Thursday 19 December 2013

Christmas is coming

Christmas is fast approaching (much too quickly), and I am finishing off Christmas cards and greetings for my many wonderful friends and students.  I thought you would like to get into the Christmas spirit so I am sharing this video with you of a few Christmas songs on the previous post.
I am also finishing off a new painting for Botanica 2014 in the Sydney Royal Botanical Gardens (more information later), and finishing off my new website which should be live by the end of December. Here is a preview of the detail of another painting I have just finished.
These are the various stages of the seeds of the Cycas revoluta. Nature is so amazing in natural beauty, which is around us everywhere we look. I like unusual subjects, and also love the detail.....

Bing Crosby - Silent Night (+playlist)

Enjoy this wonderful traditional Christmas carol - Bing Crosby in Silent Night.

Saturday 30 November 2013

More banksias

Have just finished another banksia painting. I adore these flowers - they are so earthy and unique yet can be so colourful and exciting. Detail is my thing - so nothing more enjoyable than to sit for hours (with short breaks) and work on the fine detail. It is all about Observation.
Finished painting
Banksia menzieseii and Banksia prionotes

Detailed drawing and first washes

 Am now anxious to get started on another few paintings as I have personal deadlines for "before Christmas" . Things will be really hectic from then on. Starting work very early (up at 4.30am today) gives me more hours in the day.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Norfolk Island

I will be taking a small group to Norfolk Island on 24-31 March 2014 for a plein air pen and wash sketching art tour. This is an exciting new venue with amazing sketching and painting locations. Having been there before, I am really looking forward to sharing some of my sketching experiences and very varied subjects with you.
There will be the opportunity to draw and paint flowers, architecture including the buildings of  the original penal colony, many different scenes of beach, mountains and more.
Slaughter Bay, Norfolk Island

Not only is this beautiful island steeped with wonderful history of convicts and mutineers, but it is a strong community where many of the inhabitants are direct descendants of the original people that came to the island.
To learn more about this Holiday Sketching opportunity, see my Holiday Sketching website and follow Destinations to Norfolk Island.
Would love to see you there......

Visiting New Caledonia

Just having spent a totally relaxing time visiting New Caledonia and Fiji, and sketching along the way, would like to share just a few sketches with you.
Since returning home I have not stopped and have produced another magazine article for 'Back to Basics' art magazine on Beyond the Pale - White on White and written another issue of my Holiday Sketching Newsletter, along with other aspects of my work. My life balance feels good - just the right amount of pen and wash sketching followed by intense bouts of botanical art and of course lots of teaching.

This is not a finished painting. It is an instructional painting showing (from
left to right) the various stages from line drawing to finished flower of
applying shadow colour for a white or pale coloured subject on white paper.

Read the article in the next Back to Basic quarterly magazine to see how to make various shadow colours and how to apply them, without having a dark outline.
I am now working hard on producing a new body of work for the Botanica exhibition at the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens in 2014. I have to finish the paintings by Christmas, as I am then officially on holidays and will be overseas, returning just before submissions are required.
I am sure some of you will relate to the amount of disruptions and distractions that occur when working to deadlines. My art business necessitates not only close email correspondence but phone calls, and student work to be critiqued from my Botanical Art and Natural History External Courses (distance learning). These are all aspects of my work I love doing - but sometimes I just need to lock myself away and paint.
Will leave you with a few sketches from New Caledonia and in particular the Isle of Pines (Ile des Pins), which was my favourite place. The islands around the South Pacific remind me of the Caribbean islands - glorious azure blue/turquoise green water and soft, fine sandy beaches. So when the Americans cruise from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean Islands, Australians head off from Sydney to the South Pacific and Fiji, to enjoy very similar beaches and sunshine.
Lifou, Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia


Off to do some painting now.......

Monday 21 October 2013

Extreme Sketching in Hobart

I have just spent a fantastic week sketching the historical buildings and landmarks in and around Hobart Tasmania. I took a group pen and wash sketching which also combined a holiday with sketching.
The group renamed the tour 'Extreme Sketching'. The first day we went to Mt.Wellington with its superb views over Hobart and the Derwent River. Our driver had the bus door torn out of his hands when he tried to leave the bus, and we were nearly bowled over by gusts of wind recorded at 130 kph.
Holding on to each other, we managed to get to the covered observation lookout, so all was not in vain.
Some of the group sketching Richmond Bridge built in 1823
While sketching at Oatlands we again encountered extremely strong winds, but some of the group braved the elements and sketched the beautiful old mill, while rugged up to the max. The rest of the group (including myself), found shelter in a cafe which was an historic building, beautiful in itself. Opposite the cafe was a lovely Georgian style building built about 1837. 'Oatlands Lodge' is now a colonial accommodation bed and breakfast establishment.
Just as we were packing up our things to leave, it began to snow. No wonder it had been so cold!!!

My sketch of Oatlands Lodge c1837

We were fortunate that we were not actually caught in any torrential rain, but on most days we just missed doing so. We did see the sun on occasions but nothing dampened our enthusiasm.
These sketching art tours are made so enjoyable and rewarding for me as each person brings something special to the group. They were a great group of like-minded sketchers and they produced some amazing work.
Battery Point semi-detached houses

Battery Point was a wealth of colonial buildings, and Salamanca with its converted warehouses was another favourite place we sketched. Add to this the oldest bridge in use in Australia at Richmond, where the convict built bridge was constructed in 1823, and the beautiful convict built bridge at Ross with its distinctive Celtic symbols - and not to forget Port Arthur where we sketched from Scorpion Rock Lookout, high above the site and encompassing the water and many of the convict buildings.
This was a really memorable art tour, and when I go again I would not change any of the itinerary, but would change the time of year - as the locals kept referring to October as the 'windy month'. Little more than windy, but still an amazing and truly beautiful place.

Luminous Watercolour Glazing

I have just had another article published in Artist's Back to Basics on the subject of 'Watercolour Glazing for Luminosity'. This is a quarterly magazine and I write an article for each issue.
I describe how you can achieve glowing and intense colours yet still retain a translucency with the use of overglazing.
This is a method of painting diluted transparent layers of watercolour on top of a dry wash.
The article has examples of colour and explanations of how to apply the colour to achieve the effect you want. The order you apply the colours is also important.
Happy painting - and let your colours sing!
Detail of Liquidamber seed

Saturday 5 October 2013

Sketching South Coast (Kiama) NSW

I have just spent 2 days sketching the Illawarra region of the south coast of New South Wales. I took a small group and we based ourselves in Kiama. Everything was in walking distance and there was so much to see just in this one area. The beautiful area is mostly dairy farming now, but many of the farms are being subdivided and sold off for housing. The vivid clear blue water and the rolling green hills are quite unique to this particular part of the south coast.
The weather on day 1 was absolutely perfect. Not a cloud in the sky, and the sun warming our backs as we sat and sketched to our heart's content. Above is the view from near the lighthouse at Kiama looking back to the surf beach. There are lots of beaches down the south coast.
We also went to Gerroa and did a few sketches of Seven Mile Beach, and a very favourite place of mine, Werri Beach. My parents had a house here for nearly 45 years so I spent many wonderful years exploring the areas from Wollongong to Nowra and beyond.

In Kiama there are some historic buildings, and the Post Office, with its bright heritage colours, is a real stand out. Next to that sits the police station and court house, both original buildings from the mid 19th century. There is a very interesting history surrounding the Illawarra region. It is well worth a visit.

Above is a photo of me sketching at Kiama. We were lucky enough to find some emply picnic tables with perfect views over the water, rocks and beaches.

Friday 4 October 2013

Banksia Workshop in Canberra

I have just returned from teaching a Banksia workshop in Canberra, a place I always love visiting. This very successful workshop kept me on my toes, with 15 motivated and talented participants.
"It is all about the process" I kept reminding them. When tackling a subject that at first appears to be complicated and intricate, just take it one step at a time, rather than feel it is beyond your capabilities.
The subject I chose was originally Banksia prionotes, which is a banksia I have recently painted and I felt it was absolutely achievable. The banksias that arrived for the workshop were Banksia hookeriana, which although similar in construction, are smaller and have thinner leaves.
Banksia hookeriana
The hardest part of any botanical work is the drawing. If this isnt right, nothing else will be right. So the first morning was spent working very hard at getting the drawing correct by working with the Fibonacci Spiral.
One of the student's drawing of the Fibonacci Spiral of the B.hookeriana
Pay close attention to the "information" on the plant. Work out the Fibonacci sequence. Draw what you see.
The next step was to do a colour match, and a colour study. This ensures there are no mistakes when beginning the final painting. All the various components of the subject are practised and perfected before the painting.
The above student's  work shows the colour study and confirmation that the Fibonacci Spiral works. It is very easy to "see" the spiral formation on the subject.

All of the class began their final painting on Day 2. They were all feeling confident and were all very happy with what they had achieved over the 2 day workshop.

I continue to get an enormous amount of satisfaction out of sharing my skills and knowledge with others, and to take them on the journey of creating a wonderful botanical painting.

Sunday 15 September 2013

A Tasty Cultural Sketching Article

My article on A Tasty Cultural Art Project is published in the latest edition of Australian Artist Magazine. There are six pages of information and images, including a step by step sketching guide.
Food Sketching can be done anywhere, and it reflects culture and country, both of which are unique. Food is all around us when we travel; in markets, cafes, restaurants and shops. I love not only the food but the presentation of food in various countries as even the serving dishes are characteristic of people and place.
The food markets in Savusavu, Fiji - alive with colour and an amazing diversity of local food.

 Below are various dishes from Bali, and this is a composite sketch. Often there might only be time to do a very quick initial sketch, so ensure you take photographs to refer to at a later date. So I have taken food sketches from many of my regular Balinese sketching holidays and put them together, so you get an overall impression of the culture and cuisine.
Vietnam for me is a very special place and I have spent time travelling to some out of the way places there and engaging with the local people. These were areas where not many tourists ventured, so for a change, we were the curiosity and a source of interest for them. Vietnam is a very beautiful country where food is goverened by climatic and geographical conditions.


This shop was on Quan Lan Island, which is one of the outer lying islands of Halong Bay. The very sandy island has about 2000 inhabitants and several larger towns, but basically it is quite uncommercialised. We enjoyed a home stay which was an amazing experience to be a guest in a local person's house and to be shown their hospitality and generosity. The home cooked meals were produced in an outside kitchen over an open fire, and the flavours were extraordinary. Seafood was a main staple and we enjoyed a wide range of other delicacies as well.
You only need to travel lightly, and you can see from the image above, this minamalistic group of materials is all you would need as a starting point. However, once involved with this exciting medium, you can add more colours or materials as you require.
Happy sketching!!

Wednesday 11 September 2013

'Flora Danica' Royal Porcelain

The Flora Danica porcelain service, which was commissioned by the Danish king, can be seen in the Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen. Although it is a complete dinner service, the Royal Family mainly used it to serve dessert. The other courses were usually served on silver plates.

Inside the Christianborg Palace, Copenhagen
 This service was made at the time of the Enlightenment, which was a cultural movement of intellectuals in the 17th and 18th centuries. During this period a keen interest was shown in nature and the natural sciences.

 The motifs of the service were not chosen because they were beautiful, but because all the illustrations in the botanical work Flora Danica were to be painted on the porcelain. Mosses, algae, parasitic fungi and other unappetizing things, as well as the flowers, were given a place at a banquet. Originally all the plants were to be shown life-size on the porcelain.

If a stem was too long, it was resolutely cut into several sections, or forced to wind its way precariously along the curved edges of the service.

 The paintings are quite exquisite, and faithfully representative of species. Further elaborate decorations were painted around the edges of the porcelain, along with gold trim. Beautifully sculptured flowers on the top of the serving dishes and on serving platters were also botanically correct.

This was a magnificent display which fitted well with the opulence of the palace itself. I am sure many of us would love to have one of these dishes adorn our table.
It is certainly on my Wish List!!!

European Odyssey

I am well and truly back from four weeks through Scandinavia in Northern Europe, visiting Bruge (Belgium), Tallinn (Estonia), Helsinki (Finland), Berlin (Germany), Stockholm (Sweden), St. Petersburg (Russia), and Copenhagen (Denmark). These were eight countries I had not previously visited. To finish off an amazing holiday I stayed with a friend for four days in Gillingham, Dorset UK, and relaxed in London for a week, spending a day in Bristol with "new" friends we had met on our travels.
The trip was at a very relaxed pace and I made some time for sketching. Some are finished, some almost finished and some still on the drawing board.
Kensington Palace, London
Horse Guard Headquarters, Whitehall London


I loved the mediaeval towns we visited, and Tallinn and Bruge were particular favourites. As you may have noticed, I love architecture, and how it relates to the history of a place. It can also reflect the climatic, cultural and geographical characteristics of place.
Above is a work in progress and was done in the town square in Bruges, Belgium, right under the tower that was featured in the movie "In Bruges".
So to leave you with one last sketch of a window box in Talin, Estonia with beautiful stained glass windows.
Once back in Sydney, life took over again and it has been pretty busy. Am now on top of my work, finished another magazine article for Back to Basics Magazine and an article for the quarterly issue of the Botanical Art Society of Australia Newsletter. I will do a separate post on this article as it concerns 'Flora danica'  porcelain which was in the Christianborg Palace in Copenhagen.
Northern Europe has the most amazing palaces and churches. Such opulence, extravagance and magnificence.

Sunday 14 July 2013

Tone, Form and the Third Dimension

My latest article for Back to Basics Magazine is now out. It covers the very important topic of 'Tone, Form and the Third Dimension'.
There is an actual formula I have developed on how tone relates to three-dimensionality. It is all in the article. 
I am a regular contributer to Back to Basics Magazine, Artists' Palette, Drawing & Inspiration and Australian Artists Magazine, as well as various Newsletters.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Masterclass at Sturt Winter School

No sooner was I home from Fiji when I went to Sturt to teach my Winter School course. This was 5 fabulous days of a Masterclass with Advanced Techniques and lots of drawing and painting.
The North Wing of Sturt Winter School, where my classes are held.
I couldn't have wished for more - a great class group, incredibly beautiful weather and the chance to catch up with other tutors. During their presentations they showed images of their work and spoke about their art practices. It makes me feel so humble. They are all truly inspirational!
This is also a very important part of the Winter School and a must for all students to go along and see what other art forms are out there.
Just a few students (unfinished) work from the week.

The Process
Working with botanical art is all about the process which consists of:
  1. An accurate tonal master drawing
  2. Accurate colour matches
  3. A colour study painting various subject components
  4. Transferring the drawing on to the watercolour paper
  5. Beginning the final painting with initial washes. At this stage there is no guesswork. You understand the colours and the techniques.
  6. Layering of washes is continued until the desired intensity of colour is done
  7. Finish off with fine details
The week long course at Sturt is not about finishing the painting, it is about the correct processes for producing the absolute best work that you can. I was thrilled with the final results, and I know everyone in the class learned a lot, and were also surprised by the very high standard of work they achieved.
 These are just some of the paintings produced. This student exhibition also includes a master drawing and a colour study.

Thursday 27 June 2013

Savusavu, Fiji

Just back from Savusavu in Fiji, where I spent a wonderful week. Great weather, great group and amazing environment which is so rich and lush. There are more "greens
Savusavu is a town where time has stood still. Nothing changes which makes it so unique. Very few tourists (if any), no commercialisation and the local people run on "Fiji time". There is no rush and no pressure. No meals to cook while at the family run resort of Daku - in fact - nothing to do but paint and sketch.

After 16 courses in Fiji, I still look forward to returning the following year. My mornings are spent teaching botanical art in the yoga shala, high above the resort with spectacular views over Savusavu Bay. The balmy breezes glide through the shala and the peace is broken only by the staff bringing us freshly made pancakes with honey, or a delicious homemade cake as we enjoy a break.
The grounds on the resort, with the beachfront bures on the left

I am continually astounded by the spectacular sunsets, which occur most evenings. It is almost a group gathering as we stand by the waters edge to watch the sun gently sink into the sea.
The work produced over the week astounded even the particpants, as the brilliant coloured heliconia and crotons were painted in all their glory.
Here are a few of the paintings from the week. There were people on the course who had done no drawing or painting before, so it was a thrill for them to have such beautiful work to take home.
Next course: 2014 May 11-18

Sunday 2 June 2013

Botanical Art & Sketching in Beechworth

Just back from my second visit to Beechworth Victoria in 3 months. Beautiful place. This time I taught a workshop in Drawing and Painting Banksias.
The "secret" is all in observation, and the Fibonacci Spiral. Draw what you see. Understand the plant and its construction. I have a second Banksia workshop planned for Canberra on 21-22 September. Should also be lots of fun.
Details of Banksia menziesii

I actually managed to find time to sketch the Beechworth Post Office on my recent visit. I love the architecture of Beechworth and have, over time, managed to get some of the beautiful historical buildings sketched.
Each year I also take a "Sketching Historical Beechworth" workshop where we (naturally) sketch around the town. Its a fabulous weekend and one I look forward to.
Beechworth Post Office

Friday 17 May 2013

Rory McEwen Botanical Artist

For many years I have been a great admirer of Rory McEwen, a botanical artist of great renown but also a gifted musician. He was born in Scotland on 12 March 1932 and in his short life produced some of the most amazing botanical art I have seen.
His single subjects, often of a single leaf, are vibrant with colour, extraordinary in their detail and almost ethereal in their presence.

I am often drawn to his book which I have had in my collection for as long as I can remember and am in awe as I open the pages to look in wonder at his paintings.
So you can imagine how excited I am that I will be going to London in August and will be able to see his wonderful exhibition of works 'The Colours of Reality' at the Shirley Sherwood Botanical Gallery at the Kew Botanical Gardens. His paintings can be described as 'hyper-realistic'.
I would like to share this video with you. His work remains a legacy to his devotion to art, his love of nature and his incredible creative talent. Sadly he passed away at age 50 on 16 October 1982.
If you are interested in finding out more about Rory and his life, there is (as always) a mountain of information on the internet.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

A Book a Week #3 -A Painter's Year in the Forests of Bhutan

I can only imagine what it would be like to take a year off and trek into the wilds of the Bhutan forests. The author Dr A.K. Hellum originally travelled to Bhutan, which is between China and India, to consult on a forest management project in 1988 for an international aid agency and spent two years helping with forest research and reforestation.
 The drawings and paintings were initially completed in the field for meditation and concentration. Some fantastic stories were also recorded of various situations when painting - the people he encountered  and made contact with and events that became integral to his life in Bhutan. He was able to meet the "real" people of Bhutan.
This book is organised around the seasons, which are so integral to a tropical climate and the plants he discovered in the various seasons.
For two years almost every weekend was devoted to illustrating about 150 species and varieties of tropical forest plants, mainly from the northwest of Bhutan in the valleys and in the high passes. He painted through sun, rain, humidity and freezing temperatures and only occasionally added finishing touches inside of an evening.

The stories in this book are all true. "All were happenings that filled my days with gentleness, so many miracles large and small, and so much human sharing". Wonderful words.
I tell my students that botanical art is a meditative process, and Dr. Hellum has proven this through his Bhutan paintings.
There is a lot of information about the flora, some of which have rarely been seen, and their importance and richness to the local people.

This is such an easy and fascinating book to read, and to almost feel you are with Dr. Hellum and experiencing the extremes of temperature, the joy when discovering a new plant and the peace when drawing and painting it.
I love his Reflections at the end of the book. This is part of it: "Above all, my two years in Bhutan taught me about silence and listening. My life before Bhutan had been so busy, so crowded with duties, passions and noise.......If one word describes life in Bhutan for me it is silence. It took a long time for this silence to find passage into my subconscious".
For the author, Bhutan was a land of hundreds of Shangri-Las where every alpine meadow, every rocky trail and every forest was a Shangri-La and every human encounter a new adventure.

Monday 13 May 2013

Banksia prionotes - finished

I can finally put closure on my banksia prionotes painting. I began it when I miraculously had some spare time. Then of course the work began pouring in and I also had article deadlines to meet. So this painting seemed to drag on. Was almost finished when I went to Canberra to do a workshop. So very pleased to share the painting with you.
My favourite part is the detail.

I have new ideas swimming around in my head for a couple of new paintings. Firstly I will do a small painting of a delightful grevillea I collected in Canberra, Grevillea langiera. It is a delightful and colourful dwarf plant with many small leaves and exquisite red flowers.
The preliminary work is already completed so it will not take long - final last words. Before I do that however, I must get some prep work done for my weekend workshop next Saturday at WEA Sydney on Pen and Wash Sketching, and also prepare some drawings and more handouts for my Banksia workshops in Beechworth Victoria 25-26 May and Canberra 21-22 September.
I love the  intracacies of banksias, their woody appearance and the flowing movement of the coarse leaves.

Friday 10 May 2013

A Book a Week #2 - Bali Sketchbook

I have fallen a little behind with my Book a Week project. Have had a mountain of work to do (all enjoyable however) but finally have chosen my next book.
These are not necessarily reviews, just books I have in my collection I would like to share with you.
I go to Bali every year, and have my own Sketchbook of Bali, but not so long ago I purchased a beautifully presented publication. It is quite large 28.5cm wide x 25.5cm high and the pages resemble cold pressed watercolour paper. The captions for the sketches are in "handwriting", like on cover of the book, so you feel you are really looking at a sketchbook.
The Bali Sketchbook is illustrated by Graham Byfield and the text written by Diana Darling.

There is a series of these books, and I also have Provence Sketchbook and London Sketchbook. I like to collect sketchbooks when I travel. They are my souvenirs. 
This book is better than a travel guide. Anyone interested in the Balinese culture would love it. A very comprehensive Introduction explains the various areas of Bali and the background of the island. It mentions how the rice paddies have been irrigated and cultivated for generations, the origins and beliefs of the Hindi religion, the hierachal system and about Balinese life in the villages - and more.
Tenganan Village

The book contains three main parts, so it is concise and easy to follow: Part 1 - The World of Origins about villages and temples, Part 2 - The Hand-Made World covering rice growing, village life, cremations (and more) and Part 3 - The Sea Coast: The Edge, the Future which includes topics and sketches regarding tourism, farming the sea and the importance of the sea.


I love to pick this book up from time to time and read a little more about life in Bali, and look at the lovely sketches, which are really more detailed drawings and paintings than spontaneous sketches.

In Septemebr I am taking another sketching art group to Bali, and will add to my personal sketches and share my knowledge and love of the island. I leave the busy towns and head into the mountains then along the east coast, where time has almost stood still, although tourism is fast encroaching. My fabulous guide Suki, who I have been doing these tours with for many years, always has something new and special to show me when I return.