How Inspiration Sprouted from a Week at the Beach


It all began with Happy Dance  ~ how I felt after three days at the beach with my sister-in-law!

I painted at sundown on our last night. Two weeks later …

Potted Joy
Potted Joy

inspiration grew from a seedling into a prolific garden

This week it spread to a whole garden of dreams.

Sundown at the beach
Sundown at the beach

I painted this small plein air painting at sundown on our last night at the beach. 

Happy Dance by Dorothy Fagan copyright 2016
Happy Dance, prints available

When I returned home, I kept fiddling around with all the paintings. This one kept niggling at me to paint it large. Finally, I consented to give it a try.

I prepared a 30 x 40 inch canvas with light terra cotta primer. Then washed the colors of Happy Dance in loosely. Strokes of happiness bottled up inside spewed across my painting.  

I grabbed a twig of willow charcoal and drew back into the wet paint, gently coaxing the color into form. 

Potted Joy by Dorothy Fagan copyright 2016
Potted Joy, prints available

Potted Joy? Did I know I was potting my joy? or that the pots symbolized anything at all? No!

I just felt it the urge to paint it. Like an itch, I had to do something about it so I picked up a brush and let loose.

prolific garden of paintings sprouted from it. I had no idea that following this urge to paint would create a wondrous and joyful container garden!

See more Joy’s Garden Paintings>


A Lily Pond of My Own | Painting Right in My Own Backyard

Right in my own backyard has double meaning in this series. Yes I have a pond outside my studio windows. Yet there is so much more here. And my pond doesn’t look like this!

Painting Right in My Own Backyard

In this story ‘my own backyard’ is inside me. I am painting these from within, NOT from any garden or pond that I have seen or painted. This is important. You may have read the beginning of this story last summer, when the first inkling came from a tiny watercolor I’d painted on my first day in France two years prior.

Water Lily Painting
A Lily Pond of My Own, oil

The unfinished paintings were clipped to a single board in the corner. Showing something else to a client, I moved a canvas exposing them to view. The one above was on top. Across the studio its colors coaxed me to stop what I was doing and listen.

I put her on the easel and sat in my chair across the room to hear what she had to say that was so urgent. An overwhelming urge for Ultramarine Blue in the shadow areas of the pond got me out of my chair. Mixing it up, I swung my brush rapidly at those places on the painting. More paint. More brush work. Sit back down.

Dorothy Fagan studio
The three canvases each took their own clip board, spreading out across the studio.

Color & Perception

In the photo you can see how I paint. The chair is on wheels back to the far right out of view ~ twenty feet from my easels. My palette is a large glass slab for mixing, a side table for tubes of paint, and a 7-drawer tabouret just below the cans of paint brushes.

Much of my color mixing is done by the viewers’ eye. Seen from across the room, you automatically blend color fields of paint. Seen up close, the paint is dry brushed like pastel over opposing colors. This creates a vibration in the way each color is perceived.

A Pond of My Own
A Pond of My Own, oil

A Lily Pond of My Own

Wanting to make everyone happy, to satisfy myself and keep the peace is a tall order. A bleeding heart I think they call it. An impossible role to fulfill sufficient to keep a person busy for a lifetime.

So. If peace is right in my own backyard and all I had to do was paint it how it feels to me ~ why oh why did it take me so long? And why do I feel like I can spend the rest of my life saying it over and over again?

I’ve always lived and painted in my own pond. Now I know enough not to mis-take everyone else’s as mine. Bleeding heart healed.

Expressionist Realism Pastels

People have often asked me, “what is your painting style?” For many years I resisted answering. I didn’t want to pigeon hole myself. Whenever someone asked, I could feel myself wiggling inside to get loose of the question, as if it was meant to entrap me!

This week I found the answer quite unexpectedly.

Expressionist Realism.

Jackson Pollock painting
Jackson Pollock’s paintings were an exploration of creative energy. While they appear like random splashes at first, the whole reflects the energy of the artist’s body and heart movement.

I am fully aware that these two terms are thought to be opposites! When you think of Expressionism, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko immediately pop to mind. Pollock with his larger than life calligraphy and Rothko with his color field paintings.

Mark Rothko painting
Mark Rothko’s paintings explore the juxtaposition of color energies.

Realism? Neither Pollock nor Rothko fit in the sentence. Realism conjures up photo-realistically, meticulously-painted images without any brush strokes. While Realism was first called such in the mid-1800s, an wonderful example of contemporary realism is Robert Neffson’s painting, Grand Central.

Neffson photo realism painting
Neffson’s paintings explores the genre of contemporary realism, taking what began in the early 1800s to new depth.

While I have enjoyed these artists paintings, I clearly am not either style. I have always been a colorist. And certainly my energetic calligraphic brushwork is an integral part of my paintings. It never occurred to me that my style is a hybrid, Expressionist Realism. That is, until this week.

When I picked my pastels back up, I had no intention of returning to large scale painting with pastel ~ much less coming home to my own distinct style. But once I did the tulip painting, I couldn’t help myself!

abstract floral painting
Lamb’s Ear & Poppies, pastel, 40 x 30

Abandoned in my stack of unfinished pastel works ten years ago, this painting helped fuse my heart-felt calligraphy and color field work together. Pulling it out of storage, the colors felt dead tired. I put her on the big easel and let her breathe for a few days. Still the colors felt heavy. I didn’t see much point in reworking it. I let her stay in the studio beside me nonetheless.

This week as I was painting something else, I caught a flash of bright sunny yellows in the field beyond the garden. Intrigued I moved the panel, a 40 x 30″ hand-gessoed marble-dust rag board, to my pastel easel by the window.  What can it hurt to try?, I thought.

expressionist realism
detail flash of yellow light, pastel

Did I know I was on a bridge between Expressionism and Realism?


I simply grabbed for the flash and cut Deep Cadmium Yellow pigment into the field behind the lamb’s ear. This muted the too-dark red poppy. Encouraged I continued took another step.

abstract floral painting
detail, Lambs Ear & Poppies

Warm and cool yellows alternating, lit the space behind the garden. Lavender brought life into the shadowed leaves. Finally pink cheeks on the lamb’s ear blossoms opened them softly, against the sunny disposition of the renewed field.

Finally, I saw them. Bright red poppies blooming in the foreground. I roughed them in. They shifted the eye to the left column, counter-balancing the sunny backdrop.

The thing about Expressionism and Realism didn’t hit me right away. Full expression, heart and soul, IS the only reality that is true and right. Each of us has a purpose in this life. Expressing who we are, fulfilling our purpose is the only reality that ultimately matters.

Why have I invested so much time and energy in searching for reality anywhere else?

Are you searching for your own creative outlet? Download my book, Discovering Joy’s Garden