A Light Touch with Oilbars

Thick stubby sticks of hard edged, soft centred waxy oil, oilbars are messy, but look so attractive in the box, you just have to have them to add to your repetroire but then comes the moment you regret it.Oil bars.

Great for making one line bold marks, but otherwise quite cumbersome, strong in pigment, hard to handle and even harder to clean up and if outside on a warm day; forget it!  I couldn’t take to them at all.

But persevere I did as  I wasn’t about to waste £30 of art materials.   I tried them on directly on canvas boards but ended up with muddy colours. A palette knife was slightly easier and managed images I was quite happy with, but this method took out the pleasure of using the sticks directly.


Then came the lightbulb moment of new discovery.

I took them on a March day to do some plein air sketches.  I wanted lots of white paper to show and used my ink and bamboo pens to roughly sketch in some form and structure and found this following technique to be the most rewarding soft and  subtle requiring patience and thought of where the oilbar marks were placed.

The clear mixing stick is key…. lightly drifting some colour across the paper and adding other primaries, the mixing stick allowed the colour to become soft and light and blend without creating mud. Using a cloth and finger it’s possible to take some away and also spread it across different areas.  Adding directly on top with darker colour and more pressure gives great contrast and texture.

The white is indispensible too.  It changes colours dramatically and brings areas together as well as adding strong dabs to put highlights back in.  I discovered beautiful neutrals and adding small amounts of bright intense colour on top, the image started to pop.

I’m sure this is possible with a normal oil palette, but being able to get a little subtlety into an artwork with such large brash oilbars gives great satisfaction and great results.  I think they are going to be my travel companions from now on, along with my painting dungarees too. I still haven’t worked out how to be less messy.

Winter Sunshine

Tavira feels like Bude but warmer and more days of blue skies. We are staying on the east side of the bridge overlooking the river girao with its famous Roman bridge spanning it.

Unrestored, but used, a little cafe and bakery at the end.

       Unrestored, but used, a little cafe and bakery at the end.

Over the ten days we have got to recognise several characters who come and go. The guy who dresses in a over large white suit and walks a dog with a bell, someone in a  cottage who climbs down the ladder and pees in the river, the fisherman who still sift the river bottom at low tide for clams and the daily gathering of around 12 -15 men of all ages that play petange every afternoon.  People watching is a universal pleasure and there are plenty of cafes to enjoy a tostada, brioche,  coffee or beer and so just that . Self catering,we have made the most of the local market, full of fresh fish, local veg and lovely fruit, speaking of which we bought a box of around 3kgs of strawberries for 4€ from a couple of street sellers wandering the streets who shouted up to our balcony . It really is cheap to self cater here if you eat like a local and fish and meat are great value and you eat really healthy apart from an odd pastel de nata, Portuguese tarts.

Tavira has remained largely unspoilt because of its narrow back roads and long paved rTavira 2016 (19) (600x800)oads with very few hotels.

It’s full of locals. The  ex pats and tourists that reside there provide into the local economy and there are lots of cafes and modern bars existing alongside the original.
With few hotels in Tavira, it has retained it’s character and there are even patches of wilderness, probably owned by the many churches which add to the wildlife and natural feel of the place.  With over 30 churches and over a thousand years of history, the architecture is stunning from large grand homes, some restored but most faded and even falling down to lovely town houses and the small dark fisherman’s cottages.


A remnant of the moorish days, many of  the doors are adorned with ‘The hand of Fatima’, pairs of lovely knockers. Said to protect the home, Fatima holds an apple or some think it’s a  pomegranate. No idea of the significance but did notice some doors that had a female and a male hand. Apparently men and women chose their own gender knocker and the homeowners would know if it was a lady or man calling .

The castle area gives great views over the town and the gardens are full of daturas, poinsettias, roses and of course the ubiquitous orange trees, laden with ripe fruit, as were other public spaces with some restored areas, but lots of lovely wilderness and lightly tended parks.

We took two trips out to the Ria Formosa, a protected nature park with islands lagoons and wetlands which has such biodiversity. Ferries run to the sand barriers which have the most beautiful sandy beaches littered with shells.

Tavira 2016 (31) (800x577)

Quatra Aguas is walkable past the salt pans where there is a well known fish restaurant where we tried razor clams which I don’t think we will be eating again! Barril beach is accessible by train or walking and  has an anchor cemetery, a remnant of the tuna fishing industry.

We saw  flamingoes, all sorts of wading birds, a hare and three hoopoes (  crested colourful birds living in maritime pines).

For a winter break and a bit of R & R in the sunshine, it couldn’t have been better. I even got some sketching and a few watercolours done too. Perfect.