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.


The last part of the town of Sorrento, towards the end of the Sorrento Peninsular is Marina Grande. It is the fishing village of Sorrento, tucked into it’s own little bay and protected by headlands on either side. Rock walls and pontoons shelter the harbour from the swell of the Mediterranean and provide a protected mooring for a fleet of small fishing boats.

Access from the main town of Sorrento is via a winding path that tunnels through the headland. You can also catch the bus. It follows the ridge behind the town then drops and twists to the marina – not a trip for the faint hearted, but then, any bus trip around Sorrento delivers the adrenaline equivalent to a roller coaster ride.

A beach of  black volcanic sand is dotted with colored fishing boats and set against a backdrop of old painted buildings.

This part of town is less inhabited by wandering tourists and more the home of fishermen and local villagers

Many of the houses are owned by fishermen and piles of nets floats and ropes fill the alleyways.

Of course, the cats of Marina Grande are all well fed and healthy

Most of the Sorrento fleet are still the old, brightly painted wooden boats that have been used for hundreds of years.

On the waterfront are a couple of restaurants.  This was the view from our table where we enjoyed a fantastic lunch of fresh sardines and salad


The down town area of Sorrento is the old part of town made up of narrow winding alleys and streets just wide enough for a small, thin car.

Cruise ships stop off in the port so the shops and markets in the down town area are always crowded and hectic.

Cheap leather goods, inlaid timber products and all sorts of fresh food are available. There are bars and cafes everywhere and competition for patronage is fierce. There are three cafes within a hundred meters of one another all offering the best Cappuccino in the world.

Not surprisingly, Italy has some incredible churches and Sorrento has some great examples

When space is lacking to build great, sprawling cathedrals, the Italians have perfected the optical illusion of constructing a small room and painting it to appear cavernous and spectacular.

Not all shopping is done in the down town markets. This guy has a truck loaded with bargains. Anything you could possibly want so long as its made out of plastic.

Small motor scooters are the preferred mode of transport for most of the population of Sorrento. Parking them under religious icons guarantees safety no matter where or how fast they are driven – even while texting, smoking a cigarette or carrying a case of wine.

Folks without access to religious icons opt for a safer means of transport.

Even the police choose to live dangerously, cutting through hoards of suicidal commuters on these uncontrollable wheeled pogo sticks. It says a lot for Italian optimism – How do you pull over a speeding Ferrari on one of these things?

Not everyone succumbs to the adrenalin rush of all day peak hour madness. These incredibly underpowered, three wheeled Piaggios are favored by many of the elderly Italians with a need to move a very small amount of stuff around very slowly at maximum decibels.

Of course, if you have a large amount of stuff to move around, then you go for a big car.


After 36 hours sitting in planes, airport lounges, buses and taxis, we finally arrived in Sorrento. Unfortunately, we parted company with our luggage in Frankfurt. We were assured, in fractured English, by an overstressed baggage attendant at Naples airport that our bags would arrive in a couple of days. Fortunately she was right.

Sorrento is a busy little town, looking across the Bay of Naples to Mt Vesuvius.

It is a popular holiday destination and at peak season must be pretty hectic. The beaches are black volcanic sand and are mostly sectioned off and privately controlled.

For a few Euro you can hire a deck chair and a patch of sand, a few Euro more gets you a colored umbrella and with a hefty investment you can also secure a small, brightly colored change room. All very organised!

Mt Vesuvius dominates the landscape across the bay. This photo looks pretty exciting but the cloud is just a regular rain cloud, not a billowing  plume of volcanic ash.

Most of the shoreline around Sorrento is sheer cliffs of volcanic rock with buildings clinging precariously to the edge

As the sun sets into the Mediterranean, visitors flock to spectacular vantage points to photograph one another and drink Prosecco and Peroni.

Some of the Grand old Hotels are situated on the cliff tops, but have elevators to deliver guests to their little beach side annexes below.

Once on the beach, visitors have a variety of ocean going vessels at their disposal.

One of the great features of Sorrento is what must be one of the most extreme hairpin bends in the world. This ancient piece of road design explains why such a busy town has such short buses.

At the bottom of the hairpin bend the road loops around to bring you out at the port where swarms of commuters on motor scooters arrive early each morning to catch a ferry across the bay to Naples.

The regions rich, volcanic soil and mild climate grows amazing flowers and produces three crops of citrus fruit a year.

Scattered through Sorrento are numerous citrus orchards covered with lattice and shade cloth. They must be part of the towns tradition because, even with three pickings per year, there is no way the multi million Euro plots of land could even pay the land rates.

Cyclists in Sorrento dispense with helmets and reflective clothing and adopt a more sensible form of typically Italian bicycle safety.

Tomorrow our workshop group arrives and we will head of to some of the fantastic painting locations around the town.