Happiest when painting boats

Happiest when painting boats

Skylarking II, 18×24, oil on linen, $1855, includes shipping in the continental US.

Yesterday I talked to someone about taking my watercolor workshop aboard schooner American Eagle. We discussed some critical issues, like whether her husband was allowed to come with us. Snoring, I told her, is not a deal-breaker. (That, by the way, is the second most commonly-expressed concern after the food, which is fantastic. The answer is, nobody cares if you snore.)

She’s been out on the water herself many times. I hardly needed to tell her that Penobscot Bay is a transcendental experience. The ocean’s kaleidoscopic, mercurial change is part of what drags me back to painting boats over and over.

To me, boats represent the human condition-we sail on breezy days, through storms, and through the doldrums. We believe that, as captains of our own ships, we choose our own destiny, but that’s only marginally true. Skylarking II is a happy day; not all of my boat paintings are.

More than fifty years ago, long before the invention of modern weather forecasting and reporting, my dad was caught in a line squall on Lake Ontario. (Those were the bad old days when sailing on the Great Lakes was genuinely risky. With modern weather forecasting, it’s safer today.) That storm nearly swamped him. A year later, my family was caught in a personal tragedy that nearly swamped all of us.

Rainbow over Penobscot Bay. Yes, it rains in life, but that’s a necessary precondition for the rainbow.

On the flip side, I’ve taken personal risks that have worked out wonderfully. And I’ve stood on deck after a thunderstorm and watched the sky blossom with rainbow. The stories of boats and people often intersect.

I’m working on yet another boat picture in my studio, this time of the ketch Angelique. It’s no more based in reality than any of my other boat pictures. As always I’m having a great time working from imagination. The only real reference I have for my current painting is a photo of a nun, and even that has been significantly messed around.

“Why are these boats on different reaches?” an astute sailor once asked me about Skylarking II. The answer is, artistic license, of course. I wanted different sail shapes, although I can see how it would drive a purist crazy. But that’s not the point-the bouncing light, the clear green of the Camden Hills, and the sheer happiness of the day are what mattered to me. If painting boats brings you half the joy it brings me, my work here is complete.

My 2024 workshops:

  • Painting in Paradise: Rockport, ME, July 8-12, 2024.
  • Sea & Sky at Schoodic, August 4-9, 2024.
  • Find your authentic voice in plein air: Berkshires, August 12-16, 2024.
  • Art and Adventure at Sea: Paint Aboard Schooner American Eagle, September 15-19, 2024.
  • Immersive In-Person Workshop: Rockport, ME, October 7-11, 2024.