Beach Walk, Part 1; Book 132 Pages 58 and 59.
Beach Walk, Part 2; Book 132 Pages 60 and 61.
During my summer retreat, I occasionally get up well before sunrise and walk down the beach with my journal. Carrying a pencil in my right hand, I hold the book in my left; the pages are spread open with clamps and a very small booklight is attached that I can turn on and off as needed. Occasionally I stop to make a rough outline of something of interest, letting the pages evolve intuitively; roughing out several potential compositions across the spread of pages before I move to the next. These spare graphite notes are occasionally augmented with written abbreviations: “y” for yellow, “r” for red, “b” for blue, etc. as a jog for my memory when I later fill in color and tone back in the studio.
My most memorable walk this summer began at 4:15 am when I slipped barefoot down the street to a black ocean. It was low tide and the beach broad and I was completely alone. The moonless night heightened brilliance of the stars. I immediately recognized Orion and the attendant stretch of bright constellations that prefigure winter rising out of the water ahead of me. The brightest star among them, Sirius was low to the horizon. Just to the north, lights of the pier flickered in agitated water. I knew Hurricane Bill was offshore, but too far out to make much of a difference yet.
As I meandered up the strand, in and out of the edge of the waves, I eventually escaped the lights of the pier and began to note the subtle variations of lighting from the unseen streetlamps as they cut across the mostly darkened beach houses far behind the dunes. Cumulus clouds swept the rooftops, low enough to catch and reflect a little light from the beach town below. As I looked toward the water, Venus rose and as it gained altitude I saw the brilliant planet occasionally reflected in the water at the surf’s edge. Before long, the first sign of the approaching day, a great black cloud stuck out of the distant ocean horizon, a silhouette against the deepest blue imaginable. My turnaround point, the north end of the island, slowly emerged from the darkness and I began to make out other subtly shaded cloud forms. During my trek, three Perseid meteors streaked the sky; one was extremely bright. Light incrementally permeated the thick air as I returned home.
Usually I return from my walks and sit down immediately before my watercolor box and brushes and fill in before the memory slips away. This time I allowed myself to fill in the color over a period of weeks. I worked many of the drawings on the four pages at the same time. Putting in layers of wash occasionally, letting them dry for several days before I put in another. Are these the colors I saw? Are the forms I conjured equivalents for the shapes of clouds or houses or waves I saw? Probably not. Over the long stretch while I painted these pages, my memories sifted essentials, stripping unnecessary detail. In doing so, my play with color became as much about invention as depiction. What is important to me in this exercise is that I attempted to construct a convincing atmosphere; a surrogate for a sequence of events that was not so much documented as imagined.
Note: The sketchbook pages presented above are watercolor and graphite on Arches paper in a bound volume and the spread of open pages measures approximately 4 x 12″ each.