Simplifying Foregrounds with the Vignette Technique by David Bellamy

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.

Cascade (detail)

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.

Creating a strikingly moody landscape in watercolour

The combination of a striking centre of interest with a soft, misty background can be a powerful recipe for a stunning composition. To achieve this is it hard to beat the combination of masking fluid and the wet-into-wet watercolour technique. In producing a strong contrast between the soft, ethereal misty background and the hard-edged focal point you will be creating a really head-turning image.

Hisley bridgeThis watercolour of Hisley Bridge on the edge of Dartmoor illustrates the effectiveness of painting masking fluid over the bridge before doing any painting, then applying very fluid washes wet-into-wet for the background, bringing the wash down over the bridge with impunity, as you can lift off the masking fluid once it has dried and hey presto! the bridge appears again. The sense of mood has been accentuated by limiting the background colours in the wet-into-wet wash, with warmer colours being applied in the bridge and foreground.
  If you are interested in this particular scene there is a stage-by-stage demonstration of the painting in my book Painting Wild Landscapes in Watercolour, published by HarperCollins, and for more information see my website.
On Friday 7th June I shall be demonstrating at Patchings Art & Craft Festival, in the St Cuthberts Mill marquee at 11am, and the Search Press marquee at 3pm, then again on Saturday morning at 11 am in the St Cuthberts Mill marquee. On each occasion I’ll be using the marvellous Saunders Waterford High White paper manufactured by St Cuthberts Mill, with whom I’ve worked for a great many years now. You can take it from me that when you are demonstrating you have to have total faith in the paper, and Waterford has never let me down.
Sadly Jenny won’t be at Patchings this time as she has not been well. It’s a great disappointment  as she loves demonstrating at the festival, but hopefully she’ll be back in action at next year’s event.