We have a lot of mud in Wales, and this winter it has excelled itself, making hiking something of a messy process, so it would be a pleasant change to see some good clean snow for a change. Then back to mud, of course.
I love those misty mornings with the sun beginning to filter through. It’s worth finding a local river scene on these mornings as they lend themselves well to this sort of atmosphere. This scene shows only part of the composition, and I have applied masking fluid at the top of the birch trees to accentuate the hard edges of the ice-rimed branches. When this had dried I worked in the background wet-in-wet to create a soft, misty effect, and this included the distant trunks and branches. It was an intensely cold morning. I have washed in Naples Yellow into the right-hand sky area and into the birch trees to add a sense of warmth, as well as in the reeds. The water was again achieved wet-in-wet – note how the bank below the birches has a slightly darker reflection than the bank itself.
This is taken from my Winter Landscapesbook which is crammed with ideas for painting winter scenery, even if you have no intention of going outside to take full advantage of all that glorious mud!!!
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!
Writing blogs on a steam-driven laptop is an extremely slow process, and with extremely poor internet connections it can take me hours, which is the reason I’ve slowed down the number of blogs I do. Technology in Wales seems to be in some sort of reverse decline, and once the black-outs start hitting us it will be even worse. Progress is a funny thing!
Jenny and I enjoyed Patchings Art Festival, where I did two demonstrations in the St Cuthberts marquee to large, enthusiastic audiences. It’s always a joy to work with St Cuthberts Mill, and the Saunders Waterford High-White paper is superb for getting the best out of your watercolours.
I’ve just taken some new watercolours toArt Matters in White Lion Street in Tenby (Tel. 01834 843375) and this is one, showing a quiet corner of Tenby harbour. The lovely old stone walls provide an interesting backdrop, and these were done by laying an initial wash of Naples yellow over the entire area, and once this was dry painting in the stonework with cobalt blue plus cadmium red, to which I added a few drops of yellow ochre while the stones were still wet. I left some of the Naples yellow showing as light-coloured mortar between the stones. Once again I waited until the whole area had dried and then glazed it all with a weaker wash of cobalt blue and cadmium red. This both imparted a greater sense of unity and slightly softened off the edges of the stonework.
The background has been considerably simplified so that the emphasis is thrown onto the figures in conversation, and the surface was Waterford 140lb NOT, which is excellent for taking repeated washes if necessary.
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?
One of my favourite techniques for dealing with those troublesome foregrounds is the vignette method, which can be equally effective when used on watercolour sketches. This is especially true when you don’t want to include every bit of detail in front of you. The method can be carried out with a softening effect as though the viewing frame becomes more and more misty as it gets further away from the centre of the composition, or it can be accomplished by abruptly stopping detail while adding a few stray examples – perhaps stones, pebbles, grasses, plants or whatever is present, in the foreground.
In this example of a cascade plunging between rocks I’ve simply splashed in a few hints of falling water with weak French ultramarine, and to the left-hand side have spattered some flecks of paint. The rocks have been faded out, although the method works equally well by rendering a few strong, hard-edged features at this point. If you find the latter method is too strident you can softly sponge away the hardness with a natural sponge and clean water until you achieve the effect you are seeking. It’s also a useful technique when you are out sketching and see those heavy rain-clouds approaching and need to finish it off at speed! Try it out – you have nothing to lose, as if you feel it doesn’t work you can always superimpose a more normal foreground over it.