Fear of Boats

“Boat and Buoy”, 11″x14″ oil on canvas board by Robert Lewis
This morning…
The signs were not good. I drew back the curtain at 6am and saw gray clouds, not a hint of sun. Pacific Grove is known for fog so low hanging clouds is a good day…but not for painting. One of my rules is never to paint when it is overcast. However, this is training, training for a competition, and anything can happen in a competition. So the overcast rule is void. Anyway, I was looking for boats and all the boats are over the hill in Monterey. So often one drives over the hill and comes out of the fog into a silvery morning light, sparkling on the water and the boats. Though I held this vision in my mind like a grail, part of me was laughing, you fool! That’s because there was something about these clouds that told me Monterey would be cloudy too. I was right.

Early enough to park on pier 2 without feeding the meter, I set up my easel alongside the railing with a view to the east and a single boat. My spirits as gray and languid as the sky and water, I began the routine of laying out the palette and blocking in the shapes…uh…shape. One boat. And far away too. Too far, really, to paint it without a telescope. I’d forgotten my telescope! Everything went wrong, and had gone wrong from the beginning so midway through the painting I realized it would be a disaster, the painting would never be any good at all, ever. I’d broken every rule and what would happen is I would spend the rest of the painting trying to fix it! My other rule: when you realize you’re going to spend the whole time fixing the painting instead of painting the painting, get the palette knife out and scrape the canvas.

With all my heart, I honored this rule, glad that I was finally doing something right. Also, I decided that the boat was too far away and that I’d need to use my eyes like a telescope and zoom in closer so that I could see details in the painting.

Breaking the first rule of never painting when it was overcast made me realize that I had to paint in the sunlight even though I didn’t actually see it at that moment. By the time I would be nearly done with this painting the sun would have broken through and I could make a fair guess at how that would look. Best of all, I used my ace in the whole rule that says, solve any problem using artistic license. After all, you are an artist and you are temperamental (even if you aren’t; people believe you are, so might as well be!) put the sun in and full steam ahead. Using this nautical metaphor as my guide, I was finally on a good course, headin’ for port, arrrr…I could go on with these boat references but I won’t because, as you see, I have finally lost my fear and embraced my inner boat.

An odd thing happened that proves my good fortune and there is a photo to prove it. At one point in this painting there suddenly appeared several tiny dots of white, no larger that the head of a pin, all over the canvas. Could it be a little bit of mist or rain had hit the canvas and turned the oil paint white. Not likely. I stood there pondering this mystery for a minute, then I looked over at my car and saw an astounding sight. It was completely speckled head to toe, front to back with a vast splattering of avian rain, manna from bird heaven, celestial poop, the most bird droppings I’ve ever seen in one place. Only my car was spattered, none of the others. Just that bit of bird poop mist on my canvas. I marveled at the odds of it coming so close and missing me, and I was thankful I had dodged a whole box of bullets.

What I’m going to say now has nothing to do with the art of painting, but perhaps it does have something to do with the art of competing or, at least, being able to concentrate: Sometime I will have to talk about all of the annoying things that can happen while you are painting, such as the group of men who were fishing nearby. One of them laughed hysterically for 2 1/2 hours. I’m glad he was happy but I couldn’t hear what they were talking about, all I could hear was what came to sound like a maniac cackling away. Or, the guy who came up and stood too close for a minute, looking at my boat painting, finally asking “What are you painting?” I mean, what do say to a question like that?


Above, the hood of my car shortly after the mysterious shower.
Later, that afternoon…
It was my turn to sit my gallery today, a little one-room gallery in downtown Pacific Grove. Not much, but rather nice. I’ve had it for six years now. Having promised myself to paint two paintings today, like you might do in a competition, remember this is training, I set up my easel outside the gallery on the street. It’s not a bad view because looking down the street you can see the Monterey Bay. Oh, I forgot to tell you, it is sunny now…in Pacific Grove.

It’s funny how you can see a scene a thousand times and never really see it. Such was my experience today. For this little town, it is a rather ordinary scene, but there in the tree was a Chinese lantern, hung there because of an upcoming festival, inexplicably called the Feast of Lanterns. It is true there are a lot of lanterns, but not much feasting.

Painting on the street like this is an invitation for more comments that rub you the wrong way. Actually, I came to a realization about myself today, I’m really a grumpy, unfriendly person. For example, when someone comes up to me while I am painting and says “Oh, you look so peaceful.” what they don’t know is that I am so very close to biting their head off. Or, “What are you painting?” Again! My friend Jeff Daniel Smith, a wonderful painter, came by and we traded stories like this for half an hour, concluded that both of us are either getting old and impatient or are just intolerant people. I was almost convinced but prefer to think people just ask dumb questions. But, I don’t blame them, so don’t get me wrong. People are just trying to connect, and that’s really very nice. What else should they say?! (How ’bout nothing?)

The tree leans over against the building in this painting and creates a tunnel, at the end of which is lots of light and the bay. But before you can go there, the red lantern stops you.

“Chinese Lantern”, 9″x12″ oil on canvas board by Robert Lewis

Posted via email from Robert Lewis’ Sketchbook

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