My paintings usually start on location, but my latest commission began with a google search. The client, who lives in the Washington DC area and vacations in Maine, had found me through a keyword search for painters of sailboats. She described her dream:
"For twenty two years, I've closed my eyes each night and pictured my little house on the coast, the front porch, the late afternoon sails on my little boat. Thinking of those things brought me the most peaceful feeling."
I usually paint from life, but sailboats move too fast to sketch accurately. While visiting my family on Nantucket Island, I headed to the Rainbow Parade with my DSLR Nikon camera. From Brant Point I was close enough to capture the old wooden boats sailing past the lighthouse. I couldn't simply copy the photo because the client asked for a Maine background and Nantucket Island is in Massachusetts.
Maine is farther north and has a different feel: the islands are rocky and coniferous. The day I set out to paint at Lookout Point, the sky turned an ominous grey as the tide was falling.
I worked quickly but the sea became mudflats as raindrops fell, blurring the paint. In the rush to finish, I'd also gone too dark. Watercolor is the most challenging of all paint media because there is no way to fix a mistake. You can go darker, but you can't go lighter. My painting was a disaster.
My husband boiled the soft shell lobsters on the barbecue and picked them out of their shells. He'd bought a bouquet of calla lilies to cheer me up.
A fresh farmers' market salad, baked potatoes and locally brewed Shipyard Ale rounded out the meal. It was a happy ending to a disappointing day.
Another day, another attempt, this time at home. It was getting too chilly to work outside. I set up my laptop with the Nantucket sailboat photo and propped up a more successful watercolor of mine of Lookout Point. Blending memory and imagination, I merged the images in my head.
Before painting a watercolor, I do several gesture drawings in a sketch book. These 30 second ink sketches of the main elements allow me to test several compositions before committing to paint.
The penultimate stop was the framers in Topsham. I usually frame watercolors in natural wood, but this client had decorating restrictions. My watercolor might hang with family heirlooms in gold gilt frames or beside other pictures framed in black-painted wood. I emailed photos of the options. Since it was hard to visualize how well this would integrate in her new home, she decided to use her local framer.
UPS fragile packed the painting, but my work wasn't over. Once I've finished the first draft of my novel, I'll begin work on a companion watercolor for this client. (Thanks, Dad, for mailing a photo of a moored gaff rigged yacht). It's a wonderful feeling to capture a dream.