In which, seduced by the color of pretty little boats, the artist becomes the victim of snow blindness and so can’t paint worth a damn. That’s my excuse.
Loading up the bike and speeding north along the bike path from Pacific Grove to Monterey harbor and just beyond Pier 2 to Del Monte Beach, the brilliant colors of this sunny day buoyed my mood. The day before, on the way back from the dunes (see Monterey, a Mediterranean View) I had seen how happy and vivid Del Monte Beach could be on a sun-filled day. The nearly white sand threw light on every subject, kayaks to kids, to gulls and girls.
So I came back to capture some of this brightness, pulled my bike up under a monterey cypress and set up my easel for an easy view. A couple of quick oil sketches were all I had in mind, and how could I go wrong with this scene? But some days, every artist must admit, you simply can not paint.
More like, you can see the easel, can see the brush in your hand, it is moving, it is laying down paint, but who is actually painting? Not you. You couldn’t paint so badly, must be some evil painting devil has possessed you and, laughing at you, means to show you how little control you really have. Moments like these teach one to be humble. I, for one, need a lot of humility, but give me a break!
Anyway, any smugness that was in me this morning was burned away in the bright sun and the influence of my inner devil. (Take note, in the pictures, of that sand. It is bright.) My first sketch proved what I said above about not being in control. I include it here in this post as a sign of my honesty and as yet another blow at my smugness. This painting fails in so many ways and teaches me the meaning of humility and is a measure of my progress as a painter: some days I can paint, some days I can’t. Actually, this sad truth, being inconsistent in my quality, is something I struggle with continually and it drives me mad.
Along about now I was joined by my old dad, Bill Lewis, who plunked his 87-year-old self down on the sand, coffee cup in hand. He swears that McDonald’s coffee is the best. Nice to have his company. And, to redeem myself as a painter, I pulled out a new 14×11 canvas panel to paint another sketch, having hidden the first one away in my wet-canvas carrier strapped to my bike. By this time my eyes were a bit tired, I thought, but it hadn’t occurred to me to put on any sunglasses; rarely do I paint with dark glasses, though I do have a theory that it is okay to do so since they shouldn’t affect the painting. After all, you look at the scene and see the colors and you mix the colors on the palette, all with the glasses on. Theoretically, the color should be unaffected by the shades.
Dad kept me company as I zoomed in on the kayaks and did a very quick sketch of a line of them, using a large brush and refusing to do any detail. By now I was tired from standing so long and, frankly, sick of painting and being a painter, irritated at the passing tourists, the screaming seagull, the blaring sand, and my inability to paint. Disgusted all around, I finished up the painting, packed up, and walked my bike back to Fisherman’s Wharf accompanied by an old man who is ever cheerful. I do believe that my father did not give me any of his cheerful genes but hogged them all for himself. God bless him anyway.
By evening, my tired eyes were stinging badly and I realized I was again the victim of snow blindness, ultraviolet keratitis, a condition I first experienced when Dad moved us to Alaska in the early ’50s. Basically, sunburn of the eyes, this is something to be avoided. Any time, as a painter, you are faced with a highly-reflective surface, water, sand, snow, sidewalk, the sun’s rays are bouncing into your eyes at full force. If you think about it, it’s nearly as bad as staring at a bright sky under the sun. Today I got sunburn of the eyes, snow blindness. I’m going to buy a good pair of sunglasses that will fit over my regular glasses!