Catherine Hill Bay and Blackbutt Nature Reserve

May 20, 2022 | 6 Comments

This week I’m doing mini road trips to various towns/villages in the Lower Hunter region.

On Monday morning I drove down to the tiny historic coal mining town of Catherine Hill Bay. I’ve been to this location a number of times in the past as I designed a house here (back in the days when I worked as an architect). So it was fun to return and sketch here.

There is a beautiful beach with an interesting feature – an abandoned pier that was used for loading coal onto ships. Coal mining is a huge part of the history of this region and its impact is seen often. The first time I came here I was shocked to see a big ship at the end of the jetty. (When I get home I will see if I can find a photo of it to add to this article). 

The subject of my first sketch was obvious!

Here is my sketch just before starting to paint.

My go-to technique for this trip has become to start with ink and then add coloured pencil for colour/ texture. Watercolour then goes over the top and I try not to add any further coloured pencils over the paint.

My goal is to only use CP under watercolour and I’ve been experimenting with different combinations of colours (CP vs watercolour) and different pressure of my pencil strokes vs pigment to water ratio of my washes. It’s still very much a work in progress… but it’s a super fun way to sketch!

Here is the ‘finished’ sketch. There are still a few little tweaks that I would like to make to this sketch – which I might do when I get home and do a more serious review of my work from this trip.

The village of ‘Catho’ consists of two streets with lots of little miners cottages (many have been extended significantly!) I wanted to sketch an overall view of the village but couldn’t find the right view. The balcony of the Surf Club might have been the spot for that.

There is only  a small pub in the village – not even a general store! But  at the top of the hill where they are building lots of new houses there is a new cafe. I enjoyed my toastie from the cafe in a shipping container while listening to some of the conversations by locals and numerous tradies (tradesman/builders).

This is another page that needs a little more work (especially to the map which was done on some Claire Fontaine sample pages I was given by the lovely owners of Adamstown Art).

It was then time to find a few cottages to sketch…

… and I settled on this view looking down the main road. There are some interesting CP/watercolour bits in this sketch but they don’t photograph well.


I then drove back to Newcastle and visited Blackbutt Nature Reserve. (It feels strange not to have sketched any gum trees for a week).

I was expecting a bush (forest) park and was super surprised that it includes a mini wildlife park with native animals! And I was a bit shocked that in the first enclosure I stumbled upon…

… a koala who was awake! Seeing a koala not asleep is rare indeed.

And he even sat up for a few seconds…

… only to immediately return to his slumber. I didn’t bother getting my sketchbook out! 

There were a number of great enclosures with a few favourites (tawny frog-mouths and black cockatoos) but the only one I took a photo of was of an eastern water dragon. Ha! I have seen so many of them in the wild up close that I hardly needed to stop for this one.

The sun was going down quickly (one of the disadvantages of travelling in late autumn) but I found a low wall to sit on for this sketch.

I’ve done lots of bush sketches with watercolour pencils and paint, and a few with just coloured pencils… but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with CPs and paint. This sketch turned out to be an opportunity for testing different things… and the next bush CP/watercolour will be much more successful – I’m sure! 🙂

This would have been a nice view to sketch too – but it was a little too late in the day to attempt it.

My final sketch for my Newcastle stay was another cafe session the next morning. Starting with a coffee and a yummy breakfast!

Followed by a tea! BTW most of the time my CP lines are quick and rough! 🙂

A cast iron pot is always fun to draw!

And here is the finished spread. It was then time to hit the road and travel inland to Maitland.

I had an incredible time in Newcastle!

As I’ve said in an earlier article, I’ve been blown away by what a fantastic sketching location it is and I hope to return soon. It was really good to have a city-based week and have 10 nights in the one location. I love exploring cities and visiting lots of great cafes! 🙂

Since Monday I’ve been exploring towns around the Maitland area and it’s been wonderful to be in country areas again. So stay tuned for some sketches of  historic towns and river views in my articles next week.


  • Peggy Bowman says:

    Liz, I’m loving your combination travelogue with photos and journal sketches. It’s such fun to travel vicariously with you and see everything through your eyes. Seeing the photo, then your sketch really helps reinforce the lessons you’ve taught on simplifying a scene. Many thanks for sharing and staying in touch with us. Safe travels!

  • Lesley Dawe says:

    Thank you so much, Liz. I am not only learning so much about sketching / painting / colour pencils from you, but also about Australia! As I have a friend in Sydney, it is even more fascinating.

  • Mary Eastwood says:

    What a wonderful iron teapot! Its so much fun & so interesting to follow your travel sketching adventures. I love to see your use of coloured pencils mixed with watercolour paint. They are so texturally beautiful. Thanks for sharing your works with all of us!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Mary! Yes that pot was nice. And yes lots of possibilities for interesting texture with cp and watercolour!

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