Car Easel

Last Thursday’s weather was pretty awful for Plein air painting but that doesn’t stop some us from getting out there, even if it means we are confined to our car. This week I trialled my lap easel sitting in the passenger side of the car.

This is really a small table easel where I removed the partitions in the drawer. It sits comfortably on my lap, I can fit my palette and water, and I am able to adjust the angle of the board. This is a much better solution than using the steering wheel to prop the board on a fixed angle, and having all the other stuff on the passenger seat. This was a real pain being a right handed painter in a right wheel drive car.

As the day was grey and overcast I used limited colours, Raw Sienna and Ultramarine with a touch of Burnt Sienna for the darker areas. Unfortunately I forgot my brushes but had a waterbrush in my pencil case so I had to manage with that.

My tip this week comes from advice I’ve learned from several artists – is not try to complete the painting completely. Take it to about 75% completion then reevaluate at home. Often, away from all the details on site you find you maybe don’t need to add any more.

I stop when I don’t know what else to add or I get too cold. Sometimes I add more at home but in this case I decided that I’d leave it as is.


299. Absent Painter

It’s been a while. If you are still following, my apologies for being an absent blogger for so long. My only feeble excuse is that when the pandemic hit my mojo disappeared, and it seemed I had little worth sharing. Classes and exhibitions were put on hold and it has taken a while to get back into the flow.

My focus these days is now mainly Plein Air painting and urban sketching, coordinating a weekly session with local artists and administering their Facebook group page. I have been sharing a weekly tip to the group and thought it might be if some interest to my followers as well. Let me know in the comments if you would be interested in a weekly tip.

I see some in our group struggle to get bold colours with watercolour resulting in paintings with very little contrast. So this week’s tip is how to get watercolour paints ready for painting outdoors.


Pre-wetting your pans is the trick. Add a few drops of water to each of the colours. The pans should be softened and ready to go in five minutes. If the paints have not been given enough time to soften with water, your pigment color will not be as bold. Or you can mist the colors with an atomiser to moisten them. I often do this the night before.

Use your brush gently. Don’t dig or poke the brush in as you can ruin the tip of the brush. Roll the side of the brush near the tip to pick up the paint.


Before using a new palette give it a light scrubbing with a mild abrasive. This takes the slick surface off the mixing area and removes any residues from the manufacturing. Be sure to thoroughly rinse off the palette.

Fill the wells with your selection of paint. Don’t put tiny dabs of paint in the wells…fill the wells! Tiny dabs of paint will eventually just fall out. Hold the tube over the deep end of the well then come back towards the shallow end while squeezing the tube.

Let the palette sit open for a day or two. When the paint had set up and is no longer sticky wet your thumb and push down in the center of each well. What this does is create an indentation for the water. Before painting lightly mist the paint wells to soften the paint.

This tip came from Brenda Swenson’s blog.


Finally, if a tube of paint has dried up and you can’t get any out, you can quite easily slice open the side of the soft metal tube and peel it open. Then just use it like it were a dried pan.


My palette in action at last weeks painting session, completing a 20 minute sketch with my Holbein water brush.

295 Watercolour Classes

I recently taught a beginners watercolour course at a local arts centre and in doing some preparation, was attempting some loose still life paintings, in the style of the late, great Charles Reid. No one comes close to his style but I think these later ones are an improvement on my very early attempts at watercolour.

Have a look at my earliest watercolour on this blog, which incidentally I started way back in October 2011 merely to keep a record of my progress.

The composition was acceptable, a reasonable attempt at negative painting, but the rest was pretty bad. I’m glad I started this blog (which was purely for my own record) so I do have a record of paintings that have since long gone. This one to the rubbish bin.

The following are my most recent still life watercolours, both painted with my limited palette of Cotman colours on Bockingford paper with cheap Renoir brushes.

I chose these budget supplies because I was allocated a limited budget to supply paints, brushes and paper for each student. I am more than impressed with Cotman watercolours. Classified as a student range the tubes have the pigment code, permanence and lightfast rating listed which a lot of the cheaper brands don’t.

The Renoir brushes also perform extremely well for their price. At $4 and $6 (Australia) each I don’t mind replacing them more often but so far they are still working like new.

Bockingford paper is manufactured by St Cuthbert’S Mill makers of many of the top watercolour papers, and is very forgiving. It is heavily sized and takes a lot of punishment, can be wiped back or erased easily, but sometimes this can be problem as multiple layers can tend to lift if the paint is applied with too heavy a hand. I’ll continue to use it.

Landscape Gallery

294 Mixing it up

The last few months have been busy for me, teaching two beginners watercolour classes over the last term as well as participating in a recent exhibition. I was also fortunate to be able to attend a workshop with the fabulous artist Ross Paterson.

This is one of the paintings completed on site during the workshop. Watercolour on Saunders Rough paper 300g.

The following are small gouache paintings done over the last few months for my exhibition. The first is an impression of a field of wildflowers that cover the landscape around the countryside in springtime. Have a look here to see photos of these amazing flowers in the wild.

Another little gouache painted on site on a very chilly morning near the Stirling Ranges.

Out painting another morning with a few of my Plein air buddies I tried to make the back view of a modern convention centre and distant port more interesting. Successful or not it’s always a great way to spend a few hours and I always learn something new.

On another outing I experimented with watercolour background under pastel. This was fun, but pastels are rather messy. I’d like to do more with this technique as long as I remember to take some disposable gloves and hand wipes

I have also updated and added a few pages to my blog site. It still needs some work but have a look here and let me know what you think.

288 Catch ups

I’m posting a few of my sketches that I haven’t shared here over the past few months.

While on holiday visiting family I was travelling with minimal art supplies – a little travel palette, a travel brush, a waterbrush, a small travel journal and a cheap watercolour pad.

You can see my little travel kit here.

I had to paint a “mingo” for a very special little client, as it was her favourite at that time. It was framed and hung on her wall with other favourite animals.

Another request was for a dog portrait of a very special, super intelligent dog who was dying of cancer. This painting was a challenge with a very small photo for reference and my limited palette of Pthalo blue, Ultramarine, Alizarin crimson and Quinacridone Gold.

On that trip I didn’t get to do a lot of travel sketching, as I don’t feel comfortable making people wait around for me while I indulge. I did manage a few quick pen sketches intending to add colour later, but that didn’t happen. However I did get to do this little journal sketch of the view from our balcony.

Arriving back home after three weeks of beautiful European alpine sunshine but sadly no painting, I was happy to get back into Plein air sketching again. The circus happened to be in town that week so I got out the gouache for the colourful big tent and painted this in my tiny A5 journal with 200g paper.

Another week, another sketch, this time of the recently decorated wheat silos at our local port. These decorated silos are part of a silo art trail with artwork on a huge scale by international mural artists. 35 metres high the various silos can be seen here

Ink sketch with watercolour on Fabriano Artistico paper.

I’ll try and do more catching up with blog posts shortly.

277 Sketches, paintings.

I’m so behind in posting stuff lately. Life seems to get in the way. I might have to do several posts to catch up.

Firstly, a couple of portraits from Sktchyapp. I had a hankering to sketch some grey hair with coloured pencils. I did a flip through the photos in my saved queue and found a beautiful photo of Joan who has the most magnificent grey hair. Made me quite envious. This is a pretty rough and quick sketch of Joan, in ink and watercolour pencils on cheap old Kraft paper.

Another quickie of a cute little girl, photo supplied by Amber on Sktchyapp. Watercolour and pencil in a Quill cartridge paper journal.

At one of our weekly Plein air sketching outings we visited an old wool store shed, now disused and decaying. It’s always good to try and capture these landmarks before they disappear altogether.

I did a quick pen sketch on site for this one, as I wasted too much time chatting to other sketchers, and took a photo for colour reference to finish at home.

Sketched with a Lamy fountain pen with permanent ink in a Strathmore multi media journal.  But as I was walking back to the car before leaving I couldn’t resist a quick sketch looking in the other direction. It was really meant to be all about the windmills in the distance but I got distracted along the way.

This was painted with my favourite scruffy brush on Fabriano Artistico paper.

More to come in the next post.

233 Weekly Sketches

I keep trying to improve my figure sketching by trying different techniques and media. It keeps it interesting, and maybe someday I’ll what works best for me. For the following sketch I used a waterbrush with gouache and watercolour pencils.  This was from a photo in the weekend challenge on Wetcanvas.

I had another look at  Lyn Chapmans Sketching people book again for some more inspiration. This really is a great book with loads of information and examples. Sktchyapp once again came in handy for providing different images for my victims. I wouldn’t dare post them there and offend anyone, but they provide good subjects for quick practise. These are all sketched directly with a waterbrush, watercolour and watercolour pencil on top.

The blue blob in the middle of the next page resulted from me dropping it onto a freshly filled palette. That is a swatch of MGraham ultramarine blue and after scraping off the excess paint it looked a bit like a figure, so I used the waterbrush to make it into one 😄 I thought I might as well do some more and just continued using the waterbrush to do some doodles.
Trying yet another idea, this time contour sketching with a Preppy fountain pen and brown ink, with a touch of watercolour over. 

And lastly, a change from people sketches, a pleinair outing at an old building in town.  This building served as a store and office for the nearby convict-hiring depot in the 1850s. It’s framed by a couple of enormous Moreton Bay Fig trees.

I’m always disappointed with what I achieve when I’m out sketching on site but when I’m back home away from the scene It doesn’t seem so bad. I guess I just can’t compare it against the original 😄