David Bellamy – Seeking out a rural lane to paint

I have a great affection for rural lanes, especially old rutted cart-tracks. While they are superb for leading you into a composition they are also excellent subjects in their own right. When I plan a sketching trip I often seek out winding lanes on the walking map, and where they lead to an interesting-looking subject such as a mountain or hill, then there is a strong chance of a good subject.

This particular lane heads towards the Brecon Beacons and I tramped it on a sunny winter day. I particularly liked the way the low sunlight cast shadows across the lane, and was keen to include this aspect, as well as giving the feature a few extra ruts for good measure. Ruts, puddles, clumps of grass and weeds and stones can be exaggerated or even added if they are not present, to give the composition more character. Keep a file of drawings, sketches and photographs of these countryside features so that you can add them in when needed. Undulating hedgerows with gaps here and there enhance the rustic nature of the place as do mature trees and bushes, and if you’re feeling really bold why not include a rustic shepherd wending his weary way home?

The painting was done on a sheet of quarter-imperial Saunders Waterford rough paper, a beautiful surface to work on, and the rough surface enhanced the track, especially where I used drybrush strokes.

It’s been all-action since my last blog, from the marvellous annual festival at Patchings Art Festival in Nottingham’s Robin Hood country where I demonstrated the Saunders Waterford papers for St Cuthberts Mill, and had the pleasure of meeting a lot of you. I’ve also just returned from an immensely rewarding trip to Germany, so that has a lot of potential for some great artwork.

I do hope, like me, you’ve enjoyed this amazing summer and made full use of it with your paintbrush!

David Bellamy – Obsessed with bottoms

As landscape painters why are so many of us obsessed with bottoms? Why do we feel the compulsion to describe everything in minute detail? It’s not necessary and in fact detracts from the overall effect in a painting.
I have cut out some of this composition so that we can get in closer to view the relevant bits. Note the drystone wall on the left, the white walls of the buildings and the small gate immediately to the right of the barn, and how I have not rendered a definite bottom line in each case. By omitting this I have endeavoured to make the effect more natural. Usually I only paint in the top two or three bars of a five-bar field gate. You can see that for the right-hand hedgerow I have indeed given it a fairly distinctive bottom, probably a minor aberration when I was desperate for coffee! It’s not a great problem as it is in the distance and the bottom part of the hedgerow could be softened off with a damp brush.

So watch those bottoms as you’ll get a more natural effect if you keep them soft. Hard boundary lines around a feature can make it look cut-out, rather like a garish sticking plaster on a donkey’s ….er, bottom.

The watercolour was painted on the fabulous Saunders Waterford 200lb rough high white paper in order to make the most of the textures on the hillside.

David Bellamy – Making the most of poor weather

I hope all of you out there had a great festive season, or if Christmas isn’t your thing then you have been enjoying yourself. I seem to have been everywhere except by the laptop, hence the long silence. One place I did visit just before Christmas was sunny Devon, but as I found it gloomy and misty I decided to make the most of the atmosphere and capture some wet-into-wet mistiness. Whatever the weather is doing out there it always has something for the landscape painter.

This watercolour sketch was carried out on a cartridge sketch-pad. I chose this because firstly the smooth paper dries quicker than a rougher surface, which in the damp atmosphere would take some time to dry; and secondly I wanted to juxtapose the softness of the wet-in-wet technique with the hard sharpness that is accentuated on smooth paper. If you don’t like cartridge paper for quick washes try a hot pressed paper – Bockingford comes in ideal HP pads for this sort of work. First of all I laid on Naples yellow in the sky, then drifted it to the left where I blended in a light green wash where the two largest trees appear.

Without pausing I painted the fainter tree in with ultramarine and burnt umber using a strong mixture to keep the shape of the tree – working into the damp paper you really don’t want much water on the brush!  Again without pausing I then drew into the green wash with an indigo watercolour pencil while the wash was still damp. I sat back and drank a coffee while the sketch dried and then I laid a medium tone around the trunks of the tall trees, thus highlighting them. Note also how I have left the vegetation under the trees sharp-edged to counter the soft, misty background – much easier to achieve on a smooth surface. It’s only a rough sketch but it gave me great enjoyment and brightened up an otherwise gloomy day.

If you need cheering up then why not tune in to CBEEBIES on BBC Television on Saturday 9th January at 10.45am and 15.40 – Catherine, my daughter is doing some of her whacky stunts. She is out in Australia at the moment and next month will be performing in Adelaide.

A very Happy New Year to you all and may it be your best painting year yet!

Painting less for more effect

Cotswold Cottage

Cotswold Cottage

One of the most thorny problems confronting the painting tutor is putting across the need to eliminate unwanted detail from a subject when the student has already been told to work directly from the subject and produce a careful rendering of the scene. As landscape artists we go out into the countryside to seek out visual material to work from and use as a basis for a composition, yet in order to produce an interesting painting we need to filter out a lot of extraneous detail. I am not interested in producing a photographic response to a scene where everything is laid out meticulously.
In this view of a cottage you will see that certain edges have been lost – there is no defining line for the bottom of either the house wall or the drystone wall, as this approach provides a more painterly response, rather than a photographic one. Also the stones are only described in a minimalistic way. In both these cases the eye of the viewer will subconsciously include these elements. An effective method here is to splash in a different colour in lieu of detail – note the patch of red to the left of centre. This can be a useful device even if the colour you apply does not appear in the scene, as it can both enliven a subject and avoid the need for too much detail.

For these stones I used a number one rigger brush – a very fine instrument with long hairs, ideal for fine work. Where I describe a number of stones in a wall I tend to ease off on the pressure where I want the stones to become lost, but another method I employ is to draw in a few more stones than I actually need, again with the rigger. Whilst these are still wet I then wash over the edge of the painted stones with one of the colours found in the wall, thus losing some of the stones at the edges, and at the same time creating a gradual losing of the detail that can appear more natural. An interesting exercise you can do is to paint the same scene twice: once in extremely strong detail all over the composition, and then again in the manner I’ve described above. By comparing the two results you will learn much about restricting the urge to include everything in a painting.