Australian Fine Artist

Archive for July, 2012


The Spirit of the Times


This topic has been spread over a few weeks for groups created on the first day and as a class. I was placed into the Ethical group and we have had some very interesting discussions about our thoughts and feelings about not only our own ethics as artists living now but also those of society in general.

As we are a part of the society around us we can not help being influenced and affected by what goes on around us and how people are living in it. It may be in the form of modifying our life to conform or rejecting what we see to follow our own “path”.

Below are some of the points raised by each group as we talked when getting together later.


We had a lively discussion about the impact of social media on our lives and how it can create a superficial representation of yourself to the world.  We also talked about the changing society in Australia and worldwide due to the sped of technical change.

  • Do we need a huge quantity of contact or “friends” on social media or is it a type of ego thing?
  • Aim for approval due to media influence
  • Anonymity behind computers and disconnection from direct contact with people a way of controlling people’s perception of us
  • The facelessness of the technical age
  • The growing need for community groups and gardens for example to start bringing people together in person again


The political discussion could have become quite lively but we kept it on topic! Some voiced the opinion that they had no real political interests as they felt they had nothing to say and no issue that they wanted to address. Others said that they were mildly involved and were happy to vote when required to have their say. All seems to agree that we live more in a commercial society rather than a democratic one, even though politics has such a large influence in all our lives in one way or another as we all have governments in our council, state and country etc.

  • Where does politics fall in peoples’ busy lives?
  • Do we really have any influence over our elected politicians?
  • Do people lack the drive to voice their opinions these days or are many too time poor?
  • It is sometimes difficult to see the truth or facts because of media bias and people bending facts to suit agendas
  • Do we vote because we want to or because we have to in Australia?

We discussed the idea that artists are freer in recent times to express their art and themselves than before. There is less infliction of regulation and social confines even in the “nanny state” political atmosphere we seem to be entering at the moment. Artists create their own codes of conduct and ethics rather than having them imposed. We do also however have the “want vs need” society that we live in which can be very self-centred. In contrast we can decide not to indulge in this way of thinking and as artists represent ourselves and our art in a more transparent manner. We no longer have a church or government telling us what to paint or how to do it. We no longer have to hide what we are truly like as people – as long as we are obeying the “laws of the land”. People know who and what they are dealing with in general, so even though to some we may be in a more “immoral or less religiously spiritual era” in some sense it may have better ethics.

  • Throw away society
  • Convenience
  • Impatience (I want everything now)
  • Debt and living beyond means
  • Blurring of borders of society and the world
  • Loss of individual cultural identity
  • Loss of respect for individual achievement (tall poppy syndrome)
  • Lack of understanding of how we represent ourselves to the world and how to communicate to it


With so many cultures living all a round the world now, we don’t have people living next to each other with the same sets of beliefs as may have been the case over fifty years ago. As Australia grows and more people from other countries come to make it their home, how are we thinking about our own spirituality and how we express it in our art and in our lives?

I asked if there is a need in us to see ourselves as more than the vessel we inhabit. As artists do we call on a higher part of ourselves, a spirit or mind that is beyond the physical? Can we tap into something like what I described as “channeling the spirit of  Turner” for example, as I sometimes feel like an influence beyond myself had a lot to do with the creation of a painting. We use the word inspiration, which describes an idea blossoming and growing into an invention or creation, what is that if not a spiritual experience?

  • Disinterest in traditional formal religions
  • Openness to other beliefs
  • Freedom to think and believe as we wish
  • For some the materialistic society around us is filling the gap that “church” did years ago (retail therapy)
  • Generic “spirituality” becoming to norm more for many who see ritualised religion as hypocritical and for less educated or cultured societies

Andy Worhol

Andy Worhol was born Andrew Warhola on August 6, 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to immigrant parents. He became very ill as a child and his mother, an accomplished artist, took this time whilst he was ill in bed to teach him drawing. It was about this time he also gained interest in collecting magazines, watching and producing film and actors.

Whilst studying art at the Carnegie Institute part time, Andy’s father died and left him with enough money to continue his art education. After graduating high school in 1945, he enrolled at the Carnegie Institute for Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) to study pictorial design. On graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts he went into the workforce as a commercial artist. During the late 1950s he started pursuing his interest in painting, later introducing his mass produced screen prints.

As he had an interest in celebrity and film, around 1962 Andy started what he would later be himself iconically recognisable for, his multiple brightly coloured prints of both well known actors and brands. The screen printing technique available at the time was perfect for a merge between fine and commercial art styles and a lucrative career was established producing sought after portraits. After the initial design was finished, prints could also be run off by anyone he chose to employ to help him.

Taking the artist away from their “touch” of the art left the subject alone to speak for themselves. In a way all his subjects were being reduced to commercial icons done in the “pop art” colours of the 1960s and 1970s.

By including himself into these prints Andy was aiming at raising himself into the realms of cultural icon along with all his other subjects. He developed a very successful career by using the mood and cultural direction of his times and I think along with his most famous subjects left us with a readily identifiable image of himself for many years.

After the video we were asked: “How did Andy Warhol represent his era?” We came up with the following list (abridged)

  • Repeated imagery
  • Types of images used (politicians, actors, readily identifiable consumer items)
  • Mediums used (screen print, paint added to prints)
  • Colours used popular at the time
  • Focus on image rather than the traditional method of portraiture
  • Scale of his works (very large in a lot of cases)

Win at Berwick Artists Society

“Morning Tea”
Medium: Pastel Pencil, Pastel, under painted with Water Colour Paint
Base: Tex Pastel Paper
Year: 2012

Awarded first place, Section A for Experienced Artists at Berwick Artists Society monthly meeting for July 2012

This pastel painting on archival pastel paper is based on a photo shoot in my studio. I have already done one pastel from these photos but decided that I would try my samples of Daniel Smith water colours for the underpainting. My goal was to prove that you don’t have to go far to get great material for an artwork and to have a go at the underpainting technique which I haven’t done very much of. The fruit was not very fresh so the grapes were even more interesting as they had started to crinkle and were not the plump little orbs they started out as. The surface was the board I have protecting my light table, which is covered in scratches and blobs and lines of paint so in this case I didn’t include them and kept the background light and very simple, even allowing the pastel paper to show through towards the edges.

I chose some creamy/faun Canson paper to work on. I like the pastel papers with good “tooth” because they hold so much pastel. I can do a lot of layers with nothing falling off the surface.

I didn’t do any grids or the usual marking up of a page for this work as I have done in the past. I wanted to draw in with observation only, taking note of how much of the area the objects were taking up and getting everything onto the the paper by eye and taking notice of the negative space around the subject. After this the blocking in with paint began. This gave me an instant dark and shadow area and the depth gained later without too much work was very nice.

If you lay down the pastel pencil gently and plan your work, colours that you would not think of readily can be used in the first stages of blocking in. Complementary colours underneath the final ones can create interesting finishes. You just need to remember not to panic and realise that your painting is going to go through an ugly stage where you think of throwing it out or wonder if those combinations of colours can “REALLY” work. My suggestion is first – not panic, second – take a breath and a break if you need to and finally to just persevere. It is just paper and pastel, not life and death.

I try to remember that I really do know what I am doing and that if I take my time and really think about my next step then let go, it usually all comes together in the end. If after all that it hasn’t worked to my satisfaction then I try to glean a lesson from it so I can do better next time. Given that though, it was good to get past the ugly stage – again, with this painting and finish it off successfully. Standing back and checking on the computer and in the studio (as I do all through an artwork) to do that final check is very satisfying. The end result is a little still life that I am very happy to display and offer for sale.

Enquiries can be made through the contact page in my website at: or email me directly to: or

VISA, EFTPOS, MasterCard and Paypal are accepted and as pastels travel so well I am happy to accept an overseas order for this artwork.

Dimensions: 30 cm (width) × 22 cm (height) approx
Ownership: Artist
Credit: Original photography by Janice Mills

Still Life in Acrylics and Pencil

Venue: Berwick Artists Society

Demonstrating Artists: Ona Henderson and Syd Tun

The demonstration at BAS was a treat with business partners (and married couple) Ona and Syd. As they were setting up for the demo I could see how closely they worked with each other. They constantly talked and consulted, each seeming the extension of the other. It was a lovely thing to see two people so in sync with each other.

For the purpose of getting everything covered, Syd was doing the actual painting and Ona was the spokesperson. An arrangement that worked smoothly, as they run an art studio together, are in each other’s company producing art all day every day and understand each other’s techniques so very well.

The both of them set up their pot of flowers with a lovely blue table top drapery, making sure the background was right and checking the lighting so they had a good strong light source and the viewers weren’t blinded by the spotlight!

Both Ona and Syd are classically trained artists, they both studied art during the 1960s. Syd was a graphic designer and then went full time with his fine art and Ona has been a professional artist for all of her career. They have been working together for thirty three years.

There were many samples of their work on show as well as prints they produce of not only their art, but short run editioned prints using some beautiful techniques calling on a lot of oriental inspiration. I had the opportunity to chat to Syd about his printing and found we had things in common with the graphics backgrounds and understanding of printing as well as fun with Photoshop!

Getting on with the actual demo, Syd drew in his outlines with his own home made charcoal on to archival matt board which he had previously gessoed in a mid cool blue, he had a viewfinder with string in to create a grid pattern, which is a very old technique going back hundreds of years. This way he was able to get in his drawing very quickly and accurately. Most of the artwork was done using acrylics with white gesso being used for some spots as it is a much thicker and reflective white. Most colours were tested in a spot before committing them to too much of the painting and Syd made adjustments to colours if they were a bit too dark.

Since acrylics can dry quickly, every now and then Syd went back in to the painting with some very nice pencils which I will have to resource. They were very dark and black graphites, EXE, EB and EE which I had a quick go at and liked a lot! His graphic background became evident where as his use of lines to give texture to various areas gave the painting a unique painterly and drawn quality.

Keeping the brushes washed with soap and water during the demo, Syd laid down blocks of complimentary colours to quickly show us the composition. A lot of the time was spent afterwards refining highlight, mid tones, shadows and adding lines here and there with his pencils. The background was changed to another colour to work with the main subject and at the end of the demo we were treated to seeing how Syd creates interesting patterns for his backgrounds and areas around the focal point by loosely painting on thin acrylic, allowing it to dry just until the shine is off it, then sprinkling with water and placing a cloth or even paper towel over it and lifting to create some lovely patterns. This can be done several times over leaving the paint underneath to show through and keeping it as sharp or muted as you like.

The final highlights were painted in and a few glazes to tie some of the colours together. The brilliant colours in the painting were popping right off the board and it was a stunning work given the short amount of time to get it done.

This all worked so well because Ona was able to do all the talking about what Syd was doing and why, all his materials and answering any questions. As I run a business with my husband I enjoyed this demo for a lot of reasons apart from learning more techniques for my art. It was good to see a couple working together in their business so perfectly in tune with each other. It was very inspirational. I hope that we are giving off the same feelings was we work together in ours.

I want to thank Ona and Syd for a very enjoyable demo. The tips about making your own charcoal, using glass palettes, solar etching for prints, acrylic mediums were also included in the evening, for which I would like to further thank them.

Controversy – The Power of Art

Visual Art Arts Excursion July 25 2012

Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery

This exhibition which was curated by Dr Vivien Gaston is described on the MPRG web site as: “Controversy: The power of art explores the social and cultural impact of art through examples that have provoked intense response and controversy.”

I sometimes wonder about art and it’s power to excite emotional and very loud reactions by viewers and critics. Is it always in the head of the artist at the time of creating an artwork “hey I want to really cause a stir with this piece, let’s see how many feathers I can ruffle with this one” or is it more likely that they have an idea in their head and it seems interesting, or even to the point of “I really have to try this” being the main reasoning behind an artwork or display?

OK some works I have seen in the past or heard about because I had no desire to see them, are there for shock value alone but I really wonder about their description as art rather than display pieces or even advertising material to get the artist noticed.

Maybe it’s just that I am in a point in my career and life for that matter where I really have had enough of controversy, upheaval and political statements etc. So when I go to an exhibition with the title starting with the word controversy I wonder “why am I going?” Well, it’s probably with an optimistic hope that there will be a smattering of artworks on show that I really can “get into” and enjoy not only looking at but also pulling apart to see how some of the effects and brushwork were done.

In this case I was able to find some amazing work by artists that I have admired as well as a couple I was newly introduced to. There were other works that I either was not interested in, though was a bit gross or in the case of some of the political works on display, thought were more than a little one sided and under researched.

The exhibition was divided into about five subjects in there own area:

Is It Art?




Body Power

Some of the pieces dated from the 19th Century, but most were from the 20th and 21st. Some issues were created more by the establishment’s idea of regulating exhibitions, such as no painting from a photograph for the Archibald and how closely someone had copied the style and composition of a Dutch painter from over 200 years ago. Some others were because the subject matter (nudes) were a bit too erotic or saucy for the time and the general public’s taste. I don’t know that the artists went out of their way to annoy everyone in society when they painted these pieces. The furore came along later and out of control of the artist in many cases.

Some other pieces I just couldn’t see as art at all, so yes, for me in answering the question asked at the start of the tour, Is it art? Well in some cases, no not to me. In the beginning of the tour we were directed to a smallish sculpture made, if I remember correctly out of found materials. I hadn’t even noticed it until it was pointed out and as the guide waxed lyrical about how it is art because we were all standing around in a gallery looking at it, I thought well, no, the only reason I am standing here looking at it is because you pointed it out and I am here with my art class so I should stay here and listen. If I had been there alone I wouldn’t have given it a second glance, as to me it looked like a circular hatrack at best.

In the religiously undertoned works, lack of knowledge of history was an annoying thing for me. When talking about one piece in particular, we were told, “where did Jesus come from anyway, what are his true origins, etc etc, we just don’t know”. Well, history if you look up a book on the subject will tell us that he was the son of two descendants of King David, the nephew of Joseph of Aramathia. He was an historic figure accepted by most faiths and some archeologists and historians who have researched, as having existed, whether a mere mortal like the rest of us I will leave to others to believe or not.

Showing pigs hearts on a video and created pigs heads was another thing I didn’t stay in front of for long. I have read that because of the genes that pigs have in common with humans they are more preferred for certain research. I understand that research goes on, and I am told that the animals are treated as humanely as possible – so do we just experiment on humans instead? And really, I don’t go to abattoirs for a reason and that is why I am not interested in seeing the next best thing to one in a gallery.

Did I Like Anything?

I did like several things. The Norman Lindsey painting. The Freda Robertsaw painting and the Jules Lefebure painting. Oddly enough, all nude ladies and men (or maybe better described as male figures as Lindsey liked to make his figures look like nymphs and recreations from myth and legend). Not that nudes are an interest of mine, I really have no interest in painting humans at all. I did like the style, the colours, the medium and in one case the mischievousness plus some things no matter whether you personally paint or draw the subject, can be just beautiful to look at. Then, having my fill and getting a bit tired on my feet, I went out and briefly enjoyed looking at the display of Russell Drysdale drawings in the foyer.

1880-1915 The Industrial Revolution and Art

Apply research and Analysis July 24th

Tutor: Nathan

Our regular tutor David was ill today so I am sending my best wishes for a speedy recovery! I hope you don’t have the same cold I’ve had David because it is a mongrel.

Back to the topic. Today we had a couple of videos to look at which pointed towards us thinking about the subject last week, the “Zeitgeist” or spirit of our times and how that may have happened in creation of the art during the Industrial revolution in Europe and England from around 1880 to 1915.

We had a brief look at a major archeological find in Europe. This was made in the early 20th Century as archeologists were excavating in the area of Willenfdorf, Austria. This little figure only about 7 inches tall was carved over 20,000 years ago. The interesting thing about her is that she reflects the desire for a symbol of female fertility and how all the female body parts to do with that have been very much exaggerated. This idea spread across much of the world for many hundreds or thousands of years and is a very early example of the environment and the lives of the people having a big impact on the creation of art or symbols. There was no interest in the reality of the female form, even the arms and facial features are not included.

Jumping forward to the end of the nineteenth Century, we are now at the beginning of a huge change in society. The “Age of the Machine” saw the production of a huge quantity of inventions. This would not be seen again until the latter part of the twentieth Century in what we may now call the “Technological Era”.

During the 1880s the Eiffel Tower was built, the next decade would see cars, planes, steam and electrical power, long distance communication, photography and mass production. As this was occurring around them artists were working to make sense of the world around them.

Artists such as Paul Cezanne started experimenting with new ideas to represent this new society. From their work the movement of Cubism came into being.

Rather than looking at a scene or object from a single point of view in a single instance of time, artists were now experimenting with all or many views over a period of time. How to include the sounds, the time and movement into a traditional medium such as oil painting.

Technology had freed artist to be able to paint anywhere by the invention of paint in tubes and making colours affordable. Electric lights meant that work could be done anywhere at any time. The changing lives of people around them meant that the artists were going to reflect what was going on outside their doors every day.

Some artists looked to other cultures rather than accepted western tradition, to see how countries such as those in Africa or Polynesia saw the world. Simplifying and looking at everything from a totally new perspective rather than a singular point of view now meant art was more cerebral and not a mere reflection of the natural world.

The following artists were involved in the growth of this movement and are worth having a look at:

André Lhote
Carlos Merida
David Bomberg
Fernand Leger
Georges Braque
Gino Severini
Henri Gaudier Brzeska
Henri Laurens
Henri Le Fauconnier
Jacques Lipchitz
Jacques Villon
Jean Metzinger
Juan Gris
Kazimir Malevich
Louis Marcoussis
L’Dovit Lehen
Lyonel Feininger
Manolito Tolentino Mayo
Maria Blanchard
Mikhail Lorinov
Natalia Goncharova
Pablo Picasso
Patrick Henry Bruce
Paul Cezanne

So, from all of this what do we think is influencing us as artists in this “digital age” we are living in? Every era seems to have influenced the styles and subject matter of the artists of the time. They have painted, sculpted and drawn the conflicts, the inventions, the human struggles, the horrific and the beauty. The cubists saw the beauty in the machine, the creativity in making their art more reflective of the mind and a new vision. We have access to the whole of history and the explosion in technology in our times as inspiration for our work. So what are you going to do with yours?

Fred Williams at the NGV

Visual Art Arts Excursion July 18 2012

I have left it a day before writing this posting as we had four exhibitions to attend of which the Fred Williams was the main feature. In a way I wish we had left it at that as a couple of the exhibitions I could have given a miss. However I will presevere with writing about all four.

Fred Williams

Fred Williams was born in 1927 in Melbourne. He received art training from the National Gallery School in Melbourne where students were taught to draw and paint in an academic or traditional manner. He also received training from the artist George Bell and was very influenced by him during his student years.

Fred Williams’ work showed us the bush in a manner that had not been done before his time. As I wandered around the works I noticed his use of strong horizon lines that were shifted up and down to the traditional thirds rule and kept very bold to create a dramatic effect. Some of the pieces were using lots of browns and blacks which I found a little depressing even though I know that especially after a fire, these colours dominate the landscape. In other areas William’s paintings had splashes of brilliant colour and his multiple panels showing the sea done in gouache were serene and full of light.

The landscapes of very minimal detail or information were not my favourites even though I could intellectualise what he may have been on about. I found I didn’t connect with them as much as where there was a bit more information and use of brighter colour. The painting of Sturts Desert Peas with it’s strong use of reds was probably my favourite of the exhibition. It was really bold and attracted my attention from quite a distance away. Following these were the full figure portraits. A couple were so three dimensional that you imagined them stepping out of the frame. Not done in what I think of as a realist manner, they still appeared real and full of character. The colour and application of the paint was beautiful.

The Lady and the Unicorn – Arthur Boyd
Art Play at Birarrung Marr

What I liked more than the artworks here was the organising of the event for inclusion of kids and students. I had a look at the book for the teachers with the poetry in it and the handouts for the kids.

I found it hard to reconcile the prints with the poetry, and a few others had the same thoughts. Some of the prints were either confusing or a bit “in your face” to me. So in this case the organising of the event and the planning as a teaching event was more interesting to me than the actual things on display.

We Are All Flesh – Berlinde de Bruyckere
ACCA – Southbank

This exhibition is the main reason why I have delayed writing this for a day. I have never had a reaction to anything like I did with this. Admittedly I was warned by a couple of other students on the way in that I wouldn’t like it. I didn’t know why until I walked through the doorway to the first displays.

I have been told since that it is planned to expose us to some things that may have a shock value. This is a risky idea when you have a mix of students in not only age but cultural and social backgrounds. You just don’t know how they will react.

My reaction was something that took me by surprise as well as probably the tutors. I could not believe what I was looking at, I thought that it could not be real or what I thought I was seeing was misunderstood. I then realised as I looked closer that it was real and then I started having the reaction.

I can only put it down to this. I have loved horses and riding since I was two years of age. I have had the misfortune of having my first horse die in my arms about twelve years ago and have had my favourite dog and cow put down due to illness in the past few years. They are still open wounds it seems. I also have a real and strong opinion about how we treat all the animals in our care or even in the wild.

I could only relate this to hanging up the skin or carcase of any pet I had in my life and having to look at it, distorted and contrived into something offensive to me – and making money from the display. The stitching of two bits of horses together so they even lost their individuality was the most upsetting. If you can create other pieces with different artificial materials (such as other ones I looked up on the web by this artist), why not these?

If we are to go to other exhibitions with similar “shock” value I think I would like to be warned in advance, as I don’t need the sneak attack on my nerves. To me this is not art it is sensationalism.

Brent Harris at the NGV

Brent Harris’s works were mostly prints. I liked his clever use of colours in his woodcuts and I now appreciate the skill in registration when doing hand printing with several plates even more. Colours and shapes flowed around the prints. I liked all the series’ of prints that he did and he had a few very nice paintings there as well. Brent had bold colour and shapes in everything!

Not necessarily a style I would choose all the time, but I would be tempted to try it out. His little oils were full of colour and life which I liked a lot and some of the prints were even a bit of fun (but that may have been my weird interpretation).

Finishing off the Day

As a little treat to myself and to detox after the ACCA, I went around to the 16thC portrait rooms. I immersed myself in the gorgeous oils of many faces and fabrics, with light and shadow filling the frames. The more I take time to look at the techniques of these paintings the more I realise that with clever use of the brush and paint, rich texture can be achieved with not as much fiddly work as you would think. The eyes were looking back at me, then there was the moist fullness of  lips and little strands of hair around the faces, lots of little details to wonder at… and I felt a bit better.

Another day of learning and experiencing. My thanks to all my colleagues and tutors for their company and friendship during the day.

The 2012 Biennale & Matthew Collings’ Video “What is Beauty”

Detecting change in the content of art criticism

Our first topic in this class today (17th July) was briefly to look at the Sydney Biennale for 2012. Many of us can’t get to this event so will be going over the points by “distance learning”.

The directors of the event say that making compassion and inclusion is an antidote to the ideas of negativity, alienation and separation that have been used in the radical arts.

The goals are those of collaboration, conversation and inclusiveness as an underpinning for this year.

Here is some information from the advertising material for the event:


“Every two years, the Biennale of Sydney is presented free to the public over a 12-week period. As the most exciting contemporary visual arts event in the Asia-Pacific region, the 18th Biennale of Sydney will celebrate the organisation’s 39th anniversary and will take place from 27 June – 16 September 2012.

Sydney is privileged to host one of the most celebrated and respected biennale exhibitions in the world. Alongside the Venice and São Paolo biennales and documenta, it is one of the longest running exhibitions of its kind and was the first biennale to be established in the Asia-Pacific region.

The inaugural edition in 1973 also heralded the new generation of biennale exhibitions, whose primary aim is to provide a platform for individual artists, their creativity and ideas, rather than representations of nationhood. This pivotal position has endowed the Biennale of Sydney with the confidence to explore varying terrains and break new ground in each edition.

Since its inception, the Biennale of Sydney has provided an international platform for innovative and challenging contemporary art, showcasing the work of more than 1500 artists from over 83 countries. In 2010, the 17th Biennale of Sydney received more than half a million visitors.

The 18th Biennale of Sydney will be rooted in storytelling as it is currently being re-imagined as a coming-into-being in relation. In the reciprocity that is storytelling, both teller and listener inhabit the space of the story. Telling stories connects us and allows us to care, to be; it fosters collaboration; it aggregates knowledge and generates new ideas; it ignites change; and, ultimately, builds community.”

I am sure we will discuss this event further as people come back with their own stories.

Matthew Collings’ Video “What is Beauty”

Next we were posed the question, ” What is the zeitgeist of our times?”. This sent many rushing to Google for a translation of zeitgeist, which is basically translated from German as the spirit of an age or climate of an era, the cultural climate if you will. This can be reflected in the political, social, ethical, spiritual or general cultural climate of a nation or even specific groups along with the general ambience, morals, socio cultural direction and mood of an era.

This was followed by a video by Matthew Collings called “What is Beauty”.

Matthew asked us how do we define beauty? Is it subject, colour, composition? Is it timely? Is it subjective?

We were then introduced to ten basic ideas that he held as a basis of understanding and deciding on what makes something beautiful to us or to others.


The Millau bridge in France was chosen as the subject for discussion. Beauty is was said reflects how it fits in with it’s natural surroundings. How it sits in the landscape. How has it been designed to create a sense of lightness and of calm whilst being very functional?


For this we went to the Renaissance period in Italy. Piero della Francesca painted his works with a simplicity of line and colour. The balance and symmetry communicated very clearly the spiritual story that was the basis of the work. The use of colour and light in balance made it attractive and important for conveying a message ,especially in a time where reading was not widely taught.


12th Century Norman churches are a good example of unity of design and flow of patterns and images. The architecture was designed to create the perfect setting for the images around the building. A whole experience in a spiritual setting was the goal. The reflective surfaces of gilding and colour in each picture worked with each other from floor to wall to ceiling tied together with the support and balance of the building.


When something in the world is translated or interpreted in the mind to a new representation, we can call in transformation. Examples may be those of cave paintings where ancient man found “power” over the animals they hunted by putting them into the nearby caves. The images gained a new meaning than that of a mere picture of an elk for instance. So today, we put new meaning into things we may draw, paint or sculpt. In our interpretation we see it according to our view of the world. Viewers may come along and place their own views on what they see which can be totally different to anyone else’s, including that of the artist.


Where and how art is set up can have an effect on how the art is viewed. Have a look at the differences in galleries over the years and what kind of art they choose to show. Rooms in the same venue may be totally remade to show artworks to the best advantage and sometimes gain a character all of their own. Placement of art in churches through history can be similar.


I actually use the word “flow” which I think relates to this as well. A totally “static” painting or any artwork can lose your attention more quickly than one that has something going on, or lines and shapes to invite you to investigate further. Look at the lesson of the Sistine Chapel where the stories flow from one panel to another inviting us to work our way around the ceiling and walls. Addition of movement via line, composition of focal points, adding animals or birds, or creative use of light can give the impression of “animation” or flow.


The addition of something that stops you, or makes you think can create interest for the viewer. Think about colour, line and composition that is for example unusual or unexpected. This may require planning, but can create drama and give depth to the story you are telling. A traditional method or story can be told in a new way, seriously or having fun with it, done well and thoughtfully can create a successful work.


A good example is Roman mosaics. Nature and pattern were used together. You can also look at the work of the Celts whose intricate use of patterns created some amazing jewellery and clothing as well as architecture and artworks. Line and colour can be reproduced to make up pattern, as well as repeated imagery.


Basically this is the decision process. What subject matter and how it is to be organised. How everything is chosen to work as a whole, how elements and relationships between them are organised by the artist. As artists, we decide on how we want to represent our ideas. What materials do we want to use, what style and method and how do we want is shown?


The basic lesson I got from this section was to be honest and have integrity, from spontaneity and tapping into the real you will come honest art that you can relate to. See Gauguin who, even with horrid surroundings at the end of his life, tapped into an inner place of peace and brought that out in his paintings. By pushing yourself and continually reaching for that flow of line and form to create your own unique artworks you also find yourself.

So here we are, at the end of these ten ideas. Like or lump agree or disagree there are tips in them can prompt a little thought that may further our progress as artists.

Art in its many forms can be beautiful to someone, if not everyone. We all have our own reactions and preferences whether they be traditional or contemporary. Beauty will always be reinvented to create it in new expressions.


Published by the McClelland Guild of Artists Newsletter

I am pleased to say that another one of my editorials will soon be published in the bi-monthly newsletter for the McClelland Guild of Artists.

I joined the guild about seven years ago and even though in years gone by I have redesigned and produced the newsletter on a volunteer basis, I have not written for it. The person that usually perform this task was away and even the replacement person was not able to attend on the day, so as I normally keep notes anyway, I was “volunteered” for the job.

The artist I wrote about this month is Jo-Anne Seberry and the topic was of boats done in pastel.

I’m not too sure what all the writing will lead to if anything especially as I have only filled in on this occasion, but it does give me more practice and gets my name out as a person with some expertise in the areas of producing and writing about art. Well worth the effort and it could go on to anything in the future. A full unedited version of the story is in this blog site.

Boat Scene in Pastels

Artist: Jo-Anne Seberry

Venue: McClelland Guild of Artists

Jo-Anne is a Melbourne-based artist who studied with John Balmain who helped her to develop her understanding of the principles of tonal value, form and colour.

She later attended a Monet exhibition and was fascinated by the exquisite use of light and colour, which gave her the impetus to explore new and exciting ways of expressing her work. This led to an intensive period of painting and studying, which took her overseas to the galleries of Europe and the USA, where she studied with master pastellist Daniel Green in New York. A trip to Italy gave her the opportunity to experience the subtle European light, so different to Australia, which led to a successful solo exhibition.

Italy was again the basis of her pastel for this demonstration. It was of one of the little canals between buildings with a couple of row boats typical to the area as the focus, with the light sneaking in from one side.

Jo-Anne used several photos as reference for this painting and already had the drawing done so that she could get straight into applying colour. As she worked to block in areas starting from lighter colours rather the typical darks, she spoke about how important it is to be careful with selecting your subject and being clear about what you want to achieve. This is very important when photographing a place for reference photos, as you may not get back there again for a long time if at all. Think about what kind of light you want, what your focal point is and how you want to represent it. If you can zoom in on a subject with a good camera on site it is much better than trying to zoom and crop later with software even with a high resolution photo. Jo-Anne did go on to say that she is slowly becoming more familiar with her Mac computer for helping with organising and manipulating her digital photos, even though she still prefers slides.

For her materials Jo-Anne uses Canson paper and prefers the smooth side. She selects a colour to suit the major colour in her artwork as she has experienced how the colour of the paper can influence the overall look of the finished work. She uses mostly Unison pastels as they have consistent colour and has a few Schminkes and Art Spectrums for their whites and darks.

For the drawing in, Jo-Anne uses charcoal, as the pastels go over charcoal better than pencil or anything else she has used. Rather than starting with darks and going in later with lights and risking dealing with pastel dust all over the bottom of the work covering pastel already laid in, Jo-Anne started with the sky and drew in her lights then put in her darks. This way she had her tonal extremes in and could concentrate on her mid tones.

All parts of the work were worked on to keep the piece at the same level of completion all over, and Jo-Anne walked back to check progress from a distance as she worked. In her studio she has a mirror in place to check all her works as she progresses and recommended that we do something similar.

Jo-Anne described the application of colours as being similar to music – you need a variety, with highlights and darks creating movement and texture. Remember, if you are not happy, the advantage of pastel is that you can brush it off and start again, just remember to start with light application so that you can create lots of layers before the paper stops taking the pastels. Also, as with painting, start broad and work your way to detail later.

As you start thinking about your lightest lights, the use of other colours rather than absolute white was talked about. Many other light shades can go on to a painting to represent the lights and they will appear like a white without being as “cold”. Some to consider are pale lilac, pale blue or even a pale yellow. It pays to test some of these colours against others to see what effects you get.

Another good point Jo-Anne mentioned was moving objects or deleting them from a scene. If something is confusing you as you are putting together an artwork, it will do that to viewers later as well. Don’t be afraid to take out something or move it if it will make the scene flow better or make it less messy.

In some areas to soften the edges, Jo-Anne used the back of her hand to blend the pastels a little. She doesn’t use this method a lot as it can “dirty” a colour and take away from the lovely intensity that pastels provide, but you can when working lightly, go over again with a new layer to bring some of that back if you feel you have lost it.

The painting for this session was unfortunately not finished as one the size Jo-Anne was doing usually take several hours to get all the final details in. She was however able to get a few done to give us an idea of how the final little touches really make things like the boats and the light touching the walls of the buildings give depth and “weight”. The information about setting up  your photos and careful planning was also very interesting.

My thanks to Jo-Anne for passing on her experiences and de-mystifying some of the processes of creating with pastels.

This article will soon be available on my website at: and an edited version will be published in the McClelland Guild of Artists Newsletter in coming weeks.