The lure of the paintbrush keeps this man active and alert in retirement

Roy Harris at work at his easel
Roy Harris at work at his easel

Give Roy Harris a dilapidated old building or a rusty boat and you have a happy man.

Roy believes turning to painting when he retired more than 20 years ago has helped to keep his brain active and his 83-year-old mind alert.

Now part of Mandurah’s Plein Air Artists group he gets together with other painters, often seen with their easels out and brushes on the go around the area’s landmarks.

They will also be out and about as part of the big Plein Air Down Under festival to be held in Mandurah from 25 to 27 September.

Roy, a former business executive, will find himself in company with leading artists Herman Pekel from Victoria, Lyn Diefenbach from Queensland, and WA’s Leon Holmes, along with many other artists from around Australia and overseas.

It will also attract artists of all calibre to paint and for workshops, as well as visitors to see the artists at work and in exhibition.

For Roy the lure of the paint brush was always lurking in the background, but it was only once he retired in 1999 that he found the time to pursue his desire to paint.

He says the hobby has been ideal for retirement giving him an opportunity to get outdoors and mix with a group of like-minded people as well as challenging his brain.

“I always used to play around and sketch a bit, nothing very serious, but when I retired, I found an artist up in the Hills, Trish Austin, who taught drawing,” Roy says.

“I went to her for a couple of years and learned to draw. I graduated from there into painting.”

Roy says his artistic talent didn’t come from his parents, but his grandmother in England had beautiful old water colours of the old English cart horses with the drays and various farm scenes, which he loved.

“I used to go and have a look whenever I went to Gran’s and it was only a relatively few years ago that one of my cousins came over from the UK and asked me if I remembered those paintings.

“I said ‘yes, I do, very well,’ and it turns out that one of my uncles had painted them. I never knew that.”

Roy says it took a long time for him to come to grips with drawing and then to make the move to water colours which he found challenging.

“If you are painting in acrylics or oils, you can correct your mistakes on the spot, because they are opaque and you can paint over a bit that’s not quite right, but with watercolours it’s not quite so easy.”

Roy has been painting with water colour for around 18 years.

A Roy Harris painting
A Roy Harris painting

“I love to paint old buildings, the old falling down cottages with rusty roofs and those sort of things that have a lot of character about them.

“The same thing with old boats, although you don’t see that many these days, the rusty old tubs with the rust marks down the side.”

“I like plein air painting because we’re out in the open and we paint what we see, and we try and interpret what we see in our own style.

“It’s quick, which I like, you have to work quickly because the light changes every few minutes, especially early in the morning.” 

At Plein Air Down Under artists will be dotted around Mandurah with their easels propping up their works of the various landmarks around the district. Visitors often gather over an artist’s shoulder to watch them at work, which Roy says he quite enjoys.

“Down here in Mandurah, because the group has been around for a while and people have gotten used to us, particularly if we’re somewhere like the foreshore or down at Doddies Beach, or somewhere where it’s busy like Pinjarra, it’s quite common to get people who want to come and chat to you.

“It’s nice. All of us quite like interacting with the public to try and get people interested.” 

Mandurah Plein Air Artists has more than 50 members and Roy says that on any given Tuesday there’ll be 15 or 20 artists out and about painting.

Most of the members are retirees and Roy says it makes a great hobby for retired people.

“I love it, I think it’s fantastic. It’s not just the painting, it’s also the people in the group, they are really nice people.”

Roy says people wanting to get involved didn’t need to be able to demonstrate any artistic talent.

“Just come along and have a crack. If they have talent it’s obviously easier.

“We don’t actually run lessons, but we have a number of well-known professional artists in our group who will always give tips and gentle critiques. We always try and help if we can.”

Plein Air Down Under has opportunities for artists from beginners to experts and will include a month of activities ranging from art exhibitions to workshops.

Artists and budding artists are encouraged to sign up for the more than $8000 in awards and prizes on offer.

Artists’ works will be on sale and the festival is free for spectators to attend.

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