It seems almost everywhere you look on Norfolk Island is a postcard worthy view. Towering cliffs, turquoise waters and white beaches provide a dramatic background to the striking shapes of the iconic Norfolk Island pines. I was fortunate to share this beautiful place with a wonderful group of artists who trusted me to lead them through the challenges of painting en plein air and creating some quirky creatures. Together we set about a journey of discovery….exploring the island, forming friendships, honing our painting skills and bonding over shared experiences.
Norfolk Island is a tiny volcanic outcrop situated 1471 km east of Brisbane and measures just 34.6 square kilometres. It’s a remote community that sets its own rhythm and pace. Cars give way to the cows that meander along the country roads. The maximum speed limit on the island is 50km which is a good thing given the roads are a patchwork of potholes and repairs.
Despite being an Australian Territory, the island has its’ own unique culture and colourful history encompassing early Polynesian settlement and two periods of use as a British Penal Colony before finally becoming home to the Pitcairn Islanders who were resettled there in 1856. These islanders descended from a small group of mutineers from the HMS Bounty and their Polynesian companions. Much is made of the history of each family. With only 8 surnames to choose from the islanders are better known by their nick names.
My days on the Island started at 4.30am watching the sun emerge from the ocean. Each day we chose a different location on the eastern side of the island. This was followed by yoga and meditation which was very generously lead by Julie. After a week of yoga I am proud to say I can once again touch my toes. It was then back to the Polynesian Apartments for breakfast where we were well looked after by the delightful Emily and John.
By 9 am we were painting either in the studio or out on location. The studio, as we called it was actually the breakfast room of our accommodation which had been given a Dexter style makeover to accommodate the fact that I am a very messy painter. Over the first 2 mornings we created our quirky characters and I loved seeing how each artist was able to bring their own personality and unique style to the artworks.
Afternoons were free to explore the island or paint. There is no public transport on Norfolk Island so having a car was essential. We all followed our interests with some choosing to do cultural tours, others painting on location or just exploring further. It was fabulous to get together again at dinner and hear about every ones adventures.
Although we were spoilt for choice with the outdoor scenery, there are many challenges when painting outdoors. Firstly it’s about finding some shade, the right light and some protection from the wind. In such a striking landscape it’s often easy to get distracted by colour and detail, forgetting about the importance of tone and composition. The group consisted of a couple of experienced outdoor painters and many who were en plein air virgins. Nobody had painted before, using acrylics on location and the first session proved a very steep learning curve.
The second outdoor session saw us taking a different approach, stripping the landscape back and producing some small, quick tonal paintings. It was great to see things click into place and the enthusiasm start to build. I was so impressed by the bravery of the group for taking a risk and trying something completely out of their comfort zone…persevering to create better paintings.
Painting outdoors is really all about observation and connection to the environment and it was a joy to share this with other people. The final session was spent in the studio where everyone finished their quirky characters, evaluated their en plein air works and made the necessary adjustments. I think our biggest regret was not having more time on the Island. 7 days seemed to go by in a blink of an eye and we really could have done with more time to paint and explore.
Evenings consisted of watching the sunset on the opposite side of the Island and then a meal out. Thanks to Jo for being my stalwart sunrise and sunset buddy. While I am sure my family loves me, they certainly don’t want to get out of bed to see the sunrise. They also don’t enjoy my constant stopping to take photographs or my need to paint and sketch on location. Despite travelling to some amazing locations with my teaching, I often I don’t get much time to explore so this tour was a blessing with lots of time to enjoy the scenery, experience the culture as well as spending time painting with a fabulous group of like-minded people.
Eating on Norfolk Island was a gourmet’s delight. Supplies arrive from the mainland via ship once a month so all fruit and veg is locally grown and seasonal. The standout was our home cooked lunch hosted by Emily from The Hilli Goat Farm with ingredients grown on the farm.
One of my rules for eating cake is that is has to be homemade from real ingredients. I discovered that almost all cakes are homemade on Norfolk Island. I managed to convince myself that with my busy schedule of teaching and touring that I could eat at least 2 pieces a day and burn it off. The reality is that now my clothes are all that little bit tighter, but it was definitely worth every delicious mouthful.
For one of our last meals we had a shared feast of all our leftover food. Thanks to Julie and Angelina for cooking up a storm and to Mandy for facilitating the talking stick exercise where we shared our hopes and dreams for the future. It was very special to be part of a group that opened up and shared so freely of themselves. We all left the island with resolutions for moving forward in life.
Internet and the lack of it came as a surprise to us all. Although there are Wi-Fi hotspots, you virtually have to be sitting on them to get a connection. In some ways the tour was a detox from the unrelenting pressures of instant communication. It was time to unplug and chill out. We had to revert to the old methods of arranging to meet at a certain time and hand written notes slipped under the door. Returning home to Melbourne means lots of catching up to do. I think I miss the quieter pace of Norfolk Island already.
Looking back over my Norfolk Island photos I am struck by all the photos I forgot to take. I think I was so caught up in the moment that I stopped viewing the world through the lens of the camera and just lived the experience.
I would really like to thank all those who enabled me to come to Norfolk Island as the tutor. Barbara from Islet Art for having the vision to bring artists to her gorgeous island. Maria and the staff at Norfolk Island Travel for making all the arrangements.
Lastly I would like to thank the wonderful women who joined me on the tour. Thanks so much to Janine and Pat for travelling all the way from WA, it was an honour to have you along. Thanks to Pam and Diana from Sydney for all the laughs and thanks to Laima, Jo, Julie, Mandy and Angelina for representing Melbourne so well. Each of you shared the precious gift of who you are with me and I was honoured to be the leader of the painting part of the journey.
As for what comes next…there are some more trips currently in the works. A central Australian painting tour and for anyone who missed out on seeing the spectacular Norfolk Island I will be leading another tour there in 2019. (tentative dates 16 – 23 July, 2019)
Happy Painting from Linda.