Saturday, January 31, 2009

Anatomy of a Cartoon

A Cuban blogger friend, Tomas Estrada Palma, recently started cartooning and posting his cartoons. I was so impressed by his drawings that I contacted him so we could do an art exchange. I found out he lives relatively close-by, so we set up a meeting to allow me to do some sketches of him for a cartoon. He was kind enough to agree to do one of me (see link above).

Tomas has the singular distiction of being the great-grandson of Cuba's first President, so I was a bit surprised that he was not fluent in Spanish--sadly, this is a common phenomenon among second generation immigrants and beyond--but he did share some stories about his family and I really enjoyed meeting him.

His greatest aficion seems to be politics and argument, so I drew two sketches of him from life, trying to distill what I think best defines his character, and then had to wait all week before I could find the time to do my cartoon. I finally got to it today and here it is.

This is one of the drawings in my sketchbook for the Sketchbook Project put on by Art House that I hope will be exhibited in Atlanta and DC as well as a number of other venues. I understand it will be shown in DC at MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Georgetown on March 3 & 4, 2009.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dreaming of Weeki Wachee

Cool Morning in Weeki Wachee, oils on canvas board, 9" x 12"

On my last morning at Weeki Wachee I had special company: a young red-shouldered hawk perched on a branch directly on the other side of the river from me for well over an hour while I painted, giving me ample opportunity to photograph him. He was trying to warm up in the sun, I suspect, and scouting for a meal. It was a chilly morning, just above freezing, and the dry air barely misted over the stream. Just as I was finishing my painting, the hawk finally took off and circled around several times with his typical "Keer-keer" cry.

Now that I'm back in Maryland winter, I dream of Weeki Wachee and Florida. How I would love to be like our migratory birds and spend my winters in Florida!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Goodby to Weeki Wachee

Golden Afternoon on the Weeki Wachee, watercolor, 14" x 10"

I painted this watercolor through two different afternoons, finishing on our last day on the Weeki Wachee River. It was time to start packing for the long trip back home, my palette was clean and oils were packed away. The chill of the morning had warmed to a lovely afternoon, so I lingered on the sun-washed deck as the afternoon shadows lengthened, wishing I could stay forever... I like to think my sketch evokes something of Winslow Homer's watercolors of Homosassa. The golden light of sub-tropical Florida enchants us artists throughout time.

Good-bye, Weeki Wachee. I hope we will return soon. If you are interested in purchasing this original painting, please contact me at

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6/26/09 - This painting has been selected to be in the WCA-DC Southeast Regional Show to be exhibited at the Edison Place Gallery in Washington, DC during September of this year. It's going to be a great show, don't miss it!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Painting the Weeki Wachee

Morning Mist on the Weeki Wachee, oils on canvasboard, 14" x 11"

The last few mornings the temperatures have been downright chilly, at about the freezing point. At night, the moisture condenses over the warm water of the river forming mist. In the early morning, the sun's rays filtering through the trees light the mist as it wafts over the stream for a lovely effect. One morning two young men in kayaks paddled by as I was painting. We chatted for a bit and although they went by too fast to pose, I tried to memorize their figures so I could include one in my painting.

The Weeki Wachee River is full of mystery... local legend has it that this was the spring Ponce de Leon believed to be the Fountain of Youth. You will certainly feel more youthful after a vigorous paddle on the Weeki Wachee River.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Manatee Luv

I'd never seen manatees in the wild before this trip to Florida's Nature Coast. Yesterday, while I was looking at some riverfront property, the realtor pointed out to me a baby manatee and its mother swimming along the bank (first photo). A closer look revealed a yearling calf and two others, one a pregnant female, for a total of five manatees swimming up the Weeki Wachee River.

Today it was cloudy and chilly, so we decided to drive up to Homosassa and visit a wildlife park on the river. They had an amazing variety of mostly native animals, some which I'd never seen: red wolves (once native, now bred in captivity), all kinds of birds such as ibises, flamingos, wood storks, roseate spoonbills, sand-hill cranes, white herons and pelicans, hawks and owls, foxes, a Florida panther and two bobcats, black bears and even a hippopotamus that was donated to the park after being used in a film. All the animals that are able to survive in the wild are free to come and go as they please; only those that can't make it on their own are kept in captivity.

The highlight of our visit was the manatee feeding. A park volunteer gets in the 72-degree water of the Homosassa Spring and hand-feeds sweet potatoes to six captive manatees. Other volunteers drop heads of lettuce and cabbage leaves in the feeding area. There is an underwater viewing house where visitors can see the manatees feeding underwater along with thousands of native fish such as large-mouth bass and tarpon.

Just outside the captive area one can see many other wild manatees on the river. Looking from an observation deck I counted about seven or eight, and one baby swimming by. They winter in these warmer spring-fed rivers because they cannot survive in the colder temperature of the Gulf water. These manatees have so much "awww..." quotient--everyone loves them!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Weeki Wachee Mermaids

Weeki Wachee Spring was at one time famous for its underwater show; it's still advertised as "home of the living mermaids." The brainchild of a former Navy frogman, Newt Perry, who worked a lot in show biz (he was a good friend of Johnny Weismuller and trained the crews as well as doubled for Tarzan in the underwater scenes), the mermaid show has been going on since 1947. Perry taught his teenagers to do stunts such as eating and drinking underwater, using only air hoses to breathe, free-dive to the bottom of the spring at 117 feet below the surface, and specially to perform graceful ballet moves that look beautiful in the crystalline water of the spring.

In its heyday, Weeki Wachee Spring was the setting for underwater scenes in movies such as "Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid" and Esther Williams movies. ABC acquired it in the 1960's and built the present Underwater Theater. Before Disney attractions overshadowed it, the shows were quite elaborate and even Elvis Presley visited it. There's a photo of Elvis with his underwater fan club.

Today the kitschy roadside attraction is a Florida state park, and the show would have closed a few years ago it if hadn't been for the dedicated work of former mermaids who organized to save it. The retired mermaids, ranging in age from forty into their seventies, still perform as volunteers once a month and the lady who lives in the house next door is one of them.

We went to see the show yesterday (they only have it on weekends these days) with David, who is down here for a long weekend. The mermaids are still beautiful but the show and props are a bit seedy; whether another cultural shift can yet bring it back to its former glory, no one knows.

Friday, January 9, 2009

On the Weeki Wachee River

We arrived in Weeki Wachee on Saturday afternoon and after a bit of confusion and backtracking (I'd brought the wrong set of Google Map directions), we found our rental house at the end of an unpaved road, just as we'd been told. The house is charming and the location--well, see for yourselves. This is a photo of our back deck overlooking the Weeki Wachee River. There were lots of kayakers on the river on this balmy day, and the spring-fed water is crystal-clear at 72 degrees. The current propels one downstream at 6 MPH, making it difficult to swim upstream, as we found out. Herb and I went in for a dip and found ourselves drifting downstream at such a rapid rate that we finally latched onto one of our neighbors' docks a few houses down and had to walk across their yard and onto the road to get back to our house.

I've been painting and sketching every day, though I haven't come up with anything I like so far. The water is such a startling blue-green color, and the eddies bubble and sparkle in the sunlight, it's hard to mix the right colors for a convincing effect.

Yesterday, we finally got out the two kayaks that were in the garage and paddled upstream through the wildlife preserve for about two hours as the river meanders towards its source from the incredible Weeki Wachee Spring. We estimated we covered about four to five miles or so, and it was quite a workout, but the scenery was worth the effort. We encountered a manatee along the way, lazily browsing along the bank, and numerous birds: herons and a hawk perched on a branch overhead. The afternoon was magic--better than any Disney jungle safari. On the way back we drifted downstream at such a speed it was hard to control our kayaks. It took only about a thirty-five to forty minutes to cover the ground we'd paddled upstream so laboriously.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Okefenokee Swamp

We left for Florida a day early so that we could spend the extra day at the Okefenokee Swamp, a place I'd always wanted to see and paint. After an overnight stop in Savannah, we awakened to a light drizzle, which became heavier on the way to breakfast by the Savannah River waterfront. I was afraid it would rain all day and we'd have to call our outing off. Luckily, it gradually cleared during our meal, and by the time we got on the road, it was sunny and getting warmer--a beautiful day.

We drove to the eastern entrance, the most easily accessible from I-95, and stopped at the visitor center for directions, selecting the Swamp Walk Trail as best for my purpose. A 4,000-foot boardwalk culminates in an observation tower overlooking the swamp.

I loaded my gear onto my latest plein air aid--a rolling cart--and set off, but my cart made an awful racket rolling over the boardwalk. There were many interesting side trails, but I was sure the rattle of my cart would scare any wildlife along the way, so I was surprised to see a small alligator sunning in a hole by the boardwalk. We saw some cranes far off in the distance, and finally stopped by a large pond with cypresses in the distance. It was getting on to three in the afternoon when I finally started painting, keenly aware that the refuge would close at sundown, only a couple of hours away now.

My painting is a bit rough, but considering the time limit, I think my val-hues are close and the painting "reads". There were so many unusual colors in this landscape at this time of the year, it was hard to figure out how to mix them: the Spanish moss, the grasses and shrubs, the swamp water... all in such wonderful harmonies! Herb admitted he enjoyed the day far more than he expected, and we managed to drive out just as the sun was sinking below the slash pines.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

South of the Border

Driving to Florida on I-95, you know you've crossed the South Carolina state line when you come across this landmark: the South of the Border rest stop. It has a Mexican theme, a very amusing, can't-miss-it logo and concessions with all kinds of merchandise, all themed. Herb chose the big sombrero tower as the setting for the hair-raising climax of his most recent novel, "Three Out of Four Heroes." The novel hasn't been published yet (we're working on it) but I love this photo of Herb sitting in our car at dusk during our drive down.