Recently I received an interesting email asking how to develop an artist’s ‘mindsight,’ or visualisation in constructing a painting. This is more than just assembling the various parts of a composition, and brings in more about your own feelings and imagination into the equation.
This watercolour of the Pembrokeshire coast at Amroth is an example of how visualization created a really different painting from what I saw in reality. I sketched the scene in mid-afternoon with light coming from the left. I could see the village and background hills and cliffs in strong detail and an overwhelming green. There was little atmosphere. In the studio I played around with studio sketches, tried various lighting and mood effects and considered how to increase the dramatic effect. I needed to lose most of the detail and the greenery.
I decided to change the lighting to an evening sky, bringing in atmospheric cloud to lose much of the hills, and enhance the unity by using few colours in the background, mainly French ultramarine and cadmium red. Backlighting like this adds dramatic appeal and the cascade of light above the houses highlights them as a focal point. The dark closer rocks and cliff create a sense of space, again painted in with the same colours as the background only with much stronger tones and the addition of yellow ochre in places.
How do you develop this visualisation of a scene? Firstly seek out dramatic lighting situations, sketching, recording and photographing strong atmosphere, moving around to find the most dramatic viewpoint and observing the effects created in these situations. Secondly study these phenomena at exhibitions, in books, etc, in the work of good landscape artists. Experiment with ideas, exaggerating height, tonal values and atmospheric effects, and using your imagination to create mystery, drama, intense light or moody shadows. Eliminate features that don’t work for you. This all takes time and experience, but if you make a deliberate effort to work on this aspect of painting it will improve your work enormously.
My Skies, Light & Atmosphere in Watercolour book contains a great many paintings that have been enhanced dramatically by visualising the overall atmosphere before touching the watercolour paper. Most of the skies depicted – and there is an enormous variety – have been changed to something more exciting for that particular composition. Concentrating on skies is an excellent way of beginning visualisation methods.
One of my great enjoyments is keeping an illustrated journal, although because of a lack of time it tends to be rather intermittent – it’s just so stress-free to paint or sketch for yourself and add notes about your experiences, and this is especially rewarding on a holiday or journey. I am therefore pleased to announce that I have teamed up with Leisure Painter Magazine over the next six months to offer a monthly competition to encourage folk to get out and try their hand at producing a journal. Jakar International have kindly agreed to supply the monthly prizes, so do please have a look at the current (April) issue of Leisure Painter. The illustration shown right is taken from my sketchbook-journal done on a visit to Holland, and shows the typical notes I often add beside the picture. I don’t really class this as a sketch, as I feel it is more of a diagram drawn solely to illustrate the fascinating architectural styles in Old Amsterdam. I had no intention of creating a finished painting from this: it was done for my enjoyment, although many other sketches in the A4 book were intended as sources for future paintings. Working this way, with no pressure to produce a brilliant piece of artwork can be liberating as well as helping your work to improve.
The houses varied from colourful to a more drab colour, so it’s a good idea to pick out those colours that appeal most to you, rather than paint every house exactly as you see it before you. Note that I have run most of the house colours into one another, rather than paint each one with individual exactitude. I have left out a great many windows, but feel I should have omitted even more, or at least reduced the strength of detail is some.
I shall look forward to seeing how you all fare in these competitions, and I must point out that this is not limited to those who travel far and wide – you are very welcome to join in even if you are house-bound, and there are many ideas for you in my current article in Leisure Painter. Make sure you don’t miss out on the fun!
I’ve been cramming quite a number of adventures in lately (most of them involving a thorough wetting!), leaving me precious little time to blog, and there’s so many more lined up it’s going to be difficult keeping up any narrative. A couple of weeks ago I kayaked down the Wye with my daughter Catherine and her partner Nicko, and she took this shot of me sketching in calm water. The scowl, if you can see it, is obligatory when sketching if you need clear concentration – lose your paddle and all you have to operate the craft with is a number ten round sable……. It was a marvellous day out, in glorious sunshine. One of the problems we have as artists painting in the landscape, is the need sometimes to fill a gap – perhaps to replace a rather boring or unpleasant object. In this painting of a scene in the Brecon Beacons I have added in a clothes- line on the left of the building to replace some unremarkable bushes. This is an excellent way of adding interest and colour to a farm or cottage. The horse was actually there and didn’t need any changing at all.
The actual painting is in theArdent Gallery in the centre of Brecon, together with several other of my watercolours – telephone 01874 610710