Art Practice interview with Chan Dissanayake


Please welcome Chan Dissanayake to the Gingernut Express. Chan is an award winning watercolour artist living in the Canberra, Australia. I met Chan teaching at the Artscene Summer and Winter Schools in Bathurst. A master at his medium, his classes are constantly booked out, as he has quite the reputation for offering every student encouragement and positivity as they tackle the challenging medium of water colour. His ability to capture light in his art is something that he manages to provide for all those in his classes. Driven by a love for capturing the mood of a landscape, he is continually working at improving his craft. Read on to see how he makes it happen!


Where you always a creative person?

I fell in love with drawing from a very early age. Spending my early childhood in a rural village in Sri Lanka connected me with Mother Nature. I still remember filling my drawing books in my kindergarten days recalling and recording what I had seen. I believe that we are all born with creativity; the difficulty is retaining it as we grow older and wiser! Also, like everything else in life, it needs to be nourished and further developed with persistent effort.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I don’t think I ever considered on becoming an artist; I practiced art for the love of it. I worked in the IT industry as a computer programmer and painting was my pastime; the discovery of the watercolour medium intrigued me and it was definitely the turning point in my journey..

When did you decide to dedicate more time on your art practice?

I discovered watercolour in 2006, and it challenged me to understand this illusive medium; I was seduced by its charm and magic, but could not explain some of the disastrous results. 

This perplexity took me down a path of intense study and discovery. By 2013, I was teaching watercolour; and also discovered my passion for teaching; it was probably then I decided to dedicate more time to art.

Chan’s water colour palette in action.

Where do you make your art?

I’m lucky enough to have a studio for my art making. I think everyone needs a space for their creations; even students. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a grand studio, but a space for your-self.  The most important part is that you can leave a half finished work without cleaning up! I find by cleaning you are also cleaning away your creative thoughts. If left untouched, you could pick it up later from where you left off; from the creative mess!

Where do you store your paintings? 

As almost all my paintings are watercolours on paper; it’s easy to store them; however I have a storage cupboard, but only store paintings worth keeping. Others end up on my recycle bin (I only use 100% cotton rag paper which is recyclable!)

How do you plan your art making?

I spend much time planning my works as painting. Because “By failing to plan, you are planning to fail”

Watercolour is not a medium that give you many second chances; so planning is essential.

I do lots of small compositional thumbnail sketches, tonal sketches and colour studies as part of my planning.  Also use my travel sketchbook for reference information.

Tools of the trade

What mediums and materials do you use?

I’m a watercolour artist; so I use transparent watercolour on paper. I use a few artist quality paint brands such as Winsor & Newton, Schmincke and Daniel Smith. I do sometimes use a little body colour like Gouache in small details.

My two favoured watercolour papers are Arches and Saunders Waterford in rough or medium texture. The two papers behave slightly differently; the Saunders paper is very responsive and creates lot of the magic by itself, especially in the fusion of wet washes; however dries quicker and lighter; whereas the Arches paper is a workhorse, stays wet longer and can take on few layers without losing its vibrancy. Hence my choice of paper generally depends on the subject and the process involved.

I also have some favourite brushes that I use; the natural squirrel hair mops brushes like Da Vinci or Chinese calligraphy brushes for my broad washes; However, I love the synthetic rounds of Escoda Perla for finer details.

Blue Boats. Watercolour on archival paper. 38 X 57cm

What is the focus of your art practice?

My paintings are based on my response to inspired moments or subjects in nature. I paint lot of landscapes. Hence my main focus is capturing the essence and the mood of my subject. I paint in a realist-impressionist style; but paint fast to avoid unnecessary fiddling. The curse of every watercolourist is overworking!

Molesworth Street, Lismore. Watercolour on archival paper. 25cm x 34cm

How do you schedule your time?

I don’t like to enforce tight schedules on my art. Some ideas spring instantly while others take time to develop. However when it comes to my art, I’m disciplined and highly focused. Inspiration doesn’t always come to you; sometimes we have to go half-way to meet her!

Do you like to work in complete silence or do you have music or other things playing in the background?

I generally work in complete silence; I find it works better to focus my energies into the painting process. If I do have any background music it’s mostly in a foreign language or an instrumental so my attention is not drawn to its words!  Painting for me is an exhaustive business; it requires deep concentration.

Snow at Adaminaby. watercolour on archival paper. 34 x 53cm.

Where do you show/sell your art?

I sell my art in Galleries such as Bungendore Woodworks Gallery NSW and exhibitions both nationally and internationally. 

However it’s unfortunate due to the current climate, a lot of galleries are closing their doors. I think most artists would find it a struggle to sell their paintings in unprecedented times such as now. Hopefully things will return to normality. I do sell my work on online galleries such as Bluethumb

How do you pay the bills? How do you balance your art making income and out goings with other income?

Besides from painting I teach watercolour and lead a few painting trips throughout the year. Also I teach regular watercolour classes at the Australian National University (ANU).

Teaching is another source of income to supplement the bills and other expenses.

How do you keep motivated? 

When it comes to art, I’m highly motivated; Watercolour is a challenging medium. It can even humble an experienced artist; you are never too far from a disaster. I’m always conscious that it’s these unexpected results that make you learn and grow as an artist. I like to enjoy the journey; whatever may be the destiny!

SnowGums. Watercolour on Archival paper. 34cm x 53cm.

When do you hit a flat spot and how do you get over it?

As artists we often encounter flat spots where nothing seems to work or the results will not fulfil our expectations. In these times I try to switch off and do something different; I may do some small design sketches, attend a life drawing class or do some plein-air paintings. It’s often the plein-air experience that re-charges my batteries; its spontaneity and simultaneous engagement of senses revitalise my energies!

How do you tackle social media in the new ‘self promotion’ arena we find ourselves in.

I think most artists find it a struggle in the ‘self-promotion’ arena. It’s not inherent in us to be self-promoters. I’m no exception.

I truly believe the best self-promotion is to produce good art! It is then your clients will start noticing you and start valuing your work.

But in this digital age, I think social media is a great way to connect with the world and be seen.

What is the hardest thing about being a painter?

For me the hardest thing being an artist is being self-disciplined and motivated. We all go through some lows and challenges. In times of uncertainty like the current climate; we must remain optimistic. The world needs creativity to function; that’s what makes us human.

What would you say is the best thing about your art life?

The best thing about my art life is I’m doing something that I’m passionate about. It doesn’t feel like hard work because I love and live every moment; even when I’m having a bad day, because I know a good day is not too far away!

What is one thing you would recommend to others struggling to get more art in their life?

My recommendation is to make use of any available time and dedicate to art.  We live in a time-poor society, but with determination, dedication and hard work your journey can take you a long way. It’s never too late!

Chan instructing on site during one of is workshops in Tuscany, Italy.

Where can others see your work or find out about your workshops?

My art works can be found on my website  and purchase art works on online gallery Bluethumb

I also have a Facebook page and an Instagram account which I constantly update.

All my upcoming workshops can be found at

Make sure to check out Chan’s episode on Colour in your Life for some expert tips here >

Do you have any exciting art adventures happening in the near future? 

Currently, I’m working on a body of work towards a solo exhibition. It will be held at the Bungendore Woodworks Gallery NSW later this year. I also have a few upcoming art retreats and overseas painting trips.



Check out more artist interviews here

Kristine Ballard – Contemporary Colourist

Melony Smirniotis – Textural Expressionist


These monthly instalments are a sneak peak into how other artists I know build an art life and maintain a creative existence. I hope you will  jump on board as we take a few trips beyond the easle on THE GINGERNUT EXPRESS!

The Gingernut Express is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on
© Kristine Ballard 2020