One of my favourite places to go sketching is at a fish market. When I’m home in Melbourne this usually means stopping into the gorgeous meat and fish hall of the Queen Victoria market, a 19th century architectural gem that bustles with colour and activity most days of the week(early weekday mornings is best for sketching, before the crowds arrive). On my first day at art school at RMIT our drawing class was marched down here to sketch among the fishmongers and butchers, and I’ve loved it ever since. When I’m abroad I seek out fish markets to paruse, either drawing in situ or buying some fish to paint a study of back in my room(the hotels love it when I do this…). It’s a wonderful insight into the region I’m in, and the variety of piscean delights always amazes me.

Seattle, USA
I lived in Seattle in the mid-90s, and would often go sketching at the Pike Place Market – ducking the sockeye salmon that the sellers would routinely hurl through the air to eachother accross the aisles. I mostly sketched in fine line pen in those days – not a great ‘archival’ brand either apparently, my old sketchbooks are very ‘yellowed’ now. This was a monk fish, which is extremely ferocious looking, and the fishmongers got a great kick out of tying a string to the top jaw which they would jerk when people went in for a closer look…
  
Monk fish
(ink)
Pike Place Market
Seattle
USA
1996

Naples, Italy
The Neopolitan waterfront is wonderful to explore, and on my first visit there in 2001 I stopped into the fish market for a morning to sketch a superb catch of sword fish one of the stalls had freshly procured. I had to bwe quick, these magnificent metre-long fish were quickly carved into steaks and fillets before my eyes. One of the best things about sketching on travels is that it’s an instant ‘ice-breaker’, and I recall chatting in very broken Italian and English with the fishmongers in Naples, a number of whom had family in Melbourne. They were very proud of their ‘pesce spade’. I chose a challenging angle with this first sketch, the distinctive ‘sword’ is foreshortened dramatically.

  
Sword fish
(watercolour)
La Pignasecca
Naples
Italy
2001
  Sword Fish
(watercolour)
La Pignasecca
Naples
Italy
2001
 Sword Fish
(pen&ink with gouache)
La Pignasecca
Naples
Italy
2001

Sinaw, Oman
In 2006 I received a large commission from the Sultan of Oman which involved a month travelling and collecting reference around the country. Although I didn’t go on to produce a larger painting of the Sinaw Fish Souk, this was perhaps my favourite morning of sketching. It’s a small town on the edge of the Arabian desert, and has a large Thursday market that is frequented by Bedouin tribes people. This is the main sketch I did at the fish souk, and the fishmonger was keen to hold up his largest tuna as I drew.
  
Fishmonger and Tuna
(watercolour) 
Sinaw Fish Souk
Oman
2006
  
Fishmonger
(pen&ink) 
Sinaw Fish Souk
Oman
2006
  Joh chatting with the fishmongers, Sinaw.

London, UK
One of the great food markets of the world, Borough Market in London was a regular spot for me to spend a morning. I’d begin with a coffee at Monmouth Coffee Co., before sketching in the towering fruit and vegetable stalls, or the fish and game stands. It’s quite expensive, and so I didn’t do a lot of actual shopping there(a stop at Waitrose on the way home), but I could rarely go past the wild boar sausage stand without a bite, or a Cornish pasty. It’s always very busy too, even early, so these are just ‘thumbnail’ sketches essentially.

  
Dorset crab
(watercolour)
Borough Market
London
UK
2007
  Octopus
(watercolour)
Borough Market
London
UK
2007

Arhüs, Denmark
I’d travelled to Denmark form London for a weekend to see and paint a tallship festival in this beautiful Scandinavian town. Spending most of my time on the waterfront I painted scores of beautiful 19th/early 20th century ships from all over the world, but was also naturally attracted to the fish stalls along the cobbled docks. This magnificent sailfish grabbed my eye, and I filled one and a half pages of my small sketchbook with him. 
  
Sailfish
(watercolour)
Arhus Fish Market
Denmark
2007

Venice, Italy
This ruby red tuna caught my eye in the glorious Venice Fish Market. I visited early one morning, before the local shoppers arrived, and then ducked into a nearby cafe for my morning coffee. The calamari is king in Venice – I still dream of their spaghetti al nero di seppia – squid ink pasta…
  
Tuna, Scampi and Calamari
(watercolour)
Venice Fish Market
Italy
2010
Muscat, Oman
I returned to Oman in mid 2012 whilst researching Arabian horses, and took the opportunity on the last morning to stop by Muscat’s Muttrah Fish Souk. I spent a lot of time sketching and photographing the stalls, but then at one point followed a worker down an alley that let to a dock and a dozen or so fishing boats and frenzied trading activity playing out against the glistening backdrop of Muscat harbour. 
  
Fish on matting
(watercolour)
Muttrah Fish Market
Oman
2012

Hobart, Australia

This small private market is on the beautiful Victoria Dock in Hobart, and is surrounded by the fleet of boats that fish the local waters. Much of Hobart’s Georgian architecture remains in tact on the docks, and amongst other plaudits, this is one of Australia’s most beautiful spots to enjoy fish & chips.
  
Alfonsino, snapper, blue-eyed trevalla and ocean trout. 
(watercolour)
Mures Fish Market
Hobart
Australia 
2015


Sydney, Australia
A trip to Sydney is never complete for me without a sketching trip to the Fish Market, in fact it’s usually my first port of call. The Easter trading to here is legendary, with enormous crowds gathering from 4am to get their hands on the fresh fish that is still traditionally is served on many Australian tables on Good Friday.  

  
Australian Bonito
(watercolour)
Sydney Fish Market
Australia
2013
  
Tuna
(watercolour)
Sydney Fish Market
Australia
2015

Mumbai, India

The Sasson Market in Mumbai is a labyrinth of dark corridors and ramshackle food stalls, selling everything from the locally grown pepper and cinnamon, to buffalo meat, fresh and fragrant tropical fruits and live chickens. Obviously the fish market drew me in, and I spent a morning sketching around the bounty of the local waterways and the Arabian Sea. 
  
Indian Salmon
(watercolour)
Sasson Market
Mumbai
India
2015
  
Prawn sellers, Sasson Market, Mumbai

Melbourne, Australia
I know most of the fishmongers at the Queen Vic Market in Melbourne by their first name these days, so often am I in there sketching. When things get busy and I’m not done I have been known to buy up a swag of local seafood and take it home to the studio – the obvious advantage being that I then get to cook it up afterwards! 
  
Redfish and Mullet
(watercolour)
Queen Victoria Market
Melbourne
2015

  
Salmon
(watercolour)
Queen Victoria Market
Melbourne
2015
  
Queen Vic Market fish still life set-up in my Melbourne studio.
  
Sketching in my studio with my artist friend, Diane Mah. 

  

Fish Still life(Queen Victoria Market)
(watercolour)
2015

  
Prawn and Oyster Still life(Queen Victoria Market)
(watercolour)
2015
  
The feast afterwards! (Betsy particularly interested in the oysters…)

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It’s a bit of a fine-tuned ritual for me, as anyone who knows me will attest – the morning café. I started dabbling in my 20’s, living in Seattle, a morning coffee before I started the painting day, I had an apartment on Lake Washington, and decent local cafe a few minutes stroll away. I’d take my camera and detour along the shore – snap some pics of ducks and geese on the lake en route.

Returning to Melbourne in 2001 it soon became the one regular event of my day, and my retrurn coincided with Melbourne’s emeregence as, in my humble opinion, the good coffee capital of the world. I can say that with some confidence as no matter where I’m travelling in the world I always seek out a cafe in the morning, and while Europe has the most stunning and atmospheric cafès(particularly Paris, Vienna and the entire country of Italy), for pure coffee flavour and excellence – Melbourne is the place.

At the risk of having already alienated 90% of non-Melburnian people reading, here are some sketches and tales from a smattering of cafés I’ve warmed seats in over the years, in no particular order…

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Compañia del Tropico de Cafe y TE
Cordoba, Spain
2008

I learnt a valuable lesson in Cordoba, an obvious one now – for a better coffee in Europe, order what the locals order. The barista did make a cappuchino, my usual drink, when I ordered it, but it wasn’t very good. I listened to these locals early in the morning(the streets buzz late into the night in Spain, but they also get started early which I love) and my second coffee here was a ‘Café con Leche'(coffee with milk), and it was delicious.
The men were obviously long-time regulars, and while I only caught the odd word in their conversations, I enjoyed their animation and running commentary on the local early morning news on the mounted television glowing in the corner.
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The most beautiful water containers in Spanish cafés too, a sketch of a lion-headed porcelain jug in a Madrid cafe.

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Monmouth Coffee Company(view from)
Borough Market
London
United Kingdom
2007

Any Antipodean moving to London soon learns that the only cafés safe to drink at are those owned or run by Australians of New Zealanders.
As it happens the MCC’s main cafe is at the gourmet Mecca of Borough Market, so after you’ve shopped for duck eggs, italian truffles and wild partridge(n.b. I never bought any of these items there, but one could…) I’d settle into this large hole-in-the wall cafe for some beautiful coffee, and a read of the Guardian(Yes, I am ok with being a cliché). It was a regular crowd of Aussies and Kiwis, and gourmand London-types.

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Imperial Hotel Breakfast Room
Delhi
India
2010

Joh and I stayed in some gorgeous hotels in Rajasthan, but when we first landed in India it was a less than auspicious little inn in Old Delhi. And then we discovered the Imperial – one of the great classic hotels of India. We didn’t actually stay there…we’d get a tuk-tuk there every morning and slip into the luxurious 1920’s dining room for breakfast and coffee…Very distinctive coffee in India, a subtle spiciness, which I was never sure was added or just inherent in the local coffee beans.
Mostly wealthy Europans breakfasting here, and Indian business folk. After a couple of coffees I’d leave Joh reading through the papers and explore this hotel’s superb art collection on display around the corridors.

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65 Degrees
309 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Australia
2014

This is perhaps my favourite Melbourne city cafe, originally discovered because it’s open at 6am weekday mornings. The coffee is delicious, they roast it themselves, and the Edwardian era building is a bonus. Mostly a business crowd, and I don’t often sketch there, but I do love leafing through The Age at their counter while it’s still dark outside and sipping 2-3 cappuchino before I get into my city errands.

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Cafe Edison
New York
USA
2013

This was a very nice discovery on my North American trip last year, a cafe quite close to my hotel near Times Square. It was a part of the Hotel Edison, and what it lacked in decent coffee(Classic American diner percolator coffee) it made up for in New York ambience. It’s old-world New York, the ornate interior is a former ballroom(I think that’s the old band stand in the top right). It was quite busy on both visits, a mix of New Yorkers and tourists, and I was seated at the beautiful curved counter both times. The matzo ball soup was amazing!

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Caffe E Panforte
Florence
Italy
2011

This guy was great. Surly as all hell to me and every other guy in there, but he’d have a real spring in his step and a twinkle in his eye with every woman who entered…Cappuchinos were good, but once again it’s the old world elegance and ambience of European cafés that make them so special. This place was right off Piazza Republica, where we were staying last time, and after a walk and a sketch and lots and lots of photos on the beautiful streets of Florence it was lovely to warm up in here with a coffee and a panforte, and a pissed-off glance from this guy.

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Market Square Cafe
Sinaw
Oman
2007

This is a view of a coffee seller from a small cafe in Sinaw, a market town in eastern Oman. A fascinating place, Joh and I stopped in here on our drive south towards Sur, researching for my first commission from the Sultan of Oman. The coffee was strong and very rich, and we also had some delicious fresh fruit juice at the cafe. It was a wonderful place to sit and watch the market, a mix of resident traders and shoppers and gorgeously attired Bedouin men and women in town to stock-up on supplies. I got caught up later in the fish souk doing portraits of the traders, including one particularly proud fishmonger who insisted on holding up a large tuna as I drew him.

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The Gunshop Cafe
Brisbane, Queensland
Australia
2006

This is one of Brisbane’s sensational cafés, located near the bottom end of Boundary Road in Westend. This was our local when Joh and I first met, our first six months together up in Brisvegas. It was a 5 minute walk form Joh’s flat, and weekends in particular I’d be up early and landing us a table(always big queues here), later to be joined by Joh and the weekend papers. It would be 11am before the local newsagent would get an imported copy of the Saturday Age, but these days the iPad app means no waiting(love it when the world bands together to find solutions for first-world problems…)Wonderful food here, the potato and feta hash cakes are legendary.

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Café Sperl
Vienna
Austria
2012

A survey of world cafés would not be complete without a Vienese entry. On my most recent visit in 2012 I visited a number of classic cafes – the bohemian Hawelka Café, imperial Café Central(both below in an earlier entry, ‘A Vienese Sketchbook’), and elegant Café(Hotel) Sacher, but I took a particular liking to Café Sperl, near the main city market. It’s a cavernous, L-shaped interior, with shabby old world furnishings and fixtures, and lovely rich wainscotting along the boothes. I almost had the place to myself the morning I walked there, and enjoyed a delicious
Wiener Melange (Viennese Blend), and a croissant( which any Vienese will tell you was developed in Vienna).

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Café Jorden
Aarhus
Denmark
2007

I visited Aarhus from London in 2007, a weekend tallship festival where I was researching a maritime exhibition I was painting for King Island. It was a lovely Nordic city, all the more atmospheric for the dozens of glorious schooners, barques and clippers in harbour at the time. Cold though, and Café Jorden quickly became my favourite spot to shelter. Thanks to a random ‘bump-into’ of a friend that weekend – one of Lonely Planet’s main Scandinavian writers – I got to know quite a few bars in town too.

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The Wolseley
London
United Kingdom
2006

My years spent in London are why I’m featuring another of their cafés – it’s not an endorsement of the city’s coffee. And certainly not at the Wolseley – better to order tea here at this Picadilly institution. Such a gorgeous venue though, and it was one of the few breakfast spots in London where the black pudding wasn’t that manky supermarket freezer type. Cafe Nero is the ubiquitous cafe chain in England, and while the venues themselves were often in gorgeous Victorian and Edwardian shop fronts, what really kept me coming back was that I perfected how to forge(with watercolour) the red stamps on their loyalty cards…

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Jack and Daisy
Pascoe Vale
Melbourne
2014

And this is my current local. A five minute walk away from home – though these days it’s a 45 minute walk with our dog Betsy, and a table out the front. Fantastic coffee, and delicious breakfasts – we come here often on weekends with friends and they do a roaring trade in the rambling rooms and courtyard.


Well, there’s an even dozen cafés over the last few years, the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’ really. And yes I do spend an hour or two in them every day, but as a painter working from home, it’s often my only human interaction in a day, save for Joh, so getting it right is paramount. I could have added more from every city, and lots more countries – France didn’t even get a look in, and Parisian cafés are amongst my favourites. But considering I could easily dedicate an entire blog to cafés and have no problem filling page after page – be thankful I stopped here…

Rajasthan is like an artist’s dream. Scarcely a day goes by that I’m not browsing through my sketchbooks and photos from my visits there, and frankly it’s all too rarely that I get to paint large studio pieces from my times there.

So it was with much anticipation last month that after almost two years I was able to dedicate myself to completing a watercolour of the horse market that I spent a week or so exploring in 2011 (part of the much larger Nagaur Camel Fair, discussed in an earlier blog entry).

20130605-080342.jpgPhoto of the horse market, Nagaur Camel Fair
Rajasthan
February 2011

During that week I sketched-out a number of possible compositions for paintings, in an A4 layout book that I always carry with me. Over the years I’ve roughed-out thousands of these little thumbnail drawings, only a fraction of which I’ll ever paint, but they’re an important part of the process. They’re a way of storing ideas and problem-solving compositions, and sometimes a colour version is necessary as well

20130605-081342.jpgHorse Market – Rajasthan
Layout sketch
Pencil
8x14cm

Once the composition is decided on, I begin work on the drawing. Before this though I’ve ‘stretched’ my paper(Arches 356gsm medium cold-pressed) onto my drawing board. This traditionally involves wetting the paper, spreading it onto the board and applying special gummed tape to the edges. As the paper and tape dries it is stretched taut like a drum, and allows for water and paint to be applied without buckling the paper. Ideally. However, I’ve never been any good at this…I’ve wasted days and days, and reams of paper attempting, mostly unsuccessfully, to get it right, so these days I cheat – pva glue around the edges of the dry paper and a dozen or so heavy art books placed on the paper while the glue sets in 2 hours…presto!

20130605-082525.jpgI’ve found over the years that the more time I spend on my initial drawing, the easier things will be for me as I’m painting, and so in this case I spent a solid two days drawing a quite detailed outline of the whole piece.

20130605-082758.jpgThe drawing

When time allows, I take a day off after completing the drawing, or half a day, avoiding my studio, and so I return with fresh eyes to adjust any elements that stand out – these are difficult to see after one or two solid days of focusing on the piece. Once the initial drawing is ‘tweaked’, I need to start making decisions about what gets painted last – these elements often need to be masked out, in order to keep the paper white. This isn’t an issue with oil or acrylic painting, but with traditional watercolour where white is only attainable by keeping the paper free of pigment it’s very important.

20130605-122450.jpgDetail after the first wash. Small streaks of masking fluid are used for more delicate areas.

Once the horses were masked – wide-gauge masking tape, with a scalpel to cut around the outline – I washed in the under-colour, in this case a rich golden-magenta combination. The sky is lightest, then darker down towards the foreground. A bit of wet-in-wet here to get that beautiful graduation that’s such a feature of watercolour. Then as layers dry(if I’m in a hurry with aid of a hair dryer) I begin to slowly build-up tone – the trees, canopies, etc.

20130605-121536.jpgAfter day one of washing-in. The scrap paper to the right is my testing ground – I go through at least a dozen per painting…

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Background colour study
I do a small, actual size colour study of the background before tackling the tricky lighting.

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(detail) Background
Once I’ve got my head around how to get the effect I’m after, I tackle the horses and canopies in the left-hand background.

20130605-123004.jpgAt this point I’ve established the basic tonal scheme of the background, and I begin adding detail and colour. Always keeping on the lighter side – much easier to add pigment than subtract in watercolour. I’m almost treating it as three different paintings which I complete in turn – background, middleground and foreground. I’ve begun working on the tent and black goat here.

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(Detail) The goats

I spent a day working on this little patch, the two lovely goats that were pegged near the tent. Again, the white you see is the paper, so I’m careful layering in the colour, leaving an outline of back-lighting around the goats, particularly the spotted one, as well as the white of his face. I tweak little elements all the way, in my reference photos both goats’ faces were hidden from view, but I wanted to show at least one of them, so I lowered the pile of hay the spotted one was munching on.

20130606-084104.jpg(detail)The family

I spend another day working on the family. At the start of the day they’re painted as a solid block of colour, I then begin to model the fabric and faces, giving them depth and texture. I use the two or three base colours that I’ve used from the start, which are mixed in little plastic containers from my tube paints(Art Spectrum watercolour). For the more localised colour(fabrics, etc.) I use one of my Windsor & Newton travel sets of half-pans(solid pigment). The faces are particularly tricky at this scale – the girl’s face is the size of my fingernail – and it’s a prolonged process of adding and subtracting colour to get the highlights right. Pigment is removed with a daub of water and a tissue, while the white’s of her eyes have been very carefully left un-touched from the initial underpaint.

20130606-090119.jpg(detail) The horses de-masked!

Happily my masking worked well here – all too often paint manages to seep through overlapping tape and leave hard-edged ‘stains’ on what should be pristine white areas. Watercolourists can become very good at hiding mistakes – adding elements to cover mishaps, scraping back, and on occasion, even sand-papering the surface. So I’m presented here with my two main horses to meld into the piece, and the first step is to marry them to their surrounds by washing-in their tone and lighting with my original golden and magenta washes(note; this being an intense dusk scene, the uniformity of colouring is more important than a more neutral daylight scene).

20130607-085507.jpg(detail) The white horse, first wash.

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(detail) First wash on the pinto.

At this stage I’ve almost finished the white horse, and I’ve got to carefully paint in the strong lighting on the pinto. He is almost ‘spot lit’ in the scene, the only place where direct sun is hitting. This, almost theatrical, effect is at the heart of this piece, and the strong contrast will draw the eye straight to him, and from there around the scene. All the while I’m tweaking elements, areas and overall tone and colour, important in such a complex composition.
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20130608-093341.jpgThe Horse Market, Rajasthan
watercolour
36x66cm

Some of my favourite outings when I was living in London were my ‘Cathedral days’, when I’d take a well-earned(entirely subjective…) day off from my studio painting, and head to one of England’s many superb cathedrals for a day of sketching and total history-nerd indulgence…There were too many to show all, but here are some highlights…

CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL
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Canterbury Cathedral
pen & wash
18x12cm sketchbook

Canterbury was my first excursion, an hour or so from Victoria Station and I was deep in the heart of Kent. Such a beautiful town, the cathedral rises above the tiled rooftops like a glorious gothic crown, particularly from the vantage point of the numerous medieval town gates, from which I did this sketch above.
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Canterbury Cathedral Cloister
watercolour
18x12cm sketchbook

One of my favourite features of gothic cathedrals are the cloisters. There’s something so beautiful about the combination of ornate stone colonnaded walkways and the lush green lawns they enclose, with often a single tree in the centre – lovely places to sit and sketch, read and write.

ELY CATHEDRAL
I was amused to learn that Ely(pron. ‘eely’) near Cambridge, was so-named for just that reason – it was a fine place to catch eels! For almost as long it’s been famous also for the cathedral known as ‘the ship of the fens’, because it’s visible for miles around the flat landscape of Cambridgeshire.
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Ely Cathedral
watercolour
18x12cm sketchbook

This(above) is a somewhat inelegant view of the main tower, but on a particularly cold September morning my main priority was shelter, and this was the first cafe with any sort of view…
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A photograph of Ely Cathedral’s most celebrated architectural feature, the octagonal ‘lantern’.
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Ely Cathedral
watercolour
45x68cm
(Selected for 2007 Royal Institute of Watercolour Painters’ Annual Exhibition, London)

This was my first success in London’s very established and competitive watercolour exhibition scene, selected to hang in the Royal Institute of Watercolour Painters’ Annual Exhibition in 2007. It was such a thrill to be hanging in an exhibition once home to Turner, De Wint and Cotman watercolours – part of the allure of painting in London is the calibre of painters that have gone before.
I chose an unusual view, the foreground is dominated by a large, shadowy, rather ‘squat’ building, with the sun-lit cathedral looming in the distance.

NORWICH CATHEDRAL

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Ethelbert Gatehouse, Norwich Cathedral
watercolour
22x16cm

Norwich Cathedral has a very distinctive profile, a thin spire issuing from a sturdy Norman tower, but my favourite sketch that day was of the Ethelbert Gatehouse. This is in fact the interior, less showy, façade, but it was lovely nonetheless, and I loved the striped stonework, reminiscent of Tuscan architecture.

LINCOLN CATHEDRAL
I knew Lincoln cathedral primarily through the paintings of Peter deWint, and with these dancing in my head I trekked up to this great northern city.
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Peter deWint
Lincoln Cathedral from the River
watercolour
25x42cm
1834
Private Collection
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Peter deWint
Lincoln Cathedral
watercolour
145.5×120 cm
1841
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
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Not many Londoners would consider doing a day trip to Lincoln – 2 1/2 hours from Kings Cross – but that’s only about one end of Melbourne to the other, and besides – it was all about the Cathedrals on these trips. From the station I got my bearings, and sat down by Brayford Pool to sketch this very famous view.
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Lincoln Cathedral
pen&wash
12x16cm sketchbook

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Lincoln Cathedral
watercolour
72x48cm

Just a few weeks later back in my London studio I began this painting of what I consider the most glorious of all the English cathedrals – The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln.
This is the view from the ramparts of Lincoln Castle, the winter sun is low, the shadows long, and the magnificent western façade of the cathedral – said to emulate the gates of heaven – looms imposingly.
I loved the mosaic of brickwork and tiles and from this vantage point, and the way they – and the cobblestones of Castle Hill – led the eye to the cathedral. To add some human scale I added a man walking his English springer spaniel through the empty streets.
Perhaps it’s obvious just how much deWint’s compositions influenced my own…all I can do is quote my favourite Picasso line – “Good artists copy, great artists steal…”

CHESTER CATHEDRAL
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Nave of the Chester Cathedral
watercolour
25x14cm sketchbook

I visited the lovely Chester Cathedral from Liverpool where I was spending a weekend painting a tall ship festival. I’m so glad I made the side trip, the red sandstone used in construction really gave the building a richness and warmth that was very distinctive.

PETERBOROUGH CATHEDRAL
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Thomas Girtin
Peterborough Cathedral from the West Front
Watercolour
1795
40x27cm
Courtauld Institute of Art
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Peterborough’s distinctive west front was wonderfully depicted by Turner’s great early friend and rival Thomas Girtin – in my opinion it is one of English watercolour’s earliest masterpieces.
When I visited Peterborough in November 2006, two of the three great arches of the facade were entirely covered in scaffolding, and so I heavily cropped my viewpoint, and did this rather spare pen and ink sketch. Inside, the greatest features are the original painted medieval ceiling of the nave, and a lovely example of English fan vaulting in the New Building

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Peterborough Cathedral
pen&wash
22x15cm sketchbook

SALISBURY CATHEDRAL
Certainly one of the most celebrated of England’s great cathedrals, Salisbury is a must for any painter – thanks of course to Constable’s justly legendary depictions of the great spired church. I had a bit more time here, I spent the night, and so saw the cathedral in numerous conditions, light and aspects. What I loved was the ring of fields that still mostly surround this building – I dare say this rural swath in the sizeable city owes it’s continued existence to Constable’s paintings.
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John Constable
Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds
oil on canvas
87x111cm
1823
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
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Salisbury Cathedral
pen & wash
20x24cm sketchbook
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Salisbury Cathedral under Scaffolding
watercolour
26x18cm
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Salisbury Cathedral Coister
pen&wash
14x22cm sketchbook

YORK MINSTER
York Minster was the first great gothic cathedral I ever visited, as a 17 year old on a family holiday to Yorkshire in 1987, and it’s fair to say it left a lasting impression on me. In my mid twenties one of my very first architectural paintings(after years of specialising in wildlife art) was a view of the minster’s superb west front. Years later, while living in London, I took a weekend and visited York again – the great minster was like visiting a very old and dear friend.
It is the largest cathedral in Northern Europe, and is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. I didn’t quite know where to start sketching, I did another simple pen drawing of the towers from a distance, and then this brisk watercolour of the particularly wide nave as the organist warmed up and filled the air with enchanting music.
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York Minster
watercolour
26x18cm sketchbook

DURHAM CATHEDRAL
Once again it was a painter who led me north, this time to Durham, and their great Norman cathedral.
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John Sell Cotman
Durham Cathedral
watercolour
43x33cm
1806
British Museum
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Cotman is one of the giants of British watercolour, and his architectural pieces in particular captivate me. I requested to privately view this watercolour deep in the bowels of the British Museum’s prints & drawings room, in fact I looked through many of his sketchbooks there, a fantastic way to study a great artist’s process.

I undertook a sketch of a similar view of Durham, looking up from the banks of the River Wear, though I may not be so audacious as to attempt a full studio painting of this aspect – Cotman looms too large.
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Durham Cathedral from the River
watercolour
18x26cm sketchbook

Durham is the greatest Norman Cathedral, and the Galilee Chapel within is one of the loveliest spaces in all of England.
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The Galilee Chapel, Durham Cathedral
pen&wash
18x26cm sketchbook

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Durham Cathedral
watercolour
12x24cm

There are lots more cathedrals I visited and sketched in my two years in the UK – the sweet Borough Cathedral right beside my favourite market at London Bridge, St Albans – the only English Cathedral Rembrandt sketched, distinctive Wells in the heart of Somerset, and the exquisite cloisters of Gloucester. Each have their own ancient history and distinctive story, and I thought my self so fortunate being able to explore them, and to follow in the artists footsteps of centuries earlier.

So another successful fortnight up in Sydney, the third time I’ve been the resident artist in the livestock pavilions at the famed Easter Show. I love that I’m always in the thick of it up there – below is a photo of the traffic in front of my table at any given time…

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It’s quite reminiscent of my days in America actually, I’m given a space in the giant room, hang my work as best I can and sit back, await the crowds and hope to sell some paintings. In the States I shared the room with 50-100 other painters, here it’s me and about 500 head of cattle. Less competition from the cattle, but at least the artists, to the best of my knowledge, wouldn’t periodically relieve themselves right in front of my display…

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At the Easter Show though it’s less about selling work off the wall and more getting commissions from farmers, who spend up to a week camping out here with their livestock, with hopes of winning one or more ribbons for their prize bulls or cows, which in turn raises the profile and stature of their stud.
As my early blog entries attest – I really adore painting livestock, and it’s become quite a specialty of mine over the last six or seven years – not surprisingly since my studio was located on that bucolic paradise, King Island.

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Simmental Bull
(watercolour)
36x42cm
Private Collection

How it generally works here at the show is a farmer approaches me about an animal they want painted, and I’ll come over to their stalls and sketch and photograph the animal/s as they request.
Below is a shot of me photographing three superb Charolais’s(two bulls and a cow), which in this case will be a triple portrait as a pair to a similar painting I did for her two years ago(pictured also).

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Charolais Triple Portrait
(watercolour)
50x68cm
Private Collection

When time allows I’ll do a sketch from life also.

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The finished result will be a portrait of one of these superb animals, in the case below a quite formal, full body portrait of Archer, named best Australian Shorthorn this year.

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Archer
(watercolour)
32x47cm

Of course one of the perks of spending two weeks at the show is my lunch breaks, where I get to wander around the grounds grazing on sheeps’ milk feta(practically straight from the ewe…), the fruit and veggies brought in from the districts, and then marvel at the livestock that’s made it’s annual journey from a hundred secluded valleys and plains into the big smoke. And if I’m particularly lucky I get to paint it.

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Jersey Cows, sketched from my table display.
(watercolour)
28x34cm

Well I’ve just returned from a week of painting on King Island with some friends, and it was such a good time that I think I’ll try to make it an annual event! The ingredients are all there – a stunning island with equally dramatic, serene, bucolic and varied scenery, lots of fine local artists with divergent styles and mediums, and to boot – my mother’s family home and her beautiful holiday units AND gallery for showing the work in after all our painting expeditions!

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Badger Box Creek
(watercolour)

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First painting day, Badger Box.

We were lucky to have some beautifully warm weather on the island, and after a swim at YellowRock Beach I did this watercolour of the gleaming white sand and dunes.

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Yellow Rock Beach
(watercolour)

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Back of the Dunes, Yellow Rock
(watercolour)

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Sophie sketching at City of Melbourne Bay
(watercolour)

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Sophie’s lovely oil of City of Melbourne Bay.

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The food of King Island is justly famous – this was one particularly extravagant lunch, locally caught crayfish…

Seal Rocks is one of the most dramatic landscapes on the island, and we all perched on the rugged cliffs and took on the views…

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Seal Rocks
(watercolour)

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Seal Rocks
(watercolour)

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Up on the Slip, Currie Harbour
(watercolour)

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Opening night, putting our week’s work on the wall.
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Diane’s painting of City of Melbourne, watercolour.

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We three visiting artists at the exhibition opening night, Sophie Dunlop, Diane Mah and myself.

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In October, 2005, I traveled to Japan with an exhibition entitled ‘Gondwana’, held at Galerie Konoha, in Tokyo. The work was almost exclusively Australian wildlife paintings, and, in hindsight, was somewhat ‘lost’ in that great mega-city – although I did have success selling a number of my travel paintings from my Japanese wanderings.

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Temple Gate Toshogu Shrine, Nikko
(watercolour)
22x32cm

I spent a couple of days an hour west of Tokyo in Nikko, and was enthralled by the very ornate and colourful 17th century temples that are scattered amidst great cedar trees and the encroaching mountain forests. The effect, to my eyes at least, is that of a great earthly paradise – this is undoubtably one of the most beautiful places on earth.

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Iwaki-san
(watercolour)
15x30cm

I traveled by train around Japan, always a lovely way to get around, and this glorious volcanic mountain was just outside of Aomori, about as far north you can get on the main island of Honshu. This was early one morning, I woke up in my little hotel near the train station, and proceeded to walk an hour or so out of town to get this sweeping view of the fields with ‘Iwaki-san’ looming in the distance. Smoke wafts up from a farmer burning off, and I loved how the peak was ‘capped’ by a sheath of cloud. To the right the top-most leaves of a tree are being warmed by the days first golden rays of sun.

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Hokkaido Sika Deer
(pen and wash)
22x34cm

From Aomori I got a ferry over to Hokkaido, lured there by the expansive wilderness of this near-pristine island. I was a little early in the year to see the superb Steller’s sea eagles that winter there from Siberia, feasting on the returning salmon(much as their close relatives the bald eagles do on the other side of the North Pacific), but there was still plenty of wildlife to see, including this magestic stag Sika deer which I sketched at rest in a wildlife reserve.

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Nijo Castle, Kyoto
(watercolour)
40x60cm

On my return to Australia I took to painting a number of scenes from my trip, getting them ‘out of my system’ as it were. Nijo Castle is one of the great monuments of Japan – I could happily devote an entire exhibition to painting the gardens, profiles, interiors and elegant facades of this heart of Japanese political history. Once again the architecture of Japan is at total harmony with the trees and landscape.

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Diabotsu of Kamakura
(watercolour)
32x26cm

Just south of Tokyo is the coastal city of Kamakura, the 12th century capital of Japan. Once again there’s an astonishing array of temples to be explored, linked through the wooded hills by pilgrimage paths that one of the great pleasures of Japan. At one such temple is this imposing Buddha statue – Diabotsu – which originally stood inside a great hall, but locals gave-up re-building it in the 15th century after it was destroyed(for the umpteenth time) by a typhoon. (This is quite a small watercolour for such an impressive statue, but it’s for a future exhibition in Japan, and visits to many homes over there have me inclined to keep my Japanese paintings modestly sized).

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Photo of my trek up the snow mountains outside of Nagano in 2006

Just a few months after my exhibition I returned to Japan, absolutely intoxicated by the country. I now had some friends in Tokyo and Kyoto, and as well as re-visiting them I explored some new regions, and returned to Hokkaido expressly to see the Steller’s sea eagles I’d missed in my earlier trip(I finally saw some, in the Shiretoko National Park – but am yet to paint them), and to sketch the sublime Japanese cranes.

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Sketching Japanese Cranes in Hokkaido
Photo – Kiyotaka Kamehata & Yuzuru Harako, from their book アサヒヤマ 旭山動物園写真集

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Japanese Cranes, Hokkaido
(watercolour)
12x24cm

It was quite an effort to get to this remote field in southern Hokkaido, a famous viewing spot for the cranes who winter here – but well worth the trek! I spent an afternoon watching the elegant birds flying in and away again, preening and feeding(the same farmer has scattered grain here for the birds for over 40 years), and most enchantingly of all – seeing them sing and dance in their legendary courtship displays – inspiration to Japanese artists through countless centuries.

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Heian Jingu Temple, Kyoto
watercolour
33x44cm

And finally my most recent Japanese painting, completed just a few months ago. This was a beautifully serene temple complex my friends took me to in Kyoto, in the late afternoon as the sun began to glow golden. One day soon I’ll return to Japan with an exhibition of this work, and explore more of the beautiful temples and gardens, national parks and thriving cities of this remarkable country.