One of the great things about the International Artist workshops is the chance to travel to interesting places and accumulate information and ideas for exhibitions. Recent workshops in Italy and Sicily provided an enormous amount of inspiring ideas.

After gathering and sorting information, putting together a collection of paintings for an exhibition is a lot of hard work. It becomes an obsession for four or five months – sometimes frustrating and annoying, other times, satisfying and inspiring.
I like to have a theme or unifying element to an exhibition. It helps with the creation of the work and presents a cohesive and more engaging package to the viewer.
My current exhibition, “Tall Tales” is based on the loose interpretation of fascinating incidents, customs and beliefs witnessed in Italy and Sicily. Rather than try and find out the truth, I relied on my own interpretation of what I experienced. Not speaking the language, or understanding many of the local customs allowed for a much freer interpretation. The truth is fine for history books and anthropological studies, but for me, tall tales make much better paintings.

Tall Tales opens at Moulton Galleries 777 Military Rd Mosman, Sydney 6:00pm 29th October and runs for one month.

Here are a few of the paintings from Tall Tales

“Palermo Geraniums”
On a dusty window sill in the rundown center of Palermo, a small pot of geraniums are lovingly watered each day as the city slowly crumbles around them.

“Lovers Beach”
A small corner of Southern Italy where the day to day life of traditional fishermen mix with the opulent lifestyle of a five star Hotel. Walking along the beach before sunrise reveals fresh graffiti, religious icons and a discarded pair of red stilettos – all the ingredients for another tall tale.

“Dreams of The Open Sea”

(480×530 watercolor on Arches 300gsm paper)  In a tiny sea side village a Sicilian fisherman lovingly coaxes life back into a small wooden boat.

“Rain birds Whirl”
The spiraling arcs of rain birds echo the ornate flourishes of opulent Italian pre war architecture.

“Notes On a Door”

The Sicilian village of Taormina has some beautiful old buildings. This doorway to an ancient church was pinned with hand written notes, all scribbled in Italian. I could have deciphered them with the phrase book, but that may have ruined the tale that they were the guilty confessions of many strayed parishioners.

“Creatures in the Bay”

(900×1200 mixed media on watercolor canvas) The quaint and picturesque villages of the Cinque Terre attract crowds of magnificently decorated visitors.

“Under Gina’s Window”
Life goes on in Palermo, a city whose colourful history doesn’t seem to affect the daily life of its inhabitants. Pigeons are fed and an unlocked bike defies the history of theft, murder and corruption.

“Canal Life”

(530×760 mixed media on 600gsm paper) Tiny glimpses of life in the milky backwaters of Venice. This painting was done on heavy paper and mounted down on a gesso primed board using acrylic medium. It was finished with a satin acrylic varnish

“Stolen Fruit”

(590×630 mixed media on board) The risk of jumping the orchard fence makes even the greenest pears taste good.

“On a Dry Sicilian Hill”

(600×760 Watercolor and mixed media on watercolor canvas) A Sicilian farmer coaxes lemons, olives and cabbages from a dry dusty hillside.

“Pigeons in a square”

(530×760 watercolor, ink, charcoal and Gesso on textured paper) A flock of pigeons cut spiraling arcs against the formal, geometric facades of ancient buildings.

If you happen to be in Sydney on Friday 29 October 2010, drop in to the Moulton Gallery (777 Military Rd, Mosman)  for a glass of wine and a chat.


While we were in Italy one of the artists in our group, Lety Herrera, from Mexico, asked if I had ever tried Watercolor Canvas. I hadn’t, and she suggested I should, so when I arrived home I picked up a pad of small sheets. I was amazed how good it was to work on and how well the washes reacted to the primed surface. I did a couple of small paintings then ordered a roll of the canvas.

It needs to be stretched or mounted securely to a board before you paint on it or it will buckle and twist badly, making it impossible to work on. The paint tends to sit more on the surface than it does on paper, and can easily be washed back to clean canvas. This may sound like a problem, but you soon get use to gently working over underlying washes so as not to disturb them. Eventually, the ability to easily lift off pigment becomes an advantage, allowing tones to be adjusted and whites to be retrieved at any stage.

You may wonder why work on watercolor canvas when there are so many excellent watercolor papers. For me, the big advantage is not having to place the finished painting under glass plus the option to work on a larger surface. Once finished the paintings need to be treated with a suitable varnish.

Palermo Geraniums



Sorrento Breeze –  Marina Grande

I still love the feeling of painting on watercolor paper but this watercolor canvas offers a new way of working and different way to present your work. I see it as an extension to the traditional format of watercolor on paper. Acrylic, ink and pastel can also be incorporated into these paintings.

Fredrix Watercolor canvas is acid free, 100% cotton canvas, primed with a patent pending, specially formulated Gesso for all water based paints. It is available in pads, boards and in a 58″x 3 yard roll.


Arriving home means sifting through thousands of photos. Some are rubbish and should be discarded, but rarely are, others are really interesting.

While wandering around the streets of Taormina I couldn’t help photographing some of the incredible old stone work. Not scenic and spectacular, but amazing just the same. I didn’t notice when I took the photographs, just how interesting and varied the walls were.

Looking at them, one after another, on a computer screen shows just how unique the stone work is.  Layers of broken roof tiles and terracotta paving blocks are woven between the large pale stones which are occasionally punctuated by black lava rocks from Mt Etna.

The ancient binary data hidden in the layers of this wall is surely the basis for a best selling novel. Possibly called “The Sicilian Code”.


We had planned a day painting in Palermo, so after some questioning, decided the Plaza Marina was the place to go. After a long stop start procession through the town our bus driver stopped by a small park surrounded by dilapidated buildings. We couldn’t work out why and, after some head scratching, discovered it was a “photo stop” –  the only problem being there was nothing worth photographing!

After a traffic snarled circuit of the waterfront we decided to head out to Mondello to paint. That was our introduction to Palermo which tainted our enthusiasm to stay there before flying back to Rome. However, intriged by the infamous mafia history, we stayed a day to have a look around.

We were told that, around the time two high profile, anti mafia judges were killed, there was a 12 month period in Polermo that saw almost 1000 murders! This grisly fact also influenced our perception of the city.

It’s a strange town where hotel safes just sit loose in the cupboards.

where rubbish and broken furniture litter the streets…

abandoned Vespers decay in back alleys…

securely locked, with owners never to return…

Vehicles in various states of disrepair somehow cling to life…

double parking anywhere is condoned…

garbage bins overflow…

strange characters in dark suits haunt the city…

kids play with handguns…

and in any other city, a man carrying a violin case probably plays for an orchestra…

The secrets whispered through confession box windows in the churches of Polermo would raise the hairs on the back of the hardest necks.


Tucked under an enormous rock outcrop on the North coast of Sicily, the small town of Cefalu is dominated by its impressive Norman cathedral.

The old town has a wonderful, busy character and it’s maze of streets and alleys are fun to explore.

The town wraps around some attractive, sheltered beaches and has a fleet of small wooden fishing boats providing fresh fish for the local restaurants.

We managed to find some great painting locations tucked into out-of-the-way alleys.

Up until 20 years ago, these old Roman wash tubs were still in use. An endless supply of clean, spring water flushes through them and out to sea. The luxury of electricity and white goods has relegated them to a tourist attraction.

Electric wiring in Cefalu is an incredibly confusing tangle of cables, strung haphazardly from building to building.

Little wonder the locals puzzle over electricity bills.

In the centre of town, the huge Norman cathedral is an impressive structure. Interior decoration is fairly schizophrenic,  having chopped and changed over the centuries according to religious preference, politics and fashion

Young people in Cefalu have the same crazy desire to push a vesper to the edge of suicidal self destruction as is found in most of Italy.

Parking under religious icons guarantees safety here too!

Our Hotel was perched above the bay on the opposite side of the rock to the town. This path led down to a terrace, swimming pool and small beach. It made a comfortable, shady spot to paint some old buildings and garden walls attached to the hotel.

We found this poor fellow sound asleep on a bench at a small beach resort out of Palermo. He was a bit confused when he woke up and found 20 people spread around him with easels and paint boxes.

Mondello waterfront – Sicily


Mt Etna is one of the worlds most active volcanoes. It last erupted in 2008 and, according to our guide is overdue to erupt again. He took us up to the 2000 meter level and the scene is pretty impressive.

Huge lava flows have built up the landscape on the southern side of the mountain. The eruptions causing these flows have been occurring every 3-4 years

This tiny village was destroyed and re built several years ago, eight meters above it’s original location

Insurance is impossible for buildings on an active volcano, but the Sicilian government will pay up to 60% towards re building provided the business employs a certain number of people.

This guy gets around the problem by sitting outside in the freezing cold, carving and selling lava heads.

At the 2000 meter level there are several craters from previous eruptions.

We would have liked to have seen gushing lava and rocks being shot into the sky, but had to be satisfied with evidence of previous eruptions. The steam and strong smell of sulphur, according to our guide, indicates that an eruption is eminent.

Red foxes live up around the snow line on the mountain. This guy was coaxed out of the woods by some tasty Sicilian pastry.

At the foot of Mt Etna is the small town of  Nicolosi. It still shows evidence of earthquake damage caused by past eruptions.


After five days painting in Sorrento, we traveled back up the coast to Naples and flew to Sicily. Our first stop was Taormina, a town first settled by the Greeks then invaded by the Romans, the Arabs, Lord Rodger and the Normans and any other marauding horde that drifted across the salty waters of the Ionian Sea. Today the main invaders are tourists and traveling artists.

Our Hotel had fantastic view of the coast from its vantage point above the steep incline to the water.

The Hotel was typical of the stylish, post war, Italian opulence created to attract tourists and build local economys.  High ceilings, large panoramic windows, polished marble floors and beautiful antique furniture created just the atmosphere to make a group of traveling artists feel right at home.

A large shaded terrace, adjacent to the bar and looking over the sea made a great location for our critique sessions at the end of a hard day painting.

Unusual in Italy, the white sandy beaches of Taormina look more like those in the tropics than from a volcanic island.

Rich Volcanic soil and plentiful water from melting snow mean the gardens of Taormina are something else.

On a hill in the middle of town, the Greeks built this theatre. It faced the sea breeze so the actors voices would be carried into the crowd. The Romans, less than happy with the Greek architecture, decided to add the brick structure across the far end of the theatre. After the Romans were moved on, various other pillages removed bits and pieces of the structure for their own creative efforts.

This impressive structure in the Town Gardens was built in the late 1800’s from a mixture of  salvaged ruins and contemporary materials. Paid for by a British woman, Florence Trevelyan, who was encouraged to leave England due to an affair with the future King Edward. The building served no practical purpose other than to decorate the garden.

I wandered away from my painting of the garden structure to see how everyone else was going. The painting was quickly hijacked by this young girl. Her mother snapped a photo of her painting in the garden to send to the folks back home.

Hiding in the theatre alcoves.

Mt. Etna makes an impressive backdrop to the town. It is often cloaked in cloud, but on a clear, still day, steam can be seen rising from the volcano’s crater.

The old town of Taormina is made up of winding cobbled streets and narrow laneways. We arrived in a massive bus which the driver managed to maneuver through town to our hotel on roads a normal person wouldn’t attempt to ride a Vesper!

Red carpet for thin people.

Ornate church doorway on not so ornate church.

Ceremonial lemons outside a more ornate church.

Ice cream was introduced to Europe by the Sicilians. First brewed up on Mt Etna from a mixture of  Ice, fruit juice and sugar. The same recipe is followed today and is called Granite. The best Granite in Sicily comes from Saretto’s Bam Bar.

We were painting Saretto’s scooter and bar one afternoon and were all treated to a sample of his granite – what fantastic stuff! He showed us photos of numerous Hollywood icons enjoying his wares, and a quote from the New York Times stating his was the best granite in the world! You can’t argue with that.
The small square we sat in to paint, turned out to be the driveway to a lady’s house. We watched, amazed, as she somehow juggled a smart car into a dog kennel sized garage on a lane not much wider than the car. She was interested in our paintings and proud of her beautiful little corner of town. She later brought us down a bowl of cherries in ice to enjoy as we sat and painted. We found the local people in Taormina really friendly and extremely helpful.