It’s been some time since I last created a blog post – the problem has been that the Blogspot blogging software appears to have been crapulated by the blogging company without warning or providing any idea of how to fix it. The pictures simply appear as a string of incomprehensible characters, which of course, is not what you would want to see. Additionally I have been away from home a lot this summer, but now we’re trying to fix it.
The image I have before me is an 8-line string of characters, but I am hoping that the resulting image on your screens will be a watercolour of the River Wye in Summer. The mountain and water have been kept simple, the more distant water a horizontal sweep of cobalt blue with very little water on the brush, softening down into a light area, with some dark reflections introduced at the sides. The dark tones on the closer trees suggest the impression of distance in the composition. I have over-done the foreground flower collection a bit, but sometimes it is interesting to include strong detail in the foreground when most of the composition is quite simple. The painting will be part of a small exhibition at Erwood Station Gallery & Craft Centre, which lies a few miles south of Builth Wells in Powys. It starts on Saturday 23rd September and runs until 15th October, every day. I shall be giving a demonstration of painting the Wye in watercolour on Monday 25th September at 7pm, admission by ticket only because of limited space. Telephone 01982 560555 for the Centre. More details with the next blog which hopefully will have all the problems resolved, although at the moment I’m more inclined to believe in magic than these software geeks!
There is something about the old stone bridges scattered about the mountain regions worldwide that feels such an idyllic subject for the landscape artist. The one I am featuring today stands on the River Artro in Snowdonia, a quiet, heavenly spot that has a calming influence on the mind. I have painted it a few times, and this view is looking upstream with light filtering through the trees.
The overwhelming greens in the top half of the composition have been tempered by the mixtures of French ultramarine and cadmium red in the lower segment, often with yellow ochre dropped in while the passage was wet. The contrasting effect of tall dark tree-trunks on the left, with the negative painting of the trunks of those saplings on the right helps to provide balance. The river naturally leads the eye up to the bridge, and I have kept the foreground water calm and lacking in detail in order to throw the emphasis on that which is closer to the bridge. The soft, blurred effect of the background trees also helps to accentuate the stronger lines of the bridge, and I have considerably reduced the number of trees in the scene.
I am delighted to say that the painting now hangs on display in Erwood Station art and craft gallery, which has just opened again, and very much in the manner of my dear friend Alan Cunningham who built it up into a highly popular venue, but who sadly passed away many years ago. It was quite an emotional moment to be invited back by Jenny, the new proprietor of the place that brings back so many happy memories. There are works by several artists and some of the most delightful crafts by talented local makers, as well as a terrific tea shop once again, and a beautiful river walk beside the Wye, so do drop in – it’s about 8 miles south of Builth Wells, just off the A470, telephone 07584 258947.
Finally, I’m so sorry I’ve been off the air for so long, but I went down with the ‘flu in December when I was about to send out a Christmas message, and so missed seeing the family over Christmas, including Catherine’s amazing performance as the Genie in Aladdin at East Grinstead. It took a while to get over it, and in mid-January I set off for northern Italy to explore the Alpine scenery around the Aosta Valley, though still not in perfect trim. However, it proved to be a spectacular trip and I will be covering it in my next blog. In the meantime I hope you are all making the most of this absolutely beautiful weather for sketching landscapes.
I don’t know about you, but I do love weathered stonework, whether it’s a humble dry-stone wall snaking across a windy hillside, or part of a monumental masterpiece of some ancient temple. When I visited the vast Roman site of Baalbec in Lebanon’s Hezbollah heartland the amount of outstanding weathered and sculptured stonework really took my breath away.
The illustration shows a small part of an enormous watercolour of the main courtyard at Baalbec. By keeping the edges fairly soft, this has imparted a weather-worn appearance. In the large side of the left-hand block of stone I began with a wash of alizarin crimson, dropped in some yellow ochre higher up and weak French ultramarine on the right. When the paper had dried I drew in the Roman lettering using a number one round sable, easing off the pressure in places to almost lose the outline of the letter, and in fact deliberately missed some parts. Again I allowed the work to dry before vigorously rubbing parts of some letters with a small flat brush to lose even more minor parts, before applying a wash of lunar black mainly over the right-hand side. This DanielSmith colour granulates with a vengeance, speckling the piece as in the original stonework. I applied it slightly unevenly and added the odd little blob here and there. I have created this in a traditional manner, building it up slowly overall, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t include these techniques in combination with a more abstract design.
The original painting can be seen in my book Arabian Light which is not a practical guide, but nevertheless contains a wealth of inspirational watercolour techniques, with particular emphasis on capturing light and atmosphere. Why not put it on your Christmas list? You can find more details on my website
I have delivered new paintings to the Ardent Gallery in Brecon www.ardentgallery.co.uk so do pop in if you are in the area. I have also done a Christmas card which is sold in support of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, and details can be obtained at CPRW
A few weeks ago I received an interesting query about how one determines what colours to use in response to a landscape. I could write a book on this fascinating subject, but I’ll try to answer that as best I can in this limited space and perhaps follow it up with an article on the subject later.
In some of the practical art books I read during my early days we were warned against relying too much on the colours in photographs taken of landscapes as the colour reproduction was often unrealistic, and it was best to work from the landscape first-hand to achieve the precise colours in the scene. This approach, however, adopts the premise that we simply want to copy exactly what is in front of us, and to blazes with any of our own artictic creativity. In our paintings we are not trying to emulate photography.
In this painting the topographical features and buildings are fairly faithful to the scene, but the colours could not be much more different to what was actually present on this occasion. I have grossly romanticised the colours with mauves, orange, alizarin and other colours for both sky and land, and created a glimmer on the water. JMW Turner likewise used colour on many occasions for its emotional power, rather than sticking to what was before him, much to his contemporaries’ astonishment. Colour is closely bound to mood and emotion, so much thought should be given to your proposed palette before you begin painting.
You may wish to take a less romanticised approach, but even so it is perfectly legitimate to alter the colours from the original scene. Colours are affected by the weather, light, seasons and a host of other factors. For example, one day a field can be a pale green perhaps, and the next when the farmer has cut the hay it can be a distinct Naples yellow. Fields get ploughed up and lighten in tone and colour when the dry out, and I have seen a cottage roof change in brilliant sunshine from black to the most brilliant gleaming whiteness after a shower of rain followed by more sunshine. I often change a field by the centre of interest from a dull green to a shimmering yellow to draw the eye in, and perhaps do the opposite to the landscape at the edges of the composition so that it doesn’t draw the eye away from the centre of interest.
Landscapes are commonly overwhelmed with greens, but if you try to copy every green you can see you will be ovewhelmed, and the result can look chaotic. What may look right in reality or a photograph simply may not work in a painting. We need to interpret colour as much as we need to do so with other aspects of a scene. Choose a maximum of three or four greens. Variegate them by dropping in other colours while they are still wet, but also consider changing them for a totally different colour. I’ve even seen red grasses out there, so you have quite a range to choose from!
OK, but what if you see a colour out there that you really like, and want to replicate? Study it carefully and experiment with as many colour mixes as you can in an effort to achieve a decent result, but you need to do this on separate paper, not on the composition you are working with. If it’s still not working touch in a third colour into the mix. Another way is to take out colour swatches of various greens (or whatever colour you wish to relicate) and try to match one as close as possible to what excites you, noting whether it is darker, lighter, warmer, cooler, more or less intense, and so on. Back at home you can then experiment further and study other artists’ work to see if they have created a similar colour, and by which mixtures have they achieved the result.
I hope this helps. I’ve recently returned from Cornwall where I ran a course organised by Alpha Painting Holidays. Matthew not only organised a great location, but also organised some truly wild weather which brought us some amazingly dramatic seascapes with huge breaking waves. It was great fun.
I have a zoom demonstration on Saturday 24th September at 12.30 pm in conjunction with Patchings Art Centre, so do please join us if you can. It’s free and will last one hour. I shall be demonstrating coastal scenery, and the link is as follows:
As landscape artists we often see far too much in a scene for the good of our painting, and slavishly copy as much of the detail as we can. It really does pay to think about your need to include even what may seem to be an important part of the subject, and ask yourself if it does help to include the whole feature, or can you make subtle changes before that brush touches your paper?
In this view of Penyghent in Yorkshire, although I could see the entire mountain clearly, I felt that the profile was too stark: there was no mystery. So I introduced some lower cloud on the right to lose that strong curving edge of the peak by bringing down the shadow part of the cloud with French ultramarine and cadmium red over the yellow ochre of the mountainside. Then, by emphasising the shadowy shape of the lower part of the fell as it came out of the cloud, the overall shape of Penyghent was retained. The work was done on Saunders Waterford 140lb NOT paper.
I will be demonstrating at Patchings Art Festival on 14th, 15th and 16th July. The demonstrations will take place in the St Cuthberts Mill Marquee each morning. It will be great to return to Patchings after the two-year absence because of Covid. We will also have a small stand at the event, so do come along and see us.
Unfortunately my webinar with Painters On-line had to be cancelled because of my throat and chest infection which made it impossible for me to speak properly, but we are back on track now and the event is rescheduled for 11am on 4th August when I will be painting a Nile scene. I’m sorry for any inconvenience to anyone who booked. See details at Painters Online