Some of my efforts for the 100 day project on Instagram. I  have chosen to do a sketch every day in black and white, or at least monochrome, as I'm easily distracted by colour. 



Ken's dressing gown - pastel on construction paper 




A cormorant drying its wings at Yass River - pilot fountain pen and Sailor ink



Rear end of an elegant sheep - 8B and HB pencils

Is oil painting easier?

Brass jug painted in oil I've used ink, watercolour, collage, pastel and relief printing, and have always heard that oil painting is easier than any of these. But the cleanup, the smell and the waiting time for the paint to dry has always put me off.

On the other hand, the effort and expense of framing artwork made me think oil has a huge advantage once you've finished the painting - and I love the intense colour and the fact that there is no glass between the viewer and the painting. So I decided to give it a go.

I'm taking lessons from local artist Col Nelson.

I get marine plywood from the hardware store, have them cut it to 30 x 40 or 40 x 50 cm, and coat it with two coats of white gesso, sanding each coat when it is dry. I much prefer the board to canvas, as I am used to having a hard surface and I don't like the way canvas bounces when you paint on it. Once you have boards (or canvas) ready to use, there is little preparation, you can jump right in and start painting.

I'm using one of the 30 x 40 boards as a palette, after oiling it before the first use. When I'm finished a painting session I scrape off any big gobs of paint and save them in gladwrap in the freezer. Then I wipe the board with a paper towel and then rub in the remaining paint with the paper towel. This is easy to transport, light and unbreakable.

I don't find the cleanup nearly as difficult as I expected. I do have some 'water mixable' oil paints but even with normal oil paints, the odourless solvent makes it much less smelly than using turps. The cleanup isn't really much worse than cleaning up watercolour, and the paint doesn't go everywhere like pastel dust (though I do seem to get it all over myself and my clothes). I use newspaper, paper towels and rags to clean brushes before washing them in the solvent. The clean solvent is poured off the top into another jar once the paint has settled to the bottom.

And is it easier to use oil than other media? Having a lot of previous experience in drawing and painting definitely helps.There are a few basic techniques, which you can learn from a good teacher, and once you have mastered those I believe it is at least as easy as watercolour - it's just different and the effect you are striving for is very different. It does take some patience as you have to wait for each layer to dry. Many of the techniques are similar to those used for pastel or watercolour - for example, using transparent layers and smudging. The palette knife is a joy to use, and in combination with brushwork can give you a huge range of textures.



Lid stuck on paint tube

brushcleanerThe lid was firmly stuck on one of my tubes of oil paint. I tried using turps and brute strength to get it off but neither worked. In the end I got the lid off by repeated soaking upside down in a jar of 'Incredible Brush Cleaner', by Chroma, and in between soakings scraping away layers of paint with a pointed metal tool (I think it's an etching tool). This stuff also gets old paint out of brushes.

I've also heard that using heat can loosen the paint enough to get the lid off.



Beginning woodcuts

Fish printed in colour on pale orange backgroundI decided to try my hand at woodcuts. I've done a few linocuts and some monoprints and enjoyed the process, and I love the strength of woodcut prints. Here is the process I've worked out so far, by trial and error, reading books and a few blogs.


Do a line drawing on the piece of wood (a very thin piece of plywood). Mark an X in the corner I'm using to register the paper to.

Cut some lines with woodcarving tools - the only one I'm having much luck with so far is the U-shaped one. I also used the Dremel moto tool.

These are the lines that will stay white.

Mix some ink on a plate, scoop it onto a sheet of glass and flatten it with the palette knife. (If I want to avoid some of the cleanup I use acetate instead of glass and throw it away).

Roll the brayer in the ink and roll it onto the wood.

fish in white lines on pale orange background

Place the paper on top of the wood, with the corner of the paper matching up to the corner with the X on it. (Some papers seem to take the print better if they are lightly sprayed with water first).

Place a piece of acetate over the paper. This is if the paper is getting roughed up by the rubbing of the baren.

Use a baren to rub over the print.

Pull up the print.

Cut the shape of the fish out of a piece of acetate, lay it over the wood and roll ink onto the wood. I used baking paper but it stuck to everything and tore so acetate or something similar would work better.

Two woodcuts of fish with the fish shape cut out of paper

Remove the acetate and only the fish shape has ink on it.

In this case I rolled two colours on the brayer without mixing them so it gave a rainbow effect. I used a fair bit of transparent ink mixed into these inks.

Two woodcuts and the prints made from them

Lay the print over the wood, another sheet of acetate on top and then rub it with the baren.

I wanted to save the fish shape but cut it out in order to print only the background for the next layer.

Drill some holes to let the scrollsaw blade through, and then use the scrollsaw to cut out the fish and to round off one edge of the wood. Cutting off the part you don't want to print can save a lot of work with the woodcarving tools.

The fish shape cut out of the sheet of wood by the scroll saw

Ink up the wood and print the next layer.

The wood with the cutout and the print made from it

Since I had saved the fish shape (except for the fins), I did some prints of it as well.


Here is a print that I finished off with some ink and crayon.

Orange fish on green background embellished with yellow crayon and brown ink

Tools and materials

Paper (Hahnemuhle, lightweight for hand printing)


Dinner plate to mix ink


Sheet of glass to roll out ink with brayer


Ink (in this case I used Derivan water based block inks for easy cleanup)

Scroll saw


Dremel moto tool

Woodcarving tools

Pen, crayons

From ink drawing to digital with Painter X3

three elephants in a mini minorThis is my first image created with Painter X3 (after trying Painter Lite for a day I decided it was exactly what I need and upgraded). I hope some of the things I learned will help you if you are trying to turn an ink drawing (on real paper!) into a digital drawing with Painter X3 or Painter Lite.

Scanner settings

Scanning the ink drawing

Firstly, I had to find the correct settings for scanning my ink drawing. This is what I came up with. The drawings were done with Noodlers ink on Artistico Fabriano smooth paper, which is off-white. I scanned them as grayscale images at 300 dpi. I turned off all the auto settings, particularly auto tone.

Scanner settings

I adjusted the curves slightly, and used the eyedropper for the white end to select the paper colour as 'white'.

I saved the scan as a TIFF file (an uncompressed format).

Adding color in Corel Painter X3

I opened the TIFF file in Painter X3 and saved as a RIFF (Painter) file format.

In Painter X3, I struggled for ages because when I tried to paint, nothing happened. Finally I found a video with tips for this problem (I think it was because the default paper for a new image seems to be watercolour, which only accepts watercolour brushes).

Anyway, once I sorted that out it was fairly easy to do the colouring. The main thing is to get the drawing off the canvas (Select All, Copy, and Paste onto a new layer). You then have two options:

  • Set the new layer's mode to Multiply, and put it at the top of all the layers. Hide the canvas layer or clear it, OR
  • Create another layer and use the brush or pencil tool to trace the drawing on this layer, then hide the original drawing. Make sure you use expressive lines on the new drawing.
Painter X3 screens


Links to useful videos and tutorials about Corel Painter X3 and Intuos Tablet

Here are some videos and tutorials I've found useful:

Here's the video, by Aaron Rutten: Painter X3 Help did not give me any clues about this problem, by the way.

Here is another blog with FAQs, from Karen Bonaker Art: there are apparently dozens of reasons why you can't paint on a layer. These FAQs are really helpful:

Painter X3 screens

Skip Allen publishes a blog about using Corel Painter, and has a YouTube channel. He has an excellent video about why you can't paint on a layer.

Mouse and Egg - Using Painter Lite


Mouse and Egg line drawingHere's my first experiment with Corel Painter Lite. Very wobbly! The scanned drawing was on the first layer, and I drew over it with the 'thick and thin pen' tool, with brown ink, then hid the original drawing. It's quite difficult drawing with the stylus but I'm sure I can get used to it – although it's too small, only 10 x 15 cm drawing surface.

The main thing is that the lines do look like a pen and ink drawing – fading in and out and with varying line width – and they're the colour I want them to be. I already like the effect better than anything I've done with photo editing or vector illustration tools.

Mouse and Egg in front of a bush

I inserted a grass texture, and a photo of a bush. I had already coloured Mouse and Egg (there's a Lasso tool in Photoshop Elements and the Pen tool in Photoshop for selecting part of an image).

Which digital painting software to use


section of paintingI've been delving into digital painting, and have come across some useful information while reading and talking to friends about the best software tools. I hadn't realised that Photoshop and Paintshop Pro are really only meant for photo editing, and are not so great for digital painting and drawing. I also spent a fair bit of time and effort trying to draw in Illustrator (see my previous blogs). Illustrator wasn't doing what I wanted either. I've tried scanning drawings and then using photo editing tools (see my previous posts) - also not very successful.

Here's what I found out.

Paint Tool SAI II gets good reviews but the documentation is in Japanese.

Corel Painter is highly recommended but a big learning curve.

Corel Painter Lite is recommended for people beginning digital painting, fine artists and students, because it doesn't have an overwhelming number of options and might actually have enough for your needs. There's a helpful review on and another one on PC World.

Corel Painter and Painter Lite are compatible with Photoshop and Photoshop Essentials.

I also found a useful tip in Digital Painting for the Complete Beginner, by Carlyn Beccia:

Because CMYK is a smaller color space, you should always paint in RGB and only switch to CMYK when you are ready to pass your work off to an offset printer. Unfortunately, you cannot convert Painter files to CMYK. When you are ready to prepare your Painter files for press, save your files as .PSD and open them in Photoshop.

I already have Photoshop Essentials, and Painter Lite was only $19 (usually $69, and Painter is $199, usually $299 - until May 15) so I decided to try Painter Lite with Photoshop as needed for saving to CMYK. Now I just need a bigger Wacom tablet.

See my next post for my next big learning curve experience.

Painting a backdrop for a model train layout



My first oil painting was an attempt at painting a backdrop for a very short section of rail that our model trains run on while they are being built and tested. The track sits on a desk about 1.5 metres wide and 1 metre deep.

I was quite pleased with the painting but when we put the train in front of it, I realised I'd got the scale completely wrong! The trees were monstrously large.

So, we bought another piece of MDF and cut it to size.

This time I decided to use acrylics as I had watched a video by Tom Lund about how to paint backdrops for model railways and it seemed like an excellent technique. Unfortunately I doubt if you can still get this DVD.

Of course, Tom makes it look easy... it wasn't so easy in practice.

I started with a large tin of the cheapest white tradie's undercoate paint I could buy - $18 for 5 litres. Then another tin of the same cheap brand, tinted to a sky blue - a shade darker than sky colour. Note that Australian skies have a lot of purple in them if you look at the sky above you - take the paint chip outside and check it against the real sky. Then choose a shade darker, because you'll be adding white into it. At the horizon, the sky is more greenish, but you don't need to worry too much about that, just make it lighter. There will be trees in front of that part!

Once the white undercoat had dried, I applied the blue all over with a roller. The roller needs to be one that will make a nice flat, even surface (it needs to be low pile, e.g. 5mm, or a sponge roller).

While the blue was still wet, I took a brush (quite a big one) with more of the white paint, and painted white at the bottom of the panel, gradually blending into the blue about one third of the way up.

Next I started on the clouds, using a stippling technique rather than brushing. The clouds have the whitest, brightest part on the top left (where the sun is shining on them). I used the brush to soften the right side and the bottom of the clouds, blending them into the sky. Tom uses the brush quite softly. His clouds looked much better than mine, I'm sure they improve with practice.

Perspective is very important in a backdrop, and the clouds need to be larger at the top of the panel (these are the ones that are 'closest' to the viewer, overhead) and smaller at the horizon, as those are furthest away.

For the rest of the scene I used regular tube acrylics, with some clear gel medium and water when needed to thin them out.

Next I painted hills at the horizon, to add to the sense of depth. I mixed some green, added some red to dull it down and a bit of blue. This was the furthest hills (look up aerial perspective if you're not familiar with this concept). The closer hills were painted with the same green with no blue added, and with some red and yellow partially mixed in to liven it up. The right side of the hills is darker to give an impression of shadow. I added a few trees (bigger as they come closer). Trees at the very top of hills help to give a sense of distance.

I painted the river using a thin mixture of the colour I used for the closer hills, leaving streaks and areas of blue and white from the underpainting.

Lastly I painted the foreground, with some grass and a few trees, being careful to keep them in scale with the train which would be placed in front of the scene.

The backdrop is not finished - for example, the trees don't have any shading - but for now we will put it up behind the track for a week or so. After observing it for a while we will be able to see where it can be improved.

Sketching at the zoo


giraffe_cl_tallI spent an afternoon at the zoo yesterday. A weekday, and windy with a chance of rain, so very few visitors were there and the animals were relatively frisky. I took a stool - not used, as every place I wanted to sketch from had a wall or (in the case of fairy penguins) I needed to sit on the ground. I used a wirebound, toned gray sketchbook, and a white and a black charcoal pencil. I don't get how charcoal can be white but that's what it says. This is a very quick way to work, because you only have to put down the darks and the lights. The koala got a bit smudgy when it started raining, and I dropped a new sanguine pencil in the giraffe's pen, but otherwise I was very happy with the results. (I told the zookeepers about the pencil so they could get it out before the giraffe eats it). cheetah_cl fairypenguins_cl koala eating gumleaves