Painting Adventures

Hilary Page (the Artist Magazine Feb.2024)

A chance meeting with an artist in Egypt changed my painting life. The meeting happened at a small desert Inn located on the abrupt line between the arid desert and verdant, arable land by the Nile at Luxor. An unusual British woman with her head wrapped like an Egyptian sat at a table eating vegetable soup in the shaded courtyard full of lush green plants.  She was an artist on a painting holiday, alone. She invited my husband and I to her room to see her  watercolor paintings of Egyptian people.

Giza Pyramid from the Mena House Hotel, 10×8” painted on acid free mat board.







Luxor: Looking Across the Nile to the Valley of the Kings 10×9” painted on acid free mat board. We got a local ferry across the Nile and walked to the tombs.

 She didn’t pay the models who were always happy to pose, she told me, but gave them in-kind payment.   I had been burning to paint people. Drawing on her example and courage, I couldn’t get into the field fast enough. And I never looked back.

Egyptian Guard 11×8.5” on smooth, acid free paper. In exchange for modeling, I gave him gum, for which he seemed well pleased.











Evening Discussion on the Ferry 20×15” Painted from a photograph using the same procedure as in the field. i.e., I memorized and then painted the mid-tone shadow shapes. Then, preserving the white of the paper for the lights, I added the darks.






Painting Travel-Gear

I don’t use a sketch book. I like to frame and sell my paintings if they turn out OK. I do half sheets of arches 140lb (Not) or smaller, that I transport in the ‘plane’s overhead storage in an unpretentious, cut-off watercolor paper box to which I attached a duct-tape shoulder strap! The rest of my equipment fits in a small bag.

I painted the colour wheel using a minimal palette: Primaries on the outside ring; Secondaries mixed from two colors in the middle ring and Tertiaries mixed from three primaries on the inner ring. These are the paints:                                                                                                                                                                                                 Tubes  1.(Winsor) Lemon Yellow PY175 (2)2.Quinacridone Magenta PR122 3.Cobalt Blue PB28 – translucent, light. 4.French Ultramarine Deep (Holbein) PB29 – dark, textural, lifts.                                     Paints squeezed into pans in my paint-box. 5.Permanent Rose (quinacridone) PV19rs (cheap) 6.Winsor (phthalo) Blue PB15-1rs – powerful, staining. 7.Winsor (phthalo) Green bs PG7 – powerful, staining; makes darks, fresh greens. 8.Pyrol Scarlet PR255 – warm red 9.Lunar Magnetic black PBk11- textural; won’t lift.  I picked these paints because of their colour and handling characteristics.                                                                                                                                                                                     Palettes: Three seal-able white, round in which I place my paint tubes during travel; a plastic paint tray/box adapted to hold small and large paint pans. Small water containers Velcroed to it so they don’t fall off.                                                                                                                                                                                                      Brushes: Variously sized flats, one with a beveled end; one quality round sable with a pointed tip.             Also: double, tipped black marker; clip; natural sponge; cotton rags.                                                                         Visualizer with a cross grid for composition and “drawing”.                                                                                   Mirror for quick critique held above my shoulder with my back to the painting.

 Painting in Peru

Old Spanish Building, Lima, Peru 15×22”  I painted the building from the up-stairs window in the safety of the home where we were staying. My husband worked days, so I had plenty of painting time. After laying in the building I added the greenery on either side. I wet one side at a time before dropping in paint. The beveled end of my paint-brush served to push the partially wet paint aside to draw out the palm fronds and tree branches. If paint is too wet, the scrapped areas will be dark. If dry, this technique will not work! I used a pen for finer details.

Pink Building 15×22” Tip: Paint in a safe place.  I stood catty-cornered to the building at an intersection in front of an enormous, waist-high pottery pot with flowers – perfect as a table for my paints. It was hot. I had just moved to shade behind the flower pot when there was an enormous bang. A VW beetle came hurtling across the street and crashed into the pot, exactly where I had been standing. I was too shaken to paint anymore.                        

Shoeshine 1 Miraflores, Lima, Peru 15×22” 

Thereafter I stuck to street portraits at the neighbourhood, Miraflores park. I sat on its paths near large trees and a few sad looking flowers beds.  My models were shoeshine boys. We didn’t speak the same language but they understood the terms – I would pay them to model. “Dinero”, (based on the approximate model rate in the USA.) Good money. Plenty of willing subjects. Each portrait took about thirty+ minutes. I had the money counted out and easily accessible in my pocket. I sat on the ground resting my paper on my cardboard carrier with paints and brushes hidden underneath. Absolutely no camera. I posed each fellow so as to make a composition. They didn’t get paid until they signed their portrait.  Juan couldn’t write so  Jose signed his portrait for him.

My activity generated large crowds. A few jokers made what must have been racy comments because they drew hearty laughter. But I didn’t care. I couldn’t understand!   
Shoeshine 2 , 15×21” I emphasized the figures using a watercolor marker with a soft tip.

Enrique 15×10”














One time when the model came to sign his portrait, he grabbed my painting and took off. He wanted more money. I resolutely marched up to him, gave him his money with one hand and grabbed my painting with the other. A member of the crowd was embarrassed by this. He said he was an artist and wanted to give me a painting to make up for his countryman’s bad manners. At an arranged time, he came to the pension where we were staying and asked me to pick one of four paintings of Andean campesinos. I picked the painting below.

Los Arrieros 15×19” I was touched by his generosity and gave him brushes, paints and paper that were expensive for him in Peru.

On another foray a man who identified himself as a travel agent asked me to paint his family. I trustingly (maybe stupidly) let him drive me to his house. But all was well. I found he had five children. I painted the baby-girl first while the rest of the family jumped up and down behind me to entertain her. I did two faces a day. I popped in the father while he was at his office.

▲Family Portrait 15×22″. I put finishing touches on the balcony at our pension. The light bulb in our room was too dim to paint by!

Amazon Rainforest near Iquitos 11×15” ,  painted from the safety of our little boat so avoiding piranhas and killer ants. I started with a wet-on-wet wash and added details when the wash was dry.

My most extreme Peru painting was 17,500 feet up in the Andes in the Huascarán National Park, on a national holiday. There, from our Benny-Hill, pint-sized bus, we were confronted with the most amazing sight. And it wasn’t the view: An enormous parking area at the edge of a glacier was totally filled with buses: People everywhere in various states of collapse due to lack of oxygen. No facilities…. And it was very cold.  I had a shocking headache. So out come my paints. Headache abates and I have a wonderful memory. of the scene.

Indians Cooking, with Cordillera Blanca Ridge in background Huascarán National Park, Peru 8.5×11”

Outside our “Hostel Juvenal”, Huaraz   8.5×11” We were waiting (in vain) outside our hostal juvenal for a replacement tire for the threadbare tire of the bus taking us down the Andes. I’m not flurried by setbacks; I just paint, even at airports and railway stations.

Painting in Bolivia

Rosa wearing Bombin hat selling coca leaves near Lake Titicaca, 15×11” (Bowler hats were introduced early 1900s by Welsh railroad workers.)

For her skin colour I mixed peach from lemon and magenta, and then added a touch of cobalt blue. For darker skin (below) I added ultramarine blue to the peach colour.









Painting in Venezuela

Children at Playa Grande Todesana . 15×22” – sixty miles from Caracas. I got there in the back of a pick-up truck clinging to the side; paint paraphernalia rested under my feet so it wouldn’t blow away!

Painting in Mexico

▲Flying Colors 15×22” View from the veranda at the villa in Acapulco where for a number of years I taught a week-long watercolour workshop for “Flying Colors Workshops”. A  favourite painting day was the expedition to paint the washerwomen at the village of Coyuca.

Washerwoman 1, Coyuca 15×21” Painted directly on dry paper.

Washerwoman 2, Coyuca 15×22”  Same scene. Different approaches. I started with a wet-on-wet wash and then added thick, dark paint for foreground palm.

On one occasion after the workshop I took a bus to Taxco by myself to paint.

Victoria Hotel, Taxco. 22×15

Colours mixed from three primaries. No pencil drawing: I laid in the broad shapes to get  relative placement of arches and stairs. I negative painted brick steps and tiles using a small, flat brush.

The geometry of this composition, to me, is sheer poetry.












Night Scene from my Balcony at the Hotel Victoria. 15×22” A head lamp, which I didn’t have, is a must for night painting.




Gum Sellers15×20” I bought lots of gum from these little girls and gave dollars to their mother. Interacting with them assuaged my loneliness.





 Painting in China                                                                                                                                                               We went with renowned sculptor Wei-Li Wang, and his portrait and figure group. He took us to his old art school in Beijing where met…..

◄ the sculptor in front of his original sculpture of an ancient dignitary on horseback  that enlarged, stands gigantic en route to the Great Wall.   

◄We visited a school in Shanghai where young children made tonal/value studies of basic forms for their classical art training..



Zhengzhou “9/12” 15 x 22”(38.1 x 59.8cm)  Painted on dry paper; Lively brush-strokes. Reflections appear directly below the object because water is like a mirror.





Evening by the lake 15 x 22” (38.1 x 59.8cm)  Gray is mixed from magenta and blue to make purple, with a touch of lemon to dull it down. The moon appears lighter because it is surrounded by a slightly darker colour with hard edges. I dry-brushed the shimmer on the water.

I hope my adventures and practical tips, inspire you to go on your own or with friends to paint people and places on your next foreign trip. You don’t have to be a pro: Just enjoy the experience.

Originally from England, Hilary Page is author of “Watercolor Right from the Start”, “Color Right from the Start”, “Hilary Page’s Guide to Watercolor Paints”, “Portraits Right from the Start”, seven DVDs and sixty or so magazine articles.



This is the cover of the February 2024 magazine issue in which this article appeared. Not all images were included in the news-stand, print version because of space constraints.