When painting outside in Florida, you run across wild critters. Snakes make plein air artists scream. Mosquitoes and fire ants go for blood, while no-see-ums dive-bomb the wet canvas.
Not all encounters are bad, though. Last month, I painted at the beach while wild dolphins splashed and jumped just a few feet away in the inlet.
Occasionally, a critter gets curious.
Last week, when a crew of us painted at a local fish camp, there was a wild pelican encounter. The pelican was captivated by Doug – a curious man with a curious box and bright, colorful brushes.
While Doug mixed his colors and began to paint, the giant bird hopped up to get a better view. Doug smiled and said hello. I grabbed my camera.
For a while, the pelican sat mesmerized by Doug’s deft brushwork. The colors must have looked good enough to eat. Literally.
Just as a juicy ultramarine blue hit the canvas, the pelican seized Doug’s paintbrush with its sizable beak. Doug held tight, then went into action and shooed away the bird with his paint rag. It ducked. After a few minutes, the bird jumped down and sulked a few feet away, but it stayed by Doug’s side the whole morning, likely hopeful that Doug would eventually share his tasty paintbrushes with the local wildlife.
When I drive any distance, I am easily side tracked. The world is just too interesting not to investigate. A couple of months ago, what would have been a long one-day trip to Lagerquist Gallery in Atlanta, took 3 days.
It was decided that a side trip to Savannah would be fun. Instead of using the interstate that would have gotten Hubby and I there a day earlier, we explored the back roads of rural Georgia. This state is a rustic fantasy land for artists. Rusty old shacks, wild grasslands, and rugged farms.
That’s where I found the reference for my new painting, “Georgia Barn.” A hot day, we stopped for gas and a bottle of water. This barn was just across the road, and I stayed long enough to take a few photos and a do quick sketch.
These spiky shrubs are palmettos – kind of like a palm tree without the trunk. They’re everywhere here on my Florida island, growing wild and taking over great dunes of sand.
I started by creating a quick oil painting study on a small scale – my study is only 5″ x 5″; big enough to get the gist of color and composition.
Then I spent a few weeks painting Palmetto Shadows in a slightly larger size – 14″ x 18″ … Usually it doesn’t take me that long to paint something that size, but these palmettos are just so darned complicated! The more detailed, the more time it takes to paint and get right. This is the result . Palmetto Shadows edges on realism, yet it’s soft and impressionistic, and pulls me into the peace of deep woods laced with shady palmettos in the sand.
See these and more at maryhubley.com. I’d also love to sell you a painting! Just contact me for pricing.
Hurricane Irma happened. We stayed in our island house, hunkered down and rode out the storm, even though we were told to evacuate. We stayed awake through the dark hours, listened to wild wind and rain, and jumped when the heavy thumps of trees came down around us. It was frightening. With the morning light, we surveyed the remnants of our universe. The old trees that had hugged my property for so long snapped in half. My now-treeless sand dunes have become a barren alternate reality. So strange.
I have always accepted hurricanes as part of living in paradise. But they are never easy.
I’m finding it hard to get into my painting studio while I’m shell shocked. I want to sleep more and eat too much, and I think I’ll give into it. I forget sometimes that I’m not a machine – I can’t just whip out new paintings every week forever. I believe that after a major stress, you have to give yourself a break. Read a book. Swim. Take a day or two or twenty to catch up and pamper your soul.
I’ve been excited about creating more impressionistic, even semi-abstract landscapes lately. A foray into sharper lines and brighter color. Diverging from true photographic reality. While I’m still creating plein air paintings that are more realistic, my heart yearns for contemporary minimalist and abstract. So, I’m combining the best of both. I’m now breathing color. Here is one of my new whimsical landscape creations:
By the end of May, Florida gets hot. Week-long organized plein air events aren’t even offered during the hot months, and the most intrepid plein air artists migrate northward to paint in cooler climates. I’ll still sneak out to paint with my local group occasionally. But mostly during the warm months I morph into a temporary hermit as I duck inside my summer studio cave.
But oh, while the weather was cooler, I created some awesome paintings out in the marshes and in the oldest city.
Flagler Beach Paintout
I was honored to take first place in the Flagler Beach paint out with my painting, “Still Water Reflections.”
It’s always a surprise and delight to receive recognition, as there are many talented painters out there. I kind of float on a cloud for at least a week after a win. This was painted at the side of an alligator-filled marsh, under clear skies and a sizzling sun. Thank goodness for thermos bottles of ice water.
St. Augustine Paintout
A couple of weeks later, I participated in the St. Augustine plein air paint out. The city was energized by over 50 artists who painted the scenic streets and historic buildings. I managed to finish these three little paintings. The last one, Quiet Pathway, came home with a lovely award from the St. Augustine Art Association.
Someone mentioned in my class today, wouldn’t it be fun to paint with your eyes closed.
We had been talking about how you should paint what you feel. Monet and Van Gogh painted impressions of their surroundings. They painted with emotion. It was about the air and light rather than rendering a perfect photographic image.
I have found impressionist painting to be intensely meditative. Quiet. You breathe in your surroundings. Taste the bold shapes and intensity of color and optimism in the atmosphere. That’s the important part. You breathe out by placing informed paint onto the canvas.
Today the class painted sky and field. One of the students went very minimalist, with a simple blue sky and a yellow field. Uncomplicated. Palette knife work. So expressive. As if he were painting with his eyes closed. As if he were in prayer or meditating while his hand reflected what he felt. This student smiles while he works.
For me, it’s almost a form of yoga practice. Close your eyes. What do you feel? What do you hear? Feel the sensation of breathing in and out. Now open your eyes and quickly get those sensations down on the canvas.
This idea of painting with your eyes closed can be used as a warm-up to painting, or as an actual on-going practice. It will make you relax. It will loosen you up. And you will end up smiling the entire time you paint.
Last week, I painted in the gardens of the historic Fatio House in downtown St. Augustine, Florida – a museum surrounded by beautiful Spanish Colonial-style buildings. I often paint small when I’m in the field to get the basics quickly. If I like the painting after I get back to my home studio, I’ll often repaint it in a larger size. Here’s my progress on a tiny study:
Changes… While my roots are in soft impressionism, I’ve been going in the direction of abstract for years. I’ve always appreciated and used techniques of abstract landscapes – painting very high horizon lines, graphic shapes, and unusual compositions. But recently I took a surprising leap into exploration of more abstract forms.
I’d gotten into a rut. Take trees, for example. I’ve done lots of plein air painting, and trees are always there. Trees and more trees. Again and again. They’ve become, well, boring. I desperately needed to find something different to do with trees.
Breakthrough: Out by the marsh painting with friends. I didn’t want to paint another marsh scene. Not another tree. I sat there. I couldn’t paint it. I was frozen in my painting chair as I gazed out on the familiar scene. Then, the trees moved in the wind, as if to say, look again. That moment, I started to really see them. Something changed.
My hand started moving on the canvas. The trees were moving. Fun. I gave them a party. That day, they threw confetti into the wind. They stretched. They danced. And my whole world shifted into something different. I’m seeing in semi-abstract now. And the fun begins again.