Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I can't believe it's been two months since I returned to Sydney. We have moved house, I've finished all of the paintings for my show, and the exhibition opens tomorrow night. I intended to get personal invites off to everyone I met on my trip, but a combination of busy-ness, moving (and displacing all of my addresses), and getting the printed invitations really late from the printer (and not enough) has led to me just freezing up and not inviting anyone.
This often happens with my exhibitions. I tell people that I will contact them when I have an upcoming show, and then just before it comes I freeze up and pretend it's not going to happen. I think it must be one of those personal artist quirks. I do feel horrible though, and hope that none of the people that I stayed with on my trip take it the wrong way. I somehow feel like if I invited them and they actually came in to Sydney, that I would be inconveniencing them for going out of their way to see my paintings. I know it sounds crazy, but when all of the attention starts to focus on me I start to feel unworthy. That's most certainly not the case during the rest of the year, I just think it has something to do with all of the pressure surrounding a yearly solo exhibition. I miss being out bush. I hope you all are well.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Day 127 SaturdayAugust has come and gone in a fury of painting, and little else. The lack of posts attests to my single-minded devotion to stay at the easel and finish the body of work. I leave Mildura tomorrow and my trip is pretty much over. I have about 7 totally finished big paintings and another 6 that are close. I’m putting all of the work up so that it stands witness to the productivity of this trip. There is so much to say, but I will let the paintings do all of the talking.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Day 102 Friday This painting of a hazelnut orchard was started south of Eden while staying with a hospitable local art teacher. His dog Tyrone would accompany me down to the orchard and run around while I shot some videos and started this painting. I decided to put him in running, as a counter to the bent form of the man shovelling hazelnuts into a wheelbarrow. This painting lacks the unity of the some of the other canvases which contain rows of homogonous trees, but makes up for it in its movement and spatial qualities.

Day 101 Thursday
I worked on this big painting for about a week before I had my rest, and used my downtime to contemplate where to take it. With nothing in the immediate foreground, and a relief-like horizontal composition, I decided to extend the branches of the persimmon trees to the top of the canvas to hold everything together. Also because of the relief-like composition, the scale of the branches, fruit and interstices of background coming through the branches are all of a similar modularity which helps the brushstrokes form a random pattern in light and shade. I’m titling this one ‘the nightingale brothers’ after the name of the company that owns the orchard, and that name, plus ‘Wandiligong’ the locality can be seen stencilled on the tub to the right.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Day 99 Tuesday
With the ball rolling from the last canvas, and a palette loaded with buttery colours I plunged into this next canvas. The video I was referencing for this composition was shot in a different persimmon orchard south of Araluen, NSW. I pumped up the saturation in the gum trees in the background, as I dread reaching for the greys that would accurately describe their real colour. Again the picker entered from the left, activating the orchard and providing a visual balance to the repoussoir on the right. It’s exciting painting all day long, getting out of bed and opening the bay doors to the morning sun and painting all day until I look outside to see the indigo evening settling down, promptly closing those same doors to paint into the night. I’ve got a bunch of audio tapes to keep me going and am currently really enjoying painting to Annie Hawes’ “Extra Virgin”.

Day 98 Monday
After a little over two weeks in the heart of the dark Victorian winter I am back at the easel working furiously on the big paintings. The reasons for my respite from painting are many and should have been more foreseeable, but somehow, weren’t. As the large amount of money I had saved for this trip petered out, I found myself engaged as the local chalk busker in the town centre, doing drawings for some gold coins in my hat. The second major factor was the increasing cold weather and short daylight hours to warm the jam factory. Factor 1 had limited my kerosene ration, and I began timing my trip to the aquatic centre to an hour before they closed to warm myself in the spa and sauna before returning to the studio for a couple of final hours of painting. The third reason was that Moz came out to visit me for a week. I did absolutely no painting during this week and we spent our time on the banks of the Murray in the warm sun, drinking sparkling wine and me playing guitar while Moz wove a reed dillybag out of the long grass growing from the riverbank. After she left and a couple of painting sales later, I have kerosene and renewed vigour towards completing this body of work. I decided to begin on a completely fresh big canvas, and after two days of non-stop painting I’m putting it up for view. I realized a few things about my painting process that I seemed to have forgotten these past few weeks: I work best attacking the painting all in one go, and the on and off again process I had been employing here was keeping the painting from taking on any strong direction. When I began this one, I mixed up copious amounts of half a dozen colours I had chosen for the colour scheme and worked it up both in tone and texture until I thought I had it balanced. The bird and picker entered towards the end and took their places quite naturally. I’m enjoying thoughts about the struggle between the birds and humans in their race to denude the trees of their ripe fruit. Sometimes it carries strong masculine overtones…

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Day 79 Wednesday

I headed out first thing again to Orange World and did this close-up of the Valencies. Afterwards I called my mate Greg to see if I could use his scanner to upload all of my small panels and he readily acquiesced. After that I ran around town giving out invitations to my studio opening this Saturday. I figured that even though my paintings are being created for a show in Sydney, the locals of Mildura would probably appreciate a peek at my representation of their little slice of paradise. The doors will be open this Saturday from 10-3 at the Old Cottee’s Studio, so come by for a peek if you’re in the area.

Day 78 Tuesday

After a chilled-out weekend working away in the studio on the second ‘robber barons’ painting, I was eager to get back outside to paint. The reporter and photographer from the local Sunraysia daily paper said they would meet me at Orange World for a photo shoot and interview, so I rocked up a few hours early and did this small panel. I’ve been keen to paint one of the Valencia trees with white-painted trunks, but after painting on it for quite a while I was having a hard time getting the white to work with the rest of the colours. Normally I push grey/white towards either blue or purple, but neither were doing it for me until I mixed a gun-metal grey that did the trick. The interview and photos went well and I went back into the studio to work on the big ones.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Day 75 Saturday
Again, the weather was not the best but I headed out and ended up finding this driveway lined with orange trees. I like the moody paintings, but prefer fully saturated sunny ones a bit better. At any rate, it will diversify the whole body of work and the greys in these will accentuate the colour of the others.

Day 74 Friday

Despite the grey skies, I headed out first thing and ended up at the bottom of a dirt road painting this side view of an orange grove and ladders. Every now and again the magpies would fly straight across my view and I decided to put them in at the last minute. After finishing up I hit the aquatic centre and library and got a few books for inspiration. I spent most of the night painting a reproduction from one of the books for an upcoming birthday present for a special little guy.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day 72 Wednesday

Today marks the start of a countdown of the last two months of my trip. I’ve completed thirty-five small panels and two big ones on canvas so far, as well as a handful of gouaches and studies. I’m still not sure what the show is going to look like, as I still have a lot of big ideas that I haven’t tackled on a large scale. I’ve ordered another ten big canvases and when they arrive I think the ball should start rolling rapidly. Even though it was really windy today, I took jumpin’ joan out to Merbein and painted this vineyard from the passenger seat.

Day 72 Tuesday

This past week has been overcast and rainy and I have been spending most of my time in the studio working on the big paintings. Nothing to put up just yet, but today there was a break in the clouds and I headed out to Orange World to paint this small oil on panel.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Day 65 Tuesday

After taking Joe and China out to roundabout, the local household tip, I saw them off on their way back to Sydney. I finished up some paperwork and got my Blake entry to the postie and sent off. Then I got stuck into painting, and the more and more I looked at ‘the robber barons’, the more I thought that it might be done. I’m putting it up because I’m onto a new painting now and need to let this one simmer for a while.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Day 64 Monday
I went out to Orange World again today and they were quite happy for me to explore and paint to my heart’s content, which is what I did. I was going to shoot some videos as well, but was itching to get back to my studio, as Joe and China were planning to stop in on their way back from the Alice and I wanted to make sure the BBQ is in perfect working order.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Day 62 Saturday
I went to Wentworth again to take part in the sesquicentennial celebration, and even though arriving after the parade had finished, I sketched some of the tractors parked in the middle of the main street. I walked down to the riverfront and saw the old paddle steamer called ‘Ruby’ doing its best to cart a load of paddleboat aficionados up the river. Getting hungry, I grabbed the second to last steak sandwich that was available and then wished I hadn’t. I’ve never had such a bloody tough steak in all of my life! I drove back to the studio and finished the gouache I had started of a vineyard and then worked on the large painting of ‘the robber barons’ the rest of the night.

Day 61 Friday
I was supposed to be painting an orchard up near Wentworth today, so I headed out early and stopped in at Artback in Wentworth for some brekkie. After getting filled up and chatting a bit with Steve and Mary about the 150th celebrations happening tomorrow, I headed out to get some painting done. The guy whose orchard I was to paint never called, so I pulled off the road at Curlwaa on the way back to Mildura and painted a nice little orange grove there. After finishing up I drove back to my studio only stopping for some mandarins and chook eggs at a roadside stand.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day 60 Thursday
Another beautiful day of sunshine brought me out to the orchards, and I drove north to Orange World to chase up the friendly folk and paint their fifty acres. I didn’t know where to begin, so I paid my ten dollars and with my complementary cup of fresh squeezed orange juice jumped on the tractor-drawn wagon to take part in Brian’s tour of the orchard. Before we set off he played us his original song about Mildura on his six-string, and then off we went to the accompaniment of a rhyming dialogue on the history of his family interspersed with titbits on the orchard itself. After the tour I stumbled into the orchard with my painting gear and found a quiet spot to paint the prolific navels hanging from one of the 10,000 trees, but not before scaring a roo that was lounging between the lanes. I finished up and headed back into town for some laps at the aquatic centre and a shower, and then headed out for a night of culture at the Art Vault. There was an opening for a Slovenian artist Marco and a local girl based in Melbourne, Nikita, and the work was brilliant. Both of the artists’ work contained plenty to talk about, bold narrative in the case of Marco, and subtle push and pull of charcoal and watercolour in the works by Nikita. I had a chance to meet lots of the movers and shakers within the local art scene, and afterwards we came back to my studio and had a bit of an after-party with Rowan giving the fiddle a go and some Johnny Cash sing-along on the guitar.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Day 59 Wednesday
This morning I headed towards Wentworth again, but on the NSW side of the Murray and stopped outside of ‘Orange World’, which is a cross between an orchard and a theme park. The owner was really friendly and I think it broke his heart when I asked if the orange trees across the road were his. ‘No, but the owner lives just over there…’ so I headed off to ask permission while promising the owner of Orange World that I would be back to paint his oranges sometime soon. The owner wasn’t home, and after scratching his red heeler for a while I decided to just paint the orchard from the side of the highway, as the view of the poplars in the background was what had inspired me in the first place. It was a magnificently warm day and I peeled off my layers of clothing as I laid the layers of paint on the panel. When I finished up, I headed back into town for a swim and a shower at the aquatic centre and then dropped in to the Red Cross to buy a shirt, jeans and pair of shoes – all for $14 for tonight’s dinner gala at the local Tafe. It was a celebration of the graduates and a night of awards for the chefs and tasty bites for us guests. The theme was Spanish and after chorizo and potato nibbles and a few glasses of sangria, we all sat down to feast on the three kinds of paella they had made with the assistance of a chef from Spain. I was wondering how many of the ingredients were local, and pondered the thought that one hundred years ago, if you wanted to impress your guests at a dinner party, you would have all manner of exotic foods shipped in. In today’s global economy, it’s quite normal to have food from all over the world represented on an average dinner plate and to impress guests at a contemporary dinner party you might try to source all local ingredients. Ah, how times change. The night was further embellished with two Spanish guitar players and a flamenco dancer, followed by a local rock group, and a great time was had by all, not bad for $35!

Day 58 Tuesday

Another beautiful sunny day was greeting Mildura as I packed up jumpin’ joan and headed west of Merbein to seek out some plums that were still on the trees last Friday. I found them, and after a bit of hunting around got permission and did this little panel and shot some videos as well. I haven’t used violet in the fruit paintings yet, so I was quite excited to pair it up with the acid green of the grass for a powerful complementary contrast. After finishing up I headed back into my studio to start on a gouache of the red grapes I had shot a few weeks ago, but I’m still not close to finishing it so I’ll post it another day.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Day 57 Monday
I sent off images and an application for the Waverley Art Prize on Friday and with any luck might get one of the three paintings in. I’ve started a new large oil painting based on a persimmon orchard in Wandiligong, Victoria. While I was shooting the video, scores of magpies were dropping out of the sky to feast on the orange fruit. The painting will be called ‘the robber barons’ and will include a picker and a tractor pulling wooden cases of persimmons. I hope to have an pic of it up later this week. The large ones are going quite slowly and as I’m hesitant to put up work in progress, I will put up a gouache I did today from a video of a hazelnut orchard. I am really enjoying painting with gouache, as it is a perfect mix between the loose handling of oil paint and the tight transparency of watercolour.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 53 Thursday
Well, it’s high time that I put this image up. It has been plaguing me for the past week and I can’t even really see it anymore. It all began with a trip to Eden, NSW to paint the communal garden there and put it in the Blake prize for religious art – first prize a whopping $20,000, second a worthy $5,000. I stayed in Eden for a few days making several sketches and a large oil painting (see day 27), but after arriving in my studio in Mildura and trying to finish the large oil, I realized its composition wasn’t doing it for me. Perhaps on a tangent, I got an idea for the ‘death of Eve’ and made a large charcoal sketch using the same figures, church, principal tree and tomato planter. I wasn’t convinced about the theme, but the composition was definitely stronger so I began the painting. I’ve been slashing away at it for the past week in an attempt to get it done in time, and what I’m posting today is the nearly completed painting, minus some small touch-ups. I guess I’m curious about the reaction it will receive. I know it’s quite a bit different from the rest of my current work, but a quick look at my website will hopefully link it to my greater oeuvre. I would be very interested in comments concerning the supposed narrative going on as well as other subjective viewpoints concerning the theme. I have a few more days to work on it, but as I said before the additions will be minimal as I have other paintings to pursue. I have learned more about my painting process by creating this work than from any other work on my trip, perhaps because of the long, drawn-out preparatory work. At any rate, I’m ready to push it out of the nest and into the world.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Day 52 Wednesday

It has been a really good week in the studio battling it out with my canvas for the Blake prize. I’ve been putting a fair few hours into it, and the audio books from the library keep me entertained while painting away. I just finished the 15 hour unabridged ‘History of England 3000BC-1603AD’ by Simon Schama, which was fantastic. Unlike before, when I would paint to music and get distracted by a good song by Tegan and Sara or Louie Armstrong, drop my brush and get online to look for the tablature – now I get distracted by the potent imagery of the gory history of England and imagine paintings, such as one of Robert the Bruce in Ireland after supplies had run out, digging up and consuming fresh corpses to keep the Scottish army from starving. Or perhaps a painting of the Black Death of the mid 1300’s? There are so many interesting themes for paintings out there, I’d better keep focused on what I’m doing. I’m hoping to have an image of the Blake prize painting up on the blog tomorrow, as I’m taking it to Melbourne on Friday to have framed and shipped to Sydney. For now, I’ll put up a small gouache of a persimmon orchard I did from a video these past few days, and then get back to painting on my Blake entry.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Day 46 Thursday
Well, it has been a rainy week in Mildura, which has been good for the crops as well as my work as I have been tucked away in my new studio. On Tuesday I went down to the Art Society of Mildura’s studio on the Murray and painted a small panel of some apples from a video I had shot previously. The group was very welcoming and interested in my method of working from videos. In the studio I have been working on two large paintings, one for the Waverley Art Prize, and another for the Blake Prize for religious art. One of my landlords Greg, and his wife Sue dropped in and brought me a kerosene heater and then took me over to her studio to see her work and have a bit of a chat. Mildura is an amazing cultural oasis in the middle of inland Australia, everywhere I have gone this past week I have encountered artists or art-lovers. I have been enjoying the aquatic centre, not only for the hot showers – but also doing some laps in the heated pool and taking advantage of the body balance classes as well. I feel like things have slowed down a little bit, so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post daily, but I will put new work up as it emerges and hopefully a bit about the process as well. I appreciate everyone who has kept in touch as I’ve been away and I think the next three months here in Mildura will surely be some of the most productive months I will have. I’m also attaching a small gouache of a persimmon orchard I did from a video as well, and I’d like to have a show of my gouaches here in Mildura at some point, so I’ll keep everyone posted on the blog.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Day 41 Saturday 4815km
After having a coffee and some toast, I headed west from the airport to look for a spot to paint. I pulled into the drive of a mandarin grove and went up to knock on the door, but the sulphur-crested cockatoo in a cage beat me to it, and was saying all manner of things to alert the owner to my presence. A lovely lady came to the door and said it would be fine if I painted, so I set up and did a little panel of the imperial mandarins. Her husband John came out as I was finishing up and we talked a little about the land, water, and bureaucracy. After I finished, I walked back to jumpin’ joan which I had parked on the side of the road and two people drove up to ask if I had broken down. I chatted to them and then packed up and headed into Mildura. I went down to the river where the Art Society had their regular Saturday showing and met two very nice painters, Judy and Mary. We chatted for a while and they invited me down to paint with them on Tuesdays. I then went up to the Art Vault and met the director Julie, and had a tour of the wonderful building. At the Art Vault, they have ten studios, two apartments for residencies, and a wonderful exhibition space downstairs. Everyone was really lovely and even went as far as to point me in the right direction with my search for studio space. After leaving the Art Vault, I called the owner of the local Cottie’s jam factory and went to see the space. It was magnificent and we shook hands on a three-month lease, I move in on Tuesday. Seeing that everything was sorted, I went to the IGA and got ingredients for Gumbo and some local beer and went back to the caravan park for an evening of food, fun and music with the great people staying here.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Day 40 Friday 4815km

We got up and prepared Moz to go back to the big smoke and then drove out north to look for a painting spot. I found a place that had vines, oranges and avocadoes and asked the young bloke in the tractor if it would be ok to do a painting. He said no worries and I climbed on top of jumpin’ joan and painted the drive up into his property lined with Valencia orange trees. His mother came out to chat and have a look, and invited me in for a cup of tea as well as a look at her husband’s paintings. We talked about dried fruit and I said I might be back to paint another as I’ll be in the area for a while. Moz and I rolled into town and had a quick lunch at a noodle shop and then I sorted out some accommodation for myself for the weekend at a caravan park near the airport. We went back in and did some op shop browsing and then settled in at the Mildura brewery pub for some drinks and wedges. At 4pm we headed out to the Greyhound bus stop and put her on the east-bound. There were two little stray staffies hanging around trying to get patted and rubbed by the bus people and everyone would crack up when they started humping every five minutes or so. A concerned couple who were seeing family off as well put the dogs in the back of their car as the dogs had been running around out in traffic and they were worried. I went into town to an opening exhibition of paintings at a café and then back to the caravan park for some pasta and a night of good conversation with a few pickers who are staying here.

Day 39 Thursday 4800km

Up with the sun and into Mildura to get a coffee, and then we travelled around the outskirts of town looking for an orchard to paint. Most of the grapes have been picked by this time, but there are still a lot of them drying on the vine to be sold as sultanas. I kept noticing these patches of bright red leaves and was itching to do a painting of them, but at every stop no one was found to be home. I eventually found an access road on the side of a bright red vineyard and pulled in. After shooting some videos from the top of jumpin’ joan, I did a small oil panel and was undisturbed. I even tried a few of the grapes, which were seedless, crisp and delicious. We drove back into Mildura to get some accommodation for tonight and had a look around town. At dinnertime we found a nice pizza café and had the special which had lamb and potato on it, washed down with the locally brewed ale.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Day 38 Wednesday 4768km
A thick fog blanketed everything in sight this morning. We drove towards Mildura in limited visibility through some very bleak bushland. When we stopped in Robinvale for lunch at a fish and chips shop, the sun started to burn off all of the fog. There were two burgers on offer ‘plain’ and ‘the lot’, both of which had beetroot on them. Robinvale was skirted in orchards and vineyards, but we kept pressing towards Mildura. Just before we hit the town proper, there was a mandarin orchard on top of a hill and I whipped jumpin’ joan in. The guys were really friendly and I sat and painted a corner of the grove with a pomegranate tree in the back right. I bought a butternut pumpkin from their road-side stand for tonight’s dinner and we drove down to the Murray River and found a campsite next to a black swan’s nest.

Day 37 Tuesday 4695km

The day started off a bit cooler than usual on account of the rain, but soon warmed up as the sun made its return. We drove into Echuca and had brekkie at the Beechworth Bakery, my Ned Kelly pie being the best I’ve had yet. We drove along the Murray Valley highway and saw a few orchards, but no one was home. I stopped at one that was to be auctioned off this weekend and asked the lady there if I could paint it, she said no. We drove on and I shook off the frustration, and eventually we came across a large orange grove. Again no one was home, but I was determined and found a phone number and called to ask permission. Moz found a ginger kitten and sat and drew as it slept in her lap. After finishing up we drove up to Nyah and I grabbed a longneck at the bottle-o and asked about camping. We drove along the river and found a great spot at a gigantic ox-bow in the river. I made some bush chilli con carne with the rest of the chorizo and we settled in for a beautiful night.

Day 36 Monday 4570km
The day started out grey, and stayed that way all day. We drove into Shepparton for a coffee and a little bit of shopping. Moz was feeling a bit ill, so I bought some collard greens and chorizo at a market for tonight’s dinner. We drove towards Echuca and pulled into Christie’s Beach campground on the Murray River just as the rain started coming down. We weren’t put off by the rain, as it’s the first rain I’ve seen since leaving Sydney and the farms out here need it so badly. The lady at the bottle-o in town said that when the drought hit it’s roughest point about two years ago, heaps of farmers were killing themselves as they felt they had failed their families. We put up a tarp and I managed to get a fire going, and the chorizo and greens were delish. No painting for today so I’ll put up a cloud study I did a while back since I’ve done a few.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Day 35 Sunday 4498km
We got up and had a proper bush brekkie of coffee, fruit, yoghurt and cake and then hit the road towards Shepparton. Just before we got to the actual town we started seeing orchards, most of them with bare branches. After a while though, we saw some trees with huge red fruit hanging off of them, which I thought were perhaps pomegranates. I whipped into the drive and ran into an older gentleman who said the land was his but leased out to the guy next door. After going to ask permission from the proper guy, I set to shooting videos of the well-manicured apple trees. I decided to paint a big painting and set to work on it around midday. I painted fast and furiously, but as 3:30 rolled around I realised I was going to have to pack up soon. We pulled out of the orchard and drove for nearly an hour before finding a decent camp next to a canal south of town. After a Japanese curry noodle dinner and some Go-Shu sake to wash it down with, we settled in for a pleasant evening in the country.

Day 34 Saturday 4444km
Moz and I checked out of our motel in Albury and headed west to Rutherglen. As we were pulling into town we noticed that in the paddocks of the out-lying farms there were bricks evenly scattered around. We stopped at the information kiosk and asked what was up with the bricks and the lady didn’t know, she just reckoned that it was the remains of old buildings. She said that although the town has only three pubs now, back in the gold-rush days there were 50, and thought that the bricks were from those pubs. She tipped us off to an olive grove in the area and we drove the five km out to Wicked Virgin Olive Grove. I sat at the top of an almost empty dam and did an aerial view of the grove, while Moz drew in her sketchbook up at the main building. After finishing up we drove back into Rutherglen and had a hot pie lunch at Parker’s which is famous for their game pies. I had emu and Moz had a conservative chicken and mustard. We then drove on through Chiltern and then Glenrowan, were I said that we would have to stop at the pub and have a beer, since Ned Kelly had made the town so famous. I asked the bartender if there was any decent camping at Lake Mokoan, which I had seen on the map. He said not since they drained it. We went out there anyway, and sure enough the sucker was dry and filled with dead gum trees standing upright which was pretty creepy. We continued on to just outside of Benalla where we found a picnic spot just off the road. After injuring myself thoroughly trying to break up fire wood, we sat down to some dinner and wine. I played guitar and Moz sang Hungarian gypsy songs while a very curious possum came up and sniffed around for leftovers.
Day 33 Friday 4395km
Picked Moz up from the train station and took my first day off in 33 days.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Day 32 Thursday 4395km

Crawled out of my warm sack and hit the main street for a coffee and a couple of donuts, not fresh baked but pretty good anyway. I hit the road towards Wodonga as Miles at the pub said they might be in strawberries right now. I found the place soon enough and there were no plants up. I continued down the unsealed roads and passed a few orchards, but the gates were either locked or no one was around. I eventually came upon a house with heaps of different kinds of fruit trees and whipped jumpin’ joan in. An older man came out of his shed where he was working wood and said G’day. We chatted for a bit, and he said that I could paint what I like, so I sat down in his front yard and painted his crab-apple tree. It was a bit more formal with the terracotta pots at the base and the driveway behind, but it got me thinking about how fruit trees aren’t natural anyway, but manipulated by man for useful purposes. I finished up and had tea with Ian and his wife Olive and we discussed the local petrol station in Yackandandah. He said the old station was going under, so everyone in the town got together and started a corporation with over one hundred local stockholders. They built a new station with bigger tanks and now they can decide what kind of petrol they buy and get it strait from the dock in tankers. The stockholders get something like a twelve cent/litre discount and the dividends from the stock are split 50/50 between the stockholders and the rest going towards local community development. I thought this was a brilliant idea as it gets locals to shop locally for a very good reason – it’s cheaper and supports the town. I pulled out of Kirby’s Flat and headed back into Yack to fill up at said petrol station, they drove on to Albury. I got a room for the night at the Railway Hotel, had a shower, did my laundry and even washed jumpin’ joan. The love of my life is catching the train in tomorrow and I want to look and smell my very best. After a decent Thai green curry, I went to the cinema and saw ‘Defiance’ which was about a largish contingent of Jews hiding in the BelloRussian forests during WWII.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Day 31 Wednesday 4345km

I drove into Wangaratta and parked jumpin’ joan at the skate park and then walked over to a little shop with ‘fresh donuts’ on the sign. Ordered a latte and four donuts at 60 cents a piece and they said it would be a minute or two as they were being made right then. After my indulgent breakfast, I hit the ramps at the skate park and then eventually hit the road. On the drive toward Beechworth I saw a sign proclaiming olives and olive products for sale and swerved up the steep dirt drive. A lovely older lady was taking her grandson out of the car and invited me in. I sampled her goods and bought some basil and garlic olive oil and then headed out to paint her olive trees. They were all quite small, but a picked the biggest one with some dynamic landscape behind it and got on top of jumpin’ joan and got to work. After finishing up and showing Anne, I jumped back on the road and headed into Beechworth. Beechworth makes its claim as the ‘most well-preserved mining town’ and it was pretty old-fashioned indeed. I stopped in and had a pot of beer and chatted up the locals a bit but didn’t really like the town so I pushed on a bit further to Stanley. Between Beechworth and Stanley there were a number of chestnut orchards with beautiful orange and ochre leaves. I stopped in at the pub, but they didn’t open for another hour or so and it was still daylight so I drove on into the State Park on the other side of town. I later found out that bushfires has ripped through this area a few months ago in March. It was pretty bleak and there was no ground cover, and even when I found a good campsite at the end of a logging road I pressed on as I couldn’t see myself camping here. Out the other side of the State Park and I came into the little town of Yackandandah and parked to have a look around. At the Star Hotel I talked to a very friendly proprietor who told me there was an Irish jam session happening tonight. Glad that I had pushed on and come to this bit of luck, I told him I’d see him later and went looking for a room. The pubs were full so I figured I’d just sleep in the van. I drove out to a rest area and cooked my dinner and then came back in and brought my guitar and violin into the pub. Pretty soon it filled up with several guitars, several fiddles, an accordion, a mandolin and a very keen small pipes player. They had some songbooks that we played from, and then we just went around the room offering suggestions. My contribution was to lead ‘minor swing’ by Django Reinhardt. We closed the bar out at 11pm with a couple of guys from Melbourne shouting pints of Guinness.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Day 30 Tuesday 4250km
It wasn’t quite as frosty this morning, but I still packed up fairly quickly and headed in to the café. After a really nice latte and a quick session at the skate park, I headed back to Wandiligong to do a last painting of the persimmons. When I got there the dew was covering everything and the pickers were hard at it. I asked if I could shoot some video of them and they said that would be fine. After getting a lot of really great footage, I got my painting gear out and did a little portrait of a persimmon tree in which all of the top fruits had been eaten off by magpies. I finished up around midday and hit the road north, driving through some really beautiful country. The gum trees between Bright and Wangaratta were some of the most dynamic forms I have seen on this trip. Their twisted trunks and splayed branches reminded me of peeking into the window of a gym or ballet class. Once I had arrived at Wangaratta, I stumbled upon the biggest skate park yet! I had to have a quick go and ended up working up a bit of a sweat. Back in jumpin’ joan, I hit the road out north to the Warby Ranges State Park. 14kms down a crappy unsealed road landed me in my own little piece of bush paradise. As the roos came out to the paddock to have their tea, I started preparing my own, leftover spag bol from last night extended with an extra can of tomatoes and a bit more basil. After dinner I relaxed with some wine, guitar and some chestnuts I had found in the persimmon orchard, which I then roasted on the fire. A ute came driving up the road and stopped near my site. It was the park rangers and they were out scouting rabbits and roos and said that I was alright and to have a good night. The fingernail moon slowly came up out of the north as I slipped into my swag and watched its course.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Day 29 Monday 4155km

I woke up to a frosty morning with fairy wrens flitting all about me. Everything was covered in dew and I quickly got my things together and headed in to the town bakery for some coffee and a below-average croissant. The sun takes its time getting over the mountains here, so I hit the skate park and had a brilliant morning session. All warmed up, I drove the 10km’s up to Wandiligong and pulled into a rather large apple orchard. After talking to two nice blokes there, I was redirected back into town where one of the guys had a persimmon orchard where picking was taking place. I drove in and beheld a huge orchard on the side of a mountain. Most of the leaves had fallen and the trees were full of fruit and birds. I shot some videos and painted a small panel and then did some ink sketches. The birds were amazing, with the magpies flying in squadrons to attack the fruit and then being chased off by individual green birds (not sure what species) which were much faster and more manoeuvrable than the magpies. After they had all been run off, they would meet in a tall cedar tree on the edge of the orchard and squawk loudly together before flying back down for another go. I pulled out at 3pm and hit the skate park for a cool-down and then the IGA for some rissoles and veg to make a bush bolognaise. As I was walking down the footpath, the kids were coming home from school and a chubby little lad on a push bike asked “when are ya coming back to the skate park?” and I said “was just there mate…” I headed back out to my campsite and settled in at a spot a bit deeper in the woods. Cooked up the spag bol and played a bit of guitar while drinking some nice red wine, chateau cardboard.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Day 28 Sunday 4145km

I crawled out of bed and walked down to the river with Steve’s dog Tyrone. There was a slight frost on the grass and fog on the river. Back up at his house we had coffee and said our goodbyes. He gave me a bag of his neighbour’s hazelnuts and a big hug, and after three attempts I pulled out of his steep driveway. I drove south along the coastal road and soon hit Victoria! It was pretty much gum trees all the way down to Orbost, where I stopped for a pie and a coffee. I saw a skate park as well and was glad that I brought my skateboard. I pulled in and had a short 20 minute session on the half-pipes. I drove on north towards Omeo on the Alpine highway and enjoyed the beautiful sunny day. Past Omeo, I stopped in Swifts Creek and had a burger with the lot and talked to some people who had a son in New Jersey, they said there was some residual snow in the mountains but the roads are clear. I eventually made it to the summit of Mt. Hotham and saw all of the ski lodges and lifts, still closed up. Down the other side of the mountain, as I got closer to Bright, the trees started having leaves on them again, and in every colour imaginable. I pulled into Bright at around 4pm and new I’d have to find a campsite soon. I passed a skate park and it looked better than the one at Orbost so I pulled in and hit the half-pipe. The kids at this one weren’t as shy and asked where I was from. I said Sydney and they said ‘oh, is it pretty good up there?’ I said that I hadn’t skated ramps in Sydney but was psyched that there were so many on my travels. Then one of the kids said ‘yah, you skate heaps old-school’ and I said ‘mate, I AM old-school.’ I threw my board back in jumpin’ joan and drove into the town where I saw the Bright Mountain brewery, and pulled in for a quick schooner of their Belgian Dubbel. There was a bloke and his partner playing their tunes on guitar and keyboard and I enjoyed a few songs as I sipped my beer. Walking back to drive off, I saw an information stand and asked about camping sites. The lady was super helpful and I got some info on orchards in the area too. I thanked her and left and drove 6km south to a great little spot on the river. The air temperature was dropping fast so I gathered plenty of firewood and started cooking some ham and beans. No possums here, but I played some guitar and enjoyed the sound of the small waterfall near my site. The milky way is really bright and it’s great to see so many stars.

Day 27 Saturday 3890km

We got up and right to it, as I was itching to get back to my painting and Steve was helping out with the farmer’s markets. We drove in and I got straight to work. It was a beautiful sunny day and the painting went well from the beginning. Starting before midday, however, the wind picked up and from that time on, every hour it seemed to pick up a little more strength. By the time the markets had finished and everyone left around 1pm, I had to tie the canvas down with bungee cords. Around 2pm I had to hold on to the canvas for each brushstroke so the wind wouldn’t push it into my brush. At 2:30 I admitted defeat as gale-force winds moved in. Steve and I got some longnecks and lamb chops and went back to his for some ping-pong and a swim in his very cold river. As dinner was prepared, Peter and Pam, Paul and Ruth showed up and we all sat down to eat. After dinner we had a jam with two guitars, two violins and a viola. Playing until we had nothing more to play, we said goodnight and after company left Steve and I watched the ABBA doco on the TV.

Day 26 Friday 3890km
After rising, once again I went to the sandwich shop for some vegemite toast and a proper latte. I sketched a few studies of the owner when she wasn’t looking, figuring that I would put her into my painting later on. Once at the garden, I sat on a bench and did a gauche compositional study of the large oil work. Satisfied that it would work, I got the large canvas out of jumpin’ joan, grabbed some charcoal out of the church’s mud brick oven and started sketching. The sketch of the garden came up quickly, but I couldn’t nail the pose for the main woman, and just then Jim showed up and I had him hold the pose for a tick while I made a few notations in my sketchbook. Finished the sketch by about 2pm and got my oils out and started blocking in the four main tones. As the sun was going down, Steve showed up and we went over to the Great Southern Inn for a beer and then prepared to head out to his friends’ Graham and Janice’s place for a movie. I followed him out, trying to keep up with his zippy little Peugeot. Once we had arrived and everyone showed up bringing various dishes, I started to cracking the hazelnuts we had gotten off of Steve’s neighbour. After we had all eaten, we retired to the living room and watched the French film ‘Himalaya’ projected on the big screen. After the movie we headed back to Steve’s and crashed.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Day 25 Thursday 3890km

The bed at Steve’s was probably the warmest I’ve slept in yet, so it was hard to get out of it at 7am. We had coffee and looked at some of his photographs on the computer and then his neighbour, also Steve, showed up and chatted for a while. He has a hazelnut orchard and said it would be fine if I took a look after breakfast. Both Steves headed off for work and I grabbed my gear and walked down to the orchard. All of the nuts were already harvested, but the leaves were an amazing colour and I found the entire orchard very inspiring. I shot a heap of videos and then painted a small oil panel and realized I couldn’t get enough. I really should be in the garden working on the Blake prize painting, but as I was working in the orchard, I was watching the leaves literally fall off of the trees and knew that I may not have another chance at this orchard. After taking my gear back up to the van and having a lunch of a sliced choko, a peanut butter and jam sanga, and a few hazelnuts cracked under my boot for desert, I loaded up my big palette and grabbed a big canvas and headed back down. I painted on the big canvas until the sun had gone behind the mountain around 4:30 and quickly picked up my gear and headed back up. I left Steve a note and headed into town watching the most brilliant sunset I have ever seen through my windscreen. I had a quick shower and the Thursday night schnitzel special at the restaurant and then retired upstairs. I need to get jumping on the Blake prize painting, so tomorrow I plan to spend the day working on the one canvas.

Day 24 Wednesday 3875km
I got up and headed straight across the street to the ‘Garden of Eden’ to check the light. It’s on top of a hill, but the sun was low and the church and trees were keeping everything in shadow, so I hit the only open sandwich shop to have some coffee. The lady who runs it was about as friendly as a junkyard dog, but she made a pretty good brew. I asked what was on for brekkie and she said I’d have to go next door to the café for a cooked breakfast, she only did sandwiches. I ordered some vegemite toast and finished waking up and then grabbed my gear and headed over to the garden. I wanted to study all of the contents of the garden, so I pulled jumpin’ joan up the top and climbed on top of her to get a better view. I completed a large gauche of the entire place and then did some ink sketches and pencil renderings of some of the details. As the day was winding down, some people rolled in and took a look at my sketchbook over my shoulder. We made small talk and I found out that they were a group of amateur violinists meeting in the community hall to practice. When they found out I had my violin with me, they invited me in, but I said I would only sit and sketch as I can’t read music and therefore wouldn’t be able to properly participate. I got some good sketches done of the three of them and as I was getting ready to go, their mate Steve showed up and invited us all back to his for a showing of a Bruce Springsteen DVD. I ran back to the inn and showered up and met them back at the community hall, and then we all drove out to Steve’s place down near Kiah. We had a delicious vegetarian dinner, watched the DVD, and then had a little jam with Steve and I on guitar, Paul on fiddle and Ruth on tambourine. After the jam, everyone split and Steve let me crash in the spare room.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Day 23 Tuesday 3875km

As the sun rose over the ocean and lit up the sky, I crawled out of my sleeping bag, packed up my gear, and hit the road headed south for Eden. I stopped in Bega and had a pretty ordinary brekkie, followed by a trip to the music store across the street for some new strings for my guitar. After leaving Bega, I rolled through the little village of Wolumla and kept my eyes peeled for the butter factory my mate Neil has been looking at the past year or so. I found it and had a nice chat with the lady Nicole who lives there. She and her husband had just won the U.S. green card lottery and were going to be moving out soon. I called Neil and told him I found the place. After that, I cruised down the coastal road through the beautiful towns of Pambula and Merimbula and eventually rolled into Eden. One of the locals back in Cobargo said that there was a communal garden in Eden that all of the residents use, and I hit the information stand to enquire about it. He didn’t know, so I headed to Two-fold bay and had some really nice fresh fish and chips and asked the ladies there. They pointed me in the right direction and soon I found it on top of the tallest hill in town. My whole reason for going south rather than west was because of the possibility of this garden. My intention is to paint a big painting of it to enter into the Blake prize for religious art, and as I stood looking at it my excitement began to build. I sat and painted a small oil panel and as I finished the sun’s strength was waning so I headed to the Great Southern Inn and booked a few nights at $20/night. After a lovely shower, I had a roast dinner and oysters Kilpatrick in the pub, and then went to sign up for the ping-pong competition. Unfortunately, being the off-season there was only four people in the whole pub and there was to be no competition. A very keen old bloke named Joe stepped up however, and after warming him up I thought I had a pretty decent opponent… until he said “alright, now let’s play a game and I’ll use my right hand.” As the games went furiously on, the jumpers came off and the schooners went down. By the time last call came around I think we were pretty much even. He left and I stayed and chatted to a couple from Cornwall before retiring upstairs.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Day 22 Monday 3800km
Woke up and had a magnificent, warm shower. Rowan invited me down to his yoga class, and the both of us and his dog Brogo piled in his car and drove down to Cobargo community hall. The class was two hours long and just what I needed. Some of the other yogis had brought chokos and tomatillos to share with the class and after we finished we all went down to a café for coffee. I thought I was going to buzz out of town towards Eden, but after talking with some of the lovely locals, I was soon convinced that I should go to one of their homes to paint their citrus trees. I said goodbye to Rowan and thanked him for the amazing time and piled into jumpin’ joan and headed east towards Bermagui. Down a dirt track and into a clearing, I arrived at Rosemary and Tony’s place overlooking a tidal river just next to the ocean. They had lots of fruit on and it was tough deciding between the lemons, tangerines, finger limes, etc. After a beautiful lunch of Rosemary’s homemade pasta, I grabbed my gear and started in on painting a heavily laden grapefruit tree, using the compositional idea from yesterday. The painting worked out well and I finished with just enough time to say farewell and head off to look for a campsite. Down the coast about 20km I found Mimosa Rocks National Park just north of Tathra. I whipped into the unsealed road and drove down three kilometres of some of the worst road I have seen yet, all the while expecting jumpin’ joan to fall to pieces. At the coast I was the only one at the site, and I gathered firewood and started cooking some lentils. I watched the sun go down and the moon come up, and as my lentils were nearly finished cooking, a very interested possum came within a couple of metres to beg for some tucker. I’m normally not afraid of possums, but with being the only one at the campground, and very little light from the fire, I let him know he wasn’t welcome at my dinner table. He kept running around, and the noises and shadows started getting to me so I got out the guitar and belted out some songs at top volume. This settled me a bit and then I got out the violin and played a bit more. The minor key scales started giving me the willies, so I switched back to guitar and eventually felt comfortable enough to settle into my sleeping bag. It’s amazing how much warmer the coast is right now and I slept warmer than I have for a while.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Day 21 Sunday 3750km
The mornings are getting cooler and cooler and rather than hopping out of bed at 6am, I’m now creeping out of bed closer to 7am. We sat around and had a cuppa before helping Rowan’s brother load up his ute with items he had picked out from Rowan’s stockpile. I was itching to paint and Rowan wanted to service his truck, but we ended up deciding to get out the guitar and violin and play around a bit. Being mother’s day, his family was coming over so I headed up the hill to paint his neighbour’s lemon tree. Despite the beautiful view from the top of the hill, I found it more effective to zoom in on one branch of the tree and was really happy with the resulting painting. It’s not a still-life, but also not a landscape. I’m eager to try to paint a few more in this style. After I came down the hill, his family pulled in with some alcoholic ginger beers and we sat down and had a chat. They left at dusk as it was getting really cold, and we started a fire in the cabin and then headed in to the pub to warm our insides. I got to meet a lot of friendly locals at the pub and we discussed all manner of topics while sucking down suds. Back at Rowan’s, he heated up last nights curry and we listened to the Waifs and settled in. He crashed around 10 and I stayed up and listened to ‘bridal train’ one more time, singing “all the girls around Australia, married to a yankee painter”.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Day 20 Saturday 3750km
I grabbed a bit of breakfast in Moruya and headed down the road nice and early. On the way I rang a mate of Mick’s named Rowan who lives in Cobargo. He said he wouldn’t be around until midday, but I could pull into his place and make myself comfy. I stopped in Cobargo to grab a coffee at a little café made out of an old train carriage and then headed out to Rowan’s. When I got there I went to the back of his place and found an orchard, so I set in to painting the denuded cherry trees. After that I did a gauche of his peach tree, trying to get the shifting of colour from the burgundy of the tip-top leaves through to a rich brown in the middle and fully saturated yellow-orange at the bottom. Rowan and his brother soon showed up and I watched them repair a gas heater and then we expended some energy flipping a giant slab of red gum, which was about five metres long and 1.5 thick. Rowan’s brother had a young pup and I thought it was interesting that when it would jump up on Rowan’s leg he would try to slyly step on the pup’s back foot. He said if you do it consistently the pup will associate the pain on his back foot with raising his front paws in the air, and stops jumping up on people. I can think of a few dogs back in Sydney that could use a bit of this kind of schooling. As dusk settled in we made a fire and washed up for dinner. I watered down the last of my gumbo and shared it and Rowan made a chicken curry with an organic chook from a mate. We drank some really nice Cooper’s vintage beer and ended up with Rowan playing guitar and me trying to accompany on violin. What a night, must have been the full moon.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Day 19 Friday 3595km

Got up with the sun and packed up my things. Gail gave me some pumpkin soup and I took a bit of the gumbo and put them both in my portable freezer. It was still a bit early to head down to the persimmon farm (a real wallaby nightmare), so I loaded a huge palette full of colours and otherwise prepared myself to do my first big painting of the trip. The drive down to Peter and Paul’s went fine and I pulled into their paddock and climbed on top of joan and began working straight away. I knew that by midday my shadows would be going in the wrong direction, so I wanted to get as much information down as possible. The sun was belting down on me and soon I had stripped off most of my underclothing and just painted in my coveralls. It was amazing painting a big one outside in the full sun, the glare doesn’t seem to distract me as much as with the small panels. I finished up around 2:30 and packed up. I had intended to ask to stay in their paddock tonight, but I need to get to Eden to paint my Blake prize entry, so I said goodbye and hit the road toward Moruya. I saw in my ‘traveller’s bible’ that Moruya had a showgrounds where I could camp for free. I stopped in at the Air Raid Tavern for a schooner of Old Brown and asked directions to the showgrounds. As sometimes happens, there was a big sign at the entrance that said ‘no camping’, so I drove the 10km out to the headlands and parked joan in a parking lot next to the beach. The water is still really nice and the almost full moon rose over the sea as I cooked up the pumpkin soup and settled in for the evening.