Tag Archives: painting holidays

Bushman painting as documentary

30 October 2008

There were no Bushmen about to ask how to create the paintings, so artist Stephen Townley Bassett learned how to recreate Bushman paintings the hard way – by trial and error.

His dedication to the task over the past 18 years has led to the first major exhibition of his Bushman works – 30 extraordinary paintings assembled at the Origins Centre at Wits University in Johannesburg in an exhibition entitled Reservoirs of Potency.

“I threw away my penknife,” Bassett says, together with plastic containers and metal tins. And went out into the bush discovering. He learned how to use animal blood, saliva, ochre, cobra venom and ostrich egg shells to create pigment to paint the images, precise copies of Bushmen paintings from around the country.

He learned too how to use porcupine quills, buck horns, rocks, animal hairs, bird droppings, feathers and animal skins that would become his stock in trade. He made mistakes along the way but got it right.
‘I learned that fat is a good binder’

“I learned that fat is a good binder. I would make a paste which was easy to carry. I learned to liquefy it again with gall, saliva and blood.” Bassett also learned about the different quality of hair of different animals, giving him fine hair for a paintbrush, or thicker hair for a bushier brush.

He even made his own stone tools to skin spring hares and foxes he’d shot, to use the skin as a pouch in which to carry his painting implements.

The animals and people in his works, which Bassett calls “documentary paintings”, are the precise size of the originals. The works are done on 100 percent cotton sheets. Each piece, he says, is a one-off.

“So much has gone into each painting,” he explains. He would spend days at a site, deciphering the original, with a miner’s lamp on his forehead.

“The first thing is to document as accurately as possible, doing it with pigments available to them, absolutely life size. I would only record what I saw, making it a little darker, to take account of dust,” he recounts. Then back at home a painting would take between six and eight weeks to complete.

“The work is very exacting, very demanding. There is no debate, the work has to be right – everything exactly there. It is a blend of science, art and craft,” he says, referring to the tool-making as craft.

Such is his attention to detail that the professor emeritus and renowned researcher and author on Bushman art, David Lewis-Williams, comments in the caption of one piece that it was only after Bassett captured the work, the Leaping Lion, that Lewis-Williams noticed fish around the lion’s body.

“Often I return to the site with my half-completed painting to compare colours and overall appearance of my rendition to the original on the rock,” says Bassett. “All paint marks on the rock that are within the frame of reference of the chosen scene must be recorded. All marks must be acknowledged and recorded. The final product must be the next best thing to the original on the rock, a kind of historical document of what has been deciphered from the rock face.”

His paintings have brief notes or paint blotches around the edges which don’t distract from the work, but help to guide him as to colour and markings on the original.

And he has the full endorsement of Dr Benjamin Smith, the director of the Rock Art Research Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, and Lewis-Williams, who describes the work as “wonderful” and “very special”.

“You must either do the work accurately or not at all,” says Lewis-Williams.

Smith says: “This is an artist like no other; he bleeds for his art,” referring to the fact that Bassett has used his own blood in his paint mixes.

Bassett doesn’t only do Bushman art – he produces landscapes and takes on commissions from local farmers, who, he says with a mischievous smile, can be very exacting in what they want.

A book has been produced to accompany the exhibition – Reservoirs of potency – the documentary paintings of Stephen Townley Bassett. In 2002, he published another book, Rock paintings of South Africa – revealing a legacy.

“It has been an extraordinary journey,” he exclaims. Bassett is keen for the exhibition to travel, around South Africa and overseas, on perhaps an equally extraordinary journey.

Bassett’s works are available for private viewing and purchase at the Bonair Road Gallery in Cape Town.

Source: City of Johannesburg

Gill’s Perspective

Here is a snippet from a conversation I had with Gill regarding perspective. Gill said that fundamentally perspective relates to the eye level or horizon line of the viewer, parallel to the ground plane. This therefore varies according to our personal height above the ground. When sketching landscapes most often the actual horizon is obscured by hills or other objects so the artist must begin by establishing the horizon in the minds eye, simply by locating it
at eye level.
When this is established it is easy to determine where objects such as buildings fit into the composition in relation to the horizon line.

Perspective relates to the angles of lines which appear to converge in the distance i.e. The vanishing point The parallel lines may be building lines or a line of trees or simply the road which apparently vanishes in the distance.

Buildings, trees and other objects become smaller and closer as they recede. They also apparently meet at the eye level mark. Buildings may also be viewed from a two or three point perspective, this occurs when viewing a building from the corner, you have two angles “moving” away from your eye. You now have a vanishing point on either side of the building. It can also happen that you have both or either of the vanishing points falling off the edge of the paper. When sketching windows and doors remember that the tops of the doors or windows may be angled slightly differently to that of the roof as the window is lower than the edge of the roof.

For more of Gill’s FREE Tips visit the Art Cafe

Tip 2 Remember
When placing people in a painting

  • All heads are at eye level
  • The tops of doors and roof lines go down to eye
  • The bottoms of doors and pavements go up to eye

    Join Gill on a South
    African Painting Holiday
    and get her to help you reach your
    true painting potential while you paint in an amazing African

  • Painting in mountains where once dinosaur walked

    Facts courtesy of KZN Wildlife Rhino Club

    The Drakensberg Mountains, meaning “Dragon’s Mountain” in Afrikaans and called uKhahlamba, “barrier of spears” in isiZulu, are the highest mountains in Southern Africa, rising up to 3,482 m (11,422 ft) in height. Geologically, they are formed from basalt and sandstone resulting in a combination of steep-sided blocks and pinnacles. The sandstone layer was deposited as the remnants of a gigantic sea that occupied much of what is now Southern Africa some 500 Million years ago. The Basaltic layer which overlies this was deposited about 220 Million years ago in what many geologists think was the largest volcanic eruption in the history of the world linked with the splitting of the tectonic plates of Africa and South America.

    In these mountains we often find fossilised sea shells and wonder how they could be here when we are so far above the sea. Even more curious are dinosaur footprints on the roof of a cave at Giant`s Castle! These footprints were left in the silt of the ancient sea. The Drakensberg is one of only two mountain ranges (along with the Simian Mountains of Ethiopia) to have been formed in this geological way, which accounts for its extraordinarily distinctive formations and colours. The landscape is dominated by extremely steep cliffs, some of them amongst the most impressive cliff faces on earth, such as the Amphitheatre Caves and overhangs are frequent in the more easily eroded sandstone It is here in the caves and on rock faces that the ‘First People’, the San Bushmen, lived and where they painted their view of life in these mountains.

    You can come with me to see these extraordinary paintings and paint a few of your own in this amazing part of the world, while enjoying a South African Painting Holiday

    Walking a wilderness trail

    The ultimate experience in the bush veld is walking a wilderness trail.

    If you like a bit of the rough, you can experience the unspoilt beauty of the natural bush without any of the trappings of civilization by walking out each day from a base camp, returning to your creature comforts only in the evening.

    Or you can walk from wilderness camp to wilderness camp, where a bucket shower is your only luxury to wash away the dust of the day.

    Or if extreme hardiness is your style you can carry the bare necessities on your back and make camp wherever the days adventures take you and then stand solitary guard through the night acquainting yourself with the sounds of the African night.

    Truly soul cleansing, or so I’m told!

    I am not that hardy but I still enjoy viewing our amazing African wildlife in their own environment so I enjoy the safer route of a guided walk with an experienced field ranger who works in the bush every day, and whose senses are attuned to the comings and goings of the natural world. This way I can be exposed to things I would never see on my own and be a whole lot safer than if left to my own devises.

    I also enjoy a game drive in the mornings and afternoons as each time of the day has its own special characteristics with light and shade, smells and the wildlife that is active.

    You can join me and our own Ranger John at John’s Big 5 conservancy. John is used to watching over us painters and allows us to partake in the wonders of animal viewing amongst hills which change colour from green to brown to blues and greys in the distance. He tells us ranger tales and animal facts all in a thoroughly entertaining way. He takes us to beautiful spots to paint and gets us as close as possible to the animals for that photo opportunity that will become the next painting. Then after all the excitement we get returned to our luxurious 4* lodge where we are pampered and fed and left to enjoy the vistas and the painting opportunities.

    This is my way to enjoy the privilege of game viewing. Not too many hardships for me! All you need is a shady hat, loose clothing, a stout pair of shoes, binoculars a sketchbook of course and a camera for those special shots which will inspire paintings for a very long time.

    Are you ready for your walk in the bush?

    The opportunity to walk through natural bush or grassland, where you can touch, smell, feel the African veld with all your senses is really special. Take the time to experience it on your next South African Painting Holiday.


    Bumper Sticker’s for painters..

    “I used to think in black and white….then I met an artist”
    “Artist’s keep it in perspective”

    Accept my warm invitation to join me on a holiday I promise you will remember – forever

    You are reading “Painting Tips”.
    If you would like a friend to receive these tips
    Please Click Here

    The back issues are at the following URL…

    Composition and painting plein air

    Do you have trouble choosing what to paint when working out doors?

    You need to carefully decide on the composition of your work as you have so much more to choose from than you would if you were using a photograph.

    You need to be quite disciplined!

    Try following these simple ideas to help you choose what to keep and what to discard.
    Use a view finder it makes the task a whole lot easier.
    • Look through the view finder using it as the initial tool then take the same view with your camera.

    • Now hold the cardboard viewfinder up like a picture frame. Look through it, moving it across the scene and decide where the best composition is.

    • Keep in mind all along the focal point that you wish to include and place this focal point in the correct position in your frame as this often determines the format of your picture i.e. whether to use a landscape or portrait format.

    Hope that helps you start your year out right with some good compositions.Let Gill help you compose the best bush landscape on one of her
    Painting Holidays

    PAINTING TIP NO.01-2009

    Although landscape painting is generally divided into a simple thirds; sky, middle distance and foreground, this may sometimes change. If you wish to make the painting mainly about the sky, as it may be very dramatic, sky will take up two thirds of the format and thereby minimize the importance of the foreground. But the thirds formula is still being used.

    You can catch up on last years newsletters here

    Seasonal Greetings and Gifts!

    Well it’s an exciting time of year. Families make great strides to get together and as with my sister some people cover many miles to be with their family.

    It is a fun get together time when I try to show my gratitude to family and friends for being there for me. We usually have some good old laughs like you only can with your nearest and dearest.

    I would like to share this time of bonhomie with you and have a special gift for you, an added 10% discount on any of our painting holidays (should you be in the next 100 people to book a 2009 South African Painting Holiday)
    We at
    South African Painting Holidays wish you the very best time during this holiday period
    May you relax, have fun and build up a store of ideas for your future paintings!


    When using your camera to compose a painting, use the viewfinder as you would use a cardboard viewfinder. Not to record everything you see, but to focus on the important detail

    Keep an eye out for more tips in 2009!

    Netherlands Reality TV adventures in SA

    We in South Africa seem to be attracting a whole lot of international interest. Not only are celebs like Lionel Richie,  Rod Stewart and Katie Melua, falling over themselves to come on tour to South Africa but so to are actors buzzing in like mad to make a film. Now the reality programme producers are also getting in on the act. Seems we must offer one of the best areas in Africa with wild and exotic appeal, check out this article of what the Dutch are doing:-

    “In the first episode, broadcast on 10 November, five teams, each comprising one model and one disabled person, were assembled. Over the next nine episodes, the teams perform a series of challenges – including a specially developed tandem bicycle route – at scenic locations across South Africa.
    While each stage involves cycling, each episode also includes new and uniquely South African challenges as teams compete for a head start in the next episode – and ultimately for the 20 000 first prize.

    Expedition Unlimited provides viewers with a glimpse of different worlds: South Africa versus the Netherlands, models versus people with disabilities, the African bush, the desert, the sea and mountains.
    “South Africa is a prime example of a country full of contrasts and extremes – the ideal place for challenge and adventure,” says Ilse-Marie Sobering, marketing and communications manager at South African Tourism in the Netherlands.

    “As such, each episode aims to depict South Africa to Dutch consumers as both exotic and challenging, but also accessible and engaging.” For more information, visit Expedition Unlimited.
    An extract from SouthAfrica.info

    Come on one of my Painting Holidays and you too can enjoy this exotic and accessible country