Painting winter trees, mist, frost, stream in landscape - Amber Valley, Derbyshire

"Rising Mist", Amber Valley, Derbyshire.
Oil. Alistair Butt © 2007.

A short walk on a very cold frosty day allowed me to come across this view of the river as it winds it way down the Amber Valley in Derbyshire. A wonderful combination of the low winter sun and mist transformed this view in something a little bit different. What really attracted me was the way the light passes through the mist as it enveloped the trees along the river banks and then ended in a pool of sunlight on the water surface.

Not the quickest of oil paintings to produce, not in painting time, but just waiting for sections to be dry enough to then over paint. After a quick under painting to establish the main areas, the background for this painting, in this case the far bank of trees on the right, were painted first before progressing left to complete the bank of trees above the skyline.

The sky from white to pale yellow, which doesn't show to well on the above picture, was then painted around all the branches and twigs. Moving down the areas of mist was then painted along with some details for the left hand bank.

To allow some time for the above to dry, the foreground had some additional mid tone painting done, the water with mist and reflections were completed before adding some mid tone work to the right hand bank.

The background was just dry enough for the three main foreground trees to be painted and these were a joy to paint, the left hand one of the three has some mist being caught by sunlight on either side of it.

Having completed all the darker foreground trees, along with their branches, the foreground could be completed. This entailed painting (adding detail) the left foreground bank vegetation which was covered by frost, repeated in areas on the right hand bank, followed by more branches and vegetation on this bank where sections were catching some light.

Step by step demonstration... Winter trees and snow - Froggatt Edge, Derbyshire

"Silver Birch on Froggatt Edge" Froggatt Edge, Derbyshire.
Oil. Alistair Butt © 2007.
A simple painting of some Silver Birch trees made much more interesting by a covering of snow and helped by some lovely shadows created by a low afternoon sun.

Stage One:
The top picture shows the end of stage one, the under painting. The objective was to establish the sky, the distant background hills, the main areas of light and shadow on the snow. Also indicated, but loosely, are the positions of the main tree trunks and some of the denser areas of twigs, loosely brushed over the sky, along the lines of dry brushing.

Stage Two:
This started with the distant trees and hills. Mainly indicating the trucks plus main branches of the trees and bringing back or re-establishing some sky colour.
Next was the painting of the foreground line of trees, painting the main trucks and branches first before moving onto the smaller ones. Additional colours were then added to the bracken and heather that hadn't been covered by snow, being under the trees, before moving on to the snow.
Beginning with the band of snow behind the foreground trees, as the shadow snow colour was already established only the areas being caught by the sunlight needed to be painted, along with one or two dark patches where the bracken was showing through.

Moving to the foreground snow. The shadows from the trees were established first, using either shadow and/or highlight colours. As can be seen in the top picture, there's some indication of where the sun is catching the snow and this was used as a guide when painting in all the lit parts of snow, some hard edges, some soft. All the dark patches of bracken etc were then painted before adding a range of lighter, darker or colour variations over possibly two thirds of the snow that was in shadow. Lastly some details like tall grasses etc were added.

Painting of river, reflections, spring trees in Dentdale, Cumbria

"Spring in Dentdale" Dentdale, Cumbria.
Oil. Alistair Butt © 2007.

What first attracted me to this view were the sparking highlights on the water on the River Dee in Dentdale, Cumbria as it flowed over and around the rocks, followed by the contrast between the still water with the reflections and the moving water towards the foreground. The trees and bank added a nice backdrop to the river. The first task was to find a spot that had as much water as possible, i.e. less rocks as the whole river bed was covered by them. When located it was about 6 feet into the river.

This was not the quickest of pictures to paint and many of the smaller stones/pebbles were not painted. The under painting was completed first and was really done to establish the sky and background hills for the over painting (of the trees) to come later, though the mid and dark tones of the water/tree leaf/bank etc were painted at this stage plus indicating the positions of larger stones and main tree branches.

The following day, the far bank and trees, working from background to foreground, were painted along with the reflected section, but slightly darker. A combination of two techniques was used for the trees, either painting the branches first, then the leaves or the other way round. This on top of the under painting, using a range of browns, yellows and greens to create the effect was quite easy. Some sky colour, to create holes in the trees, was added in places. This was followed by the left hand tree and bush.

Next was the water and stones. It could be either paint the stones then the water or water first then the stones. In the end the stones were painted first along with their reflections. Then starting on the foreground area of water the main reflected elements (the tree trunk reflections) were put in, as guides for everything else. The under painting now became the back cloth for a series of paint applications using a combination of colour mixes, some for reflected sky, others for reflected tree to establish the feel of water gently moving over or around the stones. When completed, the highlights that had made this view so attractive were painted.

Painting Demonstration - Staithes, North Yorkshire

"Before the Trip" Staithes, North Yorkshire.
Oil. Alistair Butt © 2007.

Stage One:
This is a relatively simple oil painting done in two stages. The top picture shows the completed first stage and is concerned mainly in establishing the basic colours, the position of the elements, even though a basic drawing using thinned (with Turps) oil paint was underneath, done as quickly possible but with accuracy. Getting this part right makes the following stage, or stages (if required) much easier. For this painting the paint was applied almost neat out of the tubes, i.e. very little medium was added to thin the paint and the board had three coats of white Gesso primer with texture paste added to the second coating.

Stage Two:
Having done most of the hard work, the second stage (bottom picture) is mainly going over the whole painting adjusting colours, sharpening or softening edges, defining detail etc. The under painting done in stage one really helps as at times only minor, if at all, adjustments are required. For this painting the whole background of reflections on the water was darken as this would help punch the boat and figure forward.

The figure (top half) was painted next so that the relationship between the background and foreground could be established. This was followed by the internal elements of the boat, leaving gaps for things like the ropes so they could be painted later but without painting over wet paint. The figure was then completed, followed by the rudder and the area around the waterline.

Next came the outside of the hull and this was started by painting the white areas. There were some nice shadows on these which help define the shape of both them and the hull. Following the painting of the blue areas, the sections catching the sunlight which were darkened as the hull curved away from the light, followed by the areas in shadow. The last part of the boat to be painted was the yellow strip. Final details were then added e.g. ropes, holes in hull etc.

Looe, Cornwall - Children fishing for crabs on the quayside.

"Enjoying the Summer Holidays" Looe, Cornwall.
© Alistair Butt 2007.

The towns of East and West Looe in Cornwall are divided by the river with connections by the bridge, seen in the distance and when the tide allows, a small ferry that crosses the river.

The objective was to capture a number of facets that make up Looe, while it's a thriving tourist town, with a wide variety of shops selling local produce e.g. Cornish Pasties, Cornish Ice Cream, plus amusements, fishing trips etc, it is also has a growing fishing industry (the line of fishing boats alongside the fish market), the river (with a variety of craft) plus the bridge that connects the two different sides to Looe. The children fishing for crabs were an added bonus and add the human side but also tell a store hence the title "Enjoying the Summer Holidays"

Watercolour Painting of Polperro, Cornwall

"Summer Day" Polperro, Cornwall.
Watercolour. Alistair Butt © 2007.

 After the first wet wash, which was really just to establish the sky, some of that colour was brought down into areas that are either shadows or water (almost high tide at the time).

The next stage was to complete the background hill of trees with the occasional house before moving down into the distant buildings of the village of Polperro. The trees were painted in three or four layers. Each layer had varied colour mixes for each area, sometimes each tree. Along the lines of a wet against wet before allowing to that to dry and then the next darker areas were painted, again wet against wet. This continued until I had enough depth of tone in the shadows. Once completed and dried a wet wash was applied to soften all hard edges.

The buildings on the hill side needed to be painted separately but thankfully the colour of the roofs on most of the distant buildings was similar and therefore require minor colour changes. Details like windows, shadows, drain pipes were added and then like the hill side the buildings area was given a wet wash just to soften the edges and tie it in with the hill side.

Next stage involved painting the middle distant buildings, some of the boats along with some refection's. A good contrast between the buildings, on the left hand side and the distant hill of trees was essential to create depth and impact.

Starting on the left hand side and working across, the left hand group of buildings was painted individually. While doing this, areas for the boats mast, rigging etc were left unpainted. Each building was built up using a number of layers to achieve the correct colour, tone and texture beginning with the walls, then roof areas before adding details like windows, pipes etc. A unifying shadow wash was then applied to areas in cast shadow.

The buildings on the right hand side were much simpler to paint, again like the previous buildings, starting with the walls, then the roofs, almost all variations, warm or cool of one colour followed by the details, e.g. the windows.

Once the buildings were completed, the interesting and complicated, in terms of detail, boats below the buildings were completed. Here all the light coloured areas were painted first, using the relevant colour for each part or area, then repeating this technique for the mid and dark colours, blending and softening areas as required.

Watercolour Painting - final stages

"Into the bright sunlight" Staithes, North Yorkshire.
Watercolour. Alistair Butt © 2007.

Watercolour painting - Staithes, North Yorkshire

The final parts to complete this watercolour/watercolor painting were the group of foreground boats along with their reflections in the shallow water and wet mud.

Each of the small wooden boats was painted individually, working from left to right, starting with the interior followed by the external areas. Being painted in an array of colours meant lots of mixing but all areas were treated the same with the colour being built up using overlaying layers (from 1 to 5 - light to very dark) to create the form of each part or area.

The area of low water with the boat reflections, the wet mud with it's reflected light and the shadow cast from the buildings to the right of the picture frame was a real joy to paint. Using wet-into-wet washes as a starting point followed by further washes as this dried until painting wet on dry (not always recommended but glaze washes were to follow) to establish some of the reflections and ripples in the water. The detail, although soft edged (using a damp brush with clean water), for the darker or coloured reflections was painted next. Glaze washes were applied over the area of cast shadow. The last parts to be painted were the sharp detail of some stones and the ropes, a nice contrast to the loose mud and water.

Watercolour Painting - middle stages

Watercolour painting - Staithes, North Yorkshire

The middle area was painted next. This included the buildings that line the beck in Staithes, the beck wall, the footbridge and finally the distant boats and water.

The buildings were painted almost individually apart from areas that matched in colour, for example the roof colour which were painted together. The walls etc are just simple washes using different colours, with overlays of more washes if require. Likewise with the window and door detail, single wash for the glass followed by the frames in one or two washes to create the form and then a wash for any shadows. Finishing off the building with the small details like chimney stacks and pots again using up to three washes (light, medium and dark).

The bridge was a combination of wet-into-wet and overlaying washes. The basic underlying washes were put down followed by the detail. Starting on the left hand wall the vegetation was painted first, followed by the stone work and the detailing of that before building up the shadow cast by the bridge.

The footbridge, railings and the figures on the bridge were painted next followed by the stone wall and area on the right that's in deep shadow. This had in places four or five washes to gain the colour and weight needed.

The beck wall and vegetation along it's top edge are made up again from a series of simple washes, large underlying areas first followed by smaller areas bringing out the detail, changing colour as and when required and lastly the darks and/or shadows were painted.

The three boats and water completed the middle section. Simple light, medium and dark washes created the basic forms followed by a just enough detail to portray the structures/equipment on the distant boats. The water and the reflections were a series of wet-into-wet washes followed by wet on dry when adding the details e.g. reflections, ripples.

See next post...

Watercolour Painting - early stages

Watercolour painting - Staithes, North Yorkshire

The picture above shows the early stages of one of the watercolour paintings currently in production. A background wash was first applied covering all the painting, apart from the areas that I had masked, these being the areas of white on the boats and buildings. This wash was applied loosely and wet using the lightest colour or underlying colour for each area working quickly before it started to dry.

Next to be painted was the background cliff and vegetation using a number of layers to develope the texture and form. Just started on the left hand side are some shadow details from the foot bridge that crosses the beck and some of the small dingies on the slipway. The middle section, bridge, cottages and the far beck wall will be completed before moving to the foreground boats.

See next post...