Posts Tagged ‘sozopol’

Paint Magazine November 2017



This is the full article I wrote about my experiences, please read until the end…..

My story about how I fell into teaching watercolour painting started when I moved to Bulgaria to semi-retire in 2008.

I had always wanted to be an artist, and after some life changing family events, I decided to take up my brushes. In my small Rural Village was another ex-pat who asked me if I would show her. During her ‘lesson’ her husband who was listening nearby said ‘have you thought about doing this for a living’?

Though I have no formal teaching qualifications, and am a self-taught artist, I looked for private work and ended up teaching Bulgarian Children. Whilst doing so, (initially to help me to learn the language) I found the reverse to be true. The kids coming to me, to practice their spoken English language skills.

During this time I also looked for an art club to join and found none, so I decided to start my own. Teaching ex-pats was a steep and valuable learning curve for me & I still run several art clubs to this day in Bulgaria.

I also decided to write a book and over a 6 month period (the coldest in living memory) I pounded away at the pc (wearing all my warm weather gear, and even fingerless gloves and a balaclava) and an e-book ‘Watercolours for Beginners’ was born. I still give this away free of charge, hoping to bring art to those least able to afford it.

Copy of Final E-Book Cover Design

Please email me if you would like a copy of my book

My experiences in those early days lead to openings in 5 star luxury resorts in Bali, Thailand and Malaysia where I taught for many years. Nowadays I prefer my workshops and painting holidays to be more ‘local’ concentrating on Bulgaria and Greece where we bought a small old English yacht (despite not being a sailor), so I can now be found on deck overlooking the harbour in the early and late season, painting and teaching.

During the Summer I run watercolour holidays from our White Boat Studio in beautiful Sozopol, Bulgaria, where I also invite guest artists and their students.

White Boat Studio Sign - Single

So that one chance encounter, all those years ago and the ability to be patient, adventurous and flexible lead to personal fullfilment in a totally unexpected way.  And thanks to that I realise that my skill being a plain speaking Yorkshireman, coupled with my ability to strip away the mystique has meant that I can literally change people’s lives, and add to their enjoyment of art.

As I say ‘give me 2 hours, and I’ll change your life’. And the hundreds of people who come on holiday, read my blogs, watch my YouTube channel and follow my Facebook pages will testify.

Sarah & Martin

Sarah and I

Incidentally, (and this is not something I wanted to share in the article) the life changing event I mentioned was the diagnosis of my dearest Sister Julie’s cancer. After a long battle we finally lost her. She was a lovely person and a teacher of teachers. After her loss I decided NOT to put off all the things I wanted to do until I retired.

I painted her a present of a scene from our childhood, which had been in my head for over 50 years. Sadly she went blind in the final stages and never got to see it.


‘For Julie’

So I worked on my exit strategy, I sold my business’s, bought a small red sports car, drove through Europe in it, bought a house in the sun, and finally fulfilled my life long ambition to travel and become an artist. All the things that were on my bucket list.

Sarah and I met in Bulgaria.

When people wonder why I am so driven, giving and motivated… now you know. All the days painting (I try to do it every day),  filming, editing and encouraging others to paint is my way of giving something back, after all, that painting went unpainted for decades. Now in my advancing years there is no time to lose.

Happy Painting

Martin Stephenson (stevo)

ps Stevo was my nickname at school (not very original) but shorter to sign on my paintings, signed in the style of Zorro !


Following our extensive refurbishment, I can now announce that our beautiful studio space is available for Artists and Students visiting the stunning Old Town Sozopol, on Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast.


Located right opposite the Naval College, and the Fishing Harbour, our air-conditioned and heated studio couldn’t be better located. It’s within a two minute walk of the cobbled streets of The Old Town.

The space is available either with or without Martin the studio manager, and our logistics assistant Sarah, who is also on hand offering Yoga and soothing Massages on site.

The studio, is light and spacious, with stunning views accross the busy harbour. It comes fully equipped with the following :-

  • Tables, chairs and easels enough for 12-20 students
  • Basic artist quality watercolour materials, including the full range of Tintoretto paints, in tubes and stock of Bockingford 300gsm Rough paper, all available to buy.
  • Projection equipment.
  • Demonstration equipment, including HD Video and Editing
  • Air conditioning and ample fans for the hot Summer Months. With heating for out of season breaks.
  • Outside space for painting or for lunches with tables, benches and shade.
  • Bathroom including shower, sink and toilet.
  • Fitted kitchenette with cooking facilities.
  • Fresh Coffee machine.
  • Water Chiller.
  • Wi-Fi
  • Large screen TV and DVD player
  • Hi-Fi Sound system
  • Car Park right opposite
  • Free nearby self catering studio apartment for the tutor.

It is surrounded with some of the best Restaurants in the area, where not surprisingly locally caught fish is high on the menu.


For those that have not been to Sozopol before, for many years the Town was one of the best kept secrets, and was a haven for wealthy Russian and boasts a thriving Art scene culminating in the Apollonia Festival at the end of August/ beginning of September. This Art and Music festival is a fantastic time of year to visit.

The Town is also home to a plethora of Art and Craft Galleries, including the Municipal Art Gallery, and also the many Museums, boasting the rich history of this former Greek fishing port, formerly known as Apollonia.


One of the best (and more surprising things) about Bulgaria is that it is incredibly cheap, from accommodation to food and drink, you’ll find the place offers excellent value for money, being half the price of more, let’s say ‘fashionable’ painting locations.

The area around Sozopol is part of the tree covered Strandja mountains, and is home to stunning scenery be it craggy coastline, forests, ancient standing stones and of course not forgetting the charm of the the cobbled streets and old wooden framed houses, Sozopol has everything an artist could hope for. It has always been a mecca for artists through the ages, not without good reason.

A Corner of Sozopol

Whilst Sozopol has it’s traditions and is still a working fishing port, The Town still boasts all the trappings of other holiday destinations including many stunning sandy beaches, 300 Sunny Days a year and food that tastes like it used to. If it’s partying you want they have that too with many bars, music venues and clubs mainly situated in the New Town area, a 10 minute walk away through the Old Town.

In short Sozopol is a fantastic holiday destination, whether you are on a painting holiday, or an artist wanting to take your students somewhere more unusual. The Town has it all and so does our studio, which is available to rent, at very reasonable rates, by the day or week, with or without staff, the choice is yours.

So when you have exhausted the more fashionable places, why not give Sozopol a try. As the BBC said recently ‘Bulgaria offers the best value holiday destination in Europe’.

For further information please message me or e-mail

You can also read about other artists experiences in Sozopol here What the customers say about my e-book and teaching methods

Hope to see you soon.

Sarah Astbury and Martin Stephenson

Sarah & Martin

Sarah ( Logistics, Yoga and Massages) and Martin (Artist, Teacher and Studio Manager)

My personal Art Journey by Martin Stephenson


As a child I could always be found with a pencil in my hand, but I guess my first real influences were the ‘modern poster culture’ artists like Andy Warhol. His paintings of toothpaste tubes and cans of drink found me copying his pictures and putting my own ‘take’ on them with things I found around the house. His multi-coloured images of Marylyn Monroe also got my interest.


My love of music and the Music Press of the day like NME (New Musical Express) and Melody Maker found me scaling up those black and white photos of my Rock Heroes like Dylan and Hendrix to put on my bedroom wall.



Later in life and throughout my teenage years I was an avid student, and spent my free time in the Art section of my local library, amongst those books, and later in art shops I was to discover two artists who were to influence my paintings for years to come. They were John Blockley and Ashley Jackson ( we even named my eldest son Ashley). John was to introduce me to mixed media and ink with all those depictions of Welsh cottages and barren windswept trees, which I tried to emulate. Using sticks, quills and pen nibs was a very liberating experience at the time I recall.


Ashley Jackson, an adopted son of my beloved Yorkshire, was famous for his big dark and moody Northern skies, and was a favourite artist of the then Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson. His paintings of the bleak Yorkshire Moors and wet streets were favourite subject of mine, and early on taught me the importance of skies in paintings. As a beginner artist I know that most are afraid of all that paper to cover, and can without a confident approach be intimidating, especially in my chosen medium then of watercolour (aquarelle).


In the meantime, as most artists do I became a fiddler, drawing in the smallest detail, with very fine Rapidograph pens.

All that was about to change though with my next influence (and probably the most important of them all) English Artist Ron Ranson, through his books ‘The Ron Ranson Technique’ and ‘Fast and Loose’ . I still return to his dog eared books from time to time especially when things get a little ‘tight’ !


In his books, he advocated the use of a limited palette and a ‘hake’ brush, very controversial it seemed to me. He also encouraged his students to stand up to paint and also to start on big sheets of cheap paper, so as to be more free and less intimidating. It took me years to find a good hake (a big Japanese wash brush) that didn’t lose its bristles all over my precious paintings, and just recently I acquired a full set of ‘Ron Ranson hakes’ ironically manufactured in Yorkshire.

In one of Ron’s books I think he also mentioned another artist Edward Seago, who had influenced his own work. His coastal Suffolk boat scenes and fresh big skies were another love of mine.


About the same time, again through his books, I discovered another English water-colourist Rowland Hilder, a traditional watercolour painter and member of the prestigious Royal Watercolour Society (RWS). His Kentish scenes of Oast Houses and the like were much copied by me, and his handling of big skies was a pure joy. I even had the privilege to appear at my first Exhibition at the Winter Gardens in Ilkley in the same room as  full sheet original of a Rowland Hilder painting it was breath-taking.


Fast forward about 40 years, and after personal tragedy, the loss of my younger Sister Julie, I decided to live my life, not waiting for retirement to fulfil my ambition to become an artist. So I ‘ up sticks’ and moved to Bulgaria. So here we are, still trying to emulate my heroes, still trying to avoid overworked muddy paintings. Still a watercolour ‘purist’, still learning my trade, and still trying to be accepted by my peers. I always wanted to have ‘artist’ as my occupation on my passport, but sadly they don’t do that anymore. It was about this time that I tried to recall everything I had read (mainly as my memory was fading, and to remind me in later life) and to write my first book, an e-book called ‘Watercolours for Beginners’.


Through friends Geoff and Cath Taylor, who live in my sleepy Bulgarian Village, and quite by accident, I stumbled into teaching, out of necessity really, which gave me the freedom and time to paint nearly every day. Those early influences of pen and ink and pop art never left me though, and neither did the ‘restrictions’ of pure watercolour. This was all about to change forever though, with the advent of the internet. Suddenly everything was ‘out there’ just click on any artist on google images and you will see what I mean.


Through it I discovered two artists David Poxon, a watercolour artist, who’s depiction of rusty machinery, were a favourite subject matter of mine. But the second was to have the biggest influence of them all. He was an Australian artist called John Lovett who I came across on the internet.


Here was an artist unafraid of dogma and rules. A MIXED MEDIA ARTIST shock horror ! Through his books and DVD at last I was free to do anything I wanted, using anything that came to hand. Strange stuff like Gesso, Acrylic and Goache found me like a kid in a sweet shop, at my local art store in Burgas. Decoupage, Collage it was all there to be discovered and ‘played with’ !



It was a liberating moment watching his youtube video’s before I managed to get my hands on his other stuff, ordering from as far afield as the USA and Australia. Strangely he also uses hakes in his work, just like my first hero, Ron Ranson.


Lots more artists have influenced me along the way and I share some of their work here now including Sargeant, Wyeth, Turner, the list continues to grow…….






I remain, above all an art lover, and like the kids I teach, eyes wide open, I am like a sponge just soaking up all those influences, and continuing to grow

So that’s the story, but hopefully just the start. I have lived in many places, and travelled the World teaching in exotic locations like Vietnam, Cambodia, Bali, Thailand and Malaysia. But my regret was not to have been painting whilst I lived in Beautiful Yorkshire and in Scotland and visiting holiday destinations throughout Europe including Paris and Venice. Now other locations seem to be opening up like Russia, Romania, Turkey and Greece and who knows, maybe my travelling days aren’t over yet, and even though it doesn’t say artist on my passport, who knows where the future will lead me on my fantastic art journey.