International Artist Magazine Article 2016 ~ ISSUE 111
Just when I really started to hit the September wall of exhaustion, a curious parcel arrived in the mail full of mystery and intrigue. The delivery man handed the swag over to me firmly, commenting ‘dont ask me!’ as he turned with a smile to leave. Standing at the door unwell and tired, disheveled and snug in my dressing gown unapologetically I replied ‘Sorry, Im sick today’ with a grin… And with no idea what was in said parcel, I began opening the package to reveal a most wonderful surprise. Seeing a stack of the International Artist Magazine that features my work, St Vincents Amazons and Cannonball Tree on the FRONT COVER was such a fantastic, unexpected and renewing sight! I was so thrilled, overcome with exhaustion and emotion off the back of such a remarkable year, but it made me feel that my efforts were all worth it in this wonderful acknowledgement of my work, determination and perseverance. It made me want to return to the studio all over again.
It just looks so beautiful there on the cover, Id like to share it with you here.
‘Details of Nature in Watercolor with Heidi Willis’
Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos + Silky Oak 100x72cm/40x28in
Intricate? Time consuming? A little bit insane? Yes, perhaps all of my work is… but I simply love what I do. I love my medium and the processes I work with, its beauty, and its immense challenge. Watercolour pigments, so simple, rich and romantic, speak a natural language of love so effortlessly it’s not hard to find yourself in an affair with it at all. From start to finish, it is completely sustaining to me. I feel such an affinity with my subject matter too, drawn to each by their divine colours, textures and harmonies.
Nature offers us endless suggestions as artists, perfectly imperfect forms, magical compositions, stunning simplicity and its insane complexity. I love exploring the intimate, beautiful relationships found between natural elements and the way light changes everything in an instant. Nature is diversity, beauty and life. How could you not be utterly captivated by it! Easy to paint? No, it’s certainly a challenge to do it well. In fact, to work as a Natural History artist is to never ever be bored again!
My particular painting style is not a conscious choice. It is not about detail for detail sake. It is certainly not a process defined by logic, practical considerations, the opinions of others or the hours invested in creating each piece. My work is quite simply an unbridled, instinctive language of my truest voice captured in a physical form. It took me years to accept that I truly am a detail worker, to stop questioning it and to go with my own current, but I do believe my best and most personally harmonious work has come with that surrender.
Like all artists, our work is a reflection of our own inspirations, fascinations and experiences. Ultimately for me, I hope that the work I do is a memorable, significant, worthwhile, and a gift of beauty, joy, and inspiration to others. In my own process, paintings come to me in dreams or as visions. Some images lurk around for a while incomplete before drifting away; others come with such clarity and intensity that they can’t be ignored. These are the ones I give time to create.
Once an image is clear in my mind they never leave until they are completed, and they can remain with me for years. I don’t question it now, I trust and work from my instincts and paint what seems most urgent to me. It is only then I am able to find some peace from their nagging! Sometimes the images that come push you to new levels of complexity and challenge, and this seems to be more and more the case for my own work. You delay them, avoid them, but in the end the energy around those visions become so consuming that they must be painted. This painting ‘Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos and Silky Oak’ is one such piece.
I decided quite quickly that if I was going to tackle this subject, Id make it a statement and create a major work, or as some are referring to it, an ‘epic work’… and so the process began.Once an idea or vision comes to me, the process to create a painting into its physical form begins. It is a quiet process initially, it is one of thought and imagining, refinement. What was once done with endless hours on paper is now processed in my head with ease, and by the time I start developing the final layout, it is already a clear image in my mind.
From this point the hunt for your subject and reference begins, and this is often the hardest part. Its not just any reference you need, it is the right reference and the subject matter that marries up with your vision, and that can take some time, effort, and sometimes even a little good luck. It is easier when a subject before you inspires your thoughts than when your thoughts inspire a subject. In this case the vision came first so the process of locating my reference was quite a mission, waiting for the flowering season, locating the right trees to work from, finding one I was able to reach, waiting for the right light to photograph it in, all the while treading water with my enthusiasm to maintain its critical flow.
Finally I found the right reference, collected what I needed and returned to the studio for a shower to wash all the sticky nectar that had showered down over me whilst out climbing such flower laden trees, then I start to prepare for the long haul to begin. No matter how far you have come, every painting presents its own challenges and unique lessons to learn. There is never a time where I go into a piece feeling invincible, or even confident at times, but each piece we create is the steppingstone forwards to the next.
For me it is important to continue to step outside of my comfort zone, to work on pushing and developing my skills to new heights and to avoid falling into the rut of my own comfort zone be it size, subject or perhaps a technical approach. Sometimes I cast aside the obvious madness of an undertaking and paint, just to see if I can. This is a steady minded place, realistic and focused on the task at hand; this is about mind management, discipline.
The mind is a strange thing, but to do this sort of work you must learn to manage it meticulously, there is no doubt about that. This is one of the main focuses and practices for this piece. Working with yellow is always a challenge. It can be unforgiving, aggressive and temperamental with companion colours. Its transparency requires immaculately clean work practices and some slight adjustments to your approach, but unlike other colours, yellow can be quite diverse with some interesting and fairly unique opportunities to ‘soften’ your techniques too. These words seem contradictory for such a complex piece as this is, but closer inspection will show that although the rendering is meticulous and refined, my work retains a significant ‘painterly’ element to it too.
Achieving this balance of realistic results and allowing the qualities and nature of the medium to shine through has always been important to me. It is a relationship I work constantly on improving. ‘How do you find the patience’ I’m asked… ‘How can you not long to be immersed in such a remarkable journey as this’ I wonder in return. ‘How many hours does it take you’ people ask so often, but my measure for my work is not one in time, it is in doing the best work I can do, being committed to my own values and to the pursuit of excellence.
It seems the world has become so hungry for instant gratification, for mediocre mass production, for quantity over quality. We seek short cuts and the ‘secrets’ that will allow us to avoid making a real commitment or effort towards being brilliant at something. We baulk at the thought of ‘effort’, at the suggestion of ‘practice’and we want the fruits without wanting the sacrifice that comes with dedication and discipline – and I don’t mind working against that grain. We avoid these things because we measure in time and we don’t see that time well spent is the only measure. There are no real short cuts. Practice, discipline, dedication and effort are the secrets that make anything possible.
How we apply ourselves here is simply a choice we make as individuals. We become what we focus on, what we practice. Perspective, it is always the key. When you work from the heart and not the mind, you not only find the effort sustainable, you feed yourself and the world in the most nourishing manner possible. With this in mind, I find myself quickly lost in each piece, absorbed in divine unfolding micro journeys of colour, texture, contrast and form, exploring the deliciously intricate, complex relationships of medium, elements and the balance of all things that inspire me. There is no doubt this is extremely challenging work, but it is also my meditation. It is a place where creating memorable work is what’s relevant, not the time it takes, and my greater objectives, true to my values, remain the clear focus and intention in all that I produce.
This is my second International Artist Magazine article. This new article comes by popular demand following my previous article in this publication. It has been a real pleasure working with the team at International Artist Magazine again, thank you for this wonderful opportunity to bring my Natural History, bird painting and watercolor work to the world in this way again.
St Vincents Amazons and Cannonball Tree is currently on the National Tour as a Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize. With the exhibition complete at the South Australian Museum, the event is now on at The National Archives in ACT until November.
‘Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos and Silky Oak’ is now available as well. Enquiries on this, or any of my paintings can be made directly through my contacts page
The magazine is available online…. Thank you all, and enjoy!