David Bellamy – Enjoying the detail in a painting

How do you cope when you are presented with a complicated scene such as a harbour full of boats of all colours and sizes? Beat a hasty retreat and look for a simpler subject? I love painting and sketching boats, and there’s always a way round the problem: you can leave out craft that don’t appeal, reduce their number, enlarge one so that it hides two or three others, or perhaps cast a dark shadow over the ones further away.

    This is a watercolour I did of Oare Creek in Kent, a place crammed with lots of lovely craft, and although there seem to be a lot in the composition I did leave many more out. This is one of those works that doesn’t have just one centre of interest – there is a whole line of them! I do this sometimes as it makes quite a change, and some buyers do enjoy a mass of detail, and to get a sense of the place you do need to suggest that many boats line the creek, especially if working to commission.

    On occasion in scenes like this I lay shadow across many of the boats, simply suggesting them, and highlight the main ones – the focal point – with strong lighting. If you wish to subdue one or two off-centre then just paint them in silhouette as I have done with the boat on the extreme right background. The masts and gulls were rendered with white gouache when everything else had been completed. If need be I create dark areas deliberately so that white gulls can be placed there and stand out. This is at fairly low tide so much of the mud-banks are revealed. To avoid too much monotony I have made some lighter and on the right bank splashed in some cadmium red to add interest. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford hot pressed, 140lb weight.

    Now most of us are able to get outside do make the most of the summer days to find some new subjects. This is important not just from the point of view of finding new material to paint, but getting outdoors rejuvenates us and gets us away from the lethargic indoors syndrome that can deplete our enthusiasm for creating anything. There is nothing better than perching on a rock warmed by the sunshine, overlooking a stunning view while sipping a cappuccino as you sketch. I’ve been out there with my new Daniel Smith watercolour box of gorgeous half-pans lately, so it’s been a double pleasure!

David Bellamy – Changing the mood in a landscape painting

I missed doing an intended blog last week as I had three short videos to produce in connection with the forthcoming Patchings Virtual Art Festival next week. It starts on July 9th which was the intended date for the original festival, and you can find information on www.patchingsartcentre.co.uk Of the other two videos I made, one was for Painters Online at  www.painters-online.co.uk  run by Leisure Painter and The Artist magazines, and this shows ten tips I’ve put together for landscapists, while the third one was for Search Press which you can find on  www.searchpress.com  and this features a number of my crazy anecdotes on sketching expeditions. All three videos are quite different and I hope you enjoy them.

 You’ve had to wait a little longer than intended for my version of Llyn Mymbyr, so here is my effort together with the two photographs shown in the earlier blog:

This is the original scene that shows afternoon light catching the Plas y Brenin Mountain Centre buildings on the far side of the lake. As some interesting crags dropped into the water to the right of this composition I wanted to include them in the painting and illustrate how I go about bringing two visual sources of reference together for one painting.

This is the shot of the crags to the right of the above view, though it’s in shadow, a common problem when we are working outdoors, but it’s easy enough to bring two prints together and even better when you have a sketch as well. Getting these to fuse together on a laptop for the purpose of showing you, however, is not so easy for a non-tech neanderthal……..

In my version I have reduced the buildings so that interest is focused on the craggy peak, Clogwyn Mawr, which I’ve featured in strong evening light, while bringing in some mist behind the line of trees. I often change the atmosphere of a scene completely, and that really is my main lesson here: you don’t need to paint the scene as you see it, but as you would like to see it. Try small versions as studio sketches before you make a start on the painting. There are so many different ways of tackling a scene with a variety of moods and seasonal changes. Enjoy your painting! 

David Bellamy – Subjects to Paint in Self-Isolation

Spring is always a great pleasure in Mid-Wales: buds are springing out, daffodils caught in the spring sunshine invoke a joyous feeling as they are set against the sparkling water of the garden pond, while the birdsong is especially uplifting at the moment. The frogs have come and gone after their annual orgy in the pond, their massed croaking drifting into the house in waves of communal ecstasy. The sparrows are forever darting about, but with the mating season in full swing they are pretty aggressive: at times the undergrowth is waving about madly with their exertions! All this I see from my studio window, as well as the new-born lambs gambolling around in the field next door.

    All this seems utterly surreal given our present predicament with this nasty virus, but as artists we are lucky to have an occupation or hobby that transports us to other worlds, if only for a brief period. Your response to my last blog post was so rewarding and I’m glad so many of you found it helpful. I’ve just completed a deadline for my book on Landscapes Through the Seasons, so while I am still working on another book, I now have more time to push out blogs that will hopefully give you some ideas during this difficult period when we have to self-isolate. Although I am mainly a landscape artist I will try to cover a number of genres to provide as much variety as I can, including imaginary subjects and maybe even fantasy – we all need a little fantasy now and then. I know many of you are flower painters, for example, so why not start there?

    Flowers and still life are obvious subjects to fall back on when we are house-bound. My work on flowers is almost exclusively on wild flowers as part of a landscape, but I did touch on cut flowers in my book Complete Guide to Watercolour Painting. If you are painting a vase of flowers pick out one or two blooms that stand out and play the others down slightly by losing edges and running colours into one another. Suggesting background shapes with a plain, shadowy wash can accentuate a sense of depth in the composition, and introducing some spatter effect as I’ve done round some of the edges in this watercolour, gives a sense of spontaneity and life. You don’t always need a background but if you do include one then play it down so that the flowers take pride of place. A simple suggestion of perhaps the edge of a table can also set it up well. Saunders Waterford high white is an excellent paper for flowers as its white is so brilliant, and Bockingford is a good alternative.

    Those without a garden may find it difficult at the moment, unless you have a window-box. Now, of course is the time to set seeds so if you are bereft of window-boxes or flower baskets try to get one, even if you have to rely on a rusty old bucket – sometimes these decrepit old things can have far more character than the latest gleamingly spotless container. Plant a few seeds and before very long you will have new subjects to work on, but don’t ask me what to plant – unlike my late namesake Professor David Bellamy or my brother Malcolm, I’m not a horticultural expert! Also consider getting miniature trees and exotic plants.

    More tips and ideas soon, and maybe I should shortly do one especially for the lads, perhaps on how to paint the Cold War era Soviet T-64 main battle tank in action, although I doubt that many of you will have one of those in your garden…….  Keep safe and keep painting!

David Bellamy – Liberate your painting with scraps of paper

I often find that when I’m testing a wash or new colour on a scrap of watercolour paper that I produce some marvellous results, yet when I try to repeat the exercise in a proper painting it often falls far short of what I hope will happen. So why not try to capitalise on this perversity by now and then painting on a piece of scrap paper that you might otherwise throw away?    This little watercolour was painted on a discarded piece of 300lb Saunders Waterford rough paper 9 inches by 4.5 inches, and I loved every moment painting it. With such a small, insignificant size you tend to lose any inhibitions, and it’s certainly a liberating feeling, as you feel you have nothing to lose even if you make themost astounding mess!

    One of the main features I love is the soft wet-in-wet reflections in the water below the cottage. These were achieved by wetting the area of the water below the building and out as far as the central boats, leaving it for a few minutes to start drying, and then applying the dark green-grey reflections of the massed trees into the wet area, leaving the part directly below the cottage as white paper. At this stage it’s vital to watch how the dark reflections creep outwards as though they deliberately want to annoy you. With a damp – a really ‘thirsty’ brush (a number 6 round brush is usually fine for this) – pull out any of the dark colour that edges its way beyond where the reflections should appear. You may need to do this more than once.

    This painting appears in my Seas & Shorelines in Watercolour book, recently published by Search Press, which not only covers a really wide variety of coastal scenery and features, but is also crammed with sky treatments of all kinds that you should find useful for adopting in your own work. Signed copies are available via my website  ….and don’t forget to make full use of those bits of scrap paper lying around!

David Bellamy – Painting Wild Serengeti

I will be giving a talk and demonstration at The Galtres Centre, in the Market Place at Easingwold on Friday 26th April, and you are welcome to come and have a chat. The theme will be “Wild Serengeti” and I will be covering encounters and sketching with African wildlife. The event starts at 7.30 pm and for those using satnav the postcode is YO61 3AD. For tickets and information please ring the Galtres Centre on 01347 822472

The scene shows wildebeeste startled by a lion during the annual pilgrimage across the Serengeti, when the line of wildebeeste runs from one end of the horizon to the other. The lion watched them with indifference, probably having eaten so many he couldn’t face any more for a while! I enjoy working on a narrative like this, where there is more than just the visual image. To make the main animals stand out I deliberately simplified the ground directly behind them. Fast movement is depicted not just by blurring the legs slightly and placing them in running positions, but also by the angle and attitude of the body. This is at its clearest in the two beasts 3rd and 4th from the left, where they are moving away from the viewer and their bodies are slightly leaning over to the left as they turn away.
 The painting was done on Saunders Waterford 140lb rough paper.

Some folk may wonder why I don’t use Facebook, even though there is an account in my name (which I don’t use). I find it almost impossible as I live quite an action-packed life with little time to spare – in fact I don’t paint so often these days because 21st-century life just is too demanding of one’s time. Technology is supposed to make life easier for us, but I find it just adds an extra burden, being so incredibly slow and error-prone. It’s much greater fun to be out in the wilds or at least brandishing the old-fashioned paintbrush somewhere nice and remote.