How Long Did It Take To Paint???
Every artist is asked this question. A dear friend and fellow artist's answer: A Lifetime.....
Visiting Castle Hill Lighthouse - the story behind the painting.
Rich and I visited Rhode Island 12 years ago - 2005. It was our first time to New England and our second Irish Setter Club of America National Specialty.
2005 was the first year I came out with a special painting put into print to celebrate the National. And this painting was the first in my first series - The Lighthouse Series. After the National, Rich and I drove around Rhode Island and various seaside cities. We had a rather common camera taking "film" photos to become part of my photo reference library. At one point we came across this small lighthouse nestled in the rocks near this really cool historical site. We had to hike to the lighthouse to take the photos. I knew someday I'd paint that lighthouse. We never paid attention to the name of the lighthouse. We were so tired, we were simply thrilled taking the photos and we didn't think much past that.
The years went by and in 2016 I found myself the Show Chair of that year's Irish Setter National Specialty. Wow - never saw that coming. In the middle of the show, when I was being pulled every which way organizing all that needs to be organized in the midst of a huge show, I received a text from my best friend. She lives in Texas, I in California, and she wanted me to go on a family trip to New England. It was going to be a boating trip. Unable to think past what was happening with the show, I told her I'd get back to her once the show was over and I could look at my calendar. Rich asked me what was going on...I told him. He had me text her right back and tell her I was going on the trip no matter what - thank God one of us had their brain intact.
I flew to Dallas, then we all flew to Newport, Rhode Island. By now I had a semi-professional digital camera. My light had come on and I was thrilled at the opportunity to take lighthouse photos in New England with a real camera. (Of course I was thrilled to be on the trip with my friend and her family as well - a win win indeed.) Afterall, the 2017 National was going to be back in Rhode Island now 12 years later. We stayed at a hotel the first night before getting on the boat to travel to the islands. That night we stayed at the Castle Hill Inn - a historical site. There was a lighthouse on the grounds. It was a hike - maybe a mile away. I solicited family members to go on the hike, grabbed my camera and took off. As we walked through the trees that would open up to the ocean view, what came into my line of sight but the lighthouse I'd visited with Rich 12 years earlier. NO WAY! I had no idea it was THAT lighthouse. We laughed and I was able to get better reference photos. At that moment, I thought I'd hit the photo reference library jackpot.
We left the Inn and headed for the marina. The boat was amazing and as we pulled out of the harbor what came into sight??? Are you sitting down? Unbelievable!! It was the peninsula with the Castle Hill Inn and Lighthouse. What I thought were perfect reference photos taken from land now paled in comparison to what I was taking from the sea. I truly had hit the photo reference library jackpot. Crazy how things fall into place at times.
Once home I began to draft up the composition in my mind. I did some small "thumbnail" sketches. Did I want the entire boat in the painting? Did I want only the front of the boat? Did I want the painting horizontal or vertical? Did I want the dogs and boat up close and personal or back futher towards the lighthouse and more of the scene?
Once my sketches were done, I asked trusted friends. What did they like about my 3 favorite sketches - what did they not like. If my friends didn't like where I was headed with my painting, then neither would my collectors. Everyone agreed - sketch # 2 was the favorite. This process did not happen overnight. Keep in your mind..."how long did it take to paint".....it is not just about painting, it is about being prepared to paint.
Now to find my subjects. I started going through hundreds of photos of dogs looking for the perfect reference photos. I found what I was looking for and as always, changed things a bit so the dogs in the painting were not exactly as shown in the photos. It is not ideal to feature someone's dog in a painting. It is ideal to have the audience identify with the dog. Someone asked me if there would be puppies in the painting. The answer was no. As a paranoid dog owner, I wouldn't let my litter be on a large vessel, so there would be no puppies on the vessel in my painting. One puppy you could keep an eye on, that would be okay, but there is no way I could keep an eye on an entire litter. (The theme song for "Jaws" was ringing in my head.)
As with all paintings, I have 8 x 10 photos taped all around the painting in process to keep me on track and accurate. The reference photos of the lighthouse, the inn, the dogs, and the boat were chosen (out of hundreds - literally). The photos were printed and taped around the painting. Then I said a prayer and began to paint.
Following are some of the photos used - my sketch - the reference photos etc. Long ago it was clear the last thing I could ever truly track was my time in doing a painting. It is a labor of love. Time stands still when I am painting and the hours fly by. In the end, a painting looks back at me, my husband gives me the okay that it is done and I hope others will enjoy what was created. It has taken me a lifetime to get where I am with my work. And hopefully, there are many more years for me to continue to do what I love - paint, paint and paint.
Rich and Dawn standing on the grounds of the Castle Hill Inn 2005
The actual lighthouse photos are tucked away. It is great that I was able to eventually paint the lighthouse however.
Main entrance to the Inn.
Posted at the front entrance.
View of the Inn from land. The first night in Rhode Island it looked like rain. The next morning, the sun was out and shining.
Our room at the Inn. Loved the fireplace in there. The stairs to get to the second floor were steep and creaky - so cool.
View of the lighthouse with the Inn behind me. Kelly's brother is walking up from the lighthouse - you can see how small this lighthouse is.
View of the Inn from land and the lighthouse behind me.
View of the Inn from sea and a view of Grace Kelly Beach. Grace Kelly used to stay in the small row of cottages in the front of this side of the Inn.
View of the Castle Hill Inn from sea and a view of the Castle Hill Lighthouse. This is photo # 88 - the photo which ultimately ended up being the primary reference photo for the painting.
A number of reference sketches are done to determine the composition before my paintings are started.
There were 3 finalist sketches for this painting's composition. This is sketch # 2 of those 3. It is the sketch that I used to determine the direction of the painting.
When I did this sketch, I was not looking at my reference photos. When I finally looked at the photos, I realized that the lighthouse was not visible in the photos I'd taken at the angle in my sketch. Not that it mattered. It is so important to have good reference material to keep yourself, as an artist, accurate. One can only see the lighthouse from a certain side of the Inn. I'd also considered making the lighthouse taller. Then the wisdom of another artist rang in my head....dear artist friend, Victoria Wilson Schultz, once told me - always be accurate. There are people who won't know the difference, but it will matter to those who do.
It was a fun thing to look at the sketch though and see how well I remembered the Inn. ha ha
The time spent in reviewing all the photos for a painting is a huge amount of time in and of itself.
Thank you to my dear friend, Kelly, and her family for taking me on this wonderful vacation with them. Kelly and I have been friends for over 30 years and I adore her and her family.
Basically what I looked like for 9 days - hair piled on top of my head armed with a camera.
Thank you for everyone for putting up with me!
I promise there are photos that will never make it to the internet.
SO...the big question is...how long did it take me to paint this painting?
NO IDEA! But I sure had a blast doing it.