David Bellamy – Seeking out a rural lane to paint

I have a great affection for rural lanes, especially old rutted cart-tracks. While they are superb for leading you into a composition they are also excellent subjects in their own right. When I plan a sketching trip I often seek out winding lanes on the walking map, and where they lead to an interesting-looking subject such as a mountain or hill, then there is a strong chance of a good subject.

This particular lane heads towards the Brecon Beacons and I tramped it on a sunny winter day. I particularly liked the way the low sunlight cast shadows across the lane, and was keen to include this aspect, as well as giving the feature a few extra ruts for good measure. Ruts, puddles, clumps of grass and weeds and stones can be exaggerated or even added if they are not present, to give the composition more character. Keep a file of drawings, sketches and photographs of these countryside features so that you can add them in when needed. Undulating hedgerows with gaps here and there enhance the rustic nature of the place as do mature trees and bushes, and if you’re feeling really bold why not include a rustic shepherd wending his weary way home?

The painting was done on a sheet of quarter-imperial Saunders Waterford rough paper, a beautiful surface to work on, and the rough surface enhanced the track, especially where I used drybrush strokes.

It’s been all-action since my last blog, from the marvellous annual festival at Patchings Art Festival in Nottingham’s Robin Hood country where I demonstrated the Saunders Waterford papers for St Cuthberts Mill, and had the pleasure of meeting a lot of you. I’ve also just returned from an immensely rewarding trip to Germany, so that has a lot of potential for some great artwork.

I do hope, like me, you’ve enjoyed this amazing summer and made full use of it with your paintbrush!

David Bellamy – Creating an illustrated journal

One of my great enjoyments is keeping an illustrated journal, although because of a lack of time it tends to be rather intermittent – it’s just so stress-free to paint or sketch for yourself and add notes about your experiences, and this is especially rewarding on a holiday or journey. I am therefore pleased to announce that I have teamed up with Leisure Painter Magazine over the next six months to offer a monthly competition to encourage folk to get out and try their hand at producing a journal. Jakar International have kindly agreed to supply the monthly prizes, so do please have a look at the current (April) issue of Leisure Painter.
     The illustration shown right is taken from my sketchbook-journal done on a visit to Holland, and shows the typical notes I often add beside the picture. I don’t really class this as a sketch, as I feel it is more of a diagram drawn solely to illustrate the fascinating architectural styles in Old Amsterdam. I had no intention of creating a finished painting from this: it was done for my enjoyment, although many other sketches in the A4 book were intended as sources for future paintings. Working this way, with no pressure to produce a brilliant piece of artwork can be liberating as well as helping your work to improve.

The houses varied from colourful to a more drab colour, so it’s a good idea to pick out those colours that appeal most to you, rather than paint every house exactly as you see it before you. Note that I have run most of the house colours into one another, rather than paint each one with individual exactitude. I have left out a great many windows, but feel I should have omitted even more, or at least reduced the strength of detail is some.

I shall look forward to seeing how you all fare in these competitions, and I must point out that this is not limited to those who travel far and wide – you are very welcome to join in even if you are house-bound, and there are many ideas for you in my current article in Leisure Painter. Make sure you don’t miss out on the fun!

David Bellamy – Making powerful compositions

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

David Bellamy – In Praise of the Tea-Pot

Maintaining morale when out sketching on location is vital, and while some might find a whisky flask useful, I generally rely on tea. Sadly last week in Pembrokeshire the cottage where I stayed lacked that vital ingredient, the teapot. Naturally, this was pretty disastrous, so when out and about I made the most of any such facilities. In the sketch below the right-hand building is a superb tea-shop selling the most delicious cakes, and this is why you might detect a certain hastiness in the rendering of the pencil-work.

However hasty we may be in sketching, it pays to consider the composition carefully when creating a painting from the sketch or photograph. Unless the subject is quite a simple affair I normally carry out an intermediate studio sketch to work out where I wish to place the important elements and the main emphasis, together with the sort of atmosphere I wish to convey. In this instance I would move the composition to the right a little so that the left-hand house did not appear in the centre of the composition, as this would be my centre of interest. I would need more detail to be included above the left-hand wall and figures (detail missed because of the urgency of the tea situation), so I would have to resort to memory, a photograph, or the good old imagination. The main figures would be placed further to the right, a little closer to the centre of interest, and I would make full use of the dark runnels of water descending from the centre right – I have already bent them slightly to come towards the viewer as a lead-in. These are the kind of thought processes that go through my mind before I begin the painting.

Don’t underestimate the value of tea for the artist. I’ve even used it on a painting outdoors on occasion. Last autumn while I was running a landscape painting course a lovely German lady was painting a cottage, which filled her paper. When I asked her what was her focal point she replied, “The tea-pot.” Sure enough, there was a teapot in the window. Such observations may not only bring a smile to your viewers, but might also result in a sale.

David Bellamy – What on earth is that?

Do you ever look through your sketches and sometimes think ‘What on earth is that?’ You simply can’t remember what it was and thought at the time you had enough detail to work from. I sometimes deliberately make a sketch a little obscure, although more often I make certain parts of the sketch less definite, with perhaps hardly any detail, or maybe make it more abstract.

In this rough pencil sketch, which I did on my recent visit to the Scottish Highlands, my aim was to create a simple record of an interesting composition for some future painting. I could easily see many features on the distant hill and shore, and I could see so much more around the houses, but I was only interested in the basic composition, a few shapes and a couple of colours. This method makes it easier for me to impose my own atmosphere and colouring on the scene, and not painstakingly follow every scrap of detail and colour in the actual scene.

I’ve sketched hundreds of Highland scenes, so I’m familiar with many of the standard colours. When I come across prominent or new colours that have impact, such as the strips of dull pink pebbles and orangey yellow weed as in this scene, I make a note, as that’s the sort of thing that’s so easy to forget. There were a few small boats on the other side of the dark concrete pier, so I will probably add one or two of those in just below the buildings when I do the painting, and maybe add some figures and gulls for life, otherwise the composition is fine as it stands – the far hill will dissolve into a light mist or squall. This approach to sketching will help you simplify your paintings and impart more impact.

The Highlands were at their most beautiful, but sadly the onset of vast wind turbines, hundreds of them, is now encroaching into the classic Highland scenery itself, such industrialisation being completely alien to the natural environment, but making enormous profits for energy companies and landowners. As more turbines come on-stream the grid becomes less stable, and there is strong evidence that blackouts have already started because of this. For this to happen in one of the most beautiful countries in the world it is unforgiveable. The Scottish tourist organisation recognise this beauty and implore visitors to help keep it this way, yet this is at odds with their lack of protest against this industrialisation, and I take every opportunity to tell them so. If you want know more, visit Scotland Against Spin