Last week's Lighthouse Plein Air Festival was eventful. I had an unusually slow start for a plein air event, spurred mostly by my vision for a painting of reflections in a cypress marsh that never came to fruition. I devoted nearly a full day to hiking and bushwhacking around a couple of state parks and I still couldn't find the flora to fit the bill. (I've since learned of a few promising spots, but early last week I gave up and assumed the cypress canopy part of the Upper Loxahatchee River was only accessible via kayak.) I finally decided to do a small painting of some ibis near the main parking lot at Riverbend Park so my hours there hunting for a cypress marsh wouldn't come to a complete waste.
I set my easel up under this tree, thankful for the shade, and started a study of some ibis in a mud flat.
Only about fifteen minutes into the painting, I was shocked to feel a spray of water (or so I thought) rain down on me. I looked up for an errant cloud only to see an angry squirrel peering down from a branch ten feet above. It took me a second to realize that the little guy had cut loose and urinated on me. What?! That happens? I edged away from under the squirrel called my sister to laugh about it and ask if she'd ever heard a story like mine. For good measure, I ran it by some other plein air artists, too. No one had ever heard of a squirrel doing such a thing. It was certainly a first for me.
I decided to keep on painting since the squirrel in question came down from the tree and watched me from the grass instead. I tried to work quickly--it was bizarre to be an unwilling participant in a standoff with a rodent! I guess the squirrel must have felt territorial about the tree. He sat there like this for the rest of my painting session:
After capping a day of fruitless scouting by getting peed on by a squirrel (argh!), I needed to either find something good or call it a wrap. Right on cue my friend and fellow artist Beth Bathe came through with a great tip on a painting location. She knows I love coastal scenes with rocky shorelines and surf, so she sent me to Hutchinson Island, which boasts the oldest building in Martin County. The House of Refuge there was built by the US government as one among a series of houses every ten miles up the Atlantic coast. These were maintained by keepers who were paid to watch out for shipwrecks and be a resource to sailors in the event of a wreck. The house of Hutchinson Island is now a tiny maritime museum with ample parking spaces (10) for the history buffs, photographers, and artists who venture there.
I loved the location because I could work on a more complex painting of the Atlantic surf over a couple of afternoons (see below) and then turn my easel around and paint a sunset over the Indian River. As I wrapped up my larger painting on the second day, I was amazed to see some folks set up a fancy table and spread flowers. (An engagement photo shoot?, I wondered.) Then the guests arrived and with them the bride and groom. I crashed my first wedding while plein air painting! Or did the wedding crash my painting session?
I was deeply honored when the event judge, artist Nancy Tankersley, gave this painting third place in a field of great paintings.