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Hello, and welcome to my art blog from Tasmania, Australia. I've spent time as a plant geneticist, teacher's assistant, painter, glass artist and book illustrator. I'm usually in the studio, the classroom or the lab. If you'd like to see more, please try the links to my folio page or email me at silvergumstudio@yahoo.com.au. Thank you!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Painting in the Victorian high country

Tobacco drying huts near Bright
I've just spent a couple of weeks enjoying a plein air painting workshop, led by watercolourist extraordinaire John Lovett, in the Victorian alps and the region around Bright.  It was lovely to visit this region again - on an earlier trip, I rode the gorgeous rail trail from Bright to Wangaratta, taking in beautiful and historical Beechworth - and this was certainly a much lazier trip with everything organised and no pedalling up hills.  Thank heavens for the latter, because we climbed right up to the fabulous Bogong High Plains, an altitude of about 1800m.  The plains are currently covered with the white skeletons of burnt snowgums, which from a distance make them appear like the flanks of an animal bristling with white fur.  The trip also took in Mt Buffalo, a fascinating environment of dizzying granite escarpments and eucalypt forest.  There were about sixteen of us painting, and while it was my first ever group plein air trip, for some it was a regular lifestyle.  John runs workshops in Antarctica, the Cotswolds, and the USA, and some of the group had been to those and/or to workshops run by other artists, so there was hot discussion at the dinner table about the best teachers and locations.

Granite boulders on a hot day at Mt Buffalo
I wasn't sure I'd like painting watercolour plein air.  You can't take much with you, as you have to carry it, and you can't change your water much.  John solves these problems by using strict limitations - for this trip, we painted almost everything with a palette of ultramarine, alizarin or rose, and quinacridone gold (a colour I've never used before, but a very useful one).  We had to start and finish a painting in less than two hours (although some tweaks back in the motel room were allowed).  After an initial struggle, I found that painting on the spot really lent authenticity to the result.  On the day we painted at Mt Buffalo, it was so hot and dry that the paint literally dried as I applied it to the paper.  This gave it quite a different look.  On a wetter day, it looked softer and bloomier.

There were cries of despair as rain fell on the Bogong High Plains and created 'cauliflowers' in people's perfect paint washes.  I decided to embrace the cauliflower and use it in this painting of heathland flowers.  We were actually just over the road from some rangers spraying weeds, but painting can edit these things out.
Heathland flowers in the Bogong High Plains
Boulders in the Bogong High Plains

Cope Hut, Bogong High Plains


I enjoyed the natural scenery days above the town days when we tackled historical buildings.  I would start out keen but droop with boredom at the 30-minute mark.  However, we had some fine draughtswomen with an eye for architecture who produced marvellously detailed paintings of civic architecture and cottages.  I tended instead to fall for the trees, flowers and odd details surrounding the buildings.  (I'd have loved to add people, but so little time, so much to do!)

Fantasy rendering of a Beechworth cottage
Tea Towel
We had critique sessions in which John would consider how one painting from each person could be improved - a very efficient way of learning from your own and other people's work.  An excellent and positive teacher who never utters the words, 'This painting is a disaster,'  John patiently finds something good to say and then, producing a roll of black or white tape, sticks bits onto the painting to show where a deep shadow or bright highlight is needed to focus the viewer's eye.  Before this workshop, I was happily oblivious to the necessity of a focal point, although I did often wonder why different bits of my paintings were always fighting with each other for dominance.  I now recognise the pleasant relaxation induced by a focal point that announces, 'I'm the boss and you can look at the other bits later.'  I have left some of John's black tape on this painting, and I'm also supposed to get rid of those blue leaves on the right hand side that draw the viewer's eye away from the focal point, which was supposed to be the rocks, before I fell for that big eucalypt...
Boulders, eucalypts and black sticky tape

Would I go on another plein air painting trip?  You bet.  Sign me up.  With good company, someone to handle the boring logistics of travel, and the chance to be immersed in landscape, shape and colour ... I think I might be hooked.  But meanwhile, this Friday is Eucalyptus Day and there are art activities afoot - about which, more later.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Must have been a seriously excellent workshop to help you produce such amazing paintings. Each one is a stunner, holy cow. The buildings are beautifully rendered, the light and landscapes so pretty and magical!

    Oh and maybe you'd like to post at Paint Party Friday? I may have mentioned it before. :) http://paintpartyfriday.blogspot.com/

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