Stories behind the Paintings

“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.”  Pablo Picasso

For those who are interested, these are just some of the stories behind my paintings. They are shared so you may gain a deeper insight and background into my work; what inspired me to paint this particular painting, my thoughts and feelings in the process, and what the painting symbolises to me. This is the story captured in the oils of that particular canvas. 

 

“Orphan Rock” Oil on board, 35 cm x 53 cm (NFS) 

 

This is the painting that “ended a career” (or at least it almost did) and launched another! 

I had been painting for a couple of years and, after attending my second week long retreat in the Blue Mountains painting with John Wilson, I painted “Orphan Rock” from some photos I had taken while in the area.  During these retreats I had camped in the Katoomba campground, a story in itself, and Orphan Rock was just nearby.  At night, as I lay in my tent I would hear the wind rushing up from the valley through the trees and my tent would shake, my bodyweight only just managing to keep the tent pegged down.

 I was happy with my rendition of “Orphan Rock” and felt confident I had reached a level where I could finally “have a go” at exhibiting.  Around the same time, I chose two different avenues to present my painting.

The first was an opportunity presented by “The Australian Artist” magazine to enter one of its landscape competitions.  I was, and still am, grateful for Australian Artist providing this opportunity for artists and so sent of my entry along with a note attached letting them know it was my first entry.  While I wasn’t selected as one of the finalists, when I turned to the “Letters to the Editor” page, there to my surprise was not only my letter but also my painting.  As one friend said, “one way to launch yourself”!

The other avenue I took was to enter an exhibition, and while it is not easy for me to remember (I tried to forget at the time), I think it was Hunters Hill.  I sent off my entry form and then on the designated day took along my painting.  I felt so exposed as I made my way into the building  carrying my painting, along with other artists arriving with their work.  “Orphan Rock” was not selected and I felt so embarrassed by the whole experience.  My inner critic had a field day and the voice within reverberated throughout my whole being … “what were you thinking of?!  What were you even dreaming of?” 

I packed up my easel and put away my paints.  I had been kidding myself.  It was time to get serious about work and put the pipedream of an artist out of mind.

 Curiously sometime after that a friend was visiting our home and was looking at some of the paintings in our lounge room.  We have a large piece by John Wilson featuring above our mantelpiece and hanging just to the right at that time was my smaller painting of “Orphan Rock”. 

 My friend was admiring John’s painting and turned to “Orphan Rock” and enquired whether that was also by John.  Despite my rejection the painting still meant a lot to me and I told my friend that it was one of mine.  All of a sudden she went very quiet and as I turned to look at her I realised her face had gone all blotchy and she had tears in her eyes.  Quietly she said “I could never do anything like that.”

Somewhere within me I knew that I wanted to help people, to coach them to pursue their dreams because I knew that “there but for the grace of God go I.”  Up until the age of 40 I had told myself I could not paint, I could not draw.  And I couldn’t.  Until then, my belief was self-fulfilling. 

 It was not until inspired by the work of John Wilson and motivated by the prospect of a week away in the Blue Mountains painting, that I decided maybe I could learn, maybe I could make a few mistakes, maybe I could try.  So I took myself off to evening art classes and bought myself a copy of “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”.  Encouraged by Betty Edwards words “If you have enough dexterity to sign your name, you can draw”, I too discovered that I could paint and I could draw.

So while my dream of being an artist at that time had been dashed, I enrolled in a two year Diploma in Transformational Life Coaching while simultaneously studying a Diploma in Holistic Counselling.  This was a major commitment in studies and personal development and left no time for painting much to the detriment of my soul.  And yet whenever as students we did any “future self” visualizations, I would always see myself standing in front of an easel, painting.

Having since embarked on my coaching career, I curiously find myself surrounded by my artwork including  “Orphan Rock” and circling back to my painting.  It seems the two go hand in hand.  I paint almost every day.  And as I establish myself as a professional artist, the painting that nearly ended that career is now a reminder in my work that I do in assisting others in launching theirs.

 

“Magnolias”, oil on canvas, 30 cm x 30 cm (NFS) 

 

I can still paint!

After venturing out into the world of exhibitions and being unprepared for my sense of vulnerability and rejection, it was over two years before I painted again.  “Magnolias” was my comeback painting.

During the period when I had packed my easel away, deep within me there continued to be a yearning to create.  Entering my early forties so many things were coming up for me and I no longer had a creative outlet.  Somewhere in that time I could no longer deny the urge to paint, even though the critic within had a ‘field day’ with all the reasons why not to.  Despite that continued inner dialogue, I managed to find my way to buying a small canvas and began toying with the possibility of painting again. 

The more I moved closer to painting, the louder my inner critic became and there were always so many other important things that I had to do before I could even think of painting. So the inner voice said!   Struggling with this inner turmoil and in a bit of a daze, however I managed to tune into a much quieter voice that quietly suggested just one baby step at a time.  So that is what I did.  I began with a wash of yellow ochre on the background and again the canvas sat for some time.  “You have to do the shopping; the cleaning; you should be working; you don’t have time for this” and all the reasons why not to paint, higher priorities were rattled off to me until one week day, having done all my jobs, or at least most of them (because the list is always endless), I ignored ‘the noise’, quickly set up my easel and began painting “Magnolias”.

The image was from a cutting I had taken from a magazine at some time, drawn to the image and yet never anticipating I would ever paint it.  I laid out some paint on my palette, guessing the colors I might need.  It had been a few years since I had painted so it all felt quite unfamiliar which only set off the self talk again…”you are wasting your time, you’ve forgotten how, give up now”.  It droned on yet somehow I managed to zone out from it and just give myself to the painting process.

‘Painting is problem-solving’ and I was definitely doing that and yet I was working intuitively, quickly covering the canvas in a very impressionistic approach.

I looked at my watch.  I had been painting for an hour and had half an hour before I needed to pick my daughter up from school.  “You should pack up now!” began the voice but I knew if I didn’t finish the painting then I would lose the momentum.  So I ignored the voice and got stuck into it.  The timing was tight but I made up my mind I would finish by pick time.  And I did.  The adrenaline was racing through my veins and as 3.00pm arrived, I stepped back from my easel with a big smile on my face.

I can still paint!

Later that evening, with my “Magnolias” displayed on my kitchen bench and smiling back at me, my husband made some comment criticising some aspect of my painting however it didn’t matter, I could still paint.  I had also reached a point where to a certain extent others’ comments didn’t matter.  Regardless of others’ opinions, I knew within me that I needed to paint for my soul.

While this painting is not about to win any awards and may not be the “best” painting I have ever done, however it was a breakthrough for me on a number of levels at that time.  “Magnolias” also hangs in my coaching office and I now paint almost every day.

 

“The Dancer”, oil on canvas, 91 cm x 61 cm  

 

As my daughter began her first day in High School, I wanted to somehow acknowledge this important passage into a new stage of life for her and becoming a young woman.  I was working in my studio on that day, and to mark the occasion I decided I would also cross a new threshold with my painting.  Until then I had mostly focussed on landscape painting however this was an opportunity for me to enter new territory.  I had had this image of a dancer for sometime and now felt the urge to paint it.  I had never done figurative painting before so it marked a new path for me in painting.

I was drawn to the elegance, the beauty, the singular presence and the femininity of the image.  It seemed appropriate for this special day.

So I began the dance with figurative painting which then helped me to cross the threshold into portrait painting, and not long after finishing “The Dancer” I commenced working on a portrait of my daughter as a young child (“Love”).  This was entering a different kind of landscape, the human landscape and yet even as I painted I could sense the lines of nature still captured within.

“The Dancer” was a joy to paint and I loved the colours.  I am particularly drawn to the mauve and purple colours.  I played around with a number of different backgrounds before settling on the gentle backdrop to this singular beauty, an image that represents to the beauty within all women.

 

“Self Portrait:  In the field” , oil on canvas, 51 cm x 76 cm (NFS)  

 

In August 2009 I celebrated my 50th birthday and to honour the occasion, I decided to do a self portrait.  My daughter had taken a photo of me when we visited Central Australia a few years prior and I particularly liked the photo.  As you can see, it is a photo of me taking a photo of yet another scene in the landscape that I was drawn to and would no doubt paint at some stage.  The fact that my daughter had taken the image was even more reason to paint it, especially since I had previously painted her portrait from an image I had taken of her when she was young.  The circle was complete.

Perhaps not the most flattering of images and yet for me it was more powerful because of that.  Curiously during the process of painting this self portrait, a neighbour of ours called in for a cuppa and she had recently been to a glamour studio with her daughter and both had photos taken.  She showed me her photos and they were beautiful, yet I noted within me how happy I was with my not-so glamorous but very real painting of me.  I could have easily brushed out some of the lines and creases and yet it was those lines and wrinkles that made the painting interesting for me.  

It had taken me 50 years to do so, however I had finally found a very real sense of self acceptance after all that time.  Here I was, lines and all out in the middle of Australia engrossed in capturing images of this beautiful country that we live in.

“Self Portrait: In the field” was hung for the first time at a gathering at our home for my 50th.

 

"Self Portrait:  When I was 7"
“Self Portrait: When I was 7”

September 2011 and my latest self portrait is “Self Portrait:  When I was 7”.  I am currently seeking to become an exhibiting member of the Portrait Artists Australia and in view of their upcoming exhibition titled “All the World’s a Stage”, I decided to paint this painting. 

The painting is based on a photograph taken of me when I was 7 by a local journalist for the Shepparton News who lived several houses down from our family home in Shepparton.  Over the years, Mr Douglas took a number of photographs of me for the local paper including standing amongst magnolias, with a litter of puppies, with some of the other neighbourhood children and this one doing the hula hoop. 

The original photograph had me dressed in my St Georges Road school uniform standing beside our weatherboard house, with the gravel and concrete path beside the house.  While I have kept the Shepparton News banner in the corner of the painting, to mark the page, I decided to transform my painting and have me performing on a stage. 

There are lots of symbols in the painting.  I have replaced my school uniform with a blue dress I used to wear made by my mother, some red Dorothy shoes from one of my favourite childhood stories and movies, the Wizard of Oz, hopscotch I loved to play, the beautiful magnolias I was also photographed in (and all these years later have now got them flowering in our garden), our kitten, Oliver, and the magpie.  As a child growing up in the country and often visiting relatives on their farm in Western Victoria at Kaniva, I would wake in the mornings to the beautiful sound made by the warble of the magpies.  All these years later and despite living in a large city, Sydney, I am happy to say that in our lovely street in Freshwater I still wake in the mornings to the warble of magpies. 

“Self Portrait: When I was 7” is a trip down memories lane for me and yet also links to my life now.  I hope to be accepted into the PAA however regardless I am grateful for the impetus it provided for this painting to come to life.