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Sunlight and Silhouettes

Exploring and copying ocean effects in oils.

Last semester, when we were studying painting, my lecturer took us for an excursion to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Armed with giant sketchbooks and pencils, we traipsed through the halls of paintings, whispering to each other in tones of excitement, awe, and (in some cases) boredom.

Some of us sat down immediately in front of a painting and began sketching away in our notebooks. Others hovered between a couple of different paintings, or wandered about aimlessly, unable to decide. All those beautiful paintings, each one a window into another time and place, another person, a new emotional vista, like a pass into a different realm. Too many paintings to ever choose from.

In the sunlight, the ocean is like a single polished jewel, and each little ruffle of a wave seems to be dancing.

For me, the choice was simple. Again and again I felt my feet being drawn towards this one corner of the gallery. I acknowledged my decision, pulled out my sketchbook, and sat myself cross-legged on the floor.

Ocean and sunlight

It was a painting by Albert Hanson that I found myself drawn to. The title in the gold frame read Pacific Beaches. Maybe a boring title, but it was a special one for me. The painting reminded me distinctly of my favourite place to go, my family holiday home, in a village on the South Coast.

Instantly, I was brought to that moment when you're running down towards the ocean and you get that first dazzling glimpse of water between the trees. In the sunlight, the ocean is like a single polished jewel, and each little ruffle of a wave seems to be dancing.

Our painting assignment required skills in both copying and adapting; we were supposed to employ more experimental techniques in our reproduction of the work. For me, the technique I was employing was texture, building up thick layers of texture with my palette knife, a process called impasto.

But as I was copying the artwork and building up the texture of the dancing waves, a technique copied from paintings in the modern section of the gallery, my eye and my palette knife were really copying something else entirely. I was thinking of the gleaming colour, the hundreds of colours playing in the sunlight, in the ocean near my family holiday home.

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