Leon Holmes’s setup in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia

So you’ve had it with cold weather. Scraping the car, layering the clothes, Jack Frost absolutely biting your nose. Maybe it’s not too early to plan next winter’s plein air painting getaway. And you know, it hit 101 degrees Fahrenheit a couple of weeks ago in Brisbane.

That’s right, if you are serious about painting some place downright hot next winter, consider the land Down Under. The airfare will hurt (as much as $1,600), but expenses are reasonable once you get there. Plein air painter Leon Holmes currently lives in Munich, Germany, but he is Australian, and thus a good person to ask for advice.

“Dry Creek Bed — Flinders Ranges,” by Leon Holmes, 2011, oil on canvas board, 12 x 24 in. Private collection

“You can’t go wrong with the coastal subjects this time of year — just about anywhere around the continent you’ll find pure white beaches and turquoise waters,” says Holmes. “But for me the true essence of Australia is in the central landscapes.

“Mid Summer,” by Leon Holmes, 2013, oil on board, 10 x 8 in. Collection the artist

“A popular painting location for plein air painters is the Red Centre, in the Northern Territory. It might be a long way from nowhere, but well worth the travel. Areas like the Flinders Ranges (in South Australia), Uluru, and the Macdonnell Ranges (Northern Territory) provide endless subject matter, with pure white ghost gums (a type of tree) contrasting against a backdrop of red earth, oasis water holes, purple desert mountains, rocky gorges, and deep blue sky. It’s a bit hot out there at the moment — you really want to plan a desert trip for the months of April to September. In the summer months, like right now, you want to head south to the forest and coastal areas.”

“Windy Day, West Coast Drive,” by Leon Holmes, 2013, oil on board, 6 x 16 in. Private collection

Holmes warns that the Australian desert is sun-blasted and unsparingly hot. Travel there requires good vehicle maintenance, first-aid packs, extra water, clothing that offers sun protection, and good boots that are snake-resistant. Yes, snake-resistant. Venomous snakes outnumber non-venomous snakes in Australia.

An example of a ghost gum tree, in the Central Australian Desert

“Australia is not all as scary as people make out,” Holmes adds. “I personally have never had too much problem with the snakes and spiders. But be aware of the elements and take appropriate precautions. You will have a wonderful time — it’s a plein air painter’s paradise.”

“Ruby Gap — East MacDonnell Ranges,” by Leon Holmes, 2006, oil, 8 x 31 1/2 in. Private collection

As for creature comforts, Holmes recommends packing netting for flies, mosquito spray, and “a few cold beers.” Ready to book a trip?


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