When you begin a painting do you stop to consider your colour management or simply copy the colours in the original scene or photograph? Whether you are a serious artist intent on improving your work, or perhaps painting simply for enjoyment, it is so much more rewarding to create a composition where you can inject some of your own ideas to add interest.
In this watercolour of the Brecon Beacons I decided to create a much warmer feeling than was present in the scene on that particular day, and enhance the summery mood. Apart from the cobalt blue in the sky most of the scene embodies warmer colours, and after establishing the clouds with the blue I laid on permanent alizarin crimson over the lower sky. The blues on the mountains are French ultramarine with a touch of cadmium red added, resulting in a lovely warm purpley-blue. The greens on the fields have also been warmed up with touches of gamboge, and there are also some gamboge and cadmium orange fields to liven things up. In the foreground I dropped in some Indian red wet-in-wet to produce soft edges and when this was dry spattered Indian red and white gouache before finally scratching out reeds with a scalpel.
At the end of this week I am starting once more to do live workshops, this one at the excellent Sandpipers studio on the Wirral, while on 3rd April I start my first post-Covid course at the superb Caer Beris Manor hotel in Builth Wells. There are still places available on this course, so if you feel like getting out into beautiful landscapes again you will be very welcome. We will be sketching outside (hopefully painting as well if the weather is fine), and also working indoors in the ballroom which has plenty of room for us to keep apart from each other. Details are on my website Emphasis will be on injecting atmosphere into your landscapes and putting something of yourself into the subject.
Sadly we haven’t had much snow this winter, but with spring about to burst upon us let’s hope that this will herald better times for getting out and about with our paintboxes.
I’ve managed a pretty wild and wonderful autumn this year, though it has left me breathlessly out of kilter on the blog-writing front, I’m afraid. How I wish there was more time for writing, which I love, but sadly in this robotic world there are so many threats to writers and their writing-time. For eample, in New Zealand their libraries archive has intended to put thousands of books’ contents onto the internet, but it seems that after world-wide protests they’ve just realised there’s a thing called copyright involved!
We’ve been blessed with a gorgeous little grand-daughter by the name of Beatrix, and look forward to meeting her on the run-up to Christmas. Her Dad’s going to be performing in pantomime at Margate, so it’s going to be a bit riotous, Covid-permitting, of course.
This is a watercolour sketch of Gordale Scar in Yorkshire, carried out on a beautiful calm, sunny afternoon in October while sitting in a most uncomfortable position on extremely steep ground high above the valley. The light falling on the limestone really made the rock stand out, particularly against the shadowy parts. It is deliberately overworked so that I have all the details to produce a large studio watercolour, and my awkward position didn’t help. This is actually only the right-hand half of the composition and the cartridge paper has been left unpainted where the sunlight is hitting the limestone.
There is too much green for my liking, but grass growing on limestone has that intense colour, and I wanted to record a faithful rendering. In a studio painting I will doubtless take more liberties, lose a lot of hard edges and make other adjustments, but my point here really is to show how working out of doors like this is to me not just a means of acquiring the information for a finished painting, but also of observing how the traditional approach will appear, so that I can see where I need to be more creative in the later attempt.
I’ve just returned from running a sketch & walk course in the Lake District with a lovely group of students, where the biggest problem was a lack of water! This is something which is rarely encountered in Lakeland, and it did confound attempts to sketch certain waterfalls rather devoid of water. Still we had a great time and at least we eventually found some in Coniston Coppermines Valley.
The watercolour on the right is the view we painted, though I actually did this three years ago during autumn when there was more water in the beck, and the hillsides were alive with warm colours. This also happens to be on the cover of the summer issue of Leisure Painter magazine, featured in an article on creating wisps of cloud and streamers, which can so enhance your work. It was painted on Saunders Waterford rough 140 lb paper, and to achieve the soft misty edges I scrubbed with a damp half-inch flat brush. Losing ridges and parts of a hill or mountain can add so much mood and mystery to a landscape, and the article covers various ways in which you can achieve these effects.
These softening-off techniques are a common feature in my books, especially theWinter Landscapes in WatercolourandSkies, Light & Atmosphere in Watercolour. Some artists feel that a standard broad-washed blue or grey sky can fit any landscapes, but I put great effort into my skies to introduce exciting and interesting cloud and atmospheric effects that suit a particular landscape, so there are a great many examples of these in both books.
In Lakeland my biggest problem with the students was keeping up with the three octogenarian ladies, one of whom was leaping up and down precipitous slopes like an over-active monkey. What a great pleasure it is to see people respond so well to the beauties of nature.
Even experienced professionals can get overwhelmed when confronted by the mass of panoramic detail found in the high mountains. Where do you start? What do you leave out – as you can’t possibly put it all in? This is especially a problem in really good visibility, when there is not a cloud in sight. As if this wasn’t enough, some of the most spectacular places are so beautifully composed that it is all done for you, and it is easy to think that all you need do is copy the composition in front of you.
This picture-postcard view is in the Canadian Rockies where we will be going in September. Everything stands out beautifully, but in a painting you need some mystery with part of the motif just hinted at. One device for working out the best composition in front of you is a simple card rectangle with an oblong hole cut out so that you can view the scene you want. Hold it up before your eyes, closing one, and moving the card frame around until you light on the most exciting part of the scene. You may need to move it towards you, or away from you to achieve the optimum size, but this will certainly help you to isolate the scene.
Where ridges pass behind a closer feature you can reduce the detail, perhaps bringing in some cloud or mist at this point, or even a snow squall. In this scene the centre of interest could well be the ‘V’ where the two dark ridges descend in the centre to the lake, but it would be a good idea to push this either to right or left a little, so that it’s not plumb centre. A hint of red or orange there might be a nice touch, and you could also use this in the reflection. The far shoreline cuts right across the picture, a common problem, but easily fixed with some foreground trees or other features.
If you like this type of landscape then why not join Jenny and myself in the Canadian Rockiesfrom 1st to 14th September? I shall be covering all manner of techniques for painting these scenes in watercolour, but painters in other mediums are welcome. The painting holiday is organised by Spencer Scott TravelTelephone +44 (0)1825 714311 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the time of year when many artists think about taking up a course to improve their painting skills, and naturally to do this in beautiful scenery, in the comfort of a truly welcoming hotel and with a tutor whose work you wish to emulate, can provide the most rewarding experience. Many find that at home there are too many distractions, and getting away with like-minded folk for an intensive week of painting can be the optimum way of pushing your work forward.
Jenny and I work hard on our courses to ensure that everyone gets plenty of attention and demonstrations. One of our favourite locations is Snowdonia in North Wales where there is an infinite choice of a wide variety of painting subjects, with so many of them visible from the road or nearby, which means, of course that you don’t have to walk very far to find a superb subject…..but you can, if you wish, hike into the more remote locations.
This autumn our course in the Sygun Fawr Country House in Snowdonia runs from 27th October to 1st November, timed to coincide with the autumn colours. You will find details here, or you can telephone the Sygun Fawr Country House on 01766 890258
I am sorry there is no illustration with this blog, but Blogger keep changing the set-up almost every time I wish to set up a post and this time I’ve failed to get the painting up, so I’ll have to move elsewhere I guess. I’ll try to make it as smooth a transition as possible. Keep watching this space.
A HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all, and enjoy your painting in 2013