Hello watercolor friends,
One question I often get before a workshop is what colors and brushes I

use. Of course, it is personal which ones you prefer, but it can be good to know if you are going to participate in a workshop and want to try to do exercises fully. My tip is to buy good paint of good quality, they are more expensive and are more light-resistant, it will be cheaper in the long run. I use Schmincke Horadam, very good colors, at a good price (and I am not sponsored by them in any way).
I do not have many different colors and could manage with fewer. An advantage of using few colors is that you quickly learn how they behave. It will also be easier to keep track of how they mix with each other. Another advantage is that you do not have to think about which of all your colors you should use, instead you immediately start mixing the color you need. It saves time, believe me. I sometimes have participants with several palettes full of different colors. The brush almost dries while they try to find the right color to paint with.
I prefer tube paints, so you can quickly get a lot of pigment in the brush. It also makes it easy to refill the palette when it starts to run out. A good palette I think should include: A warm and clear red (eg quinacridone red light) A cooler red (a little purple, I use alizarin crimson), A warm yellow (any, it does not matter much). I myself use indian yellow, but quinacridone gold also works well. A cold blue (ultramarine blue) I also have a cobalt blue, because it is so beautiful. A more greenish blue, such as phatalo blue or cerulean blue. Some earth tones are also good to have. I use yellow ocher and burnt sienna. I also have a black, neutral tint, but paynes gray probably works well too. Be careful with these, it gets dirty, gray and dead easily. The black one I could be without, but it is good when you want really dark. Avoid black if you are unsure.
Cobalt turquoise is a color that is difficult to mix. It’s the only green I have. Green is usually best if you mix it with yellow and blue colors.
Having good quality paper is the most important thing of all. I use Arches 300 g rough, but Saunders Waterford 300 g also works well. It is important that the paper is real watercolor paper, made of 100% cotton. Do not use a paper called watercolor paper but it does not say what it is made of, it should say 100% Cotton.

The brushes are the least important. You do not need a brush for a 100 Euros, your paintings will not get better for that. Once I was without brushes and had to borrow a simple school brush. It did not look much to the world and probably did not cost more than 50 cents, but it could paint, for sure. Remember that you are not painting with the brush, you are painting with your brain. I do not use so many brushes, only four. One larger mop, one between brush, and one small. The small one I could manage without, is mostly used to sign the painting.

  • Size: Raphael SoftAqua 805 Mop – 2
  • Middle: Escoda, Perla series 1430 (white toray), round – 10
  • Small: Escoda, Perla series 1430 (white toray), round – 4
  • Rigger: COTMAN 333, round rigger 1462

I Also have a thin and narrow brush, so-called rig, for long thin lines, such as power lines. The amount of brushes is the same as the amount of colors, if you do not have that many brushes, you do not have to think so much about which of all your brushes you should use. It saves time and you can concentrate on painting. Of course, when I paint large paintings, I have larger brushes. But if you are a beginner, I do not recommend you should paint big, it is much much more difficult. Quartz sheets are a good size to start with, 28 x 38 cm.

Good luck!

Stefan Gadnell

Nice shadow from Josephs hat

On the last day we painted in Girona. Joseph choose a bit up the river with the red bridge of Eiffel and a church in the background. He worked a long time with the many sunlit roofs. The difficulty here is to not make it too uniform, you have to vary everything, both colors, strengths and shapes. 

On the other side of the river, the buildings stretched all the way past us. Joseph chose to end with a house wall. The dark wall looked very good at first, but apparently Joseph was not happy with it. He continued to work on it. Usually a big mistake and the same was true for the world’s best watercolour painter, the wall just got worse and worse. Finally he stopped and the wall seamed okay. 

It’s great to see how he carefully completes one piece at a time. It’s easy to paint a little bit here, a little bit there. But Joseph often pointed out the importance of finishing each part before moving on to the next. On this picture you could clearly see how the image was divided into different areas with different textures. The sky is one type, the roof with its bright and dark bits another, the dark house wall a third. Last of all Joseph painted the soft water, which give us another type of texture. Clever.

Here you can compare the view with Josephs painting

I am satisfied with this part of my painting over the bridge. Watercolor by Stefan Gadnell 

We all tried to paint a similar motif but it became dirty for me. Joseph commented that the buildings in the background were too dark and I tried to lighten them, but it was difficult to do that afterwards. Well, that’s how you learn, by making mistakes.

In the afternoon, Joseph chose to paint a square, with umbrellas, cars and people outside a restaurant. Here he also managed very well, the light was brilliant, the buildings was simplified. There were no people sitting outside, so he made them up. Excellent work.

As before, Joseph went on to help us all with our attempts to paint.

This has been a great trip, seeing a master at work and meeting such wonderful people from all over the world.

Thank you Angela and Joseph for making this possible!

Me, painting in Girona

Joseph had a sun cover implemented in his board

Today we went to Calella de Palafrugell. We went down to the beach. Joseph warned us to paint in the sun. It can look great when you painting, but when you see the image at home it will look terrible, way too dark. He spread out his board, pulled out a piece of iron wire and connect it to the board as support. Voilá, he got a small sun roof above his paper. Very clever.

Joseph  exclude all bathing people and instead he painted some fishermen.

He painted the beach with boats in the sea and on land. He was very accurate with one of the boats lying on the sway, saying that if you do one boat in detail, the others looks the same. The boats on the beach were white, but the surface was in the shade. Looking closely afterwards, you see that they are very dark compared to the sunlit sand. It was interesting to see how careful Joseph was with the shadows.

My painting is a bit to vivid, but I like the composition. Watercolor by Stefan Gadnell 

We painted all a similar subject. Joseph thought my nearest boat was too small. I drew it immediately bigger, it became much better.

After lunch, Joseph painted another demo, with people on the beach, trees and a lot of houses in the background. Making many buildings that are dense is very difficult. Here, Joseph showed his skill. He made it very good and you can see the specific buildings. 

We did not have much time to paint (because some of us did take a swim first). 

Joseph signed my book at page 23.

In the evening I showed my book, “Obsessed with Watercolor”, for Joseph. He has three of his paintings in it. He carefully scrolled through the book, looked at each pages, even if it was in Swedish. He signed it on page 23. Thanks, Joseph.

Joseph Zbukvic and me

Continue reading day 5, the last day

I in middle stands Joseph, Angela is filming the demo to the right.

This day we painted Girona, a very beautiful city with old buildings and narrow streets. Joseph took us to a narrow passage with a long older staircase leading up to a big green church gate.




A very difficult subject. He sketched the gate quick and easy, straight on, without any thought of composition as it seemed. He was careful about the wide staircase, saying that there is no shortcut for stairs. You have to draw all steps. He painted everything with weak gray beige paint, left little white surfaces here and there. Then he let it dry. Then he painted from top to bottom, sometimes a wide brush stroke, but usually small lines, what he calls calligraphy. He added a person and then he made a shadow across. He worked a long time with the shadow to get it right.



Then we would paint and I did not feel like painting the same thing, so me and Margaretha painted in the other direction, from the stairs downwards. Now, afterwards, I feel it was better to paint the same thing as Joseph, then I had learned more.





After lunch we went to the famous bridge in Girona as so many famous watercolour painters has painted. Joseph made a “grayish” image towards the sky which he filled with many figures. If you have too much water in the brush and paint on wet it flows out. Joseph showed that you should have a thick color to paint on wet och moist paper. He mentions the different consistency of water, coffee, cream and Nutella. With Nutella you can paint on wet paper and colors remain.

Then it was up to us. We painted across the street, with the light in from the side. A difficult subject, with a shadow across the building. Joseph commented on my windows, never make the windows look the same, he said. They should be in the right place but never painted exactly the same.

This is my attempt were the shadow became much bigger then I first wanted.

I also discovered the risk of painting outside. I did an okay sketch, it looked good. Long later, when I painted the shadow, it become much bigger and stretched across the building, on to the street. I painted as it looked right now and got completely wrong, it became way to big. My composition that I had in the beginning with was forgotten.



Joseph Zbukvic. Every day at five a-clock it’s time for “five-a-clock-beer!

One of the Escoda brother making a brush

In the evening Escoda Brushes came to the hotel and showed us how they make the best brushes in the world. Fun and interesting to see.


Then there was dinner …. and guess what? 

Yes, fish.

Continue with day 4

Besalú, with the beautiful stone bridge entrance

Today we went by bus to Besalú, half an hour from Girona. We would actually go to the beach for a seascape, but there would be thunder and rain that day according to the weather forecast.

Besalú is a small town, with walls as shelter and a stone bridge with gates over a small river.

Josephs watercolor showing the bridge

Joseph demonstrated close to the water. He painted the tower and some of the bridge that led into the city. He pointed out that you don’t have to paint everything around you, paint what you see without moving your eyes. He sketched quickly, without lifting the pen too much. He painted a light layer over almost the entire image and let it dry. Then he finished everything from left to right. It is important not to jump here and there when painting. The whole picture was almost clear when he finally painted the green water. Flowing and fast, and everything got to flow together. It looked very good.

My watercolor that was not sold because I don’t understand spanish. Watercolor by Stefan Gadnell 

Then we started painting nearby. A man came to me and spoke Spanish. I did not understand a word of what he said but nodded nicely when he spoke and gestured. After a while, I got his card and he went away. One of the participants in the course was able to speak Spanish and had heard what the man said. She later told me that the man had wanted to buy my painting.

Big square in Besalú

We lunched with Joseph and Angela Barbi, who organised the workshop. She has started and runs EPC Art Courses, which organises workshops in Girona and Catalonia. Here you will be able to paint with the world’s best artists in a stunningly beautiful environment. https://epc-artcourses.com

A large square in Besalú was what Joseph wanted to paint next. He removed the trees, they were ugly he sad. At first it looked a bit dirty but after a while the picture grew. He emphasised the importance of checking the moisture on the paper and on the brush. The paper may be dry, damp, moist and wet. That in combination with how much pigment you have on brush is very important. When you can handle it, you can paint, he informed us.

Joseph “fixed” a lot at the end to make the picture really good. We common mortals had been satisfied a long time ago 🙂

We had a very short time to paint ourselves. My tip to you as joining a workshop like this is to paint small pictures, quartz sheets, or less. Then you may have time to complete them.

Fish was swerved as main course.

Jossephs painting of the big square in Besalú

Continue with day 3

We had the privilege of attending a workshop with Joseph Zbukvic, one of the world’s best watercolour artist. I have been trying to participate for many years, but his courses have always been fully booked year in advance. Last year, around Christmas, EPC Art Courses announce a workshop in Girona with Joseph. Exactly three o’clock I managed to press the button and we got two places, for me and my wife Margaretha. We were lucky, The waiting list for a workshop with Joseph is around 350 people.

But who is this popular artist?

Joseph Zbukvic was born in 1951 in Zagreb, former Yugoslavia. He is autodidact and has painted his entire life. As an eighteen year old, he immigrated to Australia because of the political situation in his home country. There he studied industrial design, but soon discovered that watercolour would be his life. He quickly made a success in exhibitions and had great success in various art competitions.

A simple practice, said Joseph, a beach

The first day we painted indoor, in a studio above a bar in Girona. Joseph painted a very simple picture, as he told us, with a beach, a mountain, and a man with a dog.

“This is easy, later this week it’s gonna be much more difficult, joked Joseph. He partly moistening the sky. Then on with a little color so he got both soft and hard edges. The beach was painted smoothly and he put a little blue close to the water, because the wet sand reflects the sky. A few quick brush strokes in the water made the paint stand on top of the rough paper, so called drybrush  Suddenly we began to see waves and how the sun shines on the water.

Then we should paint the same, he said. We started and Joseph walked to us and commented, he pointed out what we could improve.

My attempt was okay. Joseph thought that the forest was a bit to turquoise. Watercolor by Stefan Gadnell 

Sedan skulle vi måla likadant. Joseph gick runt bland oss 20 deltagare och kommenterade, han påpekade vad som skulle förbättras.

It looked very simple when Joseph did this…

The first day we painted indoor, in a studio above a bar in Girona. Joseph painted a very simple picture, as he told us, with a beach, a mountain, and a man with a dog.

“This is easy, later this week it’s gonna be much more difficult, joked Joseph. He partly moistening the sky. Then on with a little color so he got both soft and hard edges. The beach was painted smoothly and he put a little blue close to the water, because the wet sand reflects the sky. A few quick brush strokes in the water made the paint stand on top of the rough paper, so called drybrush  Suddenly we began to see waves and how the sun shines on the water.

My colourful attempt. Watercolor by Stefan Gadnell 

Then we should paint the same, he said. We started and Joseph walked to us and commented, he pointed out what we could improve.

In the afternoon he painted a landscape. A photo he took from the bus was a reference. First the sky in the same way as before, then the green landscape. Here he told us about Mr Bead and Mr Gravity. Mr Bead is a long drop of color and water across the paper, a small stream of water that you can lead down, without getting ugly edges. Mr Gravity pulls the pigment down, so sometimes it may be good to keep the picture on the slope, maybe even up side down. He was careful to leave small white spots here and there. These little pieces were then transformed into buildings and other objects. 

-If you paint the entire surface, if you cover it all with paint, it will die, explained Joseph. In the foreground he laid a warm color and put a wet orange string on top that ran downward. Amazingly, it looked like dry grass. Then we had to make a similar one. It was fun. Joseph went as before around and commented.

All participants at a long table in Girona

In the evening there was dinner in the street outside. We sat next to five artist from Singapore. That was very nice. The other participants at the workshop were from Canada, Germany, USA, France, New Zealand, Holland and Norway. We were served fish for the main course.

Continue with day 2

bugibbaToday it was planned that we would paint the inside of the hotel but Alvaro walked to the square of Bugibba. There, he quickly sketched up one street. Talked a lot. Alvaro put the first wash, where the colors had to flow together. Once the image has dried, he painted only a few dark trees in one corner. He began with something that was really dark. Tough, I thought .

Then he completed the picture piece by piece, he painted finish one wall of the house, completely finished, before continued on another part of the painting. He problems with the car which he removed a few times started it over again. The colors were not so good, he was better at the beginning of the week.

Afterwards, he talked a lot about the philosophy of painting. You have to paint with feeling, it must come from within. Paint for the fun. Learn from mistakes. He went on and on.
Then there was a group photo and farewell.

Thanks, Alvaro, it was a great week!


img_8560Today we went to Marsaloxx, a fishing village in the south of Malta. Alvaro was looking a little in front of the wharf and decided to do a painting overlooking some big boats. It was difficult to find a place to paint, there were boats everywhere. He composed very free. Used viridian green in the water, which was not good. Added a shadow in the foreground to get the water to glow. He worked a lot with the focus point, the boats in the foreground. I was very fascinated by how quickly and easily he got to the city in the background. Very good.

img_8576Then we got to paint ourselves. It was difficult to find a place because the sun was strong. I found a place next to some salesmen, a piece of their awning. Again the weather forced us to the site selection. I tried to make the city in the background as Alvaro had done it. Behind the car sat a man in a chair in the shade and I took a few steps and put him in the picture. I did not paint the car. I thought it was good and Alvaro came by and liked 😉

When I was done with the picture Alvaro thought that I had made it too dark in some areas. There should be only a “darkest dark” and it would have been around the figure. The buildings were okay and the boats were well painted, but they were too dark. The red shade was good. He was absolutely right, and someday I’ll paint this picture.
Then he made a demo below the square, a view of the water and the boats. He completed the picture piece by piece ended with the boats in the foreground. He talked about making the focus point first. Interestingly, his boats were not Maltese boats, he made regular boats with masts. It was very good.

Day 5, last day.


img_8481The third day and we are back in Valletta. Alvaro went first to Baracca Garden, a garden that overlooks the Three Cities. It was windy and Alvaro hesitated, he decided that we would paint there later. We went a bit into the city and Alvaro found a small square. He sat down and showed us how to make figures. He did a quick sweep of the brush, a messy bar. Then he put there heads and painted there legs and suddenly it became a group of people. Figures should be painted, not made with outlines. Train, do 200 per day.

He also showed that each picture will contain five degrees of strength, from white to the darkest dark. You should never just do a picture with only light scaling, which is easily done with watercolor.

img_8482He then went to a street in Valletta, an impossible place with tall buildings on both sides and lots of people. He sketched quickly and then made a first wash of colors that flowed together. When it dried, he put on detail and did a great image. He faded a lot, made a distinct shade of red. Then he saved everything with a few characters and a car at the bottom. He was not really happy, muttering about the watercolor sketchbook. Personally, I think it was very good.

img_8531Then we had a long time to do some painting by ourselves. I found a church near a narrow staircase that went down to a major street. It was raining and I sat under my umbrella, or rather, I had the umbrella over my paper, I sat in the rain. I did as Alvaro said, with interconnected buildings and light areas. I tried to use the full range, from light to dark. I placed the figures in front of the bright party to increase the contrast. I think it was okay. Alvaro forgot that he would comment on our pictures, he was to busy with himself.

On the afternoon Alvaro made a demonstration of the harbor from the Upper Baracca garden. Very difficult subject and it was not so good. He uses viridian green a lot. It’s amazing that he manages to put together a picture of such a difficult subject.
Day 4img_8539





Alvaros paintung in Mdina

mdinaThis day we went to Mdina, Malta’s former capital. It’s an old town with narrow streets, the only place in Malta where there are not so many cars. Alvaro painted a street with a church in backlight.
His first wash contained hot and cold, it is important. After it dried he painted dark gray buildings which surprised many, but he explained that it was backlit.
The buildings were painted quickly and one fell swoop, you can barely see the line between them. He also set a cloud at the church who first looked very bleak, but it paled ago and was absolutely perfect. The ground he toned and put the two cyclists who happened to come by, one inclined to show the motion. It started to rain and the Philippines held an umbrella with steady hand of the master’s painting. Raindrops can be devastating on a watercolor.


My version

I tried to paint the same scene, linking the buildings and leave the bright street. I did however have warmer color of the houses, but it was difficult to make the walls, it was not as smooth as I had wanted. I placed two people in the picture and Alvaro thought it needed another one, a larger and closer one. He also thought that I should remove the vertical lines of the buildings. I did as he said. Alvaro thought it was good, and patted me on my shoulder. 🙂

img_8454We had then two hours to paint for ourselves. I found a plaza with a wall where tourist have a wide view over Malta. It was raining and I found a small sheltered spot in front of a store. We could not easily choose a good spot in the rain, we had to pint where we find shelter. I thought it went well, it shone in the street and I forgot to draw umbrellas on the figures. Sometimes it came a little rain on the paper so the sky is a bit pattern.

Afterwards we gathered in a museum and we set up our pictures along the wall. Alvaro sat with a laser pointer and commented on all of our pictures. Alvaro did not like my picture, it was the wrong color to be Mdina. The figures were the wrong size for the car.

img_8467Alvaro made a demonstration inside since the premises because the rain had increased. Alvaro painted a wall with two tables and a large mirror in the middle. He made the big mirror in the middle to a painting and placed two people and a chair in the room. Looked darked, but was very good in the end. He founded the wall with red, alizarin, and then paint over with cerulean blue. To found with a contrast color meant that the blue color will glow, he said. Notice how the board is very light behind the people, all to increase the contrast.

Then we all had to paint in the room. It was hard to find something to paint, and I sat down and did some detailed work on my previous paintings. Alvaro walked around and painted on our papers. It was fun and I ended up on one of the pictures. It is not everyone that have been painted by Alvaro Castagnet 🙂

Next up, day 3


Alvaro painted me as I was painting