Claude Monet once said, “I would like to paint the way a bird sings.” And it’s this quote, from one of the great masters of impressionism, that artist Amanda Brooks loves.
Birdsong is one of her greatest inspirations – nestled in her Sunshine Coast hinterland studio, surrounded by swaying silver gums, native blossoms and nature’s feathered choir, Amanda’s latest paintings are a reflection of the environment that envelops her.
With an artistic career spanning more than two decades, the former florist has amassed a large body of work characterised by her impressionist florals, abstracts, and still-life scenes, imbued with a dazzling, rich, colour palette.
As a florist, Amanda would paint the flowers that surrounded her at work, and it wasn’t long before her paintings were in such demand that her employer insisted she leave her job and paint full time.
She still loves painting fresh flowers, but Australian birds and native flora are currently featuring strongly in her paintings, which have also taken on a new level of detail in the past 18 months.
“Even though my artwork is still quite loose and impressionistic, it’s definitely got more detail to it now,” she says. “It’s definitely still impressionism, but I’ve started painting a lot more Australian natives as well – the gums and the banksia – and they have got a lot of detail when you look up close.
“And we get so many birds here. Until you sit and look, you don’t realise the diverse range of beautiful birds we’ve got visiting us all the time. We’ve got the black cockatoos, the white cockatoos, the lorikeets – they all visit us.
“I used to paint birds in a quirkier, pop art way, whereas now I’ve really got up close to them and focusing on the finer details of them and the environment they thrive in. Because I love flowers so much, I added the flowering gum and the banksia to the birds, just to combine the two elements. I think the birds with the flowers create the true story of nature.”
Amanda’s bushland studio at the back of her property, complete with a nest of black cockatoos directly above it, lends itself perfectly to her preferred mode of working – outdoors.
As a participant in the Noosa Open Studios 2019 event, which gives people the chance to visit artists in their private studios, Amanda’s visitors were able to witness first-hand the living inspiration for much of her work. She says it was a “wonderful opportunity” to connect with art lovers and share her unique surroundings.
“My main inspiration is nature, definitely,” she says. “I do enjoy focusing on Australiana landscapes and flora and fauna. But it’s not traditional – it has a contemporary twist.”
That “twist” is in Amanda’s use of colour, light and form. Close-up portraits of kookaburras, black cockatoos and hummingbirds are infused with azure blues, hot pinks and aqua greens; avenues of gum trees pop with bright hues of purple and yellow – unmistakably Australian scenes, interpreted through Amanda’s instinctive colour lens.
“I just know that when a certain colour’s missing, it doesn’t seem to bring the art work to life,” she says. “So if I took the purple or the yellow out, to me it just feels flat. But if I just add that pop of colour, it seems to create movement and life and energy to the art work.”
With private commissions being a huge part of Amanda’s work, she stresses the importance of being able to retain her creative control of a piece while still meeting a client’s expectations.
“Some people will commission me and say ‘we’ll just leave the colours to you’, which is quite brave of them, but I think they realise that what they think might work, won’t, until I’ve added or taken certain things away to make it come alive.
“So I have got lovely customers that are very trusting, and are very happy to leave things to me. And they’ll get the best painting when they do that. Otherwise, I feel quite sterile if I feel I’ve got to follow such a strict brief; it takes the creativeness away.”
While Australian flora and fauna are making their colourful mark on Amanda’s canvases, her floral still lifes remain one of her favourites. Often, they feature one of the pieces of blue and white china from the vast collection she has amassed in the past 20 years.
And although her work is acquiring a more detailed style, her abstract paintings – which Amanda says cater for a niche market of art lovers – are also one of her favourite artistic indulgences.
“I absolutely love painting abstract works; that’s my alter ego coming out,” she says. “To paint abstract is kind of something that I do for myself, because I find it quite therapeutic. For me, that’s when I feel I’m painting for a hobby, because it’s something fun for me to do. But I think it also helps you create new skills because you’re dabbling and experimenting and having a play. Then you can convert anything you learn from that into other art work.
“It’s also a play on colour; I get to learn new colour combinations when I get to paint those abstracts, which I’ll adapt to the other art work in another way.”
Amanda’s ever-evolving creative process and changing style will no doubt continue to add to her diverse and growing portfolio – but don’t ask her to make any predictions about exactly what that style may be in the future.
“I think it just evolves without me even knowing,” she says. “I don’t really put much thought into that, because I know that if I overthink things I can ruin it.
“I think it’s just that painting as often as I do gives me certain techniques that change along the way, then somehow it just evolves into something else. I don’t mean to change my style; it’s just something that happens.
“Intuitive, I think that’s what they call it. You just follow your heart, and see where it leads.”