Posts Tagged ‘watercolor’

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)

Correcting errors in Watercolour

One of the very many Myths surrounding watercolour painting is that ‘you can’t correct mistakes’…

At the off,  let me say that this is completely untrue. If you react quickly with a slightly moist brush, clean water and tissue you can, say lift off splashes in your perfect sky with this method.


Let’s take one of my recent disasters I painted recently (thankfully they are few and far between these days), but it happens to us all.


This is the painting in question, over-worked, little tonal value, no light source, dodgy shadows etc. etc.

So I decided to remove the whole painting, what I call ‘The Sink Treatment’. If you are unhappy with a small section, that can be lifted of with a moist brush and tissue. You may only be unhappy with, say the sky, if this is the case you can simply remove that offending part using the same sink method.

Let me say at this point, that most pigments do stain, in varying degrees depending on the colour, so you will never get back to pure white paper. Also in my case I had painted the stone wall using permanent ink so that stayed put.



Run the tap until it is luke warm, this helps loosen the pigment.


Use a hogs hair (oil) brush or a stiff bristled household paint brush,  gently go back and forth over the painting until the pigment starts to move. Tip your board at an angle so the paint falls into the sink. If you are too vigorous you can damage the surface of the paper.


Keep repeating until you are either happy with the results, or until the water runs clear.


Clean around your board with tissue, and let it dry naturally. I would only recommend this on paper taped to a board, if not the paper may cockle badly as it dries. Mop the water from the tape, and the painting with kitchen roll.

Don’t forget to keep checking the tape to ensure it’s still sticking until it’s completely dry.


Once you have done the ‘sink treatment’ you end up with a pale ghosty image, giving you an ideal ground to start again. I ended up with a misty image which gave me an idea for the subsequent painting.

The following day, I re-painted the painting, using White Gouache to create a misty atmospheric picture I was happy with.

This was the finished painting called ‘Misty morning in the Bluebell Woods’.



How to paint skies in Watercolour

Morning Sail from Sozopol

As a beginner to watercolour painting, I remember the intimidating feeling, looking at that sheet of relatively expensive watercolour paper, taped and ready to go. You have drawn your landscape then notice that almost two thirds of it is the sky (gulp)…….

Here is how I approach painting skies. I’m not saying it is THE way it’s just my simple approach to it.


The principle of perspective still applies to skies. That is that clouds look smaller in the distance towards the horizon, and are bigger above your head.

The other consideration is that the colour is usually deeper above your head than on the horizon. Look at the sky where you are now and you’ll see what I mean, unless, like me you have a grey cloudless sky.

When you look at a sky, the colour is usually different if you pan the view side to side, painting skies with that in mind adds variety and interest.

I once read that you should ‘paint a sky a day’. You can do this, just a quick small study, say postcard size, try it for a few days, and you’ll soon be looking upwards and analysing it and trying to work out how you would paint it in watercolours. Ask yourself questions like ‘are there hard edges in the sky’ or ‘is it all soft edges’ it may (and usually is) a combination of the two.


When I consider a sky in a landscape, I usually decide how important it’s going to be in the finished painting, and how big or important the sky is. This also helps me to decide how low the horizon will be, in other words will the sky take up 1/3rd of the painting,  playing a supporting role in the painting. Or is it an important and dominant feature in the painting, and make up 2/3rd of the paper. Or will it even feature at all.

I usually make this decision based on the subject matter. It rarely works if the sky has lots happening in it, as it can detract from the main focus of the subject.

A Corner of Sozopol

In this painting the subject matter was all about the house so the sky was painted very flat and without any details at all. It also hardly features in the finished paintings overall composition.

So the first question even before you draw, or put colour to paper is to ask yourself is ‘how important and dominant is the sky in the painting’. That should hopefully help you to make those decisions. In the painting at the top of this blog ‘Calm morning for a sail’ my painting was all about the grandeur of the scene of Burgas Bay, so it takes up almost 2/3rds of the painting, though I painted it softly, without hard edges, so that the centre of interest, Sozopol Town, and the yacht in the foreground, were still dominant.

Excitement in the Village

In the painting above called ‘Excitement in the Village’ the painting was all about the sky, with it’s unusual viewpoint the sky fills the whole painting, as the villagers look skyward, to welcome the returning storks in Springtime.


In my painting ‘The Windmill and The Islands’ you can see how the stormy sky behind the white sails and the lighthouse is an important part of the painting. The overall look of the painting, done as a commision based on old sepia postcards of the ancient town of Sozopol, and that decided the overall colour scheme of simply Sepia, Cobalt Blue and Indigo.


Having made all those decisions regarding composition this is how I actually tackle it. It’s all important to bear in mind ‘THE GOLDEN TIME’ that is the time it takes for the shine to go off the paper. A whole chapter is devoted to this subject in my free e-book ‘Watercolours for Beginners’. This is the link to my book READ OR DOWNLOAD IT NOW

This golden time, as I call it depends on a lot of factors like


Because I am usually painting and teaching in warm climates, this can be as little as 4 or 5 minutes, this means that when you start you have as little as 4-5 minutes to paint the whole sky…… NO PRESSURE THEN tick tock !


So before you start your painting, wet a small test strip of the paper you are going to paint on, with either paint or water. Don’t make it too wet just a film of fluid, now check your watch and keep and eye on the paper. When the shine goes off the paper, check your watch again, and this is YOUR golden time.

If you fiddle after the shine has gone you will just end up with a muddy mess. Also if you paint with too much water you will end up with unsightly back-runs (the dreaded cauliflowers).

Copy of Final E-Book Cover Design


This is painted wet into wet, in other words wet paint on wet paper. The secret to painting skies is to make sure you have your paint ready mixed, and also that you have more than enough to paint the sky. This is the main reason I use tubes of paint, and mixing bowls.


So assuming that your paint is mixed ready. Try say Cobalt Blue mixed with a little pink to warm it up.

I start by gently wetting the sky are all over with clean water. I usually use diagonal strokes of water at about 45 degrees. Try not to go over the same area more than twice, or it may lift the texture of the paper and give you black marks. I’m left handed so paint right to left, if you are right handed work left to right.

TIP If you work with the light in front of you, you can see where you have been.

Cover the whole sky area with the water, I usually use a big round or mop brush for skies. If you have mountains, cut around them carefully. If you lift your brush vertically you can be very accurate in these areas. Laying the brush flatter, and using the side of the brush means you can cover the area very quickly.


Depending on how big your painting is, your golden time, and how fast you paint. Before you start to use your paint, check the damp paper especially where you started, if it has started to lose it’s shine already go back over the area again with water. Once you have a consistent film of water you are now ready to paint.


Work quickly using the same diagonal brushstrokes, as you approach the horizon use less paint and it will go lighter towards the horizon. If you want some soft clouds just leave some areas without paint. Once the sky are is covered consider the shapes of the clouds. If you want to alter or extend them, now is the time to consider doing it, as long as there is still shine on  the paper.


We will create the clouds with two ‘lifting off’ techniques, one with your brush another using tissue. Wash you brush out THOROUGHLY then squeeze it on a towel or kitchen paper, or squeeze the brush between your fingers removing most BUT NOT ALL of the moisture. I call this a ‘thirsty’ brush. Lift out the cloud shapes, then rinse and repeat until you are happy with the sky. If you want hard edged clouds try crumpled up kitchen paper. Keep changing the shape of the paper after each cloud to avoid a pattern, remembering that every cloud is usually a unique shape.

TIP A combination of hard and soft cloud shapes usually works best.Lifting off with a brush gives more subtle clouds, tissue less so.

If you want more movement in the sky tip your board, or paint at a slight angle. I usually paint on an angle of about 15-20 degrees on my home made board.


If you do tip your painting, take care with the bead of paint that will collect, and be ready to mop it up with your thirsty brush, or the corner of kitchen towel.


The shine will have gone by now (especially on those areas where your clouds are) any fiddling at this stage WILL ruin your freshly painted sky.

Carefully wipe around the taped edge to avoid paint bleeding into your painting as the  paper dries flat. Dry the sky with a hairdryer on slow speed checking the tape as it dries.

If you need to tidy up any edges, say around the mountains, wait for the painting to dry then get the shapes back with a moist flat brush.

I usually try to paint my skies like this in ‘one hit’, as I think it makes for a fresh and lively looking sky.


Here is how the sky looked in my finished painting ‘Light and Shade in Meteora’

I hope you liked this blog on painting a Summer sky in Watercolours, next time Stormy Skies !



You can find lot’s more tutorials on my Youtube channel by clicking on this link below

My youtube channel


Why indeed ?

Here is a little idea for all budding artists out there.


Here ‘s how your envelope may look, when you get it back

It’s an idea I got from fellow Malay artist Chang Fee Ming, check his work out.


So the idea is that you paint on an envelope, mine as you can see was a printed envelope. You can either put yours or the recipient’s address on the front over the painted envelope, or as I did on the back of the envelope.

It was funny trying to explain to the Hotel receptionist in Malaysia, that I wanted my letter posted back to myself, back to the resort, she clearly thought I was an eccentric Englisman. But she duly obliged. Hey presto when it comes back to you, it’s franked with the date and location, and covered in lovely foreign stamps.

A lovely reminder of your trip, or a nice present for someone back home when you are on your travels.

As Chang pointed out though some do go missing in the post, or like mine the postal service didn’t arrived before we left the Country, and it had to be forwarded by the Resort.

Here are a few more examples, why not give it a try ?

envelope-6 envelope-8 envelopes-1 envelopes-2



Artist Martin Stephenson

Martin Stephenson

Telephone 00359-887-227-161

Thank-you for your enquiry, about a painting holiday with me in beautiful Sozopol, Bulgaria.

Please find below all the information for your holiday, if you require anything further please e-mail or or telephone us on the number above.


My painting holidays run from mid June until mid October every year.


795 Euros per person for 7 nights bed and breakfast in a double/twin room in a 3 star family run hotel overlooking the sea, including 6 painting workshops. Not including flights or transfers.

Discounts for non-painting partners and guests willing to share a room.


Full Payment : via paypal 30 days prior to your holiday, or balance in cash on arrival.

Deposit : 150 euro secures your holiday.


Flights to Bourgas Airport from most regional UK Airports. The flight time is about 3 hours 15 minutes.


Transfer time from Bourgas to Sozopol is just  45 minutes, using our English speaking locally based taxi service.

Transfer Costs : 35 euro per taxi each way.


Whilst Bulgaria is in Europe, like the UK it has yet to adopt the Euro, though Euro or Sterling can be changed at thel banks in the Town into the local currency, Bulgarian Lev. There are also many cash machines around the Town.


Your accommodation is normally in a family run 3 star hotel overlooking the sea and St.Ivan Island in Old Sozopol, which is just a few minutes walk from the our Studio.

To see your hotel please click on the link

Alternative accommodation is also available, from self catering apartments, family run guest houses, right up to 5 star luxury hotels. If you would like a quote for other types of accommodation please let us know in advance of your booking.


Sarah & Martin

On arrival at your hotel, you will be met personally by your tutor Martin and the holiday manager Sarah, for welcome drinks. Sarah will also be collecting you on the first morning to show you the way to the Studio. Just a five-minute walk through the cobbled streets, if you are staying at Hotel Diamanti.



Your tutor Martin will demonstrate regularly during your holiday, and be on hand for critique as your course progresses.


Your six painting classes will be 4 hours long and start every day at 10am until 2pm with a break for refreshments half way through. All professional quality materials are provided, but feel free to bring your favourite materials if you prefer. The beginners watercolour course is studio based, as the weather in Bulgaria is typically Mediterranean so can get hot in the middle of the day. For those that have painted watercolours before you will know how important it is to be able to control the drying time, and the studio is air-conditioned, so is  perfect for beginners.

The materials you will be provided with are

300gm English Bockingford Rough Paper


Tintoretto Artist Quality tubes of watercolour paint. These will be for sale if you want to buy them during your holiday.


Artists quality brushes

The studio is well equipped, and stocked with alternative materials like , pastels, charcoal, goache, gesso etc etc. But if you want to request any other materials to work with please let me know beforehand. You will also have lightweight easels to use. In addition for those that want to paint plein air or back at the hotel, a kit can be provided for a small refundable deposit.

At the studio you will be provided with chairs, tables and easels for those that like to stand to paint.


A splash of Colour in Sozopol

The subject matter we will be painting will include Land and Seascapes, Still Life, Florals and of course the Old Wooden Houses in Sozopol. You will be experimenting with more advanced techniques as your holiday progresses.



Sozopol is an established holiday resort, and as such all tastes and budgets are catered for. Your Holiday Manager Sarah or I can point you in the right direction when you eat out. With it’s Greek roots, Sozopol has many fine Greek Restaurants, specialising in freshly caught fish from right opposite the Studio. Whatever your budget, value for money is always the case. And don’t forget those tomatoes in the local ‘Shopska’ salad. No doubt there will be one word of Bulgarian you will learn during your holiday and that will be when accompanying the local Rakia and that will be ‘Nazdrave’ which means cheers. Remember to look the person in the eye though when you do it, a local custom.


Kalithea Panorama

Sozopol is a former Greek Fishing port called Apollonia, and has a rich and ancient History, recorded in the many Museums and archeological sites. It also boasts a tradition for the Arts. Visitors coming at the end of August/Beginning of September will be thrilled by the Annual Apollonia Arts Festival, with concerts and Art Exhibitions. Sozopol has been a mecca for artists for many years, something reflected in it’s many art galleries.


Your afternoons and evenings are free and you will find plenty to do without even leaving the Old Town. Evenings are usually spent wandering the cobbled streets, among the Restaurants, Bars and Gift Shops. Maybe a late night movie at the open air cinema or an ice cream.

During the season you can also take the hydrofoil to ancient Nessebar another ancient port Town across Burgas Bay.

There are even natural healing mud baths over in Burgas, and they are completely free of charge. Float in the salt water, cover yourself in mud, roll in the sand, bake until cooked then plunge into the turquoise sea to wash it off. You will feel invigorated afterwards. If guests want to do this excursion Sarah and I will take you for a nominal extra fee. Whilst in Burgas you can even visit an art shop to stock up on those essential items.

The Natural Mud Baths in Burgas

So as you can see for painters and none painters alike Sozopol will be a feast for all your senses.

But it’s not all ‘Ye Olde Worlde’ here with many chic music bars, jazz clubs and two very modern yacht marinas, both with great night life, for those wanting to dance the night away.


The Boat Sozopol

During your holiday you can also indulge in yoga classes or massage therapies with Sarah, who has practiced her therapies for more for than 20 years around the World. Therapies available include Thai, Sports/Deep Tissue, Swedish, Indian Head Massage and Reflexology. Sarah’s Yoga and massages work around the painting classes, so it’s possible to do them too. Both Yoga and Massages are subject to extra charges. Check out Sarah’s stuff here.




On the final afternoon we will have a mini exhibition and critique at the Art Studio followed by an hours sunset cruise around the bay of Sozopol.


During your holiday you will have been given a link to download my e-book ‘Watercolours for Beginners’ to serve as a reminder of all you have learned. But it doesn’t end there I am always available even on skype if you get stuck or need some help and advice.

Copy of Final E-Book Cover Design

My teaching style is simple, informative and fun. My step by step techniques are geared to you learning in a progressive manner at a speed to suit you. My clients from all over the World come back time and time again for help with their watercolour journey.

They started with one simple step, their first lesson with me. I hope your own ‘journey’ will start in Sozopol with me in the near future. Even experienced painters have said ‘no one ever told me that’……

If you want to read about their experiences with me please read my blog by clicking on this link

The rooms  with sea views at Diamanti Hotel book up fast so it’s first come, first served. As Mr. Pontin used to say for his holidays ‘Book Early’..

Copy of Sarah

Sarah is the person in charge of bookings and logistics and you can book with her directly, or if you have any questions you can email her at or telephone her on the number at the top.

For general enquiries, if you would prefer, please use the contact form below.

We look forward to meeting you in Sozopol.

Martin and Sarah



A Corner of Sozopol

‘A Corner of Sozopol’ by Martin Stephenson

At first glance Bulgaria may seem a strange choice for a painting Holiday. In fact before I moved here eight years ago I have to admit that I had to look at an atlas to find out where it was.
Bulgaria, and Sozopol in particular has been one of the best kept secrets until recent years. Until then it was the playground for wealthy Russian tourists.
Sozopol has a very ancient History, populated by Greeks and called Apollonia. The ancient fishing port still has a Greek flavour, many of it’s residents keeping those traditions. Something you can taste in the many and varied local Restaurants.

Baba's New Broom

‘Baba’s New Broom’ by Martin Stephenson

Because this EU Country is relatively poor, you will find everything here half the price of many more ‘fashionable’ painting destinations. A typical meal with wine will only cost around 25 lev per person (around ten pounds). High quality restaurants abound with International menus, including the local fresh fish. These include Bulgarian, Greek and Armenian restaurants.


Martin sketching the boats in the harbour opposite the studio

What most tourists, coming here for the first time, are struck by is the beautiful Black Sea (turquoise blue in Summer), which has miles of unspoilt beaches, nature reserves and is surrounded by the Strandhza Mountains. Situated just 45 minutes from Burgas International Airport serviced from most UK and European airports.

Your accommodation will be in a local family run 3*hotel with stunning views over the Islands of St. John and St.Peter. The hotel is located just a few minutes walk from our studio.

For artists (and non painting partners) this means that you are surrounded by interesting and breathtaking scenery. When you couple this with the Old Town, with it’s wooden houses and cobbled streets, you can see why artists from all over the World have always been drawn here. Something reflected in the many art galleries in the Town.


One of the many Art Galleries in the Old Town


One of the highlights of the year is the Apollonia arts festival, a ten day annual event in late August/ early September.

Overlooking the Old fishing harbour is our own fully equipped air conditioned studio, where your daily painting demonstrations and lessons will be held, and a meeting point for additional field trips and plein air painting sessions.

Sozopol Apartment

Our air conditioned studio on the Ground Floor

Your hostess during your holiday, Sarah is also an internationally renowned Yoga teacher and Massage Therapist, and will always be on hand offering her services to artists and their partners.

Art & Yoga Holidays in Bulgaria

Your hostess Sarah

Our host Martin has all the materials you will need for your holiday, or you can bring your own favourites with you. He is also an author of the e-book ‘Watercolours for Beginners’ which is free with every booking. Martin also known as Stevo (his nickname at school) is an accomplished watercolour painter and inspirational teacher, he will be on hand as Studio Manager during your holiday offering his own style of encouragement and some Northern humour, ensuring your stay will be both memorable, informative and fun. Martin has taught in many exotic locations including Thailand, Bali, Malaysia and most recently in Greece. He specialises in teaching complete Beginners.

Copy of Final E-Book Cover Design


We look forward to welcoming friends old and new to beautiful Sozopol, Bulgaria to sum up this beautiful paradise lovely people, great food, fantastic weather and inspirational land and seascapes, and great value for money.

Happy Painting



I was asked this question the other day during one of my lessons, so thought that I would share this on here.

Call to prayer in Istanbul

The washes on this painting were done very wet and you can see slight buckling of the paper.

Q. What paper do you use and why ?

A. I use 140lb (300gsm) Bockingford rough paper Why ?


Well a few factors really I like how the rough texture, suits my subject matter, and my quite wet painting method.

When I first started I used to stretch my paper, using gummed tape, but now find that I can use masking tape which leaves a nice white edge around the painting, and obviates the need for all that stretching and planning ahead. I can also use the same paper for my students too, as it’s not too expensive.

Another factor here in Bulgaria is that it is usually available in my favourite art shop in Burgas, the Armstrong Centre, where I usually buy a whole pack of 25 sheets at a time sealed in it’s bag. This ensures that after the factory worker that made it, (St.Cuthberts Mill in England) that I am only the second person to handle it.The reason this is important is that the surface should NEVER be touched with your fingers, which always have residual oils on them, which can ruin your finished art work . Something your average art shop assistant seems unaware of !

I would encourage you to experiment with the paper you can buy locally, and when you find one that suits you STICK WITH IT and get to know it’s qualities (and maybe it’s limitations too) .


If you paper is too thin it will buckle badly when you wet it and leave your finished paper in ‘stripes’ where the paint settled in the hollows. Too heavy and whilst it won’t buckle at all the surface can be a little ‘dead’ and un-responsive.



This is a very personal thing, a flat paper surface sometimes called ‘Hot Pressed’ is more receptive to flat washes and more detailed work . ‘Cold Pressed and Rough’ gives all those lovely ‘happy accidents’ where the paint sediment collects in the hollows.Try doing  a wash using say Burnt Umber and Ultramarine and you will see what I mean.

I think that if you stick with the main brands of papers from Saunders or Arches you really can’t go wrong. Most of the main manufacturers will send you samples so you can experiment. A google search for Watercolour Paper should get you to all the manufacturers Worldwide.


Yes you can, but I rarely do, as the paper, having been painted previously on one side is never completely flat. By the way you can tell the ‘face’ front of the paper by checking for the logo. Sometimes you have to hold it up to the light to see the watermark.


I always used to cut my paper, to fit my 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8th sheet standard mounts, but it was very labour intensive especially if I was preparing 20 pieces for a large workshop class. After reading a book by one of my favourite Australian artists John Lovett I used his method of simply marking my board with half, quarter and eight sheet sizes, laying down the sheet and tearing against a large metal square, bought from a DIY store. I handle the paper only by the edges when tearing, then storing it in plastic bags to keep it in pristine condition.

If you are a complete beginner, and find that big white piece of relatively expensive paper intimidating,  (GIVING YOU THE FEELING THAT I SIMPLY MUST PRODUCE A PAINTING) try using Wallpaper lining paper, that should be a liberating experience. Stand up, put some music on, and get out your biggest brushes, and just have fun !

I hope this has been helpful.


Happy Painting !

Call to prayer in Istanbul

‘Call to prayer at the Blue Mosque, Istanbul’

On our recent travels to Asia we used to fly from Istanbul, as it’s a mere 6 hours by bus from Burgas in Bulgaria.

Even as a child I was always intrigued by stories of the Roman Empire, and Constantinople (now Istanbul) and a place, a gateway for exotic travel where East truly meets West, and you can sense it everywhere.

The first time we went I was amazed by the grandeur, the smells, the colours and even the sounds. As we approached our Hotel in a taxi I could hear the mosques calling people to pray, and insisted on opening the taxi window to soak in the atmosphere.

This was my inspiration for this painting.


Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, please feel free to comment and subscribe.

The painting is for sale, please contact me if you would like to buy it.






Whenever I teach a course, one of the first lessons, for beginners to Watercolour painting is usually how to paint in just one colour. Also known as tonal painting.

Close up of The Old Windmill & The Islands

Using just one colour forces you to observe the tonal qualities of a scene. Appreciating it’s tonal values, and how to achieve the resulting  recession gives paintings distance, and avoids flat paintings.

When I teach students from around the World I first get them to ‘really look’ at a scene and to analise how many layers, or ‘planes’ are in the scene. Let me explain…..

I usually advocate painting watercolour landscapes from light to dark so taking the example of a close up of one of my own paintings called ‘The Windmill and The Islands’ the order I painted it was as follows:-

  1. THE SKY

So this scene has FIVE PLANES, EASY !

Although the sky in this painting is quite dark, this is usually the order to paint it, and sometimes a scene can have as many as say 8 planes. What happens is that as you paint the painting the colour gets both darker and also warmer as you move forward into the main point of interest, in this case the windmill.


q. Ah but how do you do that as a beginner ?

a. Try this little experiment with say a Sepia colour.

Take a palette and put a little Sepia (any colour will work) in each of the wells. Load a brush with one dip of water and mix all of the paint into it thoroughly for the darkest tone (number 5 on the right above) paint it onto your test strip of watercolour paper.

Now add say three brushfulls of water for number 4, then say 6 brushfulls for number 3. Keep increasing the amount of water until you get to the lightest tone, number 1. Now in your palette is your paint ready mixed for your tonal painting.

So now use your paint in well one (the lightest tone) to paint your sky, then move forward in your painting using ever darker colours.

Painting tonally like this is a great way to sketch too, and you only need one tube of paint. It was a technique I used when demonstrating on a night outside a gallery under street lights. It was impossible to paint in colour under the yellow lights, but easy painting tonally.

The resulting paintings also have a harmonious feel too.

The Mountain Demo



Martin (aka artstevo)

Please feel free to subscribe or comment on my blog


Testimonials for Martin Stephenson and his e-book ‘Watercolours for Beginners’

Penny from England said


I just wanted to share with you that I have had the best ever 4 day Easter break as I painted every day!!

Over the last few weeks I have read your e-book cover to cover twice(!) and it has inspired me, taught me and given me confidence to pick up the brushes and start painting again! I have been trying to do some painting every week (I can’t manage a daily painting but I am trying to sketch every day!) and I have promised myself that I am going to put some time aside every weekend to paint – it is feeling good!
So, I just wanted to say a big thank you because, with the lessons in Pangkor Laut and your e-book you have rekindled a flame; before Pangkor I hadn’t picked up a brush in at least 30 years and now that I have I am so enjoying it! I do hope that we can get booked for a trip in September as I know I would benefit so much from some further lessons and I would love it!

Sue from Norfolk, England said

Comment: I had hit a big freeze with my watercolour painting, ie I began to freeze whenever I even imagined that empty white paper! Now I have read through your e-book, have tried some skies, even stormy ones, and my confidence is returning….so a big THANK YOU, Martin 🙂

Maja from Croatia said                                                                                                                                                                               Comment: Dear Martin…your e-book is amazing good, very helpfull and I’ll be injoy in my further watercolour paintings….be succssesfull and give us some more e-books like this one…regard from Pula

Barbara Strong from USA said                                                                                                                                                                Comment: I have just read and scanned some of the pages of this e-book and am so excited to try watercolor painting the tips are so very well explained it really makes me think i can do it so i can’t wait to get started Thank you so much for sharing your enormous talents and i feel like for the past hour i have been living inside your head and it is awesome Thank you again

Karen from Bulgaria said                                                                                                                                                                Comment Martin is a very patient teacher who is willing to spend as long as it takes to improve your understanding of all the techniques of watercolour painting. He also somehow manages to make sure that you always go home with a painting you can be proud of even, if like me, you didn’t know one end of a paintbrush from the other before you started

Katerina from Slovakia said

Comment: Martin, thank you so much for your great tutorials on youtube. They were very helpful and guided me through my first steps into art of watercolour. And your ebook is absolutely FABULOUS!!! thank you for being my inspiration. Wishing you lots of happy students and satisfied customers.

Lily Dodds from Bulgaria said

Comment: Martin has in five short days turned me from a nervous, tentative paint dabber into a free, confident artist! A miracle! He is a great teacher. LILY DODDS

Cath from England said

Comment: Martin has the patience of Job especially when teaching me as i tend to want to paint everything quickly.The lessons are very enjoyable and cant wait for them to begin again.

Lorin Jones from USA said                                                                                                                                                                      Comment: I was watching you tube this evening, and found a three video series where Martin was demonstrating the painting of a snow scene with rocks and fir trees. It was very informative, and far more detailed than most of the other videos on you tube for art instruction. I have always been fairly capable at drawing, but am now finding just how hard it is to turn a decent drawing into a decent painting as I finally begin to learn the craft of being an artist. It’s so hard to get the colors right and the shadows properly done. I think the videos by Martin are some of the best I have seen, and they are very helpful and informative. I think anyone choosing to avail themselves of his talent will learn a great deal.

Michael from South Africa said                                                                                                                                                              Comment: Thank you for taking the time to pass on years of experience.

If you would like to share the experience of my readers and past students you can buy my book here

Happy Painting