A few weeks ago I decided to join a few friends in taking an art class. Before starting the class we were each asked to find a picture or painting that we wanted to re-create over the course of 5 classes. In hopes of recapturing some of the fond memories I have of my solo travels in Australia, I decided to choose a painting created by an Australian Aboriginal artist. As I’ve mentioned before, the best travel take-aways, in my opinion, are the ones that let you re-live your favourite travel memories when you’re back home. This painting class was my chance to re-live a little bit of the culture and landscape of Australia.
The painting I chose is the work of an Aboriginal artist named Angelina George. Many of her paintings depict burnt-coloured, wavelike landscapes or bold colored bush flowers and they all reflect the strong connection she has to both her land and her aboriginal culture.
Wanting to create something that would also work with the decor of my home I decided to choose one her bold, layered bush flower paintings. Entitled Flowers, the painting I chose was created by George in 2000 and sold at an auction in 2009. It’s more contemporary than her landscapes piece.
Australia has a special place in my heart. It is the destination of my first solo travels. I had just finished a Master of Science program at a Canadian University (following a 4-year undergrad degree) which had me hidden away in a lab every day, all day, for 2 years. I needed a break from the solitude and routine of the lab. A trip to Australia was the carrot I dangled in front of myself while I went through the laborious process of writing up and defending my thesis. I applied for a working holiday visa to help fund my travels – a student’s life doesn’t allow for vast savings! – and once the thesis was submitted, I was off. Armed with a greyhound bus pass and my backpack I had a full year of adventure ahead of me.
The traditional aboriginal art that I was drawn to while travelling around Australia was the intricate dot paintings I saw, especially during my time in the outback. Created using traditional aboriginal colours like yellow (to represent the sun), brown (the soil), red (desert sand) and white (the clouds and the sky) they typically featured indigenous animals, lakes and landscapes and often depicted a story. Dot painting is a painting style that uses numerous small dots to create the images and/or background of a painting. Here’s a link to samples of traditional aboriginal dot painting art to give you a an idea of this unique and striking style of painting. The painting I chose to replicate had a dot background.
I decided to employ the same colour scheme as the original painting and also settled on a pink background; however, I chose slightly more traditional (earthy) tones for the flowers. For the record, I have NEVER taken an art class before or attempted a painting but I was excited to see what I could create in just 5 sessions.
We started off by sketching our design onto paper. I didn’t find this very useful for the type of painting I was attempting. Aside from a few clusters of large flowers, much of the painting is made up of small, loosely shaped flowers and vines with coloured dots filling in the background. Sketching everything didn’t seem fruitful so I quickly moved on to the next stage. In keeping with the original painting, I painted my background pink and then chalked the basic design (the clusters of large flowers) directly onto my canvas. Before the end of the first class I even had some of the larger flowers filled in.
Yikes! My flowers looked like blobs. The teacher assured me that the following week we would add some depth to the flowers with a few techniques that she would show me. I told myself to trust the process and be patient. I also reminded myself that I was a complete novice. I let go of the fantasy that I might discover I was an artistic prodigy and then I lowered my expectations.
Although my painting won’t be appearing in a gallery – ANYWHERE, EVER – I do think that by the end of the second class the flowers were looking much better and once I filled in a bit of the vines that weave through portions of the picture, I started to feel like it was actually coming together.
Filling in the background with the dots was the most fun part but took longer than I expected. I didn’t finish my painting in the 5 classes that were allotted and had to book extra studio time. I also realized a little too late that the scale of my painting was off. My canvas was larger than the original painting so my flower clusters were more spread out leaving too much open space between them. Despite trying to add in more greenery there was no way I could hide as much of the pink background as in the original without vastly changing my painting. Everything should have been larger. I’m definitely not a painting prodigy.
My painting is now being stretched over a frame but to be honest, I’m not sure if it will get hung in my home. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the class and hope to do another one in the Fall, this was clearly the work of a newbie and can only be loved and appreciated by me.
I’m hoping that every time I look at it – when rummaging around in the storage room in my basement – that I will be reminded of the landscape and culture that inspired it – the beautiful land down-under. The year I spent traveling around Australia is the most defining year of my life. I learned a lot about people and about myself and I don’t want to ever forget that time.
I created my travel take-away at 4Cats Art Studio. 4Cats Arts Studio was created in 2005 by founder and CEO Joey Simon on Vancouver Island BC, Canada. There are now franchise locations across Canada, the US, Mexico and in Australia offering both children’s and adult art classes.