Over the past couple of months I have been busy working on a new book, which means I am madly leaping from one subject to another. Somehow I ended up choosing a chicken to demonstrate the different qualities of watercolor and Gouache. I hope to have the book finished before the end of the year. A step by step guide to painting this chicken will feature in book. It combines clear washes of watercolor and the opaque flatness of gouache to get that fantastic contrast between glowing transparency and flat, velvety gouache.

This type of subject is a lot of fun, I love the contrast between fine detail and loose abstraction. The face of the chicken leaves nothing to the imagination, but as the eye moves down the neck, things get a little out of control – just like a chicken tearing around in a chicken coop.

French Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Alizarin, Windsor Red, and Quinacridone Gold  with White Gouache provided all the necessary colors.

A few one stroke brushes and a rigger took care of the detail and the 1/2 inch bristle brush made all the mess.

The book should be available towards the end of the year. As soon as it’s out I will put a link on my website


When writing magazine articles, I usually try to have a nice clean start to finish demonstration, free of  problems or corrections. With this painting, however, I ran into a period of indecision and confusion. Rather than put it aside for something else, I decided to make the eventual solution to the problem the subject of the article.

This article will appear in the next issue of International Artist Magazine.
Sometimes a painting will happily sail along to a certain point, then, seemingly without reason, grind to a halt.  An indecisive moment perhaps, not enough planning, a lack of concentration, who knows? What ever the cause it can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience. Short of putting the painting aside and forgetting it, the best solution sometimes is to plough on fearlessly and see what happens.
This painting, of a small Tuscan farm, was going well right up till it was almost finished. For some reason I was not quite happy with the result. I was unsure where to go.  After looking at the painting for a couple of weeks I still could not put my finger on what the problem was. The only solution was to try out a few options – play with it till something started to emerge.
Mixed Media on Canvas  1200×1200

My rough thumbnail sketch certainly was rough, but I was happy with the composition. The old Fiat tractor eventually snuck its way in, off to the left of the farmhouse.


Initial drawing was done with a charcoal pencil and the first big areas of paint were roughed in with a 2″ brush

A little more modeling took place, then a few dark shapes were added. So far, so good!



Perhaps this is where things started to get confusing. Too much color too quickly. I threaded some strong green through the top of the painting then, rather than trying to subdue it, attempted to counter the green with strong reds and pinks.After much head scratching I decided to knock back the pinks and put more light into the large foreground. The single dark shape in the immediate foreground was causing distraction and not really saying much. It needed a little more definition and a stronger link to the main focal point.



The foreground was broken up with the suggestion of grape vines. Not too much detail – just enough information to add some meaning as the eye moves across the foreground. The line linking the foreground to the focal point was also strengthened. The pink roof was changed to a more terracotta color just to see the effect.



Not happy with the warm terracotta roof I decided to go back to the cooler pink. After much trial and error, I finally found a balance between the pink and green. Working the pink from the main focal point down the curve of the road and into the foreground.



This detail shows the vegetable garden put in with a combination of fine acrylic lines painted with a rigger brush, charcoal pencil marks and areas of colored acrylic. Although many of the details are repeated, I have varied their color, shape and tone to keep the detail interesting.



The building detail shows how the loose, spidery charcoal lines add a sketchy quality to the areas of detail. The small patches of cool green and blue add interesting relief to the areas of warm color.



Next to the masked roof of the shed is the old Fiat tractor, barely suggested with roughly scribbled charcoal pencil.



Discover the spectacular beauty of Sicily and Sorrento
MON. MAY 17 TO SUN. MAY 30, 2010

This workshop offers 14 days of painting and adventure. Starting in spectacular Sorrento, the entrance to the Neapolitan Coast then traveling to  Sicily, Italy’s most historically cosmopolitan region surrounded by the beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean.

Click here for details



Traveling and painting on location requires a trimmed down, portable collection of paint, brushes and accessories. Everything, including a small folding stool, should be easily carried in a small backpack.

For International workshops we will be walking into and out of many of the painting spots so here is a list of all the necessary equipment. You may want to add a few things to this list, but the important thing to remember is that you have to be able to easily carry everything, so don’t pack too much!
  • French Ultramarine Blue
  • Phthalo Blue ( Green shade if available, or Winsor or Prussian if no Phthalo)
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson (or Art Spectrum Permanent Crimson)
  • Quinacridone Gold (or Indian Yellow )
  • Burnt Sienna (Used Occasionally)
  • Indigo (Used Occasionally)
  • I also carry Permanent Rose, Cobalt and Aureolin – but you can get by without them.
  • White Gouache
  • Small container of Gesso
  • I also throw in a couple of tubes of acrylic paint Medium Magenta is my favorite at the moment.
Burnt Sienna pigment ink (Art Spectrum) Screw cap on tight and seal in zip lock plastic bag.
Plain dip in pen and nib

The plug in the top of the Art Spectrum in bottles acts as a seal so don’t throw it away. Cutting a larger hole in the top of the plug with a sharp knife, allows you to dip your pen in without removing the plug, while retaining the seal. Avoid travelling with the eye dropper type ink bottles – they always leak.
  • 1 inch flat Taklon
  • 1/4 inch flat Taklon
  • 1/8 inch flat Taklon
  • #1 or #2 Taklon liner Neef are a good brand of taklon brush
  • An old 1/2” bristle house painting brush. (I will bring these for you as they are difficult to find)
  • 2” or 3” Hake brush or wide soft goat hair brush

Handy for adjusting the amount of water in your brush.
Small enamel or plastic folding palette
A couple of  Schwan Stabillo or Conte, pastel pencils
A black and a white charcoal pencil.
A couple of inktense pencils
…and a craft knife to keep them sharp

Small atomizer type sprays are best for traveling. If you can’t find one of these, cut down the tube on a normal spray bottle to screw onto a smaller container. This one is screwed on to an old ink bottle.

I prefer Arches Watercolor blocks  300gsm (140lb) 26x36cm (approx.10″  x 14″) or I carry sheets of arches paper cut into quarters and tape them onto a core flute backing board with masking tape as I paint on them. For two weeks I carry around 25 quarter sheets. Coreflute is the double walled plastic real estate signs are printed on. It is available from large hardware shops or sign writers will often have off cuts. It is easily cut to size with a Stanley knife and weighs next to nothing.
Some people are happy to sit on the ground and paint, some are more comfortable sitting on a seat. The most stable small stool for its size is the type shown here. There is a smaller three leg stool with a triangular seat available, but they are not very stable.


Masking Tape
Plastic cup for water
Painting Water Bottle (easily acquired at your destination)
PVA Glue or Acrylic matt varnish (small container)
Small sketch pad
Sunscreen and hat
I normally work sitting down with my painting flat on the ground, but for demonstrations I stand and use a light weight easel. I much prefer to work flat, but using an easel gives everyone a clear view. This easel packs into my backpack in place of a stool. It is a simple device cobbled together from a couple of sheets of lightweight ply, some aluminium right angle, corrugated plastic pipe and a small Manfrotto photographic tripod. Hanging my backpack from the center of the tripod keeps everything stable in windy conditions. If you do decide to bring an easel, make sure it is small and light weight, and you can easily carry it with the rest of your gear. Remember though, watercolor behaves better when painting flat!


Italian Village
When faced with a complex, detailed subject, the temptation is often to try and include every detail. This approach can lead to a confusing overload of information. In this demonstration we will concentrate on simplifying and suggesting detail. Our approach will be to decide on an area of interest to serve as our focal point or centre of interest, then simplify and suggest detail in the rest of the painting.
1/2 sheet 300gsm (140lbs) Cold Pressed
Ultramarine Blue
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
Quinacridone Gold
Ink – Burnt Sienna and Dip Pen
Brown Pastel Pencil
1″  Bristle Brush
1″ and 1/4″ Flat brushes
No. 2 Rigger Brush
3″ Hake Brush
This little village, high above the sea on the coast of Italy makes a wonderful subject. The impact of the weathered textures and subdued colors can be amplified by focusing attention on the area of the bell tower and simply suggesting the detail in the right hand side of the village.
A quick thumbnail sketch will help organise the composition for your painting. I have decided to spread the interest horizontally across the painting then contrast it with a  dark diagonal band from the top left to the bottom right. The top right and lower left areas will be left virtually untouched.
Quinacridone Gold, Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson are all we need to mix all the colors in this painting
Simply block in the major shapes with a brown pastel pencil. More detail can be drawn in as the painting progresses if necessary. The entire area above the village is first wet with clean water before a wash of Ultramarine Blue, Quinacridone Gold and Alizarin Crimson is worked diagonally through the background. Vary the mixture from a warm, dirty yellow to a cool grey. The same colours can then be roughly washed through the dry paper in the foreground. All these early washes are best applied with an old 1″ bristle brush. (The cheap house painting type are ideal).
A loose soft suggestion of background trees works much better than carefully painting in the line of trees in the photograph.
Using various combinations of our three colours and a 1″ flat brush, we can suggest the shapes for the various buildings. Keep the tones fairly light at this stage. We can always make them darker but it’s a bit more difficult to make them lighter if we need to.
Vary the size and shape of the buildings to keep them interesting
Once all the building shapes are dry we can use our three colors to mix up a nice rich dark – aim for a color something like Burnt Sienna. Splash it on fairly loosely with your old 1″ bristle brush, then quickly rinse out the brush, dry it slightly and run it around the edge of some of the marks you have just made. This will make the edges bleed out and soften, helping tie the shapes to the rest of the painting.
Before these shapes dry, drop a couple of spots of pure Ultramarine into the lower part of the bushes. This gives them a more three dimensional appearance. Use your 1/4″ flat brush to paint in some of the windows. Remember to vary their shape, tone and colour slightly.
When you paint the bushes, try to think of them as shapes that will suggest bushes rather than trying to carefully render a realistic looking bush.
Use a clean, damp brush to soften and feather out the top edge of the bush shapes.
To help reinforce the centre of interest, we will add some brick textures to some of the walls. Spread a few small, less noticeable areas of brick into other parts of the painting, but keep the texture in the centre of interest strong and definite
The detailed brick texture at the centre of interest holds attention in this area. Adding softer, less defined brick textures to a few of the other buildings maintains unity and helps tie the centre of interest to the rest of the painting.
A flat 1/4″ brush is perfect for putting brick texture into some of the walls. Keep the lines of bricks roughly horizontal and stager the brick joints.
The final step is to add some depth and drama to the painting by darkening the background behind the centre of interest and the lower right foreground.
Before we do this though, a few fine pen lines sprayed with a fine mist of water will add some interesting textures to the buildings.
Burnt Sienna ink works well. Spray it as soon as it’s applied and it will produce fantastic spidery lines. Have a tissue or some paper towel handy as the results are a bit unpredictable and you may need to do some quick tidying up.
The dark contrast behind the main building is a combination of our three colours. Wet the area behind the building first so the top edge of the wash feathers out softly. A dry Hake brush can be used to help even out the wash.
Apart from the detail at the centre of interest, most of the painting is fairly loose and suggested. There is enough information there for the viewer to know what is happening but much of the painting requires some sort of viewer interpretation making it much more engaging than an overload of carefully rendered detail.



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.