David Bellamy – Sketching & Painting Wonky Old Cottages

Jenny and I have just returned from running a course on Exmoor where we had the luxury of sketching and painting inland scenes as well as the coast. The delightful village of Winsford provided us with a great many stunning subjects, while the heavy rain showers kept things lively. For many the local pub was a life-saver! The following days improved and we had a hot, sunny day at Lynmouth, with a harbour crammed with colourful boats and cottages climbing high up the wooded hillsides.

One of several scenes I tackled was a cottage high up above the harbour, using a graphite water-soluble pencil, and washing over it with a brush afterwards. Behind the cottage rose the wooded hillside. This highlighted the cottage really well, and I rendered it as a mass rather than outline each tree individually. You can discern a slightly darker shape rising above and between the chimneys – this was my sole indication of any sense of shape within the mass. As the cottage was perched above  many cottages I decided to vignette the foreground by extending pencil lines downwards, some linked to a hint of vegetation, plus some spatter from the brush after I’d picked up some of the watersoluble graphite on it. This technique is an excellent way to isolate your favourite part of the scene and leave out the bits you don’t want. The only worrying aspect to the sketch for me is the absolutely straight line of the roof – in such a wonky building it would be almost de rigueur to provide the finished painting with a supremely wonky roof ridge line.

Our course was organised by Alpha Painting Holidays run by Matthew and Gill Clark, with whom it is a great pleasure to work. They looked after our every need throughout the course, and we thoroughly recommend them. We still have vacancies on my course in Pembrokeshire from 28th September to 3rd October at the splendid Warpool Court Hotel in St Davids, where we have a wide choice of coastal and inland subjects for all tastes. You can get further details from Warpool Court on 01437 720300 or email info@warpoolcourthotel.com  You can also see my website

Rescuing a watercolour that’s gone adrift

I’m afraid things have been quiet on the blogging front lately as I’ve been in the Canadian Rockies for the past few weeks, painting some truly stunning scenery, and this will be the subject of a forthcoming blog.

This post covers the tricky subject of how you rescue watercolours that have gone slightly awry, or perhaps have somehow spectacularly misfired. It happens to us all. Many folk think you have to tear up the wayward masterpiece, but many watercolours can be effectively rescued even when they appear to be something of a disaster. I’ve just produced a DVD on the subject, and this covers a whole variety of techniques you can use to put things right, or simply alter a composition where you feel the need for change.

Mountain Bothy

On the left you see one of my old watercolours that I discarded years ago as I didn’t like the finished treatment: the peaks were too repetitive, the edges too hard, and the atmosphere didn’t really convince me. I felt I’d made a mess of it. When I was persuaded to do a rescues DVD I thought this would be a good lesson for illustrating methods of changing a scene.

Unlike a recent painting, over time it becomes more difficult to sponge out details and passages, but I have the advantage that most of my watercolours are carried out on Saunders Waterford paper, one of the most robust watercolour papers on the market, so I could really work hard into the paper. I also rarely use the manufacturers’ greens, preferring to mix my own, which are less staining and therefore easier to remove. Because of the hard-edged striking shapes of the peaks in this painting I realised that I would have to completely change the format to a landscape one and not include those strident peaks.

Mountain Bothy 2

My first task was to reduce the background by heavy sponging with plenty of clean water, then subduing it further with a transparent glaze of French ultramarine and a little cadmium red. This had the effect of creating a misty distance, cooler in temperature. By placing some shadow across the foreground it emphasised a lighter patch in front of the bothy, and while this was still wet I dropped in some Indian red to warm up the immediate foreground. Thus, the cool background and warm foreground suggested greater space and distance, and the buildings stand out more.

Copies of the Rescue Watercolours DVD, available for the first time this month, are available from my website  If you have any old watercolours lying around that haven’t quite worked, or have encountered a mistake you’d like to rectify, then there are many techniques on the DVD which will help improve your work. Some of the techniques are also useful to employ as a deliberate method to create special effects. There is nothing worse than finishing a watercolour only to find there is a niggling little problem to which your eye is drawn time and time again, when in fact there are almost certainly ways of solving the issue.