This summer marks 40 years of my writing articles for Leisure Painter magazine, and the current issue (July 2021) contains an article celebrating this close relationship. Ingrid Lyon and her team are indeed lovely people to work with. The excellent Painters-online run by Leisure Painter and The Artist is also showing a film I recently made on how to paint a penguin, which you can see at https://www.painters-online.co.uk/tips-techniques/watercolour/articles/how-to-paint-a-penguin-in-watercolour/ This was done from an expedition to Chile many years ago, when I visited a penguin colony near Puntas Arenas on the way to the Andes.
I recently dropped some paintings in to the Waterfront Galleryin Milford Haven. It’s a lovely gallery on the quayside with plenty of parking and sketching space if you like painting boats and other things that bob about, so if you’re in or around Pembrokeshire do pop in if you have a moment.
This is part of one of the paintings I left at the gallery, showing huge Atlantic breakers hitting the cliffs at Linney Head in extremely wild seas. I achieved the white splashes by leaving that part as untouched paper, but wetting the area to float in the blue-grey colour of the cliffs to define the splashes wet-in-wet in a negative way. When the paper had dried I then sharpened up some of the edges with the blue-grey wash, thus creating a varied edge around the splash. Do be extremely careful if you go out on a day like this, as the sea can be really unforgiving!
The onset of spring nearly always gives us all a sense of hopeful anticipation of more pleasing times to come, perhaps more so this year than ever before as we attempt to recover from this dreadful virus. I hope you are able to get outside and take advantage of the better days, and perhaps manage a sketch or two. For me, daffodils always make a powerful foreground feature, and it’s worth capturing some images of these while you are out.
This image is part of a painting depicting lambs in early spring. Sheep are relatively easy to draw, but can pose problems for the unwary at the painting stage, especially where you have a light-coloured field caught in sunshine: you need a slightly darker area behind the sheep so that it stands out, and as you can see in this painting I have included several darker patches of grass in order to highlight the sheep. Generally I use Naples yellow for the main body, often leave a white top on head and body to accentuate the sense of light. This is normally left as white paper, but touching in a little white gouache can help rescue one that has not quite worked.
When including lambs it is important to put across a sense of the relationship between mother and lamb, or between a number of lambs enjoying each other’s company. This makes it look so much more natural. Compare the lamb by its mother in the foreground with the one on the distant right which is lying on it’s own. The closer couple invoke a much more pleasing composition.
One of the stronger background features is the gate. Although this has nothing to do with springtime I mention it because it is a good example of negative painting. Here, I have worked the darker colour around the gate and posts to define the light woodwork. I never include all five or so bars as it’s good to keep some hidden in the long grass! The painting was done on Saunders Waterford NOT 140lb paper.
A Happy New Year to you all: I hope you had a great festive season and are looking forward to a better year ahead. Keeping our spirits up during these grim lockdown days is vital, and after so long it’s not easy to come up with new ideas to stop our art becoming stale. Like many, I’ve been going through mountains of old stuff with a view to throwing a lot out, and that process itself has thrown up some interesting ideas. Firstly checking through old transparencies I’ve recently found some real gems from which to work up paintings. Secondly, sketches I previously hadn’t given any thought about creating a painting from have inspired me, highlighting how our tastes and perceptiveness change over the years, and why it’s important to revisit some of these old resources. Thirdly, some of the old art books can trigger ideas for new types of subject, a new medium, or perhaps a different approach to observing subjects.
So this time my tips involve the foreground in a landscape where we may wish to include flowers, plants or wild entanglements. Above is a section of detail from a painting reproduced in my book Landscapes Through the Seasons. I painted the dark areas first and allowed them to start drying. When the sheen was off them, but they were still damp I used a painting knife to score out light stalks/grasses in the right-hand red patch. When all was completely dry I then painted on the cow parsley using white gouache applied with a rigger. Finally I spatttered white gouache in places with a toothbrush. There are more foreground methods in the book to give you ideas for this tricky part of a composition. See my website for details. Enjoy your painting, and do have some fun going through those old treasures – you never know what you may find!
Many people find painting boats a challenge, and although they love working on harbour or coastal scenes where boats are featured, it is often the rendering of the boats that lets them down. Some boats, of course, are notoriously complicated and awkward even for the professionals, but here I’d like to offer some help and a few tips for those who find these fascinating subjects rather a struggle.
This watercolour is part of a small painting on Waterford 300lb rough paper, where I have included a few small dinghies that together with the figures form the focal point of the composition. Pushing boats into the middle distance like this makes them considerably simpler, and yet they can still be the centre of interest. By having them broadside on to the viewer you will eliminate those often excruciatingly difficult curves which may be present when you look at them from a side angle, but you can still give them a gentle rake where the top of the gunnel curves slightly upwards to the prow. If you are working on a reasonably large boat that is broadside on, closer to the foreground then use the shallower curve of French Curves to help you. With more experience work on more challenging boats.
Keeping the figures close to the boats emphasises the two elements as a focal point, but you can also use figures to hide those parts of the boat you may find awkward. Tarpaulins, netting, buoys, oars, lobster pots and all manner of seafaring detritus can also be used to break up parts of boats, as well as adding colour. Of course, you may be painting a truly picturesque harbour and find the main boat in the scene is a complicated mess and not at all attractive. Leave it out and substitute another, more handsome craft to your liking. It pays to sketch and photograph really good individual boats from all angles and at a variety of distances so that you can use these as substitutes in a composition.
A few years ago I filmed a number of scenes painting on the coast aimed at a DVD to release with my Seas & Shorelines book, but I mislaid the footage and the book came out on its own. However, I found the coastal footage a while back and this has now been produced as a newSeas & Shorelines DVD, which can be bought on its own or as a special book & dvd offer and this is solely available from my website. It contains many tips on painting boats as well as other maritime subjects. There is also a clip of the DVD on You Tube.
This is not the best time of year for getting out to sketch in the landscape, but given the problem with Coronavirus you may well feel the effort is worthwhile. I spend a lot of time outdoors and on Saturday went up the Black Mountains to paint some snow scenes. Being out in nature is one of the best antidotes to our current situation, but make sure you wrap up warm. I visited Cotswold Outdoor a few days ago to get some new sketching gloves and they have two or three excellent versions which are thin, warm and ideal for sketching in cold conditions. There are naturally many tips for working outdoors in winter in my Landscapes Through the Seasons in Watercolourbook.
Today we have glorious sunshine lighting up our landscapes, so I am eager to get out into the fresh air once this is written. On Sunday I was up on the local moors in brilliant sunshine, but how different – icy blasts swept across the hills, so I kept moving. However poorly I may be I always find that getting outside lifts the spirits and I return in a much better mood. If I haven’t managed any sketches I am still eager to get stuck into painting. Such is the power of nature!
Sunshine, whether scorching or accompanied by icy blasts, is so vital to the landscape artist and it is great practice on sunny days to consider the effects of sunlight on landscape features rather than concentrate too hard on the landscape itself.
This is a watercolour sketch of Abinger Hammer nestling below the North Downs. My prime aim here was to capture the strong sense of a hot summer day, so I ensured there were strong tonal contrasts in the buildings where sunlit walls abutted shadow areas, and where the sunlight fell strongly I reduced the effect of architectural details as you can see between the clock tower and the main tree on the left. Most importantly, the shadow cast from the tree conveys the greatest feeling of sunlight, and this was the last part of the scene that I rendered. The illustration is featured in my book Landscapes Through the Seasons published by Search Press, and available from my website.