Monthly Archives: June 2019

From under the pergola

My “studio” under the pergola

Not wishing to spend another hot day walking the streets of Erice and Trapani on photo projects I decided I should paint.

Although it was still very hot I settled in the shade under the old vine-covered pergola in the garden with my watercolours to see what I could produce.

I decided on three bird pictures that I completed quite quickly: two Brazilian birds and one European.

Amazon Kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona) 

Great Tit (Parus major)

Ringed Kingfisher (Megaceryle torquata)

The Ringed Kingfisher ought to be a little bluer in colour – something I can correct later.

Other than that I was reasonably pleased with the results. The heat provided a challenge as water evaporated quickly so I had to paint faster. Good practice.


Experimenting with oil pastels in Sicily

I bought some reasonably good quality materials from my local supplier in Edinburgh with a view to seeing how well (or badly) I could use them.

The oil pastels were Faber-Castell “Creative Studio Quality” that cost about £5 (€6) for a set of 12 colours, and a couple of 20cm x 20 cm Winsor and Newton canvas boardS.

Here in Erice/Trapani there are few suppliers that have a full range of decent art supplies. I found two in Trapani and one in Erice so, between those three, I can find some useable materials. The range of oil and watercolour paints seems to be good quality, all Italian brands, but I have not tested them in practice.

At one of the Trapani suppliers I found, and bought, some oil pastels and canvas boards.

Fila Giotto oil pastels

The pastels cost €5.20 for a set of 12 colours, cheaper than the Faber-Castell pastels from Edinburgh but, as I found while researching, cost half that price on the internet in UK. So, if I like them I could source them much more cheaply.

Tecnoteam canvas board

The canvas board was also an unknown, to me, Italian brand. The 20cm x 30cm 300 gm board, at €2.00, was cheaper than the Winsor and Newton board that I bought in Edinburgh.

In use

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.

I tried the pastels on a simple sketch of a Kingfisher. As soon as the pastel touched the canvas I realised the experience was not going to be a great one.

Work in progress – Kingfisher

In reality, the support for oil pastels is not a major concern – one can use paper, wood or canvas, even stone or metal surfaces – so the important element is the oil pastel itself.

As can be seen in the Kingfisher sketch there were a lot of “bits” created in the application of the pastel on the canvas. I presume this is due to the high content of wax in the pastel.

Oil pastels are made by mixing pigment with a binder. The binder is usually a mix of wax and mineral oils. These are used, firstly, to enable the pastels to me made into handy sticks and, secondly, to provide a balance between stickiness and dry-ability though, from what I have so far understood about this medium, it never actually dries hard.

So it seems that the balance of the binder in the Giotto pastels is on the waxy end of the scale. I shall reserve judgement till I have completed my sketch with these and after trying other brands. I am keen to try Sennelier, a french brand made at the request of, and in collaboration with, Pablo Picasso.

With regard to my Kingfisher sketch, still a work in progress, I found that layering one colour on another was not easy. It had the effect of removing the layer below which makes both layering and blending difficult to do effectively. I let the pastels dry out for a day or two and tried again but not much better.

More on this subject next week after I finish the Kingfisher.


Green-headed Tanager. Winsor and Newton watercolour paints on Canson “Moulin du Roy” 100% cotton rag 300 gm water colour paper – 24 cm x 32 cm.

Really nice textured paper – I didn’t want to spoil the paper by painting on it! But the result turned out ok for me (a bit overworked in places owing to lack of regular practice).

I kept the background as simple as possible, painting with an obvious emphasis on the foreground subject. The paper is possibly a bit too rough for the subject but I enjoy trying out new papers and paints.

Oil pastels

I found a nice spot in the garden, shaded by a grape vine, where I could sit and sketch

On a whim, before leaving Edinburgh to spend a few weeks in Erice (Sicily), I bought a box of oil pastels. I had bought some before but they lie in a cabinet somewhere in Brazil, unused.

I also bought a couple of 20cm x 20cm canvas boards and packed these in my hand-baggage along with my camera, watercolours, brushes and watercolour paper. And little else.

Once I had settled into Erice I tried my hand with the pastels, settling at a bench seat in the garden under the shade of grapevines.

Oil pastels look like wax crayons that children might use for colouring but handling is very different. Pastels are much softer. I launched into a quick sketch of a Red-necked Tanager (a colourful small bird native to Brazil), a subject that I had painted in watercolours in the past.

Red-necked Tanager, oil pastel on canvas board, 20cm x 20cm,

What I learned


When painting backgrounds with pastels it is important to plan ahead the effect you want to achieve. This presupposes that you have an idea how it will turn out ie experience helps, lack of experience doesn’t!. Laying down a light colour first then adding other colours on top before blending looks like the best method. I did the blending with my fingers but wasn’t totally confident with the result.

Green-headed Tanager, oil pastel on watercolour paper

Laying colour

The main subject requires confidence when placing the colour. Knowing how light or heavy a touch is important. The nice thing is that you can scrape away some colour and reapply. In fact you can scrape back some colour to reveal the underlying colour, so there is ample scope for creativity.

Some colours can be placed on others, eg to create highlights, but I found that this doesnt always work. It may be that the under colours need time to dry a bit.

Seven-coloured Tanager, oil pastel on watercolour paper


Having tried both canvas board and watercolour paper with oil pastels I found that texture is achieved easily. The pastel skates across the surface, even with heavy pressure, and leaves the white of the canvas/paper visible. Great for some subjects, but in others it is necessary to push hard to fill those spaces.

Goldfinch, oil pastel on watercolour paper


When working with pencils, or brushes, it is relatively easy to draw or paint the finer details of a subject. Oil pastels, on the other hand, are soft and stubby which makes the application of fine detail difficult. However, when using pastels a degree artistic license is more than just acceptable – it adds to the character of the product.

Salt pans at Mothia, between Trapani and Marsala, oil pastel on watercolour paper


I like this medium. I think I need to set up some practice exercises to get the hang of it but I also find that wanting to achieve something and actually trying to do provides the impetus for learning what you need to know. The rest comes later.

The pastels are nice for doing quick sketches but there are great artists that have done fabulous landscapes and portraits with oil pastels which means, as a medium, it is possible to achieve almost any result, from simple sketches to fine art.

I shall continue to work with oil pastels and, in fact, I am just about to visit my local art supplier in Trapani to see what materials they may have in stock.

Materials used

Faber Castell creative studio quality oil pastels – set of 12 colours.

After just a few sketches my set had become well-used – especially the white. I noted, when buying these pastels, that much larger blocks of white were available. Worth noting for my next purchase.

Winsor and Newton 20cm x 20cm canvas board

Canson 200gm A4 white watercolour paper

Daler-Rowney 300gm A6 watercolour postcards

Daler-Rowney 300gm 7″ x 5″ (178mm x 127mm) watercolour paper

A moving story

Trapani waterfront, oil pastel on canvas board, 20cm x 20cm

Time flies! I really hadn’t appreciated that my last post was made in August. I had become embroiled in a project that took up more time than I had expected, but still … not since August! I really must do better!

The project in question was a house move. We had been considering one for a couple of years as the situation in Natal had been getting quite bad – violent crime putting the city into top global league levels. Sad, but dangerous to stay.

Having looked around on several occasions we had all but given up till one of those strange, inexplicable occurrences pointed us in a successful direction. That was in August and within a month the plans were made. We actually moved over the Christmas week.

My family completed the relocation by plane while I was left with the task of driving our car a distance close to 4,000 kms (2,500 miles) which I completed in 4 and a half days.

Sad to say things didn’t work out. I was in Scotland when the decision was made to return to Natal. I flew back to Santa Catarina, helped with re-packing, and then drove the car back up to Rio Grande do Norte.

I am now in Sicily in the heat of late spring.

For over six months I have not painted. I didn’t appreciate how quickly one can lose the feel of paints (and track of time!) without practice.

I decided to experiment with oil pastels on canvas for the first time. It was a different experience and one that I am not sure I like. Perhaps I need to persevere.

Red-necked Tanager, oil pastels on canvas board, 20cm x 20 cm

The picture at the top of this post is the same size as that of the Tanager. I need to practice – particularly the technique which is different to that of painting. I need to use my painting journal!