David Bellamy – Gearing up for sketching outdoors

As we pass from autumn into winter it’s a time of year when many artists seem to go into hibernation, especially if there are no local art classes to encourage them. When I wrote my latest book Winter Landscapes in Watercolour my aim was to encourage people to take a serious look at the countryside in winter, and if possible to get out and record the scenes in sketches or with a camera. The winter landscape can be breath-takingly beautiful, a time of year when you can find some of the most dramatic and often simple compositions that almost beg to be painted. So how do you make the most of this exciting time of year?

 If you keep an eye on the weather forecast you might get some idea of what’s to come, but they seem to get it so wrong so often that it pays to be prepared for those glorious days when conditions are just right, whether snow is on the ground or not. If it takes you an hour or more to get your art gear together then you may well have lost the best part of the day, so having all your kit ready for action is vital. As far as keeping warm and dry is concerned, you can see in the photo that I am wrapped up in a warm fleece jacket, a warm sheepskin hat, scarf and thin gloves in which I can sketch quite happily. My trousers are lined, I have woollen socks and boots, thermal vest and inside the rucsack is my waterproof outer gear, a long neck tube which can cover not just my neck but up over my head as well, if need be, a steel thermos flask, mug, etc, so that I can make soup, coffee, tea, cappuccinos, the lot. I’m there to enjoy myself, so why not?

My sketching gear varies from time to time, but in less-than perfect conditions it’s best to keep it really simple so that you can work speedily. I mainly sketch on hardback cartridge books, even in watercolour, as it dries quickly on the smooth paper unless conditions are truly damp. I take several soft-grade pencils along, including water-soluble ones which can suggest a lovely mood. They are especially effective for suggesting snow conditions. A range of four or five brushes is adequate, and often I use just one on a sketch. I also carry around a plastic aquash brush which holds its own water reservoir in the handle. You only need a few colours. I prefer half-pans when working out of doors, rather than tubes, as they are all ready for action once I open the box, which has its own integral palette.

Finally, it’s also a great idea to have some plan of where you intend to go. I like to plan for different locations for different conditions. If the heavy rain has stopped, seeking out waterfalls in spate might be worthwhile. Hoar frost on trees may not settle for long, so in that case it would be vital to be out quickly into the trees. Snow can totally transform all kinds of landscape, which can give you a wide choice, but a thin covering can quickly disappear, and it may be all you get all winter!

One last tip: try to get a 20-minute walk in before you sketch and you’ll find you can cope much easier than if you just stumble out of the warm car to start sketching or painting. So, with winter upon us, now is the time to sort out all that gear and be ready for those good days. Don’t forget, afterwards you can treat yourself to tea and cakes and really feel you’ve achieved something. Oh, and don’t forget that camera…..

David Bellamy – Painting Watercolours in Intense Heat

With such a lot of intense heat of late in Britain it’s been excellent for painting out of doors. Getting out early in the morning or in the evening light is more preferable for those of you who find it just a little bit too hot, and finding some shade in the heat of the day is advisable, for the watercolour if not for the artist! Bright sunlight on white paper can really hurt your eyes, dry your washes too quickly, and give you a false sense of tonal values, so that when you return indoors your painting may look a little stark and contrasty. Take along and umbrella or other form of shade if you intend sitting in the sunshine to paint, and make sure it keeps your painting in shadow.

A few weeks ago I was asked how to depict intense heat in a painting. In this watercolour sketch I left much of the tops of the rocks as white paper, with much stronger tones on the sides forming a strong contrast. There was much more detail present, but adding too much detail can destroy the suggestion of sunlight, so keep it to a minimum in the lit areas. Cast shadows highlight the sunny effect, but here the sun is almost directly overhead, so there is not any great length to the shadows. The sense of intense heat has been further enhanced by laying a weak wash of blue-grey over the background.

Jenny teaching by Irfon sm  The sun beat down every day on our recent landscape course at Builth Wells, although happily we did have some welcome fluffy white clouds at times for variation. The ideal spot was down by the river running through the hotel grounds, where several students took the opportunity to dangle their feet in the water while they sketched. In the photo Jenny is giving advice as they paint a mixture of delightful cascades and still water punctuated with stunning colour reflections. Make the most of this lovely sketching weather.

Using counterchange to good effect

With the current heatwave hitting the British Isles I reckon it’s rather nice to remind ourselves of those lovely cooling days of English drizzle. I’ve been working on sunny landscapes recently and will feature some in future blogs, but for the moment I’d like to discuss counterchange, an interesting feature that someone brought up recently.

Hackney

Counterchange in a landscape scene is a very effective way of adding interest to a passage or solving a tonal problem. At its simplest it could be a change in tone across a ridge, hill, forest, mountain, or any background mass to create a tonal range running from light on one side to dark on the other, while at the same time adjusting the sky in a similar way so that the dark part of the sky stands against the light part of the hill, and vice versa. In this watercolour of a cobbled street in Hackney you can see I’ve used the method vertically on the right-hand wall just to the right of the lampost.

In this instance I’ve included it for interest rather than to solve a problem. Where the method is extremely useful in solving a tonal problem can be, for example, where you have a house with a light-coloured wall set against a dark background: if the roof is dark it will get lost in the dark background, and if it is light it will lose itself against the light wall. By laying a graduated wash over the roof, darker at the bottom and graduating to a lighter top where the roof abuts the darker background, you can thus make both top and bottom of the roof stand out, thus causing a counterchange effect using the graduated wash. One of the most simple examples of counterchange can often be found on telegraph poles or winter tree-trunks where they show up light against dark vegetation at the bottom, and dark against the bright sky at the top, depending on the light of course.

This particular painting is featured in my Skies, Light & Atmosphere book available on my website with a special offer package of book and DVD, available only from the site or my demonstrations. Don’t forget to watch out for these effects in the natural landscape when you are out and about. You can learn a lot even without your painting or sketching gear!

Injecting Dramatic Lighting into your Paintings

In a painting in any medium, treatment of light is a vital consideration. While the landscape photographer has to work with available light, artists can manipulate it to their advantage, changing it, intensifying it, rendering a much softer, atmospheric light or create a dramatic sense of light and dark, and so much more. It pays to study how the top artists have treated the light in their compositions when you visit an important exhibition or collection.

Brancaster Staithe

Brancaster Staithe

This scene on the Norfolk coast shows part of the composition bathed in late afternoon sunlight, as it throws the emphasis on the central building, the two figures and the boats. I achieved hard edges on the buildings set against a dark sky by using masking fluid, rubbing it off once the background washes had dried, and then painting in the details on the buildings and the rest of the scene, completing everything apart from the shadows in the foreground. At that point I often trundle off for a coffee, or if it’s late I’ll finish for the day. This allows the washes to dry completely – in fact I’ll often get on with another painting at that point.

With the whole painting completely dry I wash clean water right across the foreground, taking it up into the lower sky area. Make sure that you take the water some distance beyond where you intend to create the soft edge, as water has a habit of creeping further than you might think. I then apply a mixture of French ultramarine and cadmium red over the shadow area, including the darkened left-hand buildings and the far right-hand hedgerow. This wash blends nicely into the wet paper, creating soft-edged shadows, with the area I wished to highlight being left untouched. If you are a little wary of this technique try it out firstly on old paintings that have not worked well, so that if things really do go wrong it won’t matter.

Enlivening your landscapes

There are a number of ways to enliven your landscapes, and in this watercolour of a farm in the English Lake District I have employed a few devices to add interest. A clothes line can be used to add colour and by not having the clothes hanging straight down you can give them a sense of being blown about – white, pink and red are excellent colours to use on the clothes. Just in front of the house I have emphasised blossom on the trees, and many of the trees around the house are bright green, adding to the feeling of spring and further drawing attention to the centre of interest, which is the house.

However, once you include figures the centre of interest will then transfer to them, unless they are extremely small. The cyclists were not present, but I added them to bring life into the work. Always try and get your figures to be doing something, rather than standing around with their hands in their pockets, and for this try introducing some prop like a wheel-barrow, bucket, or as in this case, bikes. Finally, remember that sunshine will always liven up a painting.

This watercolour is featured in my book David Bellamy’s Mountains & Moorlands in Watercolour where I show the original sketch and photograph of the scene. For details of the book see:  http://www.davidbellamy.co.uk/