Doug Johnson and the Hungry Pelican

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.


— Mary Hubley