Painting #22

This is a landscape from the mind, although the sky is based on a series of photographs I have of this evening sky phenomenon – a streak of warm orange with a moody brooding sky above it.

#22 Red Landscape (Oil on Canvas 10 x 8 inches)

The photo is just horrible, with reflections on the right. The painting is a bit better and I actually have grown quite fond of it.

I really battled to get the sky to have the right cool blue with some warm in it. In the end I had to be brave and use a lot more cobalt blue than I would normally feel comfortable with. If you hold the painting at arms length and look at where the blue meets the evening sky it is quite something.

Tomorrow am off to Asia Minor for a business trip, I may not post something for a week or so. Thanks to all who have encouraged me with likes and comments. May you be happy and content.


My hair’s falling fast –

this afternoon

I’m off to Asia Minor

Japanese Poet: Shinkichi Takahashi

Translated by Lucien Stryk in his book Let the Spring Breezes Enter

Painting #21

This is my second attempt at painting this old familiar scene from my source photo. The first attempt was a more square format (Painting #20). This one is in my more comfortable flat landscape layout and I like it a bit better:

#21: 3 Apr 2016 (Oil on Panel 41 x 22.5 cm) Near Magalies Oord looking West

The source photo is shown below. I only have a paper copy of the photo, now almost 10 years old, with a water-splash from my watercolour days right in the centre: Continue reading “Painting #21”

Painting #20

This painting is based on a photograph I took on my way back from work, in the time I still lived in South Africa. This was about a decade ago. I have made several paintings of this scene in watercolour – this is my first attempt with oil.

#20: 2 Apr 2016 (Oil on Panel, 30 x 32 cm)

Continue reading “Painting #20”

Painting #19

#19: 31 March 2016 (Oil on panel, approximately 10 x 8 inches)

This is a tonal painting I made based on a thumbnail sketch that looked promising (photo below). I had in mind something monochrome, very warm with darks that are near black. The effect was a bit different from my original idea. Continue reading “Painting #19”

Painting #18

Grace. I was ready for it to come much later, but I take it with gratitude and hope I will accept it when it leaves again for a while. Before I started the current run of oil paintings, I dabbled mostly in watercolours. When I became quite confident in making images, I had the insight one day:

The image is already in the paper. The right attitude will make it come forward: Humility. Precision. The right tempo in the rise and fall of self-confidence as the painting progresses. Gratitude.

For me, this painting felt like it was given – I really did not do much. I put down the under-painting, wiped away at the foreground and this marshland stepped forward. I am quite fond of this painting, I hope you also like it:

The paint is applied a little to thin and tentatively but I hope this will get better as I get to know the texture of the oil. The texture of the 3 layers of acrylic gesso is prominent and makes the painting look rough but real. The landscape is invented, but the sky is from an old printed photo (below). The marks at the top right of the photo shows where I tested the value of my paint as I worked.


Much to learn, the journey continues…

Therefore, go forth, companion: when you find

No Highway more, no track, all being blind,

The way to go shall glimmer in the mind.

“The Wanderer” by John Masefield

Painting #17

This next painting was based on a photograph I took when I still lived in South Africa, where I grew up. For a time I lived with my family on a farm east of Pretoria, a grassland landscape I loved deeply. Here I took endless walks with our dogs, mostly late afternoon as twilight came. The next few paintings are all based on photos taken on one of those walks:

#17: Late Summer (Oil on Panel, 25.3 x 20.2 cm – approximately 10 x 8 inches)

Continue reading “Painting #17”

Painting #16

This painting and the next were a bit of a struggle for me – both were based on source material which I felt were good, but the paintings were less than rewarding to me.

I was on my way to the office one morning and as I passed over the Horotui bridge near Hamilton I saw this beautiful warm streak of morning sun amidst the very blue clouds and reflection in the river. I stopped, walked back on the bridge, and took a photo. I painted #16 a day or so later:

Blue Waikato
# 16: Blue Waikato, Oil on Panel 32 x 30 cm (26 Mar 2016)

I am not too happy with this, and I am sad to say the painting does not do the photo justice! Initially I thought that the cause was just too much blueness – I know paintings with lot of blue are notoriously difficult to pull off. But I know that is a cop-out: obviously something else is missing – maybe just my current lack of skill!

Below is the source photo I used. In my painting I removed the new bridge that sits in the centre of the photo, and I warmed up the sky as much as I could without it becoming too yellow. But that blue just sucked it all out.


This theme, of something missing when working from a photo, was also mentioned in this post by Aletha Kushan. My next painting (next post) – was based on a photo taken nearly 10 years back,  and for me has that same lack of an emotional element (almost no blue this time!).

Somehow I feel the problem for me does not lie in the use of a photo (alone). I have made paintings that I like based on photos. There is something very subtle, maybe an attitude while working, I don’t know. I keep on chewing at this sense of what was missing when I made this painting: the sense of open space, transition in light, warm autumn colour that somehow speaks to me deeply. Perhaps these were just not there that day on my way to work.

On to number 17 and beyond. As the Kamikaze pilot wrote: “We continue flying in tight formation. Visibility is very poor”.

Steep tracks by clear streams

In A.S. Kline‘s wonderful book: Like Water, Like Clouds, I found a letter from poet Wang Wei to his friend P’ei Ti:

Now I am sitting alone listening to the silence. I think a lot about the old days, when we made poems together, climbing the steep tracks by clear streams. We must wait till the trees and grass grow green again, and, idling in spring hills, we can see fish leap in the light, the gulls soar, the white dew on green moss. At dawn we will hear the birds call in the fields. It is not long till then, when you could come wandering with me. If I did not know your natural sensibility, I would hold back from making even this indirect invitation. I speak from a deep impulse, but it is not pressing.

Journal Entry: 21 January 2016

Yesterday the evening was so clear and still. All warm colours filled with birdsong. Toward the east an eerie half moon among light clouds.Kate and I walked the garden in the last light. I noted that the largest of the tree ferns I transplanted late winter last year was showing a single small green leaf at its crown – a good 2 to 3 metres from the ground. I felt joy, seeing that life had pushed on upward despite the shock of the transplant.

Awake once during the night – very dark – a light breeze across the summer air in our room. In the last moment before sleep returned, I thought about that young fern leaf pushing out into the dark unknown outside – not pressed, but spurred by a deep impulse.

Paintings 11 to 15

I am trying to catch up with logging names, dates and sizes of paintings, taking photos and getting it onto the blog. Once I have caught up (I am currently working on painting # 25, I think) I will post them in smaller groups, or maybe one at a time.

At the moment, I am struggling to get the photos right – I find if I make the sizes too large here, any glare is magnified and it looks terrible. I love the texture of the Gesso on the paint surface, but somehow in the photos it looks terrible to me. So I am keeping the photos small for now, will try and figure out how to solve this issue as I learn how to use WordPress. So here goes with the next five…


#11 (12 Mar 2016): Small landscape from the mind, painted with as few colours possible and concentrating on value. I went from thumbnail sketch to paint right away without too much angst, which is an achievement for me. (Oil on Panel, 20 x 15.4 cm).


#12 (13 Mar 2016): For the last few paintings, I have tried to simplify my learning curve by working with only five colours: Burnt Umber, Indian Yellow, Cadmium Red, Ultramarine and White. My focus is mainly on making something with a value design that rings true. With this abstract, the 3 layers of Acrylic Gesso were applied very roughly and it showed through in the painting. I found this resonated with me somehow and from here on many paintings retain the Gesso texture with the paint applied rather thinly in places.

#13: Non-existent. My numbering went haywire. There never was a 13.


#14 (12 Mar 2016): Small landscape from the mind, strongly influenced by Thomas Aquinas Daly. Not too happy with this, but some lessons learnt. (Oil on Panel, 20 x 15.4 cm).


#15 (20 Mar 2016): Invented landscape, design based on a beach scene I saw in American Art Review picture of an old master. Still sticking with the limited palette. The Gesso is rough and adds a lot of texture, which showed mercy and helped me with the red marsh grasses in the foreground. (Oil on Panel, 25.3 x 20.2 cm – roughly 10 x 8 inches).

This is the first of my paintings in this run that gave me that melancholy – a place never visited but somehow remembered, perhaps central to who I am…I made a small frame for it:


The road stretches up ahead. Much to learn – “then pray that the road to Ithaca is long…”


Back to Centre

From my journal, 31 August 2015:

Trying to move back to a solid base. Eating less, establishing some way-points during the day to check in, trying to ensure that I am moving through the day not in pursuit of some distant goal, or in fear of things falling apart. Looking to live and work at a pace and with an energy level that makes each action, each thought-stream and interaction meaningful in itself.

This is an ultimately subtle way of being, which is why – for me – a rigid imposition of rules always become lifeless after a few days in action. I hurry from one rule or ritual to the next, stop at each way-point and execute it symbolically (eating little and slow, stopping to centre every hour, drinking tea ceremoniously) and then hurry on mindlessly to the next way-point.

The Way is so much more subtle – will never reveal itself in such a harsh and rigid light. What is needed is much simpler and therefore more difficult: each moment should count as if it is the last. Each human interaction has to be kinder, more courageous, mindful. Each moment as it reveals itself has to be responded to with “one taste”

This is the work of a lifetime. And the recognition that the work can never be done – this too has to be responded to with the same courageous, patient spirit. I have found the key to doing this is to be confident – supremely confident – that it “is done”. Just to “go straight”, just doing it without doubt, analysis or discussion. And the only sign that is of help is the one that shows you have lost your way.