I caught the 6 a.m. flight out of the snow-blanketed, shivery northeastern part of this country on Friday morning, March 4, and returned after midnight Saturday March 12 to a wet but cleared driveway, lined with half-piles of dirty snow. Seven and a half of the eight days in between I enjoyed sparkling sunshiny southwestern Florida–Marco Island to be exact. Eight days, nine paintings.
Mary and I wasted little time getting our easels out after reaching her home on Marco Island. She suggested subjects around the perimeter of her house that had attracted her painter’s eye, and mentioned that her painting of the banana tree had won a prize. “Sold!” I exclaimed in jest, “I too want a prize-winning painting!” Here is a photo of the plant that I chose for my prize-winning painting:
I had ordered a box of paints and panels shipped to Mary’s address from one of the mail order internet suppliers–gessoed art panels and M. Graham oils in blue ultramarine, cadmium red and azo yellow, plus diozinine purple (my substitute for black), and a titanium white with alkyd for its faster drying. I had never used either these panels nor this brand of paint before. The panels were slippery compared to canvas. This effect seemed to increase as time passed, perhaps due to a drying of the paint? To overcome the slipperiness of the panel surface, I was loading my brush with extra paint. Not Van Gogh thick, but almost that thick. The paint was wonderfully creamy–yummy, really. Because I had only primary colors, I found myself doing more mixing. At one point, the entire painting seemed to be in various shades of mud.
I almost panicked, but then I reminded myself that I was in sunny Florida, having fun and damn it, this was going to be a prize-winning painting. So I took a page from the Van Gogh bag of tricks (I was already in Van Gogh mode with the thick paint) and added dark purple outlines for drama, hit a few spots with purer color, and the whole thing came together beautifully. In my humble opinion, the Banana Tree is my best work of the week, totally deserving of this prize from me at least, but then none of the others are quite finished.
My next painting, on Saturday, was also in Mary’s back yard. Two Royal Palms growing together like this was unusual and, I thought, lovely:
About the only thing I want to change in this painting is that little tower of foliage on the shrub in the background. I find it distracting and unnecessary. The paint was so thick on the leaves of the little tree next to the Royal Palms that it was still wet a week later when I packed it to come home. I haven’t had the courage to check up on it. (All of these photographs were taken before I left Florida.) Notice the sea to the horizon–the Gulf of Mexico. What a prime location!
The next day (Sunday) we went to an area or town called “Goodland”–a fishing village of small cottages and trailers, restaurants and boating stuff–acres of boat storage five stories high, boat launching areas, creeping gentrification, and wild bars (so they say). Bars as in cocktails. That’s a lot of interesting man-made material for a painting, but I couldn’t wean myself entirely from nature, so it is a combination:
The Banyan Tree. These trees drop tendrils from their adult branches and the tendrils become roots, creating quite a remarkable abstract sculpture. Two years ago, I had painted a banyan tree in Boca Grande, but considered that no reason not to try again. In the background I suggest detail but do not provide any. The one thing I want to fix on this painting is the palm tree in the midground. I should either remove it altogether, or make it less defined, less hard-edged. What you also see in the midground is a smallish marina with boats, and in the background, two-story houses not typical of Goodland’s homes.
Actually, the Banyan Tree took two days because we were chased off by threatening clouds on Sunday. Sunday was what Mary calls a “silvery” day, meaning cloudy, with subdued shadows. Monday was different–full of bright sunlight and prominent shadows. If my painting looks a little schizo, that’s why.
After Monday morning painting, we had lunch at the “Little Bar” restaurant, the only eating establishment on Goodland open for business on Mondays, after which we went off to find a more typical dwelling to paint:
“One-story House on Canal” I can’t find my reference photo, although I know I took one. I know because I remember returning my camera to the car before setting up my easel. And I’m sure of the camera being in the car because during the painting of this picture, a young cormorant was fighting with a fish, trying to get the darn thing down his too-small gullet. The struggle went on and on, and I longed for the camera, but knew if I made a move in any direction, the cormorant would carry his fish off to a new location. Life is full of regrets.
Anyway, I am going to have to study my photo to fix the architecture of this little house on the canal, because what I saw (and painted) does not make sense to me now. However, I am pleased with the light passing through the lattice somewhere in the entrance, and the light reflections from the water onto the boat. The boat–again painted as I saw it but my eyesight isn’t that great anymore–the seat back is flipped the wrong way, isn’t it? Must be flippable like that so someone could sit there while repairing the motor? Anyway, I believe that boat needs a person in it, and that is what I would most like to fix in this painting.
Tuesday: a friend of Mary’s invited me to go with her to the Naples Botanical Garden. Artists are welcome to paint in the Garden only on Tuesdays until noon, and Mary had an appointment that kept her from going with us. With all the choice plants (hibiscus to die for!) around Mary’s house to paint, I felt no need to focus on flowers. In the Asian Garden, there was an impressive bamboo collection, and behind a species known as black bamboo, stood an attractive Thai pavilion. Here is a reference photo and my painting:
I want to work on the bamboo a little more, lighting the side hit by the sun, and figure out a better way to resolve the hill on the left. You notice, I suppose, that I overstated the presence of a body of water. I like to paint water, so shoot me.
Tuesday afternoon, Mary and I went off to paint on the Esplanade, in part because Annie’s Ice Cream is close by. We lazily set up on a bench in the plaza near the bar, which was celebrating Mardi Gras. We diligently ignored all the shenanigans and stuck to our painting. Here is a reference photo, partial at best, and the painting I chose to create:
I never intended to match up frond to shadow of frond, but perhaps I went too far in ignoring reality. This painting may not be fixable–I like it better in person, so maybe it just doesn’t photograph well. The ice cream (peanut butter fudge) was good.
Wednesday: Mary had mentioned how long she had been eyeing a working boat up on blocks next to the Little Bar where we had take lunch on Monday, and I agreed that it would make an interesting subject. So back we went to Goodland to paint the boat “high and dry”, which has become the title of my painting.
This is my second favorite from the week, after the Banana Tree. Not until comparing painting to photo did I see how upturned and perky I painted my boat. I should change the name to “High and Dry but Still Perky.” But there are a couple of things I want to change. Under the boat in the center of the painting I originally had yellow like the color of the brush on the right. I covered the yellow with blue green paint to push it into the background, but now I think I should have left it yellow, to show how high this boat is off the ground. I also worry a little about how the narrow roof lip can cast such a wide shadow, but the reference photo backs me up on that point.
Thursday: I am down to two days left, since my plane back North leaves Friday at 7:15 p.m. The weather forecast says “showers” and seems to suggest “scattered” as well. Mary has another appointment to go to, so she drives me to the Catholic Church that she attends, where I will be safe to paint alone. The church is architecturally worth painting. I find an angle I like and get set up. I have the shapes outlined and am just noticing how sharply the sun and shadow planes are contrasted, when rain and darkness and wind descend upon me from my rear. Without notice of this impending hurricane, I could do nothing but hang onto my easel for dear life. Somehow I managed to get off these photos, probably when I realized I had to get the camera into a more protected spot.
So I’m thinking, a storm that moved in that fast will leave just as fast, the sun will come out and dry me off, so I will just wait it out. But then the thunder started. I somehow found a way to pack up enough to move (two trips) to the shelter of the church. Soaked to the skin I was. The only damage to my equipment was to the paper towels, which were mush. The sun never did come out and dry me up, at least not until hours later. I worked on the painting from memory:
Now that I have had a chance to compare the painting to the reference photo, I am astonished to see for the first time there is a strip of windows under that higher eave. I did not consciously omit them. I just omitted them.
The railing in the lower cupola is just a detail that did not make it to the initial drawing. I want to add it to the painting. The left side of the tower needs to be widened. Not sure whether to add the decorative molding.
Although this has nothing to do with painting, I have to report an outstanding concert experience Thursday night at “The Phil” (Philharmonic Center for the Arts) in Naples. Leon Fleisher, super pianist. Super venue. Only a very wealthy and culturally sophisticated community could support such a luxurious structure and vibrant institution. I’m thinking no wonder so many people move here to retire, and maybe not such a bad idea, hurricanes notwithstanding.
Friday. Last day. Mary asked me if there was anything I wanted to paint, and I requested a bridge over a canal. She found me one.
But since I took all my painting photos Thursday afternoon (in the lovely post-storm light), and I have had no time since getting home (long story) to photograph my start on the canal bridge, I cannot show you what a rotten job I did on the bridge, and you can be sure that I will be fixing what can be fixed before I post it. Suffice to say that it looks like a foot bridge, not a car bridge, and I got the perspective wrong on the dock. But the foliage and buildings look great!
Hope you enjoyed this maybe-too-long post. I just had to record it all for the sake of my own memory. It was a great week. Thank you Mary!