05 November 2022


 Recently I posted a photo of the first stages of a new painting on Facebook, and several people asked me to show them the step-by-step process from there to a finished painting. This was a bit of a challenge, as I am usually reluctant to show people work in progress, but I agreed. Here is the history of a painting, in ten steps.


I wanted to practise painting rocks, so hiked in to Handsome Cave to get some ideas and inspiration.

I spent about an hour sitting and studying these rock formations while I ate my lunch, and by the time I had reached my car for the drive home had a very clear visual image of the shape I wanted for a new painting.

Here it is the beginning; some basic shapes on which I could build - something!

Some more work, adding colours where the design suggested. I'm not thinking about objects at this stage, just putting down a pattern of colours and shapes

Finding objects

Two new words: pareidolia and mimetolithic.   The first is the human propensity to find patterns in random shapes, for example, pictures in the clouds.  Mimetolithic patterns are formed by weathered, broken and eroded rocks whose shapes lend themselves to this by suggesting interesting things. 

In nature, we most frequently find faces. If you look the right way at the photographs I took at Handsome Cave you might find some.

Pareidolia comes into play at this stage of  painting, when I look at what I have on the canvas and begin to find patterns and shapes that I can emphasise and develop. Like this.

Adding more stuff

A landscape is beginning to appear, and it needs figures in it. This is not some arcane aesthetic decree; it's just the way I like to paint. Off I go to rummage in my toybox for a suitable doll to use as a model, and that's when I find out what the painting will be about. 

There are always half-formed notions lurking in corners waiting to be discovered, and every so often two or three fuse into an interesting idea. This happens now. Along with a couple of useful dolls I find a yellow plastic whale. Recently somebody returning from their holiday remarked they saw lots of "flowering orchids and whales". Jokes were made (mostly by me) about flowering whales and somebody else suggested that might be a suitable subject for a painting. So this happens.

Now I have to construct the picture around it. The whale  turns into a rock formation and I sketch in a cluster of rock orchids growing from it. A second figure balances the composition, but then the egg-shape at the top looks odd.  I quite liked it, but it has to go. Similarly, the green bushes on the left were only intended as a "placeholder" until I decide what would finally fill the spot. In fact, I'm not sure what to put in a lot of places.


At this point things get serious. I spend three days reading about Tasmanian orchids and drawing diagrams of them, while sketching ideas that might or might not solve the problems. Then back into the studio. None of the ideas for the left hand side work so I end up with something completely different, but the rest of the plans look good.

After that, it is just a matter of putting everything in place then fine-tuning and adjusting details until I've absolutely had enough of it. 

The Big Finish

This is the result. 

Whales and Orchids, oil on canvas, 61 cm x 91 cm

29 September 2022

FLOCK an exhibition about animals

FLOCK is a joint exhibition of painting, sculpture and ceramics by Elizabeth Barsham, Betty Nolan and Rebecca Watson, three artists who love animals, opening on Friday 7th October, 2022 at Nolan Gallery, Level 1, Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart. 

 Animals, or animal-like figures, frequently appear in my work, but I seldom paint pictures specifically about animals. 

When invited to exhibit in this show I was busy painting rocks and exploring industrial archaeology, but I did a painting of a unicorn especially. Then I managed to insert some teddy bears, sea monsters, birds, odd zoomorphic creatures and a stuffed elephant into the other pieces I was doing. 

 Here are the eight paintings I have finished. I'm working on another one with a wombat in it, but might not have it ready in time, so don't hold your breath. I'm sorry if you were expecting puppies and kittens.
Waiting for Instructions 61 cm x 91 cm
At the beginning of this year things seemed confusing and uncertain, what with a lingering pandemic, threats of war, family issues and all the other stuff that was going on. I rather wished there were some wise person who could tell us all what to do next. I feel this way at the beginning of most years and as usual there didn't seem to be any divine guidance forthcoming, so I did a painting instead.
Childhood Dream 82 cm x 66 cm
An adventure in ambiguous architecture. Toys for young and old and an infinite city.
Serenading a Unicorn 61 cm x 76 cm
Betty Nolan has been making gorgeous ceramic horses, and some of them turned into unicorns. I like unicorns, so I painted a few of my own. The Lady in whose lap the Unicorn should be resting its head has been upstaged by a crowd of unruly "musicians". She's not quite sure what to do about it.
Nesting Season 61 cm x 46 cm
There are striated pardelotes nesting under the roof of my studio, as happens about this time every year. It's a rowdy business building nests and raising chicks and they make a lot of noise. Meanwhile, fairy wrens are building their nests in the next-door shed where chicken wire across all the openings ensures they are safe from larger birds. I am not lonely!
Little Friends 30 cm x 61 cm
A happy little dream image, which may be the precursor to a larger painting. Meanwhile, think lollypops and sugar.
Hunting the Wild Agapanthus 84 cm x 91 cm
Agapanthus grow everywhere around my studio. I believe they are classed as weeds, and I would prefer native plants. But I enjoyed painting the flowers.
Conversation with a Pink Elephant 45 cm x 35 cm
A still-life study I did as a painting exercise. What more can I say?
Baby Kraken 45 cm x 61 cm
I found a rather boring picture painted about ten years ago abandoned in the back of my store-room. Added the Kraken, a definite improvement. Probably my favourite painting of all of these.

All these paintings are in oil on stretched canvas. If you are interested in any of them, contact Betty Nolan at Nolan Gallery, Space 109, Salamanca Arts Centre, 77 Salamanca Place, Hobart 
Phone: (03) 6223 3449 Mobile: 0438 446 785 
Gallery hours: Mon - Fri 10 am - 6 pm; Sat 10 am - 4 pm; Sun 12 pm - 4 pm

06 August 2022

Pink Flowers

a recent painting, now off to its new owner

When you venture into a Tasmanian forest you discover an intricacy of fungi, fern, lichen and moss, of strange little spiders, grubs and insects, of creatures avian and amphibious. Pause and watch them living their complicated lives around rocks, rivulets and rotting wood in an intriguing, interconnected wonderland. So much to keep you fascinated!

Pink Flowers oil on canvas, 84 cm x 97 cm

This is one of many paintings celebrating the intersection between flora and fauna in which I begin by painting some big, basic shapes to establish a pictorial scaffold. Then I grow the details over it, like buds opening on winter branches, green moss cushioning a delicate bone, the patterns of weathered rocks, networks of lichen lace draped over naked twigs; all these natural shapes begin to furnish and inhabit the space. Before long, they take on a life of their own and become a fantasy landscape, lush in colour, an improbable biology of anthropomorphic beasts and peripatetic vegetation.

The line

When fishes flew, and forests walked, and figs grew upon thorn . . .

repeated again and again in my head while I painted Pink Flowers and might go some way to explain it. I’m sorry about the unimaginative title, but I did put a bit of creativity into making the picture.