A Happy New Year to you all: I hope you had a great festive season and are looking forward to a better year ahead. Keeping our spirits up during these grim lockdown days is vital, and after so long it’s not easy to come up with new ideas to stop our art becoming stale. Like many, I’ve been going through mountains of old stuff with a view to throwing a lot out, and that process itself has thrown up some interesting ideas. Firstly checking through old transparencies I’ve recently found some real gems from which to work up paintings. Secondly, sketches I previously hadn’t given any thought about creating a painting from have inspired me, highlighting how our tastes and perceptiveness change over the years, and why it’s important to revisit some of these old resources. Thirdly, some of the old art books can trigger ideas for new types of subject, a new medium, or perhaps a different approach to observing subjects.
So this time my tips involve the foreground in a landscape where we may wish to include flowers, plants or wild entanglements. Above is a section of detail from a painting reproduced in my book Landscapes Through the Seasons. I painted the dark areas first and allowed them to start drying. When the sheen was off them, but they were still damp I used a painting knife to score out light stalks/grasses in the right-hand red patch. When all was completely dry I then painted on the cow parsley using white gouache applied with a rigger. Finally I spatttered white gouache in places with a toothbrush. There are more foreground methods in the book to give you ideas for this tricky part of a composition. See my website for details. Enjoy your painting, and do have some fun going through those old treasures – you never know what you may find!
One of the after-dinner features of many of my painting courses has been Bellamy’s Bedtime Stories which developed after requests from students, and I’ve been asked if I can include some of these into the blogs. Robert, one of my students who is sadly no longer with us, had a delightful mischievous streak and asked me to literally tear into his painting at the final critique. He’d painted it especially for the purpose and he was a good painter. With the group gathered I began with Robert’s work, explaining what a marvellous rendition of the subject he’d made, but I didn’t like the right-hand side, so to everyone’s horror I tore a 3-inch vertical strip off the paper and declared that that was much better. However, I then pointed out that it was slightly unbalanced and that we needed to remove the top part of the sky, and so tore another strip off. By now many in the group were eyeing their own paintings piled up on the table and wondering whether they should rescue them.
I continued with a denigration of the over-worked foreground (which was actually well done!), and with a severe frown announced that much of that would have to go as well. By now the painting was less than half its original size. I found a particularly “revolting” passage and tore that off, continuing in that way until the whole thing was reduced to the size of a large postage stamp, at which point I declared it was a truly outstanding work of art. Many of the students were in the know and the non-painting partners found it rather entertaining. I no longer do such severe appraisals, but while Robert was with us anything could happen. We do miss him greatly.
How did you get on with the scene of Carn Llidi? I promised in an earlier blog I would show you my version which you can see below. I decided to work mainly in greys with spots of colour here and there, darkening the sky to highlight the peak. The buildings were pushed nearer to the peak and stand out against the strong darks immediately behind. The telegraph pole was achieved with white gouache which I have also used to scrub in to add interest in places. The foreground is almost abstract with stony shapes and splashes of reds and ochres. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford rough paper which I find superb for creating textural effects. The original photograph shows how much I have altered the scene. Of course there are an infinite number of ways to respond to a subject – there is no one ‘right’ way, but my aim here was to stimulate a different way of looking at a scene and also to encourage you to look at your sketches and photographs with a view to trying all sorts of approaches, perhaps even trying five or six completely different ways to paint a scene.
Getting the composition right is critical whatever medium you use. In landscape painting there are many rules, or guides that will help you achieve a powerful composition, although like most ‘rules’ in painting these can be broken at times in order to create more original results. It does pay, however, to follow these rules while you are learning, and then perhaps taking a more creative approach later when you gain experience.
In this watercolour of Angle in Pembrokeshire I have used Waterford 300lb paper with a marvellous rough surface to enhance the textural effects, particularly in the large foreground area. The large foreground pushes back the centre of interest – the cottage – and allows a large lead-in of the creek. A lead-in to the centre of interest like this helps establish it, and the boats, birds, sparkle on the water and strong orange colour in the sky all draw attention to the centre of interest. The cottage also stands out darkly against the sky. These are all devices you can use to highlight your focal point.
The far right-hand boat gives a sense of balance to the composition, so that not everything is concentrated around the centre of interest. It is a good idea to carry out one or two studio sketches to ascertain the optimum positioning and emphasis on the painting to be done. Having the centre of interest around one-third of the way down the paper, or up from the bottom, and one third of the way along from either side always gives a powerful effect, so try not to place it bang in the centre!
The actual painting is on display in the Breath of Nature exhibition at Boundary Art at 3 Sovereign Quay, Havannah Street, Cardiff CF10 5SF Tel.02920 489869 until 1st May. The other paintings I have on display at Boundary Art are here
If you want to learn how to add Drama and Atmosphere to your paintings come to my Watercolour Seminar in Pontypool in October
I’ve been cramming quite a number of adventures in lately (most of them involving a thorough wetting!), leaving me precious little time to blog, and there’s so many more lined up it’s going to be difficult keeping up any narrative. A couple of weeks ago I kayaked down the Wye with my daughter Catherine and her partner Nicko, and she took this shot of me sketching in calm water. The scowl, if you can see it, is obligatory when sketching if you need clear concentration – lose your paddle and all you have to operate the craft with is a number ten round sable……. It was a marvellous day out, in glorious sunshine. One of the problems we have as artists painting in the landscape, is the need sometimes to fill a gap – perhaps to replace a rather boring or unpleasant object. In this painting of a scene in the Brecon Beacons I have added in a clothes- line on the left of the building to replace some unremarkable bushes. This is an excellent way of adding interest and colour to a farm or cottage. The horse was actually there and didn’t need any changing at all.
The actual painting is in theArdent Gallery in the centre of Brecon, together with several other of my watercolours – telephone 01874 610710
Foregrounds can often be a pain in the neck, and are often not considered properly until the rest of the painting has been completed. This is not good practice, of course, as it’s by far a lot better to give the foreground some thought before you start painting. Anything but the simplest of landscapes will benefit from one or two studio thumbnail sketches to help you decide on the main features and relationships of the composition.
Foregrounds vary considerably, and sometimes completely different types of foreground may well suit a scene. Having a lead-in to the focal point can be very effective, and in this watercolour of cottages on Skye the track undulates and wriggles, losing itself in places until it disappears completely round the right-hand side of the buildings. A lead-in doesn’t have to be continuous, and there are times when it helps to be less conspicuous. The warm colours in the foreground here counter the cool ones in the distance, accentuating the sense of space, although I have mashed some strong blues into the foreground vegetation with a spatula in places to create interest. I used the edge of a piece of card to apply the paint here and there – this introduces a change of style from the brushwork, tending towards the abstract. Drystone walls, posts and boulders can be useful for breaking up masses of vegetation. Experiment with all sorts of objects with which to apply the paint if you’d like to try something new.
On a hike recently I wanted to find a spot where the river created a really good lead-in to a mountain, but there was no path. The dense vegetation simply got worse as I battled upstream (without a machete – they don’t like you carrying them around these days, and my Swiss Army knife wasn’t quite up to the job). If, rather than fight it, you wish to paint such dense vegetation, then the semi-abstract system as in the bottom left of this painting, can be the best option. Enjoy your painting/hacking!