Finishing off my Seas & Shorelines book, a hiking trip to northern Italy, and a host of demonstrations, workshops and other items has left me little time to write blogs of late. I know some folk are quite happy to create their blog while riding across snow-encumbered steppes, I tend to leave most of my electronic appurtenances at home.
The Italian trip in northern Lombardia was really special, and accompanied by wonderful autumnal sunshine. The mountain scenery was outstanding, the granite peaks positively gleaming a brilliant white in the strong sunlight, and especially striking when set against the warm autumn colours on the trees. This brief sketch was carried out with a very soft Lyra sepia pencil in a few minutes, smudging the tones in places with my fingers as I tried to capture the beautiful evening light illuminating the peaks. Lyra make lovely pencils, and this simple approach is an excellent way to improve your drawing.
Back in Wales it came as quite a shock to learn that a wind turbine development is being allowed to go ahead by the Welsh Assembly in a truly beautiful area, despite being thrown out by the local planning committee and the inspector at the public inquiry, and with very strong opposition from local people. The environment minister, who appears to have no experience in the natural environment, decided to give the scheme the go-ahead ‘because of the national interest!’ Which national interest she had in mind is not clear as it is certainly in the interests of the foreign company constructing the turbines.
The photograph shows the glorious Llandegley Rocks ridge which makes for a really interesting walk. There are starling murmurations with up to around 80,000 birds, which the developer intends to get rid of by cutting down their trees and bushes. The World Health Organisation has recently produced a report that shows that wind turbines cause hearing loss, tinnitus, high blood pressure and heart problems, yet the Welsh Ass has not bothered to carry out an investigation into the health of people living near these contrivances. Mid-Wales relies heavily for tourism for its economy, but unlike other countries the Welsh Ass cares little. If they can do this to Llandegley Rocks then nowhere is safe in Wales from this industrialisation. There is no control, this outcome has indicated that public inquiries are a waste of time, effort, money and emotional resources, and that local democracy is absolutely dead in Wales. Planning control appears to be a thing of the past, and this decision throws all efforts to strike a fair balance into utter confusion. It is a very black prospect for the principality. God help the children of Wales.
We’ve just returned from Spain where we ran a group painting holiday in the lovely old Andalucian town of Ronda, based in a hotel right on the edge of those sheer cliffs. It was brilliantly organised by Richard Cartwright of West Norfolk Arts. I did several sketches of the mountain panorama from my balcony, taking care not to drop a pencil as it wouldn’t have stopped for over 200 feet straight down!
Ronda is full of fascinating subjects, apart from its magnificent Puente Neuvo, the bridge that links the two parts of the town and spans the dramatic gorge. The watercolour sketch shown on the right is of the old bridge, which I carried out with a sanguine pen and a limited range of harmonious colours to retain unity. I chose to do it fairly early in the morning when it was backlit, for added drama, but also to avoid the crowds of tourists. I could see the green fields beyond the bridge and the blue-grey mountains beyond them, but chose to introduce a misty atmosphere in which I could lose detail. This was especially helpful with the gorge itself as it enhanced the sense of space and depth, which is also true of the vertical dimension as it goes down a long way.
We were mainly blessed with good weather most of the time, although we did have a number of splendid storms, one of which was accompanied by a cloudburst that filled the streets with roaring torrents, trapping many for nearly an hour.
I have a great affection for rural lanes, especially old rutted cart-tracks. While they are superb for leading you into a composition they are also excellent subjects in their own right. When I plan a sketching trip I often seek out winding lanes on the walking map, and where they lead to an interesting-looking subject such as a mountain or hill, then there is a strong chance of a good subject.
This particular lane heads towards the Brecon Beacons and I tramped it on a sunny winter day. I particularly liked the way the low sunlight cast shadows across the lane, and was keen to include this aspect, as well as giving the feature a few extra ruts for good measure. Ruts, puddles, clumps of grass and weeds and stones can be exaggerated or even added if they are not present, to give the composition more character. Keep a file of drawings, sketches and photographs of these countryside features so that you can add them in when needed. Undulating hedgerows with gaps here and there enhance the rustic nature of the place as do mature trees and bushes, and if you’re feeling really bold why not include a rustic shepherd wending his weary way home?
The painting was done on a sheet of quarter-imperial Saunders Waterford rough paper, a beautiful surface to work on, and the rough surface enhanced the track, especially where I used drybrush strokes.
It’s been all-action since my last blog, from the marvellous annual festival at Patchings Art Festival in Nottingham’s Robin Hood country where I demonstrated the Saunders Waterford papers for St Cuthberts Mill, and had the pleasure of meeting a lot of you. I’ve also just returned from an immensely rewarding trip to Germany, so that has a lot of potential for some great artwork.
I do hope, like me, you’ve enjoyed this amazing summer and made full use of it with your paintbrush!
Recently I received an interesting email asking how to develop an artist’s ‘mindsight,’ or visualisation in constructing a painting. This is more than just assembling the various parts of a composition, and brings in more about your own feelings and imagination into the equation.
This watercolour of the Pembrokeshire coast at Amroth is an example of how visualization created a really different painting from what I saw in reality. I sketched the scene in mid-afternoon with light coming from the left. I could see the village and background hills and cliffs in strong detail and an overwhelming green. There was little atmosphere. In the studio I played around with studio sketches, tried various lighting and mood effects and considered how to increase the dramatic effect. I needed to lose most of the detail and the greenery.
I decided to change the lighting to an evening sky, bringing in atmospheric cloud to lose much of the hills, and enhance the unity by using few colours in the background, mainly French ultramarine and cadmium red. Backlighting like this adds dramatic appeal and the cascade of light above the houses highlights them as a focal point. The dark closer rocks and cliff create a sense of space, again painted in with the same colours as the background only with much stronger tones and the addition of yellow ochre in places.
How do you develop this visualisation of a scene? Firstly seek out dramatic lighting situations, sketching, recording and photographing strong atmosphere, moving around to find the most dramatic viewpoint and observing the effects created in these situations. Secondly study these phenomena at exhibitions, in books, etc, in the work of good landscape artists. Experiment with ideas, exaggerating height, tonal values and atmospheric effects, and using your imagination to create mystery, drama, intense light or moody shadows. Eliminate features that don’t work for you. This all takes time and experience, but if you make a deliberate effort to work on this aspect of painting it will improve your work enormously.
My Skies, Light & Atmosphere in Watercolour book contains a great many paintings that have been enhanced dramatically by visualising the overall atmosphere before touching the watercolour paper. Most of the skies depicted – and there is an enormous variety – have been changed to something more exciting for that particular composition. Concentrating on skies is an excellent way of beginning visualisation methods.
It is a sad fact that in many paintings skies are painted without much forethought, when in fact they should be considered as an intrinsic part of the composition. They not only set the mood and lighting effects, but clouds, sun, squalls, lightning and stormy effects can all be positioned and treated sympathetically in relation to the ground features, especially mountains, hills and trees with which the sky comes into contact.
In this watercolour from my new bookDavid Bellamy’s Arctic LightI have placed the most interesting part of the sky close to the summit of the Geologryggen peak and directly above the polar bear, thus bringing all the main elements together. For this painting, done on Saunders Waterford rough high white paper I began by wetting the whole sky area then working in quinacridone gold around the brightest point, and immediately blending in permanent orange to warm it up even more. I had already mixed up a wash of Moonglow with French ultramarine and applied this to the rest of the sky. While this was all still wet I brought in some much stronger Moonglow to apply the darker clouds wet-into-wet. Note the counterchange where mountain meets sky – the right-hand side shows the mountain slope dark against light, as is the rocky summit, but the rest reveals a sky darker than the snowy ridges. The paints I used here are the Daniel Smith watercolour range which have some amazingly gorgeous colours.
So, when you are doing those thumbnail sketches to work out your composition, don’t forget to include the sky, unless it covers a small part of the work. For those who enjoy painting skies and really want some good examples the Arctic book is a real treasury as it is crammed with a whole variety of skies suitable whether you are painting in Bognor, Bornholm or wherever. For further details see my website.
I will be signing my book at Stanfords map shop in Covent Garden on July 10th, so if you would like to come along and have a chat or ask any questions, then please get in touch with Mary Ellingham at Search Press on firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01892 510 850