Wild Natural Reserve Painting

Wild open space behind our cottage:

Ever wanted to have a wild open space behind your house? We did.

When we first came up to the Transvaal in 1980, from Durban, we stayed in a small village south of Johannesburg. During the time we were there we had temporary accommodation in a cottage at the bottom of Kibbler Park.

Wild natural reserve

A5 watercolour: Cattle grazing area, near the Klip River, Eikenhof. south of Johannesburg.

Wild life at the bottom of the garden:

Beyond the fence, behind the cottage, there was a wide open space where we often took walks. Even though it was set aside as a natural reserve, it wasn’t attended by the parks board or by the Eikenhof municipality. So it was completely wild, with long grass, weeds and wild flowers.

We enjoyed watching the weaver birds busily nesting in the tall reeds and willows bordering the river. Along that section of Klip River, there were so many reeds you couldn’t even see the river or get close to it. You could only hear the water as it passed through the reeds. Been in the wilderness, in all its wild state, it’s so invigorating. Especially for me! I suppose been an artist I see beauty all around me.

I love been in wild places where you feel like no one has been there before. You have the privilege of soaking it all in, without the sound of cars switching by or hooting.

The atmospheric conditions at sunset are truly amazing. You watch the sun go down over the horizon and its rays creating halos on the grass seeds.

If you keep still and absorb the existence of wild life around you, you can hear the bees humming. And if you look closely at the little wild flowers hidden in the thatch grass, you’ll also discover little creatures going about their own lives. Gosh, I really enjoyed showing my children this underworld of activity. How many of us take time out to really observe what is around us, let alone what the ‘little people’ are doing?!

Wild natural reserve

Photo of the grazing area, that I painted from.

Our Eikenhof scene:

One day I went a little further and came across this scene in the photograph. Here the grass was thinned out because it was wintertime and a cattle grazing area, away from the river.

  • Photos don’t really capture the true essence of a scene. And as artists it would drive us mad if we tried to put in every detail we saw in photos, or try to reproduce exactly what God so cleverly created.
  • It is our job then, to translate what we see, according to our observations and abilities. During location fieldwork, our creativity of the scene tends to take on its own presentation. Often it’s because you can’t judge a colour. Because the sun is too bright to evaluate the true shade or tint. Also the wind gives you so much hassles, that you work quickly in your endeavour to work with fluidly.

So as it turns out:

You do your best outdoors, splashing paint on; in the hopes you captured things okay. And then go home to do adjustments where necessary in more favourable light conditions. The results are something else; your interpretation.

To hang how your painting turned out. The whole point of the exercise is to enjoy the outing. Life is to enjoy. And been out in Nature’s cradle is the best part.

If You would like to see other paintings of places I have been to,

  • Check out the ‘Location Adventures’ and ‘Photo Demos’ category, in sidebar of one of the pages on this site.
  • The Road to Drakensburg Gardens, Natal South Africa, tells of the time when I did my first location oil painting and my start of doing location fieldwork.

Are you free to do what you want?

How artists make free time to paint in their busy day:

Most people are tired down by their obligation to duty. They say their day is full of things they must do and everyone has to earn a living. And oh, how they wish they were free to take time out to paint too!

The secret is …you can!

It’s a matter of making time for yourself and getting your act together! If you don’t, someone will find work for you to do for you! Why should they work, when there is a workaholic available?!

Are you free to paint?

Who is making you work so hard? You or someone else?

How do you find time for yourself, you may ask?

Years ago I learnt how to make time for myself. Don’t forget I had five children and a mother is always busy!

  • What I did is take note of my energy levels. When I was feeling fresh and my mind alert, and when I ran out of stream.
  • Choosing when I wanted to paint, I would prepare well ahead of time.
  • When the children were small I would prepare meals and cookies and leave them in the fridge for the family to help themselves whenever they felt hungry.
  • Haw, you say, what about when you have a baby? I painted while the baby was sleeping.
  • So what about housework? If you make up a simple schedule and take note of your priorities, you’ll find things go much smoother. Of cause the right attitude to what you have to do, helps a lot. The secret here is to make up your mind up to enjoy every minute of whatever you are doing.
  • When the family grew older: I was free to paint without interruption when they were at school, at work, or out doing sports.
  • Where possible share activities: whether they are fun activities or doing housework. Tasks go quicker when the workload is shared. Also teamwork builds unity.
  • Get your family and spouse to accept the fact you need time to be creative in. Remember everyone has the right to have their `space’ to achieve their personal aspirations.

What’s more, if you want something bad enough, you’ll make time, no matter the opposition.

Cosmos blow free in the wind.

Photo of cosmos flowers under the trees in the country, north/east of Middleberg, Eastern Transvaal, South Africa.

This charming little place was out in the country north/east of Middleberg in the Eastern Transvaal, South Africa.

The wonder of cosmos:

I don’t think there is a person that doesn’t love cosmos, especially when the flowers grow wild and free in the velt (grasslands). Somehow they give your heart and mind a lift and you feel free and able to do anything you wish… the sky isn’t the limit.

It’s a lovely day you think. The grass and cosmos is waving so freely, to and fro in the breeze, making you feel you could run and roll in the grass, picking cosmos flowers as you go. It feels great to be alive. Isn’t it so! Have you ever felt this way about cosmos?

Cosmos blowing free in the wind.

Watercolour of cosmos flowers blowing free in the wind.

Considering the composition of the cosmos watercolour:

One of the Trolls in painting: is having a wall of trees blocking the view and the entrance into the painting. So I decided to move the trees a little over to the left and give a little more open free space to the right. Not too much, as the trees helped to break the severe contour edge of the background hills. The formation of the tree trunks and the hills is important. They help to form a stabilizing grid factor in the composition.

  1. First I applied liquid masking.
  2. Then I painted the foliage of the trees with sap green.
  3. When the sap green paint was dried, I applied French ultramarine blue to the sky.
  4. I changed the contour of the distant hills so they won’t be so straight.
  5. On with the grass: splashing and dropping different shades of green paint to give it a feeling of freedom.
  6. Rubbing off the masking I filled in the trunks and branches of the trees.
  7. Now to fill in the cosmos: Aaah, this is the exciting part …deciding which are going to be pink and which are going to be white.
  8. I’m always telling people to reduce detail, but in this case the charm of the painting was the detail and flow of flowers and leaves suggesting they are blowing in the wind.

Personally I like to paint cosmos wild, loose and free, not precise stiff little posy pictures. And you, how do you feel about cosmos flowers? Please write a comment and tell me how you like to paint cosmos. And of cause, how you make time to paint!

If you want to see more of my blogs and photo demos click on the following links:

Do you know there are creative trolls in art?

What are creative trolls?

They are devastating faults that stick out like a sore thumb and spoil a painting. They pop out, not from the troll bridge, but stand out prominently in the picture and destroy the balance of the composition. You need to eliminate them before you start painting.

There are three obvious trolls discussed in this blog and how to fix them.

Photo of Magaliesberg, where you can take a leisurely drive through the mountains.

Photo of the Magaliesberg pass on the road to Rustenburg, Transvaal, South Africa.

Can you spot the trolls in the Magaliesberg photo ?

Some years back we took a leisurely drive through the Magaliesberg Mountains on our way to Rustenburg. Coming across this scene we stopped and I hopped out the car and took this photo.

Then I was side tracked by guinea fowl grazing in the velt (grasslands). Guinea fowl are so fascinating with their bright odd-shaped blue heads and their distinctive black and white spotted wing and body feathers.

Photo of guinea fowl you would want to paint.

Photo of guinea fowl grazing in the velt (grasslands).

As you can see, having to zoom in so far, the photo of the guinea fowl didn’t come out so nice. But aren’t the contrast of colours in the photo beautiful?

Whenever I had the chance to see guinea fowl up close, I took photos of them thinking I would paint these guinea fowl in the photo with improved features, in a stunning abstract oil painting. However since then the demand for guinea fowl paintings has sadly diminished!!

By the way, the guinea fowl in the second photo weren’t trolls!

 Getting back on track:

The photo of the Magaliesberg scene …has three creative trolls:

  1. Fences crossing in front of a painting’s composition are a no-no:  Why? Because it blocks the way into the scene of the painting! People want to feel they can enter and stroll into a scene unhampered by fences, walls and closed gates.
  2. Roads and pathways going out of a scene is a no-no: Why? Physiologically: A road going towards the right side, leads the eye out of the painting!
  3. The stark directional power of neat outlines and contour edges of hills and mountains: Notice how the hillside on the left slopes sharply down to the right in the photo, giving the impression of sliding out the picture unhindered. It also causes an in-balance in the composition. That is a NO-NO troll.

So how do you fix that when you paint?

Do you like this watercolour of Magaliesberg?

Watercolour painting of the Magaliesberg, “The old farm road”.

As to the fence or wall going across the composition:

  • You can reduce the length and make a gap in the wall. Don’t show each and every brick and crevice. Change shapes and colour of bricks and add moss and disfigurement.
  • Give the fence an uneven appearance and perspective: Stagger and change the angle and type of poles and posts. Reduce the amount of wires seen.
  • Or remove the fence or wall altogether! This will simplify the composition and give your painting more impact.

 As to roads and paths leading out of the composition:

  • A road or path coming in from the left-side is a good thing. It leads the eye in the composition.
  • To stop the eye wondering out of the painting’s composition, add a tree or something to block the way out of the picture.
  • Give the road a purpose: Redirect the road toward the centre of the composition and towards the main objective, eg: view or house.

As to the sharp slope of a hill or mountain:

  • Tilt the angle of the land, in this case up on the right-hand side of the composition.
  • To balance the composition: Put taller trees or darken the trees’ value, on the right side. This helps to strengthen the composition and blocks the possibility of any eye exiting the picture.
  • Neat clean contour edged along hills and mountains should be broken up with trees or blurred in places, depending on the situation. Another trick is to graduate values and colours with their adjacent areas.

Look forward to hearing from you:

What creative trolls do you have pestering your paintings? Let me know. Maybe I could suggest ‘vanishing cream’ or ‘zap spray’ to get rid of trolls. Ha, ha! No seriously, if you need help with painting compositions, feel free to ask me. Either email me (contact form in left sidebar) or if you are using a mobile device, put in your request in the comment form below.

For more Photo Demos:

See page “Introduction to Photo Demos

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Want to know How to Change Your World?

Why do what people expect of you? Have you ever wanted to do your own thing? You can you know.

Want to know how to change your world?

All it takes at first is to put a smile on your face. Why take life seriously? Frowning only makes you ugly! Opening up your heart and mind, changes your attitude.

Checking the beauty of the world around you:

For starters, what did you find so profound? Did you check the different colours of trees and grass? How blue the sky is. How the clouds ride the sky. How water shimmers and ripples in the wind. And when the sun is setting, the brightness of auras around grass seeds and delicate flowers, etc.

From this experience you will see how the energy of light and colour transforms your attitude, giving you a feeling that you could attempt anything, if you so wished. All you have to do from now on is make time for yourself and put your plans into action.

Artist doing her thing.

People love watching artists doing their thing.

If you’re an artist:

You soon learn that you can’t copy exactly what God so perfectly created. Nor do you want to paint mundane scenes that no one will buy. So what do you do? You suggest reality by translating and transforming what you see into something more dynamic and sensational.

Yeah it’s fun to be an artist. You can play around with facts and theory, and use the power of imagination to change the world into a whole new whimsical world! Isn’t that great?

Emotional impact:

With first impressions, people usually buy things with their senses and emotions, seldom with reasoning. It’s the impact of colours and boldness of shapes that first attracts them. Why, because people like drama, using their imagination and need something to lift their spirits.

You can take a tip from Walt Disney on how to change your world:

His films have a dream like quality. The key influence is simplicity and the emotion of gradation of colour. Flow of movement and contour lines created action. Some of the colours of reality were transformed by the interaction of warm and cool colours. Also Walt Disney films inspired your imagination.

Photo of meander scene.

Photo of a scene in the Natal Midlands Meander.

Looking beyond reality:

I got this photograph of a scene in the Natal Midlands Meander from a friend who recently spent as week there.

Watercolour of meander scene.

Fanciful watercolour impression of the Natal Midlands Meander scene

As you can see I didn’t use the whole of the photo’s content. I couldn’t paint every leaf and blade of glass, so I did my thing and changed the colours to give it a romantic Walt Disney effect.

  1. Changing the colours of the photo on my computer gave me another dimension of the scene. Helped me see the scene from another point of view.
  2. Wanting to keep my colours fresh, I refrained from applying an overall imprimatura as my first wash.
  3. Because I the colours of my highlights to be bright, I used liquid masking.
  4. When the masking was dry, I first applied warm colours: Lilac and violet for the background trees, and yellow grass and gold bushes in the middle-ground.
  5. Once that was done I painted the dark shadow areas of the foliage. And French ultramarine blue for the sky.
  6. The sap green foliage was applied, before adding the colours of the pool.
  7. Rubbing off the masking, I finished off by filling in yellow-green to the highlight spots.
  8. Last of all I propped up the picture some distance away to check what I had achieved.

People who have taken art classes with me have often said I have changed the way they see the world around them. Now that you know how artists see their world, you can take time out too, to look at your world through your own rosy `tinted glasses’?

If you want to see more of how I transform photos into paintings, check out the ‘Photo Demo‘ page and blog category.

Please leave a comment:

How profound is your world? I really want to know if this blog has changed the way you see things, and the way you paint from now on?

Blue Lagoon Seascape

Blue Lagoon:

Fishermen on Blue Lagoon pier

Fishermen on Blue Lagoon pier.

Men and their fishing! My sense of humour may seem wacky to you, but don’t you think the men crowded together on Blue Lagoon’s pier with their fishing rods, makes their profile look rather spiky, like the back of a porcupine?

Don’t get me wrong, I loved fishing when I had the chance years ago. But now that I live in the Transvaal there isn’t the likelihood me going fishing.

Blue Lagoon is situated at the mouth of Umgeni River, just north of Durban central, now part of Durban’s beach front promenade. Since I took the photograph construction work has been done on the pier. Between the parking lot and beach there is an open space where people gather for braai picnics. It seems a popular spot for family and friends to meet, especially in the early evenings. I enjoyed the friendly atmosphere.

Years ago there was a small lagoon and roadhouse where the parking lot is today. People used to paddle, swim and were even baptized there in the lagoon, but over the years the lagoon became stagnate and eventually dried up.

Photograph of Blue Lagoon’s surf:

Blue Lagoon surf

Photo of Blue Lagoon surf.

Since usual seascapes with flat waves aren’t dramatic enough, I thought a close up photo of the rocks at the end of the pier would be more dramatic with waves crashing on the rocks and throwing up spray.

Painting demo:

Watercolour of Blue Lagoon surf.

Watercolour of Blue Lagoon surf.

This is the watercolour painting I did of the photo. And this is how I painted it:

  • Since the watercolour paper I took with me on this trip to Durban was so very thirsty (absorbent) I heavily sprayed my board and wet both sides of my paper well, so that the first wash of paint would result in a soft indistinct blur.
  • The first wash was of light blue, leaving out the white of the foam and spray areas.
  • Then as the paper started drying I commenced filling in the detail. Shaping and defining the waves, and creating frothy edges to foam and spray. That is, adding darker and darker paint as I proceed, until I had just the right effects.
  • I used transparent pigments where possible. Analogous mixtures of ‘thalo’  blue and ‘thalo green for the seawater, and a touch of yellow ochre to make the green water.
  • Soft pink was added to the sky and yellow ochre to where the sand was churned up into the waves and foam.
  • Note the horizon isn’t level in the photo (perhaps a heavy right hand!) and considering the scud running up the slope of the beach, I adjusted the format of the photo somewhat to create a more pleasing composition.

 Horizon levels and timing of photos:

When taking photographs with water, eg: rivers or seascapes, one has always got to remember to check the level of the water or horizon. But if you are excited to get a beautiful shot you often forget to check levels. This especially happens when photographing waves in action. Your timing must be just right (click a little beforehand so when the shutter works) if you want to get the desired effect. Like waiting for a built up swell, that will produce a clear curled wave with foam just beginning to turn over.

More blog links:

If you want to see more paintings and find out more about Blue Lagoon area, check the last category ‘Painting of Beachwood Mangrove’, ie under `Photo Demos’ category listing.

Stream in the Woods

Stream in the woods:

Photo of stream in the woods

Photo stream in the woods.

I enjoyed walking by this stream, down in the valley of the Kendal farm. It’s secluded under wattle trees and willows.  It’s so quiet and peaceful, away from the city with its noisy traffic and towering buildings.

I love trees. Their character is formed by the climate and weather. Some trees are bent and twisted by the wind and some trees stand tall and proud against all elements. Some trees are hit by lightning and some trimmed or chopped down. Some grow wild and carefree. Just as our characters are formed by the circumstances and environments we live in.

When you sit down and soak in the atmosphere of your surroundings and listen to the trickle of the water, as it sparkles in the sun and meanders down and over rocks and moss, it brings peace, hope and joy to the soul.

Watercolour: stream in the woods

Watercolour painting of the stream in the woods

Composition considerations:

Painting with oil paints and painting with watercolours requires different technique approaches. Photographs and painting also have different identities! Because this photograph is basically cool colours and has similar tone levels, I translated and transformed the scene by:

  • By considering what mood I intended and how I was going to go about it.
  • First I blurred the woods in the background, because I expected the foreground to be leafy.
  • I also wanted the stream to look like it was going deep, back into the background trees. So I selectively strengthened the tones in the background trees, especially where the stream disappears into the background.
  • Contrasting colour and tone between the background and middle ground, also helped to give depth to the stream.
  • Also used contrast of colour in the composition to bring the painting to life.
  • The reflection in the stream was done wet-in-wet and darkened both sides of the sparkling ripple to draw the eye up the stream.
  • As to the young leafy sapling wattle tree, growing out the foreground bank on the left, that was tricky. It consisted of different colours and shades. Wow, you may say, how do you do that? Well, to show it up against its background, I `push and pull’ the strength of the tones. That is, used chiaroscuro, alternating tone levels to differentiate the sapling from its surrounding background.
  • Also contrast the colours of the sapling to rhythm with the colours on the right hand side of the painting.

If you want to see more paintings from photographs check out Introduction to Photo Demos page and category.

I’ll be away during the month of September in Durban. I’m looking forward to spring and the warm barmy days down at the coast.  I’ll write as soon as I get back. In the meanwhile I hope you enjoy painting and that this blog on the stream in the woods has been interesting and informative.

How to paint beautiful sunsets

How to paint beautiful sunsets:

Photo of a beautiful African sunset

Photo of a beautiful South African sunset

This particular sunset was over a Kendal farm, on the East Rand, Transvaal, South Africa.

Taking photos of sunsets:

I haven’t a HD camera, so I either focus my camera on the sky or land. In this case I concentrated on the sky – that is why the land part looks so dark! But been dark it allowed me to use my imagination, change things somewhat. Do you see the effect the pull of the sun rays has on the foreground grass and how I beefed up the foreground with contrasting colours? Been a watercolour naturally you don’t get the same quality as an photograph.

Watercolour of beautiful sunset

Colourful watercolour of the beautiful sunset

Here are a few suggestions on how to paint beautiful sunset paintings:

  • Basically contrast of tone and colour.
  • Inter-relationship of cool and warm colours.
  • How to get the glow effect: Allow contrast of complementary grays and fresh clean colours to ride side-by-side, eg: white bright sun area, fresh ‘silver-lining’ and neutral colours of the cloud’s body, in that order.
  • Focus point: Contrast of sharp-edges and contour lines, competing with smooth gradated edges or shapes.
  • Quiet restful smooth areas of gradated colour and tone.
  • Departmental placement of tonal areas:  That is basically one area light, one area medium tones, and one area dark. This reduces confusion and improves perception.
  • Placement of detailed description: Usually set within one of the departmental tonal areas. This dramatizes the scene, sets the theme, introduces the location, tells a story, etc.
  • Simplicity: If there are tiny cloud formations, where possible group them with similar characteristics.
  • Selective pigments: For example if you interlace the blue of the sky and yellow of the sun rays or ‘silver-lining’, you will get green where you don’t want it. Rather use an earth pigment such as raw sienna instead of fresh-chrome yellows.
  • Relax, paint freely. Allow your painting to develop naturally. Don’t take yourself seriously -otherwise your sunset will look contrived.
  • Not every scene is the same: Use some or all of the above aspects.

If you want to see another sunset photo demo, check out Sunset in the bush.

Please let me know in your estimation what you think makes a beautiful sunset painting. Have you any additional tips to share with other artists about painting sunsets?

Art of painting bush from a photo

Art of painting bush from a photo:

Photo of lake

Photos of small lake and surrounding bush.













This small African lake scene was on a Kendal farm, on the East Rand, Transvaal. You can’t call it a dam as such, because strangely enough it’s not in a valley, it’s on top of a hill.


Some years ago a surface coal was mined here, creating a huge deep hole and in time it filled up with water, making it a wonderful place for wild birds to make their nests in the reeds and trees surrounding the small lake.

The farm now belongs to Kendal power station. But at the time of taking the photograph, family owned the farm and often took time out picnicking, fishing, birding and boating here.

As usual exploring with my camera while the family picnicked, I quietly picked my way through the trees and bush to the opposite side of the lake until I came across this beautiful tranquil scene within the reeds and undergrowth, where wildlife activities occur without the intrusion of humans.

When deciding which photo to paint for you, I thought this photograph was too crowded with detail to actually paint. But then been who I am, accepting challenges, thought it was a fascinating scene with the tangle of twigs and undergrowth. I like portraying leafy scenes. I want people to see what South Africa countryside looks like. Feel like they are in the bush too, with me, experiencing what I’m experiencing.

Watercolour of bush and reeds.

Watercolour painting of bush around the small lake.

Now that the painting is complete, can you feel the reality of the bush? And can you compromise your artistic training and forgive me for painting such a busy composition?

How I painted the bushy reed scene:

  1. I must admit I started with rubber masking liquid to reserve the detail of the tangled twigs, reeds, background trees, weeds and shimmer on the water, so that I could paint the background in freely.
  2. When the masking was dry I sprayed the watercolour paper both sides.
  3. Working quickly I brushed in the sky and background trees, dropping in different colours so that there would merge effectively.
  4. By the time I reached the reeds the paper was drying, so I was able to give the impression of grass and reeds.
  5. When I had to start on the water, I re-wetted the paper to create blurred reflections. This created a smooth restful area within the busy composition.
  6. Then I filled in the main tree on the left, dropping in different colours in the hope of giving it bark authenticity.
  7. After the paint was dry I rubbed off the masking and filled in the detail colours. Been a cool summer scene I made an effort to incorporate warmer colours to give it more emotional appeal.

Standing back I accessed the painting to see what I had created. And interestingly, as evening approached I saw how the painting took on another atmospheric dimension. I knew then it wouldn’t ever be boring, always fascinating in its own way, no matter what light the watercolour was seen in.

After also reading another of my bush demos, I hope you try painting bush too.

Sunsets in the Bush

Sunsets in the bush photo:

Photo of Sunsets in the bush

Photo of a sunset in the bush, South Africa.

`Sunsets in the bush’ was inspired by the beauty of the South African bush on the Springbok Flats. Each day about five o’clock I set out to see what sunset photographs I could collect.

Red sunset skies don’t always occur every day. Did you know beautiful sunsets are actually created because of dust, dust that drives housewives crazy! In South Africa we have beautiful sunsets. During winter the velt (grasslands) is usually dry and dusty.

Clouds were gathering when I took this photograph. With my camera, to take sunset photos, I reduce the `contrast’ format on my camera to minus five, and then aim just next to the bright sun.  How much you see of the velt (grass) and the quality of the silhouettes depends on whether your camera is pointing closer to the sky area or just below the horizon.

Watercolour demo:

Watercolour: sunsets in the bush

Watercolour of a sunset in the bush, on the Springbok Flats.

When painting sunsets, contrasts of tone and colour are important to make them dramatic. Before filling in the darker tones the painting looks washed out. Once the dark trees, bush foliage and dead tree trunks are filled in, the sunset starts to come alive. Playing warm colours against cool colours gives the painting emotion.

I didn’t begin with an imprimatura wash. I needed the white of the paper, especially where the sun is setting. Smooth washes and gradating the colours is created by keeping the paper wet as long as possible. Then waiting for the paper and painting to dry, before adding the silhouette formations of the bush. The foreground grass is done last, applied in impressionistic style.

Note the silver-lining of the clouds in this image-file looks orange. In the actual painting the silver-lining is yellow. Computer programs don’t always do justice to your paintings. I find this frustrating when posting images of my paintings in my blogs. Do you have the same problem?

Please leave a comment:

I would like to hear from you. My website is mainly for artists, but I hope art-lovers and non-artists will enjoy the interesting facts about the South African scenes I paint. Posting blogs seems a waste of time unless you feel you are actually helping someone, been informative or fascinating enough for folks out there to get something out of it. Best regards, Ada.

Free expression

Sunset at Meisievlei, near Settlers, Transvaal, South Africa.

Here is another sunset watercolour painting, also of the Springbok Flats. It was done about a year ago.

Bush Demo

Photo of bush demo

Photo of South African bush on the Springbok Flats.

This photo was taken in the bush, on the Springbok Flats, a farming, game reserve district, north east of Pretoria, where we have been spending time with our son. Since he has a website (‘Long Day Safaris’) he wanted to experiment with taking videos for his cycling blogs. Just before leaving the house he said I should also take my painting kit.

That is how this photo demo came about: First he took a video of me painting in the bush and then I took videos of him cycling in the bush. We had a grand time taking videos, something we hadn’t ever done before. We sure had lots to learn!

So why isn’t the video included in this blog? Well … in the past, my voice on tape recorders sounded ghastly, very different from what I normally sound. Apparently things hadn’t changed, my voice still sounds pathetic!

And what about the painting I did for the video? Well that was a disaster from the start. When you paint outdoors your watercolour paper dries quickly, making it hard to spread your washes. The situation is somewhat intensified and challenging when the weather is windy, as it was that day.

Placing a sheet of wet velt or wet material under your watercolour paper and spraying your paper both sides prolongs the drying time.  Since I had forgotten my velt at home, I should have taken a wet dish-clothe instead from our son’s house.

I’m used of doing demos in front of people and doing location fieldwork. That’s no problem, but painting for a video was a new experience. Been action people, we didn’t waste time discussing the possibilities of how to go about it, hoping that we would learn from the experience. Setting up my camping chair and paint paraphernalia was done quickly, but once started I didn’t know if there was sound, if I should talk or not, what angle was best, etc. This made me rather nervous.

Talk about bungling, I started by painting in the blue of the sky. Leaving white areas for the clouds, naturally this created sharp-edges because of the dry paper. So I had to work quickly, rinsing my brush and blurring the sharp-edges, especially the underbellies of the clouds. That wasn’t so bad, but when it came to painting the trees and bush it was another matter. Because I couldn’t spread the paint, it looked like sketching. It was very frustrating not been able to get the effect you want.

The effect of South African bush is unique. I love the profile of the trees with their gesturing umbrella shaped canopies. To get the full picture, the bush also hosts briers, khaki-bos and wild seeds waving in the breeze. The contrast of colour in the winter is beautiful. Well to me as an artist it is anyway. The grass is straw coloured and light compared with the green and russet colours of the trees and bush.

With the paper so dry, it wasn’t easy portraying the tree with their nobly twisted filigree branches and leaves. Oh well, I had to keep going because the video was still rolling. Pressing on was even more embarrassing! Instead, here is a watercolour I did later back at the house.

Watercolour of South African bush

Watercolour painting of South African bush.

Love to know how you coped doing videos for the first time. And what program did you used to put it on your website. Our son had problems converting his video to MP4 format, to be able to put it on his webpage. Well you don’t learn anything unless you try doing it, hey!

Cottage Gallery

Cottage gallery photo:

Photograph of country cottage

Photograph of an Artist’s cottage gallery in the town of McGregor in the Cape.

This photo is of an artist’s cottage gallery in the main street of the little town of McGregor in the Cape. She told my daughter and me that during the week she resides on a farm outside the village, but comes into town and opens her cottage gallery over the weekends for public viewing. Wonder what she would have thought of another artist taking their time to paint her cottage? But why not! It is so picturesque, don’t you agree?

Notice the photo doesn’t show the gate or pathway. I remember there was something peculiar about the gate, can’t remember what now, but once in the garden going up the pathway I do remember having the urge to look around me, closer at the flowers because the garden was so fascinating. But I thought perhaps the artist wouldn’t approve of us wondering around her garden, so moved up to the front door.

The artist had a few small paintings which she had called the little big five. They consisted of tiny insects. The larger paintings were of figurines in fine abstract format.

My demo painting of the above photo:

Oil painting

Oil painting of a cottage in the town of McGregor in the cape

First an overall imprimatura wash of raw sienna. An imprimatura wash consists of a mixture: a little amount of pigment and lots of pure turpentine. When applied, it helps to eliminate the possibility of white spots of the canvas showing through later in between and surrounding the objects placed in the composition. Laying in an imprimatura wash ultimately unites the elements with atmospheric conditions within the composition.

When the imprimatura wash was completely dry, I added a light wash of pink to the sky and blocked-in the foliage areas and the thatch roof with brown. Brown is a subdued red and red is the complementary colour to green. In this stage you are composing the composition and establishing light and dark areas.

The photo is rather cool, ie with green and blue colours. To liven it up I added some warmer colours. You will see I also added a gate and I pathway. I wanted folks to feel they could enter and pass through the gate posts and down the path to the house, just as we did.

With artistic licence I didn’t give the gate posts equal dimension. Perfection can be uncomfortable in its exactness. I wanted a more romantic artistic approach.

Interest facts:

You have to take into consideration that the Old Dutch styled houses that were built long ago by the first immigrants to the Cape weren’t perfectly built. I first noticed this when I went to Bishop’s Court to paint Desmond Tutu’s portrait. Door frames weren’t neatly rectangular and the steps were at odd angles to each other.

The charming cottage we stayed at in the town of McGregor had rough plaster and uneven tiled floors. If Cape Dutch styled houses are built neatly, or an artist paints them with perfect straight neat contour lines, been a stark white cottage they look severe and less picturesque.

Check out other Cape Dutch cottages painted by Ada Fagan in the ‘Photo Demo’ page and under category listing.

Heron Nature Trail

Heron nature trail in the Vrolijkheid reserve:

Vrolijkheid nature reserve is situated between Robertson and  McGregor in the Cape. The reserve is close to the little quaint town of McGregor and has two main trails and dams.

  • We did the Heron Trail. Erected along the trail are placards giving descriptions of plants and wildlife. We saw many wild birds and even a tortoise from one of the bird hides.
  • The Rooikat trail is much longer. At the beginning of the trail there is a stone wall (built between two farms over a hundred years ago).  Along the trail you will come across Klipspringer Gorge and later perhaps you will see baboons in the hills.
Photograph of Heron Trail

Shrub land along the Heron Trail

The Photo: I took many photos and this photo and demo is of the shrubs on the way to the first dam. I thought the dark bush silhouetted against the blue of the surrounding mountains beautiful. This particular scene captures Karoo-like shrub, which I thought quite appealing.

Watercolour of the Heron Trail

Watercolour of the shrub land along the Heron Trail.

The demo:  The photograph looks somewhat dark, so I reduce the amount of shrubs and  lightened the ground area to give the scene some contrast. The photo is rather cool in nature, so I incorporated a little warmth to give it a little more emotional impact. If the painting (A5) is viewed from a distance the undergrowth doesn’t look so spotty because I reduced detail wherever possible.

South Africa is a beautiful country. So many lovely places off the beaten track to visit.

Photo and painting demo

Photo and painting demo of a Cape Dutch house in McGregor.

Where is the town of McGregor?

The little town of Mcgregor nestles in the Riviersonderendberge mountains of the Cape, South African. The nearest town by road is Robertson and over the mountains is Greyton. If you are travelling from Cape Town, you get there via Worcester and Robertson.

What is the place like?

I really enjoyed our stay there over Easter Weekend. You can always find someone walking their dogs when out on a walk. A market is held every Saturday morning between 8:30 and 9:30. Folks tell you, “You have to get there early, otherwise you will miss it.” Homemade goodies and fresh produce is sold out quickly. There is no charge to have a stall there. This I think is very wise because everyone benefits.

Including the dogs:

They seem to know when it’s Saturday and not the usual `walkies’ outing! Why? What have they got to look forward to? The answer: A lady brings homemade titbits especially for the dogs every market day. You should see the dogs queuing up, licking their chops in anticipation for their turn. The dogs big and small are so cute and adorable that everyone has the urge to pat and fondle them. You would think it’s their special day to socialize, not just the folks who live there!

When you walk around touring the quaint little town, everyone is so friendly and the place is so beautiful and peaceful, that you wish you could live there too. If you don’t believe me, Google and book a cottage for your next holiday. And if you like the place there are estate agents there by the way.

It seems as though everyone in the tiny town is talented in some way or other. The streets of the town are very clean and the galleries and shops interesting venues. Most of the houses are Cape Dutch styled, neat and freshly painted, with grape vines over veranda poles and lattice or bougainvillea over doorways and pretty flowers in pots. So picturesque that you feel you’ve arrived in heaven. ….even funerals are led by a minstrel band!

Photo and painting demo:

So it isn’t very surprising I took many exciting photos of the houses and the surrounding mountains. I think most of them lean towards been painted in oils. But here is a photo of one of the houses partly hidden in the trees that could perhaps pass as a watercolour.

Cape Dutch house in the town of McGregor

Photo of Cape Dutch house in McGregor

painting of Cape Dutch house

The watercolour of the Cape Dutch house

You will notice some things were omitted or rearranged according to artists’ licence. I took out the fence to prevent its intervening barrier. And in the process reduced the intimidating horizontal planes in the foreground somewhat and added a subtle pathway and steps to give abstruse passage and access to the house.
The foreground trees gives the scene perspective dimension and the leafy texture of foliage contrasts with the neat plain walls of the house, thus drawing attention to the house as the main point of focus and interest. Even the extended leaves, of the trees in the top/right corner of the paper, points to the house and suggests its atmospheric relationship to the mountains in the surrounding background.

The watercolour was painted on A5 paper, ie from a mixed media 200gsm Amedeo A4 pad. As I like working from warm to cool colours, it didn’t take kindly to my reiterated washes: first a raw sienna imprimatura wash and then different warm intermediate coats before applying cool topcoats.

Also check out the next demo of the Heron Trail in the Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve not far from the town of McGregor.


Klipriver Nature Reserve

Klipriver Nature reserve

Klipriver nature reserve in winter.

Photo location:

Klipriver nature reserve is situated between Alberton and Kibler Park, below Mulbarton. There is no entrance charge or fence restriction.

When we went there at wintertime, there were youngsters on two quad-bikes having fun riding up and over rough terrain. Maybe they were there practicing, because nearby there is a popular cross country bike track grounds close to the reserve.

Klipriver dam in winter

Sand bank dam in Klipriver nature reserve.

There is a sand bank dam in the upper part of the nature reserve is surrounded by reeds.  Previously I have done an autumn colour oil painting of the dam. With silver shimmer on the dam water and the sun setting low, it gave the scene a golden-pinkish atmospheric haze. I’ve shown the dam in a photo, but I can’t show the painting I did because the painting has been sold. But why I have mentioned it? Because its a lesser known nature reserve and should be updated and upgraded as a tourist venue. I only hope its reserved for wildlife and folks don’t carelessly destroy it with sport vehicles and pollute it with rubbish.

Wildlife and birdwatching:

Some of the reserve is open velt (grassland) and a part with rock outcrops. But further along below Kilber park, there is marshland with a stream running through tall reeds. Naturally where there are reeds, there is always a possibility of finding water bird life, birds and ducks like weavers, Egyptian geese, coots, egrets and herons.

Winter, lower Alberton

Watercolour demo of bare winter tree.

Now a watercolour demo of the Klipriver nature reserve:

I mainly use Winsor Newton pigments because of their quality, but sometimes use other products to create special effects. It all depends of cause on what art materials are available in South Africa.

  1. First a light overall imprimatura wash of raw sienna, and when that was dry a light wash of French ultramarine blue in the sky area.
  2. Next, the distant mountain range was put in, leaving a jigger (rapid jerky up and down strokes) contour bottom edge for grass outline. The camera always makes distant mountains look flat and insignificant. I always like to enlarge distant mountains and exploit the colours to enhance my paintings.
  3. The trees were put in before the middle ground and foreground. The big bare tree was painted with burnt umber with French ultramarine blue dropped-in.
  4. For me it’s always fun adding fine twigs to trees. Notice the light extra wash of blue and pink is added to the twigs. This aura softens the contrast and bareness of the branches and twigs of the tree, preventing the painting from been stark.
  5. For the dry winter grass I used raw sienna, and where spots were reserved for highlights I added Rembrandt gamboge yellow. This pigment is more translucent than Winson Newton’s gamboge yellow.
  6. The chiaroscuro over the tree’s roots gives the painting involved dimension. That is, not only visually stepping over the roots, but somewhat like you were climbing over them, up the bank.
  7. A tinge of sap green was added here and there. And the blue of the sky is recaptured below in the lower part of the painting.

There are more photo painting demos:

Check out: “Photo Demos” page and  previous “Old Willow Stump” blog.

Old willow stump

Photo of an old willow stump

Old willow stump near the Vaal River

Before start reading this demo blog perhaps you would like to view the first photo demos on page “Photo Demos”

Location of the photo: Old willow stump.

This scene of the old willow stump was taken further up the bank from the Vaal River, near The Barrage, Sasolburg, Orange Free State, South Africa. It is part of a piggery farm. In summertime it’s very green and lust, and brown and dry in wintertime.

Its interesting how the terrain of the farm varies. There are lots of different types of trees near the river.  Most of the lower part of the farm is marshland though. And some of the marshland is sandy. Where there are no shrubs the sand is sold to the building trade.

And where there are tiny shrubs scattered over in the dry sandy area, a little more elevated area, rat colonies have taken over. This type of rat burrows tunnels near the surface and makes nests underground like moles do, making the soil look lumpy. Naturally there are snake holes too. If you walk there you have to watch where you are walking. Tiny wild flowers can be seen in between the small shrubs, making the spot very interesting to explore there.

Watercolour landscape of  an old willow tree stump

Lower part of Sasolburg farm border the Vaal River.

Watercolour painting demo:

I made the old willow stump bigger than the photo depicted. Thus giving it dominance, and importance of been the main point of interest.

And because the foreground in front of the old willow stump was boring with just green grass, I added a stony footpath. This also gave the painting more warmth.

The paper used:

A5, 190gsm, acid-free watercolour paper, the last of the watercolour A4 pad I’ve been using.

Method used in old willow stump demo:

  1. First I did a light raw sienna imprimatura overall wash.
  2. When that was dry, a light wash of perm madder lake pigment in the sky area. This pink wash gives the green scene more warmth.
  3. When that was dry I started with the old willow stump, making it larger than it is in reality. I thought painting it blue (French ultramarine) would make the scene look more dramatic.
  4. Then I went on to filling in the distant trees and middle ground shrubs.
  5. The foreground was done last. Adding stones made the foreground more interesting. The sticks in the left-hand-bottom corner were changed into a discard tree trunk, suggesting it was part of the original willow tree.