Capturing autumn colours in watercolour

Autumn colours have been late arriving this season. I’ve just returned from running a painting course in Snowdonia, hoping for a blaze of colour, but sadly only a few trees co-operated. Despite the strong winds a lot of leaves remain on the trees and it is still worth getting out and seeking colourful subjects out there.

autumn trees

This is a small demonstration piece I did for the group. While I use a number of warm colours for autumn trees, here I’ve applied gamboge, a lovely warm yellow, with cadmium orange. To make your autumn colours really sing you need to juxtapose them against a mauve or blue-grey, as these are complementary colours. You will see this phenomenon at its best where autumn trees stand against distant hills or mountains, or against a dark sky as in the painting.

There are some good examples of this in my Mountains & Moorlands in Watercolour book, and the DVD of the same name. There is a special offer on this package, which is only available on my website.

At the moment Jenny is working on a fascinating staged pastel painting of a Moroccan scene – I pop into her studio every now and again to have a peep, and you can find it at on her blog 

Don’t forget, my exhibition in Lincoln Joyce Fine Art continues until Saturday 9th November, where you will find some watercolours from some of my books, as well as new paintings. They can be found at 40 Church Road, Great Bookham, Surrey,  Telephone 01372 458481

And now for something different

Now and then we get into one of those dreadful artistic ruts that leave us rudderless for periods, not quite knowing which direction to take, and finding little inspiration in anything. One great way of snapping out of these doldrums is to try a different medium, perhaps only slightly different, but enough to spur you on to greener pastures. Derwent are always bringing out exciting new ideas, and many of them are related to watercolour, which has the advantage of taking us into new areas of working, but ones which can also give our watercolours a new lift.

Misty Stream - XL Graphite

Misty Stream – XL Graphite

I’ve just been trying out the new Derwent XL Graphite blocks – a set of six chunky watersoluble blocks, and as you can see in the picture on the left, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between these and watercolour. I began by laying olive green across the foliage areas, blending it in with a finger and then washing over it with a number 10 round brush with clean water. I had already laid more olive green on a piece of scrap paper and picked up a quite strong mix of this with a fine number 2 brush, drawing the tree trunks and branches into the wet wash, wet-in-wet style. Quickly I then applied more olive green strongly into the upper parts and directly with the block. Going on to a wet surface it produced a deeper tone which I then worked into with a brush to suggest the loose leaves and some of the ground cover. The paper was still wet enough for me to work in a soft grey colour with the number 10 brush to suggest the more distant rocks. I then drew burnt umber in with the block for the darker rocks, softening it off in places with a brush before completing the work with blue over the foreground. including a touch of green reflections here and there.Spatter with XL Graphite sm
Derwent have also come up with a really useful sprinkler tool – a small grid across which you rasp the XL Graphite block to create a spatter effect. I did this on a different composition, and the technique works deliciously when dropped onto a wet surface as here where I’m suggesting a bush. The branches were created with a fine rigger, picking up colour directly off the burnt umber block.

These blocks can be used for many purposes, apart from creating paintings by themselves. They can be combined with normal watercolour, can be used to rescue a wayward watercolour, and are great for doing quick studio sketches in planning out a larger painting. Give them a try, they really are tremendous fun, and if you wish can be readily combined with the Graphitint pencils. The only problem I have now is that Jenny has just seen my work and has run off with my XL blocks……..

Painting in Pastel & Sketching in Watercolour

I love sketching, in fact I love sketching more than painting. There is nothing like the feeling of being outside, hopefully in pleasant weather, capturing an old buildings or lovely landscape in your sketchbook.

Stockland, Devon

Sketch of old cottage in Stockland, Devon, by Jenny Keal

Many of the sketches I make will never become paintings as most of them I do just for the pure pleasure of it, but every sketch I do teaches me something, sharpens my observation and improves my painting and drawing skills.

Sketching in watercolour is not as difficult as you might imagine, and there is a sense of liberation about painting a watercolour in a sketchbook that is absent when working on a sheet of expensive watercolour paper in the studio. You do not have to worry if it goes wrong as it is ‘just a sketch’ . You can slosh the paint around and so often I prefer the looseness of the sketch to the carefully considered finished painting, whether it is in watercolour or pastel.


Typical Exmoor scenery, (photo)


Lynmouth Devon (photo)

If you would like to experience this sense of liberation you could join me in Lynmouth, Devon from 20th to 23rd May this year. We will be sketching in watercolour out of doors, and then turning these sketches into pastel paintings in the studio. You don’t have to use pastel of course, you can use whatever medium you prefer. The main emphasis will be on capturing the marvellous Devon scenery, pretty cottages, tumbling streams, woodland and even the coast.

One of the benefits of watercolour sketching is that it definitely improves your studio watercolours.

Sketching on Skye

David and I have just returned home from a trip to Skye. We stayed with Rosemary Hale in Aird of Sleat at her lovely coft house for a few days and for me it was sketching heaven with traditional buildings in every direction against a backdrop of mountains and islands.

Cottage on Skye

Half Seventeen in Aird of Sleat where we stayed with Rosemary

There were so many scenes to sketch that I had to work very quickly. In these circumstances I often create outline sketches in the field so that I can capture more compositions, and add watercolour washes to these in the evenings. That way I have plenty of material to work from when I return home and return with a feeling of having done justice to the plethora of subjects.

Sketch on Skye

Lower Breakish, Sketch done out of doors in about 10 minutes

Watercolour Sketch

Lower Breakish, Watercolour washes added the same evening

By adding the watercolour washes to the sketch the same evening, the colours are still fresh in my mind. Sometimes I make colour notes on the pencil sketch to remind me. Working this way I can produce 5 or 6 sketches a day instead of just one. This sketch was done on a walk along the shore at Lower Breakish.

Towards the end of our stay on Skye we spent a couple of nights with Helen Stephensen at her superb Bed and Breakfast, Sealladh Alainn,  in Lower Breakish. The views from the breakfast table across the Loch were stunning with subjects to draw and paint in every direction.

Sealladh Allain

View from the breakfast table at Sealladh Alainn

David and I are both demonstrating at Patchings Art Festival on 14th and 15th June. Come along and say hello to us there.