Categories: Lamps and Stoves


Stephen Quirke


Lamps and stoves

Make excellent subjects for watercolour

Anything designed for effective functioning has a special kind of beauty.  Wear and tear on frequently used equipment increases this inherent appeal.  This is no better illustrated in the technology we use when we hike and camp.  Requirements for functionality, light-weight and efficient storage lend to the  attraction.  And of course, rendering in watercolour increases this delight.  

You can see some of these watercolours for sale in my shop


From the humble candle to the gas-powered lamp. Each item with its own brand of cool.

Candles are quite fun but are less functional in camping because of the open flame.  But candles make an interesting subject for watercolour.  Even the humble tea-candle provides a source of delight.  

painting of a tea candle
Tea Candle

I tried a candle holder with a glass screen. This created light successfully.  I also learnt a lesson (with a blister) about how long glass retains heat.  Glass also requires careful packing for portage, preferably in a rigid holder.  I broke the glass on a hike.   Still, the holder makes a fun exercise for watercolour.   It is a challenge to show the glow of the flame.

Oil candles are not a popular camping technology, as far as I know. But this simple flame provides ambience. These lamps also provide a pleasant watercolour challenge.

In the second painting on the right I was just finishing my wash on the candle when I received a phone call that pulled the plug on the painting, the pizza and the holiday – forever a reminder of a particular phase in my history.

Paraffin Lamps

Paraffin lamps are another beautiful technology. Simple and functional they are another great topic for a watercolour painting.  The first two are from my previous painting of the day exercises. The green lamp belongs to a friend.  He invited me to a “plankiesvleis” when I was up-country on a consulting intervention.  I painted the watercolour as we sat under a tree in the dusk talking life.    

Gas Lamps

Gas lamps are more traditional camping technology.  Although they are still a risk I have used this little gas lamp in my tent when hiking.  Again the glass and the mantle require careful handling.  

Gas companies released canisters with shut-off valves. Being able to screw appliances on or off his made storage and portage easier.  Below is the screw-on lamp I painted in my first year of one-watercolour-a-day.  

Here are two lamps I do NOT carry in a pack. The first is the big bottle lamp we used to use in family camping outings – now kept for those times when the grid goes down. The mining lamp was a wedding gift from the prof who supervised me through a masters degree in materials science.


The Alpine Age of rock-climbing stimulated massive innovation in cooking technology. Gas cookers were commonly used in the alpine ascents of major peaks.  But liquid fuel has a longer history.  With the requirement for greater heat, and easier more reusable fuel storage, designers updated older designs. 

Here is the first Coleman pressure burner I used for hiking.  Apart from the mixed memories, it remains an excellent subject for watercolour.

Here are two paintings of my Coleman stove with a new one-cup teapotty.

Hikers have used a variant of the stove below for ages. You pour a little fuel into the burning cup which would be enough to warm up the system enough to create enough pressure to drive a jet of flame.  I have used this stoves on some great hikes.  My friend Buzzy used to comment “there is that smell of a 50s Chevy again” when we cooked on the Brandberg.  

These stoves were based on a very old design.  This is a stove a friend of mine told me his father used to make a camping tea when he proposed to his father (sometime in the 40s I think).

Watercolour of a camp stove

The rocket

The mountain tech designers then separated the fuel tank from the burner. They put a pump on the fuel tank. I used an excellent stove with a pump-up fuel bottle for many years. Here is a watercolour of this cooker and the pots I carried with me for decades. I did the painting in Spout Cave in the Cedarberg a while back. Sadly this kit was stolen from my bakkie.


Here are some watercolours of my current setup:

My friend Hagen then told me about ‘Gram-weenies’ those obsessed with weight who shave off as many grams as possible from the weight they carry in the mountains. As a result I bought this little burner.  It screws onto a gas canister.   Together the gas and burner fit into the billy-can in the painting.  This makes it all very neat equipment to carry when I walk in the reserve.  And I can slow cook a cup of cocao – with milk and butter in the time it takes to plan a watercolour.   Then the hot drink makes the watercolour part of the painting just a little more memorable.  

watercolour of a stove

So there you have an abridged history of portable light and heat.

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