Australian Fine Artist

Archive for July, 2013

Deborah Williams

Printmaker and Painter

Visiting Artist Talk at Chisholm TAFE

Deborah started her talk today by admitting that she began as an artist by default, even though she had drawn a lot in her youth (a lot of horses with I could relate to), she said that she was not sure what to study as she approached tertiary institutions. She was initially going to study psychology but that subject really didn’t catch her interest and it was through a friend that she was introduced to the idea of studying art. Very late for applications she was told to keep trying which she did with gusto, calling every day until she was accepted into the TOP year at Box Hill. TOP was a one year course to introduce students to tertiary studies. This along with four drawing classes a week as a result of being told her drawing skills needed improving led her to Prahran, where she specialised in printmaking – influenced by the print her parent had hanging in their home and the motto that prints are for the masses who can not afford other types of artworks. She later went on to do her Masters at RMIT and her Dip. Ed.

Whilst studying Deborah produced her pub series of prints, combining her social life with her work. Afterwards her work has since centred around her love of dogs. She has used their symbol as a way of making social statements about politics and has others that are expressing her feelings about the treatment of animals.

Deborah has volunteered in Bali where the dog population running around without homes has been a problem for many years. She went on to outback communities to document the relationship between people and dogs in these circumstances.

Sometimes funny, sometimes thought provoking her simplification of the shape and form of the dog, seen from the human point of view and also that of the dogs themselves creates pattern and shape that is very interesting. Deborah’s liking for marking and scratching her print plates prior to creation of an image, allows her to work freely without the intimidation of that clean white space that sometimes puts painters off starting a work. These left over marks often work in with her completed image helping to seat them into the space and make the negative areas around the image work with it and sometimes lead the eye around the space. With this attitude to her work any “mistakes” can be embraced as part of the creative process and not mourned over. Her use of tools such as an angle grinder for her plates was interesting as well as learning about some tools that we hadn’t heard of before.

Deborah brought a few copper plates and some of her tools with her, so it was good to see these IRL, especially the ones we were not familiar with.

Deborah’s genuine interest in her creative process, her love of animals and dedication to volunteer work can out very clearly as she spoke. She obviously enjoys her work, giving back to the community and teaching what she has learnt.

She is a good example of taking your passion and making it a basis of a successful and enjoyable career. I rather enjoyed her chat.

Split Complementary Colour

David Chen’s 9 Monthly Art Workshops

These notes are from my most recent all day workshop with David Chen. Each full day covers over five hours of theory and practical work, and are planned by David to help us to understand an important aspect of planning, composing and creating our paintings so that they not only look beautiful but also look “right” as far as tonal contrast, perspective, composition, colour mixing and application of our paint.

Our session today was based around split complementary colours. For this exercise I chose a pic that I have painted a few times before as my first work, as I know it so well I could concentrate on the aim of the exercise, being the understanding of how to use split complementaries and how to correctly select them. The original photo is in grey monotones so it helped me further by not making me have to translate colours on the fly, I only saw tones so the colour was not important.

Split complementary colours were popular with the Impressionists during the late 1800s.It gives a wide choice of colour whilst still keeping a theme or flow to the colour in a painting. The understanding of complementary and split complementary colour is important basic knowledge for colour manipulation. If the colour in your painting is not working, it may be because you are trying to use too many colours that are not relating to each other. Going back to basics and learning how to make colours work with each other and bring out the chroma in each other is an important step in learning to paint.

Colours can also be used to make other colours look darker or lighter without having to attempt to change them. For example, if you have the darkest tone of your blue but it doesn’t look dark enough, change the tone of the colour next to it. The tone and temperature of the adjacent colour will change how the blue looks. The instinct to “just add some black or similar colour” to make a colour look darker is not always the solution, especially if you want to keep your colours fresh and “clean”.

We had the colours selected for us in the morning session, so we were working from yellow and the colours either side of purple, which were a blue/purple and a red/purple. A puddle of red and blue were allowed next to these mixes on the palette to further increase the coolness or warmness of these colours. We could also mix the yellow with the two purples to create even more colours. The amount of rich colour and tone available from these and the addition of white was quite incredible.

You can use white in all the split complementaries that your select for a painting so there is a large range of tonal values you can create.

Like the complementaries we did last month, one of the colours had to be the dominant one. I am slowly getting my head around this concept, which seems simple enough until you actually start painting.

Day Six

Workshop Plan:

  • Split Complementary colour schemes
  • A Red-Purple & Blue-Purple/Yellow Split Complementary scene Landscape or Seascape
  • A Red-Purple & Blue-Purple/Yellow Split Complementary scene Still Life
  • Paint-on critique

What is Split Complementary Colour?

Diagram courtesy of 2 different versions of split complementaries are shown here. Notice that they can overlap each other as in the case of the red-purple.

Diagram courtesy of
2 different versions of split complementaries are shown here. Notice that they can overlap each other as in the case of the red-purple.

For further descriptions of colour systems I have found a very good web site that I used when researching further after yesterday’s workshop. If you are struggling with colour systems it has great diagrams and simple explanations. The web address is:

Here are some examples of the system:

Complementary colours

  • Red-Purple and Blue-Purple
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Red-Purple and Orange

Support Colours

  • Tasman Blue
  • Red
  • White
  • Tasman Blue
  • Red
  • White

Keep in mind that you also have all the tonal ranges of these colours to use by the addition of white, so you are not as restricted as you may think at first. In one way, taking away the confusion of colours (as so many are out there) leaves you free to be more creative with your painting. If you keep in mind your tonal values as the colours are not of any importance.

This is another great exercise to show up your colour bias when painting. I now had a good idea that I was biased towards cool colours. This just means that more practice painting in the warm side of the colour wheel as the dominant (80% of the area) will make me better as a tonal artist no matter what the colour I am using. I will be free then to use any colour I like for any subject and get an excellent and believable result.


Try painting a scene with split complementary colours from the colour wheel using the above diagram as your example, plus white. The colour straight out of the tube will be your darkest tone for that colour but you can use the two supporting colours that I mentioned earlier, and you can lighten it using the white to get as many values as you like. It doesn’t have to be photo realistic, in fact use the photo as a guide only, not as the rule to stick to. It may be a good idea to change the pic to monotone or discard it after you have the basic idea and paint creatively and not as a slave to your reference.

During these exercises composition is not the main aim, I was totally unconcerned with creating a finished painting but learning the lesson of using the colours.

Below are the works I did at the workshop. They could always be improved but I was not aiming at completing a finished artwork, but at practice pieces. They reflect process and not completion and as such I am happy.

Yarra bridge revisited split complementaries still life split complementaries

David looked at all our works at the end of the day and showed us where our paintings could be improved. Apart from a couple of little marks and showing me how to create more clumping for my grapes (treat as one object rather than a load of little grapes), he left my second work alone.

David said he liked my second painting more than the first. I did as well, considering that it was a still life which is not my best subject yet.

I plan to spend some time in the future practising my split complementary colours, as I feel I can get some amazing results from this limited palette. I just need to find some subjects that catch my eye and get to it. I have a few new references form photos taken recently so will need to have a look and make some plans.

Thank you David for yet another fantastic workshop!

Art Chat by Dr Janine Burke

Venue: McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park

Topic: Nests from the Museum of Victoria and Bilson Collection

Janine Burke writes mostly about Australian Art, previously through HEIDE, covering such artists as Albert Tucker, Joy Hester and Sydney Nolan. She first went to HEIDE when it was a private home and has seen it through some of it’s most dramatic changes over the years. She has also spent time on the board.

During this time she has observed artist’s responses to the natural environment, especially those artists who lived in small flats in the city or suburbs close to it. She has done a lot of research into artists’ responses to painting plein air in the Australian countryside and outback, finding that nature and art is a major theme over generations of both artists and writers.

As a writer herself, she spends time going for walks to clear her head and finds herself watching the local bird life. For the naturally curious, it soon comes to you to ask, how do birds design their nests, how do they construct such a variety of them, and how much creativity is involved in the making rather than mere practicality. She has seen various exhibitions where artists have attempted to recreate what birds do naturally, create artistic nests. So what would birds think of these attempts if they understood? This question occurred to her and led to research into birds’ nests in museums as artworks in their own right.

Some may ask, what makes a work of art and how is it defined? Is it only a piece created by humans or can we look at anything created by a living creature and see it as beautiful and artistic?

Janine explained that the process of building nests has evolved over the years as humans have impacted birds all over the world. Birds are using man made material in their nests, and often for purely aesthetic reasons. The interesting part for those watching and studying bird behaviour and studying birds for art, is seeing which bird created which nest and what they have chosen to use.

Colours in the past have been for camouflage or to attract mates but some have speculated that bower birds for example, have artistic leanings beyond this and carefully decorate their bowers, placing items in particular spots with the decor in mind! Some female birds actually redecorate the males’ attempt at decorating a nest because they don’t like where he has placed things.

The main goal of bringing such a diversity of nests into one place is to allow the public to see what amazing creations have been made by a variety of birds in our local habitat in Australia. Ornithology is a fairly recent science, only coming to the fore in the past 200 years or so, so the collection and study of birds and their nesting habits has not been widely studied by too many people. Maybe with more exposure, there will be more people with scientific backgrounds who choose to take on this study.

As Janine talked about the various nests around the room it became more and more clear, the range of stunning ability our little feathered friends have. One pair of birds take the time to poke little holes in leaves then pass spider web through, stitching the leaves to cover their nest, carefully passing the thread through the holes into the bird on the inside of the nest who stitches it back out to the one on the outside. Bower birds select complementary colours for their bowers and are very picky about where they are placed. Fairy wrens take petals the same colour as their plumage as gifts to their females to entice them as mates. Some of the mud based nests are so perfectly rounded you can not find fault in them visually. Weaving on others is so precise you can not tell where the bird started working on the nest and there are few gaps in the weaves. Such attention to detail would be good to see in human artists, and is amazing to see in our bird life. Especially when some nests can last for seasons, and when conserved well, over a hundred years.

Janine is interested in following up her research with wider studies into how animals construct things in the wild. “Animal Architecture” as she calls it, would be a great book to read, especially if it granted us an opportunity to see photos of what was made.

I really enjoyed the chat this morning. Not only did I meet some very nice fellow bird lovers, but I also gained some insight into the exhibition, why it was created and why it is important that we continually think about the natural world around us and the impact we are having on it. How many species survive, or hopefully thrive in the future is up to us in a lot of cases so the more informed we are, hopefully the more considerate we will be as well.

The Art of Birds

Exhibitions at McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park

As a volunteer at the gallery, I was taken on a guided tour of the exhibits last week during my holidays from TAFE. Each curator told us about how the exhibition came into being and a little about where the pieces came from. It was interesting that I was creating artworks based on native parrots at the time, without knowing that birds would be the flavour of the month!

On this second occasion, as with other exhibitions I decided to see what items stood out from my first visit and why. My hope is that with deeper analysis I will understand my own preferences and decisions in my arts practice.

The first gallery has bird’s nests supplied from the Victorian Museum and the private Bilson Collection. Until you see the creativity and cleverness in these things you can’t get how intricate they are and how we can learn from these little creatures. The oldest nest is over 100 years old, showing how natural materials can last if protected. The most interesting for me was the nest made by two little birds working with each other, one on the inside of the nest – one on the outside, sewing leaves on to the nest. The next was of course the magpie nest. These birds have learned that man made materials can be very helpful, so wire and coat hangers and even a little blue stone of some sort have been used to weave the nest and decorate it.

The second gallery has the artwork by us humans! My favourite piece in here is the large water colour by John Wolsey of wetlands in Europe showing a contrast with our native Australia. There is loads of colour, heaps to see in it and it just “flows” from one side of the work to the other. There are other works in this gallery including video and sculpture, all worth a visit.

I am rarely sorry about doing a second visit to an exhibition, if you think about it, it is a chance to analyse what you saw before and clarify what you liked and why. It was also a chance to catch up with Imogen, the Education Officer at McClelland. She kindly gave me the entry form for the exhibition later this year for students at tertiary level including TAFE, which she has encouraged me to enter. (looking forward to it actually!!) Who wouldn’t want an opportunity to be shown in a gallery along with such fantastic works!

Another great day at TAFE, thanks guys!

Please note: The McClelland Gallery is holding an Art Chat at 10.30am tomorrow, Thursday 18th July at the gallery. Dr Janine Burke, author of several books based on art history, biographies and fiction will be talking about the current exhibition. Arrive early and for only  $5 have a coffee and muffin before the chat! Bookings are recommended for all art chats. McClelland can be contacted on: 03 9789 1671.

Business Studies Week 1 Semester 2

Presentation of Artist’s Statements

We were to have some of the last of the artist’s statements form students today, but they have not arrived in class again. I will not speculate on why and it is not my place to guess, but when grades are involved it is a shame to see this happen. However, I have done my work and that is all I really am concerned about for the moment unless someone asks me for some help, which I am always happy to give.

We quickly moved on to the other topics for the day.

Assessment Tasks

Concentrating more on the business side of our future or emerging arts practices, we will be tackling two assessment tasks for this semester. As we have until the end of the year to get these done, I don’t see a problem in achieving these.

  1. Prepare for sustainable professional practice
    Prepare a SWOT (Strengths, weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis for yourself in context of our perceived place int he arts industry
    Create an action plan outlining our progress towards realising an opportunity in the arts industry. This can be in a chart format. Due Date October 16.
  2. Present a body of own creative work
    Identify 2 niche markets for your practical work. This will be in the form of a presentation to the class (for each one) outlining the characteristics of the niche market and presenting your work in relation to that market. Notations to go to David via email. Due dates October 9, 16, 23.

Now that I know what is expected for the semester I was actually more relaxed as we got into the discussion for the class.

85% of art graduates do not end up in arts business according to some statistics, with many artists failing to earn enough to call a livable wage. As the government in a lot of cases is funding our education and helping us with financial support, they want to see more students working and earning a living that pays their way in their chosen field. it makes sense to me that if you are studying art you want either a job in the arts or to start your own business of some sort in the arts field. I am already working on my business plans and hopefully laying the ground work for a reputable business and professional name as a practising artist.

Studying more about how this can be achieved can only be beneficial. We were asked the following: where do you think are the areas of sustainable business practice in general? And what are products that have stood the test of time?

  • Teaching
  • Law
  • Medicine (doctors)
  • Trades (plumbers, electricians)
  • Farming
  • Dentistry
  • Coca Cola
  • Cadbury
  • Peters
  • Holden/Ford (although we recognised that this part of the market is sliding in Australia)

How are some brands long-lasting? Clever marketing based on people’s need for familiarity and nostalgia (what they grew up on) and consistent and repeated advertising which is targeted.

We then discussed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, starting with the base needs for life (shelter, food, water) to the top of the pyramid (self actualisation – exploration of the self, the mind and artistic expression). In general during a recession or social upheaval the needs go back down the pyramid and during affluent times tit goes back up to the top.

When selling, who are you aiming at?

  • Those who identify with your work and owning it (see their own story in it for example)
  • Those that love your art work for its content or style
  • Those that see owning your artwork as some sort of status symbol

Using the SWOT analysis system we see the following:

Strengths and Weaknesses = Internal Influences (designing art to suit the market – smaller and cheaper or wider range of pricing models)
Opportunities and Threats = External Influences (recessions, niche markets)

This is a good time to start noticing what lasts in business and which businesses tend to spring up quickly and then fail just as fast.

Start looking at marketing which means research. What is working, what is selling, where is it happening and with whom? what are you creating and what part of the market are you aiming at selling to? Are you suitable for that market? Can you produce a product at a price that fits the market I am aiming at? This can be an existing market or one that we create.

Then you need to decide what the measure of your success will be. Not everyone has the same ambitions and not everyone wants the same results from their ambitions. for example is it financial security or possibly improving society, or a combination of the two?


  • Look at the size of the market.
  • Look at market trends.
  • Look at diversity of your products (prints, cards, giftware, books, smaller works along with larger more expensive ones)
  • How are you going to market yourself? IE:
    Craft Markets (already researched these and not enough return for effort or profit margin)
    Mid range galleries (approached a few locally but they are swamped with artists from closed galleries at present)
    High end galleries (will do more work on these next year after more training and my first solo)
    Your own gallery or outlet (I have discussed this with my business partner and we are looking into this as a business option in our premises)
    Exhibitions (I have a list which I go over and revised yearly for entering)

What else can you do to support your arts practise? (IE earn whilst you continue to paint etc)

  • Arts Facilitating (teaching)
  • Behind the scenes work in galleries/museums
  • Alternative entertainment, theatre works etc
  • Council/shire/state/federal government arts officers
  • Grants (by applying for them)

Market Segmentation

As you decide on what you want to do, this also needs to be researched. It is basically broken down into four parts.

  1. Geographic: where you sell
  2. Demographic: Age, gender, financial standing, education, religion, income
  3. Psychological: trends and fashions at the time
  4. Usage Rate: turnover, how often you get repeat sales

This is a fair bit to think about, but it can become a natural part of your business. If you already go to art shows etc, all you need to do is expand the rings to take more note of what is going on around you, or ask some questions. Take the time to try out some new options and do some analysis afterwards to see if they are worth pursuing. Sometimes this is by doing, or trying it out, sometimes by asking established artists how things work, or a combination of these. It can be an evolutionary thing as the practise gets going, as mine has been over the past few years. I am only just getting it clear what two pronged avenue I will be following for the near future with my practice, and it may yet change as circumstances in the market place do.

We went on to go over what will be expected for our assessment tasks after this talk.

  1. What are my strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
    For Selling art
    For Teaching art
    What is my Action plan? (what is it, how am I going to do it, who is responsible for it?)
  2. Identify a niche market for your product. This has to be in two parts. Two streams of the business.
    Sales (regional and City)
    Education (Teaching from Studio, Demonstrations, Workshops, Lessons, Sessional Teacher, Teaching from Societies)
    We will be giving a presentation to the class who will fulfil the role of our target market of our business plans.

This was a very “full” session and loads of discussion and interaction went on. I felt it was also an important session as it is necessary to understand these issues for a successful business. Fail to plan and you plan to fail as they say. The key to winning (or success) is prior knowledge. Big businesses hire people as marketing managers to make sure that they understand their niche in the marketplace and can stay ahead of if not up to date with market trends. Coke remakes itself on a regular basis, as do many successful brands (look at Madonna for example, who has had a very successful career and there are many others)

Art in most cases relies on people wanting to spend “disposable income”, it is something you want not something you need. It is the identifying of the part of that income stream to enter into considering the artwork you produce and the professional and personal life you wish to have that takes planning and monitoring.

Australian Impressionists in France

Exhibition at the Potter Centre for the NGV in Melbourne.

I had been looking forward to this exhibition for a while. It is a great follow on from the Monet exhibition in the NGV gallery on St Kilda Road. Naturally I have bought the book to read which will be a nice diversion in the weeks to come.

Getting on with the main event. What is so great with this exhibition is that I discovered ELEVEN women painters are represented! That is about half of the painters in this show. I knew about one of them, Jane Sutherland who was a brilliant Impressionist painter equal to her male peers of the time. I now have seen works by some other amazing women artists of the time. Some to look out for are Margaret Preston, Bessie Gibson, Kathleen O’Connor, Ethel Carrick, Iso Rae and Bessie Davidson.

There is a lot to this exhibition and I can’t cover it all in this blog, so I am going to hit some of the highlights.

One is about the first painting you see on entering, I LOVE it! The Garden, Longpré-les-Corps-Saints. Loads of mauves, creamy yellows and cool greens with a simple subject of a tree in blossom and hints of others in the background. A little Asian look to the composition, and lovely. There were some great landscapes and portraits by Charles Conder, beautiful portraits by E. Phillips Fox, a stunner by Tudor St George Tucker of Tea Trees near Sandringham which was also a favourite ,Young Girl on a Hillside by Walter Withers which has so much depth to it, outdoor scenes with people by Ethel Carrick that looked like she had a love of Renior  and several more.

There is so much to see in this exhibition that I will need another visit to it as well. I could see the influence of the great French and Dutch painters as I walked around without having to read the notes or a book! I saw van Gogh, Monet, Velazquez, Vermeer, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, even a little Rembrandt influencing the works to greater or lesser degrees! The colours used were also familiar. I am amazed that France didn’t run out of viridian paint at one stage, as it seems to have been a very popular colour!

I hope to follow up with another blog about this amazing exhibition in coming weeks as I revisit and make new discoveries. There are a lot of paintings and the variety includes touching on the neo-impressionist style as well as some fairly realist looking works along with the luscious painterly look we expect from impressionist paintings. The colours are gorgeous and it was so refreshing to discover such a great display of women artist’s works along with their male colleagues.

Monet’s Garden – Revisited

To some, going to an exhibition once is enough. Been there done that, I guess.For me and I hope those who love art, who study art and who practise as artists, there is more than just an enjoyable trip out when going to an event, especially one of the calibre of a Monet exhibition.

For me as both an art student and emerging professional artist there was two reasons for the revisit.

  1. The Emotional. I love Monet’s paintings, the colours, the texture of the paint, the beautiful feel they have in them. I cried at the first viewing and did a little more on the second.
  2. The Practical. This visit saw me very up close and personal with the paintings that drew my attention the most on the first viewing. This time the goal was to find out what it was that attracted my attention, how it was done, how I could try to reproduce some of the effects and what rules were applied in the composition of the paintings if any.

The session went as follows. I stood back and appreciated the painting. I then moved in very close to start dissecting it.

  • How was the colour built up in the painting?
  • What was holding the composition together?
  • What compositional rules were applied? (rule of thirds for example)
  • What colour theory had been applied if any?
  • How was the paint applied throughout the painting (thinner and blended in some areas and thick pure colour in others)
  • What sort of emotional reaction was it having with me as the viewer? Was this due to colour, use of materials or subject or a combination of these?
  • Did Monet have a favourite palette of colours that reoccured in his paintings? How do I relate to them?

There was a lot to think about and I ended up standing in front of several paintings staring at them for quite a while. I heard a few people wondering what I was doing.

I will end up with a few of the major thoughts I had as I went from one work to another.

  • There was in many paintings a flow of the darks that created a unity in the paintings
  • The rule of thirds was used a lot not only with the objects but the balance of colour
  • There was symmetry in the colour in many, the blue in the sky used in the water in the front bottom with a slight change in tone for example
  • Colour used in a main area was stumbled in little dashes through other areas of a painting to give it unity and hold the composition together
  • Monet had an amazing grasp of warm and cool and complementary colours laid over each other
  • Colour was used for perspective instead of horizon lines
  • Change of direction of texture in the paint lead the eye around the works and into the focal points
  • There was a lot of viridian (I saw this colour repeated a lot in the Australian Impressionists paintings – next blog), blues (ultramarine and cerulean?), purples and mauves and yellows as well as various whites with reds used in some as high key colours

This was a visit to try to get into the head of a famous and brilliant painter. The more I pulled apart each work the more technical expertise I discovered. To paint so freely and the way that the Impressionists did, was not to do so without any thought to the rules of those that had preceded them, it was just how they were understood and applied to the canvas. A very valuable trip today, which I am glad I took the time to do.

Jeff Gilmour

Venue: McClelland Guild of Artists

Topic: Geraniums in a Vase, Plover, Steam Train in Water Colour

When I first read that Jeff was going to paint three subject including a steam train coming out of a tunnel, I wondered how he was going to be able to cover three topics, especially one that is so complex, in the space of a two hour demonstration. I came to the session honestly expecting that it could not be even closely achieved. As the demonstration started it became evident however, that Jeff is a very focussed and brisk painter! Coming form a graphic design background (as I am discovering that many of us do), Jeff has had to be efficient with his tome over the years. He has this skill more than most coming form a newspaper and magazine background, where you had to be brilliant but do it NOW! I have a similar background in newspapers and advertising signage so recognised his mindset straight away! You design, and have the process in your head and just get on with it.

Jeff joined his first art guild over twenty years ago. He met his wife who is also an artist and she encouraged him to paint. He has never looked back. (just shows what a great life partner can do to make your life meaningful) He now teaches, demonstrates and exhibits  his artworks.

Jeff has a basic palette made from a toolkit he bought from a hardware store and modified. As many of us find out, the dedicated art products in art stores can be very expensive and not always just right for the job. Many of us end up in the local hardware store where we find the right item for our needs. I have found great gear at a Total Tools store which has nothing to do with art at all!

Using just two or three basic brushes Jeff is able to use each to its maximum efficiency to complete an entire painting. For the demonstration he had sketched in his layouts so that all the subjects would be as close to complete as possible. He draws with a 2B pencil and rubs off any dust or excess with a kneadable eraser.

Unlike the regular technique of starting with lights and going to the darks for water colours, Jeff will start with any tone he sees fit. In this case, for the geraniums in a vase, he began with the greens for the leaves and then went to cad red for the flowers, following with a mix of black thinned to a soft grey for the edges of the glass vase.

For any soft edges or shadows Jeff used a clean brush loaded with only water to go along painted edges etc to blur. The paint was placed over areas in a thicker, drier mix for deeper colour and alizarin crimson was used with the cadmium red the shadow areas for the petals, cobalt green was used in the shadow areas of the leaves. A quick flick of the larger brush was used with a mixed brown for the table top, leaving the painting nice and loose and painterly.

The next subject was a plover. Not exactly my favourite bird, as they nest right over my feed shed and are huge pests every time I get my horse’s dinner out! Jeff likes them however, so that was his bird of choice. This painting was completed in a blistering ten minutes! First came blocking in of Van Dyke brown and indigo which established the form of the bird. A thin wash of  warm brown was used for the back and a dark grey was mixed for the legs. Cobalt and a little red were thinly mixed for the shadow areas of the white chest feathers, cadmium yellow and yellow ochre were mixed to paint in around the beak. A mixed green was quickly painted in to show long grass and a darker brown swiped across for ground and shadow, this was also used for the shadowy parts of the face and legs. Done!

The main topic was the steam train. It was interesting that Jeff had also sent a painting over to Adelaide for the exhibition for train enthusiasts recently. I study with another Jeff who had entered a lovely oil painting in the same event.Both unfortunately didn’t sell or get an award. I suggested that next time he do a South Australian train as this may make a difference. (unfortunately some exhibitions can be like that so you have to consider that may happen when planning your painting)

This painting was on a full sheet of 300gsm rough water colour paper. Like the others, the drawing was already done to save time. A lot of the composition was made up of the “smoke” from the funnel of the train billowing out and taking up most of the top half of the area. The engine was dark in colour as was the tunnel entrance. The limited colours meant that there was an immediate focal point around the reds on the front of the engine and the gold bell on the top.

Jeff again began with darks defining the shape of the front of the engine and used mixes of warm and cool greys to show the difference in areas. Laying the painting flat, he used a big mop brush to dab and turn the brush around to paint in the smoke. To soften he just used water in the brush and left a few areas with the white paper showing through. With a thicker application of the darkest tone he achieved a nice range of tonal values through this area giving the smoke depth and form.

With a cool grey wash and by adding thicker application of a neutral darker grey for shadows the form of the front of the engine was quickly done. The point where ti really started to come together was when the little details were added such as rivets and shadows. The painting in of the red on the very front of the engine and the gold on the bell was when it really began to pop off the surface of the page.

Due to time limitations, white gauche was used on the side of the engine to indicate some of the rods etc and some details were left out in preference for blocking in simply with a warm grey. The tunnel bricks and blocks were also only indicated and the ground and grass done similarly. The train was moving so the feeling of movement had to be considered and the focus was the engine not it’s surroundings.

All three of these works could have easily been worked of further for more detail, but for most artists, it is up to us how far we take a painting and how realistic we wish to make it. Jeff likes his paintings to have a nice “loose” and impressionistic feel to them, which I think he achieved in buckets. When the matt board was put around the train painting it looked great. Not something for dedicated train buffs necessarily, but for those of us who look at it as an artwork first and foremost – a lovely job. Given the time frame I was very much interested in how Jeff was able to achieve what he did and wish to thank him for an interesting demonstration.

July Art Chat

Venue: McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park

Speaker: Terrance Plowright

Topic: People’s Choice Award Winner McClelland Survey 2013

Terrance Plowright has worked professionally as a sculptor for over 30 years and has undertaken various public and corporate commissions both in Australia and overseas. He was recently invited to represent Australia at this year’s Florence Biennale.

What is interesting about Terrance is the way he became the artist he is today. That is one of the great things about going to an art chat, you get to discover things about practising artists that you may not find out anywhere else, as all the information comes directly from them without interpretation. Terrance for example, began at the age of twelve or so, asking about the bigger picture of life. Why are we here and what is a lifetime for? Through his early years, this led to exploration of philosophy, science and even music – his great interest being with the composer Beethoven. He later went on to study film editing and worked briefly at the ABC until he suddenly decided to leave what looked like a good secure career in search of something more. He travelled to Scotland for a while then came back to Sydney to start up an “awareness centre” which looked into an exploration of human existence and potential and went to the USA for research.

Around this time he was asked by a friend to design and build a stained glass window, which having no training in this area he was not sure he could take on, but gave it a try anyway. He learnt the techniques needed for the job and people were very impressed with the result. So impressed in fact that he got further orders from other people and businesses. He ended up making a business from this himself, until asked to take on a sculpture. This led to more research and training in such things as stone cutting, bending glass and the creation of large sculptures. He was also asked to do a talk about his work, which he hadn’t done before, but took on, learning as he went again.

Terrance believes that his lack of formal training and natural aptitude, gave him a unique view on how to create his work. Anything new he has taken on, he has gone out and learnt as he went and consulted and cooperated with others to complete projects. This later applied to bronzes and polyurethane and stainless steel.

Terrance’s life long love of music has led him to the place he is at now with his sculptures. He has taken the inspiration from Classical cathedrals, pan pipes and chimes to work with musicians, electrical engineers, IT consultants and welders to create a piece for the Survey that not only creates the look of movement but is interactive with viewers. As you walk around it the sensors pick up that and unique sounds are created for each person. In the ideal spot under a canopy of tea trees this work is so engaging and “zen” that it makes you want to stay and relate to it as well as enjoy the gorgeous sounds that it makes. As I looked at it (and I have been through the survey several times) I imagined the ocean waves, the wind as it goes over tall mountains and the peacefulness of the natural environment, then the lovely sounds started and I was swept away to a peaceful place in my head.

This sculpture started as sketches in a sketch book, then went on to be designed as a marquette, modified and finalised before the final piece was started. It was done with cooperation from two helpers to put it together as well as musicians to create the unique sounds and electrical engineers for the wiring, computer and sensors. It has three main ultrasonic sensors, one infrared sensor, three main speakers and one small one at the top.

Terrance often works with up to twelve people when completing a piece, but initial idea and inspiration is totally his. He was an interesting speaker and I totally enjoyed hearing his journey into art. It proves that we all get there in different ways, the paths are as unique as we are as people and our styles are as artists. Another very enjoyable chat, even in the wind and cold weather, it was totally worth it.

Terrance Plowright’s work can be seen on his website at:

Leoni Duff

Venue: Pastel Society of Victoria, Australia

Topic: Composition Focussing on Using Photographs as References

Leoni Duff spent many years living in rural NorthEast Tasmania in the tiny hamlet of Herrick where she developed her unique style, drawing on influences from her study of the history of art. Her background and training as a classical musician at the Tasmanian Conservatorium gives her a deep connection with the history of the arts and she is particularly drawn to the Baroque themes and methods. Duff sees her art as visual music, striving for the sense of dignity and composure, passion and control, beauty and honesty, form and content of the Baroque composers. She has won several awards over the past decade and is sought after for workshops and lessons. Her students are taught the principles of fine art and encouraged to use them to develop their own styles and subjects.

The topic for the evening was accompanied with a video presentation to help us understand the sometimes complex theory of composition. My own version of shorthand is limited so I ask forgiveness if I missed something in these notes.

Getting back to the basics of building up a painting or drawing, composition is the foundation that you build on. Like a house, if your composition isn’t working the rest isn’t going to either. You can not fix a poor composition with clever use of colour, tone or subject and it is very disappointing to get half way into a piece to suddenly realise that it is falling into a heap because you didn’t take the time to plan your composition in the first place.

So, how do you design a work that will attract viewer’s attention and hold their interest – and works?

  • Put a lot of thought into it before you start
  • Research
  • Go through the process of making sure the image you have in mind will work
  • Check the balance of lightest lights against darkest darks
  • Check the tonal values of mid tones
  • Check the balance of warms and cools in the colours of your intended image
  • Work out what you will do with any changes in the above to make it work

The above can be completed through the production of black and white (we call them 1 bit images for computer use in Photoshop for example) or by drawing the scene with just black and white and no tone. You can then produce a tonal version (8 bit monochrome) showing the various shades.

Draw up a colour version changing the colours if you have decided to do so, to check how they will work before you commit to the final painting. Keep in mind that you are producing an artwork not a photo. Your goal is a work that will be seen and attract viewers from across a room and keep their attention when they arrive.

Have a look at your subject, does it have the following:

  • Dramatic lighting
  • Glorious colour
  • Subtle lighting
  • Tugging the emotions
  • Simple concept
  • Textures
  • Balance of shape

Note what attracts you to an image, then:

  • Work out the size you will produce it in
  • Work out your division of areas (uneven big shapes of darks and lights)
  • Test the image in black and white and greyscale
  • Make sure you don’t have any two intervals (segments) the same size
  • Make your colours varied. Balance the quantities of warm against cool and darks against light
  • Make the spaces between objects random and varied
  • Make sizes varied
  • Work out where you will have more detail (lost and found edges, simplified modelling)
  • Use proven methods of dividing up your image area, the Golden Mean (division of an area into thirds) for example. See the work of Sorolla, a Spanish Impressionist painter for his method of dividing up the area of a painting.

Darks need to be linked and flow through your work even if only by a sliver. This will help guide the eye through the composition.

So that when you look at a photo how do you find values (tones)?

Check the percentages of darks against lights, your mids tones. How much there is of each and where they fall. The light area is where you should find your colour and texture, your mid tones and detail. The dark area, away from the light is where lack of detail should be. Classical drawing lessons teach students to build up images with three tones. Light, mid and dark. It is a traditional method which was even used by the Impressionists. The old masters used tones of brown and with the invention of more colours for artists to use, more colour was introduced to the method. Plein air painting brought in at about the same time, gave artists new light to paint by, as they painted directly from nature. They still needed to know where their darks, mid tones and lights fell, but had more colour to use. See Monet’s beautiful haystacks and have a close look and the shadows.

Look for the following:

Hue: the pure colour
Value: (Tone) the relative lightness or darkness of a colour
Chroma: the saturation of a colour as a measure of how intense it is

Working out these things in advance will help make a successful artwork. This is something that we can practice in our studios. Remember to think about more darks than lights or more lights than darks and similarly with cools and warms. The word “Notan” came up was the artist’s version of the graphic designer’s 1 bit image. This is a very useful tool that can be done manually or on the computer and well worth a try.


For the demonstration part of the evening, Leoni called on Rembrandt as a landscape painter instead of the portraiture we know him best for. Her photo was from an Australian scene, so the methods of the old master were proven to be transportable to a very different landscape to that of Europe.

Like oil painters build up a painting traditionally, the pastel was started by blocking in all the darks with a brown. This “Brown School” method relies on starting with the correct dark brown underpainting for an Australian theme. Turner used similar methods in his landscapes from England and parts of Europe.

The procedure Leoni used for her painting goes basically as below:

  1. Draw in your composition
    Work out the proportions of light and dark
    Make changes from the original photo to suit the area you are working in and for a balanced composition
  2. Block in the darks
    Largest area – cool darks
    Smaller area – warm darks
  3. Start applying mid tones in background
  4. Place some higher key points into the darks (blues)
  5. Overlay mid apricot and pale blue/mauve allowing each colour to show through for sky area
  6. Apply low key green in lighter tones as the lighter parts of the background trees
  7. Apply mid and dark colours to the river banks working towards the foreground
    (watch your colours as they work against each other on the artwork, they will look different when applied than they do in your hand)
  8. Low key (less saturated) lighter/mid colour to areas where the light was touching the background trees (yellow ochre)
  9. Colour values were bumped up in the focal point area
  10. Lighter high key (high chroma) colours were placed in the front area
  11. Mid blues (about three blues) were used in the river out of the shadow areas.

From here you can push the painting to be as “complete” as you like it. You may want a more impressionist feel or want to try for a more realist approach, using these methods allows for your individual style based on methods that have been used by masters for hundreds of years.

Leoni was unable to finish her work on the night, but the goal of any demonstration is the passing on of valuable instruction, which I think was very much achieved on this occasion. My thanks to Leoni for her hard work on the night and for such an informative session. I only hope my notes have done her justice!