Tag Archives: visual art

Erosion: Burleigh Heads

Burleigh Heads – makes it sound like there is two roughly equally sized heads together doesn’t it? I wonder if it should be called Burleigh Head as one side of the river is a small mountain while the south side is flat as a pancake. This side has been bolstered with concrete blocks for a groin for safer access to the Tallebudgera River.

The mountain side of Burleigh is covered by windswept stunted trees, grasses and a substantial walking trail which has been well trodden for many years. Burleigh is a good place to surf and has developed as a major township along the glittering Gold Coast beaches. It is ripe now for further high density development with a tramline planned to cut through the middle of both the township and the mountain. Many feel the future looks bleak through further overcrowding, urbanisation and the risk of being overrun by tourists and machines.

Every time in the past few years that I’ve been here there is some kind of mechanical noise with drainage upgrades, turf replacement and new buildings going up. This is my local beach and over the 20 years of being here the enjoyment of the place has gradually been eroded.

I look to the natural places to overcome my disappointment and regularly walk the paths over the headland but increasingly the tracks are closed due to erosion. After heavy rain, huge boulders are loosened up above and when they are ready they descend fast through the undergrowth and crash their way downhill to the sea along with the soft clay soil and their crust of shallow rooted grasses. This is a Conservation area to protect sites for Koalas and Aboriginal cultural sites so it is left mostly to its own natural processes so human safety consists mostly of exclusion. Although the tracks are upgraded every now and then, the hill is and always will be, constantly eroding into the sea.

It is like a metaphor of our lives here. Both vulnerable to Nature’s Plan – knowing oblivion awaits but letting go of our grip on integrity very, very slowly.

With this in mind, how do I paint this message hidden in the Burleigh Hill. What shapes and colours represent this downhill run?

I could choose a profile of the sloping hill but that’s a bit simplistic. I could paint one of the landslides which stand out against the greenery but as I was walking back toward my car I caught a glimpse of a pristine white high-rise building through the trees and I wondered if the encroachment of buildings on the Conservation area had played a part in hastening the erosion effect.

The headland is an interesting one. From a distance it looks like a solid mountain rounded in form and extending back from the beach quite a way. It is in fact a fingertip of a long run of lava stretching 20-30kms south west toward the Mt Warning volcano and it’s caldera of Tweed Valley fame. Both Currumbin and Tallebudgera Valley were formed in this way along with many others (Springbrook, Tambourine etc) extending right round Mt Warning, the volcanic plug left over after exploding the Tweed caldera leaving a crater and these finger-like lava flows all the way across the land to Burleigh Heads. Quite amazing really!

So how can the Burleigh Hill and Heads be represented in paint? I needed more walking.

This time I chose the southern ‘head’ and walked out along the groin with its tumble of huge black boulders. I was too close from this vantage point so I chose the path which runs south along the beach. As I walked and looked back for signs of erosion at sea level, the high rise buildings of Southport appeared behind the hill and the subject of my Low Tide painting ran along the horizon line way out to sea in the distance.

Now this was interesting – Erosion of a different kind. My sightline was gradually being eroded by the distant buildings and the magic point where hill meets sea was compromised. Perhaps this is the message of Burleigh Heads. Erosion in all its forms. I chose a view from a low sand dune up to the Burleigh headland, with people, beach and sky and took a photo. I may use it as reference in the final painting.

As you know I am preparing these experiences for chapters in my book, so I looked into the tramline being considered for this area. An extension line is due to be terminated in a cutting through the headland where four lanes of traffic now flow and I was struck with sadness that this area will be ‘interfered with’ even more. I chose to photograph the location of the terminus as this will be changed irrevocably if the tramline goes ahead. I’m not sure how to depict the deep vibration of cars and tramways, footfalls and machinery, which loosen the tenuous hold of gigantic rocks on the hilltop. Let alone the erosion of conservation values for the koalas and wildlife that live on the hill and the beautiful trees, shrubs and undergrowth. Pollution, noise, people and their waste – the list of erosion events grows daily. Such a shame.

My painting will be named “Erosion” and will try to capture the erosion of ocean against rock as well as erosion of conservation values and sightlines.

Fireflies II: Moondancing

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.

Far Out watercolour

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.

Far OUT!

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.

Blog Farout 2
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.

Blog wash closeupAs 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.

Blog Farout wcol bckgrndHere’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.

Blog Farout bucklingBecause 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.

Blog Farout salt 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.

Blog Faroutdark arm

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.

Blog Farout 19So 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.

Blog Farout 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.



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
TV weather