David Bellamy – Painting desert and tropical scenes in watercolour

I was asked recently about painting tropical scenes and how this differed from my usual British landscapes. Although I haven’t done any tropical work for a while, over the years I’ve painted quite a number of scenes in the tropics, especially in East Africa with its wide range of spectacular scenery. Desert scenery is one of my favourite genres, as the figures and colours can be quite exotic, and one tends not to find the painting water freezing up, as in more northerly climes. Unfortunately I don’t have any record of earlier jungle and tropical plant scenery paintings, so this is the closest I can find, until I manage to paint further tropical scenes, which probably won’t happen until next winter.

This watercolour shows a wadi in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco towards evening, with women washing clothes in the river. We were returning from an expedition when I spotted this marvellous composition, and did a quick pencil sketch of it, even though I felt pretty tired and was likely to be assailed by hundreds of kids demanding pencils.

I take much the same colours with me to the hotter climates, as I do in Europe, but tend to use more of the brighter colours. This watercolour was done on Saunders Waterford 140lb hot-pressed paper which is excellent for bringing out the vitality of the brighter colours, really making them sing. I used vermilion in the sky, with gamboge in the brighter parts. As with most landscape work it helps to suggest space and distance with cooler colours in the more distant passages, and this can also throw the emphasis on to those areas of brighter colours, whether lush vegetation or other features. Here I used French ultramarine for the background. You can create really striking colour effects by juxtaposing complementary colours, for example bright red flowers or plants set in vivid green foliage. I hope these tips will help those of you who like more exotic scenery………..until I can get back into the jungle.

3 thoughts on “David Bellamy – Painting desert and tropical scenes in watercolour

  1. Thank you David for posting this and for the tips for capturing a more tropical landscape. Can I ask what you mixed for the dark colour of the palm trees, we get lots of wonderful sunsets here and early evening skies that silhouette the palms here where I live. I have just bought some Daniel Smith’s neutral tint, do you use a neutral tint mixed with another colour?

    Thanks again David

    • Paula, this was painted some time ago and I can’t remember exactly which colours I used. It was most likely French ultramarine mixed with light red for both trunk and palm fronds, with some gamboge added to the fronds while they were still wet, and allowing it to seep down into the top of the trunk.

      I don’t use neutral tint, and haven’t tried the Daniel Smith version, although I’m aware their colours are excellent and I enjoy using them.

      Please note that my current blog post covers painting the effects of intense heat which you were interested in.

      I hope this helps.


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