The big, distorted paperbarks along Katherine River are awesome things. They defy the battering dished out by the annual wet season, accumulating scars and debris, to emerge each dry with an invincible appearance that defines the rivers character.


This painting started with a simple charcoal sketch




The first washes were cut in around the tree shapes with a  a dirty green mixed from Quinacridone Gold, Phthalo Blue and Alizarin Crimson. Some Phthalo Blue was dropped into the sky and a pale Alizarin dragged along the river bank.




A strong  Phthalo Blue was washed into the water then diluted slightly for the sky. These areas are more intense than I want, as I plan to knock them back with a glaze of Gesso.




The next step was to put a contrasting band of dark behind the main trees. More detail was added to the trees and foliage, then a few rough ink lines were scratched in. Splashes of pure Alizarin were dropped into the area I plan to soften with the Gesso glaze




Before the colours were completely dry Gesso, straight out of the pot, was worked over the distant bank with a 1/2″ bristle brush.




The Gesso was quickly spread and thinned with water.




While everything was still wet a 3″ Hake brush was used to smooth the Gesso into a soft, transparent haze. This was done quickly and lightly, keeping the brush very dry with an old towel.




With the painting still wet, patches of tinted white Gouache were put on and softened with a fine spray of water.




The final step was to add more detail and definition with ink, white charcoal pencil  and rigger lines


Phthalo Blue

Ultramarine Blue

Permanent Alizarin Crimson

Quinacridone Gold

Burnt Sienna Ink

White Gouache


Black and White charcoal pencils

1/2″ bristle brush

1″ and 1/4″ flat taklon one stroke

#2 liner

3″ Hake


  1. Loved this demo John! Hope you do more in the future – I love seeing your paintings, but to see the process makes me appreciate your work that much more. I am left wondering how in the world you are doing that AND taking pictures as you “work quickly” :).

  2. Pingback: Watercolor painting demonstration - John Lovett | Art Studio Secrets

    • Hi Joe
      Gesso is a lot of fun. The biggest trap is keeping the edges soft and invisible. You can build it up in thin layers then work back over it with watercolor, charcoal or pastel pencil. Its great fun.
      Cheers John

  3. Thank you for your demo I was looking for reference in oils but this will help me with my painting. I am doing the Low Level from a photo I took many years ago and wanted to make the paperbarks aunthic. thanks again

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