Category Archives: Artists

Painting herself a place in the country

“Living in the country encapsulates everything I am, if I am honest.”

ARTIST Jane Canfield has picked up a swag of awards and citations for her work capturing the light, colour and industry of Australian rural heartlands. Now, her inspiring paintings are on exhibition at two galleries in the New England region, and she’s planning to turn her gaze to this unique part of the country.

As Canfield explains, the journey only begins once she experiences a place by visiting.

“I always have to be influenced by something I’ve seen,” she says.

“Although more and more I find I catch a ‘snippet’ of something and it appears like a photo in my head.

PLEIN AIR ‘Sheds and Fences, 2016’ oil on linen.

“I am finding that I like to semi-abstract what I have seen, painted or drawn, but I hope that you can still see the landscape or the inspiration that influenced the painting.”

Widely recognised as a skillful practitioner of painting en plein air (literally, “outdoors”), NSW Central West-based Canfield is often asked to describe the process.

“Many years ago I remember reading that if you find a comfy spot, you will always find something to paint, and I have found that to be true,” she says.

“Sometimes it takes time, like walking through the landscape for a while with my backpack full of art materials, dogs running around before I start to get the feel for it.

“I often spend time in a an area, not just working but talking to people. I love meeting new people and listening to stories. I think it all informs my work.”

A creative career was inevitable for Canfield, whose father and uncles were also artists.

“Dad always wanted me to be an oil painter,” she says.

“But he was the artist in the family, so I remember at 14 confidently stating I would go into graphic design, much to Dad’s, should I say, ‘disdain’? Although he and Mum supported my choice.

“I always drew and painted, but just never thought it would be a career for me.

“It wasn’t until Dad passed away, far too young, that literally two weeks later I picked up the oils and off I went.

“There was a very strange moment as I sat in my graphic design studio, and had a canvas in front of me propped on a chair, and I thought: ‘Do I dip the brush in the linseed or the turps first?’.

“I heard my Dad’s voice tell me to ‘dip it in the turps Doobs’, which was his pet name for me. Perhaps it was the power of suggestion? Who knows?”

Grabbed by the mundane

I like urban areas that are not just pretty scenes, nothing slick. I think I turn them into my own.

Jane Canfield has painted extensively throughout the country, but her new home, an historic inn in the Central West town of Lidsdale, affords her plenty of inspiration.

“It is a coal mining area, so traditionally a little bit industrial; a little bit ratty in parts, but I like that,” she says.

CANFIELD COLOUR ‘Bright Day 2018’, gouache and pastel on paper.

“I like urban areas that are not just pretty scenes, nothing slick. I think I turn them into my own.

“I recently returned from a painting trip to Tasmania and although there are no Tasmanian works here, the work ‘Bright Day’ was definitely influenced from that trip.

“The mundane is what grabs me. Places where we live.”

Canfield recalled receiving a highly commended award at Cowra Regional Gallery for an early work she saw as “just an urban painting”.

“But the judge picked up on what really does concern me: the urban ‘creep’, the lack of planning and how we have stepped backwards as far as architecture is concerned, allowing developers to just push up these horrible ‘cheek-by-jowl’ monstrosities with no concern for airflow, light, gardens, and space!

“But it’s all about the mighty dollar. We used to have innovative architecture. Now to use designers or architects seems to be an elitist thing. We are turning into a ‘cookie cutter’ mentality. It saddens me.”

Canfield’s energetic brushstrokes speak of her battle to preserve this urban/rural divide.

“Living in the country encapsulates everything I am, if I am honest,” she says.

“As a kid, being the only child of an artist, we lived in mainly rural areas. I could entertain myself, go off to the creek, walking, riding my bike or spending time with friends.”

Canfield admits that part of what draws her to the country is affordability, but it’s also about “the little things, that is what I love”.

“I often just go and stare into space. If you saw me you may think I’m just goofing off. But it’s thinking time, listening to the birds, the wind in the trees.

“As I write, sitting in my 1850s sandstone Cobb & Co inn, the sun is setting, the temperature is dropping just a tad. I can hear the ravens and the blowflies. The light is amazing. I feel the history,” she says.

“Really, I don’t know how or why people want to live in the cities.”

Jane Canfield’s exhibition ‘Place’ is showing at The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, until February 28. Works are available to purchase online. She also has work at Walcha Gallery of Art.

PLEIN JANE ‘Winter Trees #9, 2018’ oil and charcoal on board.

The new age of Iron

A Writer on the dawn of Lithgow’s Ironfest .

THIS year marks the sixteenth anniversary of a unique festival in the Central Western NSW town of Lithgow – Ironfest – the brainchild of a couple who escaped the city of Sydney for life on the other side of the Blue Mountains.

Their story was published in the April-May 2010 edition of Blue Mountains Life magazine (Vintage Press).

LIFE OF IRON Ali and Macgregor Ross, co-founders of Ironfest.
LIFE OF IRON Alison Lynes and Macgregor Ross, co-founders of Ironfest.

Iron Founders

Macgregor Ross and Alison Lynes’ life of Ironfest

Macgregor Ross and Alison Lynes nearly cancelled the first Ironfest in 2000.

“I’m not a fatalist,” Mac asserts, “but there was something about it which was meant to be”.

“I’d spent a few years gathering a database of metal artists I’d met on the festival circuit, we’d named the date and Ali designed our logo, but exhibitors were very reluctant to come over the Mountains. One by one they all cancelled.

“Then a local said: ‘You’ve been talking about this for years, why don’t you just do it?’ I don’t know if it was synchronicity, but the next day people started agreeing to come along and join in.”

Ali shows me what that first event entailed, in a converted shop-cum-home on the main street of Lithgow, where she, Mac and their daughters live and work.

“We created a gallery circuit,” she explains, “with two shops, the walkways down the sides and both back gardens full of art,” she adds.

“On a truck in the back lane there was a band called The Mull Pigs, with the audience sitting of roofs in all directions. There was one fire twirler, and a local blacksmith.”

Even before Ironfest, metal played a part in Mac’s life. While working for the federal police, he took a bullet on the job.

“I was looking for a way out of that career anyway, but the injury created an eight-year hole in my life.”

“One of the best things about Ironfest is there’s no crappy food and no rides, but the kids still love it.”

His path to recovery took his thoughts back to a 1982 trip to Mexico, where he was first inspired by the art of metal. By the time he’d met Ali and had some direction in his life, it was the precious metal gold which became his pass to the Central Western town of Lithgow.

“With what I had left from the compensation payout for my injury, I purchased one gold bar,” Mac says. “The bank manager was not that keen on our idea of buying an old shop to live and work in,” he remembers. “We had limited assets, and Ali’s business books from her shop in Newtown, but I had the gold bar in a paper bag and just pulled it out…”

Bank loan approved, the chance to head west allowed this couple to reinvent themselves. Like many artists, Ali (who works in glass and draws), and Mac (a metal artist) struggle with deriving an income from their creative work. Ironfest was a way to turn that around, for themselves and others.

From an initial attendance of around 400 people ten years ago, numbers at the 2009 Ironfest soared to an estimated 10,000. This expansion is the result of constant vigilance about the couple’s creative vision and their ownership of the Ironfest brand (the event is run under the auspices of Ironfest Inc – a registered, incorporated not-for-profit association). Such growth also created a few waves in the Lithgow scene.

Lithgow has a long history in the metal industries, something which inspired Mac when he found out, almost by accident, that this town at the western foot of the Blue Mountains was the birthplace of the steel industry in Australia.

KNIGHT SCHOOL The Ironfest crowds thrill to the sound of mock fighting.
KNIGHT SCHOOL The Ironfest crowds thrill to the sound of mock fighting.

The centenary of Lithgow’s metal roots happened to be around April 24, 2000. In the same way Federation in 1901 gave Australia a symbolic separation from its British roots, the ability to produce its own steel for the production of high-grade weapons gave the new nation a form of industrial independence. Finding the historical reference was “like finding a gold nugget,” Mac says.

Key to the first year’s success was the pitching of the story of Lithgow’s metal heritage to ABC radio, which provided great coverage.

“Now we have news clips about the festival sent to us from Al-Jazeera television,” Ali laughs. “We can’t understand a word they say, except ‘Ironfest’.”

Ironfest was always going to attract those interested in weaponry, and over the years it’s become a celebration of the art of combat, from the Australian Napoleonic Association to the jousting tournaments brought to the festival by Rod and Michelle Walker.

From one blacksmith in 2000, they’re now expecting seventeen exhibitors of this ancient art.

Mac and Ali have faced many challenges to the longevity of Ironfest, including perceptions about town that they are millionaires. Ali clarifies their position on this: “Artists are very often expected to create their work for free,” she says, “but we set up Ironfest so that artists could generate income. We offer a chance for people to contribute something creative which they’re good at, even if they make fifty bucks”.

“It’s a portable event,” Mac adds, explaining how Ironfest has relocated to other venues and now has a home at Lithgow Showground, and may well go further afield in the future.

The two are quick to explain how executive and production committees of supportive locals were borne of the willing voluntary crews the event attracted right from the start.

“You cannot rely on the goodwill of volunteers forever,” Mac adds. “We rely on people investing their time and energy, and we try to match that with a way to earn money from Ironfest too.”

When asked how co-producing a major event impacts on their relationship, Ali says: “Usually at Ironfest time we’re like ships passing in the night”. With two girls, there is a family unit to keep running, and both Rosa and Maya are proud of the family festival.

Rosa likes to relate that ‘Ironfest’ was the first word she ever spoke, and Maya has often used Ironfest updates as her class news at school.

“One of the best things about Ironfest is there’s no crappy food and no rides, but the kids still love it,” Ali says.

Some of the old-fashioned thrills the event provides for the young and the young-at-heart include beheading re-enactments and ‘Knight School’ for would-be pages who get to mock fight with foam weapons.

A graduate of the UK’s Winchester School of Art, Ali also runs a popular local boutique called Rock Star, in addition to her glass art and attending art lessons.

Mac’s not afraid of admitting that his creative practice has suffered a bit due to Ironfest, but it’s been a great way to exhibit and sell metal art he’s had sitting around in their iron-dotted town garden.

Between the shop and home, and the steel shipping container which is the Ironfest office, there’s a collection of Mac’s art, which seamlessly melds into the garden itself, from beautifully wrought garden chairs to delicate iron and plant fusions.

“I do as much of my art as I can, but I think I have found my life’s work in Ironfest,” he reflects.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.


Jodie Van Der Velden – chocolatière extraordinaire

HIVE OF ACTIVITY Josophan's Fine Chocolates.
HIVE OF ACTIVITY Josophan’s Fine Chocolates.

A Writer’s sweet encounter with real chocolate.

ONE of the first pieces of lifestyle media I ever wrote was an interview with Leura’s beloved chocolatière Jodie Van Der Velden, at that time in the process of shifting her Josophan’s Fine Chocolates factory onto the Mall.

I was delighted that Jodie was willing to share the tribulations behind one of her early triumphs.

This article was published in the April-May 2010 edition of Blue Mountains Life magazine.

Jodie and her chocolate factory

Jodie Van Der Velden on sweet secrets she learned in Chicago.

JODIE Van Der Velden won her ticket to Chicago by taking a cake in an esky to the Hunter Valley. Not just any cake, but an elaborate six-layered gateau which she planned to “pop in the freezer” on arrival.

This was the day of the Australian Culinary Federation’s Callebaut Chocolate Dessert competition, and Jodie, husband David and daughters Sophie and Hannah arrived at 4.30am.

But the freezer door where they were staying wouldn’t shut with the gateau inside it. Jodie had to fill and seal the sizable gap with tape and hope it would chill. With only a few hours before Jodie was due in front of the judges, there was much to achieve for her ‘palet d’or et noisette’ without the resources of most of her competitors.

The list of ‘extras’ on this exquisite dessert included hazelnuts with chocolate soil and passionfruit cream. “I had to make the ice cream over electricity not gas, and by  9am I’d burnt it, and knew I wouldn’t be getting any sleep before the competition,” Jodie adds, wincing.

“Chocolate is complex, it has top, middle and end ‘notes’, just like wine.”

In the marquee where competitors plated their desserts, Jodie was found a small space next to a microwave. It was frustrating, she confesses: “Not just the lack of space compared to come others, but while I was trying to place 23-carat gold leaf on delicate lace chocolate spheres, the microwave door was being slammed by other competitors”.

“David and the girls were parking the car and had a bowl full of leftover gateau and garnishes with them. We hadn’t had breakfast in all the rush, so out came the spoons. By the time they’d found me plating-up my gateau, they quietly approached me and whispered: “It really is good Mum”.

“It confirmed for me just how good it was… they’re my toughest critics, I trust their judgement!”

Jodie walked-off with two gold medals and the overall first prize – an all-expenses-paid trip overseas for further chocolate training. From a field of twenty-three, including several culinary luminaries, this was a “very sweet victory” Jodie concedes.

She then had to decide which of the worldwide Callebaut Chocolate Academies she would visit.

“I’ve visited France and Belgium every year for the last three years,” she says when asked why she picked the United States over Europe, “but I’d never been to Chicago… it is a brand new academy, with state-of-the-art equipment, and, as it turns out, my trainers were French anyway!”

Jodie took two classes, one in chocolate sculpture and another in plated desserts.

Apart from new territory in the world of chocolate, what Jodie found in the Chicago food culture really inspired her. “There’s a real community feel to cuisine there,” she enthuses, “in some of the new popular restaurants you share larger tables, or sit together at bars, it’s more of a communal dining experience. There’s a very different atmosphere around food. I fell in love with Chicago.”

Jodie was also exposed to Molecular Gastronomy, where science meets cooking. For someone who tackled the best in Australia and came out on top, I imagine Jodie’s not afraid of a few scientific utensils.

SMOOTH SCIENCE Jodie is effusive about the work that goes into creating flavour.
SMOOTH SCIENCE Jodie is effusive about the work that goes into creating flavour.

“It’s all very precise,” she reveals of learning how to make caramel pearls. “They are made by adding one per cent alginate to a liquid, then dropping tiny pearls of it into a water bath that has two per cent calcium added to it. The reaction is such that when the droplets go into water, they develop a skin around the liquid sphere. They’re drained, then eaten. The outside skin bursts in your mouth and the liquid drizzles out. Yum!”

Jodie cites chef Ferran Adrià i Acosta of el Bulli restaurant in Barcelona, creator of Apple Caviar, as her inspiration in this pursuit of a sensual food experience.

“Whilst I wouldn’t say molecular gastronomy principles are used in my everyday chocolate work, the concepts surrounding it are very much part of the inspiration that moves me forward, experimenting with flavours, textures and presentation,” Jodie says.

Visitors to Leura are familiar with what Jodie and her husband David have achieved with Café Josophan’s in only five years. Sensing there was a gap in the market for a fine chocolate boutique on the Mall, Jodie embarked on an ambitious plan to make chocolates here in the mountains. Ambitious because Josophan’s is about the indulgent experience of chocolate over just taking something home in a box.

Jodie doesn’t believe that experience has to be the way it’s always been for Australian chocolate appreciators. “Chocolate is complex, it has top, middle and end ‘notes’, just like wine,” Jodie explains. “When this is considered, combinations of flavours can really bring out the best in fine chocolates or desserts.”

Partly because she insists on using fresh ingredients (meaning a limited shelf life for her chocolates), Jodie has created in Josophan’s a true chocolaterie.

“In countries like France and Belgium, high quality chocolate is part of everyday life. There’s a chocolaterie on every corner. Here in Australia we’re only just developing that tradition. We’ve gotten used to what I’d call ‘chocolate-flavoured confectionary’, which has a long shelf life and has been created in a laboratory to taste like chocolate and other flavours.

“Josophan’s chocolate is about using fresh ingredients, in our mint chocolates, for examples, we infuse fresh cream with real fresh mint leaves and add fresh butter.

“We’ve developed a signature style,” Jodie says when I ask about the shape and colour of her chocolates. “Many recognise our chili-flavoured chocolates, for example, with the bright swirls. There’s a lot of brightly-coloured cocoa butter being used out there now, but I’m a bit of a purist, we only use a little. I like my chocolates to look classic.”

Jodie is very keen to share her knowledge and hosts chocolate appreciation classes in the new Leura chocolate boutique. She laughs when I ask if she gets self-confessed chocaholics coming along.

CHOCOLATE WITH CLASS Chocolate appreciation at Josophan's.
CHOCOLATE WITH CLASS Chocolate appreciation at Josophan’s.

“Many people say ‘I don’t need a class to appreciate chocolate!’, but we’ve created a way for participants to learn how to discern quality in chocolate.

“We follow the process from bean to bar, exploring what happens during growing, harvesting and manufacturing that makes the end result so different amongst chocolates, and of course we also get a lot of chocolate tasting in!”

Jodie has many plans for Josophan’s, not least the intention to expand the chocolate factory from Blackheath to Leura. She also plans to introduce Josophan’s hot chocolate to the wholesale market, “something we haven’t been able to do with our fine chocolates,” Jodie elaborates, “due to their fragile composition and the use of no preservatives. We’ve added a real couverture chocolate flake (high cocoa butter content) to our hot chocolate mix, creating a luxurious blend allowing customers to make an indulgent hot chocolate at home.”

There’s a chocolate factory on its way to Leura. Rejoice!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.