David Bellamy – The negative painting technique in watercolour

This weekend we had our annual watercolour seminar in Pontypool, and as usual we had a very enthusiastic audience. It’s always good when lots of questions are forthcoming and people create a real buzz with their obvious excitement about indulging in watercolour painting and learning new techniques. When they can see the techniques being demonstrated close-up on the screen it really fires them up.

One of the techniques I was questioned about this weekend was that of the negative painting method. In watercolour, because it is a transparent medium and we cannot effectively paint a light colour over a dark one, we need to resort to other ways of working. We can use masking fluid, which reserves the white paper, but can be clumsy at times. Another method is to rub a candle across the paper to form a resist, but this is hopeless if you need intricate detail. A third technique is to paint gouache or acrylic over the dark area, but here the opaque paint can appear intrusive often losing that lovely sense of watercolour transparency and spontaneity.

The picture shows part of a painting mainly completed out of doors. It reveals a number of negative painting examples: the trunk and branches of the birch tree; the right-hand boulder; where the dead bracken stands out against the dark background; and the edges of the falling and turbulent water. The sole method I have used here for each of these examples is to work round each feature with a darker colour. In the case of the red bracken, this was painted on first, allowed to dry, and then the dark background wash brought down to describe the birch tree, the boulder, the water and of course, the red bracken.

This techniques is extremely effective and well worth learning. I don’t normally put quite so much negative work into one painting, but this was meant as an illustration on how to apply it, and can be seen on my Painting Winter Landscapes DVD, which accompanies the book with the same title. For more information see my website or that of APV Films who produced the film.

David Bellamy – Livening up your autumn and winter landscape paintings

How often do you find yourself in a superb location for painting, but with poor, flat light and dull, lifeless colours? This happens to me rather too often, and while it pays to go out to seek painting subjects in fine weather, this is not always possible. As a result we find ourselves with a scene that needs livening up quite a bit, and this is best done by introducing some exciting light and atmosphere, and changing the colours to a degree. In this watercolour of a farm in snow I warmed up the sky with a touch of alizarin crimson, and while the mass of trees to the left of the farm were still wet I washed in some light red to warm that area up. Cast shadows, created with French ultramarine with a touch of cadmium red liven up what would otherwise be quite a dull foreground.

Every autumn I do a watercolour seminar, which is extremely popular, as it involves not just a landscape demonstration, but an illustrated talk and an opportunity to fire any questions at me. This year it takes place at the Pontypool Community Education Centre (The Settlement), in Pontypool, Monmouthshire on Saturday 1st November. The centre has tiered seating and excellent access roads, and the seminar begins at 10.30 am and finishes around 2.30pm. The demonstration is projected onto a screen, with techniques highlighted and shown in enlargement, enabling the audience to follow each procedure more clearly, and ask questions as it unfolds.

The illustrated talk covers many aspects of painting winter and autumn scenes, from initial sketching and how to work comfortably out of doors in the cooler months, what to wear outdoors, to painting back indoors with methods to make the most of low winter light to bring your painting to life; bringing warm and rich colours into a drab scene; making the most of snow in its various forms; describing those graceful bare trees; capturing the magic of autumn; tackling foregrounds, with examples of various types of foreground; and much more. Many watercolour techniques are shown in detail and discussed.

To find out more about the seminar visit http://www.davidbellamy.co.uk/watercolour-seminar-2014/   Make the most of winter and autumn painting by planning your approach now.

David Bellamy – Painting Winter Landscapes

Winter is a time when most artists feel they should stay indoors, yet in many ways the winter landscape is more colourful, more varied and not covered in overwhelming greenery that also has the habit of hiding many fascinating subjects. Yet there are many days when getting out to sketch, or even just to photograph the landscape is not only rewarding, but pleasurable as well. You just have to choose your days, but to really make the most of it I have produced a package that should really help those who want to make the most of this fascinating season.

Winter Landscapes in Watercolour is my brand-new 80-page book published this month by Search Press, and I have produced a companion DVD with the same title, filmed by APV Films to accompany it. The combination of book and film really does give you an all-round idea of how to produce a watercolour landscape and the thought processes behind it. The image on the right, for example, appears in both book and film, with the film showing me working on location, then in the studio. It’s a farm on the Staffordshire moorlands, a simple subject which I have made even simpler by bringing in mist at the two extreme ends of the ridge and reducing the mass of white snow patches that were present. Sweeps with a large mop brush have created a drybrush sparkle over a lighter, earlier wash that had dried, and this is especially noticeable to the right of the buildings. It’s an effective technique for suggesting rough ground without actually having to paint in a lot of detail. In the dark areas on and in front of the buildings I have left flecks of white gouache. This is clearer in the book and DVD, and really livens up the focal point.

It’s important to be well-prepared for working outdoors in winter, and this is covered in the book, together with ways of working quickly. But it’s not all about working outside. The book and DVD are crammed with advice on painting the seasons from late autumn to early spring, and even if you don’t intend going outside you will find much to help your landscape painting here. At the moment we have a special offer if you buy both book and DVD from my website at http://www.davidbellamy.co.uk/davids-page/  I really enjoyed working on these two projects as for me winter is a marvellous time to be out sketching, so I hope you will make the most of this fascinating season with these useful companions during long winter evenings.

David Bellamy – Lost and found tonal effects

Our recent trip to Scotland and subsequent workload have alas, inhibited new blog posts, as so much seems to be happening at once. Jenny and I experienced a glorious period of sunny weather in the Highlands, making for some really marvellous sketching experiences on the Fife coast and in the Cairngorm mountains. Fife has some lovely harbours that make for great painting compositions, and is a place I’ve missed out in the past because of my headlong rush always to get into the Highlands. It also gave us great pleasure to meet so many of our Scottish friends, a great many of whom turned up for my demonstration at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre.

This post’s illustration continues the Scottish theme, showing a part of a watercolour of a loch where a promontory is coming in from the left side. So often we see these features as a dark mass set against lighter water. Before you begin work on this consider how you might tackle it in terms of values. In this example I have painted in the promontory so that the top edge stands dark and hard against the light water of the loch, while the bottom edge is light and soft, and in fact lost altogether in places.

This approach avoids the promontory appearing to be cut out and stuck in place, setting it into the composition in a more natural way. Note also how I’ve dropped in a variety of colours in the lower edge, including permanent alizarin crimson and yellow ochre. Of course, these techniques can be applied to many situations and features in a painting, so give it a try. The illustration is part of a painting that is featured in my exhibition at the John Muir Trust Wild Space Gallery in Station Road, Pitlochry, until 18th June – telephone 01796 470080 or check my website

The one fly-in-the-ointment of our Scottish trip was the vast swathes of wind turbines now springing up all over the place, even encroaching on the stunning scenery of the Highlands themselves. If this continues it will totally destroy the reputation of Scotland for it’s outstanding and world-renowned scenery, and what to me is a truly tragic and criminal act simply aimed at vast profits for the energy corporations, and absolutely nothing to do with preserving the environment. I was so badly affected that for the first two nights there I could not sleep.

Creating small flecks of white in your watercolours

I’ve been away in south-east England last week, and for two of the days working on the stage-by-stage paintings for my next book, Winter Landscapes in Watercolour at the Search Press studio. One of those awkward little problems facing the watercolourist is when you need to include small spots or lines of white in a scene, a particular necessity with snow subjects.

Snow scene

You can try masking fluid, but this often induces larger blobs than you want and can sometimes look wrong when it is rubbed off. Scratching with a scalpel is another method, and this can be very effective, though not everyone is confident with using one. In this scene showing part of a painting I have painted on white gouache where I wanted patches of snow on the upper side of branches close to the trunk, where they tend to remain longer as there is less motion in that part of the branch. I’ve also dabbed some on the window sill of the barn. The roofs were left white, and you can see that because the sun is so low the tops of the roofs are slightly darker in shadow than the strips at the end where the snow is quite thick. I often use white gouache for tiny areas like the branches and sills.

The book will be published by Search Press in September, and will be accompanied by a DVD from APV Films. As well as winter landscapes it will cover late autumn to early spring, covering a wide variety of scenery and techniques. It is the third in the series, following Mountains & Moorlands in Watercolour and Skies, Light & Atmosphere in Watercolour, both of which are available on my website