Today was a day for painting rocks. I managed to get in two paintings, both quarter sheets and since tomorrow is a travel day I’ll save the other one for then. I painted for the first time at Halibut Point State Park last year and it is one of the most special places in this area. One of the things I notice most when I’m there is the quiet. You can hear the ocean waves breaking in the distance but the only sound you hear at the quarry is the birds — mostly gulls along with a few ducks — along with the odd teenager or two, defying the park rules by jumping off the cliffs into the water.
I discovered a great spot today with a perfect view of the yacht club in Rockport and the iconic red Motif # 1 in the background. The perfect spot for me always includes shade and this was even better because I found a high wall to sit on and with space to set up my easel below. It is only now, looking at Motif from my deck that I realize I forgot to add the chimney so that will have to be done tomorrow. You can’t paint an iconic building with a part of it missing. It’s just not right.
What makes a good subject for a sketch? For me it’s always a scene with a lot of contrast. This beach was perfect — those dark rocks, the white surf, and lots of interest in between. If you look closely at the sketch (and I’m not sure if this will be visible from an iPhone photo) you’ll also see some great texture in the rocks. Created thanks to a great gust of wind that blew sand into the wet washes, onto my palette, and all over my brushes. I’m still cleaning it out of the damp paint.
What is the first area you work on when you start a sketch? This is something I’ve been thinking about as I plan my West Coast summer workshops. The answer is not always clear, but for this sketch it was obvious. The centre of interest is the area where I most often begin because it’s where you find the greatest contrasts, the brightest colours and the most detail. The light was quite good on the buoys when I started my sketch so that was the place to begin. And the time I spent sketching there was relatively uneventful except for the five minutes when a police cruiser came speeding towards me — lights flashing — and slammed on his brakes in front of me. Fortunately it was the owner of an illegally parked car he was looking for, not me!
Yesterday in my post I mentioned the many challenges of plein air painting. For me one of the most difficult is painting in full sun. When my paper is not in shade the white of the sheet blasts back at me, bleaching out everything and making colours impossible to see. Despite that, I painted the Annisquam lighthouse in full sun, sitting on the rocks, watching the tide advance and threaten to wash both me and my painting out to sea. Well it really wasn’t that close but I was sitting on rocks that are submerged at high tide, so there was a certain urgency to complete this before the water came in. Size: 11″ x 15″ painted on Fabraino soft press paper.
Last year when I first started painting around Rockport and Cape Ann I realized how much granite was in the area. This morning on a walk I found Granite Pier (it’s amazing how much more you discover when you are on foot rather than in a car!) and went back there with my easel and paints. When I sketch in the city the buildings act as a break from the wind but when you are out by the sea you are really at the mercy of the elements. I set up in the shade of a boat on a trailer on the upper parking level of the pier and that provided some protection, until the boat’s owner towed it away and I was in the open. At that moment a great gust of wind caught my easel and then I knew it was time to pack it up and go home…
There’s no shortage of harbour views in Rockport and each panorama changes with the rising and falling tide, the light at different times of the day, the sun and clouds and the boat traffic churning up the water. This isn’t the really busy part of the harbour where the working boats come in and out – I’ll get to that another day. For now I am content to take in a quieter view and the distant shore.
After a really long car ride in rain that alternated between driving and torrential, I am happy to be sketching in Rockport again this year. The first sketch is from my window of the lobster traps and the fading light over the town. I arrived just in time to buy the freshest fish for dinner and get in a drawing of the guys hosing down the deck at Roy Moore Lobster Co. Hopefully the weather will clear tomorrow and there will be lots more of this. Sketch. Eat fish. Sketch. Eat fish.
It’s good to shake things up sometimes, get out of your comfort zone, go a little crazy with paint and see what happens. Last week I painted this same scene of a boggy area in Mount Royal Park but made a design error by spacing the trees out too evenly, like little soldiers. I wanted to paint the swamp again and figured I had nothing to lose by using the back of another unsuccessful painting. There are some pencil lines for the main trees but other than that I just wanted to give the impression of the bog and the deep woods so I wet the sheet on both sides and let the paint and water flow. It’s a little rectangle of green chaos but I’m happy I lost control of this for many reasons. 1. It’s the only way to learn what the paint will do. 2. It made me realize just how much pigment you can put on wet paper. 3. It was really fun to try something new. Colours: Mostly Hooker’s Green and Indranthrene Blue with a bit of Cerulean Blue, Yellow Ochre and Burnt Umber. Brushes: Simmons 1″ synthetic flat and Escoda Versatil Synthetic Sables which are turning out to be excellent brushes.
I must have looked a bit suspicious standing on the side of the street scribbling in a notebook. So suspicious that the owner of the house approached to find out if I was some sort of town inspector fining her for leaving these bowls by the curb. But the story is that after walking by this arrangement for many days I just had to carry my sketchbook on a dog walk and stop to record it. Last year I noticed the bowl of water for thirsty dogs and this spring there’s a new addition of a bowl of cookies. Let me correct that — a fine selection of cookies. Along with a bit of advertising, I guess due to recent scares of tainted dog treats. These bowls go in at night and come back out in the morning with fresh water and a new choice of treats. This may be a common sight in your neighbourhood but not in mine!