While January means snow and cold for most of the United States, Florida tends to be selective in how much it participates. We stayed in town over Winter break. There were a few days I broke out a sweater, but several found me in the standard short sleeves and flip-flops.
Most of our break was low key. Stayed local, rested a lot, and took time to visit some picturesque areas around town.
Chisholm Park is about 15 minutes from us along the east side of East Lake Tohopekaliga (Toho for short). The park is beautifully shaded by a number of old live oak trees. Branches defy gravity, invited the adventurous to climb. Spanish moss drapes adding an air of mystery. We arrived about an hour before sunset and enjoyed our time watching the light cast shadows and light up leaves and moss. We walked along a horse path, listened to Sandhills cranes sounding like dinosaurs and even dipped our feet in the water. (While keeping an eye out for gators.) Not a bad way to end a winter day!
The left panel of swan sunset diptych
Acrylic on canvas
I had finished the first painting, intending it to be a stand-alone piece. It was pretty closely based on a photo I’d taken a while ago. I was reading/researching a little about swans when I came across some photos of swans with their babies, cygnets, riding along on the mom’s back, secure in her wings. I had a lot of skyline left so I decided to add a second panel. This piece was compiled from a few different images, and I wanted to match the scale, coloring, and tone of the previous piece. There is another portion of skyline left in between these two, but I don’t have the time right now to do a third at the moment. Maybe another time.
I spend a lot of time in my studio painting, alone. I listen to music, audio books and sometimes will catch up on a missed sermon. As I painted this piece I was listening to Jules Verne’s “20,000 leagues under the sea.” The fictional work detailing the underwater adventures of Pierre Arronax, a doctor and naturalist, who finds himself on board Captain Nemo’s the Nautilus. He taken aboard against his will, yet exposed to wonders of the sea, he finds he enjoys the journey to the point of being hesitant to leave. I still have many chapters to read and discover Mr. Aronax’s fate. (No spoilers please.)
The story makes me think about how many times figuratively, against my will, or despite planning or protests, I’ve found myself in unfamiliar waters. And I know I’m not alone. Plenty of stories out there of the underdog, in movies, literature, and the Bible has some amazing examples. We cheer when unforeseen, unfortunate circumstances are redeemed and lead to the hero overcoming. Right now I’m in the boat. I see the shore, but it seems impossible to reach. Some days my boat can be the Nautilus, containing and exposing me to treasures unknown. Other days it feels like a smelly leaky fishing boat, no motor, one oar on a stormy sea. I’d like to enjoy the journey, feeling as safe as a cygnet surrounded by its mother’s wings. Perception makes a world of difference.
Here are the two panels together, and some in progress shots.
I love vibrant colors. Flowers, sky, buildings. I’ve been searching for landscapes to paint with flowers. The seasons are muted here. No snow, very few trees change color and drop their leaves and no blossoming cherry trees or tulips in the spring. While I appreciate not freezing for the winter months, I’ve been missing the indicators of seasonal change. When you live in a place that has more defined seasons, a winter where life freezes and goes dormant, spring with its new life and promise of sunshine calls for a celebration.
So I was excited when a friend’s Facebook feed showed her family enjoying themselves locally in a field of sunflowers. A local farmer planted the field and made it a maze. About the time I found out about this place we entered into several days of heavy rain and storms. There was a day when although overcast it looked like there would be a break in the rain for a few hours. So off we went with towels and extra pairs of shoes. The sky was gray with thick clouds. The trails were soggy from all the rain. We felt a few drops fall as we were finishing. However, it was beautiful to see this field of brightness. Thousands and thousands of cheerful flowers.
Even though it was overcast all sunflowers faced the same direction. Others have observed and recorded the process of heliotropism, where the heads of young plants shift their faces following the sun throughout the day, then move back to the East to catch the sunrise! Scientists are unsure why this happens. I like the lesson, no matter what’s going on they look for the light, look for the source of life. I also appreciated that even on a cloudy day they didn’t close up, but were open and bright. Their circumstances didn’t affect their beauty. They knew even if they couldn’t “see” the sun, they were trained and knew it was still there.
I took lots of photos to use for a painting. And here is where I’m glad I’m a painter, not a photographer. The sky was pretty much cloudy and grey. I found inspiration for this sky from some photos taken last summer.
In March I completed a series of 20 some mini paintings. Quick sketches of sunrise and sunsets. They were quick to complete, loose brush strokes, unconcerned with detail, wonderful colors. There are a few of the mini paintings I did after completing a larger piece with the same subject. It’s a challenge for me to maintain the expressiveness in larger pieces that comes so easily in smaller ones.
For this piece I picked a small study I had done and aimed to produce something similar but larger. I put some detail into the bottom using photos I had of Knox farm as inspiration. Then for the sky I broke out bigger brushes, and mixed more colors. I wasn’t satisfied with the result, they looked like two parts that didn’t quite fit together. So I went back into the sky to add some small brush work.
Sometimes I finish pieces thrilled with how they came out. Other times I chalk it up to a learning experience. I struggle with paint transparency, and an interesting yet cohesive piece. We are all still in process. It can be easier to stick with things we know, or come easy. (I hear complaints daily from my teenager of when will she ever use some of what she is being taught.) Yet we cheer for each new milestone a baby reaches. History remembers and movies celebrate those who keep pushing themselves. Who didn’t give up when they failed, but learned from it.
When I visited St Augustine I was taken by the architecture of Flagler College and the Lightner Museum and learned they were formerly hotels built in the 1880s. What I didn’t realize was the Casa Monica was built around the same time and has its own history. It looks newer, more pristine yet still having the same style of the Spanish Renaissance. The newness comes from a remodel in the 1960s that covered the poured concrete with stucco. More renovations happened twenty years ago when the building was bought by Kessler hotels.
Originally the hotel was built by Franklin W. Smith, who built his house Villa Zorayda with the New poured concrete method. When Smith ran into financial difficulties Henry Flagler bought the hotel. It was connected by a bridge to the Hotel Alcazar (Lightner museum) at the turn of the century until the hotel closed with the Great Depression. At one point later it housed a courthouse.
As I was reading about the history of the hotel the phrase time stands still for no man came to mind. The building has remained, yet it’s gone through many changes over the decades. As time and history progress, it brings change. The challenge is to learn, and grow, improve as changes come.
White strung lights adorn many of the buildings and trees in the old part of St Augustine around Christmas time each year. They add to the beauty and charm of the buildings and street. We arrived as the sun was setting one night and found parking on a side street. We walked along enjoying the scenery of this old town. It was chilly for Florida and a brisk breeze came off the water. None the less, we enjoyed exploring and seeing buildings that belong to a different time.
This is the first in a new series of paintings depicting St. Augustine, Florida.
The town has a long history and there are many buildings with interesting details. This was taken near the Bridge of Lions facing Avenida Menendez avenue. The fort Castillo de San Marcos finished in 1695 is at the far end of the street. Lights wrap each palm tree and horse-drawn carriage awaiting tourists. Sailboats bobbed in the water of the Matanzas River.
As a child, I loved the book “the secret garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I loved the idea of a hidden away garden, a secret place full of life. Ask any parent and they will confirm children love making secret hideouts and can happily spend a day making a fort from cushions and sheets. Something in us longs for private sanctuary.
My family took a short trip to St. Augustine, Florida. Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, it is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement within the borders of the continental United States. It was fun to explore the narrow streets, take in the fort and other historic buildings. While searching for a bathroom we discovered Hotel Alcazar. It was built over a hundred years ago, and it now contains various shops and a museum, and an inner courtyard. Surrounded by an arched portico, the courtyard has palm trees, and other plants as well as a coy pond with a bridge. It’s own secret garden. A little place of peace and beauty to rest.
I joked around with my husband that instead of storm chasers we were sunset chasers. It was a cloudy day, so we took off just before sunset, driving a few miles to a spot where there was water and palm trees. We took a bunch of photos, one of which was the inspiration for “Orange Sunset at Lake Hart.” As we drove back the sky and clouds continued to change colors and we pulled over for a few more shots.
At times I will leave out lights and power lines from my paintings. In more simple compositions I enjoy the leading lines they bring to the piece.
Why do we chase beauty that is so fleeting? Why does taking in a beautiful sunset so something for our soul?
I think it’s because we are created for more, beauty reminds us to have hope.
Waves cresting, crashing, lapping at the shoreline, coming in and then receding back into the ocean. White foaming surf carrying along sand, shells and tiny sea creatures. The sun making a dramatic exit as it lights up the clouds, changing the sky into purples, oranges and yellows. Clouds darkening heavy with rain.
Vast, deep and mysterious people are drawn to the beach, not to simply work on their tans, but to rest and reflect on life. A place where one might be tempted to feel very small can be one that offers peace. Our surroundings, the constancy, serving a reminder that God is more than big enough to handle with care the details of our lives.
I’m showing my work at my first art festival this weekend. Florida has a lot of festivals, and a friend gave me a gentle nudge to jump in. While I was collecting items I would need to show off my work, (walls, and weights, packing supplies…) other artists offered their support and words of advice. One said to have some pieces at a lower price point. I leave prints and other reproductions to FineArtAmerica.com, not wanting to deal with upfront costs. But I dug out from under my bed some cute little 4×4 canvases waiting to be used.
I love finishing a big canvas. It has a presence and draws you into the scene. However, these small canvases were a breath of fresh air! No remixing paint, or worrying about capturing every detail. Their smallness was freeing. And, as I admired their more abstract nature it helped me to loosen up and enjoy painting large scale again.