English born artist and teacher Mellissa Read Devine was the guest demonstrator for the Lane Cove Art Society October (2023) meeting.
She is a teacher at the Royal Art Society and ArtEst. The first half of Mellissa’s presentation outlined the initial steps she follows when creating an acrylic painting. The second half of the evening centred on a second painting that needed the final layers to be added. By taking this approach not only did the audience get an insight into the creation of two artworks but it showed all the steps involved in Mellissa’s painting technique.
Throughout the talk Mellissa’s love of colour was apparent. Initially Mellissa spoke about the importance of “en plein air” painting. “It is such an important way to get a feel for the subject,” Mellissa said. Photos too are good as a means of reference for composition and subject matter. Initially large brushes and acrylic paint are used on a prepared canvas to block in a very abstract guide to the main compositional elements of the subject. In this case a recent trip to the Flinders Ranges provided the subject for this demonstration. Landscape has always been a source of inspiration and it may in part be due to the fact that Mellissa lives in the Sackville area of Sydney and is surrounded by nature, which has provided a source of many subjects for her creative journey.
Mellissa shared paintings and drawings from her sketchbook of the Flinders Ranges. A love of colour was immediately obvious. In comparison, pared back drawings of the forms of the land reflected another side to Mellissa’s art oeuvre, that of printmaking. Eventually linocuts will probably be made using these drawings as inspiration. Melissa finds printmaking meditative but it also reflects a completely different mindset to her painting style as creating prints needs precision and planning which is so much tighter in approach than when she creates her acrylic works.
Mellissa uses a limited palette in her acrylic paintings. Usually two or three of the primary colours are used namely red, blue and yellow and white as well. Many colours can be made from these colours. Black is made from mixing purple and a cool red with sometimes a touch of a warmer red. Blue and red make up a brown. Her palette is housed in a plastic document box (available from Officeworks) with a lid that prevents the paints from drying out. The compartments readily hold the paint while the palette pad is easily refreshed by tearing off a sheet of paper.
In the underlayer, big brushes loaded with paint create very colourful abstract shapes reflecting a very free interpretation of the main compositional elements. These bold colours are used in the underpainting to capture the tones as well as providing a “richer” top layer. Accidental mixes of colour are welcomed as they often enhance the final work. Too much water on the brush can muddy the colour on the canvas.
Once the underpainting is complete Mellissa assesses which areas need tweaking. To demonstrate how the final layers are added to a work a second artwork that required the final top layer was used. It featured a big red gum tree centrally located on the canvas. The flatness of the work disappeared as the top layer was laid down. Light and space was brought into the work.
Mellissa worked from the background, through the middle ground and into the foreground. As highlights and tonal qualities were added the work opened up and gained depth. Mellissa advised to “stay free and be bold.” Her paintings reflect this mantra. She stressed the importance of allowing bits of the underpainting to shine through to the top layer. They give a freshness to the final work. Interestingly, Mellissa noted that a painting is finished when “ nothing is jumping out at you.” Although colour, composition and tone are key ingredients to her work it is her bold “ contemporary impressionistic” marks that characterise her style.
Thank you Mellissa for a very enjoyable and educational evening of art. She encouraged everyone to find their own style by “doing, doing and doing more artwork. Only then will you discover your unique style.”