My current art practice was developed during my recent PhD in Natural History Illustration. The focus is images of land, sea, sky, and cloud with a strong emphasis on field research as the first phase and foundation with two other phases of experimentation and refinement leading to the forth phase of final large-scale paintings. Over the course of my research project I conducted extensive field research on journeys near my home in Newcastle, coastal New South Wales, and further afield in Western Australia and overseas. Field study techniques I developed in the early period of my candidature were refined and eventually employed to record three sailing expeditions: the Lord Howe Island voyage, the Broughton Island Expedition and the voyage through the fiords of Chilean Patagonia.
My most common technique for making field studies is to begin my sketches with a pencil drawing in a small 140 x 200mm watercolour sketchbook, then to add watercolour. Watercolour pencil and/or sepia-ink pens are used occasionally. Some are done quickly while others are more refined. I also use a second sketchbook with smooth unlined paper for making field notes and pencil or pen drawings. I usually record scenes I’m sketching with my camera so I have the option of refining sketches further in the studio as well as building a library of photo reference that can be adapted for more refined work. I also keep my camera handy for recording useful images when day-to-day domestic circumstances don’t allow enough time for proper field studies.
Experimental and Transition Sketches
My second phase consists mainly of watercolour studies made on stretched watercolour paper on boards, informed by studies made on stretched paper by John Constable and JMW Turner. Image dimensions are: 180 x 260mm. I developed this phase as a means of further refining my watercolour technique both in the studio and the field. The boards are designed to be adaptable for use with other media and once prepared with gesso also provide a suitable surface for en-plein-air studies, which are undertaken using water mixable oil paints. Once back in the studio I refine field sketches using photos I have taken as reference, providing a transition between my field studies and more refined artwork. The boards are light, portable and durable and are often included with my equipment during field trips.
The third phase is a series of studies intended as a refinement of the experimental and transition sketches of the second phase. My refined studies have been informed by paintings traditionally termed ‘preliminary studies’ that were used as both finished ‘salon paintings’ and as preliminary studies for enlarging into exhibition paintings when created by early nineteenth century artists such as John Constable and JMW Turner. In both size and purpose, my phase three paintings are similar to the earlier paintings.
Paintings on Timber Panels
One refined study recording a particular location for each of the three sailing expeditions was selected and enlarged to create three large final paintings as the forth phase. Each timber panel measures 2000mm x 1200mm and has been coated with an acrylic undercoat before the surface to be painted was prepared with multiple coats of gesso. Two paintings were created using water-mixable oil paint with the third being in acrylic paint.