Part 8 - Painting Holidays
Pastel Perspectives, Part 8-Painting Holidays
Are you considering a painting holiday? They can be wonderful experience, providing time for both you and your art, a chance to visit a new or known place, and the time to enjoy it via paint or sketch. A bit ago, I was asked if I would like to lead a painting workshop to Norfolk Island in late 2017. Well, aside from the fact I’d never been there, it sounded wonderful. I did a little research, discovered something about the Islands history, and looked at some pictures. I decided it would be an interesting place to go, and accepted the invitation.
If I was going to lead a workshop there, I wanted to be well prepared. I was due a break, so I decided to visit Norfolk Island and have a look around. Well, what a stunning place! Pretty much everywhere you look there are fabulous painting subjects, from the world heritage remains of the Penal Colony at Kingston, (which has the reputation of being Australia’s harshest and cruellest), to the fabulous cliffs, beaches and headlands, offshore islands, and gorgeous rural scenes.
There are feral chickens everywhere, (some of them have the most vibrant plumage), and
the cows roam freely and have right of way at all times. Fences are usually to keep the cattle out rather than in! The islanders are very helpful and everyone waves as you drive by.
Painting somewhere new and different is challenging but also stimulating and refreshing. In the April/may workshop,
I plan to teach pastel and use of sketchbooks to record images and ideas for future reference. I, therefore, had to think seriously about what equipment I needed. There are no art supply outlets on the island so if I didn’t have it I would have to make do. I have a travel box of pastels but checked it against available images of the island to ensure I had the right colours.
The last time I used the travel box was in Central Australia and the Flinders Ranges. I was going to need a lot of blues and greens and a lot less reds, ochres and browns!
I took a selection of pastel paper colours, each with its own glassine paper cover to protect it, all in a folio I made from Foam Core board. This also served as a backing board for working onsite. I took the opportunity to make a new one as my old one was about 15 years old. It had done a lot of miles and looked like it! I also took a couple of sketchbooks, a variety of drawing and sketching tools, and a travel watercolour palette of well researched colours. Fortunately the Norfolk Travel Centre hire out easels, stools and water containers so I was spared the space those would take up in my luggage.
I initially thought the subject matter on a small island might be limited, but found this far from the case. I thought that I would get to have a look at everything as Norfolk Island is not a large place—but this didn’t happen either. It may be small in area, but with so many hidden valleys, bays, beaches and headlands, I made daily discoveries of areas I hadn’t previously seen.
I expected to do more pasteling and sketching than I actually did. The environment is so beautiful that it’s important to remember you are on holiday, and make time for relaxing. Observing a new environment is beneficial too. The climate is fabulous as it doesn’t get too hot or cold, and if it is windy in one spot, there is always the other side of the island! It wasn’t too crowded or overwhelmed with tourists and only once did someone come and look over my shoulder to ask questions.
I travel quite a bit but often only take a sketchbook and a variety of sketching materials like waterproof pigmented markers or fountain pens, watersoluble pens, watercolour palette, pencil, and a couple of shades of grey markers. With these tools, I can produce a variety of sketches— watercolour, line and wash, pencil and wash, and a variety of tonal studies incorporating pen and ink, grey marker or water-soluble ink— depending on the time available. I can then use them as reference material later.
When travelling, it’s valuable to downsize everything, regardless of the medium you are working with. Part of the enjoyment of a painting holiday is keeping your work simple, fresh and spontaneous. Similarly, you don’t want to be burdened with mountains of gear that will be tiresome to carry. Take only pieces of pastel rather than full sticks, decant into a lightweight box, use a travel-size palette, travel brushes, collapsible water containers, a folio that doubles as support and storage, and use smallish sketchbooks. Invest in a good lightweight bag or backpack. One without too many pockets. You don’t want to waste valuable painting time searching through a multitude of pockets for whatever you want.
I think one of the biggest challenges when working plein air is getting the scale and proportions right. If time permits, do a quick
thumbnail sketch so your focal point doesn’t take up the entire picture. Think specifically about size of the elements in your picture in relation to the size of your paper. An adjustable viewfinder is very useful.
Perhaps start with the biggest elements first rather than the smaller background elements which, if done first, have a way of growing to fill too much space. Block in quickly, paying particular attention to those elements that will change the fastest like clouds, their shadows, and the lighting effects that result from them. Once you are all blocked in, go for it! In a studio situation you have the luxury of time, plein air not so much. Instead of steadily building up layers, complete your study using fewer, thicker layers. Often you will find this gives your work a renewed spontaneity and looseness. Ignore the sometimes-over-critical voice in your head, and don’t be hard on yourself. Treat it as a learning exercise or a study, and most of all enjoy the experience.
All the pastels I did on Norfolk are quite loose in style as time does not permit too much fiddling. All the watercolour, line and wash paintings and other sketches were done in my sketchbook.
“Painting somewhere new and different is challenging but also stimulating and refreshing.”
Painting above Cemetery Bay looking west
I decided to tint some paper a bright turquoise to help with the diluted ink before I left home. It didn’t help, and I had to fight with it as the colour was too overpowering. (Note to self: Use more muted paper colours!). The view across Cemetery Bay.
The completed painting on the too- bright turquoise tinted paper. Think I’d like to try this on a quieter coloured paper!
Cemetery Bay Looking East Cemetery Bay Looking South
Painting Phillip Island from Queen Elizabeth Lookout.
This beautiful spot looks out to Phillip and Nepean islands as well as out over the historic ruins at Kingston. The View to Phillip Island, pastel.
These two largish islands, Phillip and Nepean, have an interesting past. Completely stripped of their vegetation, they were overrun by pigs, goats and rabbits that the Officers of the day used for target practice and a food source for the colony. It is now being regenerated and is home to thousands of seabirds.
The Crank Mill Part of the old convict settlement at Kingston. Coloured pencil and ink on grey paper. So many lovely old buildings to paint and draw.
Grey Day Point Ross, line and wash
Evening Malua Bay
Malua Bay sketches