Some of the simplest watercolours can have the most impact, and one of my favourites in this category is a watercolour sketch done of the Middim Khola river in Nepal, carried out at speed.
Most of this was done with a mixture of French ultramarine and cadmium red, with burnt umber replacing the red for the closer, stronger tones, and closer in the foreground and right-hand trees I have also dropped in some yellow ochre. The strong backlighting eliminated most detail and created a powerful sense of a series of tones that automatically suggested a vast space. Here and there I have deliberately lost the edges of ridges and the shorelines of the river, and emphasised others. Evenings are a good time to capture this sort of effect with backlighting, which also creates a sparkling effect of water. If you are working directly from the scene try painting a monochrome as it is quicker and you can capture the effects before they disappear!
This sketch was carried out during a painting expedition when I took a group of painters trekking in the Himalayas. That morning we had descended from some considerable height and one of our more elderly artists was missing as we sat on the banks of the river for lunch. I wasn’t too worried as she had a Sherpa allocated to look after her full-time, but we waited in expectation of her arrival. She wore a large distinctive white hat and when I gazed up at the mountain we’d descended I suddenly caught sight of what I assumed was her hat coming out of the trees like a bat out of hell. I couldn’t believe it, as she would never have been able to move at such speed, so I grabbed my binoculars and focused them on the hat.
Sure enough, it was our missing artist, hurtling down the mountainside at astonishing speed. She was actually sitting piggy-back style on the back of the diminutive little Sherpa and he was running down the mountain! These little fellows are incredible, and he was quite a bit smaller than our artist friend. They then disappeared into more trees and about fifteen minutes later came sauntering side-by-side out of the bushes on the far side of the river. There were many tales on that trip and it was quite tough for many, but they all relished the experience of a lifetime.
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.
There are so many times these days when I just want to get off this mad conveyor-belt of constant action, and be back in the wilds, away from phones, the internet and all the trappings of 21st-century life as it becomes more and more dehumanised. Being amongst wildlife and the mountain peoples is a great pleasure, and one of the marvellous aspects of being an artist is that your paintings and sketches recall so many wonderful moments in these places.
This scene shows a group of buffalo, wary of the intruders to their patch in the Gol Mountains of Tanzania. I’d just been sketching the frenetic activities of a gaggle of Nubian vultures gorging themselves on a carcass. These were days of constant excitement amidst outstanding scenery. In this watercolour I broke up the skyline with wreaths of mist as it tended to intrude right across the composition. The cliffs have been rendered with Daniel Smith Watercolour Ground, which is similar to Gesso, but easily painted over with watercolours. This was applied with a painting knife and injects strong texture into this large work.
The painting is on view at Brecon Library in a small exhibition entitled Wild Moments, and I will be giving an illustrated talk there at 11 am on Saturday 9th March. Many Powys libraries are now under great threat of closure and I feel it is so important to support them. Do come along if you can. I will also be taking new paintings to the Ardent Gallery in Brecon next week – telephone 01874 623333
There are still a few vacancies on my course at St Davids in Pembrokeshire from 2nd to 7th June. It takes place at the superb Warpool Court Hotel overlooking St Brides Bay, and we have such an outstanding wealth and variety of painting subjects both on the coast and inland, not to mention the amazing display of flowers along the coast path and hedgerows.
Enjoy your painting and don’t forget to get off that mad conveyor-belt every now and then to recharge your batteries!