Jenny and I have just returned from running a painting course in St Davids in Pembrokeshire, where we were blessed with some wonderful autumn sunshine for most of the week. Solva looked especially appealing in the clear light. The picture at the bottom shows me demonstrating with a ‘lay-flat sketchbook’.
The lay-flat sketchbook is made up of the superb Saunders Waterford NOT paper backed with strong card, and designed so that each double page lays flat, so that it is easy to create a painting across both sides as shown in the illustration opposite. As the paper is flat and taut it is the watercolourists’ dream surface to work on, and I enjoyed producing the alfresco watercolour. Although this is not quite the finished painting it does show how I altered the strident background ridge above the buildings to become a misty, indefinite background which throws the emphasis onto the cottages. Changing elements of a composition to suit your creative ideas is fine. We did however, find one or two of our old favourite subjects very much changed by nature, though. The storms of last winter did much damage – by comparison a few artistic changes hardly seem significant! The line down the centre is the centre-fold. The lay-flat sketchbook is available from the Society for All Artists (SAA). Check out their site on
Light is critical to our painting. Without it our subject is lost. On my recent trip to the Lake District I experienced many exciting ‘light moments’, often simply gazing at the light in wonder at the sheer beauty, then snapping out of my mesmeric state to quickly record the moment. Just watching, and observing, though will tell you a lot about how light and shadow affect what we see and paint. In the mountains these effects are often accentuated by the numerous folds in the mountainsides and the inter-relationships of peaks and ridges, which can seem to change continually in windy, broken-cloud conditions. If you take a series of photographs of these ever-changing moments it can be quite revealing how the emphasis changes.
This view of Upper Loch Torridon is just part of a composition. While on the spot I sketched it once and photographed it several times while the light and shadows on the mountain were changing. This method of working extends your options for the finished painting considerably. Note where the hard and soft edges to the shadows appear, and how certain crags are highlighted at times, thus providing a potential centre of interest. On distant peaks I prefer to suggest detail rather than make it stand out too strongly.
One lovely technique in watercolour painting is to float two colours into each other and allow them to merge, sometimes adding more of one colour or other while they are still wet, and then working a dark shape up against them when they have dried. This can really make your work sing, whether you paint landscapes, still life, flowers or figures.
In this small section of a painting the bush on the right-hand side has been painted by washing in two colours side by side – cadmium orange and light red – and letting them blend in. Later I painted in the darker purple-grey to the right of the bush, taking it up to the top, in a hard edge, while allowing flecks of the original colours to remain here and there. Afterwards I added the shadow under the bush and finally the branches. This approach gives a rather pleasing variegated effect to the subject and is worth practicing.
This painting is part of Wild Highlands, an exhibition to be held at the John Muir Trust Wild Space Visitor Centre in Station Road, Pitlochry from 17th April to 18th June. Do come along and support the John Muir Trust if you can, as they are doing all they can to keep the Scottish Highlands wild and beautiful, and free from inappropriate industrial development. I shall also be demonstrating painting Highland scenery in watercolour at thePitlochry Festival Theatrein aid of the Trust at 2pm on 23rd April. Tickets are £10 and may be booked by telephoning 01796 484626
For details of the exhibition see www.jmt.org/wild-space-gallery-shows.asp or telephone 01796 470080 or email firstname.lastname@example.org The Highlands in spring are absolutely magical, so why not make it a wild painting break?
We’re having a lot of rain here in Wales at the moment. This always makes sketching a challenge, especially if you use watercolour quite a bit, as I do. Nevertheless, a dousing of rain does tend to freshen up the landscape, gives the waterfalls an extra zip, and can create exciting puddles for our foregrounds. Even flooding, desperate as it has been here of late, has at times changed the scenery so drastically that I have on occasion managed some fascinating, at times dramatic compositions in these conditions. It pays, therefore, always to have our sketchbook and camera on hand.
I’m hoping for plenty of sunshine next Saturday as I shall be giving a talk and demonstration at Erwood Station Craft Centre, and as Jenny Keal is doing in the photograph, it would be great to do it alfresco to the sound of birdsong and the laughter of Llandoddies in the woods. It’s a lovely venue, especially in summer, with the River Wye flowing past, and the centre itself crammed with paintings, crafts and all manner of interesting things, where you can be served tea and cakes in a delightful atmosphere, the most wonderful watering-hole between Cardiff and Colwyn Bay.
Come rain or shine, I shall be there illustrating watercolour techniques and signing copies of my latest book, Skies, Light & Atmosphere, from 2pm onwards on Saturday 14th July. The event is free to all, though we will be delighted if donations, however modest, are given in aid of the Wales Air Ambulance and Help For Heroes. For further information telephone 01982 560674 or check the Erwood Station website at Erwood Station Craft Centre. The Centre can be found about half a mile north of Erwood village, by turning off the A470 to cross the Wye onto the B4567. It is well signposted.