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
If you really want to give your landscape paintings a boost one of the most effective methods is to inject a strong dose of atmosphere into the scene. Unfortunately most of the time when you sketch or photograph a subject there may not be much by way of atmosphere, so in many cases you need to inject it into quite an ordinary scene. With time and experience this becomes easier. In this view of the Teign estuary in Devon you can barely see the distant Dartmoor ridges, and even then they become lost in the atmosphere at the extremities. To achieve this sense of mood and distance I have used the same wash for the ridges as I have for the lower sky area. Keeping most of the edges softened also helps create mood, as does a very limited palette. There is hardly any detail in any of the background trees and promontory, and even the centre of interest – the cottage with its attendant trees has little extra colour.
This painting is part of my forthcoming exhibition Shorelines and Summitsat Lincoln Joyce Fine Art, 40 Church Road, Great Bookham Surrey, KT23 3PW – telephone 01372 458481 Their website is www.artgalleries.uk.com The exhibition runs from 28th October to 7th November. Both the coastal and mountain scenes include strong atmospheric effects in most cases.
There are still places available at my seminar which takes place from 10 am to 3 pm on 28th October in the Old Barn Hall opposite the gallery, so you can also view the exhibition. Tickets are available from the gallery or Clockwork Penguin or telephone 01982 560237 The seminar comprises a watercolour landscape demonstration and an illustrated talk, both covering how to include animals and wildlife in your paintings – and, of course, lots of atmosphere, and you will have the opportunity of asking questions. I hope to see you there.
On Tuesday 22nd October my exhibition opens at Lincoln Joyce Fine Art in Great Bookham. The watercolours cover a wide range of subjects, from mountains and pastoral scenery to coastal scenes. It’s many years since I featured any of the lovely old sailing barges in a collection, so I’m pleased to say that I’ve included some in this one.
The image shows a barge moored on the Blackwater near Heybridge Basin: the original sketch was carried out on a really gloomy afternoon not long before the Essex monsoon arrived. As so often happens, I tend to paint a different sky in the finished work, and have many sketches and photographs of skies for reference. In this instance I felt a brighter sky with an atmospheric distance would work well. The blue part of the sky was done with coeruluem blue, while the main clouds are a result of mixing French ultramarine and cadmium red, which was also used in the distant shore.
However, skies are not just about colour and atmosphere. Giving the compositional aspect of a sky some consideration can really enhance your painting, and here I have arranged the cloud shapes to lead towards the barge, which is, of course, the centre of interest. Note that even the soft-edged cloud in the lower right arrows its way towards the prow of the vessel. The soft edges were created by running the colour into damp areas, wet-in-wet. Also, the orangey-yellow area in front of the mainmast with its associated reflection in the water, helps to draw the eye towards the barge.
You can learn more about skies in my book Skies, Light & Atmosphere, available from my website If you would like to attend the preview of the exhibition on Saturday 19th or Sunday 20th October, or attend the watercolour demonstration and talk on the Sunday in the Barn Hall opposite the gallery, then please ring the gallery on 01372 458481 The gallery will be open from 10am to 5pm. Lincoln Joyce Fine Art is at 40 Church Road, Great Bookham, Surrey KT23 3PW The exhibition ends on 9th November.