Friday, March 31, 2006

Make your own water container

Don't we all wish we have a compartmentalised water container that we can keep our brushes (in water) in one place and the dipping water free of them? Well, I have come up with this piece which I find pretty useful. And I am going to teach you how to make it. It does not require extensive knowledge nor cost a lot.

I think where ever you are, chances are that you can find the materials - a used detergent container (pictured left) and the finished product at left.

Get a plastic container as shown. Cut the tops off in two areas. First cut the 'handle' area at the back which will serve as a brush holding area. The cut out the bigger front section for you to dip your brushes, and you will have an organiser-water container. See the picture at right.

Note that the brushes will be dipped in the same pool of water and some of you may not like it. I feel that brushes kept in water helps to keep the hairs soft and supple.

This simple contraption is not only cheap but hardy and functional as well. Hope you will find it as useful as I have.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Water Containers - to hold water for your colours!

If you painting in the studio, you can have anything as your water container if you wish. From old jam bottles to expensive water troughs. As for me, I use an old honey bucket which is made of plastic. It is hardy and has a nice little handle to carry when filled with water.

For outdoor, however, I used a foldable bucket (picture at left). It is about 5 inches in diameter and can be folded like an accordion. This makes it easy for me to fold into my painting case - in which I also store my papers, paint, brushes and other stationery - including a towel.

However, I think you can make some real handy water containers and you dont have to spend money on expensive troughs if you want to paint in watercolours. I have made some for friends using old PET bottles (those that are used to store cordials). Just cut the top third off the main body and handle and you will have two usesful areas. The smaller aperture of the handle can be used to prop up your brushes in between brush changes while the bigger aperture (the body of the bottle) affords you with the ease of dipping and cleaning your brushes.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Outdoor Painting - What do you take along?

One of the biggest problems - if you can see it as such - facing outdoor watercolourists is the use of water containers. Unlike painting in the comforts of a studio, you have to equip yourself with more things and carrying them can be quite a task.

When the bug bites me and I itch to go outdoors to paint, I usually bring along as few things as I can. The journey is made light and easy.

My pack includes one paintaing case, a foldable chair and a mini beach umbrella.

The painting case, as you can see in the picture (Top: showing the inside of the case; Bottom: the cover which is an easel itself). Within its small confines, I stuff my towel, a foldable water container, my brush, clotch pencil (fatter version of the mechanical pencil), putty eraser and painting palette containing paint, and small sized papers that I can squeeze into the case.

And if I need to do bigger paintings, I will capture the scenery of the moment using my digital camera which I can easily download and use it as reference material later.

What is your outdoor arsenal?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

One Brush does it all

When I started painting again, I met one veteran artist who graduated from St Martin's back in the 60s.

He was then giving painting workshops at the National Art Gallery. I enrolled in that workshop just to rekindle my interest in watercolour after such a long break.

I could never forget the first day I met my mentor in the class. I had brought a whole bagful of expensive brushes and painting papers.

During the first lesson, we were asked to draw still life. As we struggled with our expensive brushes, the mentor also did his piece. As we flitted back and forth changing brushes, he quietly put the strokes onto paper - a piece from a cheap art block.

I noticed that he was using a brush as thick as an adult's thumb - a Chinese calligraphy wolf-hair brush. And using that one brush, my mentor showed full control of his strokes, from painting washes to fine hairline streaks. When I asked him why did he use only one brush? He replied: "Too lazy to change brushes." How did he master the one brush technique? He said: "Make a habit out of it and you can."

Since then, I have used not more than one brush whenever I paint each piece. And the same advice I have given to my children and have painted and won prizes at school levels.

Here is the brush I use. It has been with me for over three years and cost less than USD10. The head holds lots of water for good and even washes and there is a small hanging thread for me to hang up the brush for drying when not in use.

It measures slightly over 9 inches (see picture) and has a head of about 1.5 inches long. It is about half an inch in diameter and the hair is very resilient, almost sable-like, but only at a fraction of the cost.

How do you paint? How many brushes do you use? Maybe you can share with me.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Picking up the brush again...

It has been more than seven months since I last painted and when you don't paint regularly, for whatever reason, you will stumble. No question about it. This painting was done today, in short two hours on a 229 x 305mm paper.

It was taken from a photo and depicts the Kuala Terengganu water taxi (bot penambang) terminal behind the Seri Malaysia hotel at the entrance to the town. As you can see, I am still trying to get a firm foothold...

Painted March 27.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Two Boats - Port Dickson

This is a close-up study of two fishing boats in Port Dickson's fishermen's wharf. The fan-like machinery are the motors used to reel in their nets at sea. Without this mechanism, there is no way fishermen can reel in nets which are close to a mile long, and laden with fish, at sea.

Painted in 2004.

Malaysian Marsh

This is a simplistic piece, drawn very relaxed with subtle colours, to capture a typical Malaysian wetland. This is also among my earliest paintings, done in 2003.


This is a depiction of my childhood memories. Hyacinths, duckweeds and water lettuce. These are part of the flora kingdom I grew up with. Ponds such as this house a wide variety of fish, including the Malaysian fighting fish.

I remember the days when I would frequent such places after school hours, armed with a net, to catch fighting fish. Ponds such as this are also where I hang out during school holidays with friends, fishing for perch and gouramies.

This was painted in 2003.

Kelantanese Fishermen's Boat II

This is a depiction of Kelantanese fishermen returning from sea. Not very well captured but this is one of my earliest pieces.

It was painted in mid 2003.

Claypot and Garlic

This was among the earliest paintings which I did. It was a picture of a clay jar containing black vinegar and garlic. On the wall is a surgical mask.

This painting was done during the SARs epidemic. The Chinese believed that taking garlic and black vinegar would boost the immune system to keep SARs away.

I did this to record the event as well as to study the light and shadow play on the objects. I used thick watercolour (not gouache) to capture the textures of the objects.
Painted February 2003.

Teluk Kemang - Canoes

A pair of canoes rests under the palm trees. This is a scene in Teluk Kemang, Port Dickson, in Negri Sembilan.

This stretch of beach is deserted on weekdays and watersport operators take a break in the lull in business. These two canoes are among the things you might find here, apart from jetski rentals and diving equipment.

This piece was painted in Oct 2003.

Rowboat at Titiwangsa

This is a painting of a rowboat I painted at the Lake Titiwangsa in Kuala Lumpur. I was trying to capture the shallow weed beds under the boats and did not do too well I suppose.

It was painted in Aug 2004.

Traditional Boat of Kelantanese Fishermen

Colourful patterns. This is the beauty of the traditional fishing boats of Kelantanese fishermen. As can be seen, this one is sheltered from the elements under dried palm fronds.

The boat is propped up and kept away from dampness. The intricate patterns are painted by hand and fishermen in Kelantan take great pride in their handiwork.

This piece was painted in late 2003.

Kuala Selangor - This Boat Start It All

This is the painting which sparked my interest with fishing boats.

This is one of the deep-sea fishing trawlers that fishermen in Kuala Selangor use (note the SLFA prefix for Selangor fishing boats).

I painted this at an art class way back in Sept 2003. I was also trying to capture the colour of the muddy water at low tide.

The chap on the right is heading upriver, perhaps to his boat as the tide is coming in.

How do you paint such a confusing painting? Well, like my mentor said it, start by composing areas of similar colour, like a giant jigsaw puzzle, and you will be able to put up a colourful painting - no matter how confusing it looks.

Boxing Day Tsunami - Wrath of Nature

I had to record this - the Boxing Day Tsunami which caused devastation throughout Asia, taking with it hundreds of thousands of lives.

This painting was based on a photograph of the aftermath. The waves were dying down and the specks on the high banks at left are the people who came out to witness the tragedy.

I remember coming home from work that evening and , dazed by the swift tragedy which hit part of my country and destroyed lives, I started working on the painting which I cimpleted just under two hours that night. It was something I could not forget and hope by sharing this with you, we can remember how unforgiving nature can be.

This was painted on Dec 27 2004.


This was done very recently and my first ever trying to capture human forms in watercolour. Four mariners were approaching land. The sails are billowing in the wind and the guy on the right, probably the skipper, was looking out for shallow submerged coral beds.

This was done in July 2005.

Sailboat In A Storm

This is another of my line and wash technique which I again failed to capture well. The rough surf too was quite tough to achieve and I think I failed in both miserably.

However, I think I managed to get the skies right, setting the mood for an impending storm. Perhaps I should not have introduced the lines on both the sails. What do you think?

This was done in February 2005.

Sailboat At Low Tide

This was done taken from a photograph of a sailboat at lowtide. I was experimenting with my new Rotring pen in this maiden attempt of line and wash. This is one of the hardest technique to master and as you can see, I am not able to control the medium just yet.

This was painted in May 2005.

This Old House

This is a painting of a very old house, now abandoned. The vegetation must have swallowed the structure by now. It is a simple timber structure with flat zinc roof.

I was trying to capture the mood of the evening with the yellow tints on the trees and shrubs. Have not been very successful, I think.

Anyway, this was done in May 2004.

Bagan Lalang II - Fisherman's Castle

This is a makeshift house by the Sepang Rivermouth in Bagan Lalang. The house is made of planks and discarded zinc sheets salvaged from construction sites.

This is a poor fisherman's abode, his castle of sort. It is in this rickety structure that his life and that of his family revolves as they hope for a better tomorrow. I am not wise with words but I have lived in such a house before.

If you observe carefully, the house was built under a tree. This may seem foolish but I think when the owner built this house, he planted the tree - a sea almond tree. Most fishermen mark the time they stay in a certain spot by using this simple method. Judging from the size of the tree, the house must have been there for more than five years.

This piece was done in Oct 2004.

By The Sea - Storm Coming

This piece represents a departure from my usual work of boats. I was trying to experiment with simple strokes in this piece which features two dying pine trees by the beach in Morib.

The surrounding scenery has been simplified as I try to capture the mood of the impending storm and the trees.

This piece was done in August 2005

Bagan Lalang II - Sungai Sepang Estuary

This picture was painted atop a broken fishing jetty along the Sungai Sepang. The scene is at low-tide, and fishermen moor their boats here. At high tide, the water level can sometimes reach the bottom of the floorboards of the jetty and water can be more than 15 feet deep.

At the far side is the verdant mangrive forest. In the past, this stretch of waterway was contaminated with pigwaste from farms upstream. After the Japanese Encephalitis scare in the late 90s, the farms have been moved away and the water here is relative clean, much to the delight of weekend anglers. Not far from this jetty is a seafood restaurant.

This piece was done in Sept 2004.

Bagan Lalang I - Lowtide

This is a piece I did when holidaying in Bagan Lalang, a rivermouth fishing village in Selangor. Because of the shallow seafront, fishermen here do not use big fishing boats but rather small ones for inshore fishing. The reddish blob is the fishing net or pukat which fishermen lay across the seas, parallel to the shore, to catch any fish coming to feed close to the shore. Most of these small boats are made of fiberglass and motorised.

This piece was done in Sept 2004.

Port Dickson Fishermen's Wharf

This is a picture of a fishing boat drawn in Port Dickson, near the fishermen's wharf in town.

The fan-like structure in front is the motorised wheel used for dragging in the fishing net.

As you can see, the numbers in front of the boat starts with NSR. In Malaysia, boats carry registration numbers according to the states, such as the prefix N for Negri Sembilan, S (ie. SLFA) for Selangor and so on.

Malacca Rivermouth III

This was another painting done on the bridge overlooking the Malacca rivermouth. The green building at left is now a restaurant.

The scenery is at high tide. The boat is actually a tourist boat which takes visitors on the Malacca river cruise for a small fee.
This piece was done in May 2004.

Riverside Godown - Malacca

This is a slightly larger sketch of the godown by the Malacca rivermouth. The godown was used to store charcoal and mangrove logs that were imported from Indonesia. This godown, now abandoned, sits at the rivermouth opposite the present maritime museum.

Painted in early 2004.

Moored Fishing Boat

In this piece, I try to capture the overall feeling of the scenery. It was a windy day, by the sea, in the east coast of the Peninsular - Terengganu. In the foreground is a fishing boat. The boxed object at the end of the boat is a makeshift toilet.

Although not many of these boats can be see these days, you can still find them in the east coast. Anglers will be familiar with the boats.

This piece was done in 2003.

Malacca Rivermouth II

This painting was done from the bridge that overlooks the Malacca rivermouth on the way to Jonker Street. I applied some strokes that are akin to Chinese painings. How did I do with the reflections?

This piece was created in Sept 2004.


This was taken from a photograph - an experiment on getting sunlight on the sails. The picture was sent by a friend.

I tried to create the breakwaters as the ship's hull cuts through the waves and I think I have not been too successful.

Thi was done in Oct 2004.

Sungai Besar

This was done in Sungai Besar, a small fishing village in the State of Selangor. In the foreground is a fishing boat awaiting for the tide to come in.

The spikes you see along both sides of the picture are mooring posts for the fishing boats. Although protected from the elements, these mooring posts keep the boats in place. The houses are built on stilt and have zinc roofs. During the rain, it can be quite noisy in the house.

This was done in Sept 2004.

Malacca rivermouth.

If you have been to Malacca, near the Maritime Museum, you would have seen this. The house in the background is an old godown where charcoal and mangrove logs are stored upon their arrival from Indonesia.

The modern boat rests beside an old fishing boat by the jetty. What I was trying to capture is the play of light and shadows on the hull of the white boat.

This piece was done in Oct 2004.

Where do old boats go?

This a painting of a boats' graveyard somewhere along the west coast of the Peninsula. The scene was captured on film at high tide and depicts of a scene by a fishing village where old boats are moored and left to rot. The one in the foreground was that of an old tugboat, I think, judging from the single compartment it has.


This was one of the earliest pieces which I did. As you can see, it is very amateurish. It was done in March 2004, months after having picked up watercolour again.

The scenery was taken from a photograph sent by a friend who lived overseas.

Fisherman's Boat - Marang

This piece was done in May 2005. It was a picture of tranquil of a fisherman's boat resting beside an island off Marang in Kuala Terengganu. The bridge leads to the island. An artist friend who went ther recently told me that the sea has reclaimed the island and the bridge is but a sumberged wreck. Such is the nature of life, ever transient.

Why watercolours?

I think of all, the most difficult to control is watercolours. It is a very unforgiving medium. Each stroke needs to be carefully thought of, each piece meticulously planned. One mistake means the end (usually) and the artist will have to start all over again. That means recapturing the inspiring moment, put it on paper and correctly this time.

I do watercolour because it is a fast drying medium. I don't have the patience to wait for the work to dry and prefer to complete each piece as time permits me to. Even with this speed, painting outdoors can be quite a challenge because in our tropical weather, the light changes quite fast and capturing the moment's mood and colours can be extremely challenging.

I have listed some of the interesting places on the web - sites of friends with whom I share my interest and who are artists in their own right. Check them out and join us. It is the only way to learn. And don't be fearful of making mistakes. In life, nothing comes easy. And when you make mistakes, chances are that it would have embarrassed you enough that you remember not to make it again.

That is how I see my learning curve grow each day - in life or in art. And that is the same advice I tell my children each time they face disappointment in the face of failure. Hope the same can inspire you daily.

Friday, March 24, 2006

About This Blog

What is this?
Welcome to my watercolour blog. This is my online journal to document my progress as a watercolourist. I did not undergo any formal education in watercolour so I think I can consider myself largely self-taught. And yes, I am an amateur, having a fulltime job elsewhere and doing watercolour as a serious escapade. It is more of a hobby and for the love of this medium.

Why I paint?

I took up watercolour painting three years ago after having abandoned it for over 25 years. Within this site are all my watercolour paintings since 2003.

Where do I begin?

I loved painting and drawing from as young as I can recall. And I have painted quite seriously since I was a teen but back then, art is not exactly something you can earn a living from.

I suppose it is the same all over the world; life as an artists in the 70s is not exactly an enviable career choice.

And when I came to the crossroad of my life back then, of having to decide on what career I would eventually want, I decided to keep art out of the way for practical reasons.

One evening, on a bridge over a swift flowing river, I took my painting set (palette, colours and brushes) and set them on a journey down river. I said back then, I remember vividly, that should our paths cross again, then I would pick up my brush again.

And in 2003, our paths did meet again. A chance meeting with master artist Tang Tuck Kan at the Petronas Art Gallery sparked my interest watercolour again, and a year long tutorship under this wonderful man in one of the many Petronas ClassArt programmes brought me back to watercolours again.

As I painted, I have the good fortune of meeting personally wonderful watercolourists of Malaysia, such as the famous Chang Fee Ming, Chow Chin Chuan, Calvin Chua, Dr Wong Seng Tong, Maamor Jantan (whom I have also had the good fortune to receive a three-month instruction), Rafiee Abdul Rahman and many others. The fact that some of them are self-taught inspired me to continue, albeit my skills are at the disadvantage of the time past but still something that can be acquired with the quantum leap technology that the artistic medium has undertaken.

Painting Technique/Equipment:

I only use one brush to paint - a large Chinese wolf hair brush, a method imparted by my first mentor. I use a wide range of watercolours, with no fondness for any particular brand. I have also started using thicker acid-free paper because of the ease with which I can exploit the water medium.

Painting Subjects:

I usually paint boats and fishing villages in Malaysia. These are the subjects that are near and dear to me, for I have grown up with them and which I know pretty well. My other subject is water, which I feel is most difficult to depict, especially in watercolour.

Recently, I have begun experimenting painting man-made structures such as buildings which I find to be quite a challenge because unlike boats, they come in many forms.


I hope to be able to meet more Malaysian watercolourists, especially the amateur ones since we are in the same boat (no pun intended), to learn from each other and share our knowldge in this very fluid medium.

(updated Oct 2006)