One aspect of life I am really missing in lockdown is being by the sea, and especially my native Pembrokeshire with it’s incomparable combination of sandy beaches and stunning cliff scenery. I’m desperately in need of being splashed in the face by some wild breaker crashing on the rocks, so I thought you might like to see how I tackle these fascinating actions of the sea.
This is the sort of sea that all self-respecting sailors should be indoors, but the kind I love to catch in a sketch. Just being there and observing what happens when the sea crashes onto the rocky anvils helps you understand what is going on, and happily it is repeating itself all the time. I often stand mesmerised by these moving images, then snap out of my reverie and consider how I would render the effect in watercolour. By watching every part of that moving scene in succession you will learn a lot about moving water and a sketchbook plus a watersoluble pencil will help you record the moment without any need to be completely accurate.
To capture the white splashes in this painting I brought down the cliff colour – light red with spots of cadmium red here and there at the top, then halfway down introducing purple – a mixture of cadmium red and French ultramarine – for the lower cliff. I laid it down as a very wet wash, but as I came closer to the rocky anvils I wiped the brush on a towel to lose the excess liquid and then rolled the number ten round sable on its belly around the top of the rocks. This created an intermittent and ragged edge of purple around the white of the paper above the rocks. Where it went wrong and left an ugly mark as sometime happens I quickly pulled out the offending splodge with a damp brush, although if I can’t manage that at the time I simply let it dry and then scrub it out with a damp old brush (not your brand new number ten sable!). This was painted on the beautiful Saunders Waterford rough surface which helps enormously to create the ragged edges round the splashes as well as rock textures. A NOT surface will work well but the rough version will help you even more in this instance. There are many examples of these various techniques for rendering waves and sea action in my book Seas & Shorelines in Watercolour which can be obtained from my website http://www.davidbellamy.co.uk
There are other ways of capturing these splashes – sometimes I wet the area above the rocks and then lower the purple wash (or whatever colour I am using) into the wet area, working it round the splash. This has a lovely clean effect but you often will need to adjust the shape of the splash by pulling out colour with a damp brush. Try these lovely effects out on scrap watercolour paper first and have fun! Right, without the sea and on a very hot day here I think it’s time to go and jump in the river………….. take care!
One of the after-dinner features of many of my painting courses has been Bellamy’s Bedtime Stories which developed after requests from students, and I’ve been asked if I can include some of these into the blogs. Robert, one of my students who is sadly no longer with us, had a delightful mischievous streak and asked me to literally tear into his painting at the final critique. He’d painted it especially for the purpose and he was a good painter. With the group gathered I began with Robert’s work, explaining what a marvellous rendition of the subject he’d made, but I didn’t like the right-hand side, so to everyone’s horror I tore a 3-inch vertical strip off the paper and declared that that was much better. However, I then pointed out that it was slightly unbalanced and that we needed to remove the top part of the sky, and so tore another strip off. By now many in the group were eyeing their own paintings piled up on the table and wondering whether they should rescue them.
I continued with a denigration of the over-worked foreground (which was actually well done!), and with a severe frown announced that much of that would have to go as well. By now the painting was less than half its original size. I found a particularly “revolting” passage and tore that off, continuing in that way until the whole thing was reduced to the size of a large postage stamp, at which point I declared it was a truly outstanding work of art. Many of the students were in the know and the non-painting partners found it rather entertaining. I no longer do such severe appraisals, but while Robert was with us anything could happen. We do miss him greatly.
How did you get on with the scene of Carn Llidi? I promised in an earlier blog I would show you my version which you can see below. I decided to work mainly in greys with spots of colour here and there, darkening the sky to highlight the peak. The buildings were pushed nearer to the peak and stand out against the strong darks immediately behind. The telegraph pole was achieved with white gouache which I have also used to scrub in to add interest in places. The foreground is almost abstract with stony shapes and splashes of reds and ochres. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford rough paper which I find superb for creating textural effects. The original photograph shows how much I have altered the scene. Of course there are an infinite number of ways to respond to a subject – there is no one ‘right’ way, but my aim here was to stimulate a different way of looking at a scene and also to encourage you to look at your sketches and photographs with a view to trying all sorts of approaches, perhaps even trying five or six completely different ways to paint a scene.
For the landscape painter grey is an extremely useful colour, often to set the mood, or equally importantly to provide a passage of quiet dullness that can be vital to make those exciting vibrant and perhaps bright colours stand out. In this scene of a stream in the New Forest, painted on Waterford NOT 140lb paper, I have used the superb Daniel Smith Lunar Blue to create the background, an exciting blue-grey colour that has interesting characteristics that may not at first sight be apparent. At it’s full strength as you can see on either side of the main tree-trunk where it defines the tops of the grasses, it reveals a powerful granulation, yet on the right-hand side where I have simply laid a weak wash of the same colour, there is no granulation. The stronger tone used, the more prominent become the granulations.
Daniel Smith have introduced a number of useful new greys into their collection recently and I’ve been trying out some of them. Alvaro’s Caliente grey is a lovely, warm grey which is quite dark at full strength, and is excellent for creating moody landscape backgrounds. The cooler Alvaro’s Fresco grey can inject a feeling of drama into a composition, for example if you may like to portray a cold sea or stormy sky, or simply cool shadows. The third grey I tried was Joseph Z’s neutral grey, a versatile colour that will be a welcome addition to the landscapist’s palette, again for creating moody scenes. All these greys can of course be modified by mixing, but one great advantage of these Daniel Smith greys is that the artist will already have a selection of interesting and varied greys without having to do any prior mixing, and in each case above the colours can produce a wide variety of tonal values.
I love exploring quiet estuaries, well away from the hubub of modern life, where all you may hear is the haunting cry of the occasional curlew, and to sit sketching the scene as twilight begins can be a memorable experience. Often at such times the colours are reduced and it is easier to get a moody effect, though having to work quickly before darkness descends can induce mistakes. I generally begin with a few quick photographs of the scene at a variety of exposure settings, and then launch into the sketch. Photographs are helpful to back up your sketches and having several at different exposures where there is a strong lighting contrast will give you a better chance of producing a result that is closer to what you actually see with the eye.
In this watercolour I have added birds, with the closer one acting as the centre of interest. A hint of sparkle on the water was achieved by drybrushing a light grey wash across the central areas. The large white parts are simply white paper, but where I went too far with the paint I have scratched out highlights with a scalpel, mainly to the right of the white water. The paper is Saunders Waterford High White, Rough 300lb
This painting, with several others is now on show at Beaulieu Fine Arts, in Beaulieu High Street on the edge of the New Forest, postcode SO42 7YA. See www.beauliefinearts.co.uk or telephone 01590 612089
The painting is also featured in my new book, Seas & Shorelines in Watercolour, which is doing extremely well, and even those who have no intention of painting the sea will benefit, as it includes a wide variety of skies, buildings, rocks, cliffs, figures and birds, as well as some exquisite daubs of mud! For more information see my website. Now that summer is here I hope you are all getting out with your paints – make the most of it.
I will be giving a talk and demonstration at The Galtres Centre, in the Market Place at Easingwold on Friday 26th April, and you are welcome to come and have a chat. The theme will be “Wild Serengeti” and I will be covering encounters and sketching with African wildlife. The event starts at 7.30 pm and for those using satnav the postcode is YO61 3AD. For tickets and information please ring the Galtres Centre on 01347 822472
The scene shows wildebeeste startled by a lion during the annual pilgrimage across the Serengeti, when the line of wildebeeste runs from one end of the horizon to the other. The lion watched them with indifference, probably having eaten so many he couldn’t face any more for a while! I enjoy working on a narrative like this, where there is more than just the visual image. To make the main animals stand out I deliberately simplified the ground directly behind them. Fast movement is depicted not just by blurring the legs slightly and placing them in running positions, but also by the angle and attitude of the body. This is at its clearest in the two beasts 3rd and 4th from the left, where they are moving away from the viewer and their bodies are slightly leaning over to the left as they turn away. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford 140lb rough paper.
Some folk may wonder why I don’t use Facebook, even though there is an account in my name (which I don’t use). I find it almost impossible as I live quite an action-packed life with little time to spare – in fact I don’t paint so often these days because 21st-century life just is too demanding of one’s time. Technology is supposed to make life easier for us, but I find it just adds an extra burden, being so incredibly slow and error-prone. It’s much greater fun to be out in the wilds or at least brandishing the old-fashioned paintbrush somewhere nice and remote.