Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos + Silky Oak 100x72cm/40x28in ~ The Making Of
‘You must have a major work like this on the go… ALL THE TIME… ALL THE TIME’ they had said to me, pawing over the newly framed ‘St Vincents Amazons and Cannonball‘ major work before them, pausing once more before it to consider its energy and intricacy. Its rich, luxurious palette of golden licked earth tones and velvety reds making such an impact, it consumed their thoughts beyond this statement to another pause… Have one like this on the go all the time I pondered, exhaling with a physical lilt to my body as i recalled the immense effort required to create such work, inhaling as my memories tapped my determination gently, returning me to upright again.
I remember when I was very young, a clear vision that would come to me of walking into a large square room, walls of white, punctuated by 12 major works hanging, all the same size, in an otherwise clear space. It filled my mind. Perhaps I didn’t know then that it was my own work i could see hanging. It was such a clear image and emotion in my mind that it has never quite faded from my sights. Twelve… i reconsidered the number gently, chewing over the immense effort that would require to produce in my mind, as the twelve large, strikingly rich images hanging in that white room came into view again… Realising that my time, place, opportunity and ability had suddenly caught up with my childhood visions I smiled knowingly and thought, yes, it is time to do that… I can do that!
Paintings for me come like visions, instinctive, crystal clear snapshots of a moment of time that simply must be explored. In recent years Ive more and more consciously followed my instincts on what I need to paint, and the rush and certainty on each one when its ‘right’ is undeniable. Its a certain type of language. The more I listen and remain true to my instincts, the more I trust myself, the more I trust the worth of my efforts, and the further I am carried as an artist. Every painting I create is so unique, each with its own story, a slice of place, time, events, memories, emotions, all tied intrinsically into each one. Paintings that are tied to the most powerful part of your intuition become the most significant ones of all. I produce these major works for no reason other than to please and push myself, and to be true to my creative instincts. Considerations of time, effort, money, the practicalities of creating signature works such as these simply do not come into the equation. These are the luxuries and my most personal indulgences of exploring my craft as well as I can, and they are without a doubt, my most personal works.
Bringing botanical illustration and bird painting together in these major works, Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos + Silky Oak is the second in this series of signature career pieces. Collecting the richness and earthiness of the first piece ‘St Vincent Amazons and Cannonball Tree‘, this mind numbingly complex piece shifts into a vibrant yellow palette, set against the calming white of the Cockatoos. Neither are easy subjects to render by any means, certainly in a representative manner as my work is. Retaining a strong ‘painterly’ element to my paintings is in fact extremely important to me however, so I am undertaking this piece with a few specific focusses… To refine my detailed work, to practice capturing a sense of detail using quite painterly approaches, to explore the use of yellow (an extremely tricky colour to work in) to refine my techniques in achieving ‘soft focus’ effects, to achieve a greater sense of depth in my work, to tackle the subject of ‘white’ (eeeep!) and to harmonise these elements seamlessly.
The Silky Oak (or Grevillea robusta) is a subject that came to me as a vision some time ago, one which I tried so hard to pop under the rug because it is so insanely complex to illustrate Grevillea, it borders on madness… and I knew that all too well! For so long Ive put this piece on the back burner but it never stops nagging me, this time though it reared with a vengeance and I knew it was time. The very day I decided it was time, the Silky Oak appeared to be suddenly flowering all around me! The trouble with this tree however, is it is enormous and all the blooms tend to stick to the highest of the tree tops, lighting each up with a blaze of woven golden orange combs of flowers, trusses of cascading colour so abundant that they drip nectar on you as you stand beneath the tree. Now I have been known for a long time to be a woman not afraid to climb to the tree tops in high heels before, but this tree was a definite challenge this time.
A road trip was planned and away we went, hunting for a single low flowering tree that might be the ideal focus for my new painting. Perseverance… much perseverance, finally payed off and we stubbled across two trees, so amassed with flowers, so much that they tumbled to the ground, the holy grevillea grail in my mind. Reference was gathered so enthusiastically that onlookers watched on perplexed, birds screeched at us angrily as they were forced to share their bounty, and we returned to the car covered in sticky nectar from head to foot, grinning all the while. Yes, a hard day in the office! In fact there is a LOT of work that goes into research and resources before any painting can even begin, but it can be such a fun process. In fact, this is where you really connect with your subject not just physically but emotionally, and thats whats needed to see a piece like this through.
Returning with my loot, i begin to construct my layout, resolving the details of how this piece will come together. Years and years of dedication mean now that when a vision comes to me, the result on paper very closely matches my intention. That sounds like an easy thing to achieve, but it is very very far from it. Much of the refining that used to be done in a physical form is now done in my head, as the years of experience finally start to narrow the time spent in the development stage. My composition is ready and refined and I begin to draw. After the first stroke marks the paper I pause, close to tears as the mammoth task that lies ahead becomes real, the first mark declaring my commitment to seeing this through. I am under no illusions. Mum says to me encouragingly ‘you are the best kind of insane, you know that?’ and she’s hopefully right. I brace myself, adjust my mind, manage my thoughts and preparations, physical, mental, emotional… and press on. I must stay focussed, I must stay in the moment, I must not look backwards or ahead, I mustn’t debate this in my head, there is no room for any doubts. Clarity, perseverance, patience is what I rely on now, the sheer love of it carrying me through to the end.
Days of drawing follow as I navigate my way through this riddle in graphite, marking my page in a way that every line takes on a meaning i can later translate to colour and new meaning. With wet brushes I begin to weave my elements into a new language, merging the memories i had collected with my reference, recalling my observations of my subject, calling on my instincts as I give substance to the white of my paper and meaning to the the graphite lines I have made. It is easy now, for I have fallen into the colours and I am away, lost in a maze of delicious, interwoven colourful micro journeys to the end. How many hours have you spent creating this Heidi? I am asked, but it is of no relevance to me when the objective was not to save time, but to use my time well… and indeed, to create treasure that will last for great lengths of time. Perspective.
So this piece is another step through the door of that white room… I have a long way to go on this painting yet, but it really is taking some shape now. I hope very soon, that my vision will suddenly become clear to all who have been so patiently following! Of course, you can follow the progress of this (and other work) more closely on my Facebook Page or on Instagram where almost daily posts are made on developing work.