The Better Boatshed, Royal National Park Sydney

Royal National Park SydneyPlein-air painting can be difficult but when the weather is perfect, the location is devoid of onlookers, wildlife is abundant and the landscape is stunningly beautiful nothing is better.

Black cockatoos.

Black cockatoos.

DSC05265Michael Ambriano, my painting pal, took me to his local. The Royal National Park just south of Sydney is beautiful. Setting up our painting gear, a flock of black cockatoos screeched overhead and I knew it was going to be right.  We were soon joined by ducks, magpies and sulphur crested cockatoos.

I remembered coming here as a child. My family had a boat hire business further down the coast and we would visit another member of the family who had the old boat shed here in the National Park.


This cockatoo came in for a closer look at my work. The magpie had told him about it.

As much as I loved the lake and our home at Windang, I always felt Uncle Ralph’s was the “better boat” shed and yesterday I could see why I envied this place so much.  I remembered ducks gliding by on still water and grassy lawns falling into the banks. Plus Uncle Ralph had an eye-patch.

Michaels Studio

Michael’s Studio


The "Better" Boatshed

The “Better” Boatshed


Pink Rocks and Green Ponds

The painting trip to Braidwood fed the painting habit a little more. Rosalie Gascoigne said that she was “visually hungry” and reading an article on David Hockney he got excited about drops in puddles.

I love colour – it’s what the landscape feeds me. For the past 3 years I have had this screen saver from a photo I took down there. It was the colour of this stagnant pond that drew me back. 




From this trip it was the colour of the rocks – that dull fleshy pink. I did some small gouache works and know that these will in turn feed larger works and that from those initial colours, more colours develop.

J.R. Walker, The Elusive Platypus

Paint does the thinking. If you’re lucky something completely unexpected comes out. The making is the thinking….” *

Monotremes are rare – both of them found in Australia. The platypus frequents still parts in rivers. There is a little spot in Braidwood where we go and the platypus makes an appearance.  The old log where we sat and sketched had rotted since we were last there but as we approached the platypus took a dive and we caught a fleeting glimpse. It was midday, windy and noisy everything it shouldn’t be to spot platypus (or is platypussi?).

J.R Walker is a legendary Braidwood resident artist. As we came out of the bottleshop (a known haunt for artists – a bit like still rivers) J.R. was spotted on his bicycle and before we could gather our thoughts he was off. Peddling feverishly he ducked and dove out of sight. His saddle bags we could only guess were full of oily tubes of paint and inspiration and maybe merlot -it was on special.

This was a self-indulgent blog to show J.R. Walkers paintings. Something I have done before, here in Shaking Off The Sand & here  in Artist or Serial Killer. He, like the platypus is elusive and wonderful. A strange creature of talent and mystery and spotted from time to time in Braidwood.

*quote in article by Steve Lopes for Artist Profile 2009.

Drains, Creeks and Blaze Trees

It’s not that hard to imagine the paradise Eugene Von Guerard in the 1800’s. Winding up Macquarie Pass there is still remnants of that forest. Huge tree ferns, flame trees, cabbage palms and gum trees to park a horse inside. What is hard to imagine is the persistence of painting.
The light coming back from Canberra on the tips of the gums reminded me of his scenes I had just looked at in the National Gallery Canberra. It was bitterly cold outside and the last light when it is optimum for painting. I tried to imagine how he worked, a stool? a french easel? a board?

I went to a talk at Wollongong City Gallery by Dr Joseph Davis on works surrounding Charcoal Creek.  I arrived a few minutes late so didn’t catch who he was. It was later revealed by Google  he is a cultural historian. That would explain it. He was passionate and knowledgeable. The talk centred around works by those colonial painters. I have been desperate in my attempts to capture the areas in a contemporary way, drawing on the same works and vantage points of those artists so this talk couldn’t have been more apt to my work. On the way to the NGA to see the Eugene Von Guerard and Indigenous Triennial  my head was fresh with the works Dr Davis had talked about.

The exhibition in Canberra didn’t have the same punch, it was that dis-connection to the landscape but useful all the same as I could see where he began and how he arrived at Charcoal Creek. I felt a little flush of pride when I saw the flame trees and the brilliant cadmium red flashes in amongst the thick ferns.

Dr Davis had said that Von Guerard had referred to them as blaze trees – maybe wishful thinking whilst he was in the cold depths of the forest floor. Maybe they gave him a little warmth.

Little Painted Thick Knees

Thick Knees Brampton Island Qld Australia

Long narrow canvases have always appealed to me but are quite difficult to make a painting work. I’m re-arranging my paintings in the house. I came across this one that I had completed after a holiday to Brampton Island quite a while back. It was a happy time with friends and the colours on this rainy weekend reminded me of the warmth of tropical waters.

The thick knee was a perfect sketch for this shape canvas.

The thick knees are a type of curlew. This strange bird cries like a baby in the night and stops dead in it’s track if your come across it and shuts it’s big droopy eyes. A sketchers delight – a bit like the lemur.



Also associated with death by the Aboriginal people.

There are other types of curlew and I came across another in the Desert Park in Alice Springs. I was sitting on an old log sketching one and it gradually came closer and closer. I had hiking boots and I don’t know whether it thought my laces looked like worms but started to pick at them.

Being a drawer has it’s perks you become extremely quiet and spend time studying the subject which makes for some great encounters (of the non-human kind). On the other hand – you could lose your shoelaces






Painting a New World

After digesting the yearly dose of Archibalds at the Art Gallery of NSW, I strolled across the park to the State Library of NSW to see the John Lewin exhibition.

I really didn’t know that much about Lewin apart from his delicate paintings of birds but the exhibition was like a trip to a new land through paint.

I couldn’t imagine the excitement for an artist to confront new and wonderous plants and animals and a landscape so different from the lush greens of England. His soft grey greens of the Australian bush were outstanding and I wondered about his choice of palette before he left.

The works were delicate and light and his studies of moths and caterpillars were inspirational.

In a room adjoined to the exhibition, a room of stuffed birds and animals perched on tables with pencils and paper ready for new explorers. The walls were hung with brightly coloured parrots, stuffed feathery owls and spiky echidnas drawn by visitors from around the world. Scribbly signatures with their country of origin at the bottom of each drawing gave some clue as to where they had come from. I guess the explorer-artists felt much like Lewin looking at these strange animals up close, taking in detail that you would never get from books.

The State Library is full of books with plates and illustrations but countless artists but nothing substitutes for the real thing -stuffed or not.

Pelicans, their Beaks hold more than their Bellies Can

I worked in a touristy gallery for a short time and the average tourist loved paintings of pelicans. I can’t fathom their attraction, is it because of their huge beak? their huge frame? Maybe cause they waddle. Or their ridiculously huge feet that act like brakes at touchdown? I think it is because of their big eyes. They look almost cartoonish and happy. Yes, they definitely have happy eyes.

I got a call just after 7am, “There are pelicans en masse at Boonerah Pt! Get down there!” I knew there must be something out of the ordinary so I chucked in the equipment. binoculars, camera, sketchbook, pencils,pens and jumper. No breakfast not even coffee.

There were over 100 pelicans gathered on a small strip of sand.

It was very low tide, the sky was still morningly soft and a wisp of cloud still sitting low in front of Mt Keira in this distance. I scribbled out sketches and notes. Looked at fluffy, orange-beaked birds rummaging around the feet of pelicans. I have no idea what these birds were, some had yellow beaks and they were quite nuggety.

I even got some more sketches in for the cormorant boat and it was definitely worth missing that morning coffee, it was a great heart starter.

Rainbows over Pulpit Rock

Returning to Bundanon after 5 years was like going home. I’m comfortable in that landscape, just paint me in. I didn’t feel the need to paint, draw, photograph-just to breathe. Jane unrolled the scroll and created an ink-river across the stark white paper in Whiteley movements, bending and dipping. I watched the weather bend and dip in synchronicity with Jane’s brush -sun, rain, mist and a rainbow over Pulpit Rock. The walk back to the homestead wound through wombat-holed tracks watched by a sleepy mob of kangaroos, black suspicious cows and ignored by intently grazing buffalo wombats.  There is no other place in the world like it and no other place I would rather be.