An artist and a farmer, Wendy McDonald could not be one without the other, Lagoon, the piece Wendy has created for our collaboration, draws from the ecology of her land, the precious wetlands of the Central Murray Region. Wendy’s free but considered markings intimately capture the ebb and flow of the creeks and rivers and the drama of changing seasons.
It was our pleasure to chat with Wendy about her journey as a painter, how changing seasons influence her work, her creative process in her cottage studio and her precious moleskin sketchbook collection.
You are a painter and farmer, which came first? Did you always plan on becoming an artist?
My farming life and artistic life have grown together. As a young person I studied Education and Psychology however art and creative expression had always been important to me. When I married a farmer and moved to this beautiful, engaging landscape nearly 30 years ago, my artistic practice and life on the land naturally entwined. As a result, I am deeply immersed in this place and community.
You paint landscapes, how do the changing seasons impact your work? Do you find yourself more drawn to a particular time of year?
When you live in the landscape that you paint you are deeply influenced on a conscious and subconscious level. Every season here reveals itself in different ways, some overtly and some quietly and subtly. I can't say that I am drawn to painting a particular time of year as such, but rather the challenge of capturing a personal feeling, recollection or observation. Any individual painting may represent a fleeting moment or the narrative of a season as a whole. Having said that, I do love the faded grandeur of our Autumn landscape, with its pared back palette and stillness. There is a sense of completion as the orchard and vegetable patch yield their final harvest and the landscape settles before winter which really engages me.
Describe your process. Do you create drafts and plan or are you more spontaneous? Work from photos? Work outdoors? Keep a sketch book?
My process always begins with working on site in the landscape. Here, I will create numerous small works with different media, including charcoal, pen, watercolour or gouache. I will also scribble notes about my thoughts or feelings. These bits and pieces are the seed from which I create larger, more finished pieces, in the studio... this material is as close as I come to drafting or planning and allows me to bypass the need for photographs. My collection of little black moleskin sketchbooks are my most treasured studio possessions and I feel quite anxious if I am somewhere without one now. Those who know me well know that there is always one stashed in my glovebox or handbag.
What themes and concepts do you like to explore in your work?
My work has always been deeply embedded in the story of this beautiful, ephemeral floodplain on which we live. Thule Lagoon is the ancient bed of the Murray River and we have watched with wonder, awe and sometimes grief as the landscape here moves from drought to flood. By painting this place, I am introducing people to our Southern Basin rivers, wetlands and floodplains, which are so rich in ecological and cultural heritage value. In recent years water has been commodified, traded and globalised. Neglectful politics, a flawed Basin Plan and industrial greenfield farming is damaging both the Darling and Murray Rivers and our Southern Basin floodplains are in ecological distress. There are so many urgent conversations that we need to have about the protection and management of these places. Hopefully, my work can be a jumping off point for conversation and action.
What is a usual day in the studio like for you?
A 20km round trip for school bus drop off begins my day, followed by an hours walk along the lagoon, regardless of the weather. This time reconnects me with the landscape in a physical and emotional way. I then head straight to the studio, brew a little coffee and set to work. Depending on what's happening on the farm I might grab a quick lunch with Pete over at the farmhouse, followed by more painting till it's time for school pick up again around 4pm.It is wonderful to have this separation of "home" and "studio".
Tell us about your workspace. Do you listen to anything while you work?
How lucky am I that I have a whole cottage to myself as my studio? It is a little 1950's weatherboard farm cottage tucked away in the trees a short walk from our farmhouse. The space is very simple with timber floors, original kitchen and a beautiful view over the lagoon which is spectacular when in flood. Angus & Julia, or Van Morrison have been on high rotation of late ... you may laugh at the very old school style delivery by CD though, as lack of service and data tends to hamper Spotify. I am sure many people can relate to this aspect of rural living.
What materials do you use when creating your paintings?
Linen is my surface of choice for my larger paintings and I usually use multi layers of transparent acrylic paint. I love the smooth finish of oil on board but tend to become impatient with the delayed drying times.
Are there any artists or designers you particularly appreciate for their originality, designs and thinking?
Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell (sister of Virginia Woolf) is an all-time hero of mine. I am drawn to her work again and again, loving her palette, subject and exuberance. The story of her collaboration with Roger Fry and Duncan Grant to create the interior design studio Omega Workshops (established in 1913) is absolutely fascinating. The designs seem so modern and it is amazing to think of them in the context of that time.
What are you working on now?
Presently I'm finalising a small collection of works to be shown at AK Bellinger Gallery later this month followed a show at Boom Gallery later in the year. All the works will be a continuation of my Southern Basin wetlands and rivers subjects. In May I am looking forward to hosting a visiting artist in my studio for a Twig Residency as part of the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery's ACRE 21 project.
Thank you Wendy! It has been an absolute pleasure collaborating with you on this beautiful print.
For more of Wendy's work visit