It was a dark night on Santa Rosa Island and the wind was howling, but I was there to work. I came to paint. I'd only produced a couple of nocturnes in my life, and those were in oils, I was going to experiment with painting one in watercolors.
The question was, how to get the washes to dry?
So I borrowed a blow dryer, and an extension cord and set out to paint in the horse corral. I plugged the blow dryer into the nearby branding shed and went to work painting the barn, which had a single light up above, illuminating the surrounding area. What a spooky night.
Throughout the painting the wind howled, and rattled the chains holding the corral gates closed. There was a shirt on a hanger next inside the open ended branding shed to my right, and every time the wind would gust, the shirt would bellow up and catch my attention. I tried my best to maintain my composure during the painting. staring at the open door of the barn; half expecting someone or something to come walking out in my direction.
And then just when I convinced myself to keep moving through startledom, Five feet away, right in front of me, an Island fox jumped out from the side of the branding shed as if to attack me; that is until it saw that I wasn't prey. It jumped up in the air, just as startled as I was, then skedaddled.
I was after the light/dark contrast; the "chiaroscuro", as the Italians call it. The luminescent glow from the single light source was the prime objective. It was the Highlight, the primary focal point. My process was, just like any water color, to work light to dark. In this case I continued to work darker and darker, layering washes deeper and deeper until achieving the correct relationships. I used the blow dryer only to expedite the process so the washes would dry more quickly, which turned out to be a good thing cause I wanted to get the hell out of there as quickly as I could.
I feel I moved through something that night, like I'd been through an initiation of sorts. If I could paint in this condition, I could paint in almost any location or condition however daunting or challenging. A spark ignited my desire to paint another painting and pursue the illusion of light.
A Ghostly Night at the Ranch
9x11 Watercolor 1995
Collection of Santa Rosa Island Foundation