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Art Masterclass - 103

Painting the Pembrokeshire Coastline

Graham Brace - Posted on Tue 31 Mar 2015

As a landscape and seascape artist I am very fortunate to live and work in the heart of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, an area renowned for its dramatic coastal scenery and superb quality of light. The area stands on some of the oldest rocks in Britain and numerous rock outcrops protrude from the landscape. At 600ft Carnllidi is a prominent landmark, visible for many miles around.

My painting shows a farmhouse against a backdrop of Carnllidi some two-and-a-half miles distant. The land between the farm and the viewpoint lies mainly under rough scrub. I photographed the scene from various angles along the road and then selected elements from several of these in order to create an interesting composition and foreground.

Choice of media and support

I decided to use mixed media, including soft pastel, coloured pencil, coloured drawing pens, spirit-based markers and gouache. I find it difficult to restrict myself to one medium when making a picture and am inclined to use whichever medium best makes the appropriate mark to represent the element on which I am working. It’s very much a case of ‘horses for courses’…a legacy that remains from my college days, when we were encouraged to experiment with mark making, using all kinds of different materials. I have a very large selection of coloured pencils, pastels, markers and pens beside me, so when it comes to selecting the right colour or a blend of colours, my choice is generally instinctive and the result of much experience.

My support was selected for its smoothness. It is ideal for rendering high detail yet it has sufficient tooth to take soft pastel and coloured pencil effectively. It also absorbs watercolour and marker washes well without streaking. It is resilient and adequately endures substantial layering, blending and erasing without too much deterioration of the surface.

My approach to the subject

Composition is very much the essence of a picture and I generally allow the subject to dictate the format. For over 30 years I worked as a graphic designer and this background strongly influences the way in which I compose and format my pictures. I work in a highly representational and precise way and I freely admit that technique is of great importance to me. I am constantly honing my drawing techniques to achieve as much realism as possible.

Some critics have said that technique often overrides emotion and personal expression but I disagree; I feel deeply about my surroundings and am passionate about conveying its natural beauty as accurately as possible.

DEMONSTRATION View to Carnllidi, St Davids


  • Support: High White Daler-Rowney Studland Mountboard
  • Derwent graphic pencil, HB
  • Faber-Castell Ecco-Pigment and Pitt Artist Pens
  • Jaxell Extra Fine Soft Pastels
  • Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer Coloured Pencils
  • Derwent Coloursoft Pencils
  • Letraset ProMarker Twin Tip Markers
  • Daler-Rowney, Schmincke and Winsor & Newton Designers’ Gouache
  • Scalpel with 10A blade
  • Ruling pen
  • Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 brushes
  • Winsor & Newton artists’ fixative
  • Blending pencil
  • Soft tissues


Having selected and isolated elements from several reference photographs (see above), I made a rough sketch of the composition using black drawing pens. Then I divided it into a grid of 4cm squares, using a fine red pen so as not to detract from the overall sketch in black


Having decided the size of the picture, I drew a (35x35cm) rectangle on my support and divided that into 25, 7cm squares, using an HB pencil. To focus my attention on the working area I laid masking tape around the outside edge, then transposed the composition as accurately as possible. Using soft pastels, I began to render the sky in various shades of pale blue and blue-grey, using my fingertips to apply the colour from the sticks, blending and shaping as I went, then added some subtle shades of buff and lilac. The cloud shapes were built up using light and darker tones, lifting out colour where necessary with a soft tissue and adding white pastel to achieve the lighter tones, continuing to work until I felt it looked right. I frequently exaggerate the tone of the sky to add drama to the scene


Working on the rest of the picture I added a blend of greens, ochres, browns and greys to the appropriate areas using pastel sticks and pastel pencils. For the areas of vegetation I laid down dark tones as a foundation for the lighter and brighter details of grass, sedges, leaves and briars, etc. Once again, using my fingertips I blended the colours, tidying up edges where necessary with an electric eraser. Finally, I sprayed with fixative


I began to overwork the detail by adding definition and more subtle toning to the clouds with a variety of blue greys, pale lilac and pale flesh coloured pencils using light strokes. I soften the tones with my fingertip and careful use of a blending pencil. With a selection of ProMarkers including warm and cool greys, olive and grass greens, and using the finer of the two tips, I carefully applied foundation colour to the rock outcrop, fields, hedgerows and farm buildings. Then I worked in the finer detail, tints and tones using well-sharpened coloured pencils and permanent white gouache with a very fine brush to add highlights


Once the distant details were in place I worked down the picture to the middle distance and foreground – bushes, scrub, sedges, grasses and bramble. To create a general yet fairly accurate impression of the range of vegetation I used a variety of coloured pencils, soft pastels, markers, coloured drawing pens and gouache. These were all used in appropriate ways, including a mixture of fine strokes in the middle distance, broader strokes in the foreground and stippling. I also used a scalpel to scratch out colour to create the impression of dry stems and grass. All this was done fairly quickly with just a modicum of control to add a touch of vitality. As the picture progressed I built up texture and tone, creating an impression of areas of vegetation rather than specific detail. I then added detail to the wooden fence posts and carefully painted in the stonechat on the right-hand post. Following this I concentrated on the boulders in the foreground, defining the shapes and painting in patches of lichen with permanent white and cadmium yellow gouache. I also added texture to these boulders by lightly shading over with a soft black coloured pencil – this added a mottled effect where the pencil picked up the texture of the support


View to Carnllidi, St Davids, mixed media, (35x35cm)

For the final touches I mixed various shades of green, brown, ochre and beige gouache and, armed with a selection of fine sable brushes, I proceeded to flick in a profusion of vegetation…grasses, sedges, stalks, brambles and leaves. Finally, with a ruling pen charged with blue-white gouache, I drew in the two strands of barbed wire, adding the barbs with a fine brush, in addition to a hint of rust. Finally I scanned the entire picture with half-closed eyes and adjusted tones and some details where I felt adjustment was required. The entire picture took 23 hours to complete from start to finish.

Graham Brace

Studied graphic design at Cardiff College of Art. After running his own graphic design and advertising business for over 20 years, he is now a professional artist and illustrator. Private and corporate commissions take up much of his time and in recent years he has undertaken major illustration projects for conservation and heritage bodies. Graham’s work has been widely published and he has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions throughout the UK. He is a founder member of the United Kingdom Coloured Pencil Society (UKCPS).

This feature is taken from the April 2015 issue of The Artist


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