I had hoped that Covid-19 would have slowed things down and given me much more time to catch up on those jobs that have been abandoned over the years, but I seem to be as busy as ever. I still ensure that I get out more into the hills and have plenty of exercise, as I strongly feel this helps the creative juices as well as one’s well-being.
We’ve enjoyed some amazing skies lately – beautiful, billowing cumulus clouds have been a stunning feature of the last few days, and it’s an excellent opportunity to sketch and photograph cloudscapes to use in your landscape paintings. I rarely paint a scene depicting the sky that happened on that particular day, as they don’t often make an exciting composition. I prefer to think about the mood that would fit that particular scene and then the kind of sky that might work best with that mood. Usually there are several options with completely different effects, allowing you to paint the same subject several times, each with a widely varying result.
This watercolour is of Volquart Boonsland seen in evening light from across the polynya at Scoresbysund. It was a beautiful, tranquil Arctic evening, though intensely cold. In the painting my aim was to recreate the moment, that lovely period of tranquility, where there is utter peace completely shut off from a mad world. To achieve this mood I treated the sky with the emphasis on horizontal layers of cloud, with the light coming in from the right.
The painting is currently featured in my article on painting exciting skies in the Summer 2020 issue of Leisure Painter magazine where it explains how I rendered the sky, and can also be seen in my book Arctic Light. Try doing quick, simple studies of skies, and if you are house-bound then this is something you should be able to do from your windows, as the Impressionists did when they didn’t relish going out in the depths of winter. Set up a comfortable chair by the window in readiness for the next batch of exciting clouds to sally forth.
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 Light book 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!
It was great to see so many familiar faces at Patchings Art Festival earlier this month, and exchange experiences with many of the artists and exhibitors. It’s a wonderful show that seems to get better every year, so if you’ve not been then put it in your diary for next July. As well as demonstrating the fabulous Waterford papers in the St Cuthberts marquee I had a stand next door. With just Jenny and myself on the stand we were run ragged and completely sold out of how-to-paint books by the third morning. We also ran out of some of the exciting Daniel Smith watercolour paints, despite an emergency deliver from DSHQ!
We almost sold out of my new Arctic Light book as well. It’s had some tremendous reviews, with its wide range of subjects, including several painting techniques that I haven’t featured in books before. I particularly enjoyed creating the wildlife paintings, especially those where I spent quite some time with the animals, studying both their form and ways. My favourite poseur was the walrus, generally an amiable fellow on land, especially when basking in the sunshine, though he can be rather vicious in the water if he takes a dislike to you!
At a bull walrus colony on Svalbard I found these beasts in a great many fascinating poses – many more than shown here – and in order to feature as many of these as I could in the book I decided to render them as a montage on one large sheet of Saunders Waterford hot-pressed paper. This paper really enhances the detail in the walrus’s extremely textured hide. It’s really worth thinking about creating a montage where you wish to display a variety of actions or features in a scene, and perhaps add a little bit of humour at the same time. I also did a similar montage depicting the amazing actions of a single polar bear. Great fun!
After a week of absolutely atrocious weather in the Italian Dolomites it’s nice to be back in sunny Wales for a day or two. Although I managed a number of useful sketches, without any views because of dense mist and lashing rain for much of the time it was a little annoying, especially when you know the scenery is spectacular. The previous week at Lake Garda we suffered from intense heat during a group painting holiday, but everyone remained cheerful, kept painting and put up with all that sunshine.
On Monday evening (10th July) I will be giving a talk at the launch of my Arctic Light book at Stanfords Map Shop in Covent Garden, London. It’s a fabulous place for maps and guidebooks for all over the world. There are still a number of places left, and if you wish to come along, then please get in touch with Mary Ellingham at Search Press on 01892 510 850, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Although Arctic Light it is not a how-to-paint book, it is crammed with watercolours and sketches with a great many examples of the way atmosphere and light can be depicted in landscapes. This time I have also included many works showing wildlife, both animals and birds, which can make a real difference to a painting even if portrayed in a small scale within the composition. You can see more details at my website.
Next week I shall be demonstrating for St Cuthberts Mill at the annual Patchings Art Festival on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday, using the marvellous Saunders Waterford papers in the St Cuthberts Mill Marquee. The festival is on from 13th to 16th July inclusive and is highly recommended for its wealth of demonstrating artists, crafts and art materials, so do come along and have a chat. For further information on the event see Patchings Art Festival. We will also have a stand near the marquee with a number of my paintings, books, DVDs, etc, so hopefully I’ll see you there.
It is a sad fact that in many paintings skies are painted without much forethought, when in fact they should be considered as an intrinsic part of the composition. They not only set the mood and lighting effects, but clouds, sun, squalls, lightning and stormy effects can all be positioned and treated sympathetically in relation to the ground features, especially mountains, hills and trees with which the sky comes into contact.
In this watercolour from my new book David Bellamy’s Arctic Light I have placed the most interesting part of the sky close to the summit of the Geologryggen peak and directly above the polar bear, thus bringing all the main elements together. For this painting, done on Saunders Waterford rough high white paper I began by wetting the whole sky area then working in quinacridone gold around the brightest point, and immediately blending in permanent orange to warm it up even more. I had already mixed up a wash of Moonglow with French ultramarine and applied this to the rest of the sky. While this was all still wet I brought in some much stronger Moonglow to apply the darker clouds wet-into-wet. Note the counterchange where mountain meets sky – the right-hand side shows the mountain slope dark against light, as is the rocky summit, but the rest reveals a sky darker than the snowy ridges. The paints I used here are the Daniel Smith watercolour range which have some amazingly gorgeous colours.
So, when you are doing those thumbnail sketches to work out your composition, don’t forget to include the sky, unless it covers a small part of the work. For those who enjoy painting skies and really want some good examples the Arctic book is a real treasury as it is crammed with a whole variety of skies suitable whether you are painting in Bognor, Bornholm or wherever. For further details see my website.
I will be signing my book at Stanfords map shop in Covent Garden on July 10th, so if you would like to come along and have a chat or ask any questions, then please get in touch with Mary Ellingham at Search Press on email@example.com or telephone 01892 510 850