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!’

David Bellamy – Painting snow scenes

This seems like the wettest January I’ve ever experienced, but even so there have been 3 or 4 absolutely fabulous days of glorious sunshine, blue skies and hardly a breath of wind, which shows that if we wait for them, and have all our art gear ready to go, we can take advantage of some beautiful spring-like days even in the wettest of Januarys. I’ve had some marvellous moments sketching in the hills lately, but all too brief.

Anyway, in anticipation of some snow (much to the neighbours’ concern we’ve been invoking the little-known snow-making ritual in the garden, but so far only attracted further deluge), I shall just cover a few basic points to help you with your snow scenes. This painting of a Herefordshire scene in late winter I did many years ago. I began by making the sky dark enough to highlight the snow-covered roofs, which were left as white paper. Even so, the cloudless sky suggests a fine day. To avoid the scene appearing too cold all over, I emphasised the red-brick walls of the buildings, and this also draws the eye to them as the centre of interest.

Clods of earth from the ploughed ruts peek up through the snow, and I have re-arranged them slightly to aim towards the buildings. The field under the strong sunshine reflected dazzling white all over, but I wanted to subdue some of this so that the emphasis would be thrown more towards the centre of the composition, so I washed clean water right across the field and then a wash of cobalt blue with a touch of cadmium red over the immediate foreground and to either side. This is a technique you can use quite easily to highlight any part of a painting you wish.

Enjoy the snow when it comes! I must get out into the garden again………….

Painting the magic of snow scenes

We’re still waiting for our first fall of snow in mid-Powys – it seems to be taking a long time to get here this winter. For the artist, the landscape is transformed by a coating of snow, making it an exciting time to be out sketching. The manner in which the scenery is simplified, with much detail hidden, will help those less experienced artists who find it difficult to filter out unwanted clutter.

This watercolour shows a lonely farm on Tideswell Moor in Derbyshire, where you can find many similar compositions, at times without even needing to get out of your car! While it’s tempting to think of snow as being white, the snow as we see it varies considerably in tone, sometimes appearing almost black when in deep shadow and backlit by strong sunshine. If you wish to push a snowy hill or mountain back into the distance lay a weak wash of blue or blue-grey over it, as you can see on the right-hand distant hill where I used cobalt blue. By comparison the left-hand hill, which is simply the white of the paper, really does come forward. To accentuate the white roof I’ve set it against a mid-tone background: planning your tones like this is easy with some forethought before starting to paint.
Don’t just use blue over the snow areas. Watch out for reflected colours in the snow – pinks, yellows, mauves – these can really give your painting a lift, and also note where the snow cover is quite thin some of the vegetation might well show through. A good example of this is where large bands of grass are visible, where I might wash a warm colour such as yellow ochre or light red over the paper. For this, the dry brush technique where you have a large brush with little water on it, is extremely effective, especially on a rough paper surface.
This painting is featured in my book Painting Wild Landscapes in Watercolour, and for details of a special book and dvd offer see my our shop. Our website will shortly be upgraded, as it is starting to creak a bit of old age. In the meantime, Jenny and I wish you all a very Happy Christmas wherever you live in the world, and may you have a very rewarding year of painting ahead of you. We’re now about to set off to the local cinema and I’ve been warned to take waders and carry a life raft as the waters of the Wye are rising rapidly.