I visited Tunisia this summer (2015) for the first time and stayed with my partner's family in a suburb of Tunis for 3 weeks.
This area proved to be a very rich resource for painting and sketching. The shapes of the houses and mosques combined with the consistent light created interesting shadows that begged to be painted. There were lots of mosques among the houses and the minarets attracted me. I loved the dark windows against the white or cream walls. A lot of the doors were light blue which was attractive against the pale walls.
I used only watercolour. To begin with I struggled with the climate. In England it takes some time for a wet wash to dry, however in this heat a wet wash is dry in seconds. While trying to paint my first seascape in La Goulette near Tunis cauliflowers formed on the paper because I had thought the paper was still wet enough to paint onto but was in fact rapidly drying out!
I found quickly that sketchbook studies were more successful in this climate for me rather than producing finished paintings on the spot. I worked at all times of the day sketching in the alleyways near where I was staying.
Before coming to Tunisia I had bought a few new colours that were relatively unfamiliar to me - Turquoise, Olive green and Naples yellow. Knowing the buildings would be pale in colour I bought Naples yellow in anticipation of this and indeed it did prove to be my most useful colour. I also mixed it with Colbalt blue and Paynes grey (with a touch of Dioxazine violet for the shadows. Turquoise and Olive green proved less useful.
In England street scenes have little appeal for me because in England often whole streets can contain rows of houses that are all alike from the outside. Whereas in Tunisia every house is different in shape, decoration and size which adds real interest. All have the same basic square format with pale cream or white walls but within this there is huge variation.
The technique I came to favour most was drawing. I would create quite a detailed drawing underneath and then wash it over with watercolour in my sketchbook. In England I don't draw first, I use a brush straight away.
On starting to sketch and paint in Tunisia I quickly realised that techniques I relied on in England would be useless out here partly because of the heat and drying times and also because of the shapes of the buildings. There were many more straight lines and sharp edges in the buildings that were very subtle. Pen would have been too harsh and I found watercolour on its own did not give the pictures enough vibrancy. Pencil and watercolour seemed to be a perfect combination. However I still used pure water colour for my few coastal painting I attempted. I just had to add lots more water for my washes and be much quicker.
I am hoping to combine these sketches I have created here along with the many photos I have taken to create some watercolour paintings of this ordinary working class area of Tunis.