It happens in a heartbeat: a striking, magic moment when nature’s light shifts and the colours deepen and sharpen. They are instances so stunning they might leave a viewer dumbstruck by the beauty.
But while others stop and stare, it is at moments like these that artist Natasha Ruschka swings into action, feverishly trying to catch the flash with her brush – focusing so much that no sound or distraction can penetrate her concentration or break the spell.
Natasha paints en plein air – live and outdoors, in the moment and on the scene.
It was a move to the United States for her husband’s work that introduced Natasha to painting through a vibrant art community in Denver. She had juggled work as a corporate executive assistant before the move, and while she still had to balance home, children and tricky times of day, she discovered a passion first for textured, colourful still life. Then, as she found more time, she answered the call of the wild and took her brush and easel outdoors.
It was a bold, important move as an artist to expand her repertoire and to move from inside to out.
“Art is a journey and I really want to keep learning,” she says. “If I get too comfortable in a certain subject, I will start looking around for new inspiration. I am always trying to push myself and expand.
“I have painted with watercolour and acrylic and gouache, and out of all the mediums, oil is the most beautiful. The way it bounces around in that linseed oil, the saturation is just perfection. I think that is why I come back to it.”
While she was the daughter of an artist and has played all her life with creativity and colour, Natasha has worked as an artist full-time for seven years. Her en plein air works are created in a wet-on-wet style – alla prima – that is fresh, loose and alive.
“It is more about capturing an essence and not trying to blend away your brushstrokes but allowing them to be part of the work at the end,” Natasha says. “I am never trying to over-describe an image by outlining and then colouring it in. I am always trying to make shapes with my brush, and the least number of brushstrokes I can use to create an impression of that shape, the more satisfied I feel.”
And being outdoors in the wonders of nature combines so many of the elements that make this Brisbane-based artist feel invigorated.
“While I am painting outside, I am so present,” she says. “I can walk away after painting for an hour, and when I look at that painting later, I can still recall in detail what I smelt or what I heard. I take so much away with me. It is such an incredible meditation in that moment. That is so hard to get, particularly in today’s world.
“I switch into this mode where I don’t actually see the painting: I follow my process of interpretation. It can be a bit dangerous because I block out everything. I have to be sure I am safe because I am unaware of what is behind or around me.
“You have to work so quickly because the light changes so fast. You really cannot be thinking about who is behind you or what is for dinner, you have to be absolutely there, painting that.”
Like most en plein air artists, Natasha almost always finishes a work in a session. When she works outside, she mixes colours and uses rapid brushstrokes to capture the colour, light and tone present in that moment. She paints small, not paying too much attention to the fine details – she photographs a scene too and can get the minutia from that for larger pieces created later in the studio.
“A photograph cannot capture the colours and temperature of an outdoor scene – not really,” Natasha says.
“In a photograph, the shadows tend to be black instead of having deep, rich colours and the sun can bleach out highlights so you can’t really see what is there. I think when you look at something in life, you capture complexity even when you look into shadows. I recently was at the beach and the shadows on the rocks threw dark blue tones. You just won’t see that when you look at a photograph.”
Natasha says her process in starting an artwork is effectively problem-solving: she looks at a scene and starts to unpack it into its elements and consider how to communicate them. In the same way, her mixing of colours to achieve the right tone is as clinical as it is pleasurable for her.
“I am a big believer in the process that hangs behind the art and from very early on I have tried not to be attached to the outcome, because from when you first start painting you learn that the outcome might not meet an expectation,” she says. “If you think of the end result all the time, you may never start. You don’t go to the gym for the first time and expect to come out with a six-pack.”
Teaching technique and mentoring those who dip their toe into artistic waters is also important to Natasha. She has online, anytime courses on her website and regularly runs workshops and live classes.
“When I was learning to paint, I was so worried about outcome and I see that in those I teach,” she says. “It can be paralysing, if you worry about it not working out as you want it to. I had to do a lot of mental work when I began to paint – paint every day for a month and do not look at the outcome and just follow the process. I know the feeling that you don’t think you can do it. But once I had begun to produce paintings that I was pleased with I wanted to pass on what I had learnt. It is a wonderful thing to watch someone gain the confidence to just paint, to enjoy the practice.”
Natasha is rarely uninspired.
“Every day I see something I get excited about,” she says. “Every day I see something I want to paint.”
Natasha Ruschka is represented by Art Nuvo Gallery, Buderim.