I wanted to encourage my valley neighbours to explore their environment after dark so I placed a Post on the local Facebook friends page about firefly season. Well, newcomers were excited and older residents told stories of their encounters with fireflies over the years. I asked if they would let me share their secret through painting and so I was invited to explore Camilla’s ‘Fairy ground’. We entered the ground just on dusk with Camilla’s family and I was able to take sketches until the fireflies appeared.
There were not many but they appeared out of the gloom in silence and went along their pathways around the fairy ground before disappearing into the shrubs and trees. We were all delighted.
Over a cuppa that night, the full moon rose
and from the balcony we could see all the way down to the coast and the twinkling lights came on as the last of the sunset clipped the top of the Currumbin border ranges…. and so a painting image was born. I returned a couple of times to get photos of the children for correct dimensions, but the visits cemented the choice of image.
Well it sat in my mind for 12 months. I was so busy I only got the background done in that time,
but finally the way opened and I painted the rest of the image in a week or two.
It was at this point in the painting that I felt something quite special flow through me. I knew my idea was going to work, but something else was at work here. Something greater than me or Camilla’s fairy ground or the moon. You might call it my Muse who took over, but something really deep inside was telling me I had something special coming to fruition. It had taken me 12 months of planning and it was not only going to work but work really well. What was that?
I chose oils on canvas as I had used the waterbased oils and wanted to see if oils and medium worked as well. I really like the layering of this ancient technique, but I got caught in a technical trap when I tried to use the medium the same way I used the water. Both were fun to put on canvas, but the medium dried shin-ey and detracted terribly in the final image. I was horrified. I could only wait and wait for it to dry before I could colour match and lay the final layer of paint without medium and I was finally delighted with the finish.
I’ve lived with the finished painting now for a few weeks waiting for it to dry and encounter after encounter has brought me to tears – overwhelmed by its beauty in the details of the light playing along the branches, in amongst the trees and on the mountainside behind. This is what I’ve always sought in paintings and it is very rare indeed.
I have posted elsewhere about Kant’s ideas on Beauty and I found it in Albert Namatjira’s and William Robinson’s paintings, both of which made me feel I was in the presence of God, but I never expected to find it in my own.
I placed the painting in my bedroom and woke to the delight of watching the deep dark shadows resolve into branches and leaves, grass stems and thin saplings, children’s faces and fireflies as the sunrise flooded my room. In each moment I was overwhelmed more and more, captivated by the shape of a tree, action of the children, light of the moon, shadows in the fallen leaves and so it went on – with relentless caresses of pleasure to the eye.
What an amazing feedback loop for my creativity. I now know how to do it – and here’s the secret for you all – capture the LIGHT!
Footnote: The painting now hangs in Camilla’s house. She loved it and felt the same way I do. Now that really is special.
I have been working on a series “Dayze of Innocence” looking at the 1960/70’s Hippy movement and asking questions about its impact in our daily lives. Was it as good as we thought it was? What lessons can be learned from the times? I have finished two major paintings and have two others – one nearing completion.
I thought you might like to know how I work on these sorts of paintings so I took some photos of some of my painting process. You can view the finished artwork on my portfolio website: www.jessicablythe.com.au/JB HomeCurrentWork.html.
Where does the idea come from? I gathered a list of common sayings heard at the time and did some research on Google for 1960’s photos to get me started. I found one picture of a person taking a shower at a music festival and I remembered the first time I heard ‘far out’ used. I was having a cold shower. So I took some notes and after some think time, the image of the blond with flowers in her hair came to me. I was thinking of Far Out! differently now and remembered the image of a friend pointing to a friend coming her way and she shrieked: “Far Out!”. But I wanted my series to be ambiguous and to delight my audience, so I’m trying to combine a strong image with a humorous title that encourages a viewer to ponder.
START WITH A DRAWING I always start with a drawing and I draw many ideas which are then researched against reality so I can choose a final design that I can attempt. As I edit I prop the drawing up somewhere while I do the housework so I can find the flaws and each time I view/edit the image gets larger and larger until it is full size. I may do as many as 10 drawings. This is the longest part of the process. I’m always matching my idea to the drawing, trying to reach a good resolution on paper for the goals and purposes I set out to achieve. Once I’m happy with the drawing, I transfer it to paper (Arches 185gsm Smooth Watercolour paper) and use masking tape to attach it to a suitably sized plywood board. (It has to be strong enough to take lots of water without warping, so I choose ply rather than particle board). Then I wash the whole surface with very clean water so the paper buckles and stretches to its’ final taped shape (this is when you can reset the paper if its not sitting flat when it dries). If you wet the paper with pencil on it, it sets the pencil lines and can’t be rubbed out. So I wet and stretch it and when dry, I place the pencil drawing behind the paper and tape it in place. I take both pieces of paper to a window and tape it so the light shows through and I can see the lines. I use a soft pencil and take care not to groove the paper as I draw on it. Once that is done I return both to the ply board and tape it down again.
Then I apply a weak solution of watercolour paint to define the edges as I remove the pencil lines one at a time. This must be done carefully and correctly following the lines as some paint colours stain the paper and cannot be removed, diluted or fixed up. Here’s a closeup of the level of detail for the figure at this ‘first wash’ stage.
As this painting has no definition for the background, it was to be made up of various watercolour techniques I like. First I used masking fluid to make flowers around the figure so they keep the white paper colour when its removed.
Here’s the first wash of the background. Note the brown area (suggestion of a road). I used one of those paint colours that stains and it was too dark for my liking. There was NOTHING I could do about it. Here I have worked on shadows of the figure to give it depth. I moved on to the salt techniques (strew salt crystals over wet paint) hoping I could fix it up.
Because the paper is so wet it buckled, but you have to have a strong constitution to try these techniques on larger paper and be solid in your faith it will dry out ok (thank goodness for masking tape. best tape for this!) It did dry and I was very pleased with many results.
Here I used a combination of salt, flicking of paint and masking fluid numerous times, before and after the fluid was removed.
I tried to fix the background to match the depth of colour on the paint stain and ended up with a brown background. And I made my next mistake again with a staining paint. The arm against the body was far too dark, but I plodded on. I didn’t learn my lesson and tried to fix it too.
In the end, I matched the colour on the skin and hated the finished piece. I tried to fix it again with coloured pencils, but it just lay on top of the dark colour as a mist. I had to discard this and start again. I loved the colours in this one and loved many of the salt and masking in the background, but alas it had to go.
So I traced the drawing again on a new sheet of paper and sent the finished “Far Out!” to the Border Art Prize where it was rejected with a covering letter saying there are better examples of watercolour submitted and we’ve used them for the show.
Well I didn’t believe a word of it, especially when I saw some of the entries, so, of course, I was devastated and left her in the sun while I ranted over my rejection. I came back next day and was horrified to find the inner glass was full of condensation and my painting was in dire trouble. If she had been hung in the gallery under hot lights,she would have been completely ruined (thank goodness for the rejection). Took me ages to work it out, but because I had painted and framed my girl in the rainy season, it had not dried out properly (so I opened the frame up and dried her out). BUT because I had used a frame that had been packed away for 7 years, when I went to do the final cleanup of the glass before closing her up again, I noticed a smear which I couldn’t remove. I went to all my other 10 paintings which had also been packed away and to my horror, all had condensation damage on the matt boards including my favourite painting which had a big black circle of mould ON THE INSIDE!!
Well it took me a week of polishing glass to find a cleaning product that would remove, rather than smear, the mould. (Wollies brand cleaning wipes/cloth worked). And I put “Far Out!” back together and entered her into the D’Arcy Doyle Competition. I was delighted to see her right at the entrance hanging in her rightful place amongst beautiful paintings from talented folk. Here she is at the gallery.
The two large paintings in the foreground were the Winner and Runnerup. “Far Out!” was in good company and I watched visitors walk away from my girl with a smile, just as I’d hoped.