The first 11 days of summer were, to say the least, somewhat heavily overcast around these parts. I ventured out once or twice to see if anything paintable grabbed my attention but I really am driven by sunlight and shadows so never got my brushes wet.

Finally, on day 12, the sun shone with a vengeance. With a huge blue sky and the temperature hitting the low thirties (Celsius), painting was back on the menu.

For weeks I’ve driven past a WA Christmas Tree on the side of Albany Highway and kept telling myself that when the sun came out, I was going to paint it. It was frustrating seeing it every day under grey skies. They’re still spectacular with their near-fluorescent yellow-orange flowers but I wanted shadows. I took a few photos when the clouds were a little thinner but they were less than inspiring.

When the sun finally did make an appearance, I headed straight to this tree.

Albany Highway carries some large trucks and plenty of traffic, all doing 100kmh-plus, so I didn’t really want to stand my easel on the edge of the road. Instead, I parked my van in a driveway across the road from the Christmas tree and set my easel up in the passenger seat. I painted for half an hour – and it was the most-uncomfortable half hour I’ve suffered for a while! But at least I got my painting.

plein air oil painting wa christmas tree - nuytsia floribunda
(Nuytsia by Highway. 20x24cm oil on board. © Andy Dolphin)

It’s only a quick sketch really but I’m happy with what I’ve captured. My main interest was the contrast between the ultra-warm sunlit flowers and the cool-dark greens of the shadow side of the foliage mass.

I’d previously given this panel a red tone that you can see peeking through all over the painting. I used a limited palette of five colours to help speed things up a little.

A herd of cattle wandered into the scene when I was half-way through painting. They hung around for a long time and it took a lot of effort not to add them in.

The Christmas trees are putting on a good show this year and I hope to capture a few more in paint before the flowering season ends.