Just one palm

As a Canadian girl, palms trees are a mystery to me. Of course, I’ve sketched them many times on various holidays but I’ve never really studied their forms and colours up close. I set up my easel intending to paint a full scene, but decided that it might be more interesting to really look at one tree, and try to paint it in direct watercolour (no pencil) by putting colour next to colour. And it was then that I realized how many colours you can find in a palm. Deep greens, pale yellows, rusts and purples. And that is just in the fronds. The trunks are yet another study in colours and textures. And in case you are curious about brushes, I have tried many but found that a dagger brush works really well for the pointy ends of the fronds.

Historic Bunche Beach

What an interesting background story Historical Bunche Beach has, and this is excerpted from the panel at the entry path to the beach:

“Bunche Beach was named to honour Dr. Ralph Johnson Bunche (1903 -1971) scholar, educator, civil rights advocate and world statesman. He was the first person of color to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for his successful mediation of the first war between Israel and its neighbouring states of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
In December 1949, Bunche Beach was dedicated as the beach for Blacks. At this time, it was the only beach in Lee County that persons of color could enjoy without rushing harassment or arrest. Close to 5,000 people attended the dedication.
In 2001, 705 acres of surrounding land consisting of 1 mile of beachfront and sensitive salt marshes were purchased by Lee County. The site is now preserved for all people to enjoy and provides habitat for wildlife such as the piping plover that uses the site as a winter home.”

Alice on vacation

Alice likes her days in Sanibel. There’s a walk in the morning and a walk at the end of the day. If she’s lucky, both of these are on the beach. She’s getting used to walking on shells, ripping apart the fibrous insides of beach coconuts, barking at pelicans, and dipping her paws in the salt water. At the end of a walk she likes to sleep on her bed but often her head is resting on the cool floor. That’s when I like to draw her, using Procreate on my iPad.

Shrimp docks and bug beach

I’m catching up on plein air painting. This week I’ve been trying to paint one or two small (10 x 14″) watercolours every day. The results are uneven. Some are bad. I’m happy with a few of them. But the result doesn’t matter as much as the fact that I am out there, looking at stuff and moving paint around on the paper.

Yesterday morning was foggy, and I thought the fog would burn off by late morning but it stuck around all day. I painted from a tiny cove on San Carlos Bay. The distant palms and the Sanibel Fishing Pier kept appearing and disappearing in the mist, the fog horn was blowing at the lighthouse, but the most unforgettable thing for me was that I neglected to carry my bug spray and came home with dozens of bites from the famous no see ums (biting midges in scientific terms). They like me a lot.

This morning I carried by bug spray and my painting bag out to where the shrimp fleet comes in on San Carlos Bay. It’s my favourite spot in the area, and I’ve painted there many times before. I tried to paint this one quickly (big flat brushes work best for this) because the only shade was under a small tree, so I think it was done in about an hour, with a few lines of rigging and other details added when I got back home.

Toasted on both sides

I doubt this man on the beach saw me sketching him. I was quite a distance away. I think he was just a restless guy who moved around a lot, or else someone who wanted to make sure he had an even tan.

With backlit figures like this you can’t see much detail in the shadows, so my technique with quick sketches like this is just to look at where the highlights are. The rest of the figure is quite dark, and warm. The little white shapes I try to save are the slim, upward facing ones. That means I need a brush with a good point on it. I was lucky with this guy. He held each pose long enough for my quick pencil lines and then a few saturated washes with my brush. And then when he was toasted on both sides, he packed up his chair and went on home.

Good stuff

I have to admit, I am a sucker for a bunch of stuff with some good light on it. This good stuff is at the boatyard where the shrimp fleet comes in on San Carlos Island. My original intention was to paint the docked boats but I got there too late to find any shade, plus it seems like most of the boats were out in the gulf.

So why does this good stuff appeal to me so much? When I’m out looking for something to paint, I’m searching for good shapes to put into a composition. This spot had many. Plus I’m looking for contrasts, and again, this was a winner. White pails in sun, deep darks behind, and all of that against a middle value wall. Add to that some spots of pure colour, a shady place to set up my easel, and I’m a happy girl.

Causeway parking

The Sanibel causeway connects the island to the mainland, but it’s more than just a bridge. There are two man-made islands halfway across the span where you can pull your car over and park right on the beach. It’s a very busy spot for fishing, picnics, windsurfing, sunset watching, dolphin spotting and of course, painting. I was planning on doing some people sketching, but the view of the parked cars under the trees was so nice that I chose that instead. I’ll have to go back to sketch the people another day. Painted on a pad of Arches CP paper, 14” x 11”.

Calico crab

Sanibel Beach is known for an abundance of shells, but when I walk in the morning, especially if it’s low tide, I come upon other things that are of interest for sketching. Today it was starfish. Yesterday it was spotted Calico crabs. They were all over the place, both live and dead specimens. We directed the live ones back into the waves, but the deceased one came back to my spot on the beach with me and got added to my beach still life. Sketched in a Handbook watercolour journal, 8″ x 8″.

Two days of sketches

As promised, I did create some swatches with my Quinacridone Coral. Not a very scientific method, I’ll admit, because I was sitting on the beach and using a container of dirty water to clean my brush. But this did help to show me that this is a great colour for a tropical scene. I also used it to create some warmth in the shadows on the little vignette of the house and palms.

The beach is my favourite place for people sketching. I sketch them as they stand near the shore watching the pelicans dive. I also try to capture them as they walk down the beach. Sometimes I sketch the same person in several positions, like the woman reading her book in a recliner — sitting up and then turning over and leaning on her elbows. My go-to flesh colour for light skin is Burnt Sienna, diluted to match how sunburned the models are.

I also had a chance to sketch another Fort Myers home this morning. I never get tired of the shapes of palm trees and how they add a vertical contrast to the sprawling houses in the area.

Yellow house, Fort Myers

Quinacridone Coral is a colour I’ve started experimenting with lately. Usually when I try a new colour, I use it on its own first to get to know it, but that hasn’t happened yet. So far, all I’ve done is added it to a spot in my palette and dipped into it for sketching flowers. But I have a feeling it will be beautiful as a colour to use in mixes. That means I’ll need to paint out some swatches and combine it with some of the other favourite colours on my palette. For now I can say that it makes a beautiful dark for foliage when I add it to Deep Sap Green, as well as a gorgeous glowing orange when I add a bit of yellow to it. And since there’s yellow in almost all of the scenes I’ve been painting in Florida, I have a feeling it will soon become a new favourite. More to come soon about Quin Coral.