27 November 2006

Landscape with new eyes

Well, what a weekend! Courtesy of an old friend who couldn't attend, I got a last-minute place in the Rex Backhaus-Smith mixed-media landscape course, run by the Artists Society of Canberra. In sweltering heat, we gathered at the Sea Scout's hall in Yarraluma last weekend.

Rex was an excellent instructor, and showed us his techniques openly and clearly - he wasn't 'precious' about sharing his methods with us. The basics lie in developing a rich underpainting, in staining paints, and using such resist techniques as oil pastel, masking fluid, or wax, which is then painted over in pigmented (non-staining) paints. This top layer can then be wiped back with a sponge to reveal rich colours and patterns underneath, adding incredible depth to the top-level painting.

Rex was really encouraging us to do more than simply paint a landscape, painting what was before our eyes - but to add our own interpretaion to the scene, add layers of meaning, add abstraction in colour or shape, and so on.

This is the first major exercise I did - we had to develop a rhythmic pattern / design with rich colour washes and resist - I designed an off-centre square, with other rough squares tumbling along, and wavy lines. None of us had an end destination in mind, the initial paintings were very abstract. I've never used so much watercolour paint - huge gobs of the stuff! Eeek! I used half-sheets of paper (300 gsm Fabriano) to help conserve my resources...

After much work, this is the end result - my initial painting ended up suggesting an ocean pool to me (you know, the built-up pools at the edge of the ocean)... so this view is a bird's eye view from above, with a path and bushes surrounding the pool. Rex said that this was a daring composition, with such strong angled elements, but that it worked well.

Ocean Pool

Our second exercise was to paint a more literal landscape, with 'new eyes' - I chose a view of the Deua National Park through to the Great Dividing Range, which I'd photographed from a lookout site near Bateman's Bay. This is my initial (bit too loose/uncontrolled) rough wash, over my pencil drawing.

Mid-way, drying in the sun outside...

And after much work, this is how it ended up! I might make the panel at the left a bit darker, not sure - but Rex felt that it was finished. He said that my work had a "refreshing naivity", which was hard to capture in watercolour, and I mustn't lose, as it was what made my artwork uniquely mine.

Deua Ranges

Here's Rex in full spate, discussing our work - we had regular 'viewings' during both days, when we'd all prop our work up outside, and he'd comment on each piece, suggesting changes, and so on - this was done really well, so that no-one felt upset, and we all learnt from what he was saying about all the works as a whole... It was pretty full-on - concentrating soldily for 7 hours each day, working, trying to understand exactly what Rex was trying to get through to us, thinking about how we could change our own work to incorporate more interpretive elements. It's was VERY valuable, and really great to spend a whole weekend being arty - I also met some old friends and made some new ones :)

For those of you who are able, Rex and his wife Judith Laws are having a special art show at the Solander Gallery, 10 Schlick St, Yarraluma, opening TONIGHT at 6pm, then open from 10am-5pm Tuesday 28th and Wednesday 29th this week only, before they return to Queensland. Worth seeing!!


  1. LOVE a good workshop! Looks fabulous. I think you've captured a sea pool really well, jejune! Very evocative!

  2. love your pics, as per usual. learning is good :)

  3. I love that you are SO creative! Knitting AND gorgeous paintings!

    I'm also loving Lulu's cameo appearances - although we won't tell her that they are cameo, of course she is the STAR of the show :)

  4. well! what a fabulous picture - who knew such wonders were possible with watercolours?! great stuff! and that lulus getting a bit cheeky isnt she?!


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