For me, it’s people who love color. Like beautifully colored moths, we are all drawn to the light.
The invitation to paint at Mary Claire’s garden party was such an attraction. In my mind’s eye I could already see them gathering.
Arriving about 30 minutes before her guests, members of the Old Ivy Garden Club of Richmond, I set up my easel and staked out a vantage point. I took my wobbly old French easel because I envisioned painting a 24″ x 30″ canvas, too big for my small plein air easel.
Cobalt Blue is the dominant color of Mary Claire’s garden. Flower pots and striped parasols define the space. Cottage garden tables and chairs painted white are covered with comfortable pastel throws. A bright blue tablecloth with lemonade and peach cake laid out the flow of conversation and movement.
I like to tone my canvas with gold ochre undertone in the studio. Rather than spending valuable time covering up white canvas on site, lovely warm earth tones peek through my cobalt blue shadows, immediately adding sparks.
As I added a quick indication of the lights, the first group of guests arrived. I stopped to meet them. Several are painters. All avid gardeners to be sure!
When I took the painting back to the studio, I found myself imaging Mary Claire’s hydrangeas wrapped around the women. The striped parasols, peach cake and lemonade, I imagined them wearing all of it! But that’s another story.
It took me two weeks to finish the painting. Adding warm lights, I refined the colors and shapes section by section.
Warm highlights on on the flowers and leaves popped them foreword, inviting the eye to explore.
A few scrolls lead the eye upward and suggest the casual cottage style of the party.
Playful interpretation of stripes of the parasols sets them in motion. One angled right, the other left in a dance to and fro. Vibrant Tangerine accents counterplay the Cobalt Blue, bringing the undertones of the canvas to the surface with sparks of light.
Oh, and about those fabrics of the hydrangea, parasols and peach cake ~ the article about them will be out soon!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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
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 Follow my painting journal from Virginia to Italy and beyond, Subscribe!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 Follow my painting journal from Virginia to Italy and beyond, Subscribe below!