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Nothing but blue skies…

David Liddall

Whananaki 2022: a cobalt blue sky

From my early years a blue sky has affected me and inspired me beyond comprehension, it has always spoken to me of distant horizons and unexplored parts.

When I was a teenager I had, on numerous occasions, resigned a job and hitchhiked off to distant places after having been awed by a big blue sky, into the wild blue yonder. In the late sixties when Harry Nilsson sung, I’m goin’ where the weather suits my clothes I adopted it as a life principal (… and Canned Heat’s I’m goin where the water tastes like wine / we can jump in the water and stay drunk all the time; though that’s not the subject of these thoughts at the moment).

Even now, fifty years later, I regard those inspirational lines as motivating a lifetime of travel and adventure. Even now a clear blue sky gives me a deep-seated thrill. It gives me a desire to paint and motivates me like nothing else. I find it difficult to paint on a grey and chilly day, perhaps just as well, as watercolour doesn’t perform naturally if it’s not in a naturally drying situation (which perhaps explains why so many of the northern hemisphere artists use hair dryers to cure their work). As much as I like painting a tumultuous sky, there’s nothing like a clear blue wash to capture distance and grandeur (you can tell I’m enjoying painting in the southern landscapes) but it also makes me consider blue in the watercolour genre.

Many of the paintings coming to us from history or from contemporary artists are northern hemisphere works, even the early New Zealand paintings done by European explorers are often muted and, to our eyes they can seem insipid or washed out, (though I’m sure the years since their painting may contribute to their pale appearance also); that’s because they generally use cerulean blue, a much paler blue than we would use to capture our skies. It’s great for a cold winter scene or a hazy, post-storm environment, but certainly wouldn’t give the sky enough strength and tone to capture one of our New Zealand skies in summer: that, I would suggest, would be cobalt blue, the colour I use in my skies more than any other. Mixed with a touch of Payne’s grey it combines wonderfully to create the chaos and turmoil of a storm-riven sky.

I’m constantly reminded of this when I watch European artists at work, their choice of palette seems so muted compared to anything a New Zealand artist would choose, and an Australian artist would be different again, perhaps choosing the same skies but the other colours of the palette would reflect the burnt terracotta colours of their scorched land, also a wonderful world for the landscape artist.

So I continue to seek that place I’ve never been, and take my paints with me. Still hoping to come across a river that tastes like wine but don’t relish the idea of being drunk all the time but rather Willie Nelson’s blue days, all of them gone, nothing but blue skies from now on. Peace.

©2023 David Liddall

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