Friday, 6 April 2018

Lurking in the undergrowth

    Patchings Art Centre is currently showing a marvellous exhibition of paintings entitled 30 Artists for 30 Years in the Barn Gallery at the centre. This celebrates their 30 years in existence which grows from strength to strength every year, and is the highlight of the year in many artist's calendar. Their Art Festival in July is the most spectacular art and craft event in the country, and I urge you to pop along and see these works by artists who have exhibited and demonstrated there over the years. You will find the centre in Oxton Road, Calverton, just north of Nottingham - the postcode is NG14 6NU.

   While I was in Kenya I did manage to find a little time to do a short safari to capture a few more animals and birds in my sketchbooks. In this, one of the calmer moments of my entire trip I drew an eland wandering through the grass, adding in the colour later. Much of the time though it wasn't at all calm, what with monkeys eyeing up my cereal bar - the speed at which they hit you is awesome, and you do rather feel glad it's a monkey and not something bigger with huge teeth; also rather nasty things lurking in the undergrowth when you go for a wander to stretch your legs......yes, wildlife is absolutely fascinating!

    Many thanks to all of you who sent good wishes for my recovery - it was really nice of you, and you can be assured that I'm now fully back to standard mischief-making status. Enjoy your painting, and do come and see me at Patchings in July - it's a great occasion!

Friday, 23 March 2018

Ice on the Equator

    For many years one of my ambitions has been to climb Mount Kenya to sketch those amazing peaks and the other-worldly plants that grow high on the mountain. Most people head for Kilimanjaro, as it's the highest in Africa, but Mount Kenya is much more beautiful. So this month I thought if I don't do it soon I never will.

    I aimed to get up to around 14,000 feet from where I would be able to sketch the peaks. It's not a difficult climb, but I'd been unwell with a chest infection most of the winter, and climbing to high altitude with breathing problems was a pretty crazy thing to do. Interestingly there are many wild animals on the slopes of the mountain: buffalo, elephant, panthers, and possibly the occasional lion, so hiking with that lot round the corner could be quite an experience!

    I set off with a guide called Wilson, a cook and porter named Chris and a second porter, Stanley. Apart from my chest ailment I was also suffering from Delhi Belly, which tended to weaken me. Day 2 was an especial struggle. It began badly when, as I was eating breakfast in a hut a monkey ran in and grabbed my pancake, egg and a slice of bread, and shot off, leaving a trail of breakfast debris behind him. As the mountain lies on the equator the daytime heat was overpowering and although I only carried a daysack it was really heavy with extra water, sketching gear and all sorts of other gear. Heavy rain on the second day made things worse and high up I had to make frequent stops. By then we were amongst the exotic plants, so I sketched many of these as I rested. Eventually we found a cave to stay overnight, and as it had its own amazing garden of exotic plants I could happily sketch away from the cave entrance.

    Day 3 dawned bright and clear but I was eating my breakfast before dawn for an early start. After setting off we soon encountered ice-glazed rock. Six am on Mount Kenya is a magical time to be climbing, even when you are functioning well below par and this was the most enjoyable part of the climb. Wilson was extremely knowledgeable and we made better progress in the cool of the early morning. A glorious blue sky was punctuated only by strings of mare's-tails over the peaks which rose sharply in front of us as we climbed a rocky ridge. I then sketched quickly, well aware that by late morning those peaks were likely to disappear, and sure enough, much earlier than I expected the clouds rolled in - lovely wispy airy clouds, but still gradually blotting out the view. This was disappointing, but I'd had a great few hours before the clouds arrived, and although my sketches were not my best, I had achieved what I came here to paint.

    I organised the trip through Mount Kenya Climbers, based in Naro Moru. Their contact address is  info@mtkenyaclimbers.co.ke  and my guide was Wilson Gatoto who is happy to arrange expeditions up many of East Africa's mountains. His email address is   legohi@yahoo.com   Chris provided some excellent meals, but sadly I had little appetite. Stanley was a really cheerful and considerate fellow and as his daughter enjoyed art I gave him some paints, a brush and paper before I left. I did have further adventures with wildlife, but that's another story.....

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Creating an illustrated journal

    One of my great enjoyments is keeping an illustrated journal, although because of a lack of time it tends to be rather intermittent - it's just so stress-free to paint or sketch for yourself and add notes about your experiences, and this is especially rewarding on a holiday or journey. I am therefore pleased to announce that I have teamed up with Leisure Painter Magazine over the next six months to offer a monthly competition to encourage folk to get out and try their hand at producing a journal. Jakar International have kindly agreed to supply the monthly prizes, so do please have a look at the current (April) issue of Leisure Painter.

     The illustration shown right is taken from my sketchbook-journal done on a visit to Holland, and shows the typical notes I often add beside the picture. I don't really class this as a sketch, as I feel it is more of a diagram drawn solely to illustrate the fascinating architectural styles in Old Amsterdam. I had no intention of creating a finished painting from this: it was done for my enjoyment, although many other sketches in the A4 book were intended as sources for future paintings. Working this way, with no pressure to produce a brilliant piece of artwork can be liberating as well as helping your work to improve.

     The houses varied from colourful to a more drab colour, so it's a good idea to pick out those colours that appeal most to you, rather than paint every house exactly as you see it before you. Note that I have run most of the house colours into one another, rather than paint each one with individual exactitude. I have left out a great many windows, but feel I should have omitted even more, or at least reduced the strength of detail is some.

    I shall look forward to seeing how you all fare in these competitions, and I must point out that this is not limited to those who travel far and wide - you are very welcome to join in even if you are house-bound, and there are many ideas for you in my current article in Leisure Painter. Make sure you don't miss out on the fun!

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Painting misty ice-rimed trees

    We have a lot of mud in Wales, and this winter it has excelled itself, making hiking something of a messy process, so it would be a pleasant change to see some good clean snow for a change. Then back to mud, of course.

    I love those misty mornings with the sun beginning to filter through. It's worth finding a local river scene on these mornings as they lend themselves well to this sort of atmosphere. This scene shows only part of the composition, and I have applied masking fluid at the top of the birch trees to accentuate the hard edges of the ice-rimed branches. When this had dried I worked in the background wet-in-wet to create a soft, misty effect, and this included the distant trunks and branches. It was an intensely cold morning. I have washed in Naples Yellow into the right-hand sky area and into the birch trees to add a sense of warmth, as well as in the reeds. The water was again achieved wet-in-wet - note how the bank below the birches has a slightly darker reflection than the bank itself.

    This is taken from my Winter Landscapes book which is crammed with ideas for painting winter scenery, even if you have no intention of going outside to take full advantage of all that glorious mud!!!

Friday, 22 December 2017

Happy Christmas



                      A HAPPY CHRISTMAS & ALL BEST WISHES FOR THE NEW YEAR


    Whether you are spending Christmas stomping round some mountain-top in search of picturesque holes in the ice to paint, or relaxing with your family, have a great time. For my part I can't stay cooped up for long over the holiday, and have to get out - taking the old sketchbook is, of course de rigueur, but these days I more often encounter mudscapes rather than pristine snow!

    2017 has been a good year for me with so many things happening, and I hope it's been kind to you. I know some of you will be alone this Christmas, and maybe you will gain comfort from indulging yourselves in your painting. Art is a wonderful and much underrated pastime, hobby, way of life, however you see it, and it has a powerful way of transporting us away from the ills of reality and into new worlds.

    Enjoy the season, take care and I will be back in the new year

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Painting different sorts of snow

    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!

    My Winter Landscapes in Watercolour has a lot more on the subject of tackling snow scenes

Monday, 27 November 2017

Creating a sense of sunlight in snow scenes

    Injecting a little sunshine into your landscapes will give them a strong appeal, and the best way of achieving this is to lay cast shadows across a light surface. Nothing will give a more striking or fresh approach than doing this across a pristine snow scene. With winter upon us you will hopefully have opportunities for practising this effect before long.

    In this watercolour the sense of strong sunshine has been achieved by laying cast shadows across the foreground and over the left-hand part of the roof. For the shadows I used a mixture of cobalt blue and cadmium red, although very little of the latter was included as it is a powerful colour. This produces a lovely, fresh shadow and is not as dull or overpowering as say burnt umber mixed with the cobalt blue. French ultramarine is also a superb colour if you wish to substitute it for the cobalt blue.


    Note also the warm colours employed on the house and trees - this takes away the utter coldness of a snowy landscape. Aim to have white highlights on the snow, but not an overall whiteness. On the left-hand trees I deliberately applied white gouache with a painting knife. I don't normally do this, but I wanted to show a variety of techniques in my Winter Landscapes in Watercolour book, where this scene appears.

    This painting is now on show with several others in the Ardent Gallery, in the High Street, Brecon tel. 01874 623333     www.ardentgallery.co.uk   

    Don't forget to watch out for that snow - it rarely seems to stay long these days so make the most of it whilst it's still around, and preferably before all those tobogganers have churned it all up!