Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)
There is an amazing contrast between the bird on land – think ludicrous snapping bill, brawny midriff, ungainly feet – and its stately, majestic flight.
Pelicans glide much like seaplanes, looking too heavy for natural flight. They circle carefully in ponderously slow turns before making a firm touchdown. Their takeoff is even more miraculous. It’s pure delight to see one stretch its wings, flap hard while paddling and finally heft its massive bulk into the sky, sunlight flashing on a cascade of water droplets.
These two pelicans were observed at the Territory Wildlife Park near Darwin, taking a break from herding fish – a practise of wonderful symmetry conducted in complete silence with only snapping bills and patterning ripples.
Coffin Bay National Park is a beautiful and rugged place. Go there if you can. This painting portrays the dunes and limestone cliffs of Sensation Beach, named after a boat which ran aground in heavy seas many decades ago. Rusting artefacts from several rescue attempts can still be found among the dunes. While the boat was re-floated eventually, the name stuck. And why not. It really is a sensational beach.
In this painting, I sought to convey the inimical stateliness of pelicans and their singular ability to seem unperturbed by the rugged coastline. They are everywhere from sheltered bays to inland desert lakes, rivers and seas to urban marinas. But they are at their most majestic when sleeping and quietly preening after a good day’s fishing.
Such is the moment I wanted to capture.
- fine-tuning details requires long hours and a firm hand on the brush
- for real precision I use 000 rounds, size 2 filberts and liners as small as 10/0 and 20/0
- being an artist means being open to all criticism, whether positive, negative or interesting, so when a young apprentice electrician saw this painting half-finished on my easel and remarked, “is it yours? it’s fully sick!” I had to laugh. For him, it was an expression of highest admiration. For me, a definite first!