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!

Order a print of this story>




5 Tips for Watercolor Journaling in Tuscany

Let the Tuscan colors seep into your life

Watercolor Journaling is for anyone who loves color.

No prior experience is necessary to enjoy painting in Tuscany.


Grab your colors ~ Ultra light, portable watercolor palette, brush and journal is all you need to experience being an artist under the Tuscan sun.

watercolor journaling in Tuscany
Sitting on a park bench over looking the hillside village, I painted this small watercolor sketch in my journal.


Paint on the fly! Pocket watercolors with watercolor postcards are easy to paint on a cafe table or park bench. No easel or heavy equipment and paints are required.

watercolor journaling in Tuscany
This tiny watercolor is inspired by the laughter from our Tuscan dinner party. I think it captures the warmth and friendship of two houses coming together!


Make your paintings sparkle with tiny white spaces between your colors. White adds whimsy and fun.

watercolor journaling in Tuscany
This little watercolor journal entry is just one of many whimsical building in nearby Greve. We visited the market there, enjoyed vibrant Tuscan colors.


Try Watercolor crayons to add linear details. On wet let them bleed. On dry paper their pigments will flow when a wash is applied over top.

Tuscan cooking lessons
Danilo’s dinner party inspired this little watercolor sketch in my journal.


Use a light touch to add whimsy. Look to see vibrant colors. Practice 10 minutes a day to train your eyes.

watercolor journaling in Tuscany
Delicate washed colors from my watercolor jouranal spilled over onto my oil paintings.

Learn to capture simple vignettes that express your inner artist. Go with the flow and bring home inspiration.

watercolor journaling in Tuscany
Watercolor journaling is easy and fun for beginners and advanced painters. Ultra portable, it’s quick and easy to paint in a cafe while waiting for Chianti.

Find out how you can go on a Tuscan Creativity Retreat with me Learn More>

Get dates for my next Muses of Tuscany Retreat



Coming to the River Painting Exhibit @ Studio Gallery

Coming Home to the river, my new exhibit is hung!

Open Daily in May

Dorothy Fagan oil paintings
Ebb & Flow, oil on canvas

I am really excited about this exhibit!

Believe it or not ~ this exhibit is inspired by my retreat in Tuscany! The fusion of colors ~ earth tones with jewels, pastels with intense, neutrals with saturated colors ~ is a direct result of my retreat project of letting the Tuscan Lifestyle seep into my life and paintings.

Reflections in ponds, streams, marshes and creeks juxtaposed by earthy, etched details carved with palette knife into richly colored, buttery oil paint.  

Nearly two years hence you can see for yourself.  Tuscan Palettes saturate the paintings of my pond, right in my own backyard.

Also included in this exhibit are paintings of vineyards and dreamy Tuscan landscapes, from my backyard in Tuscany.

On view through June 3.  Call or text me & come by and see it. 

Preview paintings from this exhibit online>