Black Poles ..An Art Experience……… Paris or Bust !!!!!

Wendy Buss

So there we all were perhaps ten of us at Kathy Allens recent acrylic art workshop ( a first for me ) The world outside felt fresh and clean and I felt tingles of anticipation as bright and early on a Wednesday morning I joined the other women in the basement of our local bowls club to set up our easels and our drop sheets etc …

I took up a position near a large window with a nice outlook from which I also had a good view of the teacher

As we were setting up I met Bonnie a lovely woman from Casino and felt reassured as Bonnie confessed she had also never painted on canvas before although she had owned art and craft shops for years just as I had long had a passion for browsing in them

Bonnie and I quipped as we set up our gear that we felt Paris calling and were going to sell our finished works that we created for big bucks on Facebook to fund our trips

Kathy had asked us to bring along bloody enormous canvases so big I certainly would have needed to buy a new house to put my finished work up in so I went for a slightly smaller canvass which Kathy assured me would work just as well

I had in mind we might be doing something rather sedate like a conventional still life vase of flowers but Kathy in welcoming me to the group had smiled mysteriously and told me she liked to work rather differently …… as I was about to find out

As the lesson started Kathy flashed this enormous finished artwork at us .It was a most impressive picture of a houseboat beached at the edge of a river. It was lit up in dramatic colours with a sky awash with burnt orange yellow bright red and grey .It was filled with colour and movememt and drama and the sort of painting one might have found adorning a 1980s lounge room or hallway It was that typical burnt rust red and yellow colour palette that dominated house interiors in the 80s . I marvelled at how by the end of the day I would produce anything that even remotely resembled such an impressive and dramatic work .

Then Kathy put her finished out of sight so we wouldn’t copy her or imitate her work in anyway but would work towards our own interpretation of the brief .

And so the process began .Interestingly most of the steps involved applying paint with a palette knife rather than too much brush work.It involved layering paint and them pulling paint back to allow other colours to come through It was intriguing and put me in mind of those wax crayon drawings we did as kids where you overlayed an entire surface in black and then scratched through the black to reveal a rainbowcolour underlay underneath

I felt like a curious kindergartener let out into a playground filled with light and colour and paint and miles of canvass to explore and I loved it …it was off to a promising start as our pictures mysteriously started to take shape and Bonnie and I reassured one another that a trip to Paris was definately on the cards for us

We stopped at morning tea to let our paintings dry and we needed to practice sketching our houseboats three times which we would be eventually sketching onto our paintings in charcoal with the aim that each sketch would become a little more stylized .Bonnie had put in little personalized touches to jazz hers up like a beach umbrella and a cat sitting on the deck I quipped that I might put in a figure of Leonardo Di Caprio standing at the helm of mine with his arms outstretched a la Titanic

When the paint had dried we returned to our works .By now somewhere in my random application of paint with a spatula I had created something that put me in mind of the famous painting Blue Poles only mine was Black Poles and I felt I should perhaps stop there with the work as I felt it was now already approximating greatness ….

As the journey continued though my confidence faltered as my lack of painting experience began to shine loudly through where as glancing over at Bonnies hers looked as if she had been painting all her life She had taken an oriental turn with things and transplanted her houseboat into the Hong Kong harbour where a row of high rises was substituted for rivergums but it worked brilliantly and it was hard to believe she had not really done any serious painting before .

We were encouraged to go around and have a look at other peoples work .I could see that the lady to my right Helen was clearly an experienced painter She had painted a wonderful luminous bright blue sky tinged with an underlay of soft pink which made me sigh with envy .How had the sky I wanted ended up on her canvas I wondered ?

Where initially I had felt Paris calling at the start as I faltered and stalled with a few of the painting steps which seemed easy enough when Kathy had showed them to us but were actually much more subtle and difficult to emulate in real life and after some concerted dabbing of the palette knife when the desired effect was not being achieved I suddenly felt Paris recede into the distance as something of a very far off dream . Whereas the more experienced painter might go boldly on with confidence of knowing as to where their brush strokes might lead them ,for novice painters like myself it was all very ‘heart in mouth’ and trial and error as you walked the artistic tightrope not knowing if your next brush stroke might take your work in the desired positive direction or plunge it over the edge of the abyss into chaos .

Then just when I felt my houseboat was doomed to sink irretrievably into the muddy swamp of my own painting uncertainties before it had even had a chance to launch with a random but fortituous splat of the spatula and an unexpected lucky colour combo things suddenly took a more confident turn .Suddenly there was the sky I had been aiming for and some pretty decent trees overlooking the river seemed to appear almost of their own volition and something definately resembling a houseboat reappeared out of the swirling mists of my self doubt s and I suddenly felt Paris looming into view again .

By mid morning though all this creative angst and long hours standing at the easel was beginning to take its toll and I started to flag and I was grateful when lunch time arrived

The organizers of the workshop spoiled us us with a really splendid lunch of chicken and salads and quiches and fine cheeses and fruit . It was really good rustic artistic fare I could almost see us with our picnic baskets and tablecloths spread out under shady trees in some bushy rural glade somewhere

As Bonnie and I jokingly revealed our Paris aspirations Helen revealed that she had actually been on a painting trip to Italy for three weeks earlier in the year and she made us drool with her tales of her overseas painting adventures .She had gone to a painting school in a town somewhere between Umbria and the Adriatic coast and for a week they had painted 5 hours a day amidst a wonderful landscape taken long siestas and feasted on delectable foods and wonderful wines .Her friend had been on the outlook out for a handsome Italian man with money but the best she could find was a dark eyes rotound Italian farmer with a wide and six kids in tow .

Finally it was into the last leg of the days painting journey for the day and Kathy showed us how we could highlight the edges of our work using the edge of an old credit card dipped in paint .

The lady next to me remarked that the use of the credit card was now starting to put her work into a much more positive perspective We all laughed knowing what she meant …

After another hour of painting though that lengthy siesta Helen had spoken of to break up her painting hours in Italy seemed like a really attractive idea and Bonnie commented that she was just about due for her nana nap but we were coming up to the pointy end of the project and so one final burst of creative endeavour was now needed to bring the work through to completion . It was make or break time !!!

I could see and hear Kathy moving around the room instructing clucking and praising like a nurturing mother hen It made me smile and put me I mind of my own teaching days and I would move around the room as kids put up their hands and called miss miss for my attention moving from kid to kid offering helpful suggestions and positive praise really feeling gratified and happy when the kids seemed to be inspired with their efforts and proud of their work and the role I had unwittingly played in the process .I could see this same pride and sense of fulfilment in Kathy who seemed well pleased with how our efforts as a group were coming along

Finally we were allowed to to use paint brushes as well as spatulas and in that last half hour I just let loose and did what I wanted and went intuitively with what I felt the work needed and felt I did manage to turn a dodgy first effort into a very creditable outcome for my first time using acrylics I thought anyway.

I liked the humble rustic cragginess of my rundown houseboat .I liked how my sky dripped and oozed with yolky sunlight and how I had managed to create the effects of willows grazing the water without even trying to .Although a modest effort my work I could see had some good points to it

When we had lined up our works for a final show and tell at the end of the workshop I was truly impressed and dazzled by the scope of talent in the room .There was truly some amazing ones We marvelled at how different everyones creative interpretation of the brief was It was astonishing .Some of the boats had a distinctively Asian flavour resembling Chinese junks and sampisans One looked like a hovercraft and another really did look to me like a microwave floating down the river but set against the most amazingly creative and colourful dramatic swirling backgrounds of water and sky.

This first time humble acrylics offering from me which will probably end up in some quiet unobtrusive corner of my own home until or possibly wind up gathering dust on a shelf in the garage somewhere

There it will sit until my artistic genius is finally recognized and confirmed probably post humously and my name goes up in lights and this humble little first work will automatically become incredibly sought after and worth squillions…………

Paris…..well maybe but probably not on the back of this picture .

Wendy Buss

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