Posted by: Julie Duell | December 5, 2008




Hello again!

Whether you are an artist or not, you are sure to have lots of fun playing with DIGITAL tools – either in programs like Photoshop Elements, Corel or others.  Some of these examples are created by altering my original photographs & others by playing with images of past paintings.   I use Photoshop Elements 5.0 which has been superseded a number of times since, but it suits my purpose.  Maybe down the track I might update and have even more magical tools at my fingertips!  I use my program in conjunction with a Wacom tablet and pen but this is not necessary unless you wish to paint and draw using touch sensitive “brushes” in the computer.    A conventional mouse is fine for the image alterations made below.

Most people who use Photoshop use the programme to enhance their photographs by cropping, altering contrast or colour, or changing the number of pixels in the image to reduce the file size (e.g. 580 pixels width is ideal for emailing).   However by duplicating your image in the EDITOR you then have some spare images to play around with by using the image altering tools in the FILTER MENU. This is what I have done in this post.

Below are examples of working with a few digital photographs of natural patterns  plus a couple of home subjects (flowers in the studio and Tony’s dinner plate!).  I scanned them in to my computer, opened them with Photoshop Elements  & played with the tools  to alter them.  This is an exciting and time consuming pastime and stretches the imagination incredibly!   You can be as creative as you wish, turning your photographs into art!  

In the interests of sharing with you then, here is the first of the versions sets I created. .. my initial picture taken of  a few fallen  gum leaves on a tarred road in nearby Bouddi National Park. It was raining, so the leaves and road were wet.

Here is the original photograph:


Now here are some of the altered images.   I was following the lines of interesting pattern making in choosing these results and intend to use one or two to print out for reference to paint from.  In this way it is a wonderful tool for artists, helping to develop ideas and pursue choices before beginning to actually paint.   

This first tool is called Cutout and it simplifies the photograph thus… 


From there I altered the cutout image with the watercolour tool…


Then some methods of twirling the image to make a more contained pattern…


Now some different background colours…


Back to slight twirling…


From here on, I am a bit vague about which tools I used – but it will give you an idea of the directions you can take in altering the image…






I’m going to find it very hard to choose one to paint from those – there are so many I like. How about you?   Just imagine the natural patterns around you that could be photographed and transformed!  Rusty iron, or an old weathered wall, bark on a tree – so many subjects everywhere!

Next I scanned in a photograph of some leaves in a puddle on the same road.  Here is the original picture. You can see the gum trees reflected upside down in the water.


Now I play with this image.  I decided to turn the above picture upside down to work on it. This rendition has a mystical quality about it.  I think I would love to paint from this as reference.


The directional shading below gives an atmosphere of rain and wind don’t you think? It’s very artistic and decorative.   I like it very much. It would suit a painting done in pastels.


Before I left this image, I cropped part of it and made it more abstract…


This next photograph is of lichen on a rock in the Australian bush:


Now here are some results produced by playing with this image on Photoshop…


What a lovely pattern it makes!  This would be a great way to produce fabric designs! I think it will give it ink edges to see how that looks…


Next, I cropped part of the above and pushed some of the shapes which already suggested animals!   You can see how imagination can carry you away – its a bit like cloud watching!


Speaking of clouds, I wonder if I can make the above image more cloud-like…


Yes I think it is more like clouds don’t you?  Now what about trying something really crazy! This next one looks a bit like the patterns you see in beautiful slabs of agate polished and held against the light!   I can’t believe all these wonderful effects and I hope some of you might be inspired to enter into this creative field – if you haven’t already!


This next photo was one taken by Tony of the back view of a still life (vase of big artificial poppies) set up for our art class.  As you can see, everything was just left as it was – art materials on the table etc.  no attempt to “tidy it up” as a painting subject. I’m using this because it shows that you don’t need to set up anything special to photograph and just about any picture can be altered to be more interesting, as long as it has a variety of shapes and colours.


Having scanned the photo into the computer and opened it with Photoshop Elements, I decided to get rid of some of the shapes in the background to simplify the image.  I did this using the paint pot filler and a neutral colour. This was so that the flower shapes could be seen more clearly.


Next I used a filter tool called Posterise…


Next I tried delicate watercolour…


Then neon glow!!!


Now how would it look rendered in pastels?


or maybe just chalk and charcoal…


This next one highlights the edges of the shapes with a diffused glow…


These versions are all so different and varied, its hard to believe this last set all began with the one flower photograph isn’t it?

Now here is a bit of light-hearted fun!  … Tony’s colourful dinner before he ate it!  He’s been a vegetarian for over 50 years. 


Lets see what artistic changes can be made to this photograph…


Not bad. I wonder what it would look like with glowing edges?


The cut out tool is good for simplifying…


How about if I twirl it a bit…


How about ink edges?


or maybe try pointellism?


Or how about just a nice rich abstract design…


By changing some of the shapes to blue, I played again with the posterise tool which gives black edges in whatever width you choose…


Finally, just to be outrageous, NEON!


Oh yes – this isn’t really a suitable subject but there is a tool which turns your pictures into tapesty designs too!



Next, I would just like to share with you 2 photos I took recently of the beautiful patterns on the trunks of Australian scribbly gums.  The “scribbles” are caused by small insects wriggling around under the bark and when the bark is shed, the pattern they make is revealed.  I chose not to use filter tools on these 2 images – I don’t think I could improve on Nature in this instance!



Aren’t they wonderful? Nature’s abstracts – so unique!+

I did use a filter on this next photo featuring another beautiful gum tree -it’s called ‘coloured pencil’ and seems to suit this subject.

Here is yet another, this time using a ‘plastic wrap’ filter:


 So there you are – just a few digital photographs altered in a small number of the countless ways available through Photoshop Elements!   Incidentally, I am not employed by Adobe or on any commission in promoting this – it’s just something fun to share – another approach to creativity and a marvelous tool for Artists expanding their horizons.  

NOTE: Because each filter tool has several slide rules giving infinitely varied results it is almost impossible to convey any kind of “recipe” to you.   Its just a matter of  “throwing away the recipe book” and experimenting.    Different filter tools suit different pictures best so you just need to try them out and allow your own personal tastes to guide you. IMPORTANT! Before you start, don’t forget to make duplicates of your image to alter so that you keep your original intact!   (Once you are in the Photoshop Editor, just go to EDIT and click on DUPLICATE THIS IMAGE.) 

Some say you need lessons for using Photoshop, but I just jumped in the deep end and played and I think you would learn just as well that way too with this type of program, writing down what you do as you go and learning one tool at a time.  I find the help section where you type in a question very good too though I think that has been dropped from the latest Photoshop programme versions (which is one of the reasons I like to stick with my 3.0 version).

Now switching from digitally altered photographs to digital art, I would like to share with you some work created entirely on the computer by artist Bev Langby, who uses Corel painter program with tools like ‘Artists Oils’ and ‘Palette Knife’, which she says to her is  like working with real paints! Like myself, Bev uses a Wacom tablet and pen.

They are entitled 1. Pink rose 2. Latin beauty 3. Tango passion and 4. Kaylee…

pink rose _bev_2007 sm 















Latin Beauty_bevlangby_09.JPG sm
















Tango Passion_bevlangby_08 small













Thank you for sending these examples in to share Bev. You certainly use digital tools in a very painterly way.



Just before I close this Post, I will share with you a new discovery I just made within Photoshop Elements.  Some versions have a facility for elementary ANIMATION using gif files (Guidance on this can be found on the web by typing in “Photoshop Elements 3 Tutorial Animation”) . This may work with later versions also. 

Well! You can see how one thing leads to another! Thanks for viewing this post about digital art.  If it interests you, you can view more in the post ” Landscape options”.  

Cheers,  Julie

Posted by: Julie Duell | December 3, 2008



At the risk of leading you into a highly addictive realm of creativity, I would like to share with you some of the options of altering an image using the computer program “Photoshop Elements”.  If this is new to you, I have a feeling it might be like opening up a real surprise packet! I have an older version of Photoshop (no. 3) and use it in conjunction with a Wacom tablet and pen which allow me to draw and paint with infinitely more control than using a mouse.  (In fact I would equate drawing with a mouse to something like drawing with a brick by comparison.)

However, if you just wish to scan in an existing photograph or painting, then play with options in the computer,  it is not essential to have the tablet and pen.  My partner, Tony, uses a mouse only and has a wonderful time creating altered images.

We use these sampled options to help visualise the best way to developing a particular painting – trying out rendering, lighting and colour effects, cropping, simplifying. We then print out  our favourite rendition to use as reference to paint from.  

 No doubt everyone will find their own ways to use the Photoshop Elements program and there are other paint programs  that offer similar tools such as & Corel.

The example  I am using in this Post is based on the small painting below which I painted on site at Tallow Beach many years ago.  I would now like to paint a larger work broadly based on this and will use Photoshop to help me decide how best to do it.   My plan is to paint in an atmospheric way using some strong design elements.

Firstly, I scan in a digital photograph of the painting – and here it is…


Next I started to play with it, creating a warmer less fussy version as well. I first altered the colouring on Quickfix and then applied the Cutout tool to simplify the image...


Now – time to play with these two images in various ways…first using the watercolour tool…


Hmmm beautiful,  but a bit busy for what I am after.  I wonder how it would look simplified


or even simplified further!  It’s fun to push the barriers, responding to your own likes and dislikes…


How about a bit of pattern making thrown in using cooler colours – I think this was achieved using a tool called “define edges”…


Then I tried using the Liquifying tool….Mmmmm I feel as though I AM the water – pushing the image around in swirls! This is a very exciting tool. Its like painting the energy in the atmosphere (like Van Gogh!)…



Now it was Tony’s turn to have a go with the liquifying tool.  As you can see, we had a different touch…


There are slider bars for infinite variations with each tool, so to duplicate a result would be very difficult. When you get a result you like, I suggest you save it and then work on another duplicated copy.  That way you can save a number of varied results in a folder to compare next ot each other.

This next one was created using the cross hatch tool…


The next utilises a tool called Pastel…


Then I had fun with ink edges…


and Posterising…another way of creating dark edges


Maybe if I used dark edges and pushed it towards more abstraction…


or even white edges!  How would that look?


Wow! There are so many options!  I can’t believe it! The trouble is, I like too many of them.  It will be so hard to choose which to use as reference to paint from, but I will!

I like this next one (Ocean ripple tool ) – it really captures an ocean whipped up by the wind doesn’t it!


OK – time to try some crazy ones before I finish, just for fun!  I could go on forever and there are other images I want to play with as well!

This next one is mosaic…


and now craqueline…


Now film grain…


and finally, the embossing tool…


That is just a tiny glimpse of just a few of the options available in altering digital images with Photoshop Elements.  No, I am not a sales agent for them, I just fell in love with this amazing program that stretches the imagination.  

Whether you are an artist or not, I think most people would have a wonderful time playing with images (photos or artwork) scanned in and opened with Photoshop!  Just think of the wonderful original cards and images you could make!  In the next Post I will use a few photographs of natural bush patterns and gradually abstract them into designs.  It makes creativity so much easier and I just wanted to share these discoveries with you.

Hoping you have been inspired!



PS Just a tip: some tablet/pen sets may have the Photoshop Elements program included so check before you buy it separately if you intend to get both. I found this out the hard way by buying the program first and then the tablet, ending up with two programs.




Posted by: Julie Duell | October 5, 2008


I now wish to include this short Post covering the creation of a large semi-abstract painting in acrylics. Tony and I ended our tour of Europe with a short stay in Brussells, Belgium.  From our hotel room, I opened the curtains to look down into an incredible DEMOLITION SITE opposite. The site was not visible from the road due to a high metal fence.  No doubt it was making way for one of the incredible glass fronted high rise buildings we saw elsewhere in Brussells (which we loved, by the way, because they reflect the sky).

At first, the sight from the window shocked me – it was so confronting – as though the very soul of this old tenament building had irreverently been laid bare as the outer walls were reduced to rubble.   I could see the character of each room – wallpaper, tiles, remnants of plumbing fixtures and a fireplace on each level connected to the one chimney.  I wondered about the people who had lived there, warming themselves at those fireplaces stacked one above the other – passing each other on those stairs or chatting at the entrance.  I could even imagine that well fed cat basking in the sunshine, perusing the comings and goings – the homeliness was still so evident.


These photos were taken late afternoon and then the following morning.  At ground level I could see the red entrance leading to the stairwell – the marks of the now non-existent stairs clearly visible on the wall.  A tenacious vine was still clinging to the outer wall, hanging on for grim death in the midst of the demolition process.

I can’t really explain why, but my heart went out to this old building and the people it had served for so long.   It was a stark reminder of the transient nature of our physical existence and the personal things that serve us throughout our journey through life.

As if to echo my thoughts in some way, a woman pushing an old lady in a wheelchair appeared below the fenceline, shielded from the messy demolition site beside them.

Here was another metaphor – there seemed to be a connection between the woman in the wheelchair and the old building … life moving on past yesteryear into a new phase. 

I know “constant change is here to stay” but somehow this scene caused me to pause in the process of everyday living, to acknowledge and reflect on the past that has served us well – offering (like this old building) support, shelter and numerous liaisons and lessons … a continuous on-going process.  I don’t know how many of us do this, but I feel it is important to let go with a degree of reverence and acknowledgement when we pass into a new phase.

Anyway, on returning home, I decided to develop a painting from my reference photos of this scene which, aside from its philosphical depth, offered fascinating shapes with which to work.  I decided to treat it as a semi-abstract and enjoy playing with colour. 

Here then are the stages of “IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK!”

First, I sketched lightly with willow charcoal – then washed in shadowed areas with diluted blue acrylic to begin to establish the composition. What wonderful varied shapes and angles to play with!  The eye craves variety and this certainly offers that!

I decided to darken the shape of the fence at the bottom enough to throw interest towards the brighter areas behind.  My strongest compositional tool is dark against light and I know from experience that if the majority of a painting is darkish in tone then the eye will be drawn to the lights.  

Next it was time to establish some of the warm colours and apply them in a balanced relationship to each other.  This is my secondmost important tool in composition – playing warm colour against cool. I also decided to make the fence more interesting by adding folds into the shape.

The aim in these next 2 stages is to get rid of the white of the canvas.  Whilever there is white, all the other colours look fresher than they really are – so to compare and judge how the painting is going, I need to cover the whole surface with suggested tones in light, medium & dark areas.

Ah! That feels better!  Now I can begin to use full bodied paint and play – try things out, standing back often to analyse if each move is improving the painting or not.  This is an instinctive thing and I love this process.  Here I get totally involved, constantly making choices & experimenting.   How much detail?   How does this colour look next to that one? Which area is most interesting and how can I focus on it more.  Play this part up – play that part down.  This is how the artist’s mind functions mid-stream…

After calling it “finished” for some months, I recently took it down from the wall and worked on it some more to prepare it for a current local exhibition where It is offered for sale at $A1500. The painting is on a stretched canvas 75 x 100 cm – light to transport and hang without added framing.   This is very popular in Australian modern decor these days.   I see it is as an advantage for everyone – works can be exhibited this way and anyone in the future can frame to their own taste if they so wish.  It’s all about options. 

I have noticed however that exhibiting an unframed stretched canvas requires a well planned composition that will “hold the eye path” without the containment of a frame.  It also seems to particularly suit abstracts or semi-abstracts such as this one.

I hope you enjoyed sharing this process with me, which is what this blog is all about.

If you would like to share your art experience with others, please contact me via Comments and it might be possible to include it here.

Cheers for now & I wish you well in your life journey.



Posted by: Julie Duell | October 4, 2008




          Above: Acrylic study by Julie of Glengarriff cottages in west Cork.


Hello all & welcome!

In August/Sept. 2007 Tony and I (as 2 recycled teenagers) spent the most wonderful, inspirational visit to Ireland and fell in love with it.  We flew into Dublin and spent lots of time in County Carlow, later travelling by car down to West Cork & the southern most tip of Ireland (Cape Mizen).

As well as some of the artwork it inspired, we would like to share overall impressions with you via our photographs.   

The first thing we noticed, apart from the incredible emerald green (so different from Australia’s colouring)  was the use of stone everywhere in buildings and fences…

Some of the fences were built with a stile to enable humans to climb over, but still keep animals in.  It reminded me of the old rhyme “There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile – He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile!” 

Because of the moist climate, beautiful mosses, lichens & tiny plants grow on rocks everywhere. We found them absolutely enchanting. Nature is so quick to soften and embellish whatever man builds in this charming part of the world…

This natural blend of man-made and natural growth in parts was spectacular – as in these ivy coloured buildings…


In every town we visited from Dublin to Glengarriff, the buildings were painted in bright colours and flowers festooned window boxes and lamp-posts.  The people were as colourful as the towns and always ready for a laugh!  It was truly delightful! 

Above: A small ‘same day’ watercolour impression from memory of Killkenny.

Below: Photos of various wonderfully coloured buildings.





We felt there was a gentleness about Ireland – from the soft misty rain on the mosses to the twittering birds in the hedgerows and generally the unhurried humour of the people.  Some of our happiest hours there were wandering the narrow lanes lined with tall hedges (which act as wildlife corridors), picking blackberries to eat and thistles for the ponies where we were staying. Every now and again a black faced sheep would come to the fence to greet us, and we could glimpse here and there remnants of the ancient roads just wide enough for a donkey cart.


We sampled the trains, starting out with a trip to Dublin on a Sunday with hundreds of footie fans from Waterford. Below is picturesque Kildare Station.


We headed, as usual, for the Art Galleries past the famous statue to Mollie Malone of “Cockles & Mussels” fame. Do you know the song?

and Grafton Street, famous for its buskers…



After a feast of jigs and ballads, we again made for the Gallery – then had to flatten against  building as rain showered down.  Suddenly, from around a corner appeared a laughing procession of colourful people tripping along sharing umbrellas…

This later inspired the painting below:

Other art studies were inspired along the way – this one in pastels from a ‘home coming’ scene glimpsed from the car.  I had to combine my memory of the people & dog with the reference photo taken as we whizzed past. 


I developed the next pastel study from a quick sketch done in an Irish tearoom in Glengarriff…

Then I had fun with this colourful corner in Bantry, exaggerating the quaint nature of the whacky buildings and steep streets…


Tony then did a lovely charcoal sketch of his beautiful grand-daughter…


Below are some small pastel & watercolour studies I did while we were in Carlow. Tony did some lovely ones too but unfortunately forgot to photograph them before they left his hands…


The pattern of sunshine and rain made for great skies the whole time we were there…


So we had a lovely time viewing the country through artistic eyes and weaving in small artworks as we went along.  It really enhanced our appreciation of everything we saw.


Still more surprises lay in store for us during our visit to Ireland…

A heatwave with a day on a sandy beach at Crookhaven with fair Irish skins going lobster pink in the hot sun…


A visit to Garnish Island, in a tiny ferry blown by a strong icy wind – only to find the other side of this beautiful gardened island sheltered and sunny…


Garnish Island is near Glengarriff in West Cork…a sheltered fissure in the coastline where seals bask on the rocks and fishing prevails…

Gorgeous gardens…

Magnificent old castles…


and a walking stick shop in readiness for exploring some of KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK – rich with mosses, ferns and lakes in an old growth forest…


Here, Tony’s grandson spotted a leprochaun or two which he drew for us…



“If you ever go across the sea to Ireland” as the song says, we hope you get to take a jaunting ride at Killarney and maybe even strike a hot enough day to go for a swim!


It truly is a beautiful place!

Thanks for sharing and we would love to hear your stories too.

Julie and Tony








Posted by: Julie Duell | September 24, 2008




Hello & Welcome!

Two artists tripping the world together like “recycled teenagers” – this was a dream come true in 2007 for Tony and I – & especially for me, since I had never been overseas before beyond Australia & N.Z. We spent a wonderful time in Ireland visiting family – then caught a ferry to Fishguard in Wales, train to London and from there on across the Chunnel to join the Eurail in a loop around Europe, staying in Paris, Torino, Florence, Venice, Zurich, Frankfurt, Brussells and London before flying home via Hong Kong.

My partner, Tony and I both loved Ireland (next Post) and Venice best of all and in Venice like countless others,  we fell in love with the picturesque canals reflecting age textured buildings…

the elegant Gondolas handled so ably by the skillful Gondoliers…

 Leisurely pedestrian friendly streets (no cars!) full of aged buildings and history…

 Countless exotic shops full of colourful masks and Venetian glassware…

and of course, afternoon GELATOS!

In VENICE the sounds were different to everywhere else we visited in Europe.  Without the noise and pollution of cars, instead the busy boat traffic conversed through a varied language of muffled toots and horns – from deep authoritative blasts of large liners…

(Above: The “Norwegan Jewel”)

 to high pitched repetitive pip-pips of small vessels – all merging with the swish of water flowing in their wake…

Long balmy evenings saw families emerge from afternoon siestas to dine ‘el fresco’ at the numerous restaurants – the children able to play safely without the dangers of road traffic… though of course if you lived there, all children would need to be taught to swim as early as possible with so many waterways honeycombing the city!

Even bicycles were fairly rare, no doubt due to the number of steps involved in crossing the numerous canal bridges in every shape and size imaginable…

It also greatly surprised us that in a city existing so much at salt-water sea level (sometimes below!) green parks with avenues of huge long established trees formed part of the scene…

Another surprising feature was the somewhat alarming lean on many of the buildings & towers!  We were told that some of the buildings require flotation to combat the sinking!

Naturally there were countless artists displaying their work for the tourists and people the world over would be familiar with many of the images portrayed…

As Tony and I wandered the less ‘touristy’ back streets and narrow lanes of Venice soaking up the atmosphere, we became more and more entranced by the textures of the buildings and hypnotic reflections in the canals – also of course the wonderful shapes of the gondolas, boats & barges.  Literally every corner we turned was “paintable”! It was overwhelming and our cameras and sketch books worked overtime!

I made several attempts at capturing these impressions in paint, but found it difficult to “break new ground” in rendering an individual approach – since these subjects have been painted so often by so many artists throughout history! 

Also, our photographs were so wonderful they were a hard act to follow! For example here are a couple of reflection shots I took that really stand best as photos!  I wouldn’t attempt to paint them because they are so beautiful just as they are – although I did enjoy enhancing them with Photoshop!

Still, I will share with you here my few painting attempts. Tony did rough sketches but hasn’t developed them yet.

First I did a very quick study to begin to “get in the mood” & tune in to the amazing perspective of the canals. which lend themselves to tall paintings. Getting the angles is tricky so I used my “clock method” (pretending that each line begins with the angle created by the hand of a clock – so I ask myself “what time is that angle?”) This method is fully described in the post on perspective. 

My next attempt featured mainly the reflections that fascinated us so much…

Then finally, I tried a favourite semi-abstract approach of mine – bending the lines and playing with the shapes. This at least gave me an individual approach!

   Here is the reference photo I took to work from…

Finally here is my painting of the tiny lane where our apartment was located.  It looked different every day as various coloured clothing was hung out to dry! Incidentally, although in a very old building, our apartment was newly refurbished and very comfortable.

Below is a photo of Tony leaving our apartment…so you can see where the painting is taken from…

Tony has his shopping bag ready for the wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables on a barge in the nearby canal…

So that’s about it from me on Venice.  We feel so privileged to have paid a visit there.  It was absolutely nothing like our preconceptions and was far more captivating and beautiful…also very clean.  The salt water was clear, there was plenty of healthy green weed growing on the pylons and we saw absolutely no rubbish floating in the water.  

We would advise anyone visiting however to explore the back streets away from the crowded tourist areas and our only criticism throughout Italy was the lack of public seating available – so wear old clothes and get used to sitting in the gutter or on any available step!  Hard surfaces (often cobbled) make for tired legs that do need a rest now and again!


Have you any memories or thoughts to share about Venice?  We’d love to hear.

Best wishes to all,

Julie & Tony

Posted by: Julie Duell | August 25, 2008


  There have been a numerous requests for guidance in using WATERCOLOURS and whilst I am by no means an expert in this, I will pass on what I know and have tried, to offer some guidelines.

Why do I say “Watercolour painting is for patient people”?  Well unless you buy heavy 300 gsm paper you have to go through the stretching process, preparing a day in advance. You also need to plan your painting and sketch it in very lightly and accurately in pencil with minimal disturbance to the paper (yes, I mean rubbing out!) The exception to this would be if you were doing wet in wet accidental type paintings with no drawing.  Generally you have to wait for each wash to dry before continuing to paint. (You may find it is good to work on 2 or 3 paintings along together to avoid being idle while you are waiting, or use a hairdryer.)

 You need to be pristine clean, with 2 water tubs – 1 for adding to the paint (distilled preferably) and another for washing your brushes. If you are concerned about maintaining the acid free quality of your paper, you should only handle it with gloves and wear them while you are working.  Adding clean water to a wash can be done with an eyedropper to avoid sullying the water as you might if transferring it with a brush.

Finally, when you have completed your beautiful translucent masterpiece, it will need very special framing.   Watercolours need to go behind glass, with a mount so that the painting does not touch the glass.  Also a waterproof backing is needed.  This is to prevent mildew over the years.

Now I’m not trying to put you off, because there is nothing so beautiful as a well executed watercolour painting – but you need to have the right temperament to handle all this. Personally, I haven’t – although I have tried to give you a few demonstrations below. OK so lets get into it…

                     Various water based paints have different qualities, such as:

Acrylic – which is no longer water soluble when dry and comes in transparent, opaque and fluorescent varieties.

Gouache – which is opaque water based paint, water soluble when dry – much like the early poster paints.

There is even a range of water soluble “oils” available these days.

Watercolour pencils which give drawn lines or shading, but can form a ‘paint’ when wetted with water via a brush

and lastly, PURE WATERCOLOURS – which will be the subject of this Post.

The term “Watercolour” usually relates to pure finely ground water soluble pigments, used on special Watercolour paper and without the use of white…the transparency of the paint allowing the white of the paper to glow through instead.  Occasionally, some artists use a small amount of white (called Chinese white) but the purist approach is not to use any.

Watercolour paints come in tubes and in pans…see illustration.  A Palette needs to have dishes for mixing different coloured washes before applying.  If I were using the tubes, I would put out the colours needed in the small hollows and mix washes from them in the large ones by taking a little paint across and adding water.

Brushes need to be soft (usually synthetic these days) and hold plenty of paint.  The larger the painting, the bigger the brushes needed – although some small ones for detail re always necessary.  Large “mop-like” round ferrule brushes are best for big washes – always care for them by pointing them up after washing & blotting dry.

When you buy watercolour brushes, some come pointed up with a soluble glue in the bristles to keep them in shape. You need to thoroughly wash out that glue before use.  Should your brushes need it from time to time, a wash in hair shampoo and then conditioner can restore them.   Another tip is to dry them flat to avoid water running down and being trapped in the ferrule. This can rot the wooden end of the handle over time.

There are also watercolour pencils available which offer a drawn line to a “paint” when wetted.  These are handy for small travelling  studies.

The little stack pack of pan colours  looks like the picture below when put away and is also very convenient for travelling.   Some of these come in a box with a palette inside the lid which is even better.  If I think I’ll be using most colours in a block range like the ones below (not in a tube) I spray them with water to begin the softening process – then it is much quicker to work the paint up when I am ready.

Here are the warm and cool layers unscrewed so you can see…

Watercolour papers come in different weights, qualities and textures (rough, medium and smooth). Most are acid free to help avoid mildew in the future.  Anything lighter in weight than 300 gsm needs to be stretched so that it will not buckle when washes are applied – so personally, I only buy 300 gsm.  However if you do need to stretch your paper, here is the procedure…

1.  Soak your paper in water well – many soak it overnight.

2.  Take the paper out, holding it up until it stops dripping – then spread it onto a backing board, smoothing from the centre out with a soft rag.

3.  You need a special gummed tape to secure it (available from Art shops).  Cut 4 lengths to fit your paper.

Take each one at a time and slide through clean water quickly then apply to paper and board.

4. Overlap the paper to form a border and smooth the gum tape out well as you go.

5. When you have finished with the gum tape, be sure to put it away in a plastic bag to store so no moisture will enter and spoil it.

6.  Now your paper needs to dry thoroughly before you start painting.  As it dries it will pull taught as the water evaporates. It is now stretched.

With opaque paints such as acrylic and oils, it is usual to work from dark to light in establishing your composition…however with watercolours it is the other way around.   You need to work from light to dark, preserving the transparent integrity of the washes and avoiding “making mud”…so creeping up on any dark areas is the way to go, leaving them until last.   Thinking tonally is important in all paintings.  Here is what I mean by tone:



Many people are enchanted with watercolour because of “wet in wet” effects…

In the illustration below there is a combination of wet in wet blurred edges in the leaves, wet on dry for the flower petals and stems and a waterproof pen for black detail.   The extra lines around the blossoms are done with watercolour pencils – which are great for detail…

The trick with watercolours is to START WITH THE LIGHTS AND GRADUALLY WORK TOWARDS THE DARKS (The opposite of oils or acrylics as a rule).  In this illustration below, please look at the beautiful transparency in the shadow within and on the side of the boat…that is the beautiful simplicity and purity of Watercolour painting…     

Below is another example of washes, thinly applied – using warm and cool shadows and leaving the light areas clean.

Sometimes it might be useful to use masking so that you can apply washes right across over (in this case, the house shape) and later peel off the mask to reveal white paper.  Mask comes as film frisk in sheet form and masking fluid in a bottle.  The house shapes have been cut out and put down from film frisk and the foliage texture applied with masking fluid here.  You can see where I have removed some of the foliage mask to show the white paper.

Note: It is important to remove masking fluid as soon as practical – if left too long (overnight for instance), it may damage the paper when rubbed to remove.

Below is an example showing a clean roof line contrasted by the darker foliage behind. The roof has a nice “dry brush” edge created with stronger paint/water ratio and a flat brush dragged horizontally to the paper.  Then with a clean brush & water, the colour is softened out away from the roof into the shadowed areas.  It’s all about contrast – you can’t show up light against light can you?

Below is an example of Australian Flannel Flowers where I had to realy concentrate on painting the negative spaces between the flowers to show up the flower shapes, leaving the white petals with minimal paint…the idea of cutting one out and letting it escape over the mount was to give the feeling of growth and freedom instead of being contained in the rectangle.

It might be useful here to show you how I went about painting these wildflowers…

 First, sketch your flowers lightly in pencil.  I would normally sketch much lighter than this, but in order to photograph it I had to go a bit darker…

With a medium round brush and plain clean water wet the areas between and surrounding the flowers, going over the stem areas.

(Many artists used distilled water and wear plastic gloves to keep their work acid free – as most watercolour paper comes acid free. Acid can enter the paper through our fingers, paint and the water used.  The benefit of this is that once framed properly with a mount under glass, the finished painting should resist mildew in years to come.)

Next. mix a wash with plenty of clean water.  Incidentally, always have 2 tubs of water – 1 clean to add to washes and the other only for washing out your brushes.  That will help keep your watercolours clean and pure.

Drop the wash into the wetted areas, tipping the paper to get it to flow into details areas. Please yourself as to what angle you wish to have your paper as you work for different effects.


Keep adding a little more paint until the shapes of the flowers are defined more clearly.

Next, being aware that white flowers are never all white, look for the shadows on the petals and apply these…also some colour to the centre of the main flower.

Flannel Flowers often have darker tips to their petals so my next step was to paint these…

 I must apologise for the discrepancy in photo colouring in this exercise. It is a “sunshine and showers” day and the light in my Studio keeps altering, which affects the camera pickup. In this next stage I have finished defining the flowers, gently creeping up on the darks.  Knowing when to stop with watercolour is the hardest part!  Just try to keep each area as transparent as possible, yet have still have enough definition.

Ah!  The sun has come out!  Now I photograph the finished example in full sunlight for you to see! I have added the stems and leaves with a fine brush.  I think the stems are a bit heavy lookng so I might carefully wet only them and blot gently with a rag to bring back the translucency.  Because watercolours are soluble when dry, you can do this with any area where you have been a bit heavy handed.

OK so I hope that was helpful.  This process could apply to many subjects and with watercolour more than any other medium, I think you really have to be aware of the negative shapes between the objects and contrasts in tone.   Rather than drawn lines, a defining edge is created by different tones meeting.  Even though you may need a light pencil sketch to begin with, it’s good to remove it where you can and just let the paint tell the story.

Here is a simple study for you to try – 5 daisies at different angles. Sketch them in lightly, then create a background wash around the drawn shapes. Let happy accidents stay as part of the effect. This is the first stage.


Next, add some soft shadows to the petals and paint in the flower centres. Then a bit more definition to the foliage.  That’s it!  Don’t overwork it…keep it fresh!


 Just a personal hint re watercolour paper, if you buy heavy weight 300 gsm I can honestly say from experience that is is worth every cent. Not only can you use one side, but if that doesn’t work out – you can use the other as well and there is no need to stretch it.  Then if your second attempt on the side doesn’t work out, you can undercoat the paper with acrylic and use it for an acrylic painting (or if rough texture, even pastels).

The painting below was a demonstration in using a plain candle to rub on textured watercolour paper where I wanted the paint to resist – so in putting a wash over the water and rocks, there remains a broken sparkly efect.    In this painting I used acrylics instead, which can be used as thinly as watercolour or as opaque as you wish.

Next here is a step by step process in creating a simple landscape that I prepared to try to impart some method to you. This example was done on 185 gsm watercolour paper, properly stretched..


Finally, the finished painting…

 One lady emailed asking for a seascape demonstration in watercolour – so here is my effort.  Now I am making this a combination of what to do and what NOT to do in that I am using  185 gsm paper in a pad and not stretching it!  Let’s see what problems it brings and see if I can find a way out… 

Wet the sky area with plain clear water ready to apply a wash. If you don’t do this you may end up with hard edges you don’t want.

I decide to apply a warm wash first to make sure I keep a sunny look…

It looks bright in the pan, but it is so diluted that when I apply it the colour is very soft.

While I have this colour handy, I apply it to the sand area as well, a bit stronger because it is in the foreground and colours are always stronger closer to you.


Oh oh – the paper is buckling somewhat so I put a minimal amount of the wash on the water and rocks to marry up the sky and beach  and try to even out the wet and dry areas on the paper.

Next I mix a purply wash for the sky and apply it gently over the soft orange. The first wash needs to be thoroughly dry before you do this.

Once again, while I have this colour in the pan, I deepen it a bit (I am mixing red and blue together to make the purple) and apply to the headland + define shadows along the water edge.  I have to apologise for photo colour discrepancies once again – the light in my studio is varying on this “sunshine and showers” day.  Where possible I photograph in strong sunlight.

Next I add some blue to the water.   You can see here how the unstretched paper is responding to the varying areas of moisture – not good, but I will keep going and see what I can do to fix it later.

I continue defining, trying to keep the overall transparent.  It’s not easy!  The colours tend to dry paler than they look when applied wet so allowances have to be made for this.

I am nearly there, but the painting lacks life.  With a small brush I add 2 seagulls to add interest. There is a nice airiness in the sky around them – I am pleased with that.

Here is the finished result…probably a bit heavier than it should be in the darks, but that’s my nature – I like drama!

When it was completely dry, I ironed it on the wrong side with a warm iron which reduced the buckling to practically nil. It’s probably not “proper” procedure of course, but this blog is about sharing experiences and helping each other.

Next I tried a wet in wet approach to try to establish the atmosphere of the Australian bush early morning…

australian-bush-1When the above was dry, I then removed some of the wash with a wet sponge & blotter where I wanted tree trunks to be.  After painting in the gum trees in the foreground and loosely suggesting some grasses, I decided to create the focal point of a magpie perched on a stump and another flying away.  I was pleased with the overall atmosphere achieved in this painting.   The pale branches in the soft background were achieved by wetting the paint with a thin stiff brush and then blotting straight away.


Tony also painted a loose watercolour impression of the Australian bush near where we live. He began by sketching in the main tree trunks and applying masking fluid to them.  When the rubber mask was dry, he was then free to paint the background in washes and spatters with a toothbrush.  After that background had dried, he rubbed away the mask and painted the trunks, choosing to contrast most of the cool background colouring with warm colours.  This is an excellent approach for handling a difficult somewhat chaotic and complex subject.


Below is Tony’s next study – a Central Australian scene using strong colours…


Next, here is an arrangment of POPPIES for you to use as reference if you would like to…


Tony and I each had a go at painting this study in watercolours the same day.  We didn’t peek at each other’s work until we finished and were surprised to find we had both ignored the vase and focussed on the flowers only (not because it was gold – we could have painted it any colour we wished, but because we felt the flowers were such free shapes we wanted to keep that free feeling and not put anything with a solid structure in).

We both sketched in the shapes of the flowers with pencil first, then painted the background in washes, avoiding the sketched areas. Here is Tony’s painting.  He didn’t use any masking fluid to retain the white areas and carefully avoided them.


Next, here is my effort.  I approached it the same way as Tony except that I used masking fluid on the white bits, removing it later with a rubber.  I also put masking fluid on the stems so that I could continue my background right across them without cutting in.  The rubber mask is rubbed away with an eraser when the painting is dry. I wanted to keep the lightness in the flowers and so made the white blooms into yellow ones rather than put darker shadows. I like the effect Tony got but it didn’toccur to me to put green/grey shadows. I feel happy that I am getting better at handling watercolours.  It takes practise and a different way of thinking to using opaque paint. You have to be able to draw well or it shows (unless you do abstract I guess) and I love the freshness of the transparent colour don’t you?  




All for now then and once again “Happy Painting”!



Posted by: Julie Duell | August 18, 2008


Hello everyone!

Once again, by popular request, here is a Post about composition and in particular, flower studies.  I don’t profess to be an expert, but there should be something here to think about.

Because of copyright, I am mainly using my own paintings & photos here to illustrate. although Tony has lent one of his.

It’s a strange thing, but most artists when they begin painting flowers, never consider leaving out the vase.  Also, they almost always paint the vase first and then put the flowers in later.   Of course, this is our logical brain at work because in real life, this is what we do isn’t it?  We get a vase out of the cupboard, put water in it and then arrange the flowers.

OK so that’s fine in real life, but if you are going to PAINT flowers, they aren’t going to need water OR a vase are they?  So that’s the first thing to realise – we don’t need to put the vase in.  After all, if you were painting flowers in the wild or in a garden, you wouldn’t be painting them in a vase, would you?

Now with that out of the way, lets have a look at composition…and we must bear in mind that we all have different preferences in what pleases our eye.  Giving thought to various options will help you discover what it is that YOU like!  After all, art is a journey of self discovery and appreciation of everything around us at a deeper level.

                       (Note: Text generally relates to the picture below it)

Now first of all, unless you really want to go for symmetry for some reason…

Having a focal point arranged evenly and in the centre doesn’t leave anywhere for the eye to explore or imagine because everything is fully explained. Our eyes seek VARIETY in shape – not only the shapes of the objects, but of the spaces as well.

Now lets look at some Gerbras in a vase below. The vase colour relates well with the flowers, which is something else to consider in planning overall compositional effects.

We can add some foliage to link up the flowers, add variety to the shapes and group the flowers in a more interesting way by linking some together and overlapping some flowerheads.   Also we can get rid of that hard line suggested as a table edge and soften it into what could be a drape – that will make it unimportant and take away an obstruction as the eye flows up the sides of the vase. The soft shadow of the vase and flowers indicates that the vase is close to a backdrop of wall or similar.  So that has been some improvement, don’t you think?

Still the vase is very much in the centre. Would it be better set to one side a bit? 

Let’s try adding a bit more space on one side and playing the shadow out to the side instead of onto the back wall.  Have a look at the picture below. Do you think it is more interesting this way? 


Hmmm.  I think there is too much space in relation to objects now and as a result, I feel I want to be more intimate with the flower shapes and enjoy them more closely.



I find I can now enjoy the shapes of the flowers and the negative space shapes too – but maybe you like the earlier compositions better(?)


                  POSITIVE & NEGATIVE SHAPES

OK now I hear some of you say “What does she mean by POSITIVE & NEGATIVE SHAPES”?

Well here is a simple example below…


Now to relate this to a flower study, the areas BETWEEN the flower and vase shapes shown in white in the example below are what we call NEGATIVE SHAPES.  The shapes formed by the flowers, vase and shadow are the POSITIVE SHAPES.


Because the logical part of our brain cannot name the negative shapes, it gives them little or no importance in our thinking. When you start observing them through an artist’s eyes, you will see them everywhere and enhance your enjoyment of everything around you!

Why should you bother? Because these negative spaces often take up MORE SPACE on the flat surface of your painting than the so called OBJECTS! Therefore they must be of the UTMOST IMPORTANCE when we compose a picture! 

TIP: Don’t be afraid to let your “objects” touch the sides of the area you are painting in, because that creates really interesting negative shapes, and include the borders of your paper or board (which of course can be any shape you choose: rectangle, square, oval, circle)



Another thing our logical brain doesn’t recognise very much is SHADOWS, which play a very big part in the overall arrangement of light and dark areas. These need to be included VERY MUCH in your analysis of shapes.  In fact, in the picture below the shadows of the green and white flowers & leaves are stronger and darker than the objects that are casting them!  Often however they are softer when the objects are not in a strong light – but they are still VERY important! 

Here are some pictures I just took in my studio of SHADOWS ONLY, caste onto a white board. They make very beautiful flat pattern designs, don’t they? Can you see that the shapes of the shadows (dark) are forming positive shapes, leaving the areas between them (white) as negative shapes?  When you look at those negative shapes, they are all different to one another – giving our eyes much to play with!

  Actually, its good to view your composition reference through a little window cut out of cardboard – or use your camera rectangle to help zero in on the best angle and composition.  Make sure your rectangle is the same ratio you plan to paint on, or be prepared to crop it.

Below is a photo of some lovely Western Australian wildflowers my daughter gave me recently. If I were to paint them, how would I improve on this composition?  I’ll just share my thought process with you in case it is helpful.

Well I would start by moving that vase a bit to one side and eliminating anything detracting – like the place mats and bits and pieces.  Lets do that below…

Hmm. but there is not enough contrast to show the flowers up is thre?

Because these are STRONG bold flower shapes and not delicate, I would consider painting them with a darker background and elinating the vase altogether, like this…

Below are some paintings I did of Proteas previously, choosing to zero in on just the flowers…this next one was done with soft pastels on black paper. (The black areas are the negative shapes.  Are they varied and intersting?)

Here is the same subject again, with a white background, painted in acrylics.  (This time the white areas are the negative shapes.)

We have so many options don’t we?  Its all about choices!


Let the flowers speak to you by imagining them drawn or painted in different ways before you begin –  maybe do some little thumbnail sized studies first.

In this next study, I created a circular ‘sunburst’ design.  I don’t think I needed to have suggested the vase really – after all I could have been looking straight down on the bunch!  There’s that logical interference at work – “What is holdig them up?” my silly brain said…and so I put in the vase!  Still, it is soft enough not to destroy the sunburst effect.  A circle or an oval are terrific ways to contain and hold the eye.  If your paintings aren’t working in their rectangular shape, just try an oval/round mount on them … you’ll be surprised!

I’ll stretch this picture above into an oval, just to see how it looks…

Here is another option – painting the proteas loosely and freely…


or how about a stylised version – going for more a flat patterning of design…


and yet another version, using light outlines for a ‘neon’ look…


However, if your flowers are delicate with petals that show the light through them, you may choose to paint them in something like watercolour, allowing the white of the paper to glow through the washes… below are some old fashioned dog roses from my neighbour’s fence. I got carried away with softly suggested leaf shadows to add variety and a little mystery…

Speaking of roses, here is a tip I was once given for an approach to multi petalled open blooms…

Next I tried painting some white poppies! White flowers are a real challenge!  When you study and paint them, you realise that there are hardly any true whites anywhere!  Instead, there are many subtle shadows on the petals.   I remember an early study in my college years was to paint an all white study – a white jug, cup and saucer on a white cloth!  I learned so much from that exercise about tone and form.

With these white poppies (painted in acrylics) I decided to allow the background colour to come into the shadows on the petals as a means of unifying the painting.  Not wanting to bring in an new alien colour for the vase, I just utilised the greens already present in the leaves.  The secret here in keeping the composition interesting was to choose 3 or 4 blooms for the main focal point and play down all the rest.  If they were all of equal importance, then the painting would be boring and there would be nothing left suggested.

Below is a bunch of colourful poppies dancing across the page –  this time treated with transparent watercolour (Note: no vase!)  Don’t worry about finishing the stems – just let them fade away or disappear into the cluster.

Here is another of Poppies in watercolour – Tony and I both had a go at painting them one afternoon recently… here is Tony’s finished work:


Now here is my effort.  I used masking fluid on the stems and white parts, rubbing it off after the painting was day.  Tony avoide his white areas carefully while painting and didn’t use any mask.  You can see more about these 2 paintings on Post No. 36 (watercolours).


 There can be 2 light sources with something translucent like flower petals – one shining on the form and another from behind it. A sunny walk in a garden will soon point up the difference.  If the light is shining THROUGH the petals, you will need to paint it thinly whereas light falling ON the petals can be painted more opaquely.

 Sometimes it is nice to experiment with strong design and play with shapes, as I did with these pointsettias below.  This is an area the fabric designers explore fully, playing freely with the shapes and not worrying about photographic realism.  I am actually fairly new to this and Tony has awakened me to a new level of awareness in this area. Thanks Tony!  Lots more to explore in this way of seeing!


In the painting below (acrylics) I decided to barely suggest the vase. It is a study of Singapore Orchids, brought to me fresh from Singapore by Adrian one Christmas!  I tried to create a feeling of life and movement with a suggested “cartwheel” within the shapes. Did it work?

At other times, its nice to experiment with different materials. Here I have used gold paint patterning on the vase and table and strong design in the treatment of these mermaid roses below…

Because the flowers were all clustered at the top, I balanced the light shapes by adding a few fallen petals on the table – so there’s another trick you can use!  Either petals, or a bloom laying on the table would work and relax a study that may be too ‘tight’.


                             BE THE BOSS!  EXPERIMENT!







Posted by: Julie Duell | August 17, 2008



It has become apparent from online painting lessons being requested that a post covering glazing and also misting effects is needed.

                          Let’s first look at GLAZING:

Glazing in this instance is another term for thin washes of transparent paint, mixed either with appropriate solvents or Retouching Varnish (if using oils).

Sometimes we might finish a painting only to find it is not quite what we hoped for – colourwise – maybe it is too cold, too dull or the colours don’t relate to one another as a whole.   This can often be helped by putting a thin wash over the entire painting (or parts of it if you wish) using transparent paint.  Not only does this unify the painting’ s overall colouring but it can brighten or subdue as needed.

Oil paints are best for this, although you can glaze with acrylics, but not as effectively in my opinion.  Both oils and acrylics come in transparent and opaque colours and all of course are transparent to a degree when you thin them down with the appropriate medium.  Here are my favourite transparent oil colours suitable to glaze with, along with directions…

Here is a painting lacking in warmth and needing a little “sunshine” washed into it.  The painting is largely blueish so I will glaze using the complementary opposite to blue on the colour wheel, which is orange.

I am going to apply a soft orange glaze with a brush first to the left hand side and will use a mixture of Indian Yellow and Crimson Alizarin oil paints, diluted with Retouching Varnish. Can you see how it is bringing this little painting to life?   

As well as providing a protective finish,  Retouching Varnish gives a sheen to the paint, bringing up any flat areas and enriching the darker colours.  It is, to my knowledge, the only varnish safe to use on oil paintings prior to 6 months after their completion.  This is because it is turpentine based and allows the paint to cure by drying out through it.  It is best to apply this varnish with plenty of ventilation to avoid inhaling.

Next I take the glaze right across, covering the entire painting evenly, then with a soft rag, wipe back some of the cream highlights. Because the glaze takes about a half to 1 hour to dry thoroughly, I can remove some of it with a rag before it dries if I have have overdone the effect.  Some people apply the glaze with a rag, rubbing it in a circular action all over – but I prefer to use a soft brush, only using the rag for any removal.  Here is the painting fully glazed…

Now here is a picture showing the painting before and after glazing.  You be the judge.  Has glazing improved it? I would love to hear what you think! 


This painting needed brightening up, but supposing you have the opposite problem – a painting that is too bright or strong in colour.  If you take the main colouring in the painting as a guide, you can then SUBDUE it with a glaze using its complementary opposite colour on the colour wheel.  There is much about mixing and using colours in Post 11, but here is a basic colour wheel to see here…

                  Next, lets look at MISTING effects…

Misting in this instance is like glazing, except with opaque colour instead of transparent, mixed with a little Retouching Varnish.

Sometimes as artists, we would like to soften and fade back distance in landscapes or play down parts of a painting so as to draw attention to focal points.  This can be done by misting.   First, here is one of my paintings in oils which has an effect of broken light in a bushland setting – to give you an idea of what I mean…

The foliage behind the trunks has been misted softly and rays of light added for drama.

How was it done?  Well here is an example…the oil painting below I had discarded as a failure, being too dark and lacking in atmosphereI decided to do what I could to save it by “rolling in the mist” and maybe some shafts of light.

First, I prepared a mix of 2 oil paints – white + indigo (a dark cool grey). I also had handy some Retouching Varnish and a soft rag.  You can apply this method over oils or acrylic so long as they are dry to the touch.

There are many different greys you can use – you need to choose whether you want warm or cool grey and just how pale to mix it for your particular painting – I do suggest however that if you mix a grey with just black and white, add a little colour into it so that it doesn’t have a ‘dead’ look.  The warmer the grey, the more dusty or sunlit it will look.  Cooler greys suggest mist or smoke.


Can you see the soft grey at the right, which has been mixed from the 2 at left? That is the grey I will pick up on a rag to apply over the painting. I like to mix with a painting knife for a clean mix and easy wipe clean.

First dampening a small part of the rag with Retouching Varnish, I put my finger behind that part and rub it into the grey mix on the palette and begin applying it to the painting, starting at the top right hand corner…

Working my way down & picking up more paint mixed with Retouch Varnish as needed, I begin to create an effect of shafts of light as well as overall mist, by stroking with the rag at an angle… 

I continue over the rest of the painting, heartened by the effect being achieved!

I realise that I’ve now overdone it and too much detail has been lost in the mist – so taking a clean dry part of the rag, I rub to remove some of the pale grey – still working at the same angle. If I need to take more off, I moisten the rag with clear retouch varnish only and rub.

I have seen an opportunity to focus on patches of dappled light as a feature in this painting and build up some softly sunlit areas.  Sometimes we see this effect with early morning mist or with smoke. 


Here is a close up to show the effect, which I have seen all too often in my childhood in my “little home among the gumtrees” (not unlike this one) in the Australian bush.

Ok now lets take a look at the before and after pictures and once again – you be the judge! Did misting improve it?

 By the way, this is a great way to put in a whisp of smoke from a chimney or campfire in a painting or if you use a warm grey, suggest dust rising – for example around the feet of cattle or horses.  I remember one of my classes were thrilled to learn this, as some were painting horses at the time and this meant they could disguise their feet, which they were having a lot of trouble with!  Actually, I’ve seen some marvelous innovations by students to deal with this problem: water splashing up, dust rising, snow and long grass!  Anything rather than learn how to paint their hooves properly!  It has been a great source of amusement to me over the years.  I’m sure in my earlier stages of learning I was guilty of it too!

Below is a diptych I painted in 2007.  It has been on my wall opposite my easy chair so I have looked at it a lot.  Slowly I came to wish it were softer and more mystical with cleaner lines to suit my meditational state when I sit in that chair.   So, after some deliberation – down it came off the wall…


At first I set to and eliminated a fair bit of detail between the trees with a light cream paint.  Then I felt the need to contrast the warm colours with cool and “let the mist roll in” to this Australian bush scene.  It have loved the bush in morning mist so often as a child with the magpies carolling, that I decided that this was the effect I would try to achieve…so here it is:


Ah – now it can go back up on the wall and I know I will feel more peaceful when my eyes wander over this softened image.

Which version do you like best?  After all, we are all different – so lets rejoice in our differences  as we enjoy our growth and embrace all positive change.


How about some overall feedback from you? Do you like these effects? Are they useful to you?

I have found them invaluable over many years, both when using oils and acrylics. It’s a great way to achieve atmosphere in paintings.

All for now and Happy Painting to you all!  Don’t forget, feedback and suggestions are very welcome, as this is all in the spirit of free sharing.





Posted by: Julie Duell | July 19, 2008


Hello All!    

With school holidays upon us, Tony turned up with a small old screen he had been given and asked if I would like to join him in involving the grandchildren in some simple printing with it.  (Tony taught screen printing in Coffs Harbour for many years at the Jetty High School. He later instigated the printing of shift lengths by Aboriginal ladies in the area, as part of a series of craft workshops.)   

When Amelia and Julia came for our screen printing session, we each made a different design which we could print onto plain white cotton pillow slips which I had first washed, dried and ironed so as to accept the dye well.

Here is the equipment we used – we only had one screen so had to clean it in between colours… so 1 screen, 1 squeegie, primary colours of red, yellow and blue fabric screen printing dyes, (+ a transparent “white” for diluting a colour to a pastel tint), newsprint, rags & sponges + a bucket of water for cleanup. The second in the picture is just to rest the screen on once it is inked up so that it doesn’t touch the table in between prints.

Now let’s have a closer look at …

You need to hold the squeegie at a 45 degree angle in the direction you are going when you print.  Usually, you first come towards you in one sweep, then making sure there is enough ink right along the rubber edge towards the mesh, sweep it back way from you – as Amelia is doing in the picture below. It helps to have someone hold the screen steady as you need to press firmly and evenly as you glide it from end to end.

There are many ways to make stencils.  This is an easy one, using newsprint (which we used to call “Butcher’s paper”). Here is the first step…

 Now the second step…(You may need to hold the paper up to the light to see where the lines are).

You can fold again at any angle you wish…and as many times as you wish before cutting.

Then try out some shapes, cut on the folded parts…remember you are cutting only part of a shape and the rest will be seen when you open it up…

Here is this pattern opened up .. remember we only cut out half a love heart, half a butterfly and a tiny part of the centre star.

                         JULIA’S DESIGN

Next we prepared a padded surface to work on using an old folded blanket with smooth cloth over it.  We put some newspaper on this and laid down the stencil.   Then we placed the screen over the stencil, carefully making sure the design fitted evenly within the mesh area and the edges of the paper overlapped the taped sides so that ink could not leak through on the edges.

This next step is to make the stencil stick to the screen before we print onto our pillow slips – so  Julia chose the colour dye she wanted and loaded it up with a spatula along the length of the squeegie at the end of the screen.


Julia now lifted the squeegie and put it behind the dye – then pulled it towards her pressing down firmly and evenly to spread the dye over the mesh.   It doesn’t matter which way you start, so long as you sweep the squeegie forward and back with plenty of ink.

The dye went through the mesh and stuck the stencil to it everywhere there were no stencil holes.  This is what the screen looked like underneath now.

Next it was time for Julia to print onto her pillow case.  Tony helped her with the first pull going one way…

Then Julia went back the other way by herself…

Then she lifted up the screen and there was her print! Perfect!

Julia added a second print like this to her pillow slip, then later a third one in blue between them, so it looked very nice when it was finished.  Both she and Amelia swapped stencils with their middle blue print, for variety.


                   AMELIA’S DESIGN

Next, it was Amelia’s turn…here is her design, cut out the same way as Julia’s but with different shapes.

First sticking the stencil to the screen…

Then printing on her pillow slip…

and here is her lovely print

Here is Amelia’s finished pillow slip, after adding two more prints…the colour was much lighter and softer than my photo recorded.


                           JULIE’S DESIGN

Next it was my turn.   I cut my stencil out with a tiny craft knife, being very careful not to cut my fingers. Sorry – I forgot to photograph it when I first cut it, but here it is after printing – so you can see it just the same.

Here is the stencil stuck to the mesh of the screen…

Here is my first print on my pillow slip…

Then I repeated it alongside…

Next, after cleaning the screen, I mixed a light blue using transparent ink to dilute the colour. Where the blue overlapped the red it formed a third purply colour which is what I had hoped would happen.  I diluted the blue because I didn’t want the places where it overlapped the red to be too dark.

Then I repeated it, turning the stencil around the other way for variation.

The prints need to dry before you print the next colour each time, but it doesn’t take very long usually, especially if you peg them up with air around the fabric and by the time I cleaned the screen and mixed my next ink colour, I could go on printing.

Then more cleaning of the screen while the blue print dried and this time I used yellow – still with the same stencil, hoping that where the yellow overlapped the blue it would make green.  It did! Also where the yellow overlapped the red, it made it more orange. 

I used the yellow twice more and this is my finished design – a very colourful pillow case to have happy dreams on!   Printing a third time in the middle united the 2 sides. 

Now a confession!  I accidentally got a few tiny bits of dye on the material outside of the finished design – so to cover them up, I took a brush and painted some small shapes over them (the little butterfly and petal shapes).  They give more variety by loosening up the pattern, even though the distribution of the dye is not as even in those parts as it is through the screen – but this is not “proper” print technique – its just my way of getting out of a problem!    

You can also draw with fabric laundry markers to add to your design if you like.  I just used one to sign my name in the corner.


                            TONY’S EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN

Tony’s turn now and he decided to use confetti as an experiment!  He sprinkled it down onto heavy paper, then placed the screen over, sweeping the squeegie across with a mixture of orange and green dye to pick up the confetti onto the screen.  Then he printed this…

Tony then took some of the confetti off the screen, added more dye and printed a second one.  I think they are beautiful patterns.  If he had used dark blue it would look like a night sky!

IMPORTANT!  When the dye is quite dry on your fabric design, it needs to be made colour fast by ironing both sides with a fairly hot iron – otherwise it may run when washed.

There are many things you can use for designs. Sometimes we draw around shadows or used pressed leaves like these.

So if you ever have a chance to do some screen printing, have a go – it is fun, a bit messy and a fair bit of work … but worth it!

You can print many, many times from one stencil and repeat prints for curtains, bedspreads & place mats etc. look beautiful!

But maybe you would just like to print ONE Tee-shirt and that’s OK too!

We all enjoyed our day of printing very much.  It brought back memories for me of hand making my own edition of 500 children’s books in 1985 using Riso Print Gocco methods, which are quite different and much more sophisticated.  As well as the books, I printed lots of Tee shirts (see examples below) using a squeegie and fabric dye just as we did above- but the finely detailed screens were developed using carbon melted by strong light.  Tony said he has done a similar thing, using sunlight! 

Did you enjoy our introduction to fabric printing? Don’t forget, if you have any questions, please ask in the Comments box below and we will try to help.



Posted by: Julie Duell | July 4, 2008


Hi Everyone!

You could take this as a warning… ‘BEWARE OF BEING BITTEN BY THE POTTERY BUG!”

It happened to me back in the early 1990s and I was well and truly hooked!  I had worked on flat surfaces painting and drawing for so many years and something inside me just HAD to go 3 DIMENSIONAL to see what could be expressed in wonderful, mouldable  CLAY.  I simply fell in love with the very feel of it in my hands and the endless possibilities it opened up and it became addictive! This addiction is commonly referred to as “the Pottery bug!”

This in turn led to huge changes on the home front, with every available space taken up with clay, glaze buckets and a large assortment of equipment – all very messy and every spare moment spent playing with clay!  That is why I say “BEWARE!”

Amazingly, this is yet another area where my partner Tony and I share a similar background. Tony taught pottery & ceramics at Coffs Harbour TAFE College for many years – and whilst we both now have it “out of our system” we enjoy comparing notes about problem solving in working with clay etc.

 I experienced a short course in basic pottery at Joan Rogers’ Chillamurra Gardens Studio at Terrigal around 1980 so I learned how to knead the clay to get any air out, how thick it could be without exploding in the kiln and preliminaries of wheel throwing. We also were introdued to lovely things like paper-making and candlecraft there…but then I returned to painting and put these pursuits aside for a long time.

However the urge to create in clay was always there in the background and then it grew and grew until I simply had to embrace it around 1990!  I first tried some material that one can harden in an ordinary oven – but it was difficult to work, very expensive, unsatisfactory for my need to work a bit larger and not ‘the real thing’ straight from nature!

Next, I bought some earthenware and raku clay, a small turntable + a few pottery tools and began making figurines which I had to carry, leather-hard, to a local Potter to have fired in her kiln.   Here is my model of “Wendy the Potter” who was kind enough to fire them for me at Copacabana until I got my own kiln – plus a few example of early hand built work …

After operating this way for about 18 months, my late husband, John announced it was time I had my own kiln! This was very exciting and we first tested our marriage by assembling and erecting a kiln shed together (if you have every tried putting together one of these tin sheds you will know what I mean!).  Hardly any screw holes lined up so it really tried our patience!

When the shed was finally up on a concrete slab and all ready, we acquired a 2nd hand 8 cubic ft. top loader gas kiln, burner and gas bottles.  I was so excited!  However I knew absolutely nothing about firing kilns and books didn’t seem to offer much because each kiln is different.  I had a list of temperatures for different clays & glazes and some little cones that would melt at various temps. These had to be placed so as to be seen through the spy hole.

This is when my friend Jan came to the rescue!  She had a Pottery nearby and taught me so much about firing kilns, I can’t thank her enough!  She stressed the slow and even rate of rise in temperature needed for raw clay.

Every kiln has its own personality and we certainly had a lot of adventures experimenting – especially the first year!   John was wonderful with innovation.  Because I didn’t have a smaller electric kiln at that time (though I later acquired one for preliminary bisque firing), I was determined to succeed with once only raw firing – but the temperature would surge and crack things when we went from the small pilot burner to the main one.  John solved this by installing a second pilot burner – then we could get a steady rise that would allow moisture to leave the clay before going too high in temperature.  I mention this in case it helps anyone else.  Here are John and I attending a stoneware reduction firing!  We did this rarely however and mostly settled into raw earthenware one only firings. 

I now began to feel like a real potter!  Seagal Studio at MacMasters Beach was now a Pottery! Not until you handle the whole process from start to finish can you really call yourself a potter, I’m told. 

 Well we certainly qualified & I include John because with 12 to 14 hour firings in a kiln needing manual adjustment about every 1/4 hour, it is quite a commitment. Dear John used to get up in the early hours on a winter’s morning and start off the firing for me and I would bring him down a hot breakfast, finding him huddled in the corner of the kiln shed with a beanie down over his nose!  The shed was cold and draughty early on as we had it set up on loose bricks to allow plenty of ventilation (safety factor when using gas).

Along with raw fired figurines, I occasionally bisqued a load of stoneware and experimented with hand mixed glazes.  The Pottery was now bulging with blocks of various clays, buckets of glazes, recipes and many unusual ingredients.  I didn’t use anything containing lead or barium, which are very toxic – but no doubt there were health risks involved in creating one’s own glazes and I would advise anyone to be ultra careful if you do.  One tip is never to sweep a pottery area – always vacuum.  Wet glazes can’t be inhaled easily but once dry, they can be. I learned to be very methodical, keep records and label everything carefully.

Loading the kiln with props and shelves was difficult from the top, as I am quite short and could only just reach (almost fell in a few times!) – so John would help load the bottom layer. I was surprised how much the kiln would hold and how much work went into creating one kiln load!  Of course it is different with wheel thrown pottery – much faster than hand-building.   I bought a small wheel to supplement activities and combined hand-building with wheel thrown work…

One idea really took off through my couple of outlets and that was “Aussie” wine decanters. The most popular was in the form of an Australian outback watertank with a wooden tap, snake on top and frog on the side. These stood on lovely little wooden watertank stands which John enjoyed making.   These were raw fired once only, in earthenware, glazed inside.    The second idea was the Dinkum Aussie Waterbag decanter for taking to barbecues etc. but these were difficult to fire and many exploded in the kiln. Here they are…


Everything was a challenge and I put my heart and soul into it, studying books and learning through many a trial and lots of error. There was so much to try!  Throwing 2 pieces to form goblets, matching coffee mug sizes, creating fitted lids, the intricacies of making teapots etc., but I never really excelled at wheel throwing and found it very hard on my neck, shoulders and back.  I didn’t take to precision work and always leaned towards making them somehow organic looking where possible. Here are a few pics…the first three are made by impressing actual plants into the soft clay, then hand colouring with glaze before coating with clear glaze.

Then there was a period when I longed to make something more exotic – hence the “genie bottle” series…


I  realised that my strength lay in imaginative hand building and supplied a shop in Brooklyn plus another Party Plan outlet for the next few years with figurines, oil burners and novelty items – even though these were labour intensive. Here are some  examples…


Most were built around newspaper twisted and bound with masking tape as a basis to support the shapes and minimise clay used. With only 1 or 2 small holes or slits in the finished clay sculpture, the paper burns away in the kiln leaving the piece hollow and light.





Often I would be requested to create caricatures of actual sports people in their favourite clothing, usually in some funny predicament – like the golfer who has swung so hard his legs are twisted up and the ball is still there.  

Then the most popular figurines of all – those of humorous fishermen with all sorts of problems!  Since John was a very keen fishermen and our beachfront home was often full of them, the ideas were easy to come by and exaggerate! The Hawkesbury River Oyster and Fishing fraternity became popular subjects too.  For water effect, I used crushed green glass which melted in the kiln. Here are some examples…


Sometimes I would receive orders giving a photo of a fisherman in his favourite gear for a caricature in clay to be made.  My humorous fishermen caught all kinds of things:  giant octopus, stingrays, huge fish, sharks and even a mermaid!  One had a competition with a pelican for his catch and others caught themselves in the tail!  It was such fun making them.



Oyster farmers almost always have a bitser dog on their barges and they love to lead the way up front with the wind in their faces!


As you can imagine, in a house alive with fishermen, practical jokes were popular.  This idea was one of John’s – the famous Aussie meat pie which is often the butt of jokes about what might be in it!   We used to put a few on a plate at a buffet, having first heated up some real tomato sauce on top so that they were steaming.   There were some very surprised looks and lots of laughterHere’s a picture of some of the “Pie Critters”…

Another popular item was our invention of “THE FOUR WISE KOALAS” – based on the well known ‘THREE WISE MONKEYS”… Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil… except that I added a 4th…”Do no evil”!

These items gave rise to a lot of laughter in the shop…

Often, in the midst of filling orders, I would take time out to make something more serious for my own collection – expressing a classical sculptural approach…


Of course, I couldn’t leave my beloved Bush and Forest Sprites out of the act either. You can view them in artform on under “Spriteland”.  Here are some little “Regie Rock Sprite” paperweight “mood barometers”.  Some are turned upside down to show you how they look each way…

Here is one close up…


then the Funny Fungi Family…

and Little Nodding Greenhood, the sleepy Orchid Sprite…

The water effect is melted crushed glass.

 I have a little Fairy Fernery with a small fishpond where I like to tell stories to children, so I made this model of “Yarnie” the Storyteller to help set the scene…  

A helpful hint with hand building – With most clays, you shouldn’t make anything thicker than an adult index finger and this can be difficult.   Instead of the old method of making a model solid – then cutting it in half to hollow out the middle then having to rejoin the halves…make a support out of paper pulled roughly into the shape you want with masking tape and build up the clay over that.  A small hole or two in the bottom allows the paper to burn out during firing.

There are however some clays that can be used thicker, such as paper clay – but the above method saves on the amount of clay used as well as reducing the weight of the finished work – so I think it’s a good one. 

A fun entry that was Highly Commended in the Wyong Festival of Arts many years ago was the “Pigs Party” and I made it after seeing the movie “Babe”…  John built the barn and I filled it with the following…


Orrrr! Don’t you feel sorry for the little one that missed out?

At one stage I felt quite overwhelmed with repetitive orders – so to make things more interesting, each kiln load I made one or two little figures to add to a composite assembly for my home which I named “The Insubstantial Pageant of Life”.   It was fun thinking how each figure would relate to the next, working my way around the composition.  The hands seemed to be the most descriptive part, so I gave them all white gloves to help show what was doing on. Here’s a picture of the overall, mounted on varnished timber with John’s help…

In short, the right hand side depicts people climbing the aspirational ladder (in this case a rope) – notice some will give us a leg up and others will step on us … then at the top there is a trio representing family and success. There is also a naughty child who has spilled some blue paint down onto the people below.  At the left, people are descending a rope and at the bottom they are progressing from left to right once again, completing the cycle.  The poor fellow middle bottom has a dog who is piddling on his boot and paint being dropped on him, but he is quite unaware!  Lastly, the folk in the centre window looking out are the observers of life, not caught up in the cycle of achievement.   Well – that’s the general gist anyway!


Here are a few close ups…




Finally, when John and I left MacMasters Beach, we sold the gas kiln and for a time I enjoyed a scaled down Pottery setup in our new home with just the small electric kiln, bench and wheel.  The last thing I made before selling these things was a FAIRY PALACE which sits on my porch.  It has coloured fairy lights in it – so looks quite beautiful, especially at night.  If you really want to know how I made it in a very tiny kiln, please ask via COMMENTS and I will tell you – but I don’t want to take away from the magic right now…

Here are a few close-ups.  I used anything beautiful I had to embellish it – beads, jewels, crystals, glass figurines etc.


So that’s about it for this Post.  If you have any queries about any of the techiques or firing, please don’t hesitate to ask and I will help if I can.

Yours, three dimensionally this time!


PS. Worth checking: Guide to Pottery – Beth’s Pottery Blog – for lots of information about Potting in all its forms!  It seems from reading Beth’s blog that being “bitten” by the Pottery bug (or going “potty”!) is quite common!  Just thinking about taking raw clay from the earth into one’s hands, moulding it into something useful or imaginative and then completing that earthing process by firing it in your very own mini-volcano is such a magical, timeless thing!  I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world!  How about you? Have you ever been caught in the magical “Pottery net”?  Do tell!

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