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From Mosquitoes to Fire Ants: Plein Air Painting in Florida

Oil Painting of Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, modeled after GivernyWhat I did not write about in my blog post last weekend, Plein Air at Torreya State Park, Bristol, Florida, was that there were a few bugs.  Mosquitoes and spiders to be specific.  Actually there were more than a few.  There were gazillions of them.  I stayed covered up with a long-sleeved shirt and long lightweight pants the entire 95º weekend, despite the humidity.  It was in the early hours of the first night that I realized I had made a terrible mistake, that I had failed to consider all the possibilities for my heavenly plein air retreat in the woods.  It never even occurred to me that I would actually need the repellant I always pack when I backpack..  After suffering through the first night with not one but two mosquitoes in my tent, I learned that I would need to slather every square inch, exposed or not,  with a good herbal repellant.  The mosquitoes bit right through my clothes.

Ordinarily the suffering that goes with plein air painting is mimimized by the thrill of the process.  There is nothing quite like the race against time to figure out and capture the light and colors of a scene.  So began my painting at this week’s session with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, a coffee shop occupying a copy of Giverny complete with gardens and a water lily coy pond near Grayton Beach, Florida.  It has become a favorite location for our group.  There must have been 15 or 20 painters there this week.  I had gotten a good start when I became aware of something biting my ankles.  I swatted a couple of times, sprayed some repellent on, and kept on painting.  All of a sudden with a clear understanding of what it must be like to be burned at the stake, I looked down to see the horror of a whole troop of ants setting my ankles on fire!  Anyone who lives in the southern United States knows exactly what I am talking about, but anyone not from the South cannot even imagine it.  Fire ants have a strategy of climbing onto your feet and legs en masse with the stealth of a cat burglar, and then upon some mysterious signal, all biting at the same time.  It literally feels like your feet are on fire.  Determined to hold my position and finish my painting, I found an extra paint shirt in my pickup and laid it on the ground in front of my easel.  Unbelievably, it worked — the ants stayed underneath the shirt while I stood on top of it.  Above is my painting of the building called Monet Monet at Grayton Beach, painted from the top of the fire ant mound across the street.  I almost always re-size my paintings for internet publication, but I decided to post a higher-resolution version so you can see the details.  You may have to click on the image when it first opens, to allow it to display at full magnification.  It’s not as distinctly focused as I would like, but it gives you an idea of the number of colors and fast-and-furious brushstrokes that go into a 2-hour painting.  Click here for very large image Of the Monet Monet painting.

Last night I had a little fun painting in my studio. I have mentioned before that I serve on the A+Art Committee of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County.  We will be showing members’ art made on 10″ x 10″ wood panels in a show called “One Size Fits All”.  All the panels will be priced at $100, of which the artist will get $80 and the remaining $20 will go to CAA.  I’ve already painted the two panels I am submitting, which I blogged about in Painting Under The Gun.  But if any of our paintings sell, we are allowing the buyer to take it home with them, and the selling artist then can fill the empty space with another painting.  I decided to paint a couple of extra paintings because I intend for mine to sell.  (Hint, hint, local patrons!!)  I love the iconic blue herons we see here everywhere there is water — docks, shorelines, even roadside ditches.  I tried out a new color combination in this painting.  I used a craggy piece of driftwood to make the lines of the grasses, which resulted in a much less controlled and more interesting jumble of lines than if I had put them in with a familiar tool or scraper.

Oil painting of blue heron standing on purple, brown, and orange stripes

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