Local artist Lee Holmes is responsible for some of the Coffs Coast’s most prominent artworks, including the mural on the Woolgoolga Water Tower. Lee shares his unique style of art and his favourite creations with us.
What is your earliest childhood memory of being artistic?
Drawing dinosaurs! But really, I was always good at art when I was at school. I always came first or second, even in high school. Unfortunately, after I left school I didn’t draw or paint anything for about 15 years.
What got you back in to it?
I took a redundancy from Telstra, and I thought I’d have a go at painting some murals on walls, to start with. Back in the 16th century, houses were decorated with murals and art, so I thought it might be interesting to give it a try. It just gives an atmosphere and certain feeling to a room, I suppose. It’s nice to see murals in homes instead of just seeing them in restaurants all the time.
I’ve only been airbrushing for about 6 years now. My eldest daughter Crystal thought she’d like to have a go at it, so she booked us both into a 4-day airbrushing course down in Sydney, with one of Australia’s leading airbrush artists – and it all went from there.
Describe your style.
Most of my work is airbrush art, but some of it is hand painted as well. Airbrush art is basically done with a little paint spray gun with a fine needle and nozzle that allows you to control the paint flow and air pressure.
It allows you to paint just about anything, from real thin lines up to big clouds. Airbrush basically allows you to paint on any surface. I’d say around 95% of my work is drawn freehand. If I ever use a stencil, it’s just for the outline of the object, and I will freehand everything else.
But aside from airbrush art, I actually dabble in a bit of everything. A lot people just think I just do big works and murals, but I will give anything a go. I paint with an airbrush or paintbrush, and I draw with pencils, charcoals and pastels. I’ve been trying to do a bit of everything, from canvas to cars to people!
Most of my art is aquatic scenes, because that’s what most people ask me to paint for them. But I really like painting other things – especially fantasy art. Things like dragons and that sort of thing.
You’ve worked on some big public projects …
Yes, I did the Woolgoolga water tower and the walls around the toilet block at Sawtell Headland. I’ve also painted the inside of a whole swimming centre out in Middle Boambee. It’s got a pool with windows in it, so when the kids are in the water looking out, they’ve got a wall to look at with sea creatures on it. At the baby pool, I painted an underwater scene with dolphins and a baby dolphin.
The main wall at the swimming centre was 28 m long and about 7 m high and that took about 203 hours to complete. It was mostly hand painted … airbrush art is a lot quicker.
What was it like painting the Woolgoolga water tower?
I was approached by Council to do the Woolgoolga and Sawtell murals. But you can go and design it and show them what it might be like, but it’s open to everybody then, because it’s classed as public art. You might get the ball rolling to get things happening, but then somebody else could end up doing it and stealing your ideas. I was lucky enough to win the chance to do the Woolgoolga mural, because there were a few submissions.
It was a great opportunity to do something that size, and it was certainly a good challenge. All went well, apart from 6 months of bad weather. I thought it would take about 9 to 13 weeks to paint but with all the bad weather, it pushed it out to about 7 months. Being up the scaffolding in the wind was a big challenge. I didn’t find the job hard, but the weather conditions were testing me. I got good feedback at the end of it all.
At the beginning, people were making comments about it being a waste of money, how long is it going to take and that sort of thing, but I don’t mind criticism. It’s all turned out well in the end.
It’s a prominent feature now and many people do comment on the artwork. Is it a little bit surreal for you having your art in such public places?
Unfortunately, I probably take art for granted, being able to do it mostly naturally. Having these works on public display probably humbles me more than anything, because I think that everyone can paint and draw to some extent. It’s good to hear some nice comments, but I make sure it doesn’t go to my head.
Do you have a favourite piece that you’ve done?
I’m quite happy with the Aboriginal theme mural on the Sawtell Headland block. To me, because the faces are in the ancient smokes, it should show that people were there before, not just white tourists. A lot of people have commented on that one, which is nice.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
I just finished painting a boat; I painted a giant octopus on it. It shows a bit of the head with tentacles coming up from the bottom of the boat and wrapping around it.
Right at the moment, I’m painting some dog portraits for a trailer that they’re travelling in; they’re show dogs. I’ve got a motorbike coming up, and I’m doing a couple of canvas pictures that people want.
We hear you’re also teaching some classes …
Yes, I tutor some classes for the Coffs Coast Community College. I’ve done just over half a dozen classes so far. I just teach people the basics of airbrushing and help them get started learning how to operate the spray guns and getting them started on their way to painting pictures.
I have about 5 students at a time. A lot of people are middle aged and have had an airbrush gun sitting around their house for 30 years and are looking for an opportunity to give it a go. I’m really enjoying it. I try to make it fun, because it’s a thing that can be very frustrating to work with at times – especially when it spits paint, and you’re just about to finish your work. Sometimes it can be really bad!
Where can people view your artworks, aside from the public murals?
I haven’t had an exhibition yet, but I’m hoping to plan a unique one soon. It’s a bit of a secret at the moment, but stay tuned for details. My website has a few of my works on it and people can contact me through that to do any commissioned works. It is www.colourcloudsairbrushart.com
Thank you Lee.