Hydrangea Heaven ~ A Lesson in Accepting Grace

A visit to Mary Claire’s garden feels like heaven, especially as her hydrangea is in full bloom! Intoxicating fragrance from nearby jasmine and gardenia fill the air. I feel as though I’ve died and gone to heaven!

Painting in Mary Claire’s garden embraced me with dreams of living in Monet’s garden!

plein air painting hydrangea garden
The side garden surrounded by hydrangea in full bloom. To the far left, white jasmine and gardenia fill the air with intoxicating perfume.

With so many choices, it was hard to choose just one thing to paint. And I had only small (8×10) canvas panel with me.

I set up my easel facing a blooming calla lily. You can see it to the lower left of the easel in the pic below. Then suddenly turned around to face the hydrangea garden in the late afternoon sunlight.

 

plein air painting garden
Late afternoon sunlight and deep shadows on Mary Claire’s hydrangea garden

Hydrangea symbolize heartfelt emotions, gratitude for being understood. The word is from Greek for water and vessel. Seems funny how I have longed for my own hydrangeas to bloom, only to have them die of drought for so many years. And now I am painting in a plush garden of them?

Accepting grace (and whimsy) of the Creator is a blessing my younger self was blind to. How wonderful it is to have the vision of a woman who now wears bi-focals!

plein air painting hydrangea garden
turning around, I painted the garden instead of a single bloom.

Back in the studio, I added highlight colors the following day. A few jewel tone shadows as the over=painted teal of the shutters and crimson hydrangea ~ creates sparkle and light in the shadows.

plein air painting hydrangea garden
Hydrangea Heaven, oil, prints available

Mary Claire mentioned she is hosting a garden club visit later next week. She invited me to crash her garden party with my easel! I’ve never painted a live event before … stay tuned to see the painting and pics

Hydrangea Heaven prints are available on my website, as is the original painting. You will find them here>

Two Views of the Freya MY OWN BACKYARD

Painting Two Pictures Simultaneously Seemed a Bit Over the Top

But this was an historic moment and the weather was oh so perfect!

I took my easel to the homecoming of the Freya, a steel-hulled sailboat built on Gwynn’s Island by the late Gilbert Klingel. Arriving early on Saturday, I selected two views where she would be visible for a painting.

MY OWN BACKYARD ~ DOROTHY FAGAN
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map of Gwynn's Island
The mouth of the Piankatank River opens into Hills Bay. The Freya would be sailing from Ginny Point in Cobbs Creek, just up river, then through The Narrows into Wharf Creek.

Painting two pictures simultaneously seemed a bit over the top. But this was an historic moment and the weather was perfect. I set up my easel at the edge of Hills Bay and blocked in the seascape. The water was choppy as usual, and green! Light green, dark green, murky and aqua ~ off in the distance the tree line of the mainland melted into the far shore of the Piankatank.

plein air painting sailboats
Block-in for Hills Bay View painting, Freya Homecoming

I choose a high position on the canvas for the horizon. Anticipating the path of the Freya, which would be arriving down river from Ginny Point in Cobbs Creek. Her sails would be up. But not for long as she would soon be passing through the Narrows. A sailboat can’t go through the drawbridge with wind in her sails.

This is true for people too! When we are going through the narrows, crossing bridges as it were, we need to slow down and trim our sails. Expecting speed is all American. So learning patience comes slowly to many of us!

This would be a rare opportunity to paint her in all her glory, sails afurl. I took my time to lay out my plan carefully. Staying focused, I blocked it in, then moved my easel across the road behind the Mathews Maritime Foundation’s boathouse to set up the second painting.

Several views presented good vantage points. To choose the best, I tried standing on the elevated platform behind the boathouse  where I could see the entire harbor, Callis Wharf in the distance. Too much!

I walked out on the pier. Standing half way out, I could see the back side of the draw bridge across Wharf Creek. But still there was a lot of clutter that would distract from the Freya. Not to mention it was in full sun!

Under the shady tree by the picnic table at the edge of the water, foreground grasses and driftwood framed open water where she would pass on her way to the dock. This is the view I selected.

plein air painting sailboats
I selected this view because it framed the water where the Freya would take center stage.

For this second more detailed painting, I choose a larger canvas. Estimating where the Freya would be positioned in the painting, I blocked in the mainland shoreline and scrubbed in warm and cool greens of the shore where I stood. I imagined this circle of greenery as a frame for the white sailboat.

Do you see how the driftwood in the foreground seems to reach out with arms to embrace the view? It almost looks like a person! Every painting is a self portrait in some sense, as to paint it with emotion one must own it.

plein air painting sailboats
I work quickly to block in bold shapes and values with a large brush.

A nice bank of afternoon clouds had moved in over the mainland. I used their warm pinks and lavenders to hug the colors close, framing the top of the painting. The line of wharves behind the drawbridge created a dotted path of light and dark shapes. I decided to use them to lead the eye to center stage.

wharf creek painting
detail view of wharf, dotted darks and lights lead the eye to the center position for the Freya.

As time drew near friends gathered to watch. I stopped painting and walked back across the road to snap a photo as she sailed through Hills Bay with her escort, The Peggy, a buyboat that’s considered to be the Mathews flagship.

A crowd had gathered. Chatting, I enjoyed the excitement. I met new friends and old, so startled that painting had suddenly become social! Stepping out of the studio to paint in a crowd is not a familiar view!

Freya homecoming
The Freya, as she sailed through Hills Bay on June 3, 2017.
plein air painting Mathews VA
Freya Homecoming, oil on canvas, 11′ x 14″ Purchase Info>

Back to the easel … Setting the stage, I intentionally kept my colors mid- and lower value. This helps to establish the composition, while still leaving sufficient latitude to move things around as needed. This strong structure of the painting provides me freedom. Funny, people often think an artist is a free spirit without structure. Not true!

Creative structure is not visible if one is not aware of what to look for. Yet it is that structure that provides creative freedom, serendipitous choice. You can see this structure in the block in, as I have established an integrated structure of mid and dark values, the stage where the star of this painting will shine. This reserves those pops of highlight, deep shadow, and vibrant color for the seemingly serendipitous final touches.

Freya homecoming
The Freya and The Peggy as they enter Wharf Creek.
painting Freya prints
Return of the Freya, oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″ Purchase Info>

Once the Freya and Peggy docked everyone gathered to share the celebration. I’ve never been served champagne at my easel before! Another fresh new view I’ll not soon forget!

Prints of these paintings are available here. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Mathews Maritime Foundation. These original paintings can be seen this summer at “The Pearl and It’s People ~ A Celebration of Mathews” at the Bay School Community Arts Center in Mathews, June 10 ~ August 5, 2017. A reception will be held June 30, 6 – 8 pm

Oh, I almost forgot to mention … one of the old friends, Mary Claire Coster, who’s cottage garden is on the island, stopped by my easel and invited me to come by and paint with her. Knowing I could complete my painting in the studio, freed me to accept her invitation on a whim!

Stay tuned for intoxicating fragrance from her gardenia and jasmine next time! Cheers!

MY OWN BACKYARD ~ DOROTHY FAGAN
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Hidden Meaning in a Boat Painting

Why is it that we look and look for that thing which illudes us? I don’t even remember what it was I thought I was looking for!

This week I found myself. Standing next to a boat named “Patience,” I painted this little oil painting of the work boat beside it. In the brilliant morning sun, I found the patience to quietly paint a story.

plein air painting boat
High Tide, oil on canvas, 11″ x 14″ Prints available

The Gift of a Mentor

Initially I thought the painting might be a gift for my painting mentor, Bob Mayo. I was standing on his dock. He loved the little painting, yet refused to allow me to give it to him. “You sell this painting!” he instructed me.

Instead we gleefully discussed the details of the painting. To add the piling in the foreground? Which direction would it lean? How tall might it be? The boat needs an anchor to stop the eye from wandering off the edge. And so do I. His eyes twinkled. I felt his appreciation.

This is the benefit of having a painting mentor. When we are too blind to see our creative gifts, others call it out and set us straight. Without Bob, I’d have stopped painting long ago. And without a lot of other people too!

plein air painting boat
detail lights and shadows on the water with boat reflections

If you’ve followed my recent paintings, you know I have been focused on painting reflections in water. With this painting, I created the story structure first ~ cottage and boat ~ then focused on painting the reflections.

I began by making several thumbnail sketches to choose my composition. Did I wish to have the cottage dominant? Or the boat? How would I be able to fit so much subject matter on such a small canvas?

thumbnail sketches
thumbnail sketches, 1. cottage boat balance, 2. Boat emphasis, 3. Shadow emphasis, 4. Light emphasis

Indeed. These are the questions of my life! How DO I balance work and home? And how do I fit it all in to a life that is so full already?

plein air painting river
detail cottage with bird house, steps, sun light and shadows

The cottage reminds me of my own cottage in the woods by the pond. Looking at it now, I see it as symbolic of myself as well. Half light, half shadow … Even the vantage point of looking back at the cottage and myself seems uncanny now.

plein air paninting tree
detail cypress tree

Lost & Found

I had to move this cypress tree to place it at the correct spot in the painting to balance the composition. I didn’t think about it as a symbol. Yet now I wonder. I can think of many a painting I have painted with cypress trees. My husband Jim always referred to them as “the guardians.” Now there is just one, at the pivot point! The Creator is a remarkable spirit. It moves us to do the things that show us who we are!

I feel overjoyed to see this painting! The pleasure of painting it feels reassuring and complete. Last night I dreamed of a painting series ~ painted in “my own backyard.”

Today a friend messaged me to paint tomorrow at his home on the other side of the Piankatank River. Stay tuned!

Hidden Meaning in a Boat Painting

Do you remember my saying I wished my retreat in Tuscany would retrain the workaholic? While I was painting this, Bob walked out on his dock to say hello. “Oh! You’re painting the little work boat!”

Funny, I thought it was a fishing boat!

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