IT PAYS to be patient in the world of Chinese brush painting. Take Lake Macquarie artist, poet and calligraphy expert Stephen Cassettari, for example.
As a painter, he was first drawn to the ancient Asian craft in the 1970s when a friend showed him a book of haiku.
"I liked the little pictures that illustrated the poems and this made me want to learn more about Chinese brush painting," said 67-year-old Stephen, who studied watercolour painting at the National Art School in Sydney.
"But this was the 1970s and you couldn't just hop on a plane and go to China back then."
So the London-born artist went on the hunt for someone to teach him the centuries-old art form.
"I had just got back from travelling around the world for 12 years and was living on Sydney's northern beaches," he said. "It took a long time to find someone who could show me how it's done."
He eventually tracked down a Chinese woman who specialised in lacquerwork.
"I remember ringing her doorbell. She kept coming to the front door and walking away. I sat and waited and eventually she let me in. I sat there for three days and watched her at work."
Bitten by the bug, Stephen was still keen to learn more so he headed into Sydney's Chinatown, where a well-known local businessman introduced him to an artist named George Lee.
"He painted in a basement on Chinese newspaper with traditional music playing while drinking tea," he recalled.
He went on to study with Amy Huang for seven years. And now, after decades of dedication, he is a full-time painter and teacher of Chinese brush painting, holding exhibitions and giving talks and demonstrations to rooms of up to 200 people.
As well as explaining the history, he shows the various approaches to brush painting.
"The technique is quite difficult. I use traditional brushes which are made of bamboo and either goat or deer hair.
"The goat hair is very absorbent and holds a lot of water, so you can really get into the flow and rhythm of the painting without having to stop and reapply paint and water to the brush.
"The deer hair brush is more resilient and contains more oil, so it holds its shape well and you can get good, sharp edges. This is particularly good for things like bamboo and leaves."
While Chinese painting spans 6000 years of continuous history, Stephen focuses on a small part of that era. "It is more of a modern style, between 400 and 600 years old."
After moving to Lake Macquarie from a biodynamic farm in Bellingen to look after his mother, Stephen said he gets inspiration from nature, especially his Mum's garden. "I get my love of flowers from my mum, who loves gardening."
And as to his talent, Stephen said it's more about dedication. "I'm always painting, even when I'm not. I paint in my heart."