News: September 2005

2005: Awarded 3rd Prize in my Category!

I am extremely happy to have been chosen as a finalist in the 2005 Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize (1 of 32 finalists in my category). At the presentation evening, Friday 5th August, I was awarded 3rd place in my category. This is a big thrill for me, especially after seeing the other pieces in the exhibition. It is an excellent exhibition, open to all artists throughout the world, with many high quality pieces.

My goal for entering this competition was to be chosen as a finalist, so that my drawing would be displayed in the competition exhibition, at the South Australian Museum. Being awarded a prize was a super-bonus, and also means that my drawing will tour to an exhibition at the National Archives in Canberra.

My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed the previous two Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize exhibitions, and felt that my work would be entirely suitable for such an exhibition. However, I have entered so many similar art competitions with what I believed was artwork of the highest order, without successfully getting to the finalist stage, so this feels very special.

I am sure that this success will increase my artwork's exposure generally, which should dramatically improve my 'strike rate' with galleries and other competitions.


The Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize is an art competition held annually by the South Australian Museum, for artwork 'depicting a natural history topic, which for the purposes of this competition means “A work dealing with natural objects, animal, vegetable or mineral.” No work shall include human subjects or human influences such as objects, buildings, stock, vineyards, cleared land etc.' (from the Waterhouse website -link will open in its own window). The competition is open to all artists around the world, and has 3 categories based on media used. There are prizes in all 3 categories, as well as an overall winner, and a people's choice winner.

This is the third year for the competition, and the first time that I have entered.

The Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize exhibition of finalists was on at the South Australian Museum, North Terrace, from the 6th of August until the 11th of September, 2005.


My entry, in category B
(artwork produced using Watercolour, Pastel, Gouache, Ink, Charcoal, Pencil or a Mix):

Inner Strength - Moreton Bay Fig, Adelaide Parklands

58 cm x 76 cm, charcoal on cream acid-free drawing paper.

I produced this drawing almost entirely on-site in the Adelaide Parklands. The drawing was transported to and from the site, without protection - I normally protect my drawings during transportation with cover sheets of paper, but I found that the charcoal was too easily smudged and damaged even by just putting a protective sheet over it. This aspect alone required considerable management and discipline.

The ideal light for producing this drawing was when it was overcast, but that didn't happen very often, and when it did, it put the drawing at some risk of damage should it rain suddenly (it did get some rain drops on it once). Most of the sessions were actually carried out in fine sunny conditions, using the different times of the day for drawing different parts of the subject (when they were suitably shaded).

The drawing's view is actually quite a wide-angle view of what I saw. I was sitting very close to the tree, with one leg of my portable easel not far from the ground shown at the bottom of the drawing.

This is the largest, most 'finished' charcoal drawing I have ever produced, and I learnt many things about using the medium. I was still keen to include my linear expressions of form, orientation, and flow. In fact, I found that a tonal depiction on it's own didn't provide enough information about the forms.

I am happy with the accuracy and subtlety achieved in this depiction of real forms (of the tree). The subject is a magnificent tree, and working under it day after day is a real privilege.

This drawing was done as part of my current project, called "Microcosm" - concentrating two years' work on one Moreton Bay Fig tree.

Detail 1:

Inner Strength - Moreton Bay Fig, Adelaide Parklands - detail 1

Detail 2:

Inner Strength - Moreton Bay Fig, Adelaide Parklands - detail 2

Below (left) is a photo of the same drawing at an earlier stage, next to a similar sized version of the finished drawing (right), which can give an idea of the amount of development put into this drawing:

Inner Strength - Moreton Bay Fig, Adelaide Parklands - early stage
Inner Strength - Moreton Bay Fig, Adelaide Parklands - early stage

This earlier stage of the drawing was achieved in about a day and a half, and I felt pleased with the drawing even at this stage.

Much of the work to this stage was used for developing the overall layout, as accurately as possible. I found this to be a satisfying challenge in itself, because of the very wide angle of view I had chosen (mapping a curved space onto a flat plane), and because I was sitting so close to the subject (difficult to relate sections from different distances while keeping the accuracy and character within each part).

I then started looking at the basic relationships of tone that I wanted to use. The overhanging bough was to be made a little darker than it appeared in reality, to make it more prominent and bring it forward in the drawing. The boughs furthest away were to be made a little lighter, to keep them behind the other boughs, and help 'open' the space that was experienced.

While doing this early stage of this drawing the weather was hot (in early February) and I was getting a strong smell of rotting flesh. I quickly realised that the smell was coming from a dead possum, that was lying mostly under leaves directly in front of me under the spherical bulb that can be seen in the drawing. Even though the possum was dead, it gave me the impression that it had been trying to feel protected, because it was in a curled-up sleeping position close to the tree (as if trying to get as much protection from the tree as possible). After getting the drawing to the stage above, I left it for a few weeks and worked on other drawings until the smell had subsided.

The remaining development of the drawing required another 50 - 70(?) half-day sessions. Most sections of the drawing needed to be finely developed two or three times, to get the depiction of form, and overall integrity I wanted.

When observing the tree, I was constantly seeing an underlying structure made from discrete 'tubes' of various thicknesses, covered with a flexible form-hugging skin. The reality is that the skin of the tree is quite hard, and not very flexible. And if one were to cut through a section of the buttress roots, or one of the boughs, one wouldn't see the cross section as being made up of discrete 'tubes'. Where then does that appearance come from?

When I started the drawing, there were many thick sections of old spider webs covering the underside of the main overhanging bough in the drawing. I wasn't sure how I was going to tackle those in my drawing, and in the end, I didn't need to worry about them. As the weather got cooler and the breezes started to come through with frequent rain, most of those webs peeled away from the tree (after having collected many stray pieces of leaves and grass), leaving an excellent view of the underlying forms. I was quite surprised watching the old webs peel away from the tree over the course of about a week, but I was also very pleased. I now had a very clear view of the details that had been obscured somewhat by the webs, and it felt as if that section of the tree had been 'freshened'.

"Inner Strength" is a title my wife suggested, and is intended to refer to several aspects, relating to the subject, the drawing and my approach to the drawing.

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