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.


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.



Letting Go

From the minute we delve into art, we understand that each piece we produce has its own little character.  They are like our offspring and we have a special attachment to them - we love them. If and when we start to sell our work, it dawns on us that they are not just ours - they belong to the world and to one person in particular and that doesn't include us.

Some of us never get passed the possessive stage and our work becomes jealously guarded and treasured - sometimes to a fault. Just like our children, our creations need to be loved and not just by us. 

Letting go of our art and allowing it to be loved by another person or family, completes it. The process in itself should be enjoyed and it is satisfying in a way that only artists understand. 

There is the largely hidden process of the birth and nurturing of a piece of art. Conceived in the mind and created on a canvas, all away from the public gaze. There may have been troubles along the way, which we overcame with patience and perseverance and the finished product is unique. There is nothing exactly the same in the whole world and it's time to introduce it to a new life.

We dress it up in a frame to make it look the best it can - after all, it may be about to meet someone who is going to fall in love with it. Isn't that what we want!

Sometimes, it's love at first sight or there might be quite a courtship as the prospective buyer visits several times, getting to know the painting before making a commitment.  Either way, your work is about to enter the life of someone else and will become part of another family.  It will be looked at, pondered, admired, discussed as well as being witness to the joys and sad times that come upon every family - it will become a rock as it lives through several generations.

So, next time you are tempted to just keep that special piece, maybe it's time to let go. As I always think - a painting is not complete until it is in the possession of someone who loves it, and mostly that means it has sold!

Happy painting!

Mike Barr

 The Lat Wave

The Lat Wave

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.



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