David Bellamy – Painting in all weathers

After a week of absolutely atrocious weather in the Italian Dolomites it’s nice to be back in sunny Wales for a day or two. Although I managed a number of useful sketches, without any views because of dense mist and lashing rain for much of the time it was a little annoying, especially when you know the scenery is spectacular. The previous week at Lake Garda we suffered from intense heat during a group painting holiday, but everyone remained cheerful, kept painting and put up with all that sunshine.

On Monday evening (10th July) I will be giving a talk at the launch of my Arctic Light book at Stanfords Map Shop in Covent Garden, London. It’s a fabulous place for maps and guidebooks for all over the world. There are still a number of places left, and if you wish to come along, then please get in touch with Mary Ellingham at Search Press on 01892 510 850, or marye@searchpress.com  

Although Arctic Light it is not a how-to-paint book, it is crammed with watercolours and sketches with a great many examples of the way atmosphere and light can be depicted in landscapes. This time I have also included many works showing wildlife, both animals and birds, which can make a real difference to a painting even if portrayed in a small scale within the composition. You can see more details at my website.

Next week I shall be demonstrating for St Cuthberts Mill at the annual Patchings Art Festival on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday, using the marvellous Saunders Waterford papers in the St Cuthberts Mill Marquee. The festival is on from 13th to 16th July inclusive and is highly recommended for its wealth of demonstrating artists, crafts and art materials, so do come along and have a chat. For further information on the event see Patchings Art Festival. We will also have a stand near the marquee with a number of my paintings, books, DVDs, etc, so hopefully I’ll see you there.

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!

David Bellamy – Adding energy into your watercolours

Artists who work solely from photographs really do miss out on those marvellous energizing sensations of being tossed around in the wind, or being spattered in face and sketchbook by rain, snow, hail, or whatever. These sensations link you with the natural world, and provide a tremendous advantage when you wish to really make your paintings more dynamic and full of movement. But, of course, not everyone wishes to go through such experiences.

This  section of drystone wall and wind-swept bush is part of a watercolour painting where I began with masking fluid painted over where the stonework would appear. The dark bush throws up a strong tonal contrast with the top of the wall, and after this had dried I removed the masking fluid and brushed a light blue-grey wash over the right-hand end of the wall to subdue that part.

For the branches I mixed some burnt umber and French ultramarine and applied it with a number 1 rigger. To give a sense of strong wind and movement I painted with vigorous strokes outwards from the centre of the bush. When this was done I spattered a number of small blobs or spots with the same mixture, to further enhance the feeling of robust movement in the branches. With all the branches bent in the same direction it suggests a rather windy day.

Watch for these effects when you are out and about, and note them, even if you don’t have a sketchbook or camera with you. You can, of course, include them in a composition where there is no wind, just to liven things up a but, or to create a sense of movement. This can be really effective on water – I’ve just returned from a few days in London and when sketching on the Thames the water was alive in the wind, creating a real sense of sparkling movement in the sunshine.

Have a go at this more vigorous approach – it really does give your work a marvellous boost.

In Turner’s Footsteps

If you enjoy autumn landscapes the October issue of Leisure Painter magazine has an excellent article by my adorable wife, Jenny Keal: pastel is such a striking medium to capture those vibrant colours, and Jenny utilises the medium to the full. In the same magazine I have an article on painting a waterfall scene in Yorkshire, on the same spot that JMW Turner stopped in 1816 to carry out his sketch on a lovely summer evening.

My visit, however, on a dismal April afternoon was met with steady rain that began the moment I opened my sketchbook. Without the excellent Derwent watercolour pencils, which I used to draw the linear image onto the wet paper, the sketch would have been completely washed away. The white highlights of the falling water have remained because the pencil line is fairly thick and physically holds back a wash that is not too wet, another useful attribute of these pencils when working in rain. The composition, as you can see, has two competing centres of interest, with the two attractive waterfalls. In the sketch I have rendered both with equal importance, but in the finished painting (which appears in the magazine) I gave the left-hand falls more prominence, and thus the main centre of interest.

One lesson here is that no matter how bad the sketch may be, so long as it is meaningful to you, then there is no reason why the finished painting should not be a good one. This sketch was done on a narrow ledge high above the beck, and above Turner’s viewpoint, and while sketching I also filmed myself working. The filming aspect worked really well, apart from one point: I accidentally pressed the backlighting button and the whole film was over-exposed and thus useless!