Practical Exercise 4 – Artwork – Picnic


  • Medium: Daler Rowney and Winsor and Newton acrylic paint
  • Support: stretched, primed canvas
  • Colours: phthalocyanine blue, titanium white, quinacridone red-orange, cadmium red, cadmium yellow, permanent rose
  • Golden GAC 400 acrylic medium
  • Brushes: Daler-Rowney System 3 – ¾” SY21 Long Flat, ¼” SY21 Long Flat, Winsor and Newton Foundation No 6, palette knife
  • Size: 40.6 x 50.8 cm (16” x 20”)


Sketch of picnic from childhood sketchbook

Sketch of picnic from childhood sketchbook

This exercise is based on a sketch from a childhood sketchbook. Initially I began to think about ways to physically recreate some of the sketchbook scenes in the garden of the family home. This led to research into the work of Ian Kiaer and the way in which he creates scenes that play with scale and bring together elements that at first seem to have little connection with one another.

As I thought about this I began to see the sketchbook as a reflection of an inner landscape representing things that had appealed or mattered to me as a child. At the same time research into aboriginal art, originally because I was thinking of aerial viewpoints, gave me ideas for further exploration as to how to communicate this inner landscape.

Initial Ideas

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I wanted to use some of the ideas from my research to create a painting that mapped the garden of my childhood home and used some of the scenes from my childhood sketchbook as part of this. I particularly wanted to explore:

The idea of a map of an inner landscape related to childhood – Aboriginal paintings can show landscape as either a vast expanse of territory or may be more localised and focus on a particular area. To consider this further I found aerial views of the village where I was brought up, some from the 1940s and some using the mapping features of current search engines. This allowed me to think about using a wider viewpoint, of the village itself and my childhood associations with it, or to focus more specifically on the garden of my childhood home. The wider viewpoint certainly has possibilities but in keeping with the spirit of my original sketchbook this exercise is focused on the garden and, specifically, the picnic scene.

The use of sign systems to create a visual language – I also wanted to think about the idea of a sign system to illustrate the scene. Aboriginal art uses a visual language made up of a wide range of figurative and geometric elements and I wanted to explore this by thinking about what I want to communicate in the painting and to try and create my own sign system.

Variations in viewpoint and scale – I also wanted to consider variations in scale within the painting. In aboriginal paintings the significance of a particular scene is often shown by a change of scale. This means that within a single painting there can be differences of scale depending on the importance being attached to a particular part of the story.

Session 1

Initial composition and colour layers

Initial composition and colour layers

To begin with I made a rough outline of the main elements on the canvas. Through working with ideas from research and my childhood sketchbook I decided on the following elements:

  • Oak trees in the garden
  • Rhododendron and azalea bushes
  • Flowers beds
  • The picnic scene from the sketchbooks and a bee hive – transposed from gran’s garden to represent drawing with bees in sketchbook
  • A ‘Bush’ radio which was always on in the kitchen with music

Initially I was considering working with a more realistic palette – blues and greens and I wanted to convey the warmth of summer days. I used a wash of quinacridone red-orange for the first layer and, over this and mix of phthalocyanine blue, cadmium yellow and titanium white for more opaque coverage. I had also intended to make the background behind the trees green figuring that if this was, as in aboriginal art, an aerial view then strictly speaking the background would not be sky as this would be more logically represented as if looking through a layer of cloud.

Layer of texture

Layer of texture

At this stage I wasn’t feeling inspired and my instinct was to move towards something with more texture. After a bit of debate, I decided to use titanium white mixed with a glue for stiffening fabric and, with a palette knife, I created the main shapes by shaping and scraping into this mix. I also decided to reinstate the sun and cloud symbols as they appear in a number of my childhood drawings.

Session 2

Starting to build layers of colour

Starting to build layers of colour

For the second session I began to work more instinctively adding a wash of phthalocyanine blue over the textural layer followed by a wash of quinacridone red-orange. Thinking back to a previous exercise, in Part 2 of the course, I wanted to use the colours almost like stains, not mixing them on the palette but adding in layers onto the canvas.

I worked by adding a layer of colour and allowing it to dry for a short period of time before removing some of it. This meant that some of the colour naturally settled within the crevices of the textured surface. I then added another colour and worked in the same way to develop the main elements.

Session 3

Developing colour and detail

Developing colour and detail

I continued to work on the different elements. A layer of phthalocyanine blue for the sky created more of a moonlight feel but I liked the ambiguity of this.

By now I was adding more colour than I was removing and beginning to build up the detail of particular areas such as the azaleas at the top left and rhododendrons on the bottom left.

Session 4

Considering way forward

Considering way forward

At this stage I felt that the textural elements needed more definition and I was unsure about the sky which was becoming overworked. I removed some of the phthalocyanine blue and began to work to create more contrast and definition across the painting.

Session 5

Creating more definition and contrast

Creating more definition and contrast

I felt that the work was becoming too busy and the underlying textures were becoming lost. I used phthalocyanine blue and quinacridone red-orange to fill in the negative shapes between the raised areas of texture hoping that this would create more definition. While it has, in some areas, such as the azaleas at top left and around the figures at the picnic overall, I feel more contrast is required.


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Technical and visual skills and quality of outcome – I was trying with this exercise to use elements from aboriginal art such as using pared-down signs to represent locations and activities, aerial perspective and differences in scale of some of the elements to indicate not their actual size but their significance to my childhood world.

Using an underlying texture moved me away from the more traditional aspects of aboriginal art but I did work with my own sign system of oak trees, sun, cloud, flowers, bee hive, radio and picnic cloth and figures. The scale of the picnic scene is large compared with the actual space in the garden indicating its significance as a childhood event. The radio, often on in the kitchen, provided the background music and if reworking the scene, I would increase this.

The beehive isn’t something that was in our own garden but my grandparents. I have here used the aboriginal device of transposing objects or events to another scene to work with a particular narrative, in this case places and activities that were meaningful to me as a child.

Originally my intention was to use more natural colours. My decision to use phthalocyanine blue for the sky created an ambiguous feel to the painting, more moonlight than sunlight. As I worked on the image this, in some ways, seemed to sum up some of my own emotions currently as we clear the family home after mum’s death. There is a lot to reflect upon and the familiar can seem very unfamiliar at times.

Demonstration of creativity and context – In the previous module my tutor advised looking for more correlations between materials, mediums and techniques and I have tried to be mindful of this when doing research. For this exercise, through the work of Ian Kiaer and aboriginal artists, such as Judy Watson, I have been thinking about differing perspectives within a painting and also differences in scale. This was my intention within this painting although I think I can explore this further and be bolder.

Working with ideas from aboriginal art has led me to consider different ways to represent a scene and the different elements within it. Using the paint in a more textural way was a digression from these techniques but, at that point, it was something I wanted to try. I have, perhaps, introduced too many differing elements, texture, perspective and scale and the overall effect is something that is too busy and needs more definition and contrast.

I would like to rework this subject using the same approach to the composition, that of a map, but reconsider what materials I use and how these are applied. I am thinking here of the work of Judy Watson using pigments and natural materials to almost stain the canvas and this links to work done in Part 2 of the course.

I also want to try working on unstretched canvas laid on the ground so that I can move around the canvas as I paint. This is a technique used in aboriginal art and I would like to see how physically moving around the canvas affects your perspective on it. It also seems to tie in with the idea of the picnic cloth.

Related Posts

Aboriginal Art – Research Notes –

Judy Watson – Research Notes –

Ian Kiaer and Joel Shapiro – Research Notes –

Practical Exercise 1 – Stains – Initial Exploration –

Practical Exercise 3 – Recreation of Sketchbook Scenes –


Morphy, H. (1998) Aboriginal Art. London: Phaidon Press Ltd.