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.


I must confess from the outset, that when looking through an art show, I zero-in on paintings with brush strokes.  For me, there is nothing more exciting about a painting than seeing evidence of the brush. And that includes knife marks and pastel strokes.

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As most people see it, a painting is either a print or an original. We see and feel the brush marks and exclaim - "yep, it's an original!"

Several years ago a gallery in Australia was selling hand-painted copies of Vincent's work. Even though they were very close to the original works of Van Gogh, they were just hand-painted copies, nothing more or less. So, even though they were produced with brushes and paint, did that really make them originals? The answer is clearly no.  There was nothing at all original about them.

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Of all the paintings styles in the world today, I believe impressionism is the most powerful.

When the impressionists of the 19th century were given the label it was not a friendly description. Their work was regarded by many as unfinished and rough.  Such a departure from the traditional ways was not accepted with open arms.

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Unless the art class you attend is part a needful social outlet, there is no need to be going there for years on end to improve your art. The sheer weight of class hours alone does not equate to being a better artist. 

It's a bit like students being involved in higher learning right into their thirties. Life has left them behind, while they are still 'learning' about stuff. The very best learning in painting or life is done on the job and life experience shows the truth of this.

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In life there is hardly any success without momentum. Whether in the business world, sport, home life and yes,  even in art - momentum plays a huge part in progress. The winning ways of momentum can be seen first-hand in sport. Two teams may be evenly matched in skills but in the end, momentum and the mental confidence that accompanies it will irresistibly win the day.

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If we are concerned with selling our work we have to rise above the average. People will love paintings before they will buy them and with so many artists around we need to stand out from the growing crowd.

While it's easy to see how ordinary other artists' work may be, it's almost impossible to see it in our own.  It's just the way it is and it's a real problem with art.

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Recently I viewed a very realistic painting of an expensive watch on Facebook. It was undiscernible from a photograph, so much so, that people questioned whether it was in fact a painting. Some step-by-step views showed that it was indeed hand-painted.

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If you've been involved in the art world for a while you will know that as far as paintings go, the biggest selling items are those bought to match home or office decor. If it's not true in other countries, it's certainly the case in Australia.

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Within the ranks of artists, the term lost and found edges is quite a cliche - we hear it a lot.

However, when it comes to actually painting it can be forgotten, right along with other things we thought we had learnt along the way. It's easy to forget when we are busy at the easel!

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With more and more people taking up art, particularly in their later years, it has produced it own little economy.  In many respects it is good for artists. Never before have art materials been so accessible and affordable. Learning painting is also not a problem, as the mysteries of the skill are taught and outlined in the myriad of online tutorials, art classes and workshops..

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It's something most of us have said or at least thought when we see some pieces of art - particularly if it's got a high price ticket.

What is often not recognised in the strange world of art pricing, is that the price is often bound up in who the artist is and not the art itself. The more well-known the artist is, the more likely they are to attract higher prices for their work.

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After reading a rather baffling artist's statement the other day I thought it was worth a few words.

It is now common for galleries and art prizes to request artists come up with a statement about themselves and their work. This is in addition to any achievements they have gained over the years.  The artist's statement is important.

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I noted online recently an artist starting off painting demo with a palette full of colours. There were 21 colours in all – a formidable array for painting a landscape and the finished product told the story. The landscape in question turned out to be quite detailed but the overall colour scheme was jarring. The overloaded palette was the downfall of an otherwise competent work.

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It has been said that inspiration is the luxury of the amateur and in a sense, this is true. A professional artist can't wait for some inspirational moment before they can paint - poverty will be the result. In fact the need for food and shelter is inspiration enough for those who live by the brush!

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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.

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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.


Liz and John Francis

12 Hays Street
Goolwa, South Australia

Phone: (08) 8555 0949


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