Norfolk Island. January 2020. Six days of plein air painting, ten fellow students, one teacher, and such a lot to learn.
1 Pack two bags for the day. One for art materials, the other for “lifestyle” things.
2 Chair The Helinox. chair is perfect.
3 Paper Have format decided on, paper torn, and drawing board made to size. Bring only two pages each session, as well as the sketchbook.
4 Have a fold up mat to stand on – demarcates the work space, and stops you standing in cow sh*t.
5 Small sketches of what I see and hear are a great way to record a journey. And more accessible than photos .
6 This sketchbook. Stillman and Birn Zeta series, 270 gsm extra heavyweight, white smooth surface.
Ficus on the edge of the Hundred Acre Reserve
7 Choosing tricky Subjects. Moreton Bay Figs are no more difficult than shearing shed interiors.
8 It’s not cheating if you are challenging yourself.
9 Perspective The illusion of distance can be emphasised by underpainting cool and warm high/mid tone wash first across the whole page. Advanced would be to leave white of page for stronger highlights.
10 I’m right-handed, so need to put stash on my right-handed side.
11 Clothing. “Work” clothes keep me feeling like I’m working, and proper shoes keep me safe. Sarongs can be all things to all people.
12 Painting on Site. Find a comfortable spot out of the sun, THEN start painting. (I knew this. I teach this. I won’t forget it again in a hurry after that morning.)
13 The voice of experience “It wlll make you a better painter”. he said. It was so familiar, and practiced, I wondered if it went all the way back to Fred Bates, who taught both of us, independently, back in the deep dark past.
14 Sun on the page. A veranda, made of the hand-held drawing board, will stop the direct sunlight on your page
15 The view . Standing up will show a different view to the one you’ll see if you sit down. (Remember that shearing shed up near Barcaldine?)
Overlooking Philip Island, near the school
16 Watercolour Pencil. A lovely rich drawing medium. It smudges however, as does pencil. Use pen in the sketchbook.
17 What order to paint
Harry blocks in the mid-tone first, then builds to darks then softens the high tones . I struggled with this process, but worked through anyway.
Kingston from the museum
18 You are always looking and processing. If you see something you want to go back to, it means you’re already half way there
19 Allow time for the unexpected to happen. And by unexpected, I mean the very thing I came here to do. I was looking around. I drew something that caught my eye. I had time, so I added the colour of that blue sea in the distance. And suddenly I got it.
20 Sketchbook sketches are simple: draw a pic and colour it in. The quality of the pen drawing, the paper it’s on, and the painted mark will combine to make it successful.
21 The Easel
Lightweight, foldable, portable.
Standing at the easel = More action. Can step away as I’m working, don’t need glasses, can make bigger brush marks with bigger brush.
Sitting in a chair = More comfort, less dynamic, close up Struggle with glasses.
Guess it depends on the situation.
22 Painting on Site
You actually know this. You just had to remember it. The way you paint can be different from others. It’s legit to think it through and try everything, then go back to what you know already. Remember other, older instructions, the ones that put you on this; your own path.
Take time to learn, or remember your own mark, and make pictures that are yours.
23 Allow for long painting sessions. It gives you a chance to settle into the site, There’s time to do as many sketches as needed. Then be inspired to paint as well.
24 Palette Have palette that will either dry, or can travel wet. As large as as you can pack. The Expeditionary Art palette works best with a proper brush rather than the water brush it came with. The “Essentials Colour Palette” collection is best kept as occasional colours to supplement. Bring only 1 tube of each colour. In a plastic jar.
25 Brushes Use a bigger brush than you use when working at your desk.
26 The finished sketchbook is for looking at as well as creating things in. Design as you go.
27 There’s always more ways to do something. I tried all variations of how to hold the sketchbook and drawing board. I found I liked sitting on the ground with the easel. The chair + easel combination less so. Standing + easel works.
28 Swimming between painting sessions is one of life’s great pleasures. So too, painting in your togs, under a Norfolk Island Pine, with a gentle breeze keeping you cool. And surrounded by similarly concentrating artists all doing their thing.
29 Keep it simple.
Just because there’s all the plein air tools and trickery, doesn’t mean you have to use them. In the end sitting, pen in hand, is all that is needed. Even, or perhaps especially, if you find yourself leaning on a 150 year old lychgate, looking east.
30 Paper type. Experiment with type, surface, weight and manufacturer. Arches 300 cp could be the paper that suits the plein air situation best – after all these years of using smooth papers.
31 Perspective Fabricating distance can also be variations of warm/cool + dark/pale. Prob refer to what I already know about this topic.
32 The invisible hierarchy. The work in the sketchbook is as valid as the paintings. Spend as much time as you want to at the sketching stages. Wait for the imperative that will tell you it’s time to paint now.
33 All work and no play... If you get a chance to go snorkelling, take it
34 Smoko is important. Get a coffee delivery. Vita wheat biscuits and cheddar is excellent food
35 We are always learning.
No matter where we are on the art spectrum, there is always more to learn. Each person, place and experience is our teacher.