Six children, eight kites, a five gallon cooler, four grown-ups & Grammy!
If you notice, I didn’t list Grammy with the grown ups. No mistake!
Painting en plein air with my grandchildren on the beach, I became a kid again.
Thinking I might capture quick portraits of the kids playing in the water, I hauled my painting gear over the dunes and set up my easel near the water.
Instead, 10-year-old Fiona watched me paint her mom and dad side by side with their kites ~ being kids!
I showed her how to block in the colors. Not too serious, simple shapes to make the eye think it is looking at a real kite!
Who knew I was talking to myself?
Looking at the picture of Fiona painting her ocean of dreams, with her dad watching over her ~ I see myself and my own dad.
Painting with Fiona that day shifted my gears. Somewhere between the paintings, I took my own advice and played with chunks of color.
It happened first as I played with this small painting of the lighthouse. At first I didn’t see the lighthouse. I knew it was there, so I walked down the beach to get a closer look.
Selecting this vantage point, I blocked in chunks of color. At first the lighthouse was light against light clouds. Then I changed angles slightly and began to see it as a shadow shape in front of the light background.
Seeing darks and lights is a lot like seeing the cup half full or half empty. I had become so avert to looking at the dark side of life, it was difficult to see the dark shapes. Light and dark define us. Einstein said everything is relative. And so it is!
Adding the line of dark dune grasses defines the foreground ~ and creates space beyond for us to see the lighthouse.
Does it look like lady liberty to you too? or is it just me?
I did see the light that day. Without even realizing anything had changed, I painted “World on a String.” While three of the kids flew their kites in the dunes, I played with color.
Simple and to the point. And yet …
It’s taken me a couple weeks to realize the shift in these paintings ~ and in myself. I set them aside and worked on my fabric project. Coming back to them, I feel the utter playfulness and joy I felt that day.
And I realize their exuberance and joy is now mine to treasure for a lifetime!
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!
I’ve heard it said that you can never go home again. I don’t know if this is true or not. Last month I went home for the last time. What I discovered made me glow . . .
Can you feel it in this painting?
Each color juxtaposes another, shimmering reflections in the river where I played as a girl. I wish you could see this painting in person. It is three by four feet and glows when you stand beside it.
Revisiting my childhood home in October, I walked trails where I played as a kid. It really struck me ~ how clearly and distinctly inspiration for my artistry was formulated ~ from a very early age.
I went home to attend a class reunion, though my family no longer lives in the area. It seemed a one-time window of opportunity to visit Mom and Dad’s grave and the graves of both sets of my grandparents. I found myself thinking of a trail where we’d hiked many times, down behind our house on the hill.
Waking up in the hotel Saturday morning, my attention was fixed on coffee and the wooden bridge where Dad and I’d taken a picture on a rock by the stream. Googling Panera, I quickly checked off the first order of business. Remembering that I would need cash for the reunion later in the day, google directed me to my bank.
Many roads looked unfamiliar when a sign “Indian Trail” sparked something vague. Around the narrow neighborhood street, Indian Lake appeared in full autumn splendor. Crimson trees reflected in deep ultramarine water, houses nestled closely together. I parked and got out of the car.
The only thing I remember of living in that little cottage on Indian Lake are two photographs. One of me with my sister, in a cardboard box on a sled ~ being pulled across the frozen lake. The other, a photo of me tethered to the tree in the yard ~ so I would not fall in the lake! We moved when I was 3.
Discovering My Vision for Life & Artistry
Visiting the places I walked with my dad, feels like stitching pieces of a quilt together. My new series of paintings, Coming to the River, is that quilt. In my next post, I will show you more of my inspiration for the quilt and how the pieces fit together.