Artworx Gallery | Contemporary Art & Gifts | Goolwa SA

Artworx Gallery - currently celebrating its 10th anniversary - is a regular award winner and the finest contemporary art gallery on South Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula.



In some respects taking up painting is like learning to drive.

Gear changing, clutches, brakes, mirrors, accelerators and coping with live traffic are familiar memories of our first days in a car. All we could think about was the actual procedure of driving, with hands firmly gripping the steering wheel.

The first steps in painting are similar.  It can all seem overwhelming as there are so many mysteries to fathom about paint and materials. The actual doing seems to take away from the enjoyment part of things - which we know must exist!

We look for silver bullets and take note of what brushes the masters use and what paint they prefer.  We take classes and go to workshops in the hope of some giant leap forward.  We must know however that those master painters could paint masterpieces with the cheapest brushes - great tools help the process, but the mastery is not in the tool.

Similarly, classes and workshops are great at first, but we must also understand that workshops and classes would all stop tomorrow if the tutors thought for one minute that every one of their students was going to paint just like them. Classes and workshops are as good as what the student takes away from them and puts it into practice.  Painters of years standing have gotten where they are through time, learning and practice - they know it can't be learned in a few hours.

There is another basic that needs to be mastered before we can truly progress and that our attitude to the reference. This can mean a photo or real life. 

There is a choice - replication or painting the subject with our own vision. Replication is the choice of most painters because it is safe under the assumption that the reference is always right and always best.  Replication is akin to still thinking about the gears, the brakes and the road rules. It's almost as if we are reading the road rules while we are driving.

Painting with vision allows artists to break free of the reference and impart themselves into the work. Replication is obsession with the reference - it is the sole focus. Painting with vision starts with the artist pondering on how they can impart themselves to what they see before them. It could be changing the colours, changing the objects, adding drama, adding interest and leaving out things that don't fit in with our vision.

Painting with our own vision is the most exciting thing about being an artist because we control the outcome instead of the reference being in charge from start to finish.

Vision in art requires a change of thinking. Our natural way of thinking is to copy what is there and we all get caught up in it at some time - even without knowing it. It holds us back from creativity.

Think of what the scene could be and make it your own.  This is art and what it is to be an artist.

Mike Barr

 The Dunes of Victor - An artist contacted me about this painting wanting to know where this spot was - she hadn't seen it before and wanted to paint it. The truth was, that only I could see it. The actual place is but a shadow of what the painting is. The painting was my vision of reality.

The Dunes of Victor - An artist contacted me about this painting wanting to know where this spot was - she hadn't seen it before and wanted to paint it. The truth was, that only I could see it. The actual place is but a shadow of what the painting is. The painting was my vision of reality.


The Devil is in the detail

If you are a botanical artist or photo-realist, then detail is crucial. If we are not one of these two types of artists, and paint in a representative way, detail can be one of our biggest traps.

Usually, the trap is set to spring as we get closer to finishing a painting.  When we start a work, the concern is about big shapes and tones, and often we can really like the result of this almost-relaxed stage. It can be surprisingly alluring, but we push on because it isn’t the vision we had at the beginning.

As we get even closer to what we think is the finish, something happens. Even without thinking we start looking for extra detail to add.  Actually, the detail in the reference uses a megaphone to alert us to the fact that we have omitted certain things that will render the painting a failure without them.

I was caught out a few days ago while painting a pair of kats on a beach. Seeing that the canvas was biggish at 90x90cm, I had decided on a larger brush to do most of the work.   The shadow and sunlit parts of the sails were the real focus of the painting – the broad sweeping brush seemed to work in getting the desired result.

Everything was broad, but as the work came closer to a conclusion, I decided it was time for smaller brushes. As soon as I picked up the small brush, I was looking for small things to add – I had one foot in the trap!

I picked up a delicate rigger and put in some rigging, after all, it was in the photo. This wasn’t so bad, but then I started painting the ribs in the sails with the same brush, yes, they were in the photo too.

The problem was, that after all the broad brush in the beginning, it has set the tone of the painting. Being broad for most of the painting and then fiddling with a rigger just wasn’t working. A better option would have been to imply the detail with a large brush and leave some stuff out altogether.

Issues like this needs constant attention, because when we don’t think about it, the default ‘let’s consult the photo for details’ – kicks in.

It’s amazing how well detail can be implied with a large brush, and all it takes is a bit of practice and being aware of falling in to the detail trap. Being broad is not every artists cup of tea, but chronic attention to detail is there to trap any of us at any time!

Mike Barr

 The ribs in the sails were initially put in with a smaller rigger (as in photo) but just didn't look right. I ended up implying them with a larger brush and it was kinder to the overall look.

The ribs in the sails were initially put in with a smaller rigger (as in photo) but just didn't look right. I ended up implying them with a larger brush and it was kinder to the overall look.



If there is one thing that landscape artists should learn, it is painting the illusion of distance.  I say illusion because that is just what it is, after all, it’s just paint!

One of the biggest problems facing artists that paint from photos is that photos rarely depict real life distance.  I have seen this problem often in paintings where distant objects are the same or similar tones to things that are in the foreground.  All that drawing and detailed painting can be perfect but if there are no tones that depict distance, then the painting is flat and lacking. I know it is a quite punishing statement, but the solutions are simple enough if we are interested.

First and foremost, we have to unshackle our thinking from the grip of the photograph. The photograph demands out attention and silently insists on us copying it even when doing so is not going to produce a good painting. The power of the reference photo is so strong that if we stray from it we actually think we have failed and conversely if we end up with a painting that looks exactly like the photo we think it is successful. Of course, both things are wrong.

Success is more likely when we just regard the reference as a guide.  It is one thing to read it but quite another to actually implement this thinking. It takes conscious thought from the beginning of the painting till the end.

Next, is real life observation.  Getting out and looking at the effects of distance on colour and tone is crucial.  Every time you step out of the house you should be looking for it. The more you see it and understand it the better your paintings are going to become. There is nothing like Plein Air painting in getting our brains to switch on to the colours and tones of distance.

The blur of distance is largely lost in photographs - particularly snapshots in which the focus is on everything.  In real life, when we look at one thing, the rest becomes out of focus. We should paint similarly to this too if we want to produce works that have depth. Getting into the habit of even slightly blurring distant objects will have us on the way to producing paintings with great depth. Add to this a little bluing off as things get further away and we will be using something called atmospheric or aerial perspective. It's where everything is turning into the colour of the sky the further away it is - even mountain ranges do!

Happy Painting!

Mike Barr

 Two Yachts - this was painted in acrylic plein air at Seacliff. I have blurred the background detail as well as toning down the colours. Note that the touches of red in the distance are not as intense as those close up. Also the blurring of the background has allowed the yachts and sailors to have prominence.

Two Yachts - this was painted in acrylic plein air at Seacliff. I have blurred the background detail as well as toning down the colours. Note that the touches of red in the distance are not as intense as those close up. Also the blurring of the background has allowed the yachts and sailors to have prominence.



October 30 2018 - 10:42AM

'Heartfelt Art Exhibition' opened at the Artworx Gallery in Goolwa

Media personality Brenton Whittle stepped in to open the 'Heartfelt Art Exhibition' in place of Anne Wills, who was scheduled to open the exhibition at Artworx Gallery, Goolwa, on Sunday, October 28.

Co-owner of the Gallery John Francis advised the 90 guests that Anne had experienced a bereavement in the family. Brenton congratulated owners Liz and John Francis for their energy and enthusiasm and support in promoting local artists

The 'Heartfelt' art exhibition includes works from Mark Judd,  Lorraine Lewitzka, Bruce Davey, Graeme Townsend, Dean Fox, Tom O'Callaghan, Peter Coad, Llewelyn Ash and Iroda Adil.

Each artist has a style of their own - from fantasy, still life, wild life, murals, vibrant colour to soft water colours and from stunning bushland scenes to the beauty of coastal areas- this exhibition has so much.

The exhibition will be on display at the Artworx Gallery until November 18 and the Gallery is situated on Hays Street, Goolwa. For more information visit the website 

 OPEN: Mayors Graham Philp and Keith Parkes with Brenton Whittle, who opened the exhibition and Artworx owners Liz and John Francis. Photo: David Woolaway.

OPEN: Mayors Graham Philp and Keith Parkes with Brenton Whittle, who opened the exhibition and Artworx owners Liz and John Francis. Photo: David Woolaway.

 Participating artists of the Heartfelt Exhibition with Artworx owners Liz and John Francis. Photo by David Woolaway.

Participating artists of the Heartfelt Exhibition with Artworx owners Liz and John Francis. Photo by David Woolaway.


The Power of Calm

Among the many paintings being produced today, an increasing proportion of them are meant to confront the viewer in some way. It may be controversial subject matter designed to jolt an opinion. It could be an image of the darker side of society or human life or maybe disfigurement of an otherwise pleasant thing for no other reason than to disturb us.

There are other disquieting paintings that have no shock-value in their subject matter but they have random and jarring colour use and confusing patterns. I have seen many such things in print and on TV that not only clash with everything else in the room, but more importantly they generate visual discord and may I suggest, even mental discord.

In a world that is so full of ugliness it seems we can't get enough of it and such art appears frequently especially in public buildings and institutions. Publicly funded art is hardly ever calming or understandable.

There is a lot to be said for paintings that produce calm, simply because they have power to do just that.

I once painted just a sky with clouds and a lawyer bought it for his office and told me it was for the times of stress when he could just turn his chair and look into the serenity of the clouds. It showed me that there is power in painted calmness particularly when people crave it amongst their daily troubles.

The calming influence of such paintings not only reaches out into the homes and offices in which they hang but they also have an effect on the artist too. We cannot be untouched by the things we paint because they come from the heart.

Angry, ugly and unfathomable art may draw praise from the art world, but it really helps no one else. Artist statements may attempt to legitimise their visual chaos, but often descend into coded artists’ speak that is so outrageous, that it is pure comedy.

The world needs calming and I think it is within the power of artists to spread calmness, beauty and awe through their works. It's a worthy cause rather than adding to society's dark side.

Mike Barr

 Caption My Clouds - acrylic on canvas - 90x90cm. If you look at the painting long enough you can see the clouds move.

My Clouds - acrylic on canvas - 90x90cm. If you look at the painting long enough you can see the clouds move.


The Studio

Artists can worry unduly about having a studio, and while it is a lovely thing to have, a palatial studio does not always equate to grand work.

I have only recently acquired a studio - a granny flat that has been occupied by quite a list of family inhabitants but now dedicated to paintings and storage of such.  Storage really is the big thing!

Before this it was done on the front or back porch, the shed or dining room.

My best award-winning painting was produced on the front porch on a hot windy day.  I'd already had a painting marred by it blowing off the easel and was aware of the conditions while I painted the next one. I was engrossed in the process when my neighbour decided to take a look and I didn't see him coming until his head appeared from behind the canvas.  His quiet "hello" had me jumping out of my skin - I'm sure it nearly killed me!

It made me think though, that the small distance between artist and canvas is holy ground.  This applies to working in a spacious studio or on the porch, this connection between the artist, the palette and the work is intense and private - it becomes a kind of sanctuary.

The very mention of the word studio though, somehow conveys the idea of a public place of worship. Some just want to drop in, hang around, chat and be a co-inhabitant for an afternoon or two. 

The artist's workspace, wherever it happens to be, is best utilised when there are no distractions. The process involves the whole person - body, mind and spirit. A disruption to any part of this will be a loss to the artist and the work.

Background noise that is unavoidable can be blocked out, but another person demanding friendly attention will spoil the circle of creativity.

Many of us have to set up our equipment every time we want to paint. I know how arduous this can be, but at the same time, the setting up is preparing our minds for that which is to come and painting time is even more precious. 

Of course, there is a lot to be said for a space that we can just walk into and start painting. But in the end it's the magic that takes place mentally and physically in and around your easel that counts.

While we might dream enviously about some of the pristine large studios we see, it's worth considering that some of the best works have been produced in less than ideal surroundings.

Mike Barr

 Caption: Ten years ago I painted in the shed at the back of the garden for a while. There was barely enough room for storage but the little space between easel, artist and palette was all that counted.

Caption: Ten years ago I painted in the shed at the back of the garden for a while. There was barely enough room for storage but the little space between easel, artist and palette was all that counted.


Just one thing….

Whilst looking at Turner's Snow Storm painting the other day, it struck me that there is one thing that sets up the whole work.  The painting is wildly dramatic with its swirling snow storm and heaving sea, but the one object that makes it really work, is that little mast on board the steam ship. The slender pole is slightly bent in the gale, and of course, the flag is outstretched to its limit.

In the overall painting, the mast is a small object, but really it is the star attraction that draws us into the painting's drama! Not only is our eye magnetised by it within that seemingly small visual break among the clouds and waves, but it also indicates the ferocity of the conditions.

This painting by Turner contains secrets for every artist.

Drama - not every scene we wish to paint has built-in interest and drama, but I believe we should think about putting both elements in the paintings we produce – whatever the subject.  Just one thing can transform a work from being okay to outstanding, and in some instances, just one or two brushstrokes can do it.

Interest - interesting subjects don't always make interesting paintings, and often it can be as simple as there being too many things to look at.  Recently, I came across a painting of New York City and every single window in every single building was carefully painted in, including the Empire State. It was a monument to the patience of the artist, but it said nothing about the city. The drama of this amazing city was lost in the attention to detail.

Having detail in the whole painting will have us observing the detail, but it can block us from entering into it. It is better that viewers become participants rather than just observers.

In Turner's painting we are visually dragged into that point of interest on the boat, with the swirling blurry storm helping us in, without halting our little journey. It really is a masterpiece.

Like Turner's bending ship's mast, it’s worth our time to figure out what will change a painting for the better. It could be an addition, a subtraction, a splash of colour, or light, deeper darks, or simplification.  Don't be confined to painting what you see – paint for added interest. Paint the drama of life, whatever it is.

Mike Barr

 Caption: Turner’s  Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth – oil on canvas 91x122cm.  With this work who could deny that Turner was the father of impressionism.

Caption: Turner’s Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth – oil on canvas 91x122cm. With this work who could deny that Turner was the father of impressionism.


The Portrait Vocation

Portraiture, unlike most other painting genres, is very unforgiving! During our combined painting demonstrations every year, dear friend and portrait artist Gerhard Ritter reminds us that compared to landscape artists, portrait artists have it tough. Some friendly banter usually ensues at this stage, but of course it's true!

There are different styles of portraiture from broad impressionism to realism, but if they don't represent the likeness of the sitter, then they have failed. It's a tough world in which almost catching a likeness just doesn't cut it.

There aren't many casual portrait artists that are good at it. The stand-outs tend to be passionate about it all, and I would go far as to say, it's more of a vocation than any other painting genre. They are expert observers of the human face - they never stop looking at faces and they wish they could stop every interesting one they see on their daily travels. They see human faces in portrait format without even thinking about it, and they sense deep loss when a fleeting potential masterpiece of a face passes them by, but they also triumph in finding the most interesting faces and characters.

Oils are the preferred medium for portraits, but amazingly some artist are successful in watercolour, acrylic and pastel. Almost all of the processes that these artists use have a degree of mystery about them, and often, the likeness appears in the very last part of the painting. A likeness that is obtained too early can be hard to get back.

Portraiture is an old tradition and I remember seeing my first Rembrandt at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool as a young teenager. I can still feel the impact of those dark backgrounds contrasted with the light and shadows of the faces. He was a true master.

There are many portrait masters living today, but compared to the millions in the world that claim to be artists, there are but a few.

Thankfully, good portrait painting doesn't mean it has to be photographic or perfect. However, it does need two things at least. First, and importantly, is the likeness, then there is character.

Every portrait artist talks about capturing the character of the sitter. Recently, during a portrait event three artists revealed their works of the same sitter. Each of them spoke about the importance of capturing the essence of the person being painted. All three paintings were well done, but just one had a likeness of the physical and the character of the person.

There is a spark in good portraiture that goes missing in the ordinary. It is a spark that painters of all persuasions and genres love to attain, but don't always achieve it. Portrait painting, like other painting, is not about photographic detail, it's about catching the essence of a person or place. If we can translate that into a painting we have everything!

Mike Barr


 Caption: A quick, unsophisticated acrylic sketch of former President of the Royal South Australian Society of Arts, James Raggatt. I'm not a portrait artist, but was lucky with this one as it did capture James's likeness and infectious smile. December 2008.

Caption: A quick, unsophisticated acrylic sketch of former President of the Royal South Australian Society of Arts, James Raggatt. I'm not a portrait artist, but was lucky with this one as it did capture James's likeness and infectious smile. December 2008.



Painting can be quite self-indulgent - it's just the nature of it.

Our subject matter is often stuff that we love and therefore we paint it. It all makes sense until we start exhibiting our work, and then we may realise that not everyone shares the same passion.

We get no sales and we wonder why some other artists are selling and we aren't. Many of us have felt this and it can result in sharp feelings of rejection, not just of our art but of ourselves.

A few artists come to the realisation that we don't paint just for ourselves, particularly when we exhibit.  Really, we don't want our paintings to be liked, but loved. In a strange kind of way, when paintings are loved, the artist feels loved too.

The easy path to take, is to paint what and how we like, and to the devil with anyone else.

In reality, it is not even what we paint, but how we paint it that counts. Some of the most mundane subjects have been painted in dramatic ways that emotionally affect a viewer.

There is no greater compliment for an artist than to hear expressions of love for their work. In conjunction with phrases like: "I feel like I'm actually there, I can feel the rain, I can feel the cold, I can feel the heat, I can smell flowers,” are all proof that your work has connected with someone.  

Careful and expert craftsmanship does not always translate into connection.  So, what does?

Light and shadow play a large part in attraction.  The surest way to make a painting unnoticed is to have no shadows, no darks and no lights. It's amazing how many paintings just don't have any of these things. Calmness is also attractive - not everyone wants to be assaulted by glaring colour or disturbing images. The calmness of a limited palette can be very alluring.

As well as light and shadow, the illusion of space and distance can draw a viewer into the work, and even though it may not be photographic, the illusion makes the painting believable. There is such a big difference between photorealism and believability because the broadest impressionism can be so very believable. The tonal road to distance is one that every artist should travel.

The bottom line is to make people feel our paintings, not just see them. Let them feel the drama, the quietness, the light, the dark, the calm, the rain, the surf, the happiness, the sadness and the joy. It's not enough for art to be seen - let it be felt!


Mike Barr


Caption: After the rain - Largs Jetty - acrylic on canvas board.
Can you sense that after-rain feeling?


 Caption: After the rain - Largs Jetty - acrylic on canvas board. Can you sense that after-rain feeling?

Caption: After the rain - Largs Jetty - acrylic on canvas board.
Can you sense that after-rain feeling?


Many of us wish to paint looser and I think this is because looser paintings have more appeal to them. They look like they are painted with a brush, and a tight painting can look quite photographic.

Loose paintings have movement, and to me they are the painting equivalent to a movie, as the eye moves along with the visible, bold brush strokes. In contrast a highly worked painting can be more of an achievement than a work of art. A thousand-hour canvas is certainly epic, but it doesn't make it a better painting than one which took a few hours in a loose style.

There is a real interest in being able to paint in that looser style, but the question is, how is it possible?

Firstly, the subject matter must be simplified in the imagination of the artist. We must be able to simplify it in our minds before we can in paint, whether it is from a photo or real life. Our natural instinct is to copy everything and painting looser requires that we leave out stuff, smudge, blur and leave in some edges and contrasts. It's a true education in art to paint this way, even if we only do it occasionally.

Big brushes, especially in the early stages will help a lot. It's hard to be fiddly with a 2-inch brush! Actually, the size of the brush should be in proportion to the size of the canvas and a bit of experience should be the teacher here. The very last part of the painting might need a bit of small brush, but not much.

If you have a million colours on your palette, you will be at a disadvantage. Concern about colour can tighten things up because we are thinking about the mechanics too much. Colour doesn’t make a painting, but feeling and movement certainly does and this often comes from tones rather than colour.

The biggest contributor to successful loose paintings is confidence and there is no way around this.

Painting is an acquired skill and skill is a product of repetitive practice.  Confidence is the product of this practice - many hours of practice and learning from mistakes of our own and those of others.

In a conversation with a fellow artist and teacher recently, we discussed how many artists wanted to paint looser, as if it is a thing you can just do. We agreed that actually that looser style comes largely from confidence.  That untouched brush stroke that looks just right is probably the product of years of experience.

Can you speed things up? I think you can and it's done by painting lots of pieces but with the initial intent of them not being finished works. This mindset will help you from being too careful, after all a practice piece is just that. You will find that a carefree practice painting might just present itself as one of your best!

Mike Barr


   Caption: Sometimes those small quick brushy paintings just work.

Caption: Sometimes those small quick brushy paintings just work.


Almost as soon as we take-up painting we start hearing rumours about the colour green. The main two are that it’s difficult to use, and that green paintings are hard to sell. Firstly, the difficulty aspect of green is true.  So few artists can handle green well, and despite that there are more green paintings that you can poke a tree at.

Discovering good greens is a triumph for a painter, and mostly, they don’t come straight out of a tube. Many artists don’t have a tube-green on their palette, preferring to mix the greens from other colours. Other artists, like myself use a base green but always mix it with other colours. Veridian is a great traffic light green mixed with white, and used in conjunction with other colours like yellow ochre or Sienna it can produce wonderful muted greens. Mixed with cadmium yellow it can make vivid sunlit greens.  Every artist has their own little favourites.

Even though green may have a bad reputation there are artists that can make it sing. While walking around the recent Camberwell Art Show I was asked by a group of artists if I had seen anything I really liked. I had, and green figured largely in it.  I have attached the painting in question (Sundance 2 - No 1 Collins Street) by Melbourne artist Joe Blundell.  Joe has only recently begun life as an artist and has a great story about that on his website (

Joe's painting at Camberwell combines the green with the greys of buildings behind them, and it is superb. Greens are on their best behaviour when they have a grey backdrop, and this is borne out on a grey stormy day when a sunlit tree is back-dropped by a grey brooding sky. For me it was the stand-out painting of the show. Notice the subtle greens within the shadows of the walls too.

Green paintings don't sell?
Well, Joe's did, and at 168x122cm it didn't come cheap. I think we can say that good green paintings sell! As far as greens go, Australia is the lucky country. We have all the greens seen in Europe but also the wonderful grey-blue and golden greens of the gums and other growth. Getting greens right is a journey that is well-worth undertaking, and it takes some experimenting - this is one of the joys of being a painter.

Mike Barr


  Caption:   Sundance 2 - No 1 Collins Street   168x122cm - Joe Blundell.

Sundance 2 - No 1 Collins Street
168x122cm - Joe Blundell.


One of the biggest hang-ups about painting is having to think too much about it, while we do it. Of course, we have to think about what we are doing, but it can easily overtake our artistic side and in the end, artistry can drown in theory. All said and done, no one is going to be a painter because they know all the theory. Skill grows from the continual process of painting itself. No one has ever learned to drive without actually driving.

For example, colour theory isn't just learned from reference to colour charts and wheels, but by the use of colour on the palette and canvas. It is a personal journey that is different for everyone. Very early on I discovered by myself that red was toned down by green - actually, I didn't even know what tone was, but I knew that by adding a bit of green to bright red and some white, I could get the terra cotta colour I wanted.

Referring to colour charts and wheels while we are actually painting, can halt the flow of our work and growth can be stunted. The fewer colours you use, the easier it is to comprehend the amazing reach of colour mixing, and you will learn more about the subject than swarming over a 100 charts.

Composition rules can also be a needless worry. Recently, I read an artist's take on DaVinci's Last Supper painting. They drew red diagonal lines all over it, indicating the intricate compositional pattern. It looked impressive but made no sense at all, and is of no practical help to artists. Composition, like every other aspect of painting will develop in time. A sense of balance will become second-nature if we are continually aware of it, even when we are not painting.

Painting Plein air is the greatest teacher because everything has to be done on the fly, such as colour, tone, composition, and perspective. It's the best learning process there is, because it demands that artists to take control by making their own decisions.

Read the books, view the videos, and go to the workshops to learn as much as you can, but remember you'll only ever be a painter if you paint.

Happy painting!

Mike Barr




Sunspot Reflections - acrylic on canvas - 100x75cm


If you've been painting for a while you would have heard about some of the age-old 'rules'  that regularly do the rounds, and it seems for every rule there is always an artist ready to enforce it.

As time goes by we realise that there is no law enforcement when it comes to art. We can rest assured that the police won't be at the door if we bend or even fragrantly break some of the rules of painting.  A self-proclaimed sleuth may reprimand us from time to time, but they can't harm us, fine us, or send us to jail.

When we see a painting we love, we don't give it the third degree.  We tend to love art for what it is and thank goodness, because art would have died out long ago if its success depended on whether the artists followed all the rules in making it.
To be fair, a lot of rules are tried and true procedures and ways of doing things that have proved their worth over time.  However, rules regarding composition, tone and colour are all there to be broken if we dare.  
Black paint was virtually banned by the impressionists, preferring to get their darks from mixtures rather than use black in any way. John Singer Sargent certainly used black, as did Turner (who is widely regarded as the father of impressionism), and Renoir is quoted as saying “I’ve been forty years discovering that the queen of all colours is black”.
 Even today, many artists will not consider using black paint, and it has become one of the 'rules'.  The comment is often quoted - 'black is a dead colour".  I don't know who first used the phrase but it is so well-worn it has become gospel.
Black is still in the palette of many portrait artists, and interestingly the Swedish artist Anders Zorn famously often only used a palette of just black, white, vermillion and yellow ochre. His paintings are anything but dead!  Look at this link - a self portrait of Zorn painting, and notice the colours on his palette!
I tend to use black in my rainy cityscapes, but nearly always in conjunction with other colours. My favourite colours to use with black and white are yellow ochre, ultramarine, alizarin and veridian - some amazing greys are possible without too much complication.  The rain tends to rob any scene of colour and more so into the distance. The brightest colours are those that are illuminated like traffic lights, car lights and neon signs.  The technique of blueing off distant objects does not work the same in rainy-day works.
The rebellion has already begun, and black paint is being squeezed out of tubes all over the world.
Are you coming over to the dark side!
Mike Barr


Caption: Casablabla - is one of my favourite little paintings and all done using very few colours including black.


Don’t be Afraid of the Darks

 I’d been painting for a few years when I was given some advice – pay attention to the darks.

We can be painting for years and not recognise things that are lacking in our work. We can go through a lifetime of painting and miss things if we are not told about them.

I was thankful about the comment on the darks because looking back, they were certainly lacking most of the time.

Lack of darks is common in a lot of work and especially in water colours, where just when you think the darks are good, it all dries lighter. Darks in water colour take some boldness, but it does with other mediums too.

In oils and acrylics, putting in the darks at the beginning of a painting is a statement of boldness and confidence and those initial confident darks will set up the rest of the painting.

There is no better way to portray light than to have contrasting darks, and many a drama-filled painting has this feature. Landscapes, portraits, still life and abstract works come alive with contrasting darks and lights and often without this, paintings can look flat and uninteresting.

The most gripping example I can think of is Sir Arthur Streeton's 'Victoria Tower, Westminster'. I have seen this painting in the flesh at the South Australian Art Gallery and the link to the photo provided does it no justice at all -

This work draws you in to its atmospherics because of that cloud shadow on the tower.  The shadow is exaggerated perfectly in colour and darkness, to give it real guts and it makes the tower an imposing object full of awe. The bright light in the foreground is but a foil to make the tower even more dramatic. It is surely one of the most powerful shadows ever painted, and had the shadow been painted lighter, the work would not have had half the power.

Exaggerated darks can beef up an otherwise boring scene, and is one of the best tools available to artists, that can make the painted version of life so much more interesting.

The photo of 'Late Afternoon, Burke Road, Melbourne' is another example of exaggerated darks in the foreground, that gives depth to the more distant objects, as well as giving the overall painting some substance. The extreme darks also allow the tail lights of the cars to shine.

As a matter of interest, black was used in conjunction with other colours to achieve the deep darks in the foreground - more on black paint next time!

Mike Barr


Caption - Late Afternoon, Burke Road, Melbourne is available at the Artworx Gallery - 50x50cm oil on canvas.



The amazing energy of unamended brush strokes was certainly a hallmark of the early impressionists. Today many artists use them to convey energy and interest in their paintings. The visible brush stroke speaks of intent and confidence. In other words the strokes are deliberate and bold.  Painting in this way is not every artist’s thing, but trying it every so often will help our confidence and work. It means that you will paint with larger brushes than you normally would, especially the flat variety and at the end you can embellish for a little while with a small brush if you feel you need to.

The broad brush method of painting helps in a few directions.
It will force you to simplify
Detail will become implied only - the best detail possible. It is amazing how striking things look when produced with fewer strokes rather than being fiddled with endlessly.
It will stop you from striving for perfection
Striving for perfection is the ruination of art and the hopeless striving for it can make us give up. A painting’s worth more for its feeling than its perfect likeness.
It will make you appreciate the 'accidental' effect
You will fall in love with some strokes that you thought you didn't mean.  The more you paint broad the 'luckier' you will get and in the end you realise it is not luck at all - just confidence.
Your paintings will take on a new life
There is no denying that brushy work has built-in energy with each mark and stroke looking lively and immediate. It almost turns a painting into a movie.
You will finish your paintings quicker and they will have more interest
This is a real bonus, particularly if you are painting outdoors.  The very simplest of paintings done with large brush strokes can have more in them than works done over days. The eye is more attracted to the obscure and to dramatic brush strokes than to photographic detail.
It will allow you to finish without needing it to be perfect
Striving for perfection is the bane of many an artist and we have all felt it in one form or another. With a bolder brush, perfection is taken out of the equation. The purpose of untouched brushstrokes is to give life - not to have it sapped away through the attrition of process and detail.
Why not give the bold brush a try and spark up your interest and enjoyment at the easel.
Mike Barr

Clare 1920s - came as a bit of a surprise. The surface I had prepared for this oil painting was slippery and had a red/brown underpainting.  The brush flowed and I left many parts alone after the first.




Shadows are rarely just darker colours than the un-shadowed colour, and the impressionists used this to great effect.

The easiest way to see the colour of a shadow is to see them at the beach or in the snow. You will notice that shadows on a sunny clear day are very blue or purple, particularly late in the afternoon or morning. Some of us may never have noticed this, but it's quite a revelation when you spot it.

Many impressionist artist’s really exaggerate these coloured shadows to great effect, and even though they are more coloured than in real life, they look believable, simply because we are used to seeing those coloured shadows without even realizing it!

The blue in shadows on a sunny day are there because the yellow of the sun is being blotted out by a solid object. With the yellow of the sun not there, the only thing left to illuminate is the blue sky and hence the blueness of the shadow. Of course, it is not all blue but a combination of blue and the original colour of the object in shadow.  It is the subtlety of these combinations that need to be worked on to get it right. There is no real formula - it takes persistence, observation and patience!

Not only is the shadow a combination of the original object’s colour (untainted by the yellow of the sun) and the sky but can also include colours from sources nearby.  For instance the shadows of sand dunes have the colour of sand, the sky and the reflection of sunlit sand that may be nearby. Quite frankly, there are so few artists that think about this third source, and it's a triumph when we get it right.

Still life shadows are particularly susceptible to colours of local objects and understanding this can transform your work.

I remember one evening leaving the Cathedral Art Show in Adelaide and there were two sets of street lights at play. Some strong white spotlights were casting deep shadows on the pavement, but the shadows were very orange. The orange came from the street lights above that were illuminating the shadows cast from the white spotlights.

For sure, the colours in shadows are very subtle most of the time, but as artists we can enhance them and when we do, it will add another dimension to our work and bring them to life. A study of how other artists handle shadows can be an eye-opener and well worth the time to consider and then implement the knowledge in our own work. 

Happy observing and painting


The blue-purple in the shadows are very visible at the beach and on things like white sails.



Sky Blues

Not long ago while painting outdoors at Goolwa, a fellow artist dropped by and we had a chat about the colour of the sky. It was a partly cloudy day and the blues were distinctly different as they popped through the clouds in different parts. It's on these kind of days that the variety of blues in the same sky is most apparent and it's quite remarkable.

Landscape artists are among the keenest observers of the sky that can be imagined.  Translating that observation into our work will certainly give it an edge that can only be obtained from direct observation as opposed to working from photographic reference alone.

Depending on which direction and elevation of the sky you look at, the blues can be dramatically different. Directly above can be a very deep colour and almost a deep grey blue. Often near the horizon the blue can be almost turquoise, particularly in the winter. The main thing though is that the blues are always lighter as they travel from overhead toward the ground. At certain times of the day and depending where the sun is the blues can turn to yellow, pink or purple near the horizon.

Capturing these colours in a painting can transform it, but it takes some work to get it right, but once you get it, you will always be able to take advantage of it. Getting the sky right, especially near the horizon will give your work tons of aerial perspective and this is what can make or break a painting.

Of course, there is not one particular sky blue, simply because nature's palette is far more extensive than that. We all have our favourites though! Cerulean, Ultramarine, Cobalt and my personal favourite, Pthalo blue (red shade) are the main ones and combinations of the above are often used.

In most cases the sky sets the tone in a landscape painting, particularly a seascape. It's also an opportunity to get out the bigger brushes, because a big-brushed sky will always look more lively and floaty than one done with small brushes and careful strokes.

Personally, I almost always add clouds to a sky even if they aren't there in real life. It just seems to add volume and interest to the sky. In most of my seascapes I have a lot of sky, mainly because this is what hits you as you walk onto a beach.

So, as an artist never miss an opportunity to look at all those blues in the sky and all those delicious coloured greys in the clouds - just don't do it when you're driving though!

Happy observing!

Mike Barr



A photo I took of Goolwa Beach many years ago. The different blues are easily seen here as well as a hint of turquoise near the horizon and a belt of dusky purple right on the horizon -  the belt of colour on the horizon is really important.

Finding Your Painting Style

I've heard many artists say that they are trying to find a style - particularly those who are new to painting.  Also, many of us that have been painting for a while think they have don't have a style yet. The thing is, we already have a style - it just needs to be recognised.

Sometimes, what we mean is, we want to paint like someone else  and we are looking around to see who we might emulate.

 Eventually though, even though we might take on someone else's style we nearly always revert back to what we do naturally.  Unfortunately, some artists actually do become clones of other artists, both in style and content, but they are never quite the real deal as artists.

An often repeated comment is "I would love to paint like you"  and some attend workshops of artists they like in the hope that this might come true. The fact is, if tutor artists thought that their students would end up painting like them, then workshops would quickly become a thing of the past!

It's true that during a workshop, students  will come up with paintings that resemble the style of the tutors, but generally it ends there. Once we are at home we find that we paint like we always did.

The point of workshops is not to change your style, but to get better at your own style.  One of two things picked up in the workshop or demonstration and always put into practice at home, will make the experience invaluable.  

Painting style is as personal as handwriting - we are all taught how to write but we all do it differently.  We all know how to walk but every single person has their own unique way of doing it - the same goes with painting.

Learn to recognise your own style, embrace it and love it - it's you!

 A run through a mixed painting exhibition will show how each artist is different in their own way. This is because each of them has their own style.  Some artists like John Lacey from South Australia  (his work can be seen at Arworx Gallery) paints traditional and contemporary work,  but his own personal style shines through in both forms of work.

Over time our styles will develop and grow as we improve our painting skills, but this will come naturally and not as a result of wishing to change our style - it just happens.  

Enjoy the journey!

Mike Barr



 Mike Barr

Burnside Showers - 100x100cm acrylic on canvas

The Wonder of Watercolour

Despite being the most difficult of all painting mediums, many people are drawn to it when first taking up painting. Perhaps it is the seeming simplicity of it all. Drawing, then painting it in..  or is it the almost instantaneous set up that attracts people to the medium. Whatever it is, water colour has beguiled many an artist into its fascinating world!
Of all the mediums, water colour is the most unpredictable and you often don't get a second chance. What you see on the palette of a set of oils or acrylics is pretty much what you will get on the canvas and the same is true of pastels. When it comes to water colour though, the variables of pigment and water are almost limitless, and then it dries lighter too! Then there is the untidy and often unwanted effects of placing colour on top of other colours that are either to dry or too wet - there is always something you need to think about when applying the paint.
A little while ago I saw a photorealistic painting of a street scene which had been done with water colours. It was so close to the photograph, that it was hard to know which one was which. A short video clip of the process showed an artists hand with a small brush making small careful strokes - the whole painting would have been done this way. It showcased great craftsmanship, but not a lot of art - the painting was an exact imitation of the photo. It is my opinion, that water colour is meant for better things than careful photorealism, but the trace and paint method seems to be growing in popularity and is presented as the pinnacle of achievement. A look at some of the masters of the past and present will show how amazing the medium is at conveying mood and movement. I have chosen a painting of Edward Seago to illustrate the true wonder of water colour with  Marsh and Sky.

Even though this work is a study of simplicity (the key to good watercolour) it oozes mood and light. Confident washes and brush strokes give the painting a vibrancy that is lacking in the careful, small-brush method. His beautiful darks and use of white paper, makes the light shine and the use of a dry brush gives the impression of sparkle and texture. This is water colour in its true glory and a relative handful of artists emulate it today. It is well worth looking up Edward Seago on Google and considering his water colour and oil
paintings. It is time well-spent. A visit to Artworx Gallery and Gifts will show some wonderful examples of the water colour medium too.

Happy painting

 Mike Barr

Marsh and Sky (14 x20 in) Edward Seago

Edward Seago, Marsh and Sky, Watercolor, 14 x 20 in.jpeg


 I'd love a hot dinner for every time I have heard that question! We almost feel as if the enquirer will be heartily satisfied if we tell them to took six months of hard labour to complete a painting, and that anything less might have them thinking it's unworthy of attention.

I know from experience that onlookers are almost in disbelief that an artist can produce three or four paintings in a few hours while painting plien air (outdoors). The general consensus is , that paintings take days, weeks or even months to finish.  Of course, some paintings do take that long but it depends on size and the amount of small-brush detail, but it's not a general rule.

 Many artists can paint several good works in a day, but does that make them any less valuable than one that has taken days or weeks to paint?  Paintings that take longer to complete are not necessarily better or of more value because of it. Artists are not just worth an hourly rate like a plumber or even a lawyer. Bear in mind too, that good artists are harder to find than a good lawyer or doctor.

For a lot of professional and semi-professional artists, output is important and under normal circumstances a painting every month or so just isn't going to keep you in bread and jam, unless you are selling them for tens of thousands each. Speed and continuous output is a great advantage.

An artist who can complete a work in hours, is able to do so because of accumulated skill and confidence in their whole process, including colour mixing, drawing, application of paint and knowing when to stop. 

Artists should not be phased by the question - "how long did it take to paint that". Often, it’s just an expression of interest by a passerby with no intent.

If the question is asked we can truly answer by adding the number of years of experience we have had - "it took me 20 years to learn how to paint this in three hours".

Happy painting.

Mike Barr

Caption: This plein air painting of Victor Park Adelaide, was completed in about an hour and a half. As you look at it you can see everything was put down without too much fuss and the figures are nothing more than a few strokes.  It takes time and practice to do this with some success.




Liz and John Francis

12 Hays Street
Goolwa, South Australia

Phone: (08) 8555 0949


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