As you will know if you’ve read some of my past posts, I am a becoming-artist; I have, this year, produced four pastel paintings, and am on my 5th. My 4th one, shown below, was an interesting journey into a reptilian world. I chose to paint an Eastern Water Dragon, a giant lizard that inhabits the east coast of Australia, and is semi-aquatic. When threatened, they will either scuttle up a tree, or submerge themselves in water, where they are specially adapted to stay for up to an hour.
They appeal to me because of their striking body shape and markings, and because they can freeze like a statue when they are on the alert. They live all along the river banks where I am, and they can become quite tame, and frequent people’s gardens.
This painting was an experiment for me. My teacher, Andy Reimanis, suggested that I take a leaf out of the book of the great wildlife painter, Raymond Harris Ching, and fade the body of the animal into the background. I found it surprising that, for the first time since I started pastel painting, the details of the animal’s body were easy for me. What was hard was the background, and when it came to merging the two, the body and the background, I made many attempts at it; in the end, with Andy’s help, I achieved this painting. I’m not convinced it totally succeeds. I’ve sent the jpeg to friends and family, and some say they like the faded/blurred effect; others say they would like to see the whole body of the animal fully realised. I have decided this painting will stay as it is, but I may do another one, further down the line, when I’ve learned some more, and see what I can achieve.
Doing art is like doing life; it’s a succession of trials and errors. I am continually reworking what I have done, especially when it comes to backgrounds, where my under-developed visual imagination lets me down. I can’t visualise a scene until I’ve put something on paper, seen it doesn’t work, reworked it again and again, until finally I feel it has a life I can believe in. I guess it’s like writing. You have to create a world for your characters to live in, and that world is made up of detail, atmosphere, perspective, context (background, middle ground, foreground). All this is a world for your character(s), written or painted, to inhabit. They need a world to live in, it brings them to life.
Now I’m struggling with the background/foreground for a bassian thrush, which inhabits rainforest and schlerophyll woodlands. I won’t tell you the painful details. On Saturday, at pastel class, after 3 sessions, I thought I had a credible background; only for Andy to tell me it didn’t work, and challenge me to brush it all out and start again. The air was blue for a while, and I had to do some personal work on old feelings about wanting to be perfect, not being good enough, not being recognised, this morning; but I’m on track now, I think, and am starting to create a credible world for this beautiful creature. It deserves it.