Scribbly gum


The next big challenge was to go out into the world to paint. It reminded me of my first foray out of the house with a new baby- I had seen mothers with those enormous bags they always seem to carry but had no idea what was supposed to go in them and was therefore really nervous whether I had the right things in mine. Nobody made comment which may have spoken of accuracy in my packing, or such inaccuracy that to mention it would be too embarrassing for all concerned. I decided on a bigger bag on the principle that if I took absolutely everything, I would have to be at least partly right.

A relaxing stint of painting at the dog beach was jettisoned after realising it was a long weekend (Australia Day is Jan 26th) and that the free parking spaces were full so I’d have to pay $6.50, half of the foreshore has been dug up in an attempt to begin works to battle erosion, and there were far too many people and dogs hurtling about to feel relaxed.

Plan B: onwards to the local field which is used as a Pony Club.

When painting at pony clubs, be warned that the upturned blue bucket which one cleverly intended to sit upon is flimsier than it looks. Also be warned that there exists in nature a long slim bug with an orange head and an orange bottom who exhibits a strong desire to wade through blobs of white paint. The evolutionary advantage escapes me.

Scribbly gums are beautiful trees with coarse blackened (often) bark at the base from which extend long creamy limbs. A small insect begins life just under the surface of the bark and leaves a scar as it wanders back and forth, changing its mind and getting bigger. The scribbles are enchanting, although naturally I speak for myself; the view of the tree may be otherwise. I chose to paint one such tree.

With board and paper on my lap, I was frustrated by how limiting it was working so close to the paper using fine motor skills and how deliberate the whole painting became. It dissolved into patterns as I tried to look away from the tree and play with colour. Back home I simplified and added and ended up with a pattern which is interesting but which I don’t warm to at all. Everything too deliberate. Too contrived.

The trick in painting from nature is always deciding/knowing what to leave out as in real life there is endless detail.

To shake myself out of the controlled nature of that style, I next used a fat brush and just put colour onto a canvas where it felt good. Reverting to a preschool style was incredible relieving- not having to obey rules of light and shadow, perspective and depth; small children haven’t yet learned the symbols and conventions which we use to depict three dimensions on a two dimensional surface. Their painting is from the gut and the heart.

This was the pony club through a whole different set of eyes - painted quickly and loosely on an easel. Not everything “means” something. It just felt right to be put there.

Then back to painting the tree but more as a remembered character. This third painting was such a joy to create, and the final small details ( a leaf, the scribble, the bug) which a young child would not have added, creates what is to me a deeply satisfying harmony.

I would like to do more work in this is hard to describe how liberating, fun, joyful, exciting, surprising, and right from the gut it was.

The fact that going back to a child’s style is liberating demonstrates to me how our development is a process of the opposite: of being directed and learning a language of symbols and conventions which distance us from that first gut and heart kind of painting. We have to find our own ways back, whatever our medium or style, and our own voice.

I’ve bought two more fat brushes!