Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Importance of shadows in a painting

    In order to achieve that marvellous sense of strong light in a painting we need to give our shadow areas a lot of thought, for it is these that will imbue the scene with atmosphere. Today we are going to look at a large, complicated watercolour with many shadows and nuances of light, though I am not suggesting that you try to copy this wholesale, but rather to take parts of the scene and examine the ways in which they work together.

    The large shadow area in the top left quadrant throws the emphasis on the rest of the painting, and it is a useful technique where the composition is rather complicated. It also guides the light down from the top right to make the rocks and glacial features stand out. Note the varied colours dropped into the shadows on the glacier to add interest - are these of rock or ice? Sometimes even when you are standing on them it's not easy to tell!

    As you will see, both the bear and the gulls have darker backgrounds to make them stand out, and this needs to be deliberately planned before you start painting - a white bear set against a brilliant white sunlit glacier somehow will not work. In the foreground the rocks have been kept very light on top where they are caught in the sun, but the strong shadows give them their form as well as suggesting strong sunshine. Did the bear catch the gulls? Not this time, as they are usually too quick. Often you will see a wide ring of birds sitting on rocks round a bear, watching its every move. But he did get their eggs on this occasion.

     This painting, a full imperial size watercolour, will be on show at my Arctic Light exhibition on 19th and 20th September at the Osborne Studio Gallery at 2 Motcomb Street, London SW1X 8JU Tel. 0207 235 9667 from 12 noon to 6pm   Copies of my new book David Bellamy's Arctic Light will be available.

    If you do fancy an expedition or voyage to the Arctic you will be in good hands with Arcturus, a company based in Devon that specialises in tours to the polar regions   Tel. 01837 840640   I have come across their expedition parties in Greenland and they were all having a great time

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Pen and wash with limited colours

    One of the joys of going away on holiday is the anticipation of exciting things to come, and one of the joys of being a professional artist is that this sort of thing is classified as 'work.' Whether you are professional or amateur you can still get a real kick in preparing for these exciting moments, and I do recommend that you give some consideration as to how you are going to tackle all this excitement with your methods, materials and choice of approach to the various subjects you have in mind.

    This alfresco watercolour of Malcesine on Lake Garda was a demonstration for a painting group. Before flying to Italy I had decided that I would be using pen and wash for some of the lake scenes and limiting my use of colours. For this scene I decided on a palette of cool blues - mainly cobalt blue, with warm colours concentrated on the main features and the centre of interest, ie, the town itself. The warm colours were mainly light red, cadmium red, yellow ochre and quinacridone gold. This approach really does make the buildings stand out.

    Because of the intense heat and the fact that I had to use Waterford hot pressed paper to accommodate the pen I had to work fast as the washes dried incredibly quickly. The smooth hot pressed paper tends to dry quicker than a not or rough surface. The pen I used was a fine-tipped sanguine colour to complement the warm-coloured buildings. I did not use it on the mountain features. This lends itself to creating a more unified result.

    I'm afraid the reproduction is not first-class as it was photographed by a camera and not scanned at home, but it does give you an idea of the sort of methods you can try out, and not just while you are on holiday, of course. It always pays to think out how you wish to tackle the type of subject matter you will encounter on holiday, and ensure that you have all the right materials to work with.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Creating a wildlife montage

    It was great to see so many familiar faces at Patchings Art Festival earlier this month, and exchange experiences with many of the artists and exhibitors. It's a wonderful show that seems to get better every year, so if you've not been then put it in your diary for next July. As well as demonstrating the fabulous Waterford papers in the St Cuthberts marquee I had a stand next door. With just Jenny and myself on the stand we were run ragged and completely sold out of how-to-paint books by the third morning. We also ran out of some of the exciting Daniel Smith watercolour paints, despite an emergency deliver from DSHQ!

    We almost sold out of my new Arctic Light book as well. It's had some tremendous reviews, with its wide range of subjects, including several painting techniques that I haven't featured in books before. I particularly enjoyed creating the wildlife paintings, especially those where I spent quite some time with the animals, studying both their form and ways. My favourite poseur was the walrus, generally an amiable fellow on land, especially when basking in the sunshine, though he can be rather vicious in the water if he takes a dislike to you!

    At a bull walrus colony on Svalbard I found these beasts in a great many fascinating poses - many more than shown here - and in order to feature as many of these as I could in the book I decided to render them as a montage on one large sheet of Saunders Waterford hot-pressed paper. This paper really enhances the detail in the walrus's extremely textured hide. It's really worth thinking about creating a montage where you wish to display a variety of actions or features in a scene, and perhaps add a little bit of humour at the same time. I also did a similar montage depicting the amazing actions of a single polar bear. Great fun!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Painting in all weathers

    After a week of absolutely atrocious weather in the Italian Dolomites it's nice to be back in sunny Wales for a day or two. Although I managed a number of useful sketches, without any views because of dense mist and lashing rain for much of the time it was a little annoying, especially when you know the scenery is spectacular. The previous week at Lake Garda we suffered from intense heat during a group painting holiday, but everyone remained cheerful, kept painting and put up with all that sunshine.

    On Monday evening I will be giving a talk at the launch of my Arctic Light book at Stanfords Map Shop in Covent Garden, London. It's a fabulous place for maps and guidebooks for all over the world. There are still a number of places left, and if you wish to come along, then please get in touch with Mary Ellingham at Search Press on 01892 510 850, or marye@searchpress.com   See also www.stanfords.co.uk

    Although it is not a how-to-paint book, it is crammed with watercolours and sketches with a great many examples of the way atmosphere and light can be depicted in landscapes. This time I have also included many works showing wildlife, both animals and birds, which can make a real difference to a painting even if portrayed in a small scale within the composition. You can see more details at
my website.

    Next week I shall be demonstrating at the annual Patchings Art Festival on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday, using the marvellous Saunders Waterford papers in the St Cuthberts Mill Marquee. The festival is on from 13th to 16th July inclusive and is highly recommended for its wealth of demonstrating artists, crafts and art materials, so do come along and have a chat. For further information on the event see www.patchingsartcentre.co.uk  We will also have a stand near the marquee with a number of my paintings, books, DVDs, etc, so hopefully I'll see you there.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Skies as part of the composition

    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 book David Bellamy's Arctic Light I 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 and are sold by Clockwork Penguin on my website.

    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 marye@searchpress.com or telephone 01892 510 850

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Watercolours in The Arctic

    The sun has just risen and Torben is already up, proclaiming loudly on the beauty of the intense colours in the sky. I fight my way out of the sleeping bag, automatically grasping my painting gear while gasping at the temperature - even with the stove firing away the hut is cold. The window is in the perfect position to view the sun casting warm fingers across the icy wastes, and turning ice hummocks to gold.

    A few pencil strokes shiver their way across the sketchbook and then I apply the watercolour washes, starting with the blaze of light that is burning away at the edge of the vertical crag. This is chiefly quinacridone gold, blending into some less violent Naples yellow, then pushing outwards, away from the point of maximum brightness with a mixture of cobalt blue and cadmium red. In the hunters' hut this is luxury sketching for a change, especially when Jens puts a mug of steaming tea into my hand.

   Later on I sketch Isak tending to his sledge-dogs in his usual kindly manner, and so in the finished painting here you can see how I have brought the two separate sketches together to form a narrative. The secret of making sunlight 'burn' into a feature is to keep the critical edges soft and push the light area into the feature as though it has burnt a hole in the side. In the foreground I have covered the wet blue washes with cling-film and moved it about until I am satisfied, then left it to dry. It is a remarkably effective way of suggesting ice and sastrugi ridges. Beneath the sunburst I included some of the warm gold to suggest the reflections of the colour in the ice. The painting was carried out on Saunders Waterford 300lb not paper.

   This is one of a great many paintings in my new book, David Bellamy's Arctic Light, which has just been published by Search Press. It is crammed with paintings, sketches and anecdotes, and contains one chapter describing some of the methods used to sketch and paint, often in almost impossible conditions.  Subjects vary from glaciers, sea ice, mountains, wild seas, waterfalls, people and many wildlife works are included, from polar bears, walrus, musk ox, Arctic foxes to birds. More details can be seen on my website.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Painting the moving composition

    Have you ever painted outside when the landscape seems to be moving, jumping about or constantly changing in some way? These can be exciting, opportunistic times for the alfresco artist, but often fraught with problems. Most of the movement, apart from animals, figures or vehicles, is usually down to strong winds, which can make painting or sketching outdoors even more difficult than in light rain.

    The scene is a watercolour sketch of Trevone Bay in Cornwall, carried out on a hard-back book of cartridge paper, over a two-page spread. Strong winds were blowing the clouds along at a truly fast rate, so the sky was constantly changing and the cloud shadows over sea and headlands moved astonishingly quickly. Additionally waves crashed in with such force that it threw up great white splashes all the time.

    To render the sky I simply wet the whole area and waited for the excess water to run off before applying cobalt blue, working round the clouds and the wet paper automatically resulting in soft edges. In the wind and sun this did not take long to dry, so then I laid in the lighter colours over the headland, including some red on the central promontory. I had already decided this would be my focal point, and I would keep it light with the further headland dark. I could easily have decided to do it the other way round. Whatever you do, don't try to keep changing these main tonal areas as the scene itself changes, otherwise it will lead to a mess!

    Once that had dried I painted in the green top of the closer headland and used cobalt and pthalo blues in the sea, leaving the white surf and splashes as white paper. I could have positioned the main splash a little closer to the central headland to further support the focal point, but when I'm desperate for a cappuccino I sometimes blob these features in where convenient and leave the refinements for the finished painting. Most importantly, don't feel that because a feature appears in a certain position, that you have to put it exactly there. Finally the dark headland and foreground rocks were painted.

    This was done as a sketching demonstration for a course last week. My new book, David Bellamy's Arctic Light will be published shortly by Search Press, and it's quite different from any of my previous books - more on that shortly.

    Before I go I'd like to highlight a very useful report on watercolour paints that has just been published by www.wonderstreet.co.uk  It covers a great many ranges of watercolours, including some I had never heard of, and I recommend you take a look at it on  http://wonderstreet.com/blog/which-brand-of-watercolour-should-you-choose   While I can't comment on those paints I have not used, it does seem pretty accurate on those I do know. Enjoy your painting!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Obsessed with bottoms

    As landscape painters why are so many of us obsessed with bottoms? Why do we feel the compulsion to describe everything in minute detail? It's not necessary and in fact detracts from the overall effect in a painting.

    I have cut out some of this composition so that we can get in closer to view the relevant bits. Note the drystone wall on the left, the white walls of the buildings and the small gate immediately to the right of the barn, and how I have not rendered a definite bottom line in each case. By omitting this I have endeavoured to make the effect more natural. Usually I only paint in the top two or three bars of a five-bar field gate. You can see that for the right-hand hedgerow I have indeed given it a fairly distinctive bottom, probably a minor aberration when I was desperate for coffee! It's not a great problem as it is in the distance and the bottom part of the hedgerow could be softened off with a damp brush.

    So watch those bottoms as you'll get a more natural effect if you keep them soft. Hard boundary lines around a feature can make it look cut-out, rather like a garish sticking plaster on a donkey's ....er, bottom.

    The watercolour was painted on the fabulous Saunders Waterford 200lb rough high white paper in order to make the most of the textures on the hillside.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Wonderful distractions from painting

    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....

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Painting the river bank

    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 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!