Archive for November, 2017

Painting in shade in front of the Bluffs.

Painting in shade in front of the Bluffs.

 

Artists are an intrepid lot! Determined in their quest for the perfect painting, against all odds. All in the name of ‘Art’.

One of the amazing features of Chillagoe is its sandstone outcrops and caves which turn beautiful colours depending on the direction of the sun. Of course, these were a ‘must-do’ and favourite subject of our enthusiastic band of artists.

The Eco-lodge mini bus drove us with all our art gear to some of these locations to later pick us up again. One morning location was the Archways cave system in the Chillagoe-Mungana National Park, and the bluffs were tall and imposing. About half of the group settled in to paint in one of the caves which was quite open with arched (hence the name I guess) openings looking out onto the surrounding scenery. It was a cool area in which to paint as there were already signs of a potentially hot day. The perfect spot!

RULE #57 for outdoor painting – do check for indented wet patches on a cave’s sandy floor BEFORE setting your stool over this spot. Engrossed in their work some started to wonder why they felt little drops of moisture on themselves and saw splatters on their paper and paints. Caves are nearly always damp. A hasty reshuffle of positions solved the problem.

Meanwhile, a couple of us had decided to sketch the bluffs from the outside. Finding the perfect spot from which to paint these, but unfortunately out in the now hot sun, we found shade from the trunk and branches of a nearby tree on a narrow sandy track. This necessitated regular shifts of position to keep up with the movement of the sun. Painting with the glare of sunlight on the white paper or canvas can cause the equivalent of ‘snow blindness’. I kid you not. If you have no choice, sit with your back to the sun so that your paper is always in shade.

I did notice that there was plenty of horse dung on the track, but hoped that the mob of brumbies, which we had seen scampering away into the bush at our approach, would be too spooked by our presence to come charging along their well-worn track.

RULE #163 for outdoor painting – do check on fresh horse and cattle dung where you are preparing to sit and paint. You do not want to be in the middle of a sticky situation (in more ways than one) with some head brumby or bull wanting to challenge your right to be there. We survived!

Another great location was the area of The Balancing Rock closer to Chillagoe. This was a mid to late afternoon painting excursion to capture the gold, orange and red changing colours of the normally grey-looking rocks. About half the group struggled up the very steep rocky path, lugging their art gear, in order to paint from the top where the balancing rock was located. The rest of us stayed towards the bottom reluctant to risk twisted ankles or heart attacks. We spread out a bit to find the angles of the bluffs we wished to sketch.

One artist further up the path settled down, placing her paint gear bag beside her folding chair. She reached down into her bag groping for a pencil, not noticing that a marching column of big black ants, twenty deep, had advanced, (and were still pouring out of the nearby nest), and were devouring the afternoon snack she had forgotten was in the bottom of her bag. All she felt was a crawling writhing mass of something around her hand. Her screeching, fit to cause an avalanche,  echoed around the bluffs. They mustn’t have been black bull ants because the screeching was of horror not pain. She flung her equipment everywhere in her efforts to empty the bag of ants which in turn caused her to dance around all the now very scattered and angry ants crawling in all directions. She came hurtling down the track towards us to tell her tale.

After she composed herself she headed back to her spot to retrieve her art gear, to find that most of the traumatised ants had retreated to their nest. She did not accomplish much art work at that location.

RULE #368 for outdoor painters – do check for nearby ant nests before taking up position. There are ant sentries with binoculars on the top of specially designed sniffing towers at all ant nests. Be warned – some bite – and they will find YOU!

On departure day (Saturday), we had a ‘Show and Tell’ in the dining room of the Eco-lodge where we displayed our colour and black/white sketches – what beaut examples everyone had of the inspiration that Chillagoe had given us.

The Bluffs at Archway N.P.

The Bluffs at Archway N.P.

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Balancing Rock N.P.

Balancing Rock N.P.

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The minibus took us into the township for a coffee at Gallery 29, then drove us to Almaden for lunch, after which we boarded the Savannahlander back to Cairns. The trip home on the train with the great informative crew, the unique landscape we passed, was a terrific way to finish off the four day art experience. Tired, but happy!

Archway N.P.

Archway N.P.

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A lovely shady spot to sit.

A lovely shady spot to sit.

After finding a lovely shady spot to sit for painting and sketching, the immediate reaction is ‘of overwhelm’. So many great little scenes and subjects beckon that for a moment, it all becomes rather confusing.

The rule of ‘en plein air’ (on location) painting is to quietly sit for some moments, take a deep breath, relax and absorb the surroundings, then slowly and deliberately look around and notice what captures your attention. As mentioned before, nature rarely, if ever, presents the perfect picture.

On finding a scene that appeals, you then have to decide what is important to include in your drawing and what isn’t. Rubbish undergrowth can be eliminated to some extent, and so can some of the numerous rocks and twigs and grasses and the umpteen branches of a tree, superfluous to your main subject.

Always be very careful to not destroy the credibility of the location. For example, a grove of pandanus trees slightly to the left of the scene of rocks and reflections you would like to paint, can be shifted into your scene, but not the mango tree three streets away. The elimination of superfluous stuff should not result in the scene looking like an immaculate garden because of any drastic culling. The resulting drawing/painting should still look like an authentic representation of your location, otherwise you may as well stay home and paint from your imagination.

The following photos and small paintings were done on Chillagoe Creek which flows alongside the township. We sat under the shady melaleucas on the creek banks and between the rocks. The creek was still gurgling along over and between the numerous rocks because the area had been blessed with some rain a few weeks previously. This was good for us because we didn’t have problems with flies, mosquitoes and midges normally associated with stagnant water.

 

The resulting watercolour sketches from the subject matter on location above :

watercolour

watercolour 7″ x  5″

 

watercolour 7"x 5"

watercolour 7″x 5″

A few more sketches in the next post.

Painting in shade in front of the Bluffs.

Painting in shade in front of the Bluffs.

For an artist there is something really special about painting ‘en plein air’. The atmosphere of a place somehow transfers to the artwork and the total absorption that happens as you sit painting and drawing somehow is more refreshing and rejuvenating than painting in the studio.

Many artists love to gather their sketch and photo references this way because that special feeling is usually remembered and then translated into their later studio works derived from these. As photo references are mostly quickly taken because of perceived time restraints, they do not always help to recall that unique experience; but taking the time to quietly sit and paint small paintings and drawings, all the feelings flood back each time you view these art pieces again.

Of course, painting on location has its drawbacks – heat, flies, wind, juggling paint gear on your lap, ants crawling up your leg or into your paints on the ground, paint drying too quickly or too slowly, the water pot toppling over, and the agitated bull pawing the ground not far away because you are sitting on his and his harem’s path to the water hole. But artists are brave and resilient!

On our recent art trek to Chillagoe we found some wonderful locations to inspire even the fussiest of painters – old mine sites, caves, escarpments, old cottages, a flowing creek, a dam, melaleucas, pandanus, and heaps of bird life.

Nature, however, never provides the perfect picture. The necessary elements have to be composed and manipulated from the surrounding area by the artist, so that the picture composition does not jar and alienate the viewer. Artists are like little gods. We can shift trees, rocks and mountains, eliminate undergrowth, posts and general rubbish, bring things a little forward or backward all in the name of ‘art’. Naturally, this has to be done discreetly, carefully, so that the picture is still a valid representation of the actual – otherwise the image becomes ludicrous.

See if you can find the components I shifted and modified, while I was on site, to give interest/focus to my little paintings and sketches of the scene. I have attached the photos of the scene where I sat to paint and draw, and the finished (as far as I will take them) efforts. These small works (7″ x 5″) are, of course, little impressions, roughly done, under trying conditions, and can’t be considered finished paintings. We worked like ‘little beavers’ to get as much done as we could in the three hours allocated at each different location.

Next post, I will show some more of the little impressions from the various locations where we painted and sketched.

 

 

Pencil and Watercolour Wash

Pencil and Watercolour Wash

 

Pencil Sketch

Pencil Sketch