Coffee and an ellipse?

Frequent readers may recall that I – like most people – find it difficult to draw ellipses. I have difficulty spelling them too. So, why not try painting four of them in a single picture?

I ran out of Gamblin Naples Yellow Hue. I liked its opacity, but do not miss its consistency; it was a bit too stiff and starchy for me. Winsor and Newton’s Naples Yellow is a beautiful alternative: a rich caramel colour, juicy with oil. It is warm and mellow, and took my mind off the ellipses. Combined with an underpainting of Gamblin Burnt Sienna, it made this painting a tactile pleasure to make. The canvas I used was picked up from amongst the traffic cones and jousting poles on sale at Aldi.

The tea-room

“The tea-room was an oasis in the dreary waste of existence where weary travellers could meet to drink from the common spring of art appreciation.” Okakura Kakuzo, The Book of Tea

The Art Gallery of New South Wales presents a tea-room amongst the works of art in its East Asian collection. Not many rooms you could do that with.

Return of the dreaded ellipse

A portrait can be ruined by an eyelid being a millimetre out of whack. With ellipses (the intersection of a plane by a cone – i.e. the shape of a round thing viewed from the side), it is also a matter of millimetres. I suspect most painters’ studios have a graveyard of failed canvasses in the corner where the dreaded ellipse has gone wrong … along with an eyelid or two.

I decided to tempt fate by painting a disposable coffee cup that combined an ellipse with a turned up spout. What a nightmare. Never again.

Liquids, contained and uncontained

It is difficult to get the symmetry right when painting any bottle. It is harder still with an old green glass Coke bottle. And it is very nearly impossible when you are looking down on the bottle from almost directly above. So, that is what I did.

As I was attending to liquids, I also practised a drop of water and a drop of wine.

And a drop of water …

… and a drop of wine. Looking at this now, I realise it resembles the Japanese flag in liquid form.

Eggs in a microwave-proof dish

Good art instruction can be meditative. The instructors at Fitzroy Painting made me stop and spend a lot of time on the underpainting for this portrait of four eggs in a microwave dish. I have never looked at an egg this long before. They all have slightly different personalities. It was a calming experience.

The mollusc wins

I doubt the inventor of terracotta roof tiles used a colour wheel to ensure they are the complementary colour to a clear blue sky, but they are. Just as red berries are set off by complementary green leaves (to make them look more delicious to animals that will eat them and spread their seeds), so nature has ensured clay roof tiles complement the sky (at least on most days). Presumably nature does this to make us like roofs? (Or is it rooves?)

I used Michael Harding’s Cerulean Blue for this quick sketch of the roof. It is staggeringly pricey, but worth every cent. Yes, the chimney is wonky in this picture, but that is because the chimney is wonky (at least that is my excuse).

I did this painting of a mollusc’s roof ages ago. I was only happy with half of it, so I repainted the other half to provide a better context for the better half. Much as I like a red tile roof, this very old and dusty shell is a much more beautiful roof. However, it turns out we MUST leave these at the beach; apparently every shell we take does that little bit more damage to the sea.

Deployed airbag (with mascara and lipstick)

If you find yourself suffering an oversupply of hubris, I recommend a trip to a car wrecker. It is the opposite of a car showroom; tired, used up and smashed luxury items are savagely torn to pieces and shoved in rusty furnaces and bins. Apparently the process of tearing a smashed car to pieces is called ‘fluffing’.

There are incidentally beautiful things. Apparently it is common to see a faceful of make up on a deployed airbag – lipstick, eyeliner and mascara spread out just where they were on someone’s face. This is a good thing. It means the airbag worked and saved someone. I have heard a car wrecker call it ‘the kiss of life.’

Let it be done

This was intended to be the underpainting for a picture of a Fiat 500 in its native habitat. But I had a suspicion that if I ‘finished’ it the picture would lose its freshness.

Apparently in ancient Rome ‘fiat’ meant ‘let it be done.’ So, let it be done.


“I hung up and fed myself a slug of Old Forester to brace my nerves for the interview. As I was inhaling it I heard her steps tripping along the corridor.”

Raymond Chandler

After the party’s over

“‘Cause there’s a beach lies quiet near the open sea,

And a car park lay stretched where the bindies used to be”

Midnight Oil, ‘Bells and horns in the back of beyond.’

Made the mistake of trying to visit where my grandparents’ old house used to be. Their sprawling front lawn had no fence and ran down to a quiet beach, via a thicket of glossy banana trees and spiky weeds. It was permanently festooned with strings of coloured lights for summer parties that lasted all night. All gone now, replaced by a tight-packed chunder of Mac Mansions that look like oversized photo copiers. One of the gardeners looked up from vacuuming (yes, vacuuming) his hanky-sized lawn and told me I had no business being there. He was righter than he knew.