David Bellamy – Introducing humour into your watercolours

I much appreciate the comments you make, and hope you are all keeping well and free from Covid-19. It’s certainly changing life at the moment, and surprisingly I’m managing to do more walking than normal, as I’m not travelling around with work. Getting out into nature is really the best thing we can do if possible, and May is a great time to be out on the hills with the sketchbook.

    Another vital ingredient at times like this is a touch of humour to counter the appalling news coming through every day, and relieve any worries about where it will all end. Adding a little visual humour into your paintings, even in a small way can appeal to many folk. A while back I was sketching by a farm track when no less than three red tractors came along, driven by three rotund, red-faced farmers. I grabbed my camera and waved as they rattled past, then carried on sketching as they disappeared over the horizon. After several minutes they reappeared, coming the other way, and I managed to get some more shots of them.

    I continued with my sketch, but then, back came the three tractors yet again, belching out fumes. This time they turned off at the junction where I stood and into the lane shown in the painting, which was my composition. Off past the farmhouse they roared and there was peace for a few minutes. Sure enough, shortly after they once again hove into view, still in perfect formation, coming back towards me, so I have included one of them in the painting. Unable to hold back my curiosity I stopped them as they approached to find out what they were up to. They were lost and were looking for a farm in the vicinity – probably for some agricultural soiree. I wasn’t familiar with the local area but I had a map and soon put them on the right course, and off they went.

    What I hadn’t noticed during all the coming and going was that the lead tractor had a little passenger on one side, which you can see in this close-up detail. Watch out for this sort of thing as it can enliven your work. I could have made the tractor a bit more wonky and the farmer more of a cartoon character, and these are things worth considering before you touch the paper. When out and about I do like to engage with farmers and other folk as I often learn a lot and have more time to notice any little gems like this. It’s also worth carrying a few of your greetings cards with you to give away as you sketch someone’s farmhouse. They might well buy a painting off you!  Mind how you go.

David Bellamy – Painting a backlit scene in watercolour

  Some of the simplest watercolours can have the most impact, and one of my favourites in this category is a watercolour sketch done of the Middim Khola river in Nepal, carried out at speed.

Most of this was done with a mixture of French ultramarine and cadmium red, with burnt umber replacing the red for the closer, stronger tones, and closer in the foreground and right-hand trees I have also dropped in some yellow ochre. The strong backlighting eliminated most detail and created a powerful sense of a series of tones that automatically suggested a vast space. Here and there I have deliberately lost the edges of ridges and the shorelines of the river, and emphasised others. Evenings are a good time to capture this sort of effect with backlighting, which also creates a sparkling effect of water. If you are working directly from the scene try painting a monochrome as it is quicker and you can capture the effects before they disappear!

This sketch was carried out during a painting expedition when I took a group of painters trekking in the Himalayas. That morning we had descended from some considerable height and one of our more elderly artists was missing as we sat on the banks of the river for lunch. I wasn’t too worried as she had a Sherpa allocated to look after her full-time, but we waited in expectation of her arrival. She wore a large distinctive white hat and when I gazed up at the mountain we’d descended I suddenly caught sight of what I assumed was her hat coming out of the trees like a bat out of hell. I couldn’t believe it, as she would never have been able to move at such speed, so I grabbed my binoculars and focused them on the hat.

Sure enough, it was our missing artist, hurtling down the mountainside at astonishing speed. She was actually sitting piggy-back style on the back of the diminutive little Sherpa and he was running down the mountain! These little fellows are incredible, and he was quite a bit smaller than our artist friend. They then disappeared into more trees and about fifteen minutes later came sauntering side-by-side out of the bushes on the far side of the river. There were many tales on that trip and it was quite tough for many, but they all relished the experience of a lifetime.

Stay safe and keep painting!