19 July 2018

photo from Burleigh headland north

Interesting that I start my Headland blog with a painting which lacks one, but “Low Tide” is a view from Burleigh headland so I happily include it in my Headland Project.
How many times have I been on this, my local beach headland, and strained my eyes to the horizon for boats and ships passing in the coastal currents up from Sydney and Melbourne and north to Brisbane and Asia beyond? I’ve lived here for many years now and wondered about the purple blue smudge along the horizon just out beyond the Southport Spit and Gold Coast’s northern beaches. You couldn’t see that smudge every time you looked. Sometimes rainstorms blocked the view, sometimes heavy pollution from Brisbane’s industrial sector along the bay. But sometimes on beautiful blue-sky days you couldn’t see that smudge at all.

I remember my parents taking us to the Moreton Bay beaches on our regular Sunday drives. My mother loved the opportunity to get away from Brisbane and the tiny fibro shack we called a house. She would always peer at the horizon stretching her mind into the unknown as her gaze shifted slowly right to left and back again. It was her quiet time and we knew not to interrupt.
And so I find myself repeating that movement because from here it’s possible to see little white sailboats, whales breaching along their migration route, an occasional commercial container ship and, way on the edge of sight, these tiny undulations of purple/blue way beyond the beaches, boats, the sparkling waters of the crescent bay forming Queensland’s stretch of the Gold Coast and even the horizon.
What is that blue smudge that hugs the horizon line from land way out to sea? The line of smudge is as thin as the line forming the Southport Spit which itself fades imperceptibly into the sea.

How do I paint that?
Answer – with Three lines: One the beach, one the landmass of the Spit and the third the purple/blue smudge which has to be presented lying behind the other two. What a challenge! I may even have to cut my long thin Liner paintbrush down to one or two hairs to represent this line faithfully.
Straining my eyes like my mother, the three lines become separated by colour. The beach, bright in the sun, must be saturated like the green of the land and white/grey of Southport and Broadbeach’s high rise buildings strung out along the bay. But that purple/blue smudge must be muted with its complementary to convey the differentiation of distance. So I think I can paint what I see faithfully but as my eyes are  old, they will probably tend toward green on the spectrum so I must consider that too.
So I came on my second visit to do a proper study – a sketch – but on that day the smudge had disappeared below the horizon. I came back the following couple of days and I still couldn’t capture the smudge.

So off I went to do some research in maps, library books and the internet. Discovery deepens understanding and heightens appreciation. I love research.
So this line of purple/blue smudge is the line of the Moreton Bay Islands. I remember my Mother telling stories of Moreton Island’s huge sand dunes swallowing up the hinterland trees and we poured over pictures in books at the time to deepen the wonder.
Our High school took my class down the Brisbane River and halfway across Moreton Bay to Mud Island. Our ferryboat deposited us in the midst of mangroves and we walked around the whole island on the sorry excuse for a beach (compared to the golden ones) and we played in the tame bay waves lapping gently across the sand. I don’t remember much else except the ferryboat hit stormy weather on the way back and we were all seasick till we reached the broad calm reaches of the river on the way home. We sang songs up the front (is it the bow?) of the boat. We knew plenty of protest songs of the 60’s (Donovan’s Universal Soldier was one and Dylan’s for sure) and we all felt quite grown up out on an adventure on our own.
Here’s the beginnings of Donovan’s Universal Soldier, an anti-war anthem, of course…

He’s five foot-two and he’s six feet-four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He’s all of thirty-one and he’s only seventeen
He’s been a soldier for a thousand years…
Songwriters: Buffy Sainte Marie. Universal Soldier lyrics © Peermusic Publishing

I can still sing the whole song pretty much even now.
So this smudge is not one but two islands, South Stradbroke and Stradbroke Island and perhaps the tip of Moreton Island making three that I can actually see. Somehow that tiny blue line on my canvas must be separated accordingly. You would never know what you are seeing if I simply repeated what the eye can see. How is that helpful in revealing this wonder?
I visited Stradbroke Island a few of times in my teenager years. My first boyfriend took me there on camp with 3 or 4 others. We crossed the island from the Amity Pt ferry landing to Pt Lookout and spent the night beside the fire drinking, singing and generally making fun of each other in our stories and comedy gags. We slept with shoulders for pillows (quote from Mark Knoppfler song) uncovered amongst the sand dunes. Must have been Summertime.
Many years later I returned to Pt Lookout to see my sister who was staying there and our good friends that we had lived with in Sydney. The four of us had driven north independently and it was during my pregnancy that we were re-united. I loved the beach lifestyle and the rough dwellings with outdoor showers and minimal living spaces. This was the time of real beach shacks and the local pub was the only source of work for residents. Or so it seemed, but looking back to the 60’s the main industry was probably sand mining. I didn’t see any of that destruction as we had no car to get to the interior of the island but I did wonder why so many single blokes swarmed around the pub.
I loved this time with my partner. We were really into each other, taking excursions to get to know our new Queensland home. I was working in Brisbane doing boring admin jobs while my partner looked for work but found people to connect to instead. I remember one such lady who was found crying at the bus stop. My partner, always the helpful one, escorted her safely to her home and had ‘a cup of tea’ which we women all know is a fruitful heart-to-heart conversation. This lady told him two life-changing, important things.
One: she spoke of the Tweed Valley where houses were selling at prices we could afford, and
Two: she spoke of the man in her life that had treated her despicably and was the reason for the tears at the bus stop. I won’t reveal her private life but when my partner told me a little of her story and why he was moved to see her again, he remarked; ‘I thought I’d done some really bad things in my life, but this guy  (the lady’s guy) was way worse than me.’
We visited this lady a couple more times and shared her tea and her pain until she found a way to move on and we went to the Tweed Valley to buy our new home. We had a baby coming and wanted to give being a family a try. Of course we had to do this our way – the 1960’s way – and not a bit like our parents with jobs we hated and mortgages that made our shoulders bend. Our little house in Uki became a stopping off point for many hippies passing through and our friends from Stradbroke (and Sydney) explored the region to find their own piece of paradise further inland near Kyogle. These were the golden sunshin-ey days and as I peer toward that purple/blue smudge on the horizon I am bombarded by golden sunshine glittering off the ocean all the way across the bay to those elusive islands somewhere in the distance.
Another day of frustration for the sketch I have to do. Well landforms don’t bob and sway in the ocean so it must be something to do with tides. Research is a wonderful thing.

Pencil sketch. With high rise buildings of Broadbeach and Southport QLD

I never knew that tides change so much. I knew the moon pulls the oceans during our Earth’s rotation but I thought that to be constant each month, all year. But no, tides vary but each month’s rise and fall can vary across the year. How wonderful! So if I look up the Tide Tables (how amazing people are to collate this boring data as a useful service to others). So if I look at these wonderful Tide Tables I can find the most suitable time to come down to this Burleigh Headland at Low tide to see the purple/blue smudge turn into the two or is it three large islands that they are.
I didn’t know that tides vary each day, each month and across the calendar year when our Moon and Earth journey around the sun – sometimes closer and sometimes further from the sun which also pull our tides. Ain’t Life grand? That is just a beautiful thing. How can people not be impressed? This clockwork precision of Nature is truly astounding and I want to include some of its majesty in my painting.
I have maps. I have Tide Tables. I have golden sparkling sunlight, a broad ocean enclosed by landforms and the elusive slivers of colour at the intersection of Southport and Moreton Bay Islands. Now that is a painting worth painting. Let’s get on with it!

The first pencil sketch transferred to canvas. It was really hard to get the various relationships down and I really struggled to get them correct.
The first underpainting. It gives me the outlines of the shapes and some variation in tone to be added later.
Map of Brisbane to Burleigh Heads showing the flat crescent bay and Stradbroke Islands

It’s Time

Well I’ve completed the major downsizing of possessions, renovated the house inside and completed all the property maintenance I could think of, but  I have outgrown this lovely place. Its now up FOR SALE so I can concentrate on my Headland project.

That’s Springbrook QLD in the distance and the vege patch in foreground.

For the next few weeks my 3 brm cottage on nearly 2 acres in Ingleside will be marketed EXCLUSIVE to locals and friends as a private sale (see my www.jessicablythe.com.au website for details) . I’ll be busy with that for awhile, but I have my eye on another property so I’m hoping for a quick transition so I can focus on my artwork.

Headland project

I travel locally to do a lot of plein aire paintings on my bushwalking expeditions, but in 2018 I’m considering a longer journey.


I am planning a long trip down the NSW east coast to undertake a major writing and painting project called “Headland” starting 2018. It will culminate in a gallery exhibition and a book of my writings on philosophy, politics, memories and responses to that amazing coastline. I am seeking donations on my website to help pay for camp fees and petrol and the framing and publications of the project.

My artwork has a strong philosophy behind it that seeks to foster appreciation of our natural environment (which is fast disappearing) and to challenge our thoughts about who we are and how we are living within our chosen lifestyles. My work has a strong spiritual aspect about treading lightly on the land and working in harmony with the rhythms of the Earth to support all forms of life we share the universe with. Your donation has supported and encouraged me to do more of this work.

The development of the project will be updated on this blog, so join and follow progress here. Posts have already begun on my Facebook page: Jessica Blythe Art Studio.

I like to hear from my visitors, so email me here if you have something to say.

Kind regards


Kant’s idea about Beauty


I’ve been reading up on Aesthetics from a Uni course posted online by Oxford University – “Aesthetics and Art”.  I’m working my way through the semesters, but got caught in Emmanuel Kant’s ideas about the experiencing of beauty. He thought it was the pleasure created in the mind before the mind assigned concepts to the experience. That really resonated with me. He also thought that experiencing the Sublime was similar. It gives us pleasure to be “In the Now”, having a “Direct” experience of something that evokes intense pleasure which we cannot name.

It reminded me of my close encounters with wildlife when we lock eyes, smell each other, experience the magic and are frozen in a state of wonder. It is those moments when the mind is open to simply experience, before the cognitive functions kick in and the concepts of “wallaby”, “joey”, “fear” etc are not yet formed.  Then in an instant they are gone, rustling into the undergrowth and I am left feeling high on pleasure.

The pleasure is partly because the animal is a warm blooded creature with cognitive functions I can recognise. I can see it jump, lick its lips, blink, scratch itself and … it can see me, hear me. What a thrill to be noticed.

So I am curious … how can art and beautiful things compare to the living, breathing creature I encounter? Is the engagement anywhere near the same?

I’d like to explore this further.

art thoughts

Kangaroo oil paint

I receive a number of email notifications from magazines and galleries which give various images from contemporary painter/artists.  I don’t know whether it is the format (online image) or whether it is the art, but I find very few that fire up my imagination.

I find image after image which consists of no more design than plonking an item (be it figure, unnamed form or anthropomorphic animal) in the centre of the image and adhering to nothing more than two or three layers at best.

I seek art that takes my breath away – that awe inspires me. I’m looking for intriguing design, expert technique, a interesting idea, imagery which connects to memory and mediums which support the industry.  Only one of these is required for me to be impressed, but I’m constantly disappointed in the vast majority of images I see today, even those by the art world’s heroes and heroines. Most have even lost their ability to shock while others simply disgust me.

Del Barton’s paintings were the last paintings that inspired me from the major art prizes held in recent years. And William Robinson’s body of work never ceases to move me to the heights of artistic ecstasy I keep looking for in other contemporary work.

Perhaps I just don’t get out enough, perhaps I haven’t read enough contemporary writing to convince me or perhaps it is, as I suggest, something in the artwork itself.

I have been pondering on these topics and reading widely to find an answer to the disappointment I feel as I engage with the artworld with my own paintings.

Australia has a dismal record for supporting the arts, so perhaps addressing this issue will help to overcome the deficiencies in the art market too.

I hope so.

Jessica Blythe's art blog