A New Start to a New Year………………..25/1/2020

shadow 2 - New Year

Interestingly, I have realized while reflecting on the year just gone by, and future-gazing into 2020, that my paintings, some of which I recently saw again almost 40 years after painting them, are mostly in better condition than I am.

I deeply appreciate the fact that many families are already passing them on one generation to the next, and it cheered me no end to realize that these artworks will outlast me by many years.

Paintings are timeless, and what they depict are, or will be, the history of mankind, and that in itself is timeless. Just think of the great Art Museums of the World and how people flock to them to gaze in wonder at their treasures.

May your life be filled with beautiful art in 2020.


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 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



1 Front Cover

“…………..My friend next door had followed me into the remains of our house. Their house had been wiped out to the last row of bricks. She was desperate for something to wear.  Anything ……….. even wet would do!  She had made the mistake of going to bed in a skimpy, see-through nightie.  Now she stood there  – one arm over her breasts, and the other arm trying to conceal her crotch area.  The wet nylon nightie was clinging everywhere.  She may as well have been wearing nothing.

Their clothes were ‘gone with the wind’. Most people had lost all of their clothing except what they had been wearing. Her husband was standing in his very skimpy underpants as when he’d gone to bed.  So we dressed him in my husband’s old shorts from the bottom of grandfather’s old sea chest, and her in my husband’s old football jersey which went down to her knees. She was happy! The rest of the warm dry clothes in the sea chest went into dressing the neighbourhood children………….”

This is a short extract from my book – the moral being – that when a cyclone is approaching and the winds are building up, you do not go to bed unless dressed in substantial clothing and footwear. You also keep, in a plastic bag and very close to you, a change of clothing for all those sheltering with you. The winds change from bad to horrific very quickly with each new gust, and you may suddenly find it is too dangerous for you to try to collect these things. Be prepared!

We were fortunate that the large extremely heavy sea chest did not budge during that cyclone, even though everything else was blown away. It stayed true to its purpose and was bone dry inside. In its journeys sailing around the world, it had probably encountered such severe weather many times. Even in the following stifling heat, we were so happy to have its contents of winter woollies, and ‘odds and ends’ of old but dry clothing, as we were all in shock and shiveringly cold.

Read more hard-earned tips in my book “Terror and Turmoil” available on Amazon’s Kindle, and hardcopy from me.



"Misty Tableland Morning"

“Misty Tableland Morning”

Was delighted to find out during the week that my watercolour “Misty Tableland Morning” (50 x 70cm) won the Watercolour Award of $1000, at the Cairns Art Society’s 69th Annual Art Exhibition at the Cairns Regional Gallery. The show opened on 17/11/2016, and finishes 12/12/2016.

For artists, winning awards, strangely, is not about the money at all (though, of course, that is nice!) but it’s about affirmation as an artist. We have such delicate egos!! Knowing that a judge has considered all the competition, and then has given you ‘the gong’ gives you a kind of warm fuzzy feeling, only bettered by a hug from that ‘special one’ in your life.

The scene was of a farm shack on its last legs (well stumps anyway), with the mists rolling over, stuck in the middle of a paddock, in the backblocks between Kairi and Tinaroo on the Atherton Tablelands.

At this time of writing the painting is still available for sale. ($995.oo).


2 Back Cover


The wise words from Maria Murnane – “Sometimes when people I encounter find out I’m a writer, they share with me their own ambitions of writing a book. While some of these individuals go on to reach their goals, in my experience that’s usually not the case. I’ve lost track of how many times an aspiring writer has told me that he or she once started writing a book, but then for various reasons it went nowhere. Some of the most common explanations I hear include:

*I got too busy with work/family

*I wasn’t sure where the plot was going

*I was afraid it was awful

*It seemed like so much work

*I set it down and just didn’t pick it up again

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of the above, but here is the truth: Yes, they are reasons, but they are also excuses. It’s completely fine if you don’t finish your book or even if you never start your book. No one is telling you that you must write a book. It’s your life, and you should live it as you choose. But if you truly want to write a book, you’re the only one who can make yourself do it. That’s really all it comes down to.

Much like losing weight or getting (and staying) in shape, writing a book takes discipline and commitment over a long period of time. There are always going to be reasons for why you can’t eat right every day or work out every day. Always. But if you really want to lose weight by eating right regularly, you will. If you really want to be in shape by exercising regularly, you will. And if you really want to write a book, you will.

Writing a book is challenging and scary and not always fun. And once you’re done, there’s no guarantee that you’ll sell a single copy. But who cares? For the vast majority of authors, writing a book isn’t about the money. It’s about writing a book. So if you really want to be a writer, get out of your own way and make it happen. I promise you’ll be glad you did.” – Maria.

I found this the best piece of advice I have ever read…….it stopped my procrastination, my excuses, and made me DO IT!!

2 Front Cover

It’s Wet, No Kidding.


Our current weather reminds me of this painting. “It’s Wet, No Kidding” was a watercolour 60 x 55 cm I painted some time ago, of a scene I came across in the back blocks of Atherton. It had been a miserable, wet, cold day but the sun was trying to come out. The goats, sheltered from the wind by their humpy, had picked a sunny spot to dry out…….in the only little bit of sun around. They seemed quite pleased with themselves. I do have some reproductions of this painting available which are stretched on canvas and ready to hang.

If You were an Artist, What would “YOU” like to Paint……..?

Heat Haze, Richmond

If you were to be an artist, what would “you” like to paint……..?

Everyone knows how I gravitate to old shacks, houses and homesteads……..the rustier the iron, and the more weathered the timber, the better. I love painting the play of light over these structures.

What grabs you? What do you see when you say to yourself “I wish I could paint” or “That would make a fantastic painting”? What has stirred your soul??

This is an oil on canvas, I painted some years ago, 900 x 600mm, “Heat Haze, in the Back Blocks, Richmond”.

12 Things You Should Not Say To An Artist………

Amongst the Sunflowers, Ravenswood

Below are 12 comments that artists constantly hear and dislike. I have heard them all in my time; in brackets, are the responses that I would like to deliver, but am too polite.

1. “My kid could do that.”

(Ah, ha! So where is this genius — cutting a deal with Sotheby’s?)

2. “I wish I could do that but I can’t draw a straight line.”

(Unless you’re Ludij Peden, it’s not that important.)

3. “Have you painted all your life?”

(No…..not yet!)

4. “I have an aunt (cousin/brother) who paints.”

(Let me guess, on Sundays?)

5. “How long did it take you to make that?”

(Since birth.)

6. “That must really be fun to do.”

(Yes, it is — if you like poverty, rejection, isolation and public criticism.)

7. “I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like.”

(I like chocolate too. Trust your instincts, and also read and learn a little about the subject.)

8. “If it’s local it couldn’t be good……..I buy all my art in Melbourne (Sydney/Brisbane).”

(So move to Melbourne, and tell them that.)

9. “I wish I had time to do that.”

(After flossing regularly and rearranging your knickers’ drawer, forget it.)

10. “I’d like to buy your painting, but as I check my Rolex, I realise that I have to jump into my Lexus, hop on my jet and fly to Lizard Island. If I do buy it, could I have it for half price since we could do a private deal and cut out the gallery?”

(Please, get out of my life!)

11. “I would like something to go over my couch. Could you do that in mauve, pink and teal?”

(No, buy a new couch.)

12. “It’s perfect, I love it! But I’ll have to talk to my decorator first.”

(Does he/she hold your hand through all of life’s big decisions?)

But then, of course, many people cannot understand what drives an artist, and view them with suspicion :

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