Thursday, 6 October 2016

Adding a sense of mystery to a waterfall painting

    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 info@the  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.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Hand-bagged in Dubrovnik while painting

    The sun beat down as I sat in a pleasant, shady spot beside Cavtat harbour demonstrating a watercolour, when Tarzan and Jane hove into view, both bronzed as they stood before us brazenly flexing their pectorals. Both were clad solely in thongs, otherwise naked and obligingly creating a combined landscape and life class all rolled into one. They moved round us, causing titters among the group, and at times my brush went distinctly wayward as I heaved with laughter at this incredible display of narcissistic clownery. Jane sat down in front of us, smiling like a Cheshire cat at the group, and presumably hoping someone would paint her.

    This sort of distraction can un-nerve the alfresco artist, but the group chuckled valiantly and took it in their stride, producing some excellent work. Later in the week I demonstrated again in Dubrovnik, which unfortunately was so choked with cruise-ship tourists that there was hardly room to swing a sable, and as I painted I did get hand-bagged several times.

    So, it was with relief we sailed to the island of Sipan where I found a shady spot to demonstrate watercolour pencils. An old bicycle formed an excellent centre of interest - it was leaning against a wheelbarrow, which was leaning against the tree, so in the interests of simplicity I left out the barrow and about a million other equally exciting things lying around, to illustrate the need for keeping things simple. I faded out the buildings adjoining the old barn. The pencils were applied first in the various colours and then this was washed over with water, blending in the colours and then drawing into the wetness with a dark watercolour pencil where I wanted to emphasise details. If you feel your watercolours get a little out of control then try the watercolour pencils. This work was done on Bockingford 140-lb hot-pressed paper, an excellent surface for these pencils.

    Our annual watercolour seminar is just about upon us, and this year we are back in The Settlement in Pontypool, a superb venue. It takes place on Saturday 1st October and there are still places left if you feel like coming along. The theme will be injecting mood and drama into a landscape and I will be using the exciting range of watercolours from Daniel Smith, demonstrating how to take advantage of these amazing colours and give your paintings some extra zip. As well as a demonstration I will be giving an illustrated talk on the same theme, covering a wide range of landscape subjects. Details of the seminar are on my website. We look forward to seeing you there.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Using tonal effects to suggest mood and space

    Injecting mood into a landscape painting not only makes the overall effect much more exciting, but can create a strong sense of space and distance in the work. Although this scene of Faversham Creek in Kent already had a feeling of great space I wanted to exaggerate the atmosphere even more in the finished painting.

    I chose a blue-grey tinted paper for this watercolour and deliberately kept the distant wooded hillsides very faint in order to create a striking contrast with the foreground features. The strong tones on and around the buildings help to push the faint hills well into the background. If everything is given the same degree of tonal strength then it will be hard to distinguish various features from each other, even with contrasting colours. Masts, gulls and some white boats were rendered in white gouache, and I have only included the main part of the composition so that the distant hills can be seen better.

     I shall be giving another of my annual seminars at the Settlement, Pontypool on Saturday 1st October, and it will be covering how to create mood and drama in a painting, beginning with a watercolour demonstration, and this will be followed by an illustrated talk on the subject, including a great many examples of different landscapes and coastal scenes. You can find details on my website  I shall be demonstrating the exciting Daniel Smith watercolours and Saunders Waterford paper, and there will be plenty of time for you to ask any questions, so I hope to see you there.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Losing mountains in clouds with your watercolours

    The last six weeks have been a breathless dash and blogging I'm afraid has consequently suffered. The Patchings Art Festival in early June was marvellous as usual and it was good to see some of you there. It is always so well organised and seems to get better every year thanks to Chas Wood and his enthusiastic team.

    More recently I've been reveling in the Italian Dolomites, a great favourite with such drama, colour and atmosphere for the landscape artist. Although there were lots of blue skies, thankfully the clouds made their presence felt most strongly at times, enabling me to get away from the picture postcard effect, though occasionally they did rather overdo it a bit and totally obscure just about everything except my feet, at high altitude.

    The illustration on the right shows one of my low-level watercolour sketches done on cartridge paper. Cloud is obscuring much of the peak and there are a number of ways of tackling this. Here I simply left the white areas as untouched paper, highlighting the white clouds by painting around them with a light grey, or as in some places a darker grey to suggest the darker mountain behind. I softened the edges of the clouds with a damp brush as I progressed, to suggest the light airiness of cloud, but sometimes a hard edge is left inadvertently. When this happens I let the paper dry then brush over the hard edge with just water on a small flat brush - a quarter-inch or 5mm one is fine. When this softens the edge I dab it with clean tissue and a soft edge has emerged.

    Other ways to achieve the effect of mountains, ridges and crags disappearing into cloud are described in my book Skies, Light & Atmosphere, published by Search Press. If you don't have the book you can order a signed copy from my website and we will include a free dot card of Daniel Smith watercolours (David Bellamy palette). I wish you many happy cloudy moments with your paintbrush.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Observing the Landscape

    Learning to draw and observe properly are essential skills for the landscape artist in watercolour, and although most artists can see objects clearly, so many have appalling problems when trying to observe and record a scene. This is one of the fundamental skills I try to teach students on my painting courses, but it does take quite some application and determination to continue practising the skills once the course has ended.

    This is a photograph of Skelwith Bridge, taken during my recent painting course in the Lake District. Whilst the lighting is a little flat, it is still pretty clear that the distant features viewed under the arch are a little darker in tone than the left-hand side of the bridge, though they are lighter than the underside of the arch to the right. Comparison of tones in this way is a vital method of working out these tonal relationships. Always think not just about the shapes before you, but the main tonal relationships as well. This will bring forward your art in leaps and bounds, and I would urge you to practice this with deliberate emphasis for at least the next month or so.

    My rough sketch of the bridge on the right was done in about 12 to 15 minutes and this is the sort of drawing that will help you with your tones. Breaking away from a pure linear response to a subject is absolutely essential in your development as an artist.

    I shall be demonstrating at the Patchings Art Festival  on Thursday 9th, Friday 10th and Saturday 11th June, in the St Cuthberts Mill Marquee, painting on the fabulous Saunders Waterford and Bockingford papers. Do come and chat. It's always a great show with superb demonstrators, marvellous crafts, paintings and art materials. I will be painting with Daniel Smith watercolours and will have available the dot-card palette of the colours I mostly use in their range, so come along and pick one up.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Quick sketching in watercolour

    Don't you wish sometimes that life could be really dull, drab and boring? It can get a little too exciting for much of the time, leaving you breathless and with no time to sit back and recall all the fun you've had. Being out on the hills tends to energise me and is far more pleasant than sitting in the studio, especially when you have to listen to the racket of builders across the road with their loud radios and screaming stone-cutters. And I usually take a cappuccino and Danish pastry out with me anyway - it's amazing how it helps the washes flow across the paper!

    When I went out recently on the Brecon Beacons, I took with me some small sample sheets of the new Saunders Waterford High-White hot-pressed paper from St Cuthberts Mill. It really is delightfully smooth and as one would expect with St Cuthberts, it takes the washes well. As you can see in the rough sketch, the snow really does stand out on this paper. Note how the terracing of the rock outcrops appears in broken horizontal lines, with a few gullies sweeping down here and there. It's important to spend a few moments observing these aspects as they give a marvellous sense of place in your work. This paper also works well for wash and line work, and should be in the art shops fairly soon. I can't wait to work on some big sheets.

    I shall be demonstrating at  Patchings Art Festival next month in the St Cuthberts Mill marquee, on the 9th, 10th and 11th June, so I hope you can come along and enjoy the event. It's always a great pleasure to be there, with so many artists and crafts-people, and of course, all the materials to check out. And make sure you try out some of the Waterford HP paper!

Monday, 11 April 2016

Making powerful compositions

    Getting the composition right is critical whatever medium you use. In landscape painting there are many rules, or guides that will help you achieve a powerful composition, although like most 'rules' in painting these can be broken at times in order to create more original results. It does pay, however, to follow these rules while you are learning, and then perhaps taking a more creative approach later when you gain experience.
    In this watercolour of Angle in Pembrokeshire I have used Waterford 300lb paper with a marvellous rough surface to enhance the textural effects, particularly in the large foreground area. The large foreground pushes back the centre of interest - the cottage - and allows a large lead-in of the creek. A lead-in to the centre of interest like this helps establish it, and the boats, birds, sparkle on the water and strong orange colour in the sky all draw attention to the centre of interest. The cottage also stands out darkly against the sky. These are all devices you can use to highlight your focal point.

    The far right-hand boat gives a sense of balance to the composition, so that not everything is concentrated around the centre of interest. It is a good idea to carry out one or two studio sketches to ascertain the optimum positioning and emphasis on the painting to be done. Having the centre of interest around one-third of the way down the paper, or up from the bottom, and one third of the way along from either side always gives a powerful effect, so try not to place it bang in the centre!

    The actual painting is on display in the Breath of Nature exhibition at Boundary Art at 3 Sovereign Quay, Havannah Street, Cardiff CF10 5SF   Tel.02920 489869 until 1st May