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.