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!
My snow theme continues from the last blog as we’ve had a considerable amount of snow in Mid-Wales in the last few days – about 12 to 15 inches and it is incredibly beautiful. Before the great snowfall, though we had a dusting of snow and it is this I will concentrate on now as it will hopefully give you new ideas and help hone observation skills.
This is part of the view from my bedroom window, and may appear unremarkable. It does have a number of lessons for us, though. Starting from the top, you will see that on the left the white moorland top is caught white against a medium grey sky, but as the eye travels to the right this changes gradually as cloud shadow falls across the moor. At the far right the moor is now darker than the sky. This counterchange effect is extremely useful to add interest to our work, especially in the less exciting parts of the composition.
Below that top band lies rough ground with dead vegetation. The dusting of snow has all but disappeared here but you can detect a slight warming of the colour. One way of achieving this in a watercolour is to rub a candle horizontally across the paper, then lay a wash which perhaps includes some light red to suggest the warm colour. Rough paper will accentuate this technique, and you can create the white pathways visible in places by combining this with masking fluid.
Beneath the band of warmer, broken colour the snow lies on a smoother field and so is more continuous. Grey cast tree shadows fall across it in places and there is an occasional patch of rough ground here and there.
As you are no doubt aware, snow does not always look a pristine white. Observe and analyse the scene before choosing your paper, methods and approach; alter your cloud shadows and move these various parts around to suit yourself. It’s great, creative fun, so enjoy it!
It’s been almost impossible to do much painting or writing lately, thanks to a very happy event. On 22nd February my daughter Catherine gave birth to an absolutely gorgeous little daughter, so for the first time I am now a grandad. She goes by the name of Guinevere, and I can’t wait to paint her. She’s already had a trek across the mountains at around 10,000 feet in the Italian Dolomites, when Catherine was carrying her last July, and as you can see from the photograph she is obviously deep in artistic contemplation.
For my own contemplation I’m beginning to put together thoughts and images for my next book about coastal scenery, for which I have a whole host of new work from both the UK and abroad. My Arctic book will be coming out in June, so there will be more on that later on, but it’s important to keep thinking ahead when you work on various projects. The sea has always been one of my favourite subjects, and the coastal book will be the fourth and last in my current series of how-to-paint books.
Before I go, just a quick tip on painting those boaty things – you don’t always have to insert a complicated harbour background into the composition, or indeed any sort of complex background. In this watercolour sketch I have simply brought the atmospheric sky down to meet the sand, and left it at that. Just because something is there, you don’t have to include it!
And don’t forget – if you want to get views of a boat from all angles it pays to take along a pair of wellies before you dive into that lovely mud….
So often with landscape painting it is those less significant features that trip us up – that clump of grass in the foreground, or awkward blob of a hill in the background. Dealing with these is often best accomplished by reducing the item to a mere suggestion or hint to reduce their impact. This aspect of painting was recently brought to my attention by one of my blog-readers who was having trouble with river banks and reflections.
The painting I have chosen to illustrate this problem varies considerably from the photograph of Ian’s subject, but does hopefully answer some of the points raised. Where the farther left-hand bank abuts the sparkling part of the stream I have painted mainly yellow ochre, but dropping in some light green and red in places while the paint was still wet. When this area had dried I then modelled the sloping bank by working in the darker hollows with a mixture of something like cobalt blue and raw umber, softening off the darkness of the wash so that it left the original yellow ochre parts light at the top curve of the bank where it catches the light.
Notice the closer left-hand bank is darker, and this helps suggest depth. It’s fine to have part of the bank dark, caused by shadow, but best not to have the whole line of the bank in the same dark tone. You don’t have to paint it exactly as it appears, so introduce some lighter spots and stamp your own creativity on the work. With the field beyond the bank, keep this as a simple wash similar to that on the left side. If there are light or dark lines along the bottom of the bank where it meets the water then make this effect intermittent as it can intrude if taken all the way along the river.
The reflections in this scene were mirror-sharp in the placid foreground pool, but I wanted them to be less prominent and rendered them using the wet-in-wet method, dropping in dark reflections and then pulling out the light ones with a damp brush, but that is best left for a separate blog in the future. I used Saunders Waterford NOT paper for this watercolour.
Water is a devilishly difficult subject to paint, but when you get it right it really does make the painting sing!
Waterfalls are popular subjects in a painting, and I’ve had a great many exciting moments sketching them, climbing them and abseiling down them, including ones underground where they really give you that “Hey-ho, here we go, but what’s at the bottom?” sort of feeling. Having the Brecon Beacons close by is an added bonus as there are more waterfalls per square inch there than anywhere else in the country.
It is fairly easy to find waterfalls as they are usually marked on walkers’ maps, and if they have a name then you can Google them to get access information and a pretty good idea of what you can expect as descriptions are often accompanied by photographs. In this watercolour I used the excellent Saunders Waterford 300lb rough paper and increased the roughness even further in places where more rock textures were to appear by glueing thin Oriental papers in place.
My aim was to create a sense of mystery in the background using the wet-into-wet technique to blend the furthest rock and tree shapes into the misty background, then when this was dry painting harder shapes to suggest distance. The upper falls emerges from out of this atmospheric backdrop and for the falling water I leave the paper untouched so that it stands out in strong contrast to the darker sides, and especially the hard-edged rocks jutting out.
I shall be demonstrating waterfalls in watercolour at the Sandpiper Studio at Ledsham on the Wirral at the end of the month. As the first demonstration was so popular and filled up quickly, we have added another on Friday 28th October from 2pm to 4.30pm, and there are still a few places left on this one. Further details and bookings can be obtained from Julie McLean on 07788 412480 or Email her on email@example.com The two demonstrations will be of different waterfalls, and if you have lots of questions then bring them along! I will also be using the Daniel Smith watercolour range with their exciting colours. No abseiling is involved.