Recently I was up in the Brecon Beacons on a windy day which was unpleasant for sketching out of doors high up, but marvellous for the ever-changing cloud formations rapidly scudding across the mountains. The light and shadow effects were constantly providing new sketching opportunities. On days like these it’s invaluable to take advantage of such stunning skies, but so often if I rely simply on photographs I find the results less than satisfying. So I try to get in one or two sketches at least.
The image shows wild clouds over Corn Du, and for this I used two Daniel Smith Watercolour Sticks: French ultramarine and Lunar black, to produce an almost monochrome blue-grey. There sticks are fabulous as sketching tools, and are especially effective on a windy day like this when you can hold them in one hand which also grips the sketchbook, while painting with a synthetic Aquash brush which has water in its handle. I completely wet the paper first, then picked up colour directly off the sticks, applying one colour to the sky area and then picking up the other colour. Mixing them on the paper like this can be very effective, but you can mix them on the side of the sketch, on scrap paper, or carry a small palette – even a jam-jar lid would work well if you were limiting your colours to just a few.
Because I wet the paper first all the cloud edges are soft and my brush darted to and fro, inserting blobs of paint to create darker patches of cloud, while leaving some parts as clean, white paper. Soon the paper had dried and I then outlined the mountain peak in, softening the edges of it in places before entering the rock strata lower down. I now use these sticks constantly – the lovely rich colour lifts off so easily, and the sticks mix so well, and they have a definite advantage over a box of half-pans when you need to stand up to paint. Unless, of course you have a suitably positioned table nearby, or a friendly Egyptian policeman who is happy to hold your half-pan box as has happened to me in the past! Do give them a try.
Once again, autumn is with us, and the opportunity to indulge in bright, warm colours in our landscape paintings. This time last year I found the striking colours in the Bavarian Alps absolutely mind-blowing, with every day in brilliant sunshine.
This scene shows a track leading to Little Langdale in the English Lake District. I was lucky at the time to encounter snow on the distant fells, and this accentuated the bright colours of the right-hand small tree. For this I used two of my favourite Daniel Smith colours – Aussie red gold, which was applied first and when this was dry I added transparent red oxide. These two work extremely well for autumn scenes. The dark ridge in the middle distance was rendered with Moonglow, another useful colour, and in places I have pulled out the colour with a small sable to indicate lighter patches.
The painting is reproduced in my Landscapes Through the Seasons in Watercolour book, signed copies of which are available from my website
Watch out for those autumn colours and make sure you are armed with the right colours……..and if you get some snow as well, then that’s a great bonus!
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.
This summer marks 40 years of my writing articles for Leisure Painter magazine, and the current issue (July 2021) contains an article celebrating this close relationship. Ingrid Lyon and her team are indeed lovely people to work with. The excellent Painters-online run by Leisure Painter and The Artist is also showing a film I recently made on how to paint a penguin, which you can see at https://www.painters-online.co.uk/tips-techniques/watercolour/articles/how-to-paint-a-penguin-in-watercolour/ This was done from an expedition to Chile many years ago, when I visited a penguin colony near Puntas Arenas on the way to the Andes.
I recently dropped some paintings in to the Waterfront Galleryin Milford Haven. It’s a lovely gallery on the quayside with plenty of parking and sketching space if you like painting boats and other things that bob about, so if you’re in or around Pembrokeshire do pop in if you have a moment.
This is part of one of the paintings I left at the gallery, showing huge Atlantic breakers hitting the cliffs at Linney Head in extremely wild seas. I achieved the white splashes by leaving that part as untouched paper, but wetting the area to float in the blue-grey colour of the cliffs to define the splashes wet-in-wet in a negative way. When the paper had dried I then sharpened up some of the edges with the blue-grey wash, thus creating a varied edge around the splash. Do be extremely careful if you go out on a day like this, as the sea can be really unforgiving!
I’ve just returned home from doing some staged paintings in the studios at Search Press. They are aimed at the next book which is about landscapes through the seasons. More on that before long. It’s been a truly busy autumn, so busy that I was only able to squeeze in one trip, a visit to the Cinque Terre in Northern Italy, where I managed quite a number of sketches despite appalling weather for much of the time.
There have been so many demonstrations and workshops that my own work has had to be put aside for a while, but at least I might do some of my own painting over Christmas – painting is like a disease, I just have to keep throwing the paint around!
Hopefully we’ll have some snow at some time, when we can get some new subjects. How it changes the landscape, so be ready to go forth with paints and camera – it might not last long.
The watercolour shows Pen-y-fan, the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons, which is currently on show at the Ardent Gallery in Brecon Tel 01874 623333 (the painting, that is, not the mountain!) I sketched it in colour during the middle of the day a few years ago, but felt it needed more colour, so I added a warm, evening sky and heightened the warmth of the vegetation and on the central tree. It’s always a good idea to add some colour to a cold scene if you can manage it.
Have a great Christmas and I wish you much success with your paintings in 2020