When we spotted local watercolour artists Darren and Trevor painting at the Coffs Harbour Jetty, we just had to stop for a chat and to check out their work. They shared their thoughts on painting “en plein air”, the parts of the Coffs Coast where they like to set up their easels, what inspires them at the moment and how their entries in the Sawtell Art Gallery’s 30th anniversary exhibition were received.
What is your connection to the Coffs Coast?
Darren: I have lived here 14 years now. I was a gardener and maintenance supervisor locally and the President of Coffs Harbour Baseball Association for three years. I have only recently picked up my art again after a workplace injury sat me down and slowed me up. I joined the local art group at Woolgoolga and go at my own pace.
Trevor: My wife, Lizzie, and I have lived and worked in Coffs for over 40 years. Lizzie worked as a piano teacher and I worked as an architect, often drawing by hand. For the last five years I have been associated with the Sawtell Art Society, which has not only been a catalyst for my art, but has provided a continuing broadening of my life.
How did you meet, and why do you paint together?
Darren: We met at an art class and became friends quickly, as we shared a cheeky personality. I enjoy Trevor’s company, but he also has a wealth of artistic talent he is busting to share. Trevor has much more experience than I do, and he has a great ability to mentor and share his skills.
Trevor: We were fortunate to share a table this year at a painting workshop run by Helen Goldsmiths. We enjoyed each other’s art and decided to go painting together. We like meeting at the Jetty for its hustle and bustle.
What do you like about painting “en plein air”? Does painting outdoors bring specific challenges?
Darren: Keeping it simple and capturing the moment pushes creativity. The light is forever changing and people are constantly on the move, forcing you to get your ideas down as fast as possible. Even simple scenes can be brought to life by utilising composure. It sure is a challenge taking it from real life as it happens, but it’s also very rewarding.
Trevor: I like the wisdom and the learning process that comes from observing real nature rather than photographs. With the ever-changing light, colours and shadows, you need to omit 30% of what you see to capture the story.
Where are your favourite places to paint on the Coffs Coast?
Darren: We enjoy Sawtell, as it has many varied, idyllic locations. There is the beach, the river, the hustle and bustle of the shops and cafés, as well as the bush, all in a short walk. The Jetty is an obvious choice for its sea scenes and fishing boats, and we recently went to the Woolgoolga foreshore for a change of venue. Another prime location is, of course, Moonee. It’s just stunning.
Trevor: I also like to find the places where stories can be captured, such as the markets, the Jetty area and the busy beaches.
What is it about watercolour painting that appeals to you?
Darren: I like the pace; you can paint slow and test your patience, or you can go “hell for leather” and still get wonderful results. It can be terrible and difficult some days, or it can be so simple and produce a wonderful piece of art on others. It is also very portable, which means you can travel and paint very easily, as opposed to oil paints, that take so long to dry and require much more infrastructure to use outdoors. A small palette of paint, a bottle of water and brushes and paper, and you’re set.
Trevor: When I was about seven, I completed my first watercolour painting of the mountains around the beautiful Capertee Valley near Mudgee, where my family are from. I love the bush and the seascapes of the Coffs Coast and find watercolours to be the most appropriate art medium to capture the light and shadow.
In 2004 I held a successful watercolour exhibition of 38 paintings at Nick Rachel’s First Avenue Art Gallery in Sawtell. Since the early 1990s, I have produced my annual watercolour calendar for family and friends.
Who inspires you at the moment?
Darren: I am loving the hinterland when we are out and about. I have recently painted several landscapes of the Woolgoolga surroundings and of course, the water is very special. I’m nuts for doing portraits of ugly, old, craggy faces but also love painting old outback pubs or Australiana, such as The Rocks in Sydney or Balmain.
Trevor: My fellow painters are always an inspiration, including Winslow Homer, the American water-colourist who always captured the human story in front of his wonderful landscapes. I have recently been influenced by German impressionists, who painted between the two great wars.
You recently entered watercolours in the Sawtell Art Gallery 30th anniversary exhibition. How did you go?
Darren: My submission this time was in the portrait section. It was well received and got favourable comments, but failed to mesmerise the judges this event.
Trevor: I submitted a piece entitled Jetty Beach Sailing, which won best watercolour of the exhibition.
Thanks Darren and Trevor.