Cape Mountains

Cape mountains:

On our way to the town of McGregor via Worcester, we went through the Du Toit mountain range. You must admit the Cape mountains are so spectacular. And going through the DuToit Pass is very inspiring for any artist. For here the mountains are very close up and majestic, almost over powering in their height above and around you.

To take photographs of mountains it’s best to be close up to them. Because if they are further away the camera is inclined to reduce their height making them look flattened small and insignificant. Zooming-in doesn’t always give you the full magnitude of their enormous majestic glory either. It calls for quick assessment of the situation. What do you need from the scene and how would you compose it as a painting later?

The art of taking photographs from a fast moving car:

You can’t stop the car to take photos on busy roads and highways. It’s too dangerous. And to take a photo in a fast moving car is quite a feat. So as a passenger photographer, it’s all about timing.

From the interval between when you press the shutter button and when the digital camera actually snaps the shot, you’re likely to land up having a bizarre image of a telephone pole, trees or a high bank where the road has sliced through a knoll or hillside.

This means you have to look ahead and gauge an opening between hills and trees, and then press the shutter button slightly before you expect the next opening …only to get a tall fence or signpost in the way of your precious sort-after shot!

And of cause taking shots from a fast moving car you are likely to get blurred foliage in the foreground. That is blurred weeds, grass or even vineyard fields in the case of the Cape, beside the road.

And another thing, if you are pointing the camera forward through the windscreen, most of the time you’ll get tarred roads, tall trucks and cars ahead of you. And if you are quick you may land up with the car licence sticker covering the scene you want so badly! So what can you do? Delete the offending digital image and wait for the next opportunity. And just make do with whatever you can get I suppose and worry about it later. That is how you would convert the image into something worthwhile later.

Photograph of cape mountains

Photo of Du Toit mountain range

Cape mountains 1

Oil painting of Du Toit mountain range in the Cape

Photo and oil painting demo:

This is what happened with this photo. I landed up with an uninteresting tarred highway, cars and a signpost dead centre. To make the scene more dynamic one has to resorts to ‘artists’ licence’ and some inspiring imagination.

So let’s pretend:

How would it have been years ago before tar and signposts infested roads? And perhaps surmise the possibly of a river down in the valley below? I choose to put in a stream and not a quaint tranquil dust road. Streams I feel are a little more appealing than dirt roads.  If I had put both in the scene, on the small 21×15.5cm canvas, it would have been over crowded. Giving the stream dramatic linear perspective gives the scene depth.  I also simplified the scene and made it look more plausible under those conditions.

How would you have used this photo and how would you have painted this scene?

If you haven’t seen previous blog posts and want to see more demos:


Bainskloof Pass

Bainskloof Pass: place and photograph:

During our stay in Cape Town our daughter took us to Bainskloof Pass gorge. We first obtained a nature reserve pass from the lodge and then climbed down into the gorge. There is no real defined path to follow, just the directions the guy who owns the lodge gave us. The hillside is steep, scrambling down in between rocks and boulders. You need flexible rubber shoes for balancing on rocks.

At first there isn’t much water to see in the gorge, just rocks and boulders. But a little further down the river you come across this lovely rock pool you see in the photograph. It is so peaceful down there in the gorge and yet so profound and dynamic with the depth of the gorge and the size of the boulders.

Oil painting of Bainskloof Pass gorge pool

Bainskloof Pass gorge pool

We didn’t go far because we didn’t have much food with us. But according to the lodge owner there are more beautiful and bigger pools further down the river. Bainskloof Pass is a place worth visiting more than once it seems. Check with Google for places where you can go camping, hiking and book cottages for your holidays.

The winding drive up to the top of Bainskloof Pass alone is breathtaking, the panoramic views are spectacular and there are rest viewpoints to look out over the expanse of the Bainskloof valleys below.

Oil painting of Bainskloof Pass gorge

Oil painting of Bainskloof Pass gorge pool

Oil painting of Bainskloof Pass gorge pool:

  • First, a light imprimatura wash of raw sienna on 21×15.5cm canvas.
  • When that was dry, basic shapes of the mountains and boulders, etc were blocked in with undercoats.
  • And when that was dry, the real part of painting begins.
  • The pigments I used were: French ultramarine blue and burnt umber for the boulders.
  • Sap green and blue for the grass, foliage and water. A hint of raw sienna where necessary to bring a little warmth to the otherwise cool painting.

If you want to see more paintings done from photographs, check out “Photo Demos” blog post categories:

Heron Nature Trail

Heron nature trail in the Vrolijkheid reserve:

Vrolijkheid nature reserve is situated between Robertson and  McGregor in the Cape. The reserve is close to the little quaint town of McGregor and has two main trails and dams.

  • We did the Heron Trail. Erected along the trail are placards giving descriptions of plants and wildlife. We saw many wild birds and even a tortoise from one of the bird hides.
  • The Rooikat trail is much longer. At the beginning of the trail there is a stone wall (built between two farms over a hundred years ago).  Along the trail you will come across Klipspringer Gorge and later perhaps you will see baboons in the hills.
Photograph of Heron Trail

Shrub land along the Heron Trail

The Photo: I took many photos and this photo and demo is of the shrubs on the way to the first dam. I thought the dark bush silhouetted against the blue of the surrounding mountains beautiful. This particular scene captures Karoo-like shrub, which I thought quite appealing.

Watercolour of the Heron Trail

Watercolour of the shrub land along the Heron Trail.

The demo:  The photograph looks somewhat dark, so I reduce the amount of shrubs and  lightened the ground area to give the scene some contrast. The photo is rather cool in nature, so I incorporated a little warmth to give it a little more emotional impact. If the painting (A5) is viewed from a distance the undergrowth doesn’t look so spotty because I reduced detail wherever possible.

South Africa is a beautiful country. So many lovely places off the beaten track to visit.

Photo and painting demo

Photo and painting demo of a Cape Dutch house in McGregor.

Where is the town of McGregor?

The little town of Mcgregor nestles in the Riviersonderendberge mountains of the Cape, South African. The nearest town by road is Robertson and over the mountains is Greyton. If you are travelling from Cape Town, you get there via Worcester and Robertson.

What is the place like?

I really enjoyed our stay there over Easter Weekend. You can always find someone walking their dogs when out on a walk. A market is held every Saturday morning between 8:30 and 9:30. Folks tell you, “You have to get there early, otherwise you will miss it.” Homemade goodies and fresh produce is sold out quickly. There is no charge to have a stall there. This I think is very wise because everyone benefits.

Including the dogs:

They seem to know when it’s Saturday and not the usual `walkies’ outing! Why? What have they got to look forward to? The answer: A lady brings homemade titbits especially for the dogs every market day. You should see the dogs queuing up, licking their chops in anticipation for their turn. The dogs big and small are so cute and adorable that everyone has the urge to pat and fondle them. You would think it’s their special day to socialize, not just the folks who live there!

When you walk around touring the quaint little town, everyone is so friendly and the place is so beautiful and peaceful, that you wish you could live there too. If you don’t believe me, Google and book a cottage for your next holiday. And if you like the place there are estate agents there by the way.

It seems as though everyone in the tiny town is talented in some way or other. The streets of the town are very clean and the galleries and shops interesting venues. Most of the houses are Cape Dutch styled, neat and freshly painted, with grape vines over veranda poles and lattice or bougainvillea over doorways and pretty flowers in pots. So picturesque that you feel you’ve arrived in heaven. ….even funerals are led by a minstrel band!

Photo and painting demo:

So it isn’t very surprising I took many exciting photos of the houses and the surrounding mountains. I think most of them lean towards been painted in oils. But here is a photo of one of the houses partly hidden in the trees that could perhaps pass as a watercolour.

Cape Dutch house in the town of McGregor

Photo of Cape Dutch house in McGregor

painting of Cape Dutch house

The watercolour of the Cape Dutch house

You will notice some things were omitted or rearranged according to artists’ licence. I took out the fence to prevent its intervening barrier. And in the process reduced the intimidating horizontal planes in the foreground somewhat and added a subtle pathway and steps to give abstruse passage and access to the house.
The foreground trees gives the scene perspective dimension and the leafy texture of foliage contrasts with the neat plain walls of the house, thus drawing attention to the house as the main point of focus and interest. Even the extended leaves, of the trees in the top/right corner of the paper, points to the house and suggests its atmospheric relationship to the mountains in the surrounding background.

The watercolour was painted on A5 paper, ie from a mixed media 200gsm Amedeo A4 pad. As I like working from warm to cool colours, it didn’t take kindly to my reiterated washes: first a raw sienna imprimatura wash and then different warm intermediate coats before applying cool topcoats.

Also check out the next demo of the Heron Trail in the Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve not far from the town of McGregor.