Friday, December 16, 2011

Staying Sane in the City

Our need to maintain a regular income dictates that for the time being at least, Sandi and I must lead a suburban existence in relative proximity to the heart of the city. Thankfully, as cities go, Perth is comparatively small and its urban sprawl is interspersed with some significant bushland remnants.

Juvenile galah
As we looked for a house recently that would suit our needs for the next few years, a factor that contributed to our eventual decision was access to such bushland, not only as an incentive to exercise both the dog and ourselves more regularly than had recently been the case, but also as the means to stay connected to our shared vision of an eventual transition to a rural lifestyle.

An incentive to stay on the path!
Our new home may be in the suburbs, but it's well positioned no more than 100 metres from an extensive bush and parkland reserve bordering the upper reaches of the Canning River. An evening walk with the dog is a great way to unwind after a day cooped up in a city office block, and as the light softens and many of the resident bird species seek out a convenient roosting place along the tree-lined river banks, the hassles of the working day are easily banished; with a small dose of self-delusion, we can even imagine ourselves far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life!

Long-billed corellas
Willy wagtail
Rainbow lorikeets
Twenty-eight parrot

Stand-off at the nesting hollow - lorikeet and corella

The bushland might not be in a pristine state and the wildlife is hardly exotic, but we look forward to the brief evening excursions that help us make it through the working week. Our dog does too!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fun With a Reef Egret

I've accomplished a little more with this painting, mostly through the week, later at night when the working day and the usual activities that follow it are out of the way. If your TV viewing options are as dismal as mine usually are, there are probably few excuses for not putting in a couple of hours of painting before bed time! If there's a danger in painting at night, however, it's that my judgement of colour is skewed somewhat by the artificial lights I paint under; viewed in daylight conditions the following morning, there are noticeable differences.

Without really planning it that way, I find myself using glazing techniques almost exclusively, in much the same way that I've come to handle acrylic paints. As the photo shows, I'm painstakingly building up colour, tonal values and texture in the rocks, still using only ultramarine and burnt sienna over the initial raw umber underpainting. The daunting prospect of painting the egret itself is looming ever larger!    


Friday, December 9, 2011

Inch by Inch

I haven't advanced much further with this painting over the course of the week, but what little time I did spend on it brought home to me that with the combination of a dedicated painting area in our new house where painting materials and equipment are permanently accessible, and the luxury afforded by oil paints which I can leave on the palette overnight or even longer, I can easily resume where I left off whenever I have a few spare moments. There's no longer a requirement to set up in the kitchen every time I feel the urge to paint as I had to in the past. I'm sure that necessity contributed to my reluctance to begin a painting session when available time was limited - thankfully, the days of a kitchen studio are over!

As you can see, I'm continuing to darken the rocks on the left of the painting with scumbled glazes of ultramarine and burnt sienna. I'm confident I'll be able to steal a few moments away from domestic chores and make more significant progress over the coming weekend.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Egrets on the Brain

Maybe it's my uncertainty with oils, or perhaps it's been so long since I've painted in any medium that I've simply forgotten how much my thoughts throughout the day are dominated by the creative process.

Through the planning stages and on into the execution of this painting, I find myself mentally rehearsing my next move as the day progresses, even as I'm trapped in a city office block, up to my ears in computing work! Having endured my obligatory nine-to-five working day, I can finally apply paint to canvas, putting into practice the plan of attack I've formulated at work. When I've finished painting for the night, cleaned brushes and teeth and crawled into bed, I fall asleep conducting a post-mortem of the painting session, only to repeat the cycle when I wake the next morning. On that basis, I'm inclined to think that the pursuit of art is a lifestyle rather than a pastime!


Egret - A Hint of Colour!

After developing what I felt was an effective range of techniques and the beginnings of an identifiable style using acrylic paints, I felt quite daunted by the challenges posed by oils and was unsure how to proceed with this painting initially.

After dusting off some old art books and trawling the internet for guidance, I was able to develop a loose plan and make a tentative start. Having drawn in the egret and the major lines which define the structure of the painting, an under-painting in raw umber to roughly establish darks and lights was my first nervous step with this oil painting. The simple act of covering up that brilliant white expanse of canvas with a dilute layer of paint was enough to lift my spirits and, although I'm still feeling my way as I continue to refine darks and lights, I'm satisfied enough with the way this painting is progressing at this very early stage.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Egret - Laying the Foundations

As the idea for this painting nagged at me intermittently over several months and became more clearly defined, I came to the view that the unusual arrangement of the bird demands that its escape route not be blocked by a frame of any kind, hence my choice of a "gallery wrap" canvas.

To accentuate the egret's upward momentum, I've aligned the edge of the rock face immediately behind the bird with the bird's left leg and angled it similarly to provide a more or less unbroken vertical path through rock, leg and bird. I've also manipulated slightly the angle of the broken branch below the bird to mirror the angle of this line thereby suggesting an upwards-pointing "arrow" shape which (I hope) contributes further to the illusion of vertical movement. The small elongated highlight in the rock towards the lower edge of the canvas extends and reinforces this inverted "V" shape as do several other lines and edges, the most noticeable of which are defined by the bird's tail feathers and the margins of its wings. Whether these design elements add to the effectiveness of the overall composition I'll leave to you to decide. For the most part, they were already present in the reference photographs; I've simply adjusted their placement and will try to draw attention to those I feel are helpful in the design sense.

Hopefully, the image together with the explanation I've offered above begin to convey what it is I'm trying to accomplish with this painting. I'm in no way seeking to promote myself as any kind of authority where matters of composition are concerned; I trust, however, that providing some insight into my thought processes is of some interest.

I'm still reacquainting myself with oil paints having switched to acrylics many years ago, but I have managed to delve into the dark, dusty recesses of my mind to reawaken memories of basic oil painting techniques, including the idea of a monochrome under-painting - my next milestone.

Having just moved house, most of my spare time seems to be taken up with domestic chores, however, the prospect of establishing a workspace solely for art is spurring me on, the promise being that I can leave my painting paraphernalia set up and readily accessible, unlike my previous situation where I was forced to commandeer the kitchen bench space between meal times!        

More soon.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Taking a Chance

In the artistic sense I've tended to be risk-averse in the past and the subject of this painting is therefore a departure from my usual "safe" choices. From the point of view of my willingness to trust my artistic instincts and cheerfully confront the possibility that many viewers are likely to scratch their heads and ask themselves, "what on earth was he thinking?", it marks a significant advance in my evolution as an artist - whether the painting itself is judged a success or not. Less significantly, it will be the first oil painting I've attempted in many years.

At an intuitive level, before I'd had time to ponder too much on its suitability as a painting subject, I was drawn to the possibilities offered by the photograph that serves as the painting's inspiration; I love the translucency of the egret's wing and the bird's dramatic attempt to escape the confines of the image boundaries which, although a little disconcerting in the context of this painting, would seem to be entirely in keeping with its natural inclinations. After a prolonged period of procrastination during which I was frequently inclined to discard the idea entirely, I'm finally committing to the project and placing my faith in my initial positive reaction to what was really an accidental photograph. The shot that preceded it by a few seconds was far more conventional and depicts a very well-behaved egret prior to lift off; it may well feature here as a painting at some point too - perhaps after I've fallen flat on my face with this one and have reverted to my typically reserved self!

While I've managed to remain true to the original idea, I will combine and manipulate elements from several photographs as a means of arriving at what I hope will be a pleasing overall design. I'll be very interested to hear your reactions as the work progresses; as always, I invite you all to be as brutal in your assessment as you feel is necessary!


Friday, May 27, 2011


It's taken a three week holiday in Victoria and New South Wales, over three thousand kilometres east, to finally secure some useful photographs of Australia's "wild" dog.  As residents of a wildlife sanctuary, the dingoes pictured were anything but wild or inclined towards aggression - a series of affectionate licks of their keeper's face was evidence of that!  For another few dollars we could have entered their enclosure and handled them ourselves, but with limited time and so much else to see, we passed up on the opportunity - perhaps foolishly.

This pair appeared to be in prime condition, but it's worth acknowledging that in their natural state survival doesn't come so easily; the few wild animals I saw while living in Western Australia's rugged north were malnourished and generally in poor condition.

At some point I'm keen to feature these two in a painting or drawing, but for now, work continues to be a barrier to that happening.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Wallaby Cave Revisited

It seems a lifetime ago that I began a painting featuring black-footed rock wallabies basking in the last rays of the sun at the entrance to a small cave. I ran into problems with that painting from day one as I sought to apply heavily diluted acrylic paint to canvas in the same way I'd successfully done so on watercolour paper years before. Those methods didn't translate well to canvas and I moved on to fresh subjects in a fit of exasperation. Another obstacle was that I was unsure of some details of the cave and of my ability to improvise in the absence of suitable reference photos. Worthwhile painting ideas are a precious commodity however, and although my first attempt never came to fruition, I always felt I'd return to this subject one day.

When we visited the area 12 months later I was mindful of this painting subject and, on one on our many forays up the creek and with the position of the sun in my original photos in mind, I manoeuvred my kayak into position tight against the creek's steep rock wall with the aim of securing the photographs I'd lacked before. I have an adequate collection of photos featuring the region's rock wallabies, so with a more detailed idea of the painting's backdrop I'm a little more hopeful that Wallaby Cave version 2.0 will be more successful.

With the intention of beginning my attempt in the week ahead, I'm conscious of the need to make some lifestyle changes to accommodate it. Getting more sleep is at the top of the list, the aim being to reduce the weariness I feel at the end of a long day in front of a computer screen. Hopefully, I can begin to feel a little more motivated and be a little more productive in the evenings than I have been in recent months.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

I Can Feel a Painting Coming On!

After a long absence from the easel and from this blog I'm probably no closer to picking up the paintbrushes again, although the enforced absence does serve a useful purpose in strengthening my resolve to do so as soon as I'm able (or under-employed once again!).

I'm not entirely without free time, but from experience I know that grabbing ten minutes here or an hour there just doesn't lend itself to successful artistic endeavours; strangely, I've noticed in the past that I can be an hour or more into a painting session before I feel the creative gears in my brain engage.

With work having taken precedence over the past few months, I've become aware that I reflect with increasing frequency on what it takes to feel whole, and on the impact a denial of who I am at my core has on my sense of well-being. Perhaps it's that I'm on the wrong side of 50, but striving to be my authentic self takes on new importance as I contemplate my life's direction and the forces that influence it - not all of which I have control over. Ultimately, I know that to be truly happy I need not only to be creating, but to be surrounded by creative people from whom I can draw inspiration. Until my circumstances change, the best I can manage in that regard is to keep tabs on the various blogs I follow in an effort to somehow remain connected to their authors, and to our common goals.

I can feel a painting coming on!