Monday, February 28, 2011

Exploring--Off the Beaten Track for Painting Subjects

Last post, I showed you a 2009 visit to Kingsley Plantation in the Timucuan Preserve, here in Jacksonville, Florida. Today's photos are from our visit to the plantation with out-of-town friends a couple of weeks ago on a pleasant, bright day. After viewing the ruins of the slave cabins, the buildings, and exhibits, we wandered the extensive property. I am always drawn to water, so took a trail by the river, where views of marsh grasses and small islands added charm to the view.
I took a number of photos, as I usually do in interesting coastal North Florida areas, hoping that some will provide inspiration for landscape paintings in the future. In addition to photos that might, with cropping and a few adjustments, become the basis for a painting, I take various photos to help me remember details. The bark or leaves of a particular tree, the mud at the edge of a river, a close-up of salt marsh grasses, a cloud formation, or any number of other details can provide the information I need back in the studio. Without good photo records, studio painting would be guesswork and would not result in the kind of expressive, yet representative, landscapes I like to paint. Of course, not every painter works this way, and many wonderful paintings evolve by other methods. But, for me, "making it up" does not produce the kinds of interpretations of actual locations in our beautiful area that I try to paint.
You may enjoy imagining how you would use these photos in a painting. The view of the path is intriguing, but lacks the variation in color and in lights and darks a painting needs. Guess I'd imagine more breaks in the trees on the left to add more sunny patches on the shadowed walk, then intensify the drama of the bright area where the trail curves out of sight with sunlit tree trunks and foliage. The river view has multiple possibilities; one would be to use a 6" x 12" canvas I have and paint a narrow panoramic view.
Question of the day: Do you, too, find yourself captured by a scene off the beaten path that other people might pass without noticing?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Exploring--Right Near Home--Kingsley Plantation

Within the Timucuan Preserve on the northern edge of Jacksonville, Florida, an immense cluster (more than 98,000 acres altogether) of preserved natural and historical sites, stands a well-preserved former sea island cotton plantation with some surprises in its history. Kingsley Plantation nestles beside extensive salt marshes and passages out to the sea and to navigable rivers. In fact, ships from England could follow waterways straight to Kingsley's dock to deliver goods and load precious sea island cotton for the voyage back.
This free attraction, run by the National Park service, is accessible by road, boat, canoe, or kayak. The house and kitchen buildings (currently closed for renovation) are smaller and simpler than some of the grand old plantations you may have visited in places like Virginia. But, like those Virginians, Kingsley's owners owed their prosperity to the slave labor of countless individuals. In one of the photos, you can see the remains of slave cabins (24 of the original 32 are visible, arranged in a semi-circle) that were built of tabby. Tabby is a concrete material made of sand, water, and lime extracted from shells, mixed with whole shells and pieces, which was widely used for building in the coastal South. Another photo shows the critter that calmly snuffled nearby while my brother and I explored the cabin ruins, barn, and other exhibits on a bright January day.
Although it's tempting to write about this plantation at length, I'll spare you that. You can find extensive information on-line if you are interested (ditto for the Timucuan Preserve). However, the history of this plantation has a couple of unusual aspects I'll mention. When Zephaniah Kingsley acquired the land, he brought his wife Anna and their children along--not so amazing, except that Anna, who was a native of Senegal in West Africa, had been his slave at one time. Further, given that Zephaniah liked owning land better than managing it, or even living there full-time, Anna eventually came to manage the plantation on her own--an unusual achievement for that time, to say the least. Unlike many of the large plantations in other areas, in which overseers drove so-called "gangs" of slaves in the fields every moment of daylight, Kingsley employed the "task" system of work under Anna's management. Individual slaves were assigned a daily task and were free to rejoin their babies, till their own gardens, etc. once they had completed the task. This is not to suggest that their lives were easy, but it does seem marginally more humane than driving people to work every daylight hour.
This post is slightly revised from my April 26. 2009 post (I have to say that this year's January was rather thin on bright, warm days like the one pictured here :>). We revisited Kingsley Plantation earlier this month with friends visiting us from Pennsylvania and enjoyed it just as much. Unfortunately, funding limitations have slowed work, and the house and kitchen building are still under renovation. They seem to be nearing completion, so we hope that we can see them later this year restored to the way they looked in Anna Kingsley's time. Next post, I'll show you some photos from this recent visit that may become paintings at some time.
Question of the day: If you were a local tourist guide, where would you take visitors and what would you want them to understand about your home area?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Growing--A Completed Commission--Jacksonville Beach Scene

I have been working on this commissioned piece for awhile now and am thrilled that my client loves the way it has turned out. The client is a former neighbor who has moved to Virginia and wanted a small painting to remind her of their time here in Jacksonville, Florida. She had admired a similar painting I had made, a 12" x 16" acrylic on gallery wrap canvas but wanted a smaller version. This is 9" x 12" is also painted on gallery wrap canvas--she liked the contemporary look and the fact that it will not require framing.
The new piece has brighter colors than the original and a couple of pelicans--a common sight over the Atlantic Ocean off our coast. The client had particularly wanted one or more pelicans in the scene, which proved to be a challenge on this scale. I needed to make them recognizable even though they are a bit less than 3/4" long from beak tip to tail. We emailed back and forth, with me lightly painting in possibilities and she suggesting modifications. She was always enthusiastic and flexible, letting me know what she hoped to see, but always adding, "But use your own artistic judgement; I trust you completely." As any artist will attest, that is a model client! It has been an absolute pleasure to paint this scene for her, and I hope that it will remind her of good times here in coastal North Florida as she enjoys her new home in Virginia.
The photos show the completed work with pelicans, a close-up detail, and the original painting that gave her the idea for this one. Her piece is brighter, with more contrast and more intense color than the subtler original. She says that it is exactly what she had hoped for. How great is that?
Question of the day: Isn't it fascinating to discover the range of preferences among different people in terms of art work?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Savoring--Healthy Comfort Food--Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

We love soup in cold weather, and I recently tried a pumpkin black bean soup recipe from a magazine ad. It said the source is We loved this rich-tasting savory soup and found it a nice change from our usual homemade soup rotation. It also happens to be vegetarian--actually meets vegan standards, I believe--with nutritious black beans as its protein source. This amount made the two of us two dinner meals, one with corn muffins from Jiffy mix & salad and one with grainy bread & fruit (fresh pears and grapes). In the future, I might make more and freeze some or use some for lunches. It is delicious, easy to make, low-fat, and low-cost.
I changed the printed recipe just a little. Instead of pureeing all the beans; I left one can whole because it seemed that the result would be more interesting. I was skeptical of the 4 tablespoons of olive oil called for, but ended up using about 3 because the seasonings went in so early and were sticking to the pot. Also, the final step said to add 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar just before serving. I used 2 tablespoons, which is plenty. Some people might prefer just one tablespoon or none, but it adds a pleasant zing to the flavor. And we had no pumpkin seeds to bake for the garnish--you might like something crunchy on top, but it was yummy without any topping. Some may like a dollop of sour cream on top, which would blend well with the moderately spicy flavor.
3 - 4 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 to 3/4 cup red or yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon each cinnamon & allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
salt to taste (I use just a dash)
2 cans (16 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed well
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
4 cups vegetable broth
1 can (16 oz.) pumpkin puree
1 - 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
baked pumpkin seeds for garnish (optional)
1. Heat olive oil in large pot (5 quart size or more), add chopped onion and saute 2 minutes on low-medium heat.
2. Add garlic and seasonings and cook until onion softens and browns.
3. Puree one can beans and tomatoes with about a cup of the vegetable broth. Add pureed ingredients, pumpkin, second can of beans (whole), and rest of broth to your pot.
4. Simmer until thick, about 40 - 45 minutes. If soup does not thicken enough, simmer it uncovered for several minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Before serving, stir in balsamic vinegar. Top each bowl with baked seeds, if desired.
If you try this soup, let me know how you like it. We will definitely have it again.
Question of the day: Can anything beat soup for warming and satisfying us in chilly weather?