Category: h. MY ART

Being excited by art-making again

Now don’t get too excited those of you who want me to paint something for you (no, I haven’t forgotten) … this is just the first stage to get me back into doing something that once meant the world to me – making art.

Detail from my Fire Door

In the days before words took over my life, paint, canvas, the smell of Gum Turpentine (okay, occasionally I do still sniff it once just for nostalgia), beautiful sable brushes, Phthalo Blue, Burnt Sienna washes, filled my senses. My abstract landscapes began to need words to complete what I wanted to say. Then the words became essential in the painting (as in the Element Doors installation) until they existed on their own. That was when I gleefully jumped on the good ship, Authorship

Every now and then, I felt a tinge of regret that writing has become more important to me than making art.

But, as I tentatively dip a toe in the water – quick gestural drawings that no-one will see, freeing up my hand and my eyes once again, reading articles on art making especially in the illustrative field, I’ve begun to rejoice in art like an old friend. 

 There is much to rejoice in the work of Australian illustrators and artists –  like Freya Blackwood, Sarah Davis, Ann James, Gus Gordon, Matt Ottley, Shaun Tan, Lucia Masciullo and a luscious palette of others.  

On the web I can follow the art and illustrating greats too.
Like fabulous, Irish artist and children’s book illustrator, PJ Lynch with his distinctive, beautiful and illustrations of fairy tales and his master draughtsmanship.

 And Tomie dePaola (here’s what he says about his creative process.) And I love my book about the life of Maurice Sendak, Making Mischief … by Gregory Maguire.

Becoming an illustrator for children’s books isn’t one of my goals, but who knows, maybe some of my paintings might lend themselves to a narrative. Most of my art has a narrative of its own already, but that’s not the point, is it.

Anyway, for the time being I’ll paint and draw as the whim takes me, when I need to get away from the stories I have on the go. Oh, for a life on the high seas!

Just kidding, wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.  

#photoadayApril – A Photo a Day Challenge

Besides writing and art-making, I also love photography. I’ve owned a camera since I was a little girl in the early 1960s – a small Box Brownie and still have the first black and white image I took that day…my parents and sisters posing on a jetty in far north Queensland.

I’ll keep adding to the images in the PHOTO A DAY APRIL challenge – following a different theme every day.  

Here’s my GALLERY so far. Hover your cursor to see the image’s theme. Click for a large image. 


‘Earth’ … the fourth Element Door

I’m not surprised I’ve left the Earth door till last. The creation of this artwork meant a lot to me personally – it is the one that links to my adolescence in the Australian outback where the desire to understand more about our ancient continent began.



‘Earth’ – Land is Memory Memory is Land – Sheryl Gwyther 2003




Australia has a proud tradition of landscape artists. From the paintings of indigenous people whose unique art was and still is inspired by a visceral connection to the place of their birth … to the famous and amateur artists of the last 200+ years. All endeavour to express visually something about the impact of the land upon humans.

Because of the very nature of this country – its colours, its harshness, its contours and landforms, its history and its 85 million-year-old memory, the usual Euro-British landscape formats of painting background, middle ground and foreground seems inadequate to express what it there. This is why many artists in Australia strive to understand and paint the landscape beyond what is visible to the human eye – like the work of British-born, now Australian artist John Wolseley.

John WOLSELEY, ‘Botanist’s camp’ lithograph

Wolseley’s work over the last twenty years has been “a search to discover how we dwell and move within landscape – a kind of meditation on how land is a dynamic system of which we are all a part”.

His work is compelling, intriguing and insightful – his draughtsmanship is superb. Go check out his art in books – especially works like A search for rare plants in the George Gill Ranges, NT 1982. It’s a large piece in the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth.

In my Earth painting, you’ll find earth colours and fossils – yes, it was in the outback where, as a kid, I found my first, small, fossil pieces. It’s where I set my first children’s novel, Secrets of Eromanga, an adventure set on a dinosaur fossil dig.

Across the top section of Earth, are several layers of contour lines. They’re not actually drawn lines – they’re the tiny, written, line of words land is memory memory is land land is memory memory is land – like a mantra, I guess.

Layered into the glazed paint is a piece of rice-paper printed with musician, Paul Kelly‘s song, This Land is Mine / This Land is Me from the tragic, brilliant movie, One Night the Moon. It expresses lyrically and harmonically, the root of racial misunderstanding in Australia with regard to ‘ownership’ of land – the white settler who buys and owns his block of land and the Indigenous tracker who is connected to that land by birth. In the movie, set in the early 1900s, the white outback settler, played by Paul Kelly refuses to allow the local Aboriginal people back on his block. When his young daughter ‘follows’ the moon into the desert, the settler spurns the offered help of the black tracker who could have found his daughter easily.

I won’t tell you the whole story in case you see it – every Australian who cares about our country should see it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and seeing the past four days of my art work. If you’re ever in Brisbane, ring The Gap High School Library and ask if you can see the Element Doors – no longer in their original places as real, everyday doors but at least they’re still there.

All images are copyrighted. If you would like to use them for educational purposes, please acknowledge them and contact me first for permission.
(c) Sheryl Gwyther 2011


‘Water’ … the third Element Door

Water was the first door I painted in this series. It all came about because there was a door going nowhere in The Gap High School Library, and the Teacher-Librarian, Janelle McMahon asked me if I would paint it blue (because she liked blue…lol) 🙂

I’ll do better than that, I said, I’ll paint a picture on it and it will include blue! Little did I know where that casual remark would lead.

One formal proposal to the Principal later, the one door had turned into four and the images were to be the Elements. No better topic to express my love of landscape! The school gave me a good lump sum of money for the art supplies and I agreed to do it free of charge – I kept the left-over oil paints, brushes etc.

Water paved the way for the rest of the pictures. I had no idea how the paint would stick to the surface – the doors all had a textured good-quality vinyl surface in a limestone colour. But I need not have worried – it worked perfectly.

I used acrylics to ‘map’ out my design first, glued down the mixed media of the printed poetry on rice-paper, then slowly built up glazes in oil paint. The individual images in the picture I added as I went, building up their surface with oils.

‘Water’ – ‘Down by the Bay’ – Sheryl Gwyther 2003

Water focuses on my other job at the time, a part-time teacher at Brisbane’s Nudgee Beach Education Environmental School. It’s on Moreton Bay and is mangrove coastline with estuary beaches – a really important part of the Bay’s eco-system.

Jelly fish in deep water

The Bay (as Brisbanites call it) is constantly under threat from over-fishing. We had a shipping accident last year that tipped containers of chemicals to the ocean floor and swamped tons of oil across beaches. Now the sea-grasses where dugongs feed are threatened after the recent floods in Brisbane.

Moreton Bay in danger of being loved to death, and so are the estuarine mudflats of Nudgee Beach. I haven’t been back there for a while but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s denuded of its micro-life.

Water is a multi-dimension landscape painting – mapping out a bird’s-eye view of Nudgee Creek as it flows into Moreton Bay. The macro image of a Soldier Crab represents life on the mudflats, and the water-poetry inserts are there because the painting is in a Library.

The chosen poetry extracts are some of the most evocative words written about water by poets from several continents and times. I chose my favourites, Tennyson’s The Lady of Shallot, Five Bells and Beach Burial by Kenneth Slessor and others.

Human symbols for water include in the painting are Aboriginal water-hole circles, the ancient Egyptian wavy hieroglyph for river, the zodiac water signs of Scorpio, Pisces and Cancer, and the Brisbane tidal patterns. See if you can find them all.

Some of the larger images include baby turtles (not from Nudgee Beach); my favourite creature of the Bay – the Soldier Crab; flowers from the Red Mangrove and shells.

Soldier crabs armies look like pieces of sky moving across the mudflats.

This is a painting about conservation of a fragile environment – and I don’t care if it’s not subtle. The estuary mangroves are the nurseries for Moreton Bay’s fish and mud crabs. Below, in and above them live countless creatures. The most destructive creatures at Nudgee Beach walk on two legs.

If you’re ever near The Gap High, call in and ask Janelle or Karen to give you the guided tour. 🙂

All images are copyrighted. If you would like to use them for educational purposes, please acknowledge them and contact me first for permission.
(c) Sheryl Gwyther 2011

Making art with kids at Nudgee Beach