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Plein-air painting around Northland

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

Whangarei Heads

'Quit your job! take my van...Yeaaaaah! take my van and go on a road trip!' those were the wise words of my friend Evy. I mean it was a very freeing thought, I really could do all those things.

I didn't quit my job...crazy talk. BUT I did go on a much needed road trip. I left at dawn Wednesday morning, with my $18 easel (or metal contraption of some sort), food, paint, all the thermals I owned and headed up north to Dargaville.

I never really considered Plein-air painting before, Plain-disaster is a better suited name. I barely understand what's going on in a still calculated studio setting let alone changing light, temperature, wind, insects, sand, dirt etc. Regardless, recently I had been thinking about it a lot; I had all my materials ready and had gone over the procedure in my head incessantly: how to set up my $18 easel without looking like a fool, how I would work on minute studies so that no one can see what I was painting, I rehearsed how I would pack-up my gear in the shortest possible time, prepared tea in a thermos for when I needed to procrastinate, the list goes on. I thought about everything that would give me an excuse not to try it out; it pays to know yourself well. It's like when you go to use a voucher and you missed the clause that states the voucher is invalid if you ate an apple that morning. Be prepared.

Two hours had passed since I began driving and its well past sunrise, I had a decent block of time to complete a small study. I knew if I continued driving it would verify that I won't be Plein-air painting for the duration of the trip or ever. I approached some striking green rolling hills and pulled over without thinking too much (this is key). It bothered me that the wind turbulence and clouds were changing the way the light was hitting the landscape. Nevertheless, I had already pulled over on the side of the road. I imagined what it would look like to a road camera; a car pulling over then driving off, then pulling over again, only to drive off again. I set up my easel out of sheer paranoia; of the imaginary road camera following a suspicious car with a Middle-Eastern driver. The pain of not setting up surpassed the pain of setting it up. Once the metal pieces were assembled, it occurred to me I had taken this too far, I had to at least pretend to be doing something. This, in fact is the process of how I usually show up to painting, like a child scouring to stay afloat in shallow water, picking up a paint brush is an enigma to me. I dipped my brush in a bit of Gamsol and burnt Sienna, My first Plein-air painting. it was rubbish, but I did it.

Entry to Glinks Gully Beach

Arrived to destination; Glinks gully, a west coast beach that stretches out to as far as the eye can see, and not a soul. Just me, the water, sand and the odd washed up Bluebottle jellyfish, for miles. Walking along the sandbank I turned around to see where I had parked my car but it was out of sight; the rare quad biker would appear sporadically, then swiftly disappear into the mist again. It reminded me of that scene in the Pirates of the Carribeans: At worlds end film. Every person walking along that coastline must have felt like they were the last ones to walk the planet.

Bluebottom Jellyfish

Glinks Gully Beach, Dargaville

The next morning I began the drive to Whangarei Heads. Stopping off along the way to do some Plein-air studies. It wasn't the horrendous task it was the day before. The thing about these studies is that they are so small. The main objective is to capture the correct value, hue and chroma; something I learnt during my time at Studio Escalier last year). I found Plein-air studies to be a great exercise to help me learn to see better, also being in nature was a welcomed change.

Plein-air painting at Whangarei Heads

I finished off my road trip with a stop at Eutopia Cafe. This place is so gorgeous, if you get a chance to check it out, do so!

Eutopia cafe Kaiwaka

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