Posts Tagged ‘watercolour painting’

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)

How to paint a stormy sky in watercolour


Here is my method of painting a stormy sky.

Let me say at the outset that this method is not for the faint hearted, but it is great fun and totally unpredictable, so here goes.

The sky will be painted wet into wet, that is wet paint onto wet paper. The colour I have used is Tintoretto Caput Mortem, but you can use any really dark blue. In the past I have used Indigo, or Paynes Grey or Ultramarine Blue mixed with Light Red Oxide. I have also seen great results by an Australian artist called John Lovett, who uses Indigo, then pours white gouache onto the paper, with great effect.

Because it’s painted wet on wet, the wet paper will dilute the colour, so you can compensate for that by mixing your colour stronger. Watercolour paints dry lighter anyway so don’t be afraid of the dark side Luke…..


First prepare your paint, I use a dish. Make sure that you mix more than you need because this sky will take just a couple of minutes, and the last thing you need is to be mixing more colour during this adrenalin rush. You simply won’t have the time. This is why I use dishes, so mix the paint the consistency of gold top milk.


You can check the tone by dragging the mixed paint up the side of the dish it should hold together underneath the brush, or you can check it on a test strip of the paper you are using. Mine is 300gsm (140lb) Bockingford Rough.

Now wash your brush out and start to paint the sky area with the water. Don’t worry if the water is slightly tinted, as  it helps you see where you have been. Working against the light also helps as I do.  I’m left handed so I work right to left, so if you are right handed start on the left. Work quickly but gently using brush strokes with a large round or mop brush diagonally at about 45 degrees. Choose the biggest brush you can handle, speed is the key on this type of sky.


At the top of the sky leave a few dry areas, but have fewer (or none) lower down. These spaces will be for the shafts of light coming through the clouds when you start to paint. Aim for a sheen on the paper, no uncontrollable puddles or they will end up causing back runs.

Now very bravely and confidently repeat the same brush strokes with your dark blue paint. Make sure that you have wiped your brush on an old towel or tissue. If you don’t the excess water in the brush both weakens the paint and can also cause cauliflowers.

Work really fast and try and get the paint on the paper quickly. I find that particularly with beginners that they are afraid and want to consider every single brush stroke. Frankly working quickly is more important than getting it right. Just whack the paint on as fast as you can !


Hold your board almost vertically and at an angle AND KEEP IT AT ONE ANGLE.

This suggests rain (and also lightning by the way), and rain comes down usually in one direction. Put some paper towel  on your table to mop up the drips. The strongest colour will be at the top of the painting, and the dry patches we left with the water now start to look like shafts of light between the storm clouds.


You can use a water sprayer as you move towards the bottom of the painting, but keep the board at the same angle throughout.


This is how the stormy sky is developing, all those ‘happy accidents’ appearing before your very eyes !

Once you have reached the bottom of the painting, sitting your board flat will stop the movement. Now dry the painting with your hairdryer on slow speed, ensuring that the tape stays stuck or it will ‘cockle’ making your framers job almost impossible.


You can see the shaft of light coming from between the clouds in close up now. As you can see, this colour granulates, as will Ultramarine Blue. I love this about both this colour and the rough texture of the paper I use.


All that’s needed is a simple silhouette towards the bottom of the painting, leaving some highlights where the shaft of sun is catching the right hand side of the lighthouse, and hey presto, you have a stormy painting.



I hope you found that helpful.


You can find more tutorials on my youtube channel, just click on this link



There is a whole chapter on painting skies in my free e-book ‘Watercolours for Beginners’ to read or download it please click on the link below

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

Here’s a dilemma !

Whenever I teach, one of the most important things I stress is to ensure that the brush has just the right amount of moisture to enable it to suck up the paint into the bristles. This is called capillary action. If the brush is too dry it won’t suck up the paint, but if it’s too wet not only does it change the colour of the paint, by making it paler (due to the added water in the brush) but it can also result in ‘back runs’ also known as ‘cauliflowers’. You know the ugly hard edged marks drawing attention away from the painting.

image1186In the painting above you can see the dramatic use of back runs,

which I think add to the energy of the painting

Now I had always read that these marks were frowned upon in art circles, presumably as they show a certain lack of understanding and control.

I teach that to ensure the brush is just right you can either flick it behind you on the floor   (great for keeping observers back, but a little anti-social) or best just to wipe it on an old towel or kitchen roll.

I had also been lead to believe that the ‘cauliflowers’ cannot be removed, but they can with just a slightly moist brush working slowly along the hard edged mark.

Despite everything I have ever read on the subject, I have noticed especially recently, that some artists actually use this technique in their paintings, proving I guess that they seem to have mastered the technique to their advantage.

199778_103095999773206_100002184192843_27034_3074310_nIn this example the painting seems to be all about the cauliflowers !

So I guess, as with all things in art, and in life rules are meant to be broken !

Personally speaking I prefer not to see them in my paintings but you own comments and personal preferences would be appreciated.

Happy Painting ! (with or without vegetables)……