Rocky shores

Dear Artist, I’m laptopping you from a 27-foot sport-fishing boat near the mouth of Quatsino Sound on the Pacific side of Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada. Right now we’re being slammed around in 10-foot swells while a moderate Southeaster whistles foam from the wave-tops. It’s difficult to paint in these circumstances, but not impossible.

Feeling a bit queasy but keeping busy while waiting for something to happen.

Focusing on a canvas while in a boat that rolls heavily can cause the chucking of cookies, so the necessity of keeping an eye on the horizon conveniently slows down your work. Heavy seas also invite the use of larger brushes and definitive, fully-loaded stroking. Little brushes are harder to use and can jerk unwanted lines in inappropriate spots. A well-lubricated support helps facilitate control and fluidity. It’s also necessary to grasp forms, subjects and motifs before they move on. The waves crashing on rocky outcroppings and fleeting light-effects (this coast is fully loaded) necessitate developing quick habits. The screen on the back of a digital camera also chips in as reference. I discover acrylics can be effectively dried using the boat’s windshield fans.

Acrylics drying with windshield fans. Jim Granger, our fishing guide, was accommodating.

Further, because the motifs are fleeting, the work tends more toward ideas and feelings. In the action between brush and canvas, desirable abstract elements present themselves somewhat automatically. All this time we’re supposed to be fishing. I find the painting-fishing combo to be particularly fine. Fishing can be 10% action and 90% sitting around. Charles Williams of South Carolina, my fishing partner for today, is currently landing salmon and halibut from both rods. Another nice thing about painting in fish-boats is that you don’t personally kill a lot of fish.

There’s other stuff out there besides paintings. This day I was fishing with Roy Heenan.

Delicate stuff like signing and final varnishing can be done back at the lodge. I like to accumulate them in my room day after day. Sticking to smaller canvases — 11″ x 14″ and 12″x 16″ — I find the obvious material comes in the first days; the more interesting, fresher stuff toward the end. The worst thing is running out of canvases, something that’s going to happen early in this trip. My buddies (eight of us altogether) welcome my return to rod-holding as I’ve been neglecting to take part in the betting.

A threatening day at Quatsino. A lot of good fish are dragged in close to shore.

Best regards, Robert PS: “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” (Kenneth Grahame, from The Wind in the Willows) Esoterica: The viewpoint from boats moving past subject matter, no matter how erratic the boat, is one of the great events. The surf, as it climbs and descends in white rivulets from black rocks, ancient bearded cedars and hemlocks triumphing from sea-stack tops, pale and weathered veterans of the forest — the permutations and combinations seem endless. In wild places such as this, the elements contrive to present themselves as they’ve always been. The early English and Spanish explorers of this coastline and the aboriginals who called it their home would have been party to the same vistas, the same details. Such are the privileges of those who bounce and look. The painter kills nothing, leaves the place as it was found, and honours it for having been there.   Coast of wonders by Carmen Mongeau, Nanaimo, BC, Canada  

“The Lagoon”
mixed media
by Carmen Mongeau

You might enjoy a related good read: Fishing with John by Edith Iglauer, a journalist from New York, who ventured west to our Pacific Coast in search of new territory and subjects for The New Yorker Magazine. She met John Daly, maverick veteran, commercial salmon troller fisherman who skippered “The More Kelp.” The story is of two exceptional people and the life they shared in the enchanted world of the British Columbia coast. There are 2 comments for Coast of wonders by Carmen Mongeau
From: Francis — Jul 31, 2012

I really like the Quatsino scene done from the boat. Having to work quickly puts all doubt overboard!

From: Linda — Aug 01, 2012

I love “The Lagoon”—beautiful colours, soooo sooothing.

  Poetry in motion by Bill Erlenbach, Edmonton, AB, Canada  

“Homestead Diary”
oil painting, 16 x 12 inches
by Bill Erlenbach

I have wished I was painting while fly fishing, but I don’t recall wishing I was fishing while painting, though I enjoy both. Your comment about painting leaving the landscape untouched (my paraphrase) struck a deep chord in me. It reflects my own preference to paint over fishing, even though fly fishing is in its own way, poetry in motion.       There is 1 comment for Poetry in motion by Bill Erlenbach
From: Anonymous — Jul 31, 2012

Lovely painting. I would remove that vertical tree closest to her head though.

  Lubricating the support by Donna Adams   You talk about a well lubricated support. What do you use to do that? I am an oil painter trying to convert to acrylic, and find the dryness of acrylics hard to deal with. Maybe this is the secret. (RG note) Thanks, Donna. I currently paint mostly in acrylic. Before I start I take a rag and spread a lightly diluted thin coat of clear acrylic medium over a grey-primed surface. Where conditions are hot and dry I use Golden Open (slow drying) medium. In normal conditions, such as on the boat, I use regular Golden medium. When working in oil I use a light coat of linseed or other oil medium. For those who asked if I lubricated myself before painting, it is not currently my habit, but is used sparingly with close friends as a modest reward for the occasional job well done. There is 1 comment for Lubricating the support by Donna Adams
From: Baylis — Jul 31, 2012

me too, I just happen to have lot of close friends and get lot of work well done!

  River cruising by Bill Kerr, Courtenay, BC, Canada  

watercolour painting
by Bill Kerr

I find river cruises allow interesting painting opportunities. You can see the shore and shore details far more clearly than on an ocean cruise. Progress is slow enough to allow a sketch in watercolour. I am a rather messy acrylic and extremely messy oil painter so on cruise vessel decks I use watercolour. You can get the general idea down quickly and you either end up with a nice postcard or the basis for future work when backed up by a photo for reference. (RG note) Thanks, Bill. Rivers are the ultimate boat painting opportunities. Readers may recall my daughter Sara and I took two summers to paint down the Mackenzie River in Northern Canada. I’ve also written of a similar situation on the Nile.   Not meant to be an artist? by Wendy Travis, Bancroft, ON, Canada   I am an inexperienced artist and I live in an area where it is difficult if not impossible to receive training. I find it hard to “know” what to paint as I feel stuck due to inability and lack of focus. I’m not sure where to start. Maybe I’m just not meant to be an artist. Do you have any suggestions? (RG note) Thanks, Wendy. The better artists are often self-taught. With the exception of excellent workshops worth traveling to, books and the Internet now take the place of Academies and tutors. Rather than the traditional model of accessing a professional educator, the aspiring seek the counsel of those who have succeeded. There is 1 comment for Not meant to be an artist? by Wendy Travis
From: Anonymous — Jul 31, 2012

Wendy, just stick with it. A day will come whne you will be flooded with ideas that must be painted.

  Painting from a kayak by Randall Cogburn, Alvin, Texas, USA  

“Blue crush”
oil painting
by Randall Cogburn

I used to kayak and take a small pochade box with me that fit in the kayak. I did oil painting. Had a tripod, and gear bag also and would go out to islands in Galveston Bay to paint. I’ve been through some rough weather. You have taken it to another level. Hope you got something out of it. Just out of curiosity when did you start writing these letters? Do you ever write them on paper first or is it always on the computer? (RG note) Thanks, Randall. My first letter was on July 10, 1999. It was written in an Internet café in Spain. I love my laptop. It is a nice change from painting and it helps me think about things.   Easy access to water by Patricia Katz, Saskatoon, SK, Canada  

watercolour painting
by Patricia Katz

I’m just back from a visit to a nearby prairie lake where I spent some time sketching and painting from my kayak. There were no ten foot swells — just the rolling wakes of speed boats hauling tubes and kneeboards up and down the lake. However, still, after 90 minutes or so working ‘on the water’ I found myself somewhat nauseous and seasick and decided to head for shore. It was that same feeling of having read too long in a moving vehicle. Also, since I’d moved past the initial sketching and larger scale splashing of foliage and needed to get a bit more controlled in my last few additions to the painting, stable ground seemed like a better idea. However, the thing I loved the most, other than the off-shore perspective, was having the entire lake in which to swish my WC brushes and access fresh water. So fun! There are 2 comments for Easy access to water by Patricia Katz
From: Helen Opie — Jul 31, 2012

My old doctor, of the old school, recommended vitamin B-1 for all forms of nausea from pregnancy (not a problem for you, I’m sure) to seasickness. Take some before going out, more if needed – if you are very deficient, a lot may be needed before feeling first results, then hardly any. Eat B-rich foods (clean liver, nutritional yeast, wheat germ) also to get the whole B-complex.

From: Anonymous — Jul 31, 2012

All the vitamins in the world won’t help an inner ear injury from sound trauma. I took a short Gulf of Mexico/Mexico cruise on almost calm seas and simply making it to dinner was a challenge. Painting would have been impossible. Protect your ears at all costs because it affects far more than just hearing; it affects balance.

  Wet equipment by Anonymous   I’m wondering how you get this information from the boat without putting your computer in jeopardy. Technical equipment seems the least likely to have in a boat. It must be protected in some kind of covering and the camera also. (RG note) Thanks, A. Yes, dangerous. I’ve learned the hard way. Most camera warranties do not cover water damage. A couple of years ago a big wave came over the windshield and took out a brand new Nikon SLR and I had to pay for a new one myself. Computers are particularly vulnerable. A splash down the keyboard and the screen goes dark brown like an oozing cuttlefish. Keep ’em dry.   Hoarding by Dorie , Chicago, IL, USA   Further to your recent piece on hoarding. Some of us hoard our work because we feel it represents a time we felt relatively creative. For the record: my full blooded sister who was adopted at birth and found me 30 years ago… had a completely different childhood than I. Yet when meeting for the first time and staying at her home, it was observed that she and I have the exact same habits of disorganization and hoarding. There are some experts in the field of human behavior who feel that everything negative cannot be attributed to childhood trauma. That the way our brains are wired plays a part. After I met my sister, I felt less guilty about my scattered ways. She is a trained musician and poet. I still ‘create’ at my work to some degree. So our genes are similar. Know that those of us who hoard are compulsive and not happy about it. But it could be worse! I genuinely feel if I ever got to ‘normalcy’ I may have less creative thoughts. Not worth it.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Rocky shores

From: Carole Mayne — Jul 26, 2012

I have painted in a boat around Catalina Island, and sketched on a number of rickety contrivances by the ocean. It’s great for being at one with your senses with little time to think. I get forced into my instincts by the sun speeding by ‘twice’–once in the sky –and once reflected in the water! Seeking an illusive interpretation of the scene is the goal, and there are no guarantees of what you will get! Maybe painting IS a lot like ‘fishing’, because that’s why they don’t call it ‘catching’!! However, experience helps your odds.

From: jackie Liddell-Texas — Jul 27, 2012

I love being on the water and waterclor paonting! Both are soul searching and renew my spirit. I have painted on fishing trips all my life. I enjoy the wonder of what I’ll catch, as well as what will turn out on the paper.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Jul 27, 2012

I remember reading that JMW Turner lashed himself to the mast of a ship to paint some of his huge storm paintings. I cannot even imagine how that was accomplished. Alas, no waterproof cameras existed then. Thanks for the vicarious adventure.

From: Holly Burton — Jul 27, 2012

Oh to be out in the wild places.

From: Marvin Humphrey — Jul 27, 2012

That Quatsino painting is outstanding, especially considering those turbulent conditions. Quite a feat, capturing the full effects of surf, mist, and atmosphere. I assume you’re enjoying some tasty grilled salmon now, as you discuss the subject matter…

From: Anonymous — Jul 27, 2012

Painting in a row boat on St Mary’s Lake, Salt Spring Island, was quite an adventure. This was years ago when the lake was very quiet. I fell into a trance as I often do while painting…you know…when time stands still and the rest of the world seems not to exist. Well, suddenly, there was this great “bang” and I was almost thrown from my seat, paints flying… a rude awakening! I looked behind me and saw another row boat holding 2 children, very apologetic, the boy stifling a grin. We checked out the minimal damage to the boats and then went on our way, oars in hands. It seems I had drifted into their path unnoticed. We were near shore and the reeds were high. The painting of the cottage I did was sent to a gallery and sold the same day.

From: Roberta Pyx Sutherland — Jul 27, 2012

Took me way back, to the contrast of a mirror calm morning with a fisherman in a canoe on Africa’s Lake Malawi. I had my feet and knees jammed together, with a sketch-book balanced on my lap (the hollowed out mango trees the village used for fishing were so narrow they demanded a rigid sitting position). I could just reach over the weathered canoe edge to keep washing and filling my brush. The three small sketches that resulted are just too tame, the event more than compensated. Not the rough and tumble of your trip but I heartily agree, it was great not to have to personally kill the fish.

The esoterica quote with this letter was it Emily Carr maybe?
From: Paul Wolf — Jul 27, 2012

Clearly you are not one of the mass of “starving artists” :) take care no to fall and break bones!!

From: Leslie Kimball — Jul 27, 2012

I need some advice on lighting. I am a oil painter with a upstairs 3 car garage size studio. A window facing north and south. I need new lighting. I want to invest in lighting that will give me the best color values both day and night when I paint. Any suggestions ?

From: Lynda Lehmann — Jul 27, 2012

I envy your courage in painting or attempting to paint in the turbulence of a rocking boat. I’ve frequently undertaken landscape photography while precariously platformed on the deck of a small boat while rocking and rolling on the chop and every boat wake that heaves at us, and have found that to be challenging enough!

I doubt I’ll attempt to paint while aboard, for fear that my tubes will end up feeding the fish or that I myself will be pitched into the deep. But I thoroughly enjoyed your account and relate to the challenge. I like your painting and also love your penchant for words. Thank you for a good read!
From: Elle Fagan — Jul 27, 2012

I fully understand the riveting on the horizon to keep the body in check…it is the principle behind the concentration exercises in natural childbirth and it works. But as for doing up a canvas in a raging storm…hmmmmmmm maybe not QUITE yet..

From: Mac Rogers — Jul 27, 2012

I use a boat frequently to gather material for paintings in coastal South Carolina. Also, could this Charles Williams be an attorney from Orangeburg? If so, we spent many earlier years together.

From: Donna Underwood — Jul 27, 2012

I have painted riding on the back of a motorcycle..nothing is impossible. I also painted with my non dominate hand when the other wrist was broken.

From: Susan Marx — Jul 27, 2012

I think it was Monet who painted from his house boat.

From: Paula Timpson — Jul 27, 2012

Being in boats,

on shores that sing~ trusting life in its imaginings~ casting the net on the other side, fish leap, leading to joy! Trusting heart, sky and morning Peace arrives in artists longings moon always fills, same as spirits creating~
From: Yvette Mey — Jul 27, 2012

Love this adventure. Would be great to see all the works you did out there.”

From: Sue Nocera — Jul 27, 2012

So you should end up with a pretty impressive abstract!

From: Deb — Jul 27, 2012

Great story! I can almost feel the water splashing in my face…bet there’s life in those brush strokes!!! I am inspired by your newsletters always.

From: Cheryl LeVesque — Jul 27, 2012

Robert….Bob?? Bobby?? My brother is Robert and has been Bob for many years, but I still think of him as Bobby. Thanks for the inspiration I feel like I’m on the boat too… may find a little extra bbounce in that piece…… we live to paint and paint to live….

From: Norman Ridenour — Jul 27, 2012

Does a well lubricated painter help?????

From: Paul RW Anthony — Jul 27, 2012

It is indeed an opportunity to re-experience the Connection to the sheer Wild Side of Life….some of the ‘Original’ aspects….so often lost elsewhere.

Enjoy and be sure to tell Her that you ‘love her’ – right out loud. You can tell Her that for me too.
From: Judi McGraw Vreeland — Jul 27, 2012

You might crazy but as long as you are having fun Carpe diem!

From: Kevin Janice Harwood — Jul 27, 2012

Could be the start of splatter painting!

From: Bill Bonham — Jul 27, 2012

Wow, good time for a very impressionistic painting!

From: Doug Mays — Jul 28, 2012

Man I love these short, one sentence replies. Way to go gang!

From: Kay Christopher — Jul 28, 2012

Robert, I love your writing so much. You are inspiring, bring up great thoughts and ideas, teach wonderful things, have interesting opinions (it’s nice that you are okay with others not agreeing with you), often use words very beautifully, provide a wonderful way for artists and interested others to connect, and make such a wonderful contribution to the world. Thank you for your Letters. I look forward to every one of them!

From: Ned Lupachino — Jul 28, 2012

A life is only limited by an imagination.

From: Mark Hansen — Jul 28, 2012

Your work is inspirational, Robert. I’m pleased to have at last become aware of your wonderful contributions to the world of art. Cheers!

From: Mark Heine — Jul 28, 2012

I put myself through art school as a salmon fishing guide. I know the feeling, but it’s worth it for the great fishing (if you’re keen on fishing). I’m heading up the outside of Vancouver Island on my sailboat in a week for that same reason. Have fun!

From: Carmen Navar — Jul 29, 2012

For sure letting the wind and the water fire up your imagination and creativity, I am sure you came up with wonderful work. I beleive life is ART. I am really enjoying your writings and musings.

From: Kate Beetle — Jul 30, 2012

“The pleasant’st angling is to see the fish

cut with her golden oars the silver stream and greedily devour the treacherous bait” Shakespeare: “Much Ado About Nothing” About trout, of course, none of this heaving about on the briny deep. But I do love to have water in my pictures, even if it’s just a bit of stream wandering through the cow pasture. Thanks for the notes, Robert.
From: Petra L. G. Trujillo — Jul 30, 2012

Where there is a will there is a way.

From: Claude Selin — Jul 30, 2012

The painter can indeed take satisfaction that the activity is one sport where nothing very much gets damaged when you do it, if you don’t include the occasional small toxic oil spills hardly consequential. France.

From: Mary Jean Mailloux — Jul 31, 2012

yesterday I had the satisfying experience of joining my cousin for an afternoon of painting. She’s had college art training and a diploma. I have not. However, the first thing we did was look at each others work in progress and give each other constructive criticism. her remarks were right on and so were mine. We then proceeded to finish our respective paintings. We decided together to create the space, the time, the time, and maybe a touch of humour.We painted for about 1 and a half hours and then went for a swim. I’m with John Cleese. His talk has also given me a new perspective on my husband’s use of time. I’m not joking

From: Doug Pollard — Aug 01, 2012

You captured the spirit of Quatsino with this lovely painting. I fished the outside waters a couple of years ago and tried to sketch at the same time – its a wild, wild place that screams out to be rendered somehow. The fish were easier to catch. And thanks for the Cleese connection; its a first class lecture on a most difficult subject. He nailed it.

From: Claude Deegan — Aug 02, 2012

Creative delay has been my best friend for years. I have at least 100 canvases earmarked for update and completion. Some will be cast out saving wasted effort in costs, framing , and victory for self appraisal and ego abuse, etc.

Regards to sculpture, this practice needs much tighter scrutiny, since once the medium is removed it cant be replaced with most materials of creation… Nice article Thanks
From: Steve Abbott — Jul 23, 2013

My wife and I live on a boat in Puget Sound and when we take trips in our RV we usually go to water places. We just returned from a trip to the ocean where I was determined, again, to do some plein air painting. It didn’t happen, again, as too many other plans took first seat. I did paint two rocks, one a lady bug and another a parrot. This always happens, so I’ve come to realize I need to plan an outing, alone, just to paint outside, no other activities. As I sit here at dock on the boat, I look out and see “Paintings”, I think I’ll pull out the paints!

     Featured Workshop: Carole Mayne 073112_robert-genn Carole Mayne workshops Held in St. Encinitas, CA, USA   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.     woa

Orange Dusk

pastel painting, 14 x 18 inches by Peter Heineman, Conifer, CO, USA

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Carol Mayne of Leucadia, CA, USA, who wrote, “Seeking an elusive interpretation of the scene is the goal, and there are no guarantees of what you will get! Maybe painting IS a lot like ‘fishing,’ because that’s why they don’t call it ‘catching’!!” And also Nigel Wimberley of Staines, UK, who wrote, “Thames barges are excellent when parked.” And also Debbie Harmel Puia of Facebook who wrote, “A great catch of the day!”    

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