Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The End of the Wharf as we know it

The Empty Wharf
Starting a new large canvas- 8am on a cloudy windy day on the site of recently demolished Wharf 8 at South Barangaroo 

I have prepared a canvas suitable for the threatening clouds by priming it  with several coats of black acrylic paint. Canvases intended for either landscapes or seascapes I prime with either black or cerulean blue. This preparatory coat of coloured paint is known as the 'imprimatura', and I like to use it especially when painting outdoors rather than face the glare of a white canvas reflecting the sunlight back into my face
A black primed canvas is useful for storm clouds or interiors, while the blue canvases have the basic sky colour already laid in, so it is easier to add clouds, haze or mist at the horizon.


Note the scar of dark, new laid asphalt delineating the space where Wharf 8 used to be.

Gone with the Wind

This canvas is fairly large for a plein air painting- 91 x 122cm. I intended it to be a continuation of the series of canvases from similar vantage points on this wharf of the same size which you can see on the right hand side of this blog, one painted when the 'Hungry Mile' was still a working port and the other a year later when the ships, trucks, containers, forklifts and wharfies had left. There are also other paintings of this size and format showing the demolition of the previous wharf buildings. I must say that the earlier paintings might have been more complex to paint, but this one is more physically difficult to manage, because now that most of the buildings have been demolished, there is no shelter from the wind on this wharf. 
That sounds like a minor gripe, but I have almost as much canvas up to catch the breeze as though I were windsurfing. The Philip's head screws on the struts of my french box easel, never a strong point of its design, are fighting a losing battle. I tighten them, but their little notches are almost worn smooth. The top of the easel with its canvas snaps back and forward unless I hold it steady with my left hand. It's tiring to paint like this and I dare not leave it long enough to eat my lunch, never mind about leaving it for a much needed toilet break. I'd be chasing my stuff all over the wharf. I try a useful trick with big canvases in a brisk wind - I change the angle so the canvas is side on to the wind, not catching it head on, and lower the angle so that the canvas is almost horizontal like a table top. A little like sailing, I should imagine, although I am by no means a sailor.
Last year I lost a much loved Akubra hat which blew off my head as I was packing up my things on my very last visit to paint the ferries the Balmain shipyard. I was so upset that I seriously thought about jumping into the Harbour and swimming after it, but I didn't want to be scuttled by the 'Lady Hopetoun'. I suppose some lucky New Zealander is wearing my lost Akubra  now. A good Akubra with a wide brim, not one of those silly pork pie jobs that don't keep the sun or rain off, is hard to find now. It will set you back about $150, and that doesn't include the toggles, which are almost impossible to buy. The shops only sell  Akubras for tourists these days and were amazed to hear of someone who actually needed to wear one for work. 'Did I also ride a horse at work' the assistants asked, wide-eyed with wonder. I had to disappoint them there. 
The wind is getting much worse. A good rule of thumb is that over 25 knots and the canvas starts to beat like a drum; the brushstrokes are timed to coincide. Annoying, but not insurmountable. Over 35 knots and a fully loaded french box easel starts to skitter around. Over 40 knots, and it will lift up and whack you on the nose if you don't tie it down. I have to move my car and cower behind it, using it as a wind break.
Painting clouds- 11am
Beware- Artist at work- 11.30am

If it weren't for the hard hat perched on top of it, the little black hat would look quite glam. It's no Akubra, though.
The smear of black paint on the cheek  really completes the look. 
Behind the canvas
I had to scavenge for this big concrete block to weight down my easel so I wouldn't have to chase it all over the wharf. The bricks are preventing the easel struts from being blown out of position and giving me a faceful of wet canvas. It only partly worked. I found out later the wind that day was over 45 knots. But despite the threatening clouds it didn't actually rain and I got a lot of painting done.