David Bellamy – Reserving whites in a watercolour

One of the greatest problems concerning the watercolourist is that of reserving whites in a painting. There are several ways of tackling this: the use of the negative painting technique, masking fluid or film, scratching with a knife or scalpel, or the use of Chinese white, white gouache or acrylic. Pulling out colour with a damp brush or tissue, or sponging out when the wash is dry, are further ways of achieving a considerable lightening of the tone, although these latter methods rarely are as glaringly white as the aforementioned ones. Down the centuries white body colour has been employed, the equivalent of our white gouache or Chinese white.

These days even the main watercolour societies feature paintings carried out with much use of white gouache or acrylic paint, so there is no stigma attached to using that method, and I shall illustrate it in a future blog. Scratching can be effective for minor features such as ropes or rigging in a harbour, limited sparkle on water, and similar items, but for larger or more intricate work masking fluid or the negative painting technique is a better method.

In the watercolour on the right I applied masking fluid over the actual icefall with all its complexities, in the positions where you see the absolute white. This, of course, is the naked paper after the masking fluid has been removed near the end of the painting. For the snow lying on the peak and crags, and also for the light cloud, I used the negative painting method, that is, I worked round the white shapes with the darker sky, the rocks and shadow areas. When it was all dry I applied further shadow washes using French ultramarine and cadmium red over some of the snow and rock areas that were in shadow. I could have employed masking fluid to some of these parts, but it results in hard edges and much of the edges there I wanted to appear soft, especially the light cloud. I find it best not to mix the two techniques in the same area as it can get confusing, thus causing errors, so I have deliberately kept the top and bottom halves of the composition apart in that sense.

This is one of the paintings that will appear in my exhibition at the Windrush Gallery from 3rd to 10th May (it will be closed on 7th and 8th May), at Windrush, Gloucestershire, OX18 4TU  Telephone 01451 844425 The gallery open times are from 11 am to 5pm daily. The exhibition will cover a wide variety of scenery, including marine and pastoral paintings. I shall also be doing a watercolour demonstration Painting in the Cooler Months in Windrush village hall on Saturday 9th May at 2pm. If you wish to come along please book in advance:  j.neil299@btinternet.com or phone 01451 844425

David Bellamy – Exploiting plastic food wrap in a watercolour

The first snowfall of the winter arrived last Wednesday, and with glorious sunshine slanting across the landscape I abandoned all work and set off up into the hills. Familiar scenes lay transformed into jewels sparkling in the light. At one point I had a sudden urge to seek out a view at a point I had never stood before, a sort of premonition that I might find something exciting there. It was not far off the path, but about 200 yards across rough dead bracken covered in deep snow – ideal terrain to trip over and get a nice refreshing snow-bath.

When I reached the point there was no wonderful view, but as I turned back the scene before me really caught my imagination. It was a familiar abandoned house, but from a totally new angle, the whole image enhanced by the deep snow. It certainly brought it home to me that you can often find amazing new scenes simply by approaching the subject from a slightly different viewpoint.

One technique I sometimes use, mainly for foregrounds is that of covering an extremely wet wash with plastic food wrap, as I did here in the watercolour of highland deer that I came across in Glen Affric. In this instance I used Winsor blue, in places mixed with a touch of cadmium red, and varying the wash so that in places there was less strength in the colour, and even parts without any colour at all. You need to leave the food wrap in place until the wash dries completely. The method gives a spontaneous feel to the finished work. Experiment with various colours. It’s great fun to try this without any preliminary pencil work – you can do several examples at once – and when the work has dried you can see the optimum position to place your drawing before doing any further painting, and thus taking optimum opportunity of how the effect has developed.

This painting appears in my Winter Landscapes in Watercolour book and DVD, which you should find especially useful if you enjoy painting snow scenery. It is crammed with tips on how to bring sunshine into your paintings, creating misty effects wet in wet, transforming a scene by altering tonal effects, making the most of warm colours in winter, and much more. If you wrap up well, use a thin pair of gloves and carry one of those vacuum cups with warm coffee, you can make the most of a snow scene caught in the lovely low sunlight of a calm winter’s day. Leave the food wrap for the studio though!

David Bellamy – Painting the right sort of bad weather

We’ve just finished the studio filming with APV Films for my forthcoming DVD on painting Winter Landscapes, due out in September with my book of the same title. Most of the filming went smoothly, although the last part was heavily punctuated by wild gusts of wind and heavy rain lashing the studio, accompanied by a bombardment of artillery fire from the Sennybridge range. Thankfully they were not firing at us! It rather reminds me of the time I was sketching and camping on a Northumberland bombing range, having missed the signs somehow……….

At the moment I’m working on Wild Highlands, an exhibition in conjunction with the John Muir Trust, which will run from 16th April to 18th June in Pitlochry, Scotland. One of the aims of the exhibition is to highlight the ongoing devastation of the Scottish Highlands by industrialisation by massed wind turbines and their supporting power lines, which are now encroaching on some of the stunning mountain landscapes that epitomise the Highlands. Many of these will be on peat blankets and former forestry areas, which are the closest equivalent we have in the UK to rain-forests.

This painting of Beinn Eighe will be in the exhibition, and you can see that the mountain has several summits. Painting all these in good weather can invoke a feeling of having too many summits, so this is where it’s often a good idea to bring in some bad weather to hide one or two. It also adds a sense of mystery, which viewers love. I usually achieve this effect of mountains hidden in clouds by running the mountain washes up into a wet area in the sky – in this instance where you can see the pink effect. An alternative technique is to soften off the mountain peak with a wet sponge.

As you can see here, I’ve actually made my ‘bad weather’ rather more user-friendly by painting with alizarin crimson and French ultramarine mixed with cadmium red, so make sure you utilise the right brand of ‘bad weather!’

Sketching mist streams in the Canadian Rockies

I’ve not long returned from a trip to the Canadian Rockies, where the mountains rise high in truly awesome splendour. I managed around a hundred sketches, many in watercolour, and the hot, sunny weather made it really a pleasure to be out sketching. Luckily I had some bad-weather days as well, even some snowfall, and this gave my work that added atmosphere: when you can see everything there is no mystery.

Canadian Rockies

This watercolour of Stoney Squaw Mountain near Banff was done on a cartridge sketchbook, showing fresh snow and wreaths of mist, which many find difficult to tackle. If you use copious amounts of water and keep your edges soft (sometimes you need to soften edges that have dried hard with a damp brush). Obviously experience with the wet-into-wet technique helps here, and you may well need to re-wet some areas to create misty shapes of crags, trees and ridges.

One of the great advantages of the colour sketch over a photograph in a situation like this is that you usually find the camera will record simply stark contrasts of dark rock and white snow, losing any sense of colour, unless strong light is highlighting  any colour. When sketching, observe carefully any colour present in rocks and vegetation, even exaggerating it if necessary, to avoid the work looking too cold or sombre.

I can’t wait to get going on some enormous compositions of the Canadian scenes.

Painting the first snows

Last Saturday I had my first chance this winter season to get up into the snow-bound mountains. It was lashing with rain, very cold and windy when I set off from home, to the accompaniment of comments which made several references to ‘lunacy.’ Aha! By the time I reached the Black Mountains the sky appeared even more ferocious, more threatening, the clouds snow-laden and scudding fast, now and then leaving a gap through which some peak was revealed.

As I geared myself up I barely gave the mountain ridge to the east a second glance. It looked dull and unpromising and I’d seen it in much better light. Hardly had I gone 300 metres when it suddenly exploded into a feast of light and cloud. Gone was the dullness. Within seconds it had become an amazing sight that reminded me of Tangi Ragi Tau, the Himalayan peak I’d painted several years ago, and shown above. I couldn’t see the topmost part of the ridge because of cloud, but this added to the mysterious immensity that offered itself as my first sketching subject.

The rain had gone, but the wind was vicious. I managed several sketches that afternoon, climbing high into the snow and revelling in the beauty all around. The sketch, the photograph and the finished painting will appear in publication in due course, but the lesson of all this is that however familiar you are with a subject, however many times you’ve seen it, the moment the atmosphere starts to let off fireworks like this you need your sketchbook and your camera.

I wish all my followers a Happy and peaceful Christmas, and may 2012 be your best ever!