It’s been an exhausting few weeks since the last blog, and unlike some I find it difficult to write blogs in the odd cafe, while waiting for the lights to turn green, or when sitting on the back of a Bactrian camel. Anyway, my exhibition of the paintings from the Arctic Light book went well in the superb Osborne Studio Gallery in Belgravia last month. In fact you can still see the catalogue on their website, www.osg.uk.com Although they are of course, paintings of the Arctic, there is a lot you can learn from studying the images for composition, colours, skies, moods, etc. I thought you might like to see how the cartoonists see me – here’s a great caricature of me drawn by the excellent caricaturist Gary whose work is regularly featured in the Sunday Times and Daily Mail. This one appeared in The Lady recently when they did a profile on me. Is that a mischievous twinkle in the eyes?
After the exhibition I ran a course in St Davids and we were blessed with good weather. Although the wind was a bit strong, this really gave us some interesting boisterous seas, with great splashes when the really big waves came crashing in from across the Atlantic. One balmy afternoon on the cliffs in warm and stunning sunlight was truly unforgettable, and perfect for sketching.
I’m delighted to report that my Arctic Lightbook has just been awarded best outdoor book by the Outdoor Writers’ & Photographers’ Guild, on top of a marvellous batch of reviews. Although it’s not a how-to book it sells well at my demonstrations and workshops, as it’s packed with interesting and at times dramatic compositions and skies, as well as the many tales and sometimes absurd situations that seem to follow me around. I’m told many have put it on their Christmas list. Enjoy your painting!
The sun has just risen and Torben is already up, proclaiming loudly on the beauty of the intense colours in the sky. I fight my way out of the sleeping bag, automatically grasping my painting gear while gasping at the temperature – even with the stove firing away the hut is cold. The window is in the perfect position to view the sun casting warm fingers across the icy wastes, and turning ice hummocks to gold. A few pencil strokes shiver their way across the sketchbook and then I apply the watercolour washes, starting with the blaze of light that is burning away at the edge of the vertical crag. This is chiefly quinacridone gold, blending into some less violent Naples yellow, then pushing outwards, away from the point of maximum brightness with a mixture of cobalt blue and cadmium red. In the hunters’ hut this is luxury sketching for a change, especially when Jens puts a mug of steaming tea into my hand.
Later on I sketch Isak tending to his sledge-dogs in his usual kindly manner, and so in the finished painting here you can see how I have brought the two separate sketches together to form a narrative. The secret of making sunlight ‘burn’ into a feature is to keep the critical edges soft and push the light area into the feature as though it has burnt a hole in the side. In the foreground I have covered the wet blue washes with cling-film and moved it about until I am satisfied, then left it to dry. It is a remarkably effective way of suggesting ice and sastrugi ridges. Beneath the sunburst I included some of the warm gold to suggest the reflections of the colour in the ice. The painting was carried out on Saunders Waterford 300lb not paper.
This is one of a great many paintings in my new book,David Bellamy’s Arctic Light, which has just been published by Search Press. It is crammed with paintings, sketches and anecdotes, and contains one chapter describing some of the methods used to sketch and paint, often in almost impossible conditions. Subjects vary from glaciers, sea ice, mountains, wild seas, waterfalls, people and many wildlife works are included, from polar bears, walrus, musk ox, Arctic foxes to birds. More details can be seen on my website.
Whatever medium you paint with, light is the all-important key. You can bathe your composition entirely in strong sunlight if you wish, but by restricting the brightest parts to one or two localised areas you will achieve more impact.
In this picture I have cut out a large part of the painting just to illustrate the advantages of the sort of effect you can achieve by concentrating the light into a small part of the composition. The turbulent sea gave sketching on the boat a refreshing spontaneity, although it was not long before it was not just the sea that was starting to turn a bit green……
Although I finished my book on the Scandinavian Arctic a while ago, I’ve been trying to catch up on so many things, so there’s been little time for blogging, especially with such a tremendous autumn that has tempted me out time after time. David Bellamy’s Arctic Light will be published in May 2017 by Search Press.
With winter with us once more try to get out to sketch those lovely winter trees whenever you can. Choose your days, wrap up well and if you have all your sketching gear ready to hand you can work quickly before you get too cold. I usually take a thermal travel mug with me as the drink will stay warm for ages, and is a great boost to morale when the sun disappears behind a cloud. My book Winter Landscapes in Watercolouris packed with tips on painting winter scenes, working outdoors in cool weather, and making the most of those warm colours, low lighting and evocative winter trees. You can find a copy on my website together with the film of the same name, which has some stunning winter scenery and was produced by APV Films.
On Wednesday 30th the Christmas exhibition begins at Lincoln Joyce Fine Art and the above painting (in full!) will be on display with several others. You will find the gallery at 40 Church Road, Great Bookham, Surrey KT23 3PW Tel. 01372 458481
I’ve just returned from a trip to South Greenland with my friend Torben Sorensen, hence the lack of blog posts over the past month. Our objective was to sketch and paint the spectacular mountains near Nanortalik, which is about 45 miles north-west of Cape Farewell, the southernmost tip of Greenland. To gain access to the area we hired an inflatable zodiac to go up Tasermiut fjord, a 50-mile stretch with stunning peaks on either side: a rather crazy idea as neither of us had ‘driven’ such a boat before, and perhaps when we found it had a hole in the bottom we should probably have abandoned the idea rapidly.
We carried on, and had to do quite a bit of baling out, as well as heaving the craft over rocks and beaches at anything but high tide. Sunny weather blessed us most of the time, but clouds and cloud streamers added greatly to the atmosphere. When you can see everything the view tends to lose its aura of mystery.
Watercolour, of course, is supreme in conveying a sense of atmosphere. This is a rough watercolour sketch of icebergs near Cape Farewell, done on cartridge paper, which generally dries rather quickly and so makes laying complicated watercolour washes quite difficult, as in this case where I’ve had to work the darker sky round the light foreground berg. Even wetting the paper first still leaves one prone to ugly brushmarks across the cartridge paper. However, as it’s just a sketch this doesn’t matter. The important thing was to capture the subtle colours in the ice, the slightly darker overall tones on the further skyscraper-like icebergs, and a general sense of the atmosphere. At the same time I wanted to suggest the coldness of the Arctic sea. These aspects are difficult to render with a pencil.
I regard sketches as working documents which will give me all the information I need to complete a full watercolour painting at home. Photographs help a lot, but often lose the subtleties of tone and colour that is needed to produce an authentic portrait of the scene. And naturally, being out in the natural wilderness sketching is a wonderful therapy, especially when you know that you really don’t have to exhibit the result!