Posted by: Julie Duell | June 22, 2008





Greetings all once again!

In this Post I would like to share with the evolution of a large painting “Opera House Dreaming”  which is still part of my collection.   The purpose is to see how a painting can grow from a tiny sketched impression and encourage you to try your own original approach if you haven’t done so before. To find your own personal approach to a subject by playing with shapes, design, atmosphere, linear forms or whatever appeals to you is so satisfying and so much fun.

So the operative word in this Post is ‘ORIGINAL”   – after all YOU are original aren’t you?  Your creativity should reflect that!  Truly, you don’t know what is in you to come out until you give it a go!

Here is an original small pencil sketch I made on Australia Day 2007 on Sydney Harbour.

The overlaid felt pen lines were added later, isolating the shapes of the beautiful Sydney Opera House – but the original pencil sketch just freely explored the relationship between he sailing boats, birds and Opera House – which is what impressed me on the day as the lovely curves of the wings of the birds swooped across similar curves in the sails – then echoed again in the ‘sails’ of the Opera House design.

Back home in my Studio, I was keen to see where this would take me in paint – so I put a large stretched canvas primed with white acrylic on the easel and hopped in with soft willow charcoal & a rag for an eraser before I got “cold feet”.  (Yes, there is still that initial hesitation that comes when confronted by a plain white canvas! But along with that, there is a tremendous sense of power – because here YOU are the boss!)  Others can give advice but the final decisions are yours – don’t ever relinquish that personal power.

  Putting in some tonal shading helped to establish overall composition as well as the linework. All the time, I was telling myself “I can change anything at all later on when I apply the paint. In other words, this stage is only a possible “guide”.  Not feeling trapped or committed is essential to developing a painting freely and you can embrace new ideas along the way and be on the lookout for accidental ‘serendipity’ happenings!

Freedom is what painting is all about, unless you want to be confined to painting photographically.   I think it is such a shame to feel restriction in creativity when just about everywhere else in our lives is full of rules and regulations!  After all, we have cameras these days if we want total realism in our images.

I sprayed the charcoal sketch with fixative and let it dry while I mixed some oil paint, using Alkyd white to hasten the drying. (This makes the difference between 1 day’s drying time and up to 5 or even 7 with normal oil paints!) Being a large painting I thought I would keep it fairly restricted colourwise to get the most out of the shapes and forms.   I know from experience that its good to go with what appeals to you most and not try to put every aspect in so I had to choose whether or not to keep the linework or go for shapes more. 

The shapes won and “lines” became not drawn lines, but edges formed by lights meeting darks. 

Colour? Mmmmm. yes – 2 warm and 1 or 2 cool colours should do it, reduced with white.  Yellow, Orange and blue should capture the sunny mood of the day and being complementary colours (opposite to each other on the colour wheel) they go well together.

This should leave me free to have fun with the shapes without worrying about controlling colour as well.  I start by applying cool colour first…keen to get the canvas covered. 


Something in me is sad to see the charcoal lines disappearing, but I am equally keen to see how the shapes will relate to one another without them – so I continue…

Ah! That’s better!  Now that I have covered all the white canvas with tones (lights to darks) I can better gauge how it is all relating.  It is looking a bit plain and static – in need of more interest and suggested movement, since it’s a big painting.  I promise myself that later on I can include more bird or boat shapes  or extended shapes to create more for the eye to play with.   It occurs to me that the largest Opera House ‘sail’ can ‘double’ as a spinnaker of a second yacht!  This is the added hidden interest I’ve been searching for!

I mix the warm tones that will make the painting “sunny” and begin applying them…

Yes I feel I’m heading in the right direction.  I spend several days playing with the shapes, gradually strengthening the ones I like and playing down those of lesser importance.  It really is pretty much a non-preconceived adventure painting this way and so much more interesting than planning ALL to begin with!

I turn the painting upside down often and even work on it that way.  This clarifies the overall relationship of the shapes, focal points etc. without my logical brain naming everything.

In the next stage, I have featured 4 birds and accentuated the water movement – all of which give the painting more life!


Finally, it is finished! I get a feeling of completion…

(but still nagging in the back of my mind is another rendition featuring lines rather than shapes – maybe a black and white charcoal one as well some day?)

There are so many ways to express a subject, sometimes it is hard to choose – but I am happy with this final result – it is decorative, sunny and an original rendition of this wonderful icon on Sydney’s beautiful harbour.



The finished painting was just dry enough to enter in the Kincumber Waterford Exhibition 2007 where it was Highly Commended. 

I hope you enjoyed sharing this process with me.  I guess in a loose sort of way you could say this “method” is to jump in, paint into trouble and then find a way out!  I don’t mind the “mistakes” along the way because I know they are only stepping stones or lessons really. It’s all about choices and we learn to make better ones the more we paint.  

Care to share your approach to creativity & artwork?  Why not leave a comment – as long as you like and let me know if you would like to share your story and pictures here.

Cheers!  Julie



  1. Hey,

    Wonderful post! I like this stuff.

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