It’s based on the New Zealand ‘Kiokio’ fern – one of the Blechnums : Blechnum capense. They often grow on banks, and the fronds can reach quite a size – often 2 or 3 feet long. They look like great green waterfalls.
Where there is plenty of sun falling on them, the tips of the fronds take on an orangey hue.
The interesting thing about this genus is that its fertile, spore-bearing fronds are a distinctly different shape from its normal fronds.
I’ve brought this out in the painting – the fertile frond is shown in white silhouette behind the normal frond unfurling.
Here in New Zealand, any kind of unfolding fern frond or ‘koru’ is regarded as a symbol of new beginnings, development and growth. For me, it is also a symbol of enormous power. A botanical magnifying glass reveals some mighty wonders!
Click on image for more details.
This is a painting of a NZ native pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae), the Kereru, or as they’re called up here the Kukupa, soaring above the volcanic outcrop where I live.
They are quite a large bird, with very distinctive and beautiful coloring, the breast pure white, the head, neck, back and wings green of varying hues with purple and grey intermingled. They have quite a heavy flight, although their nuptual flights in spring are quite spectacular. A pair produces only one chick a year, so it it doesn’t take much brain to see how easily numbers become depleted.
Sadly, this bird is becoming scarce here because although they are protected, certain people think they have the right to take them for food.
When my parents moved in here about 40 years ago, and for many years after, the kukupa native woodpigeon could be seen in numbers swooping and soaring over the thermals from the warm rock face.
Nowadays, thanks to attention from some people, they are so depleted in numbers that I rarely see one in the bush, let alone up on the rock. The irony of it is that according to Maori tradition, the area behind this rock, known as ‘Kukuparere’ was fabled to be the place where ALL the Kereru birds in New Zealand originated from. So much for respecting our treasured legends! Where are the kaitiaki?
Click on the image for larger size and more details.
This was inspired by New Zealand’s magnificent Central North Island Plateau (National Park as we call it) – the location for 3 volcanoes, 2 of them active. Note: Mount Tongariro has proved me wrong on this, with a series of recent eruptions – Yay! The ‘inactive’ volcano – Mount Tongariro – has so many blown-out craters, it’s probably more like a bunch of volcanoes in its own right.
If you saw the “Lord of The Rings” series, one of our active volcanoes on this plateau – Mt Ngauruohoe – was featured as Mt Doom.
Ngauruhoe is actually a beautiful, symmetrical cone, regarded as a female in Maori tradition, and she looks anything but ‘doomful’ under normal conditions. She does, however, tend to have a plume of steam arising from her crater quite often – a sign that she is by no means as sweet-natured as she may look.
Anyway, the inspiration for this small ACEO painting was Mt Tongariro doing its undoubted best. Click on the image for larger size and more details …
At the age of 13 in the Scottish educational system, a pupil has to make the choice of what they want to do in life. Obviously a very big decision, quite hard to make at a relatively young age: I don’t know if things are the same now.
The options for me were Languages, Science and Art.
I wasn’t in any doubt what I wanted to do and it was called Art.
But here’s where one of life’s major disappointments reared its head: my father’s response was a flat, “No! You will never make a living at art. Keep it as a hobby and enjoy it.”
This was painted later in life, after I moved to Wellington to work as a lawyer. But it reflects the desolate feelings I had earlier – plus my grief at devastation of nature. Click on image for more details.
Looking back, I can understand his reaction at that time, but it sure was hard on me. What’s more, I was also very good at both languages and science. It wasn’t as if art was my only option. So I didn’t have that leg to stand on.
One doesn’t argue with an RSM, especially my father. With a great deal of sadness, I decided to go for languages.
There was nothing else to do but carry on …
This is another later painting and it’s worth clicking on the image for a fuller explanation of what’s behind it.
My dad’s comment impacted very heavily on my mind for far too long, and I am only just now beginning to shake it off. What’s more, I never until very recently fully forgave him for what he’d said because as I grew older, and especially lately, I became so very aware what a strong influence it had on my thinking and choices since.
Though I sold quite a lot of art all through my legal career, I found I had indeed a very deep belief that I’d never make a living at it. How deep that belief was, I only discovered when I quit my job and moved up north here – about which, more later. It seemed like I would never shake off the stigma (as I saw it) of not having been to Art School.
Parents: Be careful about what you say to your kids – especially about their dreams. Select your words carefully.
Aside from Disney, of any film I ever saw, this film had by far the widest and most lasting impact on me. I had already been studying Latin at school from quite young (thanks to that great Scottish education), and I found it rather dry.
Now for the first time, the Roman world began to come alive. I bought the book, The Robe by Lloyd C Douglas, was fascinated by it, and started taking an interest in the Romans and their culture.
More than that though, I got a crush on the movie’s leading man, Richard Burton. Ah me – the effect of getting a teenage crush! But it was a very good thing for creativity, all the same!
Doing the usual teenage girl crush stuff of finding out more about Burton’s career led me into the world of Shakespeare at The Old Vic, Alexander the Great, The Dark Tower by Louis MacNeice, Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, Coleridge’s Rime of The Ancient Mariner, and some of Christopher Fry’s plays. This new world I stumbled upon had an exciting richness of spirit. Shakespeare took on new life, and I began to look at literature with different eyes.
All of this impacted on my art – especially Alexander the Great : the door on Classical Greek Art and Architecture was opened for the first time. That was hugely valuable, because Greek sculpture taught me a lot about anatomy – along with a couple of books I got for Christmas presents. I spent some hours drawing anatomical studies from pictures of Greek pieces (didn’t they used to do that in Art School? – never thought of THAT at the time!)
The human body is arguably the hardest thing to render convincingly in art. Quite a number of people doing art struggle noticeably in that area, though the Photoshop ‘Artists’ just grab photos of models, and solve their problem that way. And they call it ‘Art’? Ha! Which goes to show : the good old Art School disciplines – canned in this modern age of ‘permissive everything’ – had some great value, after all!
A couple of years ago, I picked up the B/W drawing at the head of this post and worked it into a full color art piece. Click on the image for larger size and more details:
Done from a Roman sculpture – this is the most ornate helmet I’ve ever set eyes on : isn’t it gorgeous?
The earliest piece I have, done within a couple of years of moving to Scotland, is a half-finished drawing on a sheet of lined paper ripped from a school exercise book of a tiger attacking a buffalo, copied freehand from an illustration in the book “Man-Eaters of Kumaon” by Major Jim Corbett.
It was perhaps the fist edition of this book, and there have been many since. I’m not sure if they all have the original artwork, which I think was by the great wildlife artist, Bob Kuhn. I remember being fascinated by the illustrations in that book – more quality artwork!
And though the book was technically a “hunting” book, it was special. Jim Corbett has an enormous reputation as a humble yet highly skilled and patient hunter, who rid parts of India of some really dangerous wildlife, while at the same time showing humanity and care for wild animals. In later life, he exchanged his rifle for a camera, as many hunters do.
Another very early piece was this Guy Fawkes, developed from a black and white logo in a newspaper advertisement run by a fireworks company. Inside the small circle, probably less than 1″ across, you could just see the face and the tall hat, the armful of fireworks and the side of Guy’s lantern. Tiny as it was, the quality of the design made an arresting image.
My dad suggested I do something with it. The challenge was to expand it out, bring in color, and still retain the play of light and shadow created by the lantern. I was about 10 when I did that.
Learning About Art
Gradually, art awareness began to develop. With help, I was learning to analyze what I saw from a graphics point of view – maybe not with the improved understanding that comes from years of practice, book study and looking, but at least innately. My dad encouraged me to start a “swipe file” of pictures I liked, as a reference tool. Over the years it grew to huge proportions, but it still contains stuff that dates back to that time.
Soon, when looking at books or magazines, I was taking note of the artwork. How was that picture done? What about the composition? What about the colors? What about the angle? At the time I was barely conscious of this, except to know that I enjoyed pictures, but through sharing my dad’s thoughts, the habit grew stronger and never left me. It took me a while to realise that not everyone sees things this way. Quite a shock!
Years later, that old Tiger drawing got reworked it into a fantasy battle between a tiger and a huge snake. Must have been looking at too much of Frank Frazetta’s work, he had a real passion for huge snakes!
Michelangelo didn’t limit himself to drawing from life. In 1492 at 17 years of age he put himself in serious danger by dissecting dead bodies in the mortuary of the Santo Spirito monastery in Florence.
The penalty for interfering with human remains was death. Why would he do that? To understand how the human body is constructed and how it works – and that is what gave such unprecedented life and movement to his paintings and sculptures.
Drawing – Making Line Live
I’ve come to appreciate that though I never went to art school, I did get a pretty rigorous training in drawing and in making what I created truly express the reality. This came from my dad’s critique, which harked back to the good old basics of looking hard at one’s subject-matter, understanding it and capturing it.
If what I drew or painted didn’t look like what it was meant to be, and didn’t have life, I GOT ROASTED. If the technique was weak or fussy, I GOT ROASTED. About that, more later.
So I came to value clarity of line, especially when it expresses 3 dimensional mass and movement economically.
The Second Principle : Strength of Composition – Design
Composition is arguably THE most important element of a painting – sculpture too, though it’s more complex in three dimensions. If there’s one thing that really puts me off, it’s a painting with a number of elements scattered around the space, without real consideration for the overall layout of the composition as a whole. No design! And that happens more often than you might think. And the average person doesn’t see it.
Look at frames from Disney cartoon movies, and see how all-pervading good composition and design was in the huge array of Disney’s animations – masterly! Given the number of artists working for Disney at any one time over the years, maintaining such consistency is a huge achievement in itself.
Taking the subject of composition a little deeper, here’s something most people are totally unaware of. It was clearly explained in a book called ‘The Painter’s Secret Geometry: A Study of Composition in Art’ by Charles Bouleau, which I have among my texts. The book is out of print now, but people on Amazon are crying for a reprint. I really can’t improve on this short excerpt from a review by T Campbell:
“This is the art history text we all should have had and didn’t. It is the only book I have found in several years of looking into what has been printed on composition/design in the 2-D arts that actually shows the manner in which artists in a number of Greco-Roman to western traditions managed their space. It was certainly not the “I’m OK, you’re OK” approach that is so common now. The great ones then, and to a certain degree even now, were very well educated in their traditions, which included mathematics, especially geometry, the application of which to image making was connected to their faith, as well as being an expression of their genius.
“Bouleau carries his argument into the 20th century and shows that respect for geometric spatial division to establish harmony is not dead. It still works, even with completely nonrepresentational art.
“This is a stunningly informative look at the visual arts in the European traditions and is the only book I have found that informs me on how the “old masters” and some contemporary masters built their paintings.”
Below are works by 2 relatively modern artists, showing their use of geometric principles in composition. “Miserere” by Georges Roualt and “Composition ll in Red, Yellow and Blue” by Piet Mondrian:
Don’t be misled: this is not a case of art being forced into a geometric matrix to suit some theory. Just as mathematics underlies much of our world (think of music, for a start), it is inescapably true that artworks whose composition or design complies with certain geometric principles, are more powerful and satisfying.
Hence the value of basing your studies as an artist on the very best of traditional and contemporary masters.