Earth Colours


Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, Sunday, 13th January, 2008

woodI’VE BEEN concentrating on line drawing this week and, when I have used colour, I’ve kept to the selection of primaries in my pocket-sized watercolour box. On this grey afternoon, as the light fades (even though it’s only just gone half past three), I spend 15 to 20 minutes working mainly with earth colours and muted versions of the primaries from my larger White Nights watercolours box:

Sepia, raw sienna, yellow ochre, English red, olive green, cobalt blue, cerulean blue, Payne’s grey and the odd touch of madder lake light (crimson).

I like to be in control, so it’s rather unusual for me to go so much for the watercolourist’s technique of letting the colours run together, but this afternoon that’s what the sky, wood and meadow look like.

Dry Brush

When the background is sufficiently dry I add detail to the wood and meadow with my usual dry brush technique, losing some of the spontaneity but, there you are, that’s the way I see things, even when I'm looking through a rain-spattered window. In watercolours 'dry brush' doesn't mean entirely dry; it indicates the opposite of sloshing on the paint. It's the technique I use most in wildlife illustration - so controlled!

I made no pencil outlines, I just started with the sky and worked downwards. It's not a precise subject that needs an initial drawing; there isn't much structure in that mass of winter branches.

The fence posts gave me a chance to include something with more definition; I painted the brown spaces and left the paper showing through to indicate the posts. I gave them a very pale wash of grey when the brown had dried.

Pared-down Palette

After the line drawing I've done this week along with using my pared-down palette of primaries, the indulgence of going for the broader range of colours is like going from a string quartet to a brass band. Which do I like best? It depends on the mood I’m in.

Looking at the sketch again, there appears to be a strong shadow in the foreground, as if low winter sun is shining on the wood. In fact the brown patches are mud where the resident ponies have trampled the lower end of the field.

the swinging spill trayimproved versionThe Swinging Spill-tray

Willow, blue, coal, long-tailed and great tits come to the feeders along with siskin, goldfinch and robin but I’m afraid my new spill tray isn’t too popular. Whenever a bird lands on it, the tray swings abruptly to one side, scaring most of the birds away.

To prevent it swinging freely I needed something I could wedge in between the feeder and the recycled plastic tray. Looking in the back of the garage for an offcut of wood, I discovered something that works perfectly; in the recycling bin there was a plastic shampoo bottle which, with the top sliced off was just the right shape and depth to wedge in firmly.