Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Around 1985 my then father-in-law set off with his wife, daughter and son-in-law (me) for a wedding somewhere near Pietermaritzburg. It was mid-winter, and as we departed from Graaff-Reinet, some of the higher mountains were dusted with snow. To while away the hours I sketched the passing scenery, then when we got back home I took a hell of a chance and coloured these fine-liner drawings with watercolours. (Please click on the images to see them larger.)

The route we took was probably north through Middelburg then east via Steynsburg and then through Burgersdorp and Aliwal North, Rouxville and Zastron. While the pictures were not kept in order, I have tried to arrange them by how I recall the scenery, with the flatter areas, interspersed with koppies, such as this one, being in the Karoo.

It is interesting that when you paint a quickfire watercolour at home over the original drawing, you bring a new creative process into play, combining elements of colour and composition without the constraints of being entirely accurate to nature.

I make no apology for not using proper stretched watercolour paper, because the rewards of not doing so often outweigh the more "professional" look one would otherwise achieve.

It is incredible just how many wonderful mountains there are in the Karoo, especially between Middelburg and Steynsburg.

Here I seemed to have more time to put in some shading.

Again, swirling lines create the sculptural effect of this three koppies.

Somewhere along the north-western Lesotho border we stopped to meet up with friends of my in-laws, possibly at Ladybrand. The scenery here is breathtakingly beautiful, situated as it is on the edge of the Drakensburg, but also amidst the foothills of the Maluti Mountains. At one point we visited a sandstone cave in the side of a towering cliff, which is visible on the left.

We were accompanied by a dog.

A view of some of the surrounding mountains.

Another view, with some foliage in the foreground.

From the steep cliff on the right, the eye is led away along a ridge to the left.

While on that outing, we chanced upon a majestic secretary bird, marching through the long grass in search of prey.

This is one of the people we met up with.

My father-in-law at the time, Philip, complete with flat cap.

A quick profile using literally a couple of lines.

At some point we encountered this fellow on a bike. I rather like the long shadow he's casting.

Back on the road, although this may well have been earlier, while still in the Karoo.

This seems to be the same pointed koppie from the picture above, only much closer.

Sometimes a limited palette works wonders.

The air up among the mountains is incredibly refreshing.

Letting the colours run riot can also have a pleasing effect. I like the luminosity of the yellow.

Again, warm and cold colours meld nicely. I was lucky.

This is a particular favourite, done if I recall well, somewhere near the massive dam system in northern Lesotho, which was visible from the car as we headed into Natal.

This blue koppie seems almost to be floating on water.

A flourish of blue and black leads the eye into the stability of mountains.

Tall poplar trees seem to provide the foreground green.

Again it is the foreground flourish of colour which offsets the stable mountains.

Like a ship, this koppie commands the plain.

A gentle mountain curve.

I like the sense of depth here, as the eye is led to the tiny koppie on the right.

Among the sandstone Maluti peaks was this lionesque creature.

A few washes of colour complement understated linework.

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