It started with a $2 paint set

Early Painting Glen Helen

There it was in the local general store. Twelve small tubes of oil paint calling to me. Real artists used oils, I knew that. But what possessed me to want to paint like a real artist? I had not painted before – well a bit in school but there was no real success or passion evident there. Was it that an older sister of a friend over three years ago had painted a good looking picture in oils with a kitchen knife? Regardless the paint set stared up at me and it only cost two dollars.

Hope - painting
Hope. Figure in Landscape No 15

Two dollars today sounds cheap, but this was in 1971. It was a small fortune as my pocket money was 20 cents a week. Christmas was coming up so I asked mum if one of my sisters could get it for me. The set was way outside our Chrissy present limit. I would detour past the store on my way home from school to check if it was still there. It was.


The big day arrived and to my surprise and joy there it was. My first set of real oil paints. Now what to paint? Trees, I had had a success with drawing trees.

Old man Banksia drawing
Study for Figure in Landscape No.27

Well it should have been a success except I got sent to the Principal’s office. It was the year before – grade 7. The relief teacher took us outside to draw. I was drawing the gums on the side of the playground – it was working and looked good. Until my friend stole my pencil case and we ended up wrestling for it: End of lesson and end of my art career. Trees it was. That Christmas day I painted two trees in our yard, a small shrub and then the magnificent Silky Oak. They looked like the trees, It worked and more than this, the family was very impressed.


The urge to paint

Later that week the parents went out for the evening. I had an urge to paint. I can’t say I had felt this urge before- it was new. A kind of ants in my pants, have to paint kind of feeling. What to paint? I found an offcut piece of Masonite. Then I searched through a book of Australian landscape images and found a photo of a raging bushfire in a forest. I grabbed the oldest looking knife I could find in the kitchen and away I went. I remembered you could paint with knives.

My parents arrived home to find a finished painting and a proud satisfied kid surrounded by empty paint tubes. I had used up most of my precious $2 paint set. I have to say this for my parents, when one of us kids showed some interest or talent they supported it. Dad went out the next day to the big city of Wagga Wagga and replaced my set with full sized tubes. For the next four years every spare moment after school I would paint, paint and paint. My Dad became my biggest supporter.

Had that two dollar paint set not called out to the 13 year old me would I have become the master painter I am today? Born was my passion for painting. Passionate about trees – yes- and there is more to this story.

paint Glen Helen Gorge
Early Painting as a 17 year old – still using the kitchen knife.

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