For the last two weeks I have been busy conducting a workshop looking at selecting, manipulating and extracting the most from a painting subject. It was a lot of fun, but we worked hard – doing a couple of paintings each day and squeezing in a few critique sessions, where we examined everybodys work and discussed various problems and solutions.

Studio Workshop John Lovett Nov 2011

It is always a pleasure meeting new students and catching up with students from previous workshops. One of our new students for the second week was Carol and her assistant, Kim. What an inspiring lady – taking up watercolor a couple of years ago after a severe car accident ended her career as a lawyer and left her a quadriplegic. Forgetting about her disability, the standard of her paintings is excellent, but to see how she has overcome so many physical hurdles to produce the work she does is just amazing. On top of this, she is determined to keep on improving and works hard to that end.

Thumbnail sketches and simple monochrome collages were used to simplify and rearrange our subjects.

The demonstration paintings below illustrate some of the techniques we explored.

Manipulating a large foreground to lead up to a focal point while not causing a distraction.

Creating depth with hard and soft edges

Flat Ultramarine gouache used to squeeze more vibrancy from the warm, transparent watercolor.

Confining detail and using empty space as an element in the painting.

Practicing the random placement of suggestive abstract marks

Blitz Truck Watercolor


Sometimes an unusual subject will free you up to try new techniques.

Making a strong focal point in what was a flat uniform facade.

Starting loosly with a big brush and no preliminary drawing, then adding detail as the painting progresses.

Experimenting with techniques to break up a symetrical subject.


After a week in Paris we flew to Marseilles to meet up with the people on our workshop. It was great to catch up with friends from previous workshops and meet up with the new students. A coach took us to our luxury hotel, Le Piggonet, on the outside of the old town of Aix en Provence.

The hotel was a beautiful old building set in magnificent gardens. We could have happily spent a week painting in the gardens, but the town of Aix had a lot to offer so we split our painting time between the hotel and the town.

Le Piggonet

Hotel Gardens

Painting in the Hotel gardens

Dining at Le Piggonet

Flower markets Aix en Provence

Street Markets

We were introduced to some fantastic restaurants in the town. One of our students lived in the country side not far from Aix and had a great knowledge of all the best restaurants. This was one of our favorites – Le Patio, a small family run restaurant with a great atmosphere, good service and fantastic food.

The little town of St. Remy is not far from Aix en Provence. We spent a day there, painting and visiting the Asylum Van Gogh spent time in. We were privileged to paint in the garden of the asylum, where Van Gogh would have often sat and sketched.

Although the asylum surroundings were idealic, life inside must have been horrific. These bath tubs were filled with cold water into which troublesome inmates were immersed and trapped under these wooden boards.

In the town of St. Remy, the main square provided a quiet, spacious area surrounded by ancient stone walls and wooden shutters. We spent an enjoyable afternoon painting there before heading back to our hotel for drinks under the plane trees.

Blue Shutters – St. Remy

Cassis is a small fishing town on the Mediterranean coast not far from Aix. The busy harbour and backdrop of old buildings made a great painting subject. We shared the park across the harbour with the local boules players, cigarette smokers and baguette eaters. Under the shade of a grove of casuarina trees, we painted the changing vista of the harbour.

Cassis Waterfront

Paul Cezanne lived and painted in Aix en Provence. His house and studio have been made into a museum, crammed with his old coats, umbrellas, paint boxes, skulls, bones and still life props that feature in his paintings.

Cezanne had the house built to his design – living area downstairs, large studio upstairs.

The studio ceiling is about 5 metres high and the Northern wall, almost completely glass. The walls are painted a mid tone, neutral gray and there is a 4 meter x .5 meter corner hatch to remove large works from the studio. It’s a fantastic studio, unfortunately no photographs are allowed inside. Below is the front door to the house.


I’m a sucker for an Art Supply Shop. I just can’t walk past them. While we were in Hong Kong an assortment of pastel pencils, water soluble crayons and colored inks became absolute necessities. Things that I couldn’t leave the shop without!

I have drawers full of such items. Essential in the excitement of the moment, but once in the studio and tested, they become just another unnecessary distraction. Fortunately, this bout of impulse buying resulted in some really useful new toys.

The inks are Winsor and Newton Calligraphy inks – Brilliant primary colors

The pastel pencils are a Dutch brand I have not tried before – Bruynzeel. Fine textured and good colors.

I have used the Caran d’Ache water soluble crayons before, but fell for a pile of new colors.

Red Shoes – Sketched with a charcoal pencil then colored with a red, orange and pink crayon. After the crayon was applied, a wet 1/2″ brush was used to dissolve and blend the colors. Finally a few red ink lines were drawn on and sprayed with a mist of water.

These Lemons were painted with a mixture of crayon ink and pastel pencil. A gesso wash was scrubbed over the foreground before the final yellow crayon marks were applied. Before the Gesso had dried the lemon was carefully sliced and dropped into a Gin and tonic.


There is nothing like a looming magazine deadline to speed up the painting process. I had just finished an article on controlling color temperature for International Artist Magazine and realized I didn’t have an example of a dominant warm painting using a cool contrast. Rather than go through paintings I already had, I decided to work on a sketch I did along one of the little back canals in Venice.

Most of this painting was done using a 1″  bristle brush. I attacked it mercilessly using watercolor and pots of premixed acrylic and gesso, splashing the paint on and feathering it out with a 3″ Hake brush. This quickly covered the paper and provided the area of light at the focal point. Once the dark shapes were scrubbed in with the 1″ brush, I used a charcoal pencil to define the details – again very quickly and accidentally – sort of like draw first and ask questions later. After all this a small brush added all the details – bricks, window frames, striped awning etc.

It is a fantastic way to work, pushing and shoving until things somehow work themselves into place. The hardest thing is learning not to be careful until it is absolutely necessary! The beauty of building up a painting in layers like this means you really can’t go wrong – things can continually be worked over and changed.

A rough looking collection of brushes, but perfect for this type of painting.

  • A charcoal pencil
  • 1/4″ flat One Stroke
  • #1 Liner Brush
  • 1/2″  Bristle Brush
  • 1″ Bristle Brush
  • 3″ Hake Brush


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


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.



This is an article I wrote for International Artist Magazine a couple of years ago. A comment on imagining stories to embellish different locations prompted me to upload it.  It is amazing what goes through your mind after thirty or forty minutes sketching. Almost subconsciously stories emerge tying up and making sense of all the observed details.
It is easy to be seduced by spectacular scenery or panoramic landscape, but sometimes it’s the little incidents associated with fairly unspectacular subject matter that can be the catalyst for a successful painting. In these paintings the appeal, for me, lies beyond the immediate visual impact and has more to do with the incidents or atmosphere surrounding what is depicted.
Rosa’s New Pink Curtains
These old Italian waterfront buildings tell wonderful stories about their inhabitants. Pushbikes, fishing gear, potted herbs and flowers, an old comfortable chair in the sun. An hour spent sketching all these details cause all sorts of stories to evolve concerning the day to day life of the building.
The paintings title is derived from the bright pink curtains in the upper window. To stop this bright color drawing too much attention away from the centre of interest, Permanent Rose was worked over the greys in the top corner of the painting. This eases the impact of the curtains, pushing them back into the painting.
Fine rigger lines and sketchy pencil marks define the detail in the bottom left. This describes what is happening without drawing too much attention.
The center of interest is treated with strong contrast and sharp, focused detail to act as a pivot point for the painting. The viewers eye can wander out to other areas of less defined detail, but will always be drawn back to this area.
Fishermen Wait – Pelleistrina
The long thin island of Pellestrina protects the Venetian lagoons from the Adriatic Sea. Passing the Island early in the afternoon it struck me that even the fishermen, along with every other inhabitant, observes the afternoon siesta. Tide and fish can wait, food, wine and rest come first, then the fishing. I have used strong horizontal and vertical lines to give the painting a sleepy static feeling. The vertical drift of smoke adds to the calm quiet atmosphere
Flowers were splashed in with a mixture of Permanent Rose and White Gouache. I liked the contrast between the dirty, smelly fishing boats, clean washing and fresh flowers. Ultramarine Blue Gouache gives the fishing boats a flat, velvety finish.
The hazy sky was first washed over with Ultramarine watercolor. After this dried, a glaze of  cream tinted Gesso was worked over the surface giving the sky a pearly translucent quality.
The calm water adds to the sleepy feeling of the painting. The same technique of Gesso over glazing similar to the sky was used. This time the underlying wash was Phthalo blue.
Last Bus Leaving
The frantic pace of down town London is regularly punctuated by the hot diesel clatter of these ancient relics. Huge and shiny, it’s hard to believe these  awesome machines form the backbone of a reliable transport system. This painting plays on the contrast between the enormous mass of lovingly polished duco and the machines apparent attempt to self destruct while idling.
Loose strokes of red pastel suggest the resonating vibration of the engine and contrast with the glossy sheen of the paintings centre of interest.

Halfway through the painting  a loose scumbling of dilute gesso was scrubbed over the top right hand corner. This obliterated most of the roof and upper detail allowing it to be loosely suggested with pencil lines and red pastel.
The bonnet and lower section of the bus were treated with more detail to pull attention down to this area of the painting. The bright red bonnet and white highlights make a great contrast with the surrounding black gouache. I normally avoid flat neutral black, but used it in this case to give the feeling of bitumen, soot and diesel oil associated with the bus.
Pass This Way – Venice
This is one of a thousand romantic corners that draw you deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of Venice. Rather than documenting all the details, I have focused on the essential elements and reduced everything else to simple areas of contrasting textures. Lines and angles have been distorted to echo the random chaotic nature of Venice.
Flat Ultramarine gouache was used to convey the brilliant blue of the canal boat. By contrasting this with the rich terracotta of the bridge, a focal point is established.
The washing hanging on the line was torn from pieces of Japanese rice paper and stuck to the surface with acrylic matt varnish. The rice paper shapes were softened by splashing them with a mixture of Permanent Rose watercolour mixed with  White gouache.
A fine translucent glaze of White gouache and Permanent Rose watercolor softens the far end of the bridge, encouraging the eye back to the centre of interest.