Seascape final stage of oil paint companion to Point Roadknight commission

Seascape, stages in a painting’s development

The slide show reveals how this painting came together in many stages. It was a companion to a commission so it is at present untitled, however the subject matter is the erosion of an interesting land form on the Great Ocean Road called Point Roadknight. Although the coastline is a fragile one and weathering is part of the natural cycle I always feel upset when I notice yet another rocky feature lost to the ocean. In the painting I depict breaches in the rock where tide floods across the rock platform. I exaggerated tidal flow as I imagined a future breach at an already eroded section of the point where the next cascade of ocean on the south side will eventually pour over the rock into the bay.

The early stage consisted of  under-painting with ink and gesso in which frottage taken from the rock surface was glued into position.

Elements of composition, colour and tone came next in a loose configuration unified by strong lines drawn with an oil paint stick.

Once the shapes were blocked in, tone and colour in desired range of intensity established I stared pouring paint in a way that alluded to flowing water.

The white foam and shadow created a contrast that appeared to overwhelm the composition and made it too fussy so I put in some greys and poured light over dark in a diagonal direction.

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Art landscape painting titled Remnant Lake Mungo, 2013, 45x55 cm, oil on board. Lake Mungo is a dried lake in southern New South Wales, Australia

Poetry by Patricia Sykes and Painting the Landscape at Lake Mungo


The small featured image above titled Remnant Lake Mungo, 2013, 45×55 cm, part of my series on the Home page titled Begin with Sand, Silt and Water, had a gestation of 22 years, an unusually long time frame.

My first trip to Mungo, when I joined a group of friends and camped, was tricky because we set off in December when the temperature reached 40 degrees. By late afternoon it was time, having sheltered in the camping ground, to explore, sketch and take photographs as evening set in and stars emerged. The next day consensus to reach water-filled Menindee lakes meant that exploration at the mysterious and haunting dry Lake Mungo was severely curtailed. A very disappointed artist feeling a little short-changed vowed to return. So I found it difficult to start work, however the result was one oil painting of a sand blown grumpy person standing in front of a night sky.

Portrailt profile, titled Sand Blown, 1991, oil on canvas 84x60 cm

Portrait profile, titled Sand Blown, 1991, oil on canvas 84×60 cm

Another excursion

In 2001 a poet friend and I set out in Late September, intending to camp for a week at least. Some things that I noticed about this arrival  were the absence of deeply eroded gullies, a relatively smooth terrain and the vast stretch of sky. The country was in the grip of an extremely severe drought so naturally gullies were now buried under layers of sand. Although we took notes, photographs and sketches, harsh conditions and dust storms  sent us scurrying for cover. I felt an existential uneasiness caused by a type of desert exposure, the relentless blue sky and reflected heat from sand, compared for example with the embrace of a colourful gorge.

It was as though we were being watched from below which the painting above hints at without my realisation at the time. The sense that there was no relief from this desiccated but beautiful place was unnerving and once again like this site, creativity also dried. It wasn’t until evening that the desert’s multi-coloured sand mirrored the colours in the sky. Until evening, the sun’s relentless bright light faded subtle colour and the pools of our shadows felt as though they could draw us down into the earth.  Full stop for me again.


The image above ‘called out’ one day, it became a touchstone so although I wanted to paint a landscape I painted instead a portrait of my fellow traveller and poet, seen below in a painting titled  Dust Borne. At that time we were captivated by the vastness of a night sky’s black backdrop throwing into contrast the milky way,  visible clearly only in the desert. It was then that I remembered her poem about Mungo.

Expressionist portrait oil painting titled Dust Borne, 2013, oil on gessoed paper. From series titled Poet's Process.

Portrait oil painting titled Dust Borne, 2013, oil on gessoed paper 100×50 cm

This poem written in 2004 came to my rescue . The excerpt below from the poem titled, ” blandishments and enticements, visuals of electronic speech”, from Modewarre: Home Ground, described  ideas and feelings we shared at the Mungo site.


between fluidity

and fixity the pilgrim poem begins to turn

cerulean blue           it is thinking of island

as metaphor for self and wishes to fly there

later, an artist friend e-writes me her theory

that brain cells re-wire themselves when

new images emerge

some live some die

we decide our techno-umbilical conversations

are a thin layer of water clarifying our mutual

obsession with elements mirroring each other

as in shredded emotions and the luminous

Mungo sands          it’s not the sands that make

us feel phoney         it’s the gawk factor, tourism

in the season of ‘ going there’       our paltry tents

among the dust storms              and thirst so driven

a kangaroo stealths in to drink the dishwater

               what the moon sees the moon exposes

among the now eyes the bones the hard facts shifting

shifting                 old fingers of hunger which  cannot settle

and why should they why should they if it is only

to make a future comfortable

                    ‘ the grief that can be trusted is the one

                       that does not defuse itself in optimism’ –

remember the flocked galahs at the Walls of China

the wrought change as they stilled their garrulous

pinks and greys to silence and faced the setting sun

the sun dyeing the clouds the same tonal flush

the galahs taking their own colour back into their

feathers            miracle of re-absorption not even

the night’s consuming indigo can rob them of –

continuity without loss?      the final room refuses

to close itself        as when in dreams some events

can only be viewed through feathered doors  1.


Creative juices started up-welling when I read the words  “cerulean blue”. In Remnant Lake Mungo, 2013 this cool opaque blue of the sky ‘dome’ visually dissolved the outlines, apart from the dust in the air, of the Walls of China. This name refers to the long rows of dunes that characterise this place. Their colour is a shade of pink  caused by leaching from red soil. The Westerly wind-blown particles from the red soil of lunettes at the other side of Lake Mungo blow onto the dunes.  In the small painting below depiction of a haunting place has been a long time in coming.

Sykes, Patricia. 2004. "landishments and enticements, visuals of electronic speech." In Modewarre: Home Ground, pp. 29-30. Melbourne: Spinifex.

Book of poems by Patricia Sykes titled, Modewarre: Home Ground.


1.  Sykes, Patricia. 2004.blandishments and enticements, visuals of electronic speech.” In Modewarre: Home Ground, pp. 29 – 30. Melbourne: Spinifex.

Landscape with Ancient Rock

  • I placed a slide show on my Home Page consisting of several paintings from a series I titled Begin with Sand Silt and Water, 2012 – 2013. They were inspired by a feeling that many experience in the Australian outback. Although this continent lacks high mountain ranges and deep canyons and is in comparison quite flat it does have very ancient rocks formation, fossils and places worn to skeletal rock. Flimsy and fragile soil covering however reveals the underlying clues to the earth’s history.

The paintings produced after traveling, exploring, observing, sketching, photographing and taking frottage from rock surfaces develop as a result of these preliminaries. The locations depicted in the paintings are at Lake Mungo in New South Wales, Brachina Gorge in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia and close to home at Point Roadknight.

My overwhelming feelings are a mixture of wonder and curiosity about evolution of ancient reefs and seabeds, once in shallow seas 550 million years ago, into the Flinders Ranges. Paintings with titles termed “Golden Spike” refer to a landmark also in this area where fossils discovered as imprints on the sea floor reveal ancient jelly fish-like creatures. These Ediacaran fossils evolutionary significance as bilateral asexual organisms was their capacity to move, for example Sprigina and Dickensonia. In 2007 Dr Mary Droser discovered a coral-like creature resembling a worm that evolved the capacity to reproduce sexually.

Art landscape painting titled Golden Spike 2, 2012,  oil on canvas 60x45 cm

Painting in oil titled Golden Spike 2, 2012, oil on canvas 60×45 cm

The painting titled Remnant Lake Mungo, 2013 was created from feelings about timelessness and human insignificance in the desert, stripped bare under a huge almost overbearing sky. A long drive through dust-covered pot holes, corrugations and avoiding roadkill my fellow traveler and I approached Lake Mungo. The vista before us consisted of a dried lake bed, a clay pan and large dunes called ‘the Walls of China’. Briefly, pre-50,000 years ago the red soil of the lunettes rimming Mungo is termed the Gol Gol unit. 50,000 years ago white quartz sand blown onto the lunettes formed the Mungo Unit. As an overflow and part of the Willandra creek system water was plentiful and vegetation grew on the lunettes. 30,000 – 15,000 years ago clay pellets formed on the exposed mud flats. Sand and clay pellets blew onto the lunettes, forming the Zanci unit. 15,000 years ago to the present Mungo dried, more clay pellets built the lunettes, water erosion created deep gullies and wind-blown sand formed large mobile dunes and salt concentrated clay formed a black coating of erosion resistant algal crust.

Archaeologists discovered Mungo Woman and later Mungo Man thought at least 40,000 years old as well as stone artifacts, middens and fossilised footprints.

Art landscape painting titled Remnant Lake Mungo, 2013, oil on board. Lake Mungo is a dried lake in southern New South Wales, Australia

Landscape painting titled Remnant Lake Mungo, 2013, oil on board 45×55 cm

Point Roadknight just off the Great Ocean Road out of Anglesea is a land mark where erosion reveals aspects of geology in the form of what appears vertical fossilised tree roots that resemble columns in an ancient ruin. Have roots penetrated the above layer that may be an ancient sea bed made porous and through which seeped mineralised and calcified rainwater? The ‘columns’ appear anchored to hard rock formed by an ancient pyroclastic flow from hinterland volcanoes.

Others have various descriptions of this place such as ‘sinister’ and ‘threatening’ but for me it is a home to hooded plovers, a gray heron as well as my ‘observatory’. Colour, pattern, tonal contrast and texture in sky, rock, sand and water are sources of endless fascination.

Art, landscape painting titled Like an Entablature, 2012, 52x73 cm, gouache and pastel

Landscape titled Like an Entablature, 2012, gouache and pastel 52×73 cm

Advancing Tide at Sunrise

Seascape oil painting commission continued

Final Stages

Seascape oil painting commission now in the final stages continued as I poured another semi-transparent glaze over indigo. The idea was to give the blue water an illusion of depth. The indigo colour has been part of the under-painting as well as over-painting that consisted of the definition of columnar rock-shapes visible in the detail image and shadows to be further developed in the next stage.

Seascape oil painting commission continued, final stages based on Point Roadknight

Seascape, oil Painting commission continued, final stages based on Point Roadknight

Oil painting commission continued, detail, final stages based on Point roadknight

Seascape oil painting commission continued, detail, final stages based on Point Roadknight

At the same time I introduced visual elements into the composition that related to vision, that is, the artist’s gaze was also implicated in what was seen and how the subject was organised in space.

The suggestion of divisions like those in a triptych was my way to explain how erosion over millennia  has left standing portals or sentinels of the hardest rocks that appear to divide this land-form into three broad shapes punctuated by distinct gaps.

This winter erosion further under-cut large rocks with one in particular falling on its side and others broken, snapping off like teeth. I often feel sad at the loss of these unusual pillar-like shapes that looked so permanent.

Rock erosion, broken columns at Point Roadknight

Rock erosion, broken columns at Point Roadknight

Final Stages of untitled companion painting

Seascape oil painting, untitled companion, final stage, based on Point Roadknight

Seascape, oil painting untitled companion, final stage, based on Point Roadknight

The companion painting required more depth in the foreground layers. A thin glaze under the opaque over-painting looked too thin and a bit scrappy. The opaque quality allows for effective colour richness and transparency when the under layer dries. The transparent layer should glow but not too much.

My paintings often take months to complete owing to the introduction of glazes throughout the build up of layers. Sounds like a layer cake. When I was teaching my students and I would laugh at this so-called “Sara Lee” effect. It’s often regarded as a traditional painting technique practiced by the Old Masters. I love all the qualities of the oil medium which range from transparent, semi-transparent, semi-opaque through to opaque. When I’m asked  do a commission I usually do other versions while paint dries but also I see a single topic in different ways.