A few years ago I sketched this little cottage on Sydney Harbour. It was late in the afternoon and there was no activity – no sign of life at all. As I did the sketch I started wondering what had gone on here in the past. Such an amazing location, I could imagine parties on the verandah, kids running around, boats in the water, but now, nothing – just a little cottage gazing out across the water. It had a kind of empty sadness – a little neglected with vague evidence of lively past.


Quinacridone Gold, Alizarin Crimson,  French Ultramarine Blue,  Phthalo Blue, Medium Magenta Acrylic, White Gesso, White Gouache


White pigment Ink, Burnt Sienna Pigment Ink


White Charcoal,  Black Charcoal, Dark Brown Derwent Inktense


Sleepy Edge

Urban Landscapes are still intriguing me. This is a half sheet, worked over with gesso, charcoal and pastel pencil. I cant seem to get away from this tube of Liquitex Medium Magenta acrylic. It’s creeping into everything I paint lately!

It’s such a weird color, but does something to your brain, particularly on these industrial sort of subjects. Perhaps because it’s so out of character with the subject. Evening at the edge of a city, painted like a bunch of flowers.

Liquitex Medium Magenta acrylic – scary, addictive stuff!

The great thing about it is the fact that it is listed as having Excellent light fastness. Most watercolor pigments this color are fugitive.


It seems strange I guess, five months traveling through the bush, and I’m back in the studio absorbed in Urban landscapes. Maybe I miss all  that noise traffic and chaos.

This painting was built up in layers of watercolor and gouache then worked over with thin glazes of gesso. Lots of calligraphic charcoal and pastel pencil marks were then threaded across the surface similar to graffiti on a wall.

Transparent washes of Alizarin Crimson and Quinacridone Gold contrast with the Phthalo Blue foreground glazes and Phthalo tinted White Gouache sky. The brick shaped fine detail was applied with Burnt Sienna tinted White Gouache

A compressed industrial grey color scheme and formal, geometric marks suggest the urban subject rather than accurately describing it in these two paintings.

I find that reducing a painting to the simplest elements and barely suggesting the subject can have a lot more impact. The viewer is engaged on a far deeper level and in a more subliminal way than when details are clearly presented.



Derwent Cumberland make a great pencil that will draw equally well on wet or dry paper. They come in a broad range of colors, however some are not really lightfast. Fortunately most of the browns, greys, earth colors, and many of the blues are, according to the list below, tested to be lightfast.


Inktense pencils will produce a strong dark mark on wet or dry paper.


Light shading can be quickly dissolved with a damp brush to make subtle watercolor like washes. Once these washes dry they are permanent and insoluble just like permanent ink. This means they can be worked over without being disturbed.



Drawing with Inktense pencils and a damp brush produces interesting results hovering somewhere between pencil and watercolor.

The sketch above was done with a dark brown (Bark 2000). I haven’t experimented with colors yet, but imagine they would be a lot of fun. I have used the Bark (2000) pencil and the Charcoal Grey (2100) in a number of watercolor paintings and I’m really happy with the results.

The pencils are nice and smooth to use and release pigment easily. They sharpen well and the leds, being of a waxy consistency, are resistant to fracturing


Read more about them on the Derwent website (link opens in new window)




We arrived back in Darwin, put our vehicle into storage and met Amanda and Gordon, our tour guides, at the Mindil Beach Markets. After wandering  around and watching the sun set into the ocean, we all headed back into the city for dinner.


Monday, the 26 people that form our group got to know each other over drinks on the balmy veranda of the Holiday Inn.


Tuesday, our first painting day,  we headed down to Government House , spread ourselves out on the rolling lawns opposite, and filled in the morning painting under the shade of a banyan tree.


The afternoon was hot, so we found a shady spot opposite our hotel and painted the fringe of vegetation between us and the Arafura Sea


Off to Kakadu and three days at Cooinda Lodge, Our coach driver had a tremendous knowledge of the aboriginal people of the area, having lived and worked with them over the years, He took us around Nourlangie and filled us in on many of the aboriginal customs and beliefs.




Whistling Ducks – Yellow Waters. Except for the fact that these guys are walking around, they are the most artificial looking animal I have ever seen. They don’t  like getting wet either, happy just to stand beside the water.


We watched this Croc cruise past our boat accompanied by a large Barramundi with a death wish.


Red Lillys – It may not look like it, but every bit is edible!


Pair of Jabiru (Male with dark eye)


Cruising Black Cockatoo – they fly slowly in formation like a flock of B52’s on a mission.


Wetland Waterlilies


In the afternoon heat, an old Akubra in front of our lodge was a more comfortable option for a painting subject. Just so things didn’t become too comfortable, we limited ourselves to just two colours.


Home Billabong at Cooinda Lodge was dotted with shady clearings looking across the water – great places to paint.


Home Billabong – Cooinda


If this little fellow hadn’t hopped, we would never have seen him


South Alligator River, meandering across the wetlands


Arnhemland Escarpment


Ranger Uranium Mine


South to Katherine


Gold rush architecture, Pine Creek NT


Another shady Banyan tree, this time in Katherine


Some transparent watercolor washes and a lot of pale Ultramarine Gouache made this demo a lot of fun.


Splashes of Alizarin, ink marks, charcoal pencil lines and fine rigger strokes suggest a lot of complicated detail without being too descriptive.


Five months traveling and three workshops, without the opportunity to restock, means a fair amount of paint, brushes and paper must be carried. I like to get as much done as possible in the workshops, so we usually complete 2-3 small paintings each day. At that pace the workshops alone will use up around 40 quarter sheets. Fortunately I only use a few colors (Indian Yellow/ Quinacridone Gold, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine Blue and Phthalo Blue) Half a dozen tubes of each of these plus a handful of other less used colors, Ink, Gesso, Gouache, a pile of brushes and pencils and things soon start to look like a mobile art supply store.

painting materials

Watercolors, Gouache, Acrylics, Gesso, Ink, Lightweight Easel, Folding Palette, Pastel Pencils, Black and White Charcoal Pencils, Derwent Inktense Pencils, One stroke Brushes, Liner Brushes, Hake Brushes, Old Bristle Brushes, Water Container and Towel

arches paper

Fifty sheets of Arches 300gsm cold pressed paper – cut, soaked, flattened and drying on the studio floor.

Paper stored for traveling

Transporting watercolor paper over corrugated dirt roads can have disastrous results. Constant vibrations wear through the top surface of the sheets making them useless. Clamping the paper between two sheets of core board stops them moving against one another.

Finished paintings are clamped in the same way to keep them from damage.


For people attending workshops, here is a list of materials I use most of the time and the brands I prefer.


  • *Ultramarine Blue (Art Spectrum )
  • *Phthalo Blue ( Art Spectrum )
  • *Alizarin Crimson (W & N or Rowney)
  • Burnt Sienna (Rowney or Art Spectrum )
  • *Indian Yellow ( Rowney is the only real transparent one capable of mixing rich darks)       or
  • *Quinacridone Gold (Windsor & Newton) This is more permanent than Indian Yellow but a little less intense
  • *White Gouache
  • Small container of Gesso

Used less frequently : Cobalt Blue, Indigo, Rose Madder

*These are the most important colours.


  • Burnt Siena pigmant ink (Art Spectrum)
  • Plain dip in pen and nib


  • 1 inch flat Taklon (One Stroke)
  • 1/4 inch flat Taklon (One Stroke)
  • #2 Taklon liner

Neef are a good brand of taklon brush

  • An old 1/2” bristle house painting brush is also a handy thing to have.
  • 2” or 3” Hake brush or wide soft goat hair brush


Handy for adjusting the amount of water in your brush.


The best palette is one with a fair amount of room for mixing and a slopingside on the paint wells. This allows dirty paint to run to the bottom of thewell keeping the fresh paint reasonably clean. For traveling, a small folding palette is best


A mixture of hard and soft pastels, Schwan Stabillo, or conte, pastel pencils and charcoal pencils.



I prefer Arches paper, but also like Saunders rough and Cottman (a cheap, heavily sized paper) for quick water colour sketches and demos