Friday, December 18, 2009

Dreaming of a White Christmas

The summer heat hasn't arrived with a vengeance yet - at least not in my home town of Perth - but my workshop roof attracts the heat and turns it into a furnace. I had planned on some woodworking activity over the Christmas break, but the temperature in my workshop is several degrees warmer than it is outside and the thermometer there currently reads 43C!

As I read of winter's first snowfall in some of the the blogs I follow, I'm reminded of how different our environments are. Through reading those same blogs over the past year and exchanging comments with their keepers, however, it's also clear that people are much the same the world over, regardless of climate and physical surroundings. It's a comforting thought in many ways and contributes to the sense of community I've enjoyed since beginning my blog.

My thanks to each and every one of you whose artistic progress I'm able to share and to those of you who are kind enough to offer suggestions and encouragement where my own efforts are concerned. I've come to thoroughly enjoy the blogging experience and I look forward to a repeat performance during 2010.

My sincere best wishes to you and your loved ones over Christmas and the year beyond.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

In Painting Mode

With Sandi's 50th birthday celebrations out of the way I hope to ease myself back into painting mode again soon. We enjoyed having interstate visitors to help us mark the occasion, but it's meant that my painting has taken a back seat for the duration of their stay. An added distraction has been a woodworking project I attempted to complete for a friend from Melbourne to coincide with his visit. I put the brushes down a couple of weeks ago in an effort to meet that self-imposed deadline but was unsuccessful anyway as it turned out.

I hope I can finish this one soon; it seems there's a finite amount of inspiration to draw on when a painting takes as long as this one has!


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Leaves and Feathers

After a couple of false starts, I've zeroed in on the palette of colours best suited to the rendering of the sunlit fig leaves and it's full-steam ahead, one laborious leaf after another. Thankfully, when I tire of leaves, I can always return to the egret's feathers for some light relief!

While I've always been drawn to the loose brushwork of the impressionists, my chosen subject just doesn't lend itself to such an approach, so there's a slow progression as I carefully define the leaves and branches.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Launch - Eastern Reef Egret

I feel a little guilty beginning a new painting when I already have one sitting around partly finished. However, I'm able to justify it in my own mind by considering how much I feel I'm learning from each painting project and how much better prepared I'll be when I eventually return to those in the queue!

Having advanced this far with the new painting, I'm feeling much more comfortable where my handling of the acrylic paint is concerned and, as a result, more confident of successfully completing the painting featured in my previous post.

A neat trick I picked up from one of Terry Isaac's books is to draw the subject - in this case a grey-phase Eastern Reef Egret - onto tracing paper. Having pretty much completed the painting of the background rocks, I've then positioned the drawing to best effect based on my earlier thumbnail sketches, and taped it into place. Slipping some white graphite paper under the tracing paper allowed me to transfer the drawing to the painting surface - you can still see some of the residual graphite where the egret's feet will appear.

As I write this, I can't predict with certainty whether I'll stick with this one or go back to the previous piece. I guess this makes me either undisciplined, indecisive or - an artist! Stay tuned for updates.


Monday, October 19, 2009

First Steps - Again

After becoming disheartened recently with my approach to painting with acrylics, I've stepped back a little and reassessed my materials and my methods. As I've described in earlier posts, my technique previously relied on applying layer after transparent layer of heavily diluted paint to sealed watercolour paper, gradually working up to the intensity of colour and tonal value I wanted. I like the textures I'm able to achieve using this technique and have generally been happy with the results unless I've been careless with the application of paint and have overshot the mark. Without the means to "undo" a layer or two, I've often been left with nowhere to go.

Something about Kelly Singleton's recent post of a work-in-progress featuring a pronghorn antelope provided the spark to rethink my approach and, after re-acquainting myself with the methods described by my idol Robert Bateman, I was inspired to return to gessoed masonite and opaque acrylic paint - Bateman says he mixes white even with his darkest colours to achieve this opacity.

My first day with this painting was extremely frustrating as I struggled to find a technique which worked for me. Initially, I diluted my paint as I have in the past but it was as if the gessoed surface repelled the paint, forcing it to clump uncontrollably. Once I'd experimented with a thicker consistency, the paint behaved more predictably and I began to feel I was making headway. After several days work, progress has been slow, but I'm really enjoying the luxury of being able to paint over any areas requiring adjustment. Without the pressure to get it right the first time, it's as if a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. The painting measures 36" x 18" and, at my current pace, might be finished by Christmas! My aim now is to develop a faster method of working without compromising the results. Most obviously, I need to modify my process and begin by blocking in to establish form and tone before I begin to refine the painting and add detail. In my defence, I was keen to bring at least a small part of the painting to something approaching a completed state just to prove to myself that I could apply these unfamiliar techniques successfully.

I'll be making good use of artistic license and will insert a dingo into the lower right foreground. I've not seen one at this spot yet, but their tracks are commonplace and I don't think I'm stretching the truth too much. With an abundance of wildlife in the area I'm sure a dingo has stood in this spot at some time, or will at some point in the future!


Friday, October 16, 2009

Roodly Interrupted

Conte and pastel pencil on Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper
12" x 16 1/2"

At the risk of being labelled "the roo guy", here's a new drawing I completed over the weekend. Once again, the reference photograph was taken among the spinifex grass and stunted shrubs along the coastal fringe adjoining Western Australia's Cape Range.

I seem to be able to complete these Conte drawings in days rather than the weeks required by my larger acrylic paintings. Apart from adding a little variety to the work I have available for sale, they provide some welcome relief from the more challenging and time consuming paintings and help me feel I'm actually achieving something!


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

If It's Signed, It's Finished!

Dining Out
Conte pencil on Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper
16" x 16"

I've made a few subtle changes and sharpened some of the spaces between the foreground grasses. I could go on and on fiddling with the grass stalks, but I doubt that the drawing would be improved as a whole. I remind myself that the viewers' focus will be on the 'roo anyway!


Friday, October 2, 2009

Grass Hopper

Conte pencil on Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper 16" x 16"

Until I'm more comfortable with my acrylic paintings in terms of process and technique, larger pieces such as one I'm struggling through at present will take several weeks to complete. I accept that producing a good painting demands a significant investment of time, but there's a sense of frustration and urgency which creeps into my thinking when I consider my dismal output of late and the limited number of works I have for sale. I'm sure negative thoughts like these reduce my level of enjoyment and have a detrimental effect on the standard of my work. With that in mind, I plan to begin the working week with a drawing such as the one shown. Of course, my paintings will now take even longer to complete, but at least I'll be adding to my collection of work for sale more frequently.

The reference photograph I used for this drawing was taken earlier in the year during our annual pilgrimage to the Cape Range National Park in Western Australia's north-west. Kangaroo watching is a favourite evening pastime while we're there and I've written about it on my web site here.

I'll spend an hour tomorrow morning refining the foreground grasses, darkening the spaces between the grass stalks, then sign it and breath a sigh of relief.

Thanks for visiting!


Sunday, September 27, 2009

It Pays to Advertise

I made reference to Google Adwords and Google Analytics when I announced the launch of my new web site a few weeks ago. As luck would have it, I received a promotional offer in the mail last week and took advantage of it to create a new Adwords account with the $75 credit it provided.

During the weeks following its launch, my web site had typically been receiving a meagre 3 or 4 visits per day, largely by way of the link displayed at the top of this blog. With my advertisement running over the past few days, however, Google Analytics shows that this figure has risen to almost 200. While this exceeds my expectations by a huge margin and is undeniable proof that it pays to advertise, it's a useful reality check to delve into the information made available by Google Analytics. My ad is not specifically targeted at a particular geographic region and not all the keywords I originally nominated are strictly art-related - for instance, keywords such as "wildlife" and "animals" were in my list. While it's true that clicking on my ad is a conscious action, it can't be assumed that the same people whose primary aim it is to find web sites dealing with animals and wildlife are also potential art collectors. With that in mind, I've reviewed my keyword list and have removed any I feel are too general. I expect visitor numbers to drop accordingly, but as compensation I know my advertising budget will stretch further and my money will be more effectively spent.

I don't quite know what to make of the fact that a large majority of visitors are from India. My initial reaction was to consider removing that country from the list of targeted locations, but doing so might just highlight my ignorance of the vast changes occurring in that country. I know there's an exploding population within India which can best be described as the new middle class. I have little idea what their spending inclinations are and I'm the first to acknowledge that I'm as much in the dark where that's concerned as I am on many other topics! Given that I'm experimenting at this stage, I'm happy to sit tight for a while longer and observe what happens where sales are concerned.

And yes, of course, I'm acutely aware that converting web site visitors into customers is another "art" entirely!


Monday, September 7, 2009


The process of turning my paintings and drawings into prints is proving to be a longer one than I'd anticipated, but it's an interesting learning experience nevertheless.

This is the first of my recent art works which I've chosen to have professionally photographed and scanned with the intention of marketing limited-edition prints. With such a narrow range of colours in this drawing, it's approaching the final saleable image fresh from the camera. Even so, there is still a process of to-ing and fro-ing to go through over the next week or so as my chosen digital imaging company colour-corrects and compares a series of proofs with the original drawing. Despite all the technological aids at their disposal, this is still largely reliant on a visual comparison. The more highly-coloured works undergoing the same process are much further off the mark at the first proofing stage and will require more significant adjustment.

After this morning's visit, I now have a greater understanding of the process and I anticipate several more trips to their premises before I'm happy with the results. In much the same way that there's some purely subjective point at which a painting is declared "finished", it will be a matter of judging when the digital images are close enough to the originals that further tweaking can't be justified.

Interestingly, the proprietor remarked that some artists choose to make major adjustments at this stage; the contrast or colour saturation in the digital image might be modified to differ markedly from the original, or the artist may even favour a totally different colour bias. Regardless of what's possible in theory, I'd like my prints to be as close a representation of the original as I can manage - I feel that to do otherwise would be verging on dishonesty. Or am I missing something? What do you think?


Monday, August 24, 2009

Encounter at Dusk - Red Fox

I spotted this fox out of the corner of my eye as Sandi and I drove back to our camp at Yardie Creek after a late afternoon outing to photograph kangaroos and euros. The light had faded to the extent that we’d given up on 'roo photos for the day, but I decided that as I don’t often encounter foxes I should take my chances with the camera regardless of the poor light. Of course, zoom lens or no zoom lens, this was never going to be as easy as winding down the car window and clicking away while he posed obligingly.

Sandi pulled onto the shoulder of the road and, seeking to emulate a dashing and much younger David Attenborough, I leapt out of the passenger's seat dramatically (I've always wanted to do that!) and took off after Reynard as he turned in the direction of the nearby escarpment. I must say, he didn’t seem too concerned at the sight of an unfit, middle-aged Two Legs pursuing him with a camera and he trotted off sedately, safe in the knowledge that I’d only ever head him off in my dreams. Even in the dim light I’m sure I detected a grin on his face as I stumbled over the rock-strewn slopes. The degree of difficulty was enhanced by the fact that in the increasing gloom I wasn’t game to take my eyes off him in case he melted into the rocks and shrubbery for good.

My meagre reward for risking life and limb was three or four not-very-good photographs, the last of which features his rear end as he finally grew tired of our little game and disappeared over a ridge of rock, leaving me out of breath and grinning stupidly below.

Where the resulting painting is concerned, I began it with doubts in my ability to portray the scene successfully given the state of the light at the time and a poor reference photo. However, with the encouragement and guidance of e-friend and fellow blogger Dean Richards, I've exaggerated the contrast a little and will try to suggest a last glimmer of sunlight so that the fox - and the viewing public - are not left entirely in the dark.

My rationale for not featuring the fox more prominently has to do with the circumstances under which I spotted him; he allowed me a glimpse at best, which is often my experience with the animals I encounter. In that context then, the painting reflects this reality and reinforces the fact that we don't always find wildlife when and where we expect to.

With luck I'll complete this painting tomorrow. As a final step, I'll adjust tonal values - hopefully without losing the sense that the setting is at dusk.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Web Site Launch

Although its galleries are sparsely populated at present, I'm pleased to announce that I finally have a web presence. Please enter my web site and take a look around. Don't forget to wipe your feet, and DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING!

Over the coming days I'll review the content and will no doubt edit some of the text with a view to optimising my site's placement by the various search engines. I'll also add my return policy and insert some additional scripts so I can analyse site traffic using Google Analytics, a free and very useful tool. Google Adwords is a "pay-per-click" service also worthy of consideration; I know it's yielded huge increases in site traffic for my other business web site.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Art and Bill Gates

"I am picking up a lot of unease from artists about going with commercial galleries, myself included. I think the internet and blogosphere is the direction a lot of artists are going..."

I received this interesting comment from April Jarocka a couple of days ago and, with my own web site on the launch pad, I'm prompted to outline my thoughts concerning galleries and the less traditional, web-based method of presenting and marketing my art.

In doing so, I accept that I'm unqualified in any practical sense to offer an opinion on the effectiveness of the internet as a marketing tool, or whether it can successfully replace the more traditional gallery outlets. If nothing else though, it might be an interesting and timely exercise to record my thoughts so I can reflect later on how well thought out (or how naive and foolish) they turn out to have been!

My last foray into art as a part-time commercial venture was around 15 years ago. Apart from some local art shows, I sold through a couple of city framing retailers masquerading as galleries and enjoyed a good relationship with them. I had no prior expectations of them and they managed to sell most of the work I presented them with relatively quickly, relying only on passing trade. When it came to framing my work, which was usually Conte or acrylic on paper, I felt it was worth the added expense of a double matte and, together with glass and mouldings, the final cost was far from trivial. I was happy to accept the galleries' advice when it came to setting prices and was elated enough just making a sale. In fact, my prices were such that with gallery commissions and the aforementioned framing costs taken into account, it might have been more lucrative flipping burgers.

Fast forward to 2009 and the ground rules have changed markedly; as April points out, the internet is the new paradigm. Add in a sprinkling of suspicion and a dash of cynicism which inevitably comes with age and experience, and I find the gallery option much less appealing than it once appeared. In my mind, pricing my art realistically remains a black art and I would almost certainly accept the advice of the gallery, as I have in the past. However, with the world economy still shaky, I wonder if their need to turn over stock and generate cash flow would outweigh any desire they might otherwise have had to put my interests up there with their own. Harking back to those intimidating framing costs, the issue of dead money tied up on gallery walls is a further disincentive.

If you’re reading this, you already know the power of the internet. Political and geographical boundaries are rendered (mostly) irrelevant and our target audience extends to the far reaches of the globe. With a potential market such as this, I’m opting to sell my work online, unmounted and unframed, which removes one of the objections I have to selling through galleries and greatly simplifies shipping. The other advantage of a web-based shop front is the opportunity to offer originals and limited-edition prints from a single point of sale in an effort to cater to all budgets. My belief that signed and numbered prints are a hugely attractive marketing option again stems from the computer age and is reinforced by my experience as a software developer. How successful would Bill Gates have become if his team of developers had created Microsoft Office, or any of his other products, and the code and copyright had then been sold to a single purchaser? Likewise, I don't think I should limit myself to selling original paintings and drawings through a gallery when my digital imaging company of choice also offers a “print-on-demand” service and are happy to run off single prints as and when required.

I doubt that anyone questions the wisdom of marketing via the internet, however, it would be great if those of you with practical experience could chime in and offer up your thoughts on the relevance of galleries in the big picture, and the extent to which they've played a role in your success.


Friday, August 7, 2009

The Road to Mastery

Gravity Feed - Avon River
Graphite and Conte on toned paper

I'm coming to place tremendous value on feedback offered by fellow artists who have seen my work on this blog. As I don't exhibit my work and have not reached the point at which I'm offering it for sale, it's my only source of constructive criticism and is therefore of enormous value. A couple of people have even been generous enough to email me privately with a detailed and honest assessment of my recent work and have suggested ways in which they feel my paintings could be improved. Often, they've clarified what I vaguely suspected in my own mind, but sometimes their insights have been more revealing. Either way, their comments offer me a way forward.

On that note, I liked an anonymous quote I read recently which relates to our progression towards mastery - if such a thing exists. I wonder how many of us will arrive at the final destination?
  1. Unconscious incompetence
  2. Conscious incompetence
  3. Conscious competence
  4. Unconscious competence
If you're reading this, the chances are we're on the same journey of artistic discovery. I know which level I'm at - do you know where you sit on the scale? If you're not fortunate enough to be undertaking formal studies, where do you go to seek a candid assessment of your latest painting or drawing? What practical measures are you putting in place to address your shortcomings in order to improve your art? Whose standards are you striving to meet anyway - fellow artists, the art-buying public, your teacher, art critics or purely your own? As an artist, what defines success in your eyes?


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Out of the Shadows - Eastern Reef Egret

I chose medium-rough 300gsm Saunders Waterford watercolour paper for this painting and coated it with acrylic sealer after I'd completed the preparatory drawing. I enjoy the feel of painting on a sealed surface but I also like the underlying texture of the watercolour paper - the combination of both seems to suit the way I work.

Out of the Shadows - Eastern Reef Egret
Acrylic 20" x 20"

I thin the paint with a 50/50 mix of water and binder medium and, for objects like the rocks in this painting, apply it with a scrubbing action, vigorously pushing the brush bristle-first rather than drawing it across the surface smoothly in the normal manner. This results in a stippled appearance which helps to establish texture and contributes to the illusion of detail. It usually takes several applications of these transparent washes, allowing each to dry completely, before I'm approaching the tonal value and density of colour I'm looking for. As I apply each overlapping layer, I tend to notice shapes emerging in the paint which are suggestive of the texture of the pock-marked limestone rocks. Left undisturbed to dry, I can then begin to enhance the rock texture more deliberately, using the same thin paint mix. I don't feel the need to use white in my colour mixes as the paint is thin enough that the paper shines through, much as it does when using watercolours. I use a hairdryer to speed things up between each layer, being careful not to move the paint around in the process.

Because the paint is heavily diluted, I work with my painting laid flat rather than using an easel. If I have a problem with this arrangement, it's that the horizontal painting surface tends to accumulate the usual painting paraphernalia and I need to tidy up a little before I can step back to assess how things are progressing. Perhaps that's not such a bad thing!


Motion and Stillness

Motion & Stillness - Blackwood River
Acrylic on 640gsm Arches paper
8 1/4" x 19 1/2"

Another lost painting from the vault sees daylight.

For me, this painting is all about the contrast between the solidity and timelessness of the rock wall and the relentless motion of the water and the fleeting, ever-changing shapes within it. Or, when I'm not in as poetic a mood, it's just a picture of a river somewhere. You choose!

I discovered shapes in the rocks which tend to echo the flow of water and I accentuated these curves to unify and strengthen the overall design. I want to refine the broken water and foam in the foreground slightly as it's a little unclear what's going on, but essentially the painting is ready to go - preferably to a new home somewhere.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Spring Flow - Blackwood River

I rediscovered this old painting in the spare room as I rummaged through my paper supplies and thought it was time it saw the light of day. Please excuse the photograph (I must find that polarising filter).

Sandi and I spent a wonderful week in a riverside cabin close to Bridgetown in Western Australia's south-west a few years ago. We wandered aimlessly along the river on most days and took many, many photographs along the way. Thank goodness for digital cameras!

Spring Flow - Blackwood River
Acrylic 20 1/4" x 7 3/4"

The reference photo from which it was painted was taken in autumn, but "Spring Flow" sounds better to me - it's called artists' prerogative!

I completed the painting - on rough 640gsm Arches paper - over the remainder of that week. Perhaps because of the relaxed holiday atmosphere, it's a little looser in style than many of my other paintings which serves to remind me of the benefits of getting out of the city - as if I need reminding!


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Emerging Egret

For me, the appeal of my chosen subject is in the way the egret stands out in stark contrast as it emerges into the sunlight from the dark shadows of the rock wall.

I'm painting the rocks with muted colours, using dark shades of Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna, tending towards cooler mixes of the two colours in the background. I may warm up the foreground with some glazes of Burnt Sienna to accentuate the coolness of the background rocks, but I'll deal with adjustments such as this in the final stages. There's a way to go yet and the photograph leaves a lot to be desired, but you can get an idea of where I'm at and hopefully a feel for what I'm trying to achieve.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Eastern Reef Egret - With Rocks!

It was interesting to read Linda Besse's recent blog post in which she discusses how her ideas for a painting evolve. In the example she's chosen, she talks about her plans to superimpose some bighorn rams onto a dramatic mountain background which bears no resemblance to the one in her photo of the rams. She also mentions flipping the intended background image horizontally and rearranging the group of rams for a more dramatic effect. These are skills I'm yet to develop fully and I know I'll have to work on this aspect of my art if I'm to succeed as a painter of wildlife.

In the subject I've chosen for my next painting, I'm relying to a large extent on a single photograph once again, but I've given a good deal of thought to the placement of the various elements within the image. With the work of Robert Bateman in mind (as it often is!), I've drawn up some thumbnail sketches in which I've echoed the shapes defined by the egret's wings in the foreground rocks. I've also suggested some linear flows through the rock to the left of the egret which continue on through the bird and into the rocks in the background. It'll be an interesting exercise; the trick will be in implementing these ideas with enough subtlety so as not to have the finished painting look too contrived.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Life on the Edge

In calling this painting "Life on the Edge - Black-Footed Rock Wallaby", I'm most obviously describing this individual's vantage point on the cliffs. More significantly, the title reflects the species' delicate conservation status. Although I've been lucky enough to observe them in reasonable numbers at a couple of locations, their populations are scattered and they face serious threats from habitat destruction by sheep and feral goats, competition for food from rabbits as well as predation by foxes and feral cats. Let's hope captive breeding programs and fox baiting can go some way towards resurrecting their numbers and restoring them to their former range.

Life on the Edge - Black-Footed Rock Wallaby
Acrylic 28 1/2" x 14 1/4"

Experience has taught me that there'll never be a painting I'm completely happy with in every respect. This one is no exception, and I know I'll have to banish it to the back room for a couple of weeks before I'm able to look at it with any degree of objectivity. Verdict notwithstanding, it's the first painting I've completed in many years and I'm greatly relieved to have broken the drought at last.

However I feel about this painting after I've recovered from painting all those rocks, I know I learned a lot from it. I learned that I need to put more time into preliminary sketches to establish a pleasing overall design - my overreliance on photographic reference has got to change! I learned that sticking to a limited palette will help my paintings gel as a whole until I've gained more experience or been able to seek guidance from a more knowledgeable artist. I learned that I need to guard against rushing, particularly when the painting is large and I'm not progressing as quickly as I'd like; the best approach I've found with any formidable project is to break it into bite-sized chunks and treat the completion of each stage as a mini-milestone.

Now, it's on to something smaller with NO rocks!


As I began this blog, I must say I wondered whether it could be of any real value. Now that I've posted for a few months, I've come to feel in some small way that I'm an active part of a community of online artists, all facing similar challenges and asking the same questions of themselves. I've sincerely appreciated the support and encouragement so freely given, and I've come to regard those who provide regular comments and feedback as part of a circle of friends, without whom the task would be that much harder and certainly more solitary. So, with painting #1 finished, it seems an opportune time to say "thank you one and all!"

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Progress - At a Snail's Pace

You can see what slow progress I'm making when you compare the previous image with this one, taken after yet another day's work!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Finish Line

I think I can see the finish line. Isn't it that faint object off in the distance?


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rocks, Rocks and More Rocks!

I like rocks. I like painting rocks. But I don't like painting imaginary rocks as I'm drifting off to sleep and again as soon as I wake in the morning. I guess it's to be expected given my chosen subject matter!

I'm making slow but steady progress with this painting and enjoying the feel of the textured paper and the way I can build up colour and tone gradually with heavily diluted acrylic paint. Speaking of which, the lesson I learned a long time ago is that acrylics thinned excessively with water may not adhere well to the substrate or to underlying paint layers. To avoid any problems in this regard, I always use a separate small jar to hold water for thinning into which I've mixed a generous squirt or two of acrylic binder medium.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Back On Track

This is the first painting I've attempted since picking up the brushes again a few months ago where I've felt in control. Hopefully, it marks a turning point after I'd struggled with my first couple of paintings.

As I sat and conducted day one's post-mortem last night, my sense of satisfaction was overshadowed by enormous relief. After working on the painting again today, I have to say I'm cautiously optimistic, however, I won't tempt fate by declaring it a success with so much work remaining!

Regardless of the final outcome, I feel I've gone a long way towards rediscovering the techniques and style that had evolved all those years ago and had eluded me until now. It's the confidence boost I so badly needed and another step on the way to producing the kind of art I aspire to.

The lesson for anyone newly entering the world of art is that with persistence and dogged determination, your unique style will reveal itself. I'm not sure it can be rushed though; it will emerge - or in my case re-emerge - when it's good and ready!


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Black-Footed Rock Wallaby

Sandi and I encountered this black-footed rock wallaby a few weeks ago on one of our many forays along Yardie Creek. As is so often the case with these creatures, he seemed more indifferent than alarmed and we were able to sneak our kayaks close enough to take as many photos as we liked, one of which features a wallaby mid-leap which I look forward to painting in due course. In the meantime, I'm keen to begin this painting which I'm inclined to think is a little less ambitious.

With careful attention to the sharpness of edges and to colour and contrast, I hope to push the rocks on the left hand side of the image into the background slightly, the goal being to emphasise depth in what could otherwise appear to be a continuous flat expanse of rock wall.

Having flirted briefly with masonite and dabbled unhappily with canvas, I'm back to using watercolour paper, a support I've enjoyed working with in the past - this time it's rough 640gsm Arches. After spending the best part of a day and a half on the preparatory drawing, I've applied acrylic sealer to the surface in readiness for my acrylic paints. Tomorrow, before I make a start, I'll experiment with colour mixes on some offcuts and hopefully be well prepared when paint hits paper.

I made the mistake recently of relying on the digital image displayed on my laptop, with less than ideal results. As I came to realise, tonal values and colour can vary significantly depending on the angle of the screen. As you can see, this time I'm following the lead of fellow blogger Grahame Butler and have printed out two copies of the image on high-definition paper as reference, one in colour and one in black and white.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009


As Colette Theriault alludes to in response to a comment on her blog, there's a danger of boredom setting in before a large work reaches completion. Although I'm rapidly tiring of my own "Wallaby Cave", I think it will be a useful exercise to continue, if only to develop greater discipline.

Pied Oyster Catchers

When I think about the transition from art as a pastime to art as a business, I can see there's an absolute necessity once in a while to put aside the enjoyment factor, grit the teeth and see a painting through to the end, regardless of plumetting enthusiasm levels. For many professional artists whose blogs I keep an eye on, the imperative to finish a painting or drawing would appear to be a fact of life, whether the deadline is due to the promised completion of a commission or because of the need to complete a work for submission in an upcoming show.

There's a school of thought which holds that when we're feeling jaded it's preferable to put our work to one side until the spark returns, however, I know from experience how often I've used this option as an excuse to move onto the next exciting project, never to return!

Which camp do you belong to? How do you cope when you feel less than inspired? Do you believe the standard of your work is compromised when you'd rather be working on something else?

Best wishes

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Now, Where Was I?

After an absence of six weeks, Sandi and I have returned home with a myriad of wonderful memories and, for me, a wealth of photographs to sift through in the never ending search for worthwhile painting subjects.

Striated Heron

Sitting down to lunch one lazy afternoon before we headed home, I thought about the potential drawing and painting ideas my long break has yielded and was able to list over 30 without really trying. I'm sure some of those ideas will be rejected but, without a doubt, one of the greatest hurdles I've faced in the past has been overcome: that of having enough sufficiently interesting subjects to sustain my artistic efforts over a long period.

I certainly didn't achieve all of my objectives where the gathering of reference photographs was concerned, but I'm satisfied enough; it's gradually dawned on me over recent months while reading other web sites and blogs that a successful work of art might be created from many references, perhaps drawing from several photographs of the bird or animal as well as those from which the setting is created. It's a remarkable photograph which reveals all the required detail too, and I'm more comfortable now making use of images on the internet, if only in a limited sense to fill in the gaps in information present in my own photographs.

Well, with the car unpacked and with gear cleaned and stowed away for next time, I can at last look forward to catching up with the progress of my fellow bloggers and to eventually posting some images of my own new work. It's good to be back!


Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Sort Of Homecoming

With the first leg of our extended vacation over, I'm at last able to sit back and sift through my memories of the past two weeks spent exploring Australia's south-easternmost state of Victoria. When I reflect on our trip and think about it's benefits, my first realisation is that even leaving aside the indelible mark made by the places we've visited, my home state of Western Australia now sits alongside an expanded set of references. Within its new context, I hope I'll be reawakened to the beauty of the environment and its wildlife in and around my own back yard; sometimes a period of absence or exposure to strange surroundings can jolt us into recognising how lucky we are to live in our own home patch and allows us to view familiar sights with a refreshed awareness.

Brushtail Possum

Sandi and I have a brief opportunity to catch our breath before we begin the long drive north to our home away from home at Yardie Creek, some 1200 kilometres north of Perth. Once our campsite is set up, I will have time to sit in one place and produce some art work. After my self-imposed exile from the drawing board, I'm itching to begin work on some new pieces.

My current work-in-progress featuring the black-footed rock wallabies is too large to pack and will have to wait in the queue for my return. I'm keen to complete it and thankful for the chance to revisit their cave in the weeks ahead; the photos I have from our last trip don't reveal the right-hand side of the cave completely and I've been unsure how best to approach it without a good reference photo.

Crimson Rosella

Best wishes


Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Quick Post From the Road

Wombats aren't widespread in my home state so this is the first I've seen in the wild.  Like kangaroos and koalas, they are a marsupial which means their young are born in a very much underdeveloped state and make their way to the mother's pouch where they suckle and develop into something more closely resembling their parents.

After setting off with head torches and camera equipment tonight, prepared to venture into the bush on the other side of a nearby river where we found diggings earlier today, we spotted this one grazing no more than fifty metres from our camp.  As we'd already walked a long way today, we snapped a few photos and returned to camp - mission accomplished!  For those of you unfamiliar with wombats, they are said to measure up to three feet in length, although this particular specimen was a little smaller than that.

Yesterday we found this beautiful spot where the cameras ran hot - with good reason as you can see.

Best wishes

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Farewell - For a While

One of the things which has frustrated me since I decided to give art another chance has been my distinct lack of really good reference photos.   That should all change over the next six weeks.

Sandi has finally convinced me to spend a couple of weeks in her home state of Victoria, part of the country I've previously dismissed as being one of "the eastern states", as if it wasn't deserving of recognition in its own right!  If her glowing descriptions are anywhere near accurate, I'm sure that its landscape, vegetation and wildlife will inspire me.  With a new digital SLR around my neck, there should be many opportunities to record it photographically.

When we arrive home, it's time to load up the car and head north for a month of snorkelling, fishing and kayaking.   With Ningaloo Reef, Cape Range and Yardie Creek in close proximity to our proposed camp, the camera will again see plenty of action and I hope to return home fitter, more relaxed and even keener to continue with my artistic rebirth.  With a collection of fresh, clear photographs, I'm sure I'll resume my painting and drawing efforts with renewed enthusiasm.

We spotted the sign above during our last visit to the area - good thing we're leaving the bicycles at home!

Although I'll pack art materials on both our trips, I'm unsure how much I'll get to use them and whether I'll have anything blogworthy to report.  I'll certainly be keeping tabs on many of my fellow bloggers and I look forward, as always, to following their progress.

Best wishes

Monday, April 6, 2009

Himalayan Boy

Well, OK, it's neither wild nor Australian, but after seeing some fantastic figurative work on display on other blogs - notably the charcoal and Conte drawings of Marina Dieul - I was inspired to give this subject a try.

In 2002 I visited Nepal and was enthralled not only by the stunning scenery, but by the warm, friendly people and their culture. It would seem this little boy had encountered camera-toting tourists before - he posed dutifully without much persuasion.

I used Conte pencils for this one on the usual Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper.  Having come this far with the drawing, I realise that I may have been wise drawing on the the smoother side of the paper; it would certainly have made some of the delicate shading in the boy's face much easier to achieve.  It's also evident that the white Conte crayon I used to restate the highlights once the fixative had dried makes a much more intense mark than the white Conte pencil I'd used initially and I'll need to carefully lift out some of those highlights with a kneadable eraser. 

I'll sit with this drawing for a while, consider what needs tweaking and decide on an appropriate background.  In the meantime, it's back to that wallaby.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wallaby Cave - Day 5

Measuring 40" x 20", this is the largest painting I've attempted to date. Interestingly, I'm finding that working with a larger format encourages a looser approach, something my teachers from bygone years tried to coax me into - with little success! Of course, a contributing factor could simply be my impatience to cover this large canvas. It still seems a slow process, but I'm finding it much easier to improvise within each section, relying less on my photographic references than I have in the past. This will all change when the wallabies make an appearance!

With traditional oil painting, the process usually begins with a monochromatic turps wash to establish tonal values, or a blocking in with approximate colours, again with emphasis on tonal value. I use acrylic paint and rarely use white, relying instead on a series of transparent glazes to gradually establish my final values and colours. Working light to dark and allowing the white canvas to shine through the layers of paint, I guess my technique has more in common with watercolours than with oils. The downside with this strategy is that it's not possible to block in as a first step; I find that tonal values are therefore more difficult to judge in the presence of so much white ground. I generally bring each area within the painting to something approaching a completed state before moving on to the next section, being careful to leave room for final adjustment in selected areas once the entire surface is covered.

Apart from the wallabies, what attracted me to this scene is the dramatic lighting. Despite what the work in progress might suggest at this stage, the foreground is in shadow while the rock and the wallabies at the cave entrance and everything above them is bathed in the gold of glorious late afternoon sunlight. The success or failure of this painting will hinge on my ability to fine-tune colours and tonal values in the final stages to convey this mood.

Best wishes

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wallaby Cave - Day 3

Given their good looks and the rugged terrain in which they live, Black-Footed Rock Wallabies are ideal painting subjects.  When Sandi and I ventured into the north-west last year we certainly had a general idea of where to look for them, but it wasn't until the final days of our stay at Yardie Creek that we were able to spot them with any consistency.  They seem to have their favourite crevices and rocks and, once we knew where to look, we were often able to watch them sunning themselves or nibbling on the sparse vegetation along the walls of the gorge.  Although the juvenile in the photograph had obviously outgrown its mother's pouch, it could still be seen suckling from time to time.

This particular colony is used to the daily tourist traffic and were not easily startled by our presence.  Approaching them silently in our kayaks certainly contributed to our ability to get close enough to photograph them too.

With or without rock wallabies, Yardie Creek is one of my favourite places.  When the tourist buses have departed for the day and the sun is sinking over the ocean, paddling our kayaks through the creek mouth and up into the gorge brings on an instant state of serenity which I find hard to describe.  We're at pains to paddle as quietly as we can and find ourselves whispering to one another across the water as if any unnecessary noise would break the spell.

A cave just beyond the end of the navigable portion of the creek turned out to be one of the wallabies' favourite haunts and I snapped some photographs in the last rays of the setting sun with a wallaby silhouetted against the dark interior of the cave. It should make for a dramatic painting if I can pull it off.

As with all my attempts at painting, I bounce between utter despair and mild euphoria and can alternate between these states within the space of a few minutes.  I'm envious of those artists who describe the process of painting as relaxing; they've obviously arrived at a place where they feel some level of mastery over light, colour and composition.  I'm certainly not there yet and I'm finding the path to be a long and rocky one!

Hopefully, the dramatic lighting will become more evident as I refine colours and tonal values a little later on.  I suspect that the interior of the cave needs to be toned down a little to accentuate the rock at the mouth of the cave, and the colours in the upper left corner are a little too intense for my conservative tastes.   Having said that, seeing the work in progress in close proximity to the rich colours in the previous photo of the gorge already has me questioning the wisdom in that course of action.  I'm conscious, of course, that being a slave to what's depicted in a photograph is a well-worn road to mediocrity, if not failure, and that I'm striving to convey some sense of time and place as well as translate my emotional response to what I've experienced into its visual equivalent.

I hope that sharing my works in progress is informative or entertaining in some small way.  It's great to receive positive comments, but I would also encourage any of you reading this to offer constructive criticism - you've all been too polite so far! 

Best wishes

Friday, March 13, 2009

Late Afternoon - Euro

I'm very pleased to report that this drawing is finished, or at least as finished as it's going to get. There's always a temptation to fiddle or add things but, for the most part, such fiddling doesn't seem to contribute anything to the picture.

Late Afternoon - Euro, Conte pencil, 23" x 13"

The Conte worked well, but it's a messy medium and I'm happy to bid it farewell for a while.  Besides, I've procrastinated long enough and my butcher bird painting awaits me!

Best wishes

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Euro - Day 4

There's perhaps only another couple of hour's work required on this drawing, but I'm calling it a day anyway - I know better than to persist when I'm feeling tired or jaded.  I'll add the finishing touches tomorrow and hopefully will be thinking about my next subject by lunch time.  

As you can see, I've continued to model the euro's body and have all but completed the clumps of grass surrounding him. Once I'm happy that the drawing is complete, I'll carefully brush it to remove any loose Conte, then spray a light coat of fixative.  I find that fixative tends to reduce the brilliance of the white Conte so I'll refine and intensify the highlights once it's dry before applying a final coat.

It's only been in the later stages of this drawing that I've felt in control, but overall I'm happy with the results so far.  Regardless of the final outcome, the most significant achievement will be finishing a piece of art after a break of many years.

Best wishes

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Euro - Day 3

With a desire to feature Australian wildlife in my drawings and paintings, I'm often frustrated by my lack of good reference photographs, a collection of which I can see taking some time to accumulate.  With a trip north to the Ningaloo coast planned for May, I hope to make serious inroads in that respect.

Having spent a month there for the past two years, I have a good idea now where the concentrations of wildlife can be found and already have a good collection of photographs featuring red and grey kangaroos and euros.  They are abundant late in the afternoon and after dark to the extent that driving anywhere, even at low speed, is a risky proposition.  They are curious animals and can be approached on foot fairly easily; I know it will be easy to collect all the photographs I want.

Pictured below is a drawing I'm working on featuring one of the many euros we photographed last year.  I was attracted to this image by the late afternoon sun striking the animal from the side which really lends itself to an approach that has worked well for me in the past when tackling portraits.  Using a pastel paper to provide the mid-tones, I use black and white Conte pencils to accentuate the shadows and highlights.  I could also see possibilities in terms of the composition, with the grass clumps surrounding the euro echoing the arc of the creature's back.  I'll emphasise this aspect of the scene to create interest and to unify the image.    

The early stages of the drawing were fun to do, and it occured to me soon after I started it that I was drawing everything but the grass and the euro and was focussed entirely on defining the negative spaces around the animal and the stalks of grass. 

Best wishes

Monday, March 9, 2009

Butcher Birds - Day 2

After a couple of sessions on this painting I've come to the realisation that some skills are retained while others are lost - hopefully only temporarily - if they're not exercised regularly.  As the saying goes, "use it or lose it".

The preliminary drawing went well enough and some areas of the painting were also trouble free, but my perception of tonal value and colour is in desperate need of refinement after a long break.  Mixing the desired colour is challenging enough, but where I'm having the most difficulty is in arriving at the correct tonal value - I hope I haven't overplayed the darkest areas within the painting.

After a rummage through my old art materials I rediscovered this simple but invaluable tool designed for the tonally challenged.  It's a terrific aid whether I'm drawing or painting and I use it constantly to check and compare tonal values within my work.

If your eyesight is as lousy as mine and you can't read the text on the image above, click it to open an enlarged view.
Best wishes

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Productive Dithering

After a solid start on my painting of the butcher birds, I'm still dithering and finding ways to justify being distracted.

Part of the dithering process has involved discovering ancient relics in the storeroom.  The drawing below, of a mature red kangaroo, has been on my list of things to finish for around 15 years!  I know it's been that long because I have photos of my daughter hand feeding it; I'm guessing she would've been around ten years old at the time which helps me date it.

The front paws weren't finished and the reference photos I was relying on have long since disappeared, but with some judicious cropping and minor tinkering, I'm calling it finished.  I guess dithering can be productive after all!  

Kangaroo Study, mixed media, 13.5" x 14.5"

The drawing was done on Canson pastel paper using Lumograph EE pencil and a range of coloured Conte pencils.

Best wishes

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Search for Subjects

While trawling through some old photographs looking for useful reference photos, I discovered the following pictures captured during a visit to our very own Perth zoo.   I want always to depict animals behaving naturally, but I can't decide whether the hyaena and meerkat shown below are striking poses which would make appealing paintings - perhaps they're taking natural behaviour too far!  Thankfully, as neither species is native to Australia, they are automatically ruled out as subjects and any dilemma is avoided!

Best wishes

Friday, February 27, 2009

Ready for Paint

With a fairly detailed drawing completed, I'm ready to prepare the paper for paint - remember, I'm using acrylics.

I found out some time ago - quite by accident - that applying an acrylic sealer to the paper opens up a world of possibilities and allows me to create some interesting textures using techniques such as scumbling and glazing.  Scumbling over a sealed surface with thinned acrylics results in an appearance much like the granulation seen with some watercolor paints, but it does take a little practice to control the degree to which the paint breaks up into clumps.  Using a combination of water and flow medium or binder to thin the paint affects the result too, as does the ratio of each within the mix.  A sealed surface also allows me to push the paint around or more easily wipe it from the surface.

One aspect of acrylic paint that's often mentioned as a handicap is that it dries quickly.  As my technique involves overlaying a series of thin glazes to build up the depth of colour and texture I want, I have the opposite problem and use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process between glazes.

Barring accidents, my next post will contain some photographs of painting in progress.

Best wishes

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Back to the Drawing Board

Before I owned a digital camera I used to worry about composition as my finger was poised over the camera's shutter release button; there was of course no easy way to manipulate an image once I'd committed the shot to film.  For me now, with a digital camera and a Photoshop-enabled laptop, I'm less particular about composing a shot - it's so easy to fine-tune my images later.  The creative process therefore begins at home, or even back in our solar-powered camp when we're at a remote location.

With the image described in my last post printed out on high-definition A4  paper, I've begun the process of transposing it onto a sheet of 640gsm watercolour paper.  Watercolour paper it may be, but I class watercolour painting as a form of masochism and have a strong preference for acrylics.

To more accurately transfer the image onto the drawing surface, I've taken the liberty of drawing a grid onto the printed image.  A grid having the same scale has also been lightly drawn onto the watercolour paper.

I'm a little out of practice so the preparatory drawing is probably more detailed than it needs to be.  As it's a time-consuming process, I hope it pays off when the time comes for some paint to hit the paper.  So far so good I tell myself.

Best wishes