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.

Making Paintings Interesting


Some artists have an amazing knack of making their paintings interesting. Actually, it’s more than a knack, they have learned how to do it and they know what to look for in the most ordinary of subjects.

It’s not something often talked about among artists and perhaps it’s because most of us churn out paintings that lack real interest – me included. The problem is that it’s really easy to miss and we don’t purposely do it and that’s because we don’t think about it much as we paint.

When we first take up painting, we can be more concerned about trying to get it looking the same as the reference rather than making it interesting. Unfortunately, this trait can stay with us for as long as we are painters, simply because we don’t think about the alternatives.

I always think that looking through an open art exhibition will teach us many things and one of them is what makes certain paintings more interesting than others. Some works draw onlookers like magnets – be an observer at the next open art show and see what people are attracted to and why.

So here are a few things we can help us generate interest in our work and it often mean escaping from the reference we use to paint from.

  • Contrast – contrast alone doesn’t make a great painting but it can certainly add interest. Also, there are many interesting paintings that have limited contrast but other things come into play like mood and serenity. Contrast often means good darks, which in turn can make the light pop.

  • Selective use of colour indiscriminate use of bright colour all around a painting can have people walking quickly to the next work. Using colour as an accent really works in generating interest.

  • Colour harmony – this can be really effective in all genres. Paintings with colours that are comfortable with each other are very attractive and liveable – they are interesting and deliberately so.

  • Atmospheric perspective – this is missing in an awful lot of work. The greens on distant hills should not be the same as those in the foreground. The same applies to all distant colours. This one aspect alone can transform a painting from one of limited interest to one that viewers can walk into.

  • Focal point – not every painting needs one, but it does help to promote interest.  Having the eye of the viewer drawn to a single point in the painting is a great way to grab attention. Not, every bit of a painting needs to be in focus or competing for attention. Most of a painting can just be a prop for that ‘star of the show’ which people just can’t help looking at.

  • Add life!  Signs of life are the easiest way to give draw attention.  Many artists avoid it at the cost of interest. A beach with no people, birds or boats – a jetty with no sign of life whatever, a landscape with not even a bird can make it look like a depiction of how life on earth could like the day after all life has been eradicated. Signs of life such as people, birds, houses and boats will have viewers identifying with what you have painted and they will be making up their own story about what they are seeing. That is what you call interesting and it is the work of an artist and not just a practician.

Happy painting in 2018!

Mike Barr

                                    Autumn Shadows – Middleton                                        Oil on canvas – 120x60cm Interest is invited first by the fact that you will not see yachts at Middleton, but you do in this painting. At last the viewer is drawn by the cliffs and beyond as the depiction of distance takes hold.

                                    Autumn Shadows – Middleton  

                                     Oil on canvas – 120x60cm

Interest is invited first by the fact that you will not see yachts at Middleton, but you do in this painting. At last the viewer is drawn by the cliffs and beyond as the depiction of distance takes hold.

Painting to Music

Nothing stirs the heart and emotions like music.  It can make us happy, it can make us soar and we all know at least one piece of music that can bring us to tears and not necessarily from sadness. Many artists have learned how to harness this power when they paint and some even blog what music they listened to when they painted a particular work. Music can elevate our mood and can free our timidity with the brush too and of course this will depend on our personal taste. Music while painting isn’t everyone’s thing, but it’s well worth a try to taste its potential magic. I believe there are several benefits to combining music and art.

  • It can lift our spirits so much that it can expand our perceived capabilities. Simply, we can believe we can do things beyond what we thought possible. It’s true!

  • Music can distract us from thinking too much about the process of art. It can free our minds to do art. This state of mind is otherwise called being in the zone and we can find that art has rhythm as well as music. It’s true!

  • Importantly, music can blot out the distractions and worries of life that beckon us constantly. Someone once commented that to paint well our life needs to be in order and without stress. Well, I’m still yet to meet such a person! Let music sooth your soul and let it help you to immerse yourself in the moment. It works!  

As for what kind of music is best, it must be stuff that you love. I have a regular dose of Enya while painting and enjoy its ethereal themes. Sometimes while painting rainy street scenes, I will turn to popular songs that mention the rain, such as: Have you ever seen the rain – CCR, Kentucky Rain - Elvis, Rainy days and Mondays – The Carpenters, Why does it always rain on me? – Travis and my favourite, I hear laughter in the Rain by Neil Sedaka.  I know that I’m preaching to many who have converted – so what do you listen to while painting?

Merry Painting and a Happy New Canvas

Mike Barr


                                  A White Christmas on the Torrens This Year? (2004)


Painting With Mud

I saw a post on Facebook recently showing artists how to avoid their colours turning into mud on the palette. The argument was that it was important to keep colours bright and fresh. I thought about that and realised that a lot of my paintings and palettes are certainly muddy - particularly those of the rainy-day kind. Of course, it depends on what you are painting and what you intend your finished painting to look like.

If you are after a bright floral painting, then mud is not going to get you home. There are times when you need clean colours that are not tainted by other colours. Having said that, it should not be the universal aim that all paintings should have bright and fresh colours and sometimes, we can just be too careful.

Not long ago I was watching a famous oil painter at work. He only had half a dozen basic colours on his palette and he didn't mind in the least that some colours were being tainted by others. In fact, the landscape he produced was magnificent and unified. Having bits of the same colour on the ground and in the sky can be very effective. It just depends on what kind of painter you are and what kind of painting you are hoping for.

Some of the world's best watercolourists love the mud or dirty colour left on the palette from previous paintings, whereas other artists wouldn't dream of using it!

Greys can easily be misnamed as mud, and are often the heart and soul of a painting. Colour will sing when it is supported by greys and darks and paintings can lose complete focus if everything is bright and colourful. Many beautiful paintings have been produced both abstract and traditional just using greys and perhaps a few highlight colours. Greys can be mixed by using complementary colours and white or by mixing colours with black and white - both are good.

I know for instance that the palette for my rain paintings can look like a pigs wallow, but my highlight colours have to be kept clean and used with a clean brush. My beach palette is quite different and some of those main colours of sky and sea need to be clean and fresh. To suggest however, that every painting needs clean colours with no 'mud' is just wrong. 

A painting full of colour can cause visual agitation and serenity in a painting with so little of it. It is a worthwhile exercise to look at the works of many artists both abstract and traditional and see how colour and greys work  together. 

Sometimes, mud is good!

Mike Barr


The story of a thousand paintings

It's nearly that time of year again when Victor Harbor Rotary Club will play host to hundreds of artists and some 1200 paintings in its annual art show. The show attracts artists from around the country with its alluring prize money and amazing percentage of sales. 

This big event in the Australian art calendar has artists presenting their best works - some that have been saved all year just for this particular show. The amazing thing about having those 1200 or so works in one giant marquee, is that everyone of them has a unique story. 

I'm not talking about the story that the painting portrays but the story 'of' the painting itself. It's largely a hidden story and parts of it is a mystery to both the artist and the buyer.

The buyer has little knowledge of the conception, birth and early life of a painting. The artist of course knows all about it!  The artist first knew what they wanted to paint and they visualised how it could look as a finished piece of art. They even thought how they could improve on it to make it more appealing by giving it a focus that may not have been there in the reference. Then there was the size to consider, the colours and maybe the frame.  This is where the story begins and there's more. 

The finished painting on the wall doesn't tell us about the possible dramas in production - the times we couldn't do anything right, the times we just gave up or wanted to give up. It may have even been discarded completely, but then revived some time later when it all came together! Then there's the hauling - artists always seem to be hauling paintings to shows and in an out of cars, all the time concerned about the damage that may happen along the way. Then we worry about how it's going to look at the show with all those other great artists there. It's a story that may be repeated often before the painting sells, if of course, it ever does sell. 

I know most artists love the excitement of the opening day and we get to see our work and those of other artists that we have long admired. All the dramas that may have happened in production are soon forgotten as we see our babies on display.

The life of a painting is now mostly out of the control of the artist. A buyer loves a piece of art and they purchase it, often a person unknown to the artist and because of privacy issues they may never know who now owns it.

It is here that art begins a new life. It is a mystery to most artists what happens to it next, but paintings live on in the lives of a family through good and bad times. It becomes a part of the fabric of a family in which it may be loved for generations. 

The latter part of a painting's life may be a mystery to the artist, but what a privilege it is to have created something that has such an enduring story in front of it.

Artworx Gallery has five rooms full of paintings waiting right now for their stories to continue - come and have a look!

Happy Painting
Mike Barr

The big marquee is ready for the display boards and the paintings with a thousand stories to tell!

The big marquee is ready for the display boards and the paintings with a thousand stories to tell!

Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story!

Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story

Some people are great at telling stories. They can recount a real-life event in an interesting way, embellishing certain bits and leaving stuff out that would spoil the story all together!

On the other hand, some of us have no idea how to tell a good yarn. Whatever focus there may have been, soon gets lost in peripheral details about their second-cousin's next door neighbour's cat and we fall asleep while listening!

You probably know where I am going with this because painting is just the same, no matter what the subject is.   

It is easy to ramble on when verbally recounting an event and the same is true of painting. By cramming a canvas with as much detail as possible, the main thrust  is lost. It's like the conversationalist that never gets to the point or just takes too long to get there. The rambling detail becomes the focus and the main event fades away. All this can been seen in paintings of many subjects and in abstract work too.

The most effective paintings are the simple statements with not too much colour and not too much detail

Even after many years of painting, the automatic response can still be to paint exactly what we see and often it's just not interesting enough. We need to be artists, not copiers and that means being creative and here are a few ways we can do it.

  • Intent - before you begin painting decide what the intent or focus of the work will be. This will give you an idea of what to pay attention to.
  • Simplify - Don't be afraid to change things, leave things out, forget trying to paint every single leaf on the tree or every skin pore on a portrait or every vein in a leaf - it's boring stuff and it will all distract from the bigger picture.
  • Exaggerate -  Just like a good story teller, embellish the things that will bring the painting to life.  Make the moon bigger, the shadows darker and the lights lighter - whatever it takes to make the ordinary look extraordinary!

Finally, don't worry about the painting if it doesn't look exactly like the reference photo or even painting from life. You will not be deducted points from your artist's licence, you will not receive a fine from the perfectionist's club, but you will feel like you have control of your paintings and what's more you'll be an artist!


Caption: Brunswick Street is indeed a old-world street full of mystery. I've exaggerated the darkness of the building giving them no detail at all and the mystery deepens!

Brunswick Street is indeed a old-world street full of mystery. I've exaggerated the darkness of the building giving them no detail at all and the mystery deepens!

Brunswick Street is indeed a old-world street full of mystery. I've exaggerated the darkness of the building giving them no detail at all and the mystery deepens!

Little Birds - Big Atmosphere


When I was a kid, a painting wasn't complete without some obligatory seagulls. Lots of children's paintings have them, together with houses with windows and a door, some people, a dog and blue sky with some clouds. As we get older and take up the brush we can easily assume all that birds-in-the-sky thing is just kids stuff. At best it can be regarded as quaint and more than a little predictable.

I confess that even after nearly 60 years of drawing and painting, I hardly ever do a landscape without adding some birds. I can tell you though, it's not just for decoration or just for something to fill the empty space in the sky. There are two main reasons I paint birds in the landscape. Firstly, it's a sign of life and movement. Some paintings have no sign of animal life whatsoever.  Even works that are masterfully produced can look somehow sterile without this important aspect.  Birds are a minimum but effective way of saying that life still exists on earth.

Secondly, and importantly, birds in the sky can give it extra depth.  It is embarrassingly simple to even mention it, but birds in flight add to the other ways of projecting the expanse of the sky and aerial perspective. They also add an important mid-distance object in the sky when no other objects may be available. The placement of birds between the viewer and say a mountain range or cliffs adds an enormous quality of depth that so few utilise.  Birds painted with the intention of adding to the illusion of space need to be painted a certain way.  Unless a bird is the focus of the painting, they just need to be a couple of strokes of the brush or even just one! Remember that they are just props in the show you are producing and other things will be the stars.

So, even in a simple child's painting, those birds tell us in the simplest and most effective way that this is the expanse of sky.  It may be simple, it may be quaint and it may even be regarded as predictable, but the power of those little creatures in flight needs to be considered seriously by all landscapers.

Happy Painting

Mike Barr

hallet-cove-web (3).jpeg

he birds between the viewer and the headland at Hallett Cove add to the impression of distance and expanse of atmosphere.

The Painters' Blues

Most artists have experienced painters’ block, which mainly has to do with not knowing what to paint next, we are also aware of the Painters’ Blues, but don't talk about it much.

Painters’ Blues can manifest itself in several ways and has more than a few causes. Sometimes, life just gets in the way, casting its problems before us as it always does, we can feel an inability to create. Unexpected crisis' can cripple any desire for art, but this is natural and it won't last forever. Sometimes, we have to ease back into it and be gentle on ourselves. You can't force art to happen because it takes body, mind and heart - all three, but especially heart!

Occasionally, the Painters’ Blues can make us feel like we could never paint anything worthwhile again. It's a baseless state of mind and may be fleeting, but it's as real as the easel before us.  I think it is often called insecurity and may be a momentary loss of confidence. We can't always know why these feelings come upon us, but they do and it's helps to know that we are not alone. The good news is, we do get over it and we are not air traffic controllers where a loss of confidence could cost lives.

There are times when we can hardly face any attempt to paint. It can all seem too hard when we are not in the zone and that little dark cloud puts a veil over the joy of work. Inexplicable as these things often are, they still happen and in these cases a bit of pottering around in our workspace can cure it. I like to fiddle with a painting that hasn't quite worked out or wipe the slate clean by going over it with a primer undercoat ready to start afresh - it's empowering and gets the painting heart beating.

There are other self-inflicted causes of the painting blues, like social media. I think Facebook and Instagram are particularly good for art and artists, but all is not what it seems in these worlds. It is very easy to assume that every other artist is swimming through life and art without a care in the world, but this is hardly ever true. We tend to put our best foot forward on Facebook and it can make it look like our art and life journey is a breeze, which it hardly ever is - for any of us.  Having this false impression of the lives of our fellow artists can have a negative effect on ourselves and our work.  You can rest assured that anyone doing well in life or art, has counter-balancing issues to deal with too - you just don't hear about them.

So how do we tackle those painting blues?

Heartily share in the successes of others, coax yourself back into painting by hanging around your work area and appreciate the joy of work, not just the finished product. You'll be glad you did.


Happy painting

Mike Barr


MIKE BARR - Art That Speaks For Itself

I'm an artist and like most artists, I'm an art lover too.

Recently, I bought a painting from a Rotary Show that wasn't painted in a style that I use, but I loved it and bought it. I had never heard of the artist and I didn’t know what the intent of the painting was, but it didn’t matter, I loved the painting and took it home. The painting spoke to me and that is the reason I purchased it. No amount of explanation about an artist, their methods, their intent, their achievements or what story they have behind the painting, will make me love an artwork. I need to love the work for itself. I just want to look at art and take it in without being interrupted by talk or explanations.  Love is beyond explanation.

In the art world, there are lots of words that mean nothing. Many artists statements defy understanding and are beyond the grasp of mere mortals! I have read many such statements that are nothing more than pure comedy.

In addition to artists statements, we are often presented with statements about paintings too that sometimes don’t match what we see - even in our wildest imaginings.

Some paintings of course come with legitimate explanations and we can see what the artist was getting at. However, by the time we have taken it all in, that fleeting moment has long gone where love at first sight was possible.

All kinds of paintings can have a voice and sometimes it is a voice that only a few will hear – art is not for everyone and some paintings are just for one person.

 Abstract contemporary art for instance can be wonderful to look at and enjoyable in its own right. Of course, the colours and design might just go with someone’s décor too and the voice of the painting is strong. A work may be of a more traditional kind and may pull the heart-strings of a viewer who has a special relationship with the place that has been painted. Sometimes, these heart pulls cannot be denied and a painting is sold.

The wonder of a painting’s voice, is that it can say things to a viewer that the artist had no vision of when they painted it. Paintings can produce joy, comfort and a place of refuge. I know this to be true.

Several years ago, I just happened to be in a community gallery where a few pieces of my work where showing. One had just sold before I arrived and the interstate buyers were pleased to meet me. The painting was of a young girl walking down a beach path toward the sea. The couple told me that they had recently lost a young daughter and she frequented such a beach path – the painting was for them. How could I have possibly known the voice this painting had for that couple.  Such is the deep privilege of being an artist and its rewards are without price.

Paint with a voice.

Mike Barr

 'Calling in Sick' - a lot of us dream about such a brazen escape and some of us actually do it!


Mike Barr - You know you're an Artist when ...

When we take up art we never really know when we are allowed to call ourselves an artist.  Rarely does anyone tell us"You're an artist now - well done!" In fact,  when do we start believing that we have become anartist?

The art world has a quaint label for up and coming artists and uses the term 'emerging artist'. Again, no one ever tells such artists when they cease to be an emerging artist!  It's a term that keeps artists in their place until the 'art world' elevates them to a higher station, which may never come and often doesn't.

So, in real life when do we become artists? Here is a list that I know many could add to!

You know you're an artist when:

·         You really love being in art supply shops or trawling through their online offerings!

·         You come out of an art shop with more than you intended to buy.

·         You know what a red dot means and the inexplicable satisfaction of a sale.

·         You know what your favourite type of art is and the artists that inspire you.

·         You've have, or nearly have dipped your brush in your coffee or tea.

·         You've drank your painting water - by mistake!

·         Hours have disappeared effortlessly at the easel.

·         You have clothes that you paint in.

·         A lot of your everyday clothes gradually become clothes that you paint in.

·         Someone has told you that you have paint on your face or elbow.

·         Paint smudges appear in strange places in the house and car.

·         You love being with artists and talking shop.

·         You start becoming good friends with certain colours on your palette.

·         You've already had some paint accidents.

·         You notice art on the walls in every TV program.

·         You love popping in to see an art exhibition.

·         You love squeezing paint out of a new tube.

·         A day or so without painting has you longing for the easel.

·         You start imagining many things you see as paintings.

·         You believe that Facebook, Instagram and Youtube were specially designed for artists.

But, when do you really know you are an artist?
I believe it's when we start seeing the world through the eyes of an artist. We notice things like shadows and light and we start guessingthe colours in a landscape or sky. We see things that we just need to paint and generally we appreciate the visual world more than most people do. When we start thinking like an artist, that's when we know we are an artist!

Happy painting!



Mike Barr - Be your own best critic!

Critique is a big word in the world of art. From the humblest painting done on the back porch to art worth millions, there is always a critic at hand and they are more than ready to offer a few words of their wisdom!

For artists at the top of the food chain, criticism is worth nothing - their success is enough encouragement for them. However, criticism for most artists can be crippling.

There are three main types of criticism.

There is the unsolicited critique. We all know how annoying this is! Being a recipient of it can be very discouraging particularly if it is in earshot of those around us.

Constructive criticism always seems to be available from our peers. Many of us even seek such opinions, but asking for such critique will often just bring in a flood of conflicting personal views that add nothing for the artist.

The most devastating of critiques though, are the dishonestly kind ones given by family and friends. You know,  the ones that tell you how talented you are, how wonderful the painting is and many other buttery things, which may be completely untrue. The devastating nature of this, is that artists can actually begin to believe it! Even though family and friends are being polite, they are actually setting up an artist for mediocrity.  There is a difference in encouragement however,  and this can be done without resorting to gushing untruths!

Having just started off painting as a hobby or career, it's almost impossible to improve something that we already believe to be great!

The answer is to be our own best critic. But, how do we do that?

Firstly, get on the internet and look at some amazing art. Trawl through sites like Pinterest and come to the realisation that there are many artists in the world that produce better work than we do. This is not to put ourselves down, but just to put our art in perspective.  The next big step is to put our work into open exhibitions. When our work hangs with the works of others, again, our paintings are seen in a completely different light. What may have seemed like a masterpiece at home, suddenly doesn't seem quite so good. This is not self-inflicted cruelty, it's self-imposed honesty!  When we realise that we can improve, then improvement is possible. When we think we've made it, it just means we've stopped learning.

Critique other artist's works by all means, but keep it to yourself! Private critiquing is a great way to learn. Take note of what is good and what is bad in other's paintings and see if it applies to you. Painting truly is a journey and it never stops.

Happy self-critiquing!

Mike Barr

Caption: A couple of paintings of the bluff at Victor Harbor - one from 2004 (inset) and 2015.


Mike Barr - So you'd like to paint looser?

If I could have a dollar for every time I heard an artist say "I must paint looser", I'd be a rich man!

Even though we may wish to paint looser we often soon revert to how we always paint - it's just natural and it's just easy to go with our own flow.

Painting looser takes effort, practice and confidence and quite frankly, it's not for everyone.

Most importantly is the issue of simplifying everything and that means ignoring lots of small stuff or converting it to a stroke or two instead of 100 strokes of the brush. I think you know what I mean. It's the difference between stroking the canvas many times with a little brush until you are happy with the result or placing just a few confident marks, so that the result resembles the object enough for viewers to fill in the details. This is the appeal of such paintings. It takes a certain amount of bravery to do this and certainly practice.

Reducing objects to much simpler forms is a big part of painting looser, but so is using bigger brushes. Using a brush that is bigger than you thought suitable for the job, is the first step. I can tell you by recent experience that painting small figures works out much better for me using 1/2" flat than a pointy sable.  The pointy brush has me fiddling, the 1/2" flat gives me a more realistic random shape and keeps me loose even though I don't particularly want to be!

The truly loose painting will show confident strokes and not overworked areas of blended colour.  Those seemingly brash marks will give your painting so much energy. I say seemingly brash, because the strokes are quite considered and have come at the cost of some practice.

Painting outdoors is the perfect arena to practice that loose painting style and in fact, it really demands it!

So, let the wish come true and give it a try. Half the problem is getting to the easel and remembering that we would like to paint looser!

Be brave and use a stupidly large brush to paint the whole picture. Then at the end you can use a small brush for a minute or two - it is exquisitely enjoyable to put in those little highlights.

Simplify shapes, simplify colour and use confident strokes. It doesn't matter if you mess up, just regard each piece as a practice without the pressure of perfection and it will come together.

Happy Painting!

Mike Barr

Caption:  This street scene was painted reasonably loosely and then some small work right at the end. It has some energy because of it, with plenty the viewer can add.  Simple shapes, simple colour and obvious brush strokes.


Say "NO" to slavery!

As artists, it's easy to set ourselves up for slavery - photographic slavery.

It can begin from when we first start to paint. Automatically, we are looking to get as close to that photo as we can - it just comes naturally.  If we see a leaf, we've got to paint it and as many blades of grass as we can pick out. All of a sudden we realise that brushes just aren't made small enough for our needs and we are spending a lot of time with our faces just about touching the canvas or paper.

Some artists end up painting masterful works that, well... just look like the photograph they were taken from. It's more of a sophisticated type of slavery, a kind of masterful slavery, but still slavery.

Painting is, or should be more than replicating photographs.   Being a painter is about interpreting the world in your style, and everyone has a style, even if they don't think they have.

The trick is to never let the reference be the master. The photo wants to be the master and many artists want it that way. It's safe. By letting the photo be the master means we don't have to think artistically at all.  The colours, the tones and the composition are all there for the taking. They may be all wrong, but we don't mind because we have been true and faithful servants to the master and we are happy with that.

As artists we can do so much better than the photograph before us and this is how.

Firstly, before you start, make a decision to be in charge of the work. If there are awkward looking bits in the photo, leave them out or change them.  Move things around so they look more balanced - don't be afraid, you are allowed to do this.

Now it's time to get even braver.  See those distant objects that still look dark and sharp in the photo? Make them lighter,  blue them off and not as sharp  - your painting will come to life and still, there will be no policeman at the door.

Now for some complete and reckless disobedience.  Change the sky, add some objects from other photos, leave out some buildings completely and refuse to paint all those blades of grass you can see.  The master will be furious, but he just can't touch you!

By now, you feel in complete control. It didn't worry you at all, that you changed the shape of that silly looking branch or the colour of that roof or didn't paint any of those 100 windows in that big building.  You even added a little figure in red that wasn't in any of the photos you had!

Your finished painting doesn't look like the reference photo at all.  It actually looks more interesting and what's more it's yours, not the master's.  The tables have turned. The photos have become the servants and have submitted to the will of the new master - you the artist!

Happy Painting!
Mike Barr

Goolwa Beach Sailing Club is not what it seems. Firstly, there are no boats or sailing club on Goolwa Beach - that was my major point of disobedience. The sky was from near Willunga Hill, the figures from Semaphore and Milang and the yachts from Largs. Even the shadows were made up - complete recklessness, but it worked!

Enjoying Art

Enjoying Art

Of all that has been said, written and done in the name of art, there is no doubt that it stands as one of the greatest sources of joy, happiness and fulfilment among humanity.

It is in our genes to create, which together with love, stands as one of our greatest attributes. In common with the rest of the animal world, we create habitats and nests, but we are unique in that we can create for pleasure and not just our own.

There are joys to be had in all aspects of painting and they can touch every type of artist at every level of ability, from a child's first drawing to the finishing touches of a masterpiece.

There are not many artists who haven't revelled in trawling through the offerings of an art supply shop or wondered at how time deliciously disappears when engrossed in work.

Even though we work alone, many of us enjoy these periods and are recharged mentally by them. It is also true, that painting time shared among those of like-mind is enjoyable and often nourishing. Paint is a universal language and it becomes apparent when we choose to paint outdoors with others.

But there is more! Where ever you look, painting and activities surrounding it are enjoyed by millions.  It is like a social glue that brings many people together and painting for this outcome alone is extremely valid.  

Also, people paint just for the personal expression of it all -  there are statements to be made and most things can be said in paint.  Great satisfaction is to be had by having these statements seen and understood by others, even though it is not a course taken by everyone.

Then there is the undeniable sense of achievement in any form of art once a piece is completed. For sure, the process was enjoyed and the finished piece is unique - a project that was commenced and finished brings its own rewards. On this painting journey happy accidents often materialise to help us along the way, particularly in watercolour! Sometimes, we get excited over little improvements we see in our work because it means it is possible to get better and we are heading in that direction.

Finally, I don't think I know of any artist that doesn't love a sale, no matter how much it was purchased for and the first sale is always the best. The sale is the expression of love by someone else toward what an artist has created. In the world of art, there is no greater love received or given than this!

Yes, there may be a few frustrations when it comes to painting, but thankfully they are not life threatening. The positives far outweigh any little niggles along the way and that is why so many millions of people are turning to it today. It is a great privilege of the times in which we live.

Mike Barr

Caption: Plein-air painting with other is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being an artist.


Excel At One Thing

Excel At One Thing And Become Better At The Rest

A lot of artists get criticised for painting similar works, but any artist who is serious about becoming known for their painting, will produce series of similar themed works and their work becomes recognisable. Artists become known for the type of work they do and although they may paint many subjects, there is at least one that they will be known for. Conversely, those who paint everything can easily  be known for nothing.

Apart from the aspect of becoming known for a particular subject, there is a far more important benefit to painting similar things, at least for a while. As in anything that we repeat, we tend to get better at it.  It is the only way progress is ever made in so many things we do in life, whether at home, at work or at play.

By trying to paint every available subject possible, we never become truly proficient at anything. Just when we may be making some progress on skies, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to be changing to pet portraits and then to still life.  It doesn't mean we have to 'just' do one thing, but it does mean that if we feel the need to progress, then we are best served by concentrating most of our efforts in just one direction.

Such a focussed course of action can get some adverse reactions and you may hear - "Is that all you can paint"  or "Isn't it time to try something else" or worse! The path an artist takes is their own and belongs to no one else and just because someone would love us to paint gum trees, it's no reason at all to do so. 

We have got to love what we paint before others can love it too.

As we get 'better' at painting that one thing we love, it has two additional benefits. Firstly, confidence is gained in the painting process that will show in our work and secondly, it will enable us to tackle new subjects with the skills and confidence we have acquired.

A visit to your local gallery like the Artworx Gallery in Goolwa, will show all the artists who have specialised and become somewhat of an expert in at least one subject. It doesn't mean that they will always paint like that, but it is how they have succeeded in what they do.

Mike Barr

Paint More

Paint more - progress faster

My first job at the age of 15 was in a pottery store/school in which I learnt everything about clay, glazes, loading and firing kilns and eventually I learned how to produce pottery on the wheel myself.  Looking back, the greatest thing I learned was that nothing happens without practice. During the day I popped my head into the various pottery classes and saw students struggle with the very basics of wheel-thrown work and that was centring the clay ball on the wheel head. Without this, the pot never worked and some students didn't get it even after the 10 week course - the clay always seemed to be in charge! In a way it was comical to watch, but the simplicity of the problem was this; the students only did this once a week at the class and didn't or couldn't practice at home.

Painting is exactly the same.  Being able to paint is not some magical capacity that just a few possess, it is a skill that can be learned. No normal person is born with the ability to draw and paint well and every painter of any standing started off by doing some pretty ordinary work - believe me!

Once-a-week painting may be relaxing and even social if done with others, but there is little chance of improvement if that is what we are after.

There are two aspects to progress. One is learning from others from workshops, classes, books, videos and demos. The other is putting all this stuff into practice and that must be done in our own time and as often as we can manage it. In reality, there is no such thing as a self-taught artist because we all learn from something, either formal teaching or what we have learned from others along the way. Self-taught or formally taught, there is no progress to be had if we don't practice.

Okay, now here's the thing. There are no short-cuts in learning to paint, but there is better use of brush hours that will have us improving quicker than just plodding along - and the plan is this.

We are going to paint a beachscape and we have a choice. We can do a medium to large piece that may take us 10 hours to complete. Alternatively, we can do 10, one-hour small paintings of similar scenes.  If we choose the small paintings, then we will do 10 more than just doing one in the same time. That means we will have 10-times more experience at doing the sky, 10-times more experience at doing waves, 10 times more experience at mixing those colours and importantly, 10 times the confidence you would have had if you had just done the one painting in 10 hours.  Yes, it makes sense and it works.  Repetition is a key to any skill and once confidence and an amount of skill is obtained, then the world is your oyster!

The other important aspect of learning like this though, is to regard your 10 small works as practice pieces and don't put pressure on yourself thinking that they all must be perfect.  It's painting, not photography and any striving for perfection will set you up for failure.  Often taking the pressure off in this way will produce some good works.

Get all those small-works brush hours under your belt and watch yourself grow as an artist.

Mike Barr

Beach Path - 30x30cm Oil on Board


The Benefits of Painting Outdoors

The benefits of painting outdoors (plein air)

Since the days of the impressionists, artists have enjoyed the experience of painting outdoors. It is one of the true joys of being a painter. Not only are we one-to-one with nature, but there is also the camaraderie when two or more decide to paint on location.

In Australia there are a good number of artists who have always painted a large percentage of their work on location and sometimes on a large scale. Today, there is a kind of revolution taking place, where more and more artists are choosing to experience the enjoyment and challenges of painting away from home, even if it is in the garden!

Why is plein air infectious?
There is no doubt about it, once we are bitten by the plein air bug, it’s hard to stop – you just want more.  So, why is that?  Foremost, I think painting out with nature is like a holiday for artists. Sure, we can pay thousands for a big painting holiday, but going out for a day’s painting fairly locally, comes without the hassles and cost of something much bigger. A place that you may be familiar with, suddenly takes on a new look and feel when you are there to paint – it has all the feel and enjoyment of a little holiday, particularly if we are in company with other artists - friendships are formed and cemented.

The benefits of painting plein air
There are also tangible benefits to working outdoors.
* You see colour as it is and not through the medium of a computer monitor or printed page
* By using a limited palette are colours become good old friends and colour mixing becomes instinctive
* We tend to work faster because conditions (light and shadow) are always changing
* Because we work faster we learn to simplify and become more confident with the brush – this is extremely beneficial
* Because we are simplifying shapes we concentrate more on tone
* Because we are concentrating more on tone our plein air works will have life
* Because our outdoor works have more life about them, we capture the essence of a place – we become better artists all round!

Keeping it simple
Too much hauling of stuff can have a negative effect on your enjoyment so travel with a limited palette and small canvasses or boards so that a painting can be finished in an hour or so.
Keep your subject simple too, and if you do find yourself facing a complex scene, simplify it by cropping and chopping. Leave things out if it unbalances the whole picture and conversely put stuff in that helps the balance – always be in charge of the painting, we’re artists and we can change things at will!
Don’t let an ordinary scene get in the way of an interesting interpretation.

Mike Barr

Caption: Mike Barr plein air painting at Goolwa.

Artists and Colour

Every artist I can think of has their own style, even though they may not recognise it themselves. If we have been around the local art scene for a number of years, then artists work is often very recognisable to us - their style becomes a signature.

As well as signature styles, there is also a signature use of colour that many seem to have. It's all a part of how we develop over time. Some artist regard themselves as colourists and tend to use lots ofcolour, whereas others are limited in their use of it and use colour more of an accent than being the focus.

There is no doubt that certain colours have certain effects on us. Some colours or combinations thereof will not allow you to rest - they demand attention. A good red-based painting will draw attention every time at a show of mixed works, but may be difficult to live with once we get it home. On the other hand a calming almost monotone work may be easy to ignore in a gallery, but will calm your living area at home.

It's a well-worn phrase that there are 'no rules in painting' and that's right as far as producing work is concerned. However, if we want people to like what we produce and buy it, then we have recognise that there are things that work and things that don't. Whether it is abstract or traditional work, colour themes are very important.  Paintings can be colourful but liveable too if used in the right way.   Indiscriminate use of colour can make a painting hard to look at and can take away any focus that may have been intended by the artist.

Of course paint manufacturers would love us to purchase all 100 colours in their extensive ranges, but in reality it doesn't help the artist at all.  Having a limited core palette of about eight or so colours and a group of colours mainly for highlights is a good way to go. It will allow you to learn to mix any colour you need and having such a limited palette will tend to unify the whole painting - it really does work.

Also, while colour charts are interesting things, if you have to refer to them continually, it will ruin your painting flow completely. Learn to mix colours and it will become intuitive and a part of you as an artist - always having to refer to charts will stunt your growth and enjoyment.

There are always questions about brands of paint. The answer is simple - use the best you can afford.  Most of the more expensive brands are good and over time you will choose a favourite. Try comparing the cheaper and the dearer stuff and you will see the difference for yourself - always a good thing.

Colour is a wonderful thing but it is not the pinnacle of the painting process - that belongs to tone. Once we get tone right we can paint wonderful things in just one colour! More of that later.

Mike Barr

Caption - A painting of Goolwa produced on site. The limited palette produced a unified look to the work and if you look closely, you can see the same colours in the sky and water. The painting is all about the drama of afternoon shadows on the land and water and not so much the accuracy of colours.

What to Paint and Keeping it Simple

There is hardly a more vexing question for artists than "what shall I paint next?"

Unresolved, it can be a question that can last for days,  weeks or even longer! I don't think there is an artist alive that hasn't  wasted time in deciding what to paint, but I believe the issue becomes less urgent as the experience of time kicks-in.

Oddly enough, artists just starting out want to paint hard stuff - you know, busy complex scenes, ones that would cross the eyes of an experienced artist! What's more, they want to do it in the most difficult of mediums - namely, watercolour where there aren't many second chances.

Art is like music, you have to do the simple stuff and do it well, then you will have the confidence to move to more complex pieces. It's no use starting off learning music by trying to play Mozart, it's a sure recipe for depression and defeat. 

Let me tell you something, painting is a confidence game like most skills. In other words the confidence we build by painting the simple things will translate into confidence in the bigger more challenging works - it's just how it is.

I know there are different reasons why people want to paint and mainly it is as a form of enjoyment and relaxation. It is also a marvellous social outlet with people of like mind. There are those who want to get seriously better at it and those who want to make some kind of a living from it. All these reasons are valid, but everyone's enjoyment of painting is enhanced when they increase their ability to produce good work - just like playing music.

So, why not paint pleasant, simple things? I remember starting off doing hundreds of small, very simple seascapes and selling them on eBay. It was a training ground that had me growing in confidence which expanded into other subject matter. In the beginning repetition is good, it builds skill, confidence and enjoyment.

It's a good habit to carry a camera everywhere you go.  Phone cameras are perfect. It is easy to build up your own bank of photos that you can paint from and because you have taken the photo, the painting will have special meaning.

Not every great photo is going to translate into a great painting though. Some subjects are just better as photos. Blazing sunsets make a great photographs,  but are often real duds in a painting, yet we all seem to want a go at it. Green landscapes can similarly look enchanting in photography, but there are so few that can do green paintings well. I confess to avoiding them as much as possible! I often wonder why artists flock to Europe and the UK to paint, only to be confronted by green and more green! Artists in Australia are so lucky to live in the world's most paintable country.

Two or three apples on a white table cloth with a directed light upon them is a great fallback if you can't think of anything to paint. Shine up the apples so they are reflective and make a study of all the shadows, the light, the reflected light and reflected colour off the table cloth and adjacent apples. There is so much to observe and paint, yet the subject itself is so simple.  Getting the apples right will have you searching for other subject matter with renewed confidence!


Photo: Three Shiney Grannies, acrylic on canvas - Mike Barr 2008


Painting and the Magic of Mood

The are many types of paintings in the world, but I tend to divide them into two groups - those that have mood and those that don't. Sorting out works like that is not everyone's cup of tea, and it's not right or wrong, it's just how I look at things. In fact, there are paintings with mood that I don't particularly fancy, but they still project mood to the viewer.

There is a magic in a moody painting that draws us in.  Mood doesn't just mean dramatic, we can be attracted by art that is very calming, it might just be the thing we need to calm a room and those in the room! I once sold a painting of clouds to a lawyer who told me it was going to hang in his office so he could turn to it in times of stress and find peace of mind. The power of art can be greatly underestimated in our lives and paintings with the right mood can be beneficial to our state of mind. They can provide a great escape.

Often, the simplest paintings project the most mood, because detail can distract from it. A great exponent of this was Clarice Beckett, who is one of my favourite painters. Beckett was a plein air painter by necessity and she capture the spirit and atmosphere of Melbourne with her works. Confined to working out of doors and usually only able to paint either early in the morning or dusk, Beckett produced a lot of misty, moody painting that reflected the time of day when she worked.  The painting I have chosen as an example of her work is one of St Kilda Road at the end of the day. Anyone who has travelled on this road at the end of the day will recognise the mood she has captured.  The painting is devoid of minute detail and there is just enough information to convey the subject and mood.  Painting in this minimal way is an art form in itself because the natural inclination of artists, is to paint everything. Art is about interpretation, not about reproducing what is there – photographs can do that much better than we can. The artist that is free from the shackles of having to paint what is there is free indeed.

Not all paintings have mood and indeed they don’t have to, but they are the ones that draw people to them. A good moody painting will make viewers stop in their tracks and enter the scene before them – they will complete the story in their imagination.  You won’t see any of Clarice Beckett’s paintings at Artworx but you will see some great moody works. The story of her life and work is fascinating and well worth looking up – it’s inspirational!

Photo – Evening St Kilda Road, Clarice Beckett circ 1930
Art Gallery of NSW


The Wonderful Illusion of Impressionism

I like and enjoy many forms of painting, but like most artists, I have a favourite and that is impressionism. My introduction to it as a youngster was through Turners storm painting. As soon as I saw it I was hooked, but I didn't know why. When you look at this painting it lacks colour and it lacks detail, but what it does have, is drama - tons of it!  Even though this was painted before the French Impressionists got started, there is no doubt that it is one of the greatest impressionist paintings of all time.

So, what is it about impressionism that has such appeal?

As the word suggests impressionist paintings are all about impression rather than detail and this is why they are so popular. Atmosphere, mood and the effects of light and shadow are all paramount in this form of painting and these are the things that draw viewers into them. They are not visual accounts of everything the artist saw, but rather they capture the atmosphere of the moment, and this is the whole purpose of impressionism. Artists of this genre want viewers to identify with the mood they have created rather than tick off all the objects that could have been painted on the day.

Plein air painting – or that done on site, is the foundation of impressionism. The clatter of easels was common in the days of the French and Australian impressionists. Painting quickly outdoors ensured that detail came last and atmosphere came first.  There is no time for 1000-hour paintings outdoors, there is no time for excruciating detail or referral to colour charts. Things have to be gotten down on canvas quickly. Decisions have to be made as to what objects are going to be left out, what things to be added or moved. Darks, lights and tones become the important things and colour takes second place. When the painting is finished, it has to have the feeling of the day – of the moment, and this is the skill of impressionism. It is indeed a form of illusion, as all painting is, but more so in the way it can beguile the senses into believing the mood the artist has created.

The Australian impressionist were not just concerned with the effect of light however, they were capturing the Australian landscape like it had never been done before. Impressionism allowed them to capture that feel of the harshness and expanse of the land like traditional art was unable to. Roberts, Streeton, McCubbin, Conder and others established the rise of impressionism in Australia and their works have shaped how we have seen our history in those early days.  Seeing their works in the flesh always makes me stop like no other work does. It is life and illusion in paint.

Impressionism has grown into more abstract forms today but still retains enough realism for viewers to identify with. It is about telling the story, but not too much of the story! Enough space is given for viewers to add to it and become a part of it – it’s all part of the wonderful illusion of impressionism.

The Artworx Gallery has some great examples of modern-day impressionism and it is well worth taking it all in amid the picturesque river port of Goolwa.

Mike Barr


Snow Storm – Steam-boat off a harbour’s mouth (Turner)


Liz and John Francis

12 Hays Street
Goolwa, South Australia

Phone: (08) 8555 0949


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