‘Thinking it over now, I realise that several years have passed since the first time I came across this spectacular magnolia tree, the subject of my current work, but I have revisited it many times since then too. It is one of those things that I know many artists will relate to all too well, that first sight of something so luscious and tantalising, that in one moment we are captured, enthralled, consumed. We know in our hearts ‘this MUST be painted!’ and we immediately add the images, with all its details, mental notes of the colours, forms, details, the textural qualities, the subtle nuances of our subject, to our minds permanent flip file of images. And there, along with the million other images that struck and inspired us prior to this moment, we store it for future reference. Of course we know very well that even given a thousand lifetimes of creative abandon that we could never revisit all the images we store, but we gather them anyway. But some… some stick with us a little more persistently like a recurring dream in clear detail, a constant call to revisit. This was one of those subjects for me, an ideal combination for this bird painting, and I knew it instantly.
This tree becomes the primary focus for my new work, and as I begin scratching together the reference I have gathered, I think to myself ‘yes! Now is the time! At last, this is the right time to immerse myself in this memory’. I think back, recalling my thoughts and sensations, my observations. As my enthusiasm grows and I look down at my collection of reference photos as a sobering thought occurs to me – why oh why did I only take 12 photos!? In my memory I can recall at least 6000 images, but here before me are just a few… frustrated, I revisit the images that I have, absorbing them, reconnecting to those first moments where this tree, gnarled and consumed in lichens had spoken to me, and its all I needed really. Its instinct I paint with now. In an instant I can reconnect with my subject, I already know it intimately, its still there in my permanent flip file like yesterdays memory, and I begin to form images in my mind, my reference working as a guide, I begin to work on the structure and composition of this wonderful subject. I toss them about in my mind until I see something I like. It’s a perfect subject for me. It is magnolia – my favourite. It is rich in colour, luxurious in feel, wild in form. It is intricate and simple, divine, bold, subtle and diverse, and captivating enough to sustain my interest through the long haul of a creating a large piece.
What I needed now was something that was bold enough to carry the strength that I was looking to achieve with the magnolias, yet soft enough to compliment and enhance the subtlety they carry. I considered several subjects, but the Magpie seemed an ideal partnership. It’s a delicate mix of sensations and emotions here, and like all my works, I try to capture the essence and nature of my subject, a story, a moment. That’s what appealed to me the most about this composition.
When we think of magnolias, we typically think of the soulangeana, but what really appealed to me so much with this particular magnolia were the unlikely colours in this particular one. They were not your usual mix. New buds are punchy in indigos and burgundy. Flowers are plump, leathery and textural yet so elegant with white insides, warm ochres glow as the light drifts through, the outer petals are flushed with plums and delicate pinks. Best of all are the falling petals, the spent flowers. Fading to rich rust and sienna, revealing the curious, intricate forms of the seed capsules as they finally fall away. Its all the things we love about magnolias. Add to this the wonderful lichens, so textural and enticing – and I had an irresistible mix of elements for me.
I am not sure what comes first; selecting subjects that work well for your style, or developing a style that is right for your subjects. In the end, it is all about finding what you love most and enjoying the evolution of exploring that. For me, the techniques that have developed the most, and are my clear favourites are glazing and dry brushing. Although my techniques are vast and varied, these are the areas that I identify with and enjoy the most. Glazing in particular is my language. I was enthusiastic to explore the colours and textures here, to put these techniques to the test. The delicate balance of all things required in this piece presented me with just the challenge I was looking for, and so I began.
Soft, precise pencil outlines map my way through the many layers of colour. Each are delicate yet confident with their own subtle variations. As the layers begin to build, richness and contrast develop the shape and form of my subject, telling their story as the image evolves from the nothingness of the white canvas. Texture, guided and decided by the unruly nature of this medium is tamed, plucked out and enhanced as I work; every opportunity for intrigue grasped and utilised in minute detail. It all matters, every stroke of the brush making its mark, influencing the final outcome. Counting hours are lost to the focus of the job at hand. It is a relentless task and commitment, a challenge, a marathon, a love affair – but so worthwhile’
International Artist Magazine feature article excerpt – Issue 86 Aug/Sept 2012