David Bellamy – Subjects to Paint in Self-Isolation

Spring is always a great pleasure in Mid-Wales: buds are springing out, daffodils caught in the spring sunshine invoke a joyous feeling as they are set against the sparkling water of the garden pond, while the birdsong is especially uplifting at the moment. The frogs have come and gone after their annual orgy in the pond, their massed croaking drifting into the house in waves of communal ecstasy. The sparrows are forever darting about, but with the mating season in full swing they are pretty aggressive: at times the undergrowth is waving about madly with their exertions! All this I see from my studio window, as well as the new-born lambs gambolling around in the field next door.

    All this seems utterly surreal given our present predicament with this nasty virus, but as artists we are lucky to have an occupation or hobby that transports us to other worlds, if only for a brief period. Your response to my last blog post was so rewarding and I’m glad so many of you found it helpful. I’ve just completed a deadline for my book on Landscapes Through the Seasons, so while I am still working on another book, I now have more time to push out blogs that will hopefully give you some ideas during this difficult period when we have to self-isolate. Although I am mainly a landscape artist I will try to cover a number of genres to provide as much variety as I can, including imaginary subjects and maybe even fantasy – we all need a little fantasy now and then. I know many of you are flower painters, for example, so why not start there?

    Flowers and still life are obvious subjects to fall back on when we are house-bound. My work on flowers is almost exclusively on wild flowers as part of a landscape, but I did touch on cut flowers in my book Complete Guide to Watercolour Painting. If you are painting a vase of flowers pick out one or two blooms that stand out and play the others down slightly by losing edges and running colours into one another. Suggesting background shapes with a plain, shadowy wash can accentuate a sense of depth in the composition, and introducing some spatter effect as I’ve done round some of the edges in this watercolour, gives a sense of spontaneity and life. You don’t always need a background but if you do include one then play it down so that the flowers take pride of place. A simple suggestion of perhaps the edge of a table can also set it up well. Saunders Waterford high white is an excellent paper for flowers as its white is so brilliant, and Bockingford is a good alternative.

    Those without a garden may find it difficult at the moment, unless you have a window-box. Now, of course is the time to set seeds so if you are bereft of window-boxes or flower baskets try to get one, even if you have to rely on a rusty old bucket – sometimes these decrepit old things can have far more character than the latest gleamingly spotless container. Plant a few seeds and before very long you will have new subjects to work on, but don’t ask me what to plant – unlike my late namesake Professor David Bellamy or my brother Malcolm, I’m not a horticultural expert! Also consider getting miniature trees and exotic plants.

    More tips and ideas soon, and maybe I should shortly do one especially for the lads, perhaps on how to paint the Cold War era Soviet T-64 main battle tank in action, although I doubt that many of you will have one of those in your garden…….  Keep safe and keep painting!

David Bellamy – Fun techniques during Coronavirus

 It has been a chaotic year so far, making it difficult to find time to write even though there is so much to say. Coronavirus has made things even more difficult, of course, but we persevere. Thankfully, as artists we can beaver away at home on our paintings, but what can we do if we feel inspirationally challenged?

 One way is to get out all those old paintings that have not worked. I have loads and sometimes go through them to see if I can use them in some way, or find just a part of the overall composition that might offer some hope. Over-painting with a weak glaze is a favourite technique, sometimes over part of the painting, sometimes over everything, and this can subdue parts you don’t like and at the same time highlight those parts you don’t touch.

 I’m always looking for ways to improve paintings and often it can be fun working on old paintings, perhaps not taking it too seriously. One technique you might like to try is brightening up dull colours with Derwent Inktense pencils. Because they are so intense I work over colours such as a dull green with an Inktense light green or yellow as I have done in this small watercolour of a rustic cottage, and this has resulted in a much more pleasant scene with a sunnier accent than previously. Note also the sky – a very simple one, but because I used sodalite genuine, a strongly-granulating colour from Daniel Smith it still has impact even without any cloud detail. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford high white NOT paper which is absolutely great when you want to rough it about a little with extra rubbing with the Derwent pencils, for example. The paper can take quite a lot of punishment and I love working on it.

 I’ll get back with more ideas shortly, so try to keep up the painting. Sadly all my workshops and demos have had to be cancelled until the end of July, including our great favourite, the Patchings Art Festival. The course in St Davids may well now be rescheduled for late August or early September, Coronavirus permitting, and I hope that the one at D’Alvaro in Spain in October will still be able to go ahead.  Keep safe, and keep painting!