An Artist Afloat
Sailing and sketching
I'm starting off 2019 with a bang, with my debut solo art show opening in Victoria, British Columbia! 'Pacific Reflections' charts our sail boat voyage from New Zealand to British Columbia, and exploring French Polynesia and Hawaii on the way. My ocean inspired watercolour paintings include art created on the voyage, as well as new works inspired by my sketchbooks and revealed for the first time at the exhibition. The show runs from January 23 until February 10 at the Cafe Gallery of the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre, and I'm holding a 'Meet the Artist' reception from 1-3 pm on Saturday 26 January. You can find out more details on the event page.
When I applied to Cedar Hill Arts Centre for the chance to hold a solo exhibition, I really didn't think I'd be successful. Back in September, when applications were due, I'd only had art in one juried show, with an unjuried exhibition lined up. I thought that the solo show application would be a good learning experience, so I did some research, wrote my artist bio and put together an exhibition application. I didn't think I'd be successful. I was still too new as an artist; surely they'd want more experienced people. But I clicked send anyway, and really wasn't surprised when a month or so later I hadn't heard back. I applied for gallery shows at the Port Moody Arts Centre, Coast Collective and the Victoria Arts Council, and was very excited when I had work accepted into all three, and was invited to join Coast Collective. My Etsy sales were going well and I was progressing up the learning curve of trying to make my art into more than a hobby. It was hard work, and the administration side of things kept me busy.
Then just before Christmas, I received an email saying that Cedar Hill had accepted my application! I'd been given one of the first slots of the year, which meant I needed to get to work. I had been delighted that my original paintings were popular Christmas gifts, but the side effect of this was that I had a month to put an exhibition together and was a little lacking in work to go in it! Another artist told me that my small watercolours would look lost in the cafe gallery I'd been assigned, and I was left feeling that this amazing opportunity would turn into a huge flop.
How to solve that problem? Paint, of course! We'd been moored up in Victoria for December but my sketchbooks provided a goldmine of ideas and inspiration. At times the potential felt overwhelming. What should I paint next? What would best tell the story of our voyage? I wanted the marine environment to be a focus, and also to explore humanity's relationship with the ocean. In the end, a lot of my paintings used an above/ below the water approach, which would cover both bases. The upcoming show also provided good motivation to try some bigger watercolours, venturing into the exciting world of 16 x 20". I was worried that smaller works would lack impact, and wanted some big, vibrant, colourful paintings to grab people's attention. The expanded size also expanded my horizons. I could swing between fine detail and large washes, which kept me engaged, and the result was a series of paintings with the impact I was looking for. I'm tempted to try increasing size even more in future, if the paper will fit on the table in the boat!
It's not a surprise that the intense periods of painting helped me refine my technique. The experience of preparing for the show helped me in other ways too. I find I'm more productive in the mornings, so was getting up between 5 and 6 am to start creating. The pressure also taught me to say no and to prioritise. Commissions with a later completion date could be put to one side until the show was hung, however enthusiastic the client, and I learned to say no to things which would just cause extra stress and workload if they weren't essential and beneficial in the long term. I just have to hold on to that thought now the pressure is off!
In the end, I had about 35 ocean themed paintings to take with me, exploring the ocean and the wonderful creatures that live there. The pieces ranged from paintings I'd made during the voyage to new work I'd created in the run up to the show.
The images I'm sharing today chronicle our journey through French Polynesia then Hawaii, with bright tropical colours and warm, gentle seas. You might recognise a couple as being larger updates of other paintings I've created. Most of the others are inspired by drawings in my sketchbook. It's really emphasised the importance of my sketchbook practice. My sketches recapture experiences at a deeper level than photos. Looking at the colours I'd used in my drawings helped me select palettes for these bigger pieces. The way I'd interpreted the scene when I was there often flowed in to the finished piece, for example the pinks and purples in the mountain of 'Oponohu Bay'. Painting from my sketchbook often felt easier than choosing photos as I'd already done part of the colour and composition work, and could now develop it further.
After a couple of weeks of painting madly, I was feeling frazzled. I hadn't reached burn out stage but I was definitely stressed. We were moving the boat from Victoria to Parksville for the month and the impending two day sail in potentially rough water worried me even further. Could I afford to lose the two days it would take us to get there? If it was rough, my painting would be confined to sketching and I wouldn't be able to make any progress on the show.
It turned out the experience was just what I needed. On the first day I helmed all morning with a couple of breaks to sketch the gorgeous sunrise, then I left the wheel to Jim and spent the afternoon dozing and reading. We anchored in gorgeous Princess Bay for the evening, with seals and bald eagles and pretty little diving ducks. It was raining but that didn't matter. My soul felt lifted and I slept wonderfully.
The next day followed a similar pattern. Helm, sketch, feed Jimmie, work on a giant cephalopod for a Coast Collective show I'd thought I'd need to miss out on. We met a pod of orca with a calf and saw thirty bald eagles swooping down on a ball of fish. It was exactly what I needed, I just hadn't realised it.
In Parksville, I got right back to my painting schedule, but was careful to take time out for walks and family. I'd never stopped enjoying painting, but it felt good to dial down the stress level a bit. Anxiety hit again when a business course I'd signed up for started. The course was online but we were encouraged to keep up with the class. I tried, but then saw the gorgeous arty responses other people posted to the lessons and felt a severe case of inadequacy. After battling through for three days, I pressed pause. The materials would still be there when my show was hung, and then I'd get to enjoy the 'Money Badass' class I'd signed up for with 'Make Art That Sells'.
Two days before the show, I put down my brushes to spend the day framing. I'm glad I stopped at this point as I'd underestimated how long it would take to frame so many pictures, and I will certainly allow longer in future! I prepared the tags to hang next to the work, printed off my bio and some information about the show, helped Jimmie pack everything into the car and put together a bag of everything I could possibly need, from scissors to a spirit level.
We left in plenty of time to meet with Dixie MacUisdin, who instructed me on how to use the hanging wires and gave me plenty of advice on organising the paintings. Rather than sorting them by place, she suggested I organised them by colour, and put my brightest works on the back wall to grab people's attention. The tropical paintings still ended up together, and I don't think anyone will mind a few Canadian orcas amongst the watercolours of New Zealand. Hanging took about five hours, with time to make sure everything was level and give the glass a final clean. We managed to get out of the way just as the runners' club arrived, but I'd run out of time to take many photos of the installation.
If you're in the Victoria area then I'd love to see you at 'Pacific Reflections'! I'll be there from 1-3pm on Saturday 26 January, and the show runs until 10 February. Click the button below to go to the event page for more details. If you're further afield and would like to purchase a piece from the exhibition then please contact me. I can ship unframed paintings worldwide.
10% from all sales from the show go to SeaChange, a marine conservation society which connects ecosystems, cultures and communities in Victoria and the Salish Sea. The society is dedicated to education and conserving the marine and watershed environments I love. You can find out more about them or get involved directly through their website https://seachangesociety.com/.
An Artist Afloat- Painting the world one anchorage at a time.