I returned to Mandurah for my second time participating in the Plein Air Down Under (PADU) Festival.
Just like last year the major event was set over the 3-day long weekend (Sat 23rd September - Mon 25th September), with additional workshops and events in the surrounding days as well.
Has my plein air painting improved since last year?
What did I learn this year?
Are any of my artworks still available to purchase?
Read on to hear about my experiences this year and the answers to these questions.
- Experience Peel Paint Out
- Day 1 Mandurah
- Day 2 Pinjarra
- Day 3 Quick Draw
- Conclusion (& links to buy)
Friday 22nd September
The day before the main festival I was able to attend the second of three Experience Peel Paint Out (EPPO) events. It was at Coodanup Foreshore, where one of the Peel Giants, Yurganburt Cirkelstone, was built by Thomas Dambo. Originally his sister Vivi Cirkelstone resided here but was sadly destroyed by arson before I could visit. I’ve enjoyed painting some of the other Peel giants and was glad to get the chance to complete another.
It was a warm day for September and the flies were troublesome at times but luckily I avoided any mosquitos. The estuary water was mirror-like and some ducks, egrets and black swans were fishing in the shallows. People walked by with their children or dogs and some clambered up on the giant for photo opportunities, only occasionally causing me frustration as I tried to draw him.
Before I got started with the official entry I made 3 thumbnail sketches of different compositions and from different angles. I decided on a low view looking directly at the giant with his circle of stones framing the foreground and the dark bush behind. I think these thumbnails are a great warm-up and hopefully lead to a better painting by the process of selecting a stronger composition than if I just launched straight into my first idea. They also get me walking around, thinking about the painting and getting to know the subject.
I think I’d forgotten a little bit what plein air painting could be like. With the shifting sun and clouds I struggled with the heat and angle of the paper (I couldn’t see the pencil lines because the rough grain cast shadows). Despite these minor obstacles I completed the painting within 3 hours of my arrival and felt mostly satisfied with the final outcome.
This day was about easing into the plein air painting spirit and mindset, while ironing out any kinks in my process. I tested out my setup and art supplies, including my new Gurney sketch easel, wonderfully made by my dad, which I hadn't trialled yet (spoiler: it worked a dream).
- Gurney sketch easel and Helinox Chair One (see photos below)
- Hahnemühle Cezanne rough watercolour paper 300 gsm 24 x 32 cm or Arches A5 Hotpress (had 2 sheets left)
- Escoda brushes (Aquario mop #14, 18 as well as Versatil travel round #8), Princeton Round #10 and Silver Black Velvet rigger #1
- Schmincke Horadam watercolours set of 15 or Art Spectrum landscape set of 10
- IKEA magnetic spice tin for water container and to attach my cleaning cloth on the easel
- Washi tape from Bunnings (works great for clean edges)
The first day of the festival had an early start at 8:30 AM to submit the EPPO painting from the day before. There was some morning tea and then two demonstrations from guest artists Amit Kapoor (India) and Matt Ryder (UAE). I went to Amit's watercolour demonstration and tried to absorb as much wisdom from his words and watching his technique as I could. Unfortunately I wasn't going to be able to attend his 3-day workshop after the festival so I knew learning from him at this point was precious.
Watching Amit reminded me of controlling the bead to paint a wash in one go. This is something I only recently started working on and feel I still need to grasp. He also painted with his paper at an angle and worked from top to bottom (logical really). He was very careful with what was left blank (i.e. paper white). His brush control really was masterful and you could see he knew precisely what he was doing at each stage.
Once at the designated plein air painting zone after lunch I got set up but the weather was overcast and breezy, not the most inspiring. I was attracted to the shape of the shelter roof next to the circular pool, however looking back now I find the composition a bit lifeless. I think I should either have made the shelter the main feature of the painting instead of framing the view, or people on the seats to give it a story. I made sure to include a character or story element to my thumbnails checklist for future. Amit passed by and recommended I step back every now and then and consider the perspective. I took this to mean that I should make distant elements more distant (by adding more blue or desaturating for instance; atmospheric perspective) and squinting more.
It didn't help that once I set paint to the paper the sun started popping out, clouds became more sparse and the whole lighting of the scene kept changing. I tried another smaller painting afterwards but it was on poor quality paper (I suspected it would perform badly so was using it to let myself relax and enjoy the sunshine). Another mistake I often make is to not transition to a smaller brush for details, something I had to remember from doing this painting.
At 5 PM I walked back for the evening activities and to hand in my first painting for the exhibit. I did a quick painting in my sketchbook as the night arrived and Leon Holmes gave a demo, however the rest of the activities were cancelled due to a medical incident.
The second day was inland in Pinjarra and we had beautiful weather for it. I chose a spot by the pedestrian bridge behind the Peel Produce Markets. Keeping in mind what I had learned the previous day about adding character to the scene I also wanted to focus on more natural elements such as the river. That day it turned out to be on trees.
Using my plein air sketchbook as a warm-up (and to complete the sketchbook 😄) I painted some galahs in the tree tops and another curved tree overhanging the river. I also watched part of Amit's demonstration on the street, however I'm not fond of street scenes and didn't have the best viewing position so left halfway to buy some lunch and scope out my afternoon spot. It was at least a good reminder of practicing something else I had noticed from him, namely to "colour in" shapes with the paint.
Back at the pedestrian bridge I worked on another landscape with the tree and river in the background. I struggled to find a view I liked here and probably made a mistake editing out the bridge in my scene - I just really didn't want to have architectural features but should have chosen a different subject. So I left that painting and moved to a new location that was a bit more peaceful, around the back of the Edenvale Heritage complex, looking towards a huge beautiful tree across the road.
I spent a very long time drawing the trunk and complex branches, struggling to fit it onto the page and still capture the impact of its size. I was using my pencil as a measuring stick to copy proportions to the paper however I felt the trunk was too small then. Looking back now I probably should have just followed with that because I felt it was too large on the paper and needed more space.
Once I got to painting some smoke drifted over and cast a pink light over the scene that I really liked. The trunk and branches were more detailed and controlled and I ensured to follow the "tea, milk and honey" approach by adding the light wash then shadows then darks. The foliage however became very loose (perhaps I just needed to go with the flow at this point). My only regret was not creating a dark, abstract background around the base.
Quick draw at Mandurah
I made sure to be prepared the night before and to arrive early on the third day. This meant I could scope out a place I liked and get setup, as well as do some concept sketches to decide composition. I'm glad I didn't choose one of the only boats docked by the boardwalk, as it left not long after the starting time. Instead I had a shady spot looking across at the back of Simmo's Icecream shop and the green space beyond the little inlet. I could see many other artists wandering out and setting up too and decided to challenge myself by adding one of them into my painting.
I felt as though a lot of what I'd learned from the festival came together for this final painting. Taking each step slowly, knowing what I was going to do next before putting my brush to the page and being careful with the whites all went well. I did struggle with the background again, so I decided to keep it 'simple' and make it a dark mass. I think my only other mistake was including a seagull, as the artist and seagull seem out of proportion and the artist alone would have sufficed. I absolutely love the shallow water and am quite proud of the reflections too.
Overall the festival was once again another success for me. I was able to work in a large format, and know to work on my backgrounds and storytelling elements in future. I feel more confident in my process and excited to keep up the plein air outings to work on my landscape skills. It was also great to catch up with previous acquaintances and make new friends (including interstate).
How will I work on my plein air and landscape skills in future? Well I have a new dedicated A5 landscape sketchbook for plein air practice (Etchr coldpress) that I keep with my outdoor gear. I've joined my local plein air group through Facebook (though am yet to attend a meetup 😅). However I think what will most motivate me to practice will be preparing for, and participating in, Plein Airpril next year. Perhaps using gouache too. More on that closer to the date!
Looking to buy?
If you wish to purchase any of the paintings you can do so at my shop:
$100 + shipping
Before the afternoon sun (Mandurah)
$100 + shipping
Majestic Overseer (Pinjarra)
$75 + shipping
Morning visitors (Mandurah Quick Draw 2hr)
$100 + shipping
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Let me know if you have a favourite and why, can you see any improvement or have some advice to offer?