Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Winter Getaway: Sun, Fun, and Painting!

Five days of sunshine, warm breezes, and gorgeous aquamarine water are enough to lift anyone's spirit. Stepping off of a plane in Florida in January is like emerging from a long, dark, damp, cold tunnel that you thought you'd never see the end of. There were palm trees and flowers and people wearing shorts! What a shock to my system! I always say I'd never want to move to Florida, but when I visit there in mid-winter, it's easy to understand why so many people do. It was absolutely lovely.

Travel delays, crowded airports, and broken airplanes didn't do a thing to dampen my enthusiasm for this trip. When I changed planes in Charlotte, NC, we ended up having a maintenance issue which required us to sit on the plane while the crew did some trouble shooting. I took the opportunity to do a sketch for day 23 of the January Challenge. Hunched over my sketchbook in my window seat, trying not to be too obvious to my bored neighbor in the middle seat, I sketched a nearby fueling contraption.

Day 23 - Draw a mechanical contraption

Ink & watercolor in a 5-1/2" x 8-1/2" Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook

I drew quickly, directly in pen, since I wasn't sure how long I'd have before we were on our way. Guess I'm an optimist at heart - I thought we'd be airborne in a few minutes. We ended up having to deplane and switch airplanes. Luckily, my husband, Fred, an airline pilot, just happened to be in the terminal, and he brought me lunch while we waited to board the flight. A secret rendezvous in the Charlotte Airport – oolala!

Our meeting was brief; Fred had to leave to go to work, so I occupied myself with a page that I had begun earlier at home on a day when our grandchildren came to visit. The prompt for day 19 was to do a self-portrait, but I decided to do a day-in-the-life sketch instead since I'd much rather draw them than me. Here it is:

Beware of sketching in airports - I was so engrossed in inking the drawings on this page that I almost missed the boarding calls for my flight!

(My grandkids are the reason I would never move to Florida – I just couldn't bear to leave those little sweetie-pies! They live a little over an hour away from us now, so I get to see them almost every week. They're all the sunshine I need!)

I finally made it to Tampa, ready for some fun in the sun. My friend, Judy, and I headed for the beach at Anna Maria Island one day and spent hours soaking up the sunshine. It was such a gorgeous day! Clear blue sky, crashing waves, and powdery white sand. I was in heaven!

We ate our picnic lunch as we watched the waves roll in, talking about this and that, watching the shorebirds scurrying along the shoreline, and wiggling our toes in the sand. Behind us was one of the cutest beach cottages I've ever seen. We decided to focus our sketching efforts on capturing a little piece of the rambling gingerbread-trimmed cottage. It fit perfectly with the sketching prompt for that day...

January 25th: Sketch a busy pattern or design

Ink & watercolor in a 5-1/2" x 8-1/2" Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook

It was fun talking with people who walked by as we sat and sketched. Everyone was so interested and complimentary. One couple told us a little bit about the house we were sketching – it's called the Mermaid House, and it's going to be featured in an upcoming issue of Coastal Living Magazine. I can't wait to see the inside of it!

The next morning, Judy set out a pretty hand-painted cup and saucer for my morning coffee. Fresh coffee, delicious gluten-free sourdough bread (which I have never found anywhere but at the Sarasota Farmer's Market we visited) and yummy peach jam made a delectable breakfast and a really cute sketch.

Ink & watercolor in a 5-1/2" x 8-1/2" Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook

Later in the trip I got to meet Leona, the sweet lady who painted the china. At 93, she still travels, paints beautiful china pieces and teaches others how to paint. How cool is that?

The Saturday farmer's market that we visited in Sarasota was wonderful! I kept wishing I had brought my sketchbook along – I wanted to just plop myself down in front of one of the produce stalls and sketch the amazing array of vegetables they had on display. I haven't seen produce like that since I was in Italy. I have to admit, I'm extremely jealous of the people who get to shop there every week!

Judy and I bought some fresh beets and cooked them up for dinner that night to have alongside some wonderful shrimp fresh from the gulf. We boiled the beets, peeled and sliced them, then drizzled them with balsamic vinegar, and dropped on some chunks of feta cheese. Mmmmm, so yummy! I had never had fresh cooked beets before, and they were delicious.

The beautiful color of the beet water caught my eye. I said to Judy, “We should save this and do a sketch with it!” “I was thinking the same thing!” she said. Brilliant minds think alike, right? So I pulled out my Monologue sketchbook, and painted a wash over the whole page, just to see what the color looked like. Hmmm, it was much more muted than it appeared in the pot. I set it aside to let it dry. We left the beet water sitting out on the counter for a few days, and when I got back to it, it had evaporated a little, so the color was a bit more concentrated. I used it to paint a quick Florida beach scene over the original wash just for fun.
Ink & watercolor in a Monologue A5 sketchbook

We stopped in at Keeton's Art Supply in Bradenton one day and had the bright idea to buy some 5” x 5” canvases to try painting tropical flowers in watercolors on them. It ended up being a really fun project.

Pencil and watercolor on a 5" x 5" canvas

Watercolor tends to slide around a lot on the canvas, which gives the paintings a nice watery feel. A light touch is required to layer the watercolor, as the under layers tend to be lifted by subsequent layers of wet paint. I ended up painting fairly directly, without much layering. We even painted the sides, so they can be hung without a frame.

The process: I drew the flowers in pencil, then painted the backgrounds and let them dry. The final step was painting the orchids, frangipani, and hibiscus.

There are watercolor grounds you can use to make painting on canvas easier, and canvases made specifically for watercolor, but this fun experiment was simple and straightforward and gave us the results we wanted.

These little cuties will hang in Judy's new house and remind her of her friend from the great white north whenever she sees them.

This winter break from the cold and gloom was just what I needed. Getting away for a few days really jump-starts my creativity. I find that when I give the busy, preoccupied part of my brain a rest, my imagination takes over and ideas begin to flow. My husband jokes that it's dangerous to take a car trip with me, because all those long hours of boredom usually result in some incredibly awesome new project that involves work for him.

It's great to be home, though, and I'm actually looking forward to a couple of more snowstorms before winter's over. I love being snowed in!


  1. Hello Leslie. Sounds like a great short trip to sunny climates, even though you had delays. I really love your flower paintings on canvas. when you say there are are waterclour grounds needed to make watercolour painting easier on the canvas boards what are these ?

    1. Hi Barbara,
      If you search on any of the online art suppliers' sites, you'll find watercolor ground. I think it's similar to gesso - it prepares the surface to accept the watercolor. There are a variety of formulas with varying consistencies, colors, etc. I think I'm going to order the Daniel Smith Titanium White Watercolor Ground that Dick Blick carries: http://www.dickblick.com/products/daniel-smith-watercolor-ground/

  2. Hi Leslie, I live in Sarasota and was so pleased to read about what a great time you had while you were visiting. You went to some of my favorite places, too. Love the watercolors on canvas!

    1. I heard from another online friend who lives near where I was vacationing. Next year we'll have to get together for a sketching session. Wouldn't that be fun?

  3. Love your post and sketches. I just had the opportunity to visit St Pete Beach on a sketching holiday with Laure Ferlita and one of her Imaginary Trips Made Real. It was wonderful to leave cold, snowy Michigan for the warm sun, sand and painting with friends for a few days. It was like 'emerging from a cold, dark tunnel' when we landed in St. Petersburg.

    1. My friend, Judy, is planning to take a class with Laure at Keeton's Art Supply in Bradenton this month. I think Laure lives in the area. Lucky you to spend time sketching in such a beautiful place with like-minded artists!

  4. I loved reading about your trip. How romantic that you got to rendezvous with your husband! And I want to be that lady when I grow up--93 and still going strong, still creating, still having adventures!

    But mostly, I love looking at your journal pages. I'm always impressed by how different each one is from the other, in style and design. Love the beet juice painting and Breakfast at Judy's. I'm drooling over that gluten free sourdough bread. It's been ages since I've had good bread.


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