most of the background tree detail.
I continued upstream, high above the rocky course of the stream along a slippery, eroded pathway, but by now armed with a sturdy pole I’d found lying on the ground. Under some cliffs and round the corner I descended into the undergrowth from hell. Nobody had been this way for years probably. I was confronted by a dense area of briars, nettles, branches and other vegetation, all covering many fallen tree-trunks. I didn’t want to return the way I’d come so I literally thrashed my way through the undergrowth, mounting each tree-trunk and attacking the undergrowth beyond before leaping down the far side. This took ages and in the heat the perspiration was running off me. At the far end – some 70 yards or so – I looked back and realised it would have been better to have jumped into the river and waded up, thus avoiding the undergrowth.
There was much more to the day, but I shall pause there. I returned home happy with a brace of sketches and having had plenty of exercise. Just being in such a marvellous spot and enjoying the natural environment is something really special. Even for a few scratches!
Signed copies of Seas & Shorelines are available from my website
For the landscape painter grey is an extremely useful colour, often to set the mood, or equally importantly to provide a passage of quiet dullness that can be vital to make those exciting vibrant and perhaps bright colours stand out. In this scene of a stream in the New Forest, painted on Waterford NOT 140lb paper, I have used the superb Daniel Smith Lunar Blue to create the background, an exciting blue-grey colour that has interesting characteristics that may not at first sight be apparent. At it’s full strength as you can see on either side of the main tree-trunk where it defines the tops of the grasses, it reveals a powerful granulation, yet on the right-hand side where I have simply laid a weak wash of the same colour, there is no granulation. The stronger tone used, the more prominent become the granulations.
Daniel Smith have introduced a number of useful new greys into their collection recently and I’ve been trying out some of them. Alvaro’s Caliente grey is a lovely, warm grey which is quite dark at full strength, and is excellent for creating moody landscape backgrounds. The cooler Alvaro’s Fresco grey can inject a feeling of drama into a composition, for example if you may like to portray a cold sea or stormy sky, or simply cool shadows. The third grey I tried was Joseph Z’s neutral grey, a versatile colour that will be a welcome addition to the landscapist’s palette, again for creating moody scenes. All these greys can of course be modified by mixing, but one great advantage of these Daniel Smith greys is that the artist will already have a selection of interesting and varied greys without having to do any prior mixing, and in each case above the colours can produce a wide variety of tonal values.
I love exploring quiet estuaries, well away from the hubub of modern life, where all you may hear is the haunting cry of the occasional curlew, and to sit sketching the scene as twilight begins can be a memorable experience. Often at such times the colours are reduced and it is easier to get a moody effect, though having to work quickly before darkness descends can induce mistakes. I generally begin with a few quick photographs of the scene at a variety of exposure settings, and then launch into the sketch. Photographs are helpful to back up your sketches and having several at different exposures where there is a strong lighting contrast will give you a better chance of producing a result that is closer to what you actually see with the eye.
In this watercolour I have added birds, with the closer one acting as the centre of interest. A hint of sparkle on the water was achieved by drybrushing a light grey wash across the central areas. The large white parts are simply white paper, but where I went too far with the paint I have scratched out highlights with a scalpel, mainly to the right of the white water. The paper is Saunders Waterford High White, Rough 300lb
This painting, with several others is now on show at Beaulieu Fine Arts, in Beaulieu High Street on the edge of the New Forest, postcode SO42 7YA. See www.beauliefinearts.co.uk or telephone 01590 612089
The painting is also featured in my new book, Seas & Shorelines in Watercolour, which is doing extremely well, and even those who have no intention of painting the sea will benefit, as it includes a wide variety of skies, buildings, rocks, cliffs, figures and birds, as well as some exquisite daubs of mud! For more information see my website. Now that summer is here I hope you are all getting out with your paints – make the most of it.
Making life easy for ourselves isn’t really the done thing in painting – we do love striving to find the most complicated and difficult way of producing a painting. In my new book, David Bellamy’s Seas & Shorelines in WatercolourI have outlined a number of ways to simplify and ease our ways of working, from basic use of French curves and rulers to mono-printing and highlighting alternative ways to cope with painting those nasty rocks and cliffs, and much more.
In this painting of waders in an estuary I have used low-tack masking tape to create the horizon and also streaks of colour depicting different tones in the water on the mid-left of the composition. These latter might not be so obvious in this small image, but this method is so simple and can be used to create many features involving straight lines. The horizon line, by the way is not exactly halfway down the composition – I have cut out some of the sky to try to show up the lines better!
The book is crammed with paintings, sketches, diagrams showing a great many techniques, and has four step-by-step works. I have introduced many alternative methods of working with watercolours, bringing in additives to create various textural effects, introducing collage to create rock and cliff structures, pulling out colour with greater force, and producing effects with sponges, knives and other tools. A number of different methods have been demonstrated to illustrate how to achieve the white highlights, sparkles and splashes on boisterous and calm waters, and there’s a number of ways of coping with boats.
Signed copies of the book are available via my website It’s a great companion to take away on a summer holiday or break by the sea, and though subjects are mainly around the British coastline there are many from abroad. It includes a chapter on painting on holiday and a variety of ways of working on the spot, including pen and wash, watercolour pencils, critical observation methods, making the most of figures and seabirds in your work, and beefing up your compositions with a completely different sky to that in your photograph or sketch, plus a host of other ways of achieving a more exciting result, whether you want a tranquil estuary scene, raging seas, a gentle beach or harbour composition or dramatic cliff scenery.