Scribbly gum


The next big challenge was to go out into the world to paint. It reminded me of my first foray out of the house with a new baby- I had seen mothers with those enormous bags they always seem to carry but had no idea what was supposed to go in them and was therefore really nervous whether I had the right things in mine. Nobody made comment which may have spoken of accuracy in my packing, or such inaccuracy that to mention it would be too embarrassing for all concerned. I decided on a bigger bag on the principle that if I took absolutely everything, I would have to be at least partly right.

A relaxing stint of painting at the dog beach was jettisoned after realising it was a long weekend (Australia Day is Jan 26th) and that the free parking spaces were full so I’d have to pay $6.50, half of the foreshore has been dug up in an attempt to begin works to battle erosion, and there were far too many people and dogs hurtling about to feel relaxed.

Plan B: onwards to the local field which is used as a Pony Club.

When painting at pony clubs, be warned that the upturned blue bucket which one cleverly intended to sit upon is flimsier than it looks. Also be warned that there exists in nature a long slim bug with an orange head and an orange bottom who exhibits a strong desire to wade through blobs of white paint. The evolutionary advantage escapes me.

Scribbly gums are beautiful trees with coarse blackened (often) bark at the base from which extend long creamy limbs. A small insect begins life just under the surface of the bark and leaves a scar as it wanders back and forth, changing its mind and getting bigger. The scribbles are enchanting, although naturally I speak for myself; the view of the tree may be otherwise. I chose to paint one such tree.

With board and paper on my lap, I was frustrated by how limiting it was working so close to the paper using fine motor skills and how deliberate the whole painting became. It dissolved into patterns as I tried to look away from the tree and play with colour. Back home I simplified and added and ended up with a pattern which is interesting but which I don’t warm to at all. Everything too deliberate. Too contrived.

The trick in painting from nature is always deciding/knowing what to leave out as in real life there is endless detail.

To shake myself out of the controlled nature of that style, I next used a fat brush and just put colour onto a canvas where it felt good. Reverting to a preschool style was incredible relieving- not having to obey rules of light and shadow, perspective and depth; small children haven’t yet learned the symbols and conventions which we use to depict three dimensions on a two dimensional surface. Their painting is from the gut and the heart.

This was the pony club through a whole different set of eyes - painted quickly and loosely on an easel. Not everything “means” something. It just felt right to be put there.

Then back to painting the tree but more as a remembered character. This third painting was such a joy to create, and the final small details ( a leaf, the scribble, the bug) which a young child would not have added, creates what is to me a deeply satisfying harmony.

I would like to do more work in this is hard to describe how liberating, fun, joyful, exciting, surprising, and right from the gut it was.

The fact that going back to a child’s style is liberating demonstrates to me how our development is a process of the opposite: of being directed and learning a language of symbols and conventions which distance us from that first gut and heart kind of painting. We have to find our own ways back, whatever our medium or style, and our own voice.

I’ve bought two more fat brushes!




I was inspired by a painting begun by my daughter. The ultramarine sky and red earth colours were wonderful and I was excited to start a painting the same way. Then I remembered I’d done a book cover a few years ago with the same colours and feel.

I learned something invaluable: I was excited to see what she would do next. Not to see a finished painting of such-and-such, but to see what marks my daughter would create on that surface next. I’d get to see a bit of her. Which finally taught me something which I knew intellectually but at last really “got” - that my paintings too are a bit of me so it’s wonderful to go where it takes me rather than where I think anybody else might think it should go. And maybe others are excited to see what’s in MY head!

It was exciting to get stuck into my own new painting - nothing was deliberate so much as flowing onto the canvas much like improvised dance. I love putting colours together that buzz and zing against each other.

Then I was busting, although terrified, to go on to a huge canvas which has been hiding behind my drawing table. Onto it flew memories of the desert in northwestern New South Wales where I spent several weeks in 1976.

Sturt Desert

It was exhilarating to re-create cracked clay pan, red earth, scrubby bush, the feel of distance, and a bone which we found embedded in the hard sand.

The freedom and looseness and colours were wonderful, but could I apply that to non-desert scenes? It is fantastic to have a base of red and orange and yellow against which to play greens and mauves and blues, but could it be done the other way around?
My back verandah

So far OK...I was trying to achieve the feel rather than physical accuracy- so I got to draw the chairs as they feel - like creatures sitting out there, rather than getting them structurally correct. What a blast!

But...could the same looseness and play with colour apply to a very green Canadian scene?...

This is the B&B I stayed at when I visited Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia, Canada, in August 2008. And yes, I could start with the blues and greens then add touches of reds and oranges and pinks.

One more huge blank canvas sat in the study. I wanted to paint a beautiful bit of countryside in France, on the lowland below Saint-Flour. The trick was to allow myself to play with colours and go where I wanted with them, and to do suggestive bits and pieces rather than trying to achieve reality. At one stage the top half looked realistic and the bottom half playful, but after I put the photo away and began to work with and enjoy colour and shape as separate entities from the scene itself, it took off.

Below Saint-Flour, France

A baby brush turkey has been scratching around the garden - body about the size of a grapefruit - cute as anything!

Sunset and popcorn

I am planning to move this year. The other evening while savouring the evening sky I wondered how I could possibly leave such beauty. Followed by the thought that, hang on, there is sky everywhere. And sunsets. Phew!

As I sit in Sydney in the summer, Tasmania which is cooler and wetter holds definite appeal and will probably be my next target for exploration.
If you have a choice of where to live, how do you find that place? What do you look for? How do you decide which elements are most important? Follow your interests? Look for the landscape that feels like home? Look for community? How do you get to know community before you live there? Look for the house that appeals? Is it the landscape of childhood that one is seeking and which can never be found?

Map of where my thinking is now...

Back to cartooning again after a break and my brain has been sluggish. It has taken two days to come up with a cartoon relating to a story about Chinese police who arrested a driver who was using his feet to control his 4WD, having lost both arms some years ago in an accident. Part of the difficulty has been discovering how to draw a delightfully humorous recognisably Chinese figure rather than a shallow stereotype or a face too close to reality to be joyfully silly. And as soon as I draw a race other than the neutral sort of characters represented in cartoons in our culture, it becomes difficult to keep audiences from assuming that race is part of the joke. To draw the chap without arms and avoid him appearing to be a joke was just about impossible. Finally, after pots of tea, bowls of popcorn, naps, changes of chairs and a night of tossing and turning as I tried to think up a cartoon in my sleep, it appeared. Phew.

A baby bush turkey joined the hens in the front yard yesterday. I never know who I’ll stumble upon in the garden.

Happy New Year

On Christmas Day I decided to leave with my kids at noon to travel to the Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland. It took two days to get there and was hot; in the 30s most days and one day over 40 degrees centigrade, but the mood and variety of entertainments and activities on hand made up for it. Music ran constantly in a number of venues - I loved hearing Lior live. There were workshops and I learned a bit of Auslan (Australian sign language), had singing workshops with Darren Percival (Mr. Percival) and The Kin, watched aspiring stand-up comedians perform for the first time and be critiqued, presented a poem at a poetry slam, and “sang” in the Auslan choir. The opening ceremony was fun and we stayed up all night on New Years Eve to watch the first sunrise of the new year from a hill. The Flame Ceremony which closed the festival was a marvel, and all started by an aboriginal chap who made fire by twirling the end of a long stick on another in a handful of dry grass.

I’ve just finished a painting (above) which wasn’t a deliberate attempt at portraying the festival but which certainly contains elements of the colour and stimulation of it all! In contrast, here’s one of Paris by night. Oops- the Paris one has just fallen face down onto the Woodford one...and I like the bits of paint it has picked up. I’ll take another photo.
Hmmm. I think I liked it better without the colour bits...