Seascapes and Transitions

Things have been a bit strange on my island paradise for the past few months. There are numerous transitions to pass through in changing locations. We’ve been here since June and the first two months were spent painting a few pictures and unpacking. I had enormous difficulty in becoming grounded here.

Not only because this is an island surrounded by water, but I had no friends here, except my husband. We’re slowly but surely acclimating to island life and beginning to get acquainted. I’ve been devouring root vegetables, walking barefoot, and practicing yoga while sitting on our one-ton rock overlooking the sunset (that my husband hauled all the way from Orlando) and doing all that I know to do to get grounded and tuned into my dharma. Some of the things I love most about island life are the absence of clocks and calendars (for the most part), the sound of silence in the night (except for the fish jumping), and the gorgeous skies (constantly evolving). The stars are nice, too. I can’t say much about the people here, because we’re just getting introduced. There is a huge amount of community spirit, but we haven’t had much chance to be social. We joined the Matlacha Civic Association because we are trying to stop the City of Cape Coral from illegally annexing property on our island.

Feeling myself slipping into depression, I decided to throw myself into a big project that allowed me to focus on something beautiful. Eva Volf is an artist that paints fantastic seascapes in oils and I received permission from her to attempt to recreate one of her paintings in acrylics. I fell in love with the composition but knew that I do not possess the skills to paint such realistic impressions in acrylics. I was determined to give it my best shot. I don’t usually post reference photos with my paintings, but I want to give Eva full credit for the original. Isn’t this gorgeous? Keep in mind, I wasn’t trying to copy her, but to use her painting as inspiration to create one in my own style with acrylics.

“Awakening” 48X60 oils on canvas by Eva Volf

 

Unlike oils that are easily blended, acrylics take layers and layers to achieve results. They dry super-fast, like within minutes, instead of hours into days. And this was the largest canvas I have ever worked on at three feet by four feet. This presented many challenges. Acrylics dry much darker than they appear as applied. It’s difficult for me to color mix keeping this fact in mind. With experience, I know I will learn better how to judge. The project took me 2 ½ months working 4-16 hours a day. Many times I had to repaint, or even gesso over dark areas with white and start anew. I worked in distinct sections for days into weeks until I was comfortable enough to move onto a new section. In the end, I was quite satisfied with the results. I am having it framed for Christmas. Eva’s is much lighter, softer, and less dramatic. I don’t really like comparing my work to someone else’s, because we are all doing our own thing. Suffice it to say, her beautiful pieces are such an inspiration to me.

“Light on a New Day” 36X48 acrylics on canvas Susan K. Nicholls

I have always wanted a seascape to hang in my living room. Now I have one. I tried fluffier clouds surrounding the sunrise, but good ones are not in my skill-set as of yet, so I opted for a fog bank burning off. I can always go back and update the painting if I improve and feel so inclined.

Hung in the living room

The frame I picked out is to be made from whitewashed sea-weathered wood. I think it will look very nice. The painting has been curing since mid-November. Today I will put on the first two coats of varnish, one more coat tomorrow, and then after a few days of drying time, it will be ready to take to be framed.

on the wall

Finishing this monster project was bittersweet. I’m feeling accomplished, yet I know I have so much more to learn. I started this project exactly one year from the day that I picked up a brush and decided to paint.

First painting-Kate Jobling tutorial, last painting-Eva Volk inspired

I am painting a cup for the local breakfast diner, “The Perfect Cup”. That should only take a day, or so. Then I have a train to paint for my step-son’s Christmas present. Beyond that, I am hoping to commence with painting more original artwork inspired by the island life. I will still be doing a few tutorials because I learn so much from every little one. My favorite instructor has been in school in Italy for the past two months. I am looking forward to his return.

Abbey-The Water Dog

We attended the local tree-lighting get-together on Friday, with Abbey, the water dog, where we met many locals, snowbirds, and other doggies. I’m beginning to feel like I belong here, despite the fact that there is a tRump flag flying in front of every other house. (Okay, I won’t make this a political post, but sheesh…suffice it to say, I share the world view of this man with those beyond our borders and at least half of the world within them.)

If I don’t get back to you before Christmas, have a Merry one, Happy Holidays, and a wonderful New Year filled with love and light and joy! Peace be with you and yours.

I almost forgot! Here’s a quick boat tour around the tip of the island if you need something to warm you up today. It’s 85 degrees here today.

Art Space

When I was writing, we would often share our writing space online. I still have my desk in a corner under a window in my new place and I’ve also set up a makeshift studio for painting.

 

This is a guestroom. It has a Murphy bed that’s closed in this photograph. The futon usually sits along the left wall, but I had to move it for this large three-foot by four-foot canvas. Nothing sat level on the thick carpeting, so hubby went out and bought a smooth sheet of plywood to go on the floor. Even with sunlight coming in through the sliding glass doors, the light in this room was horrible and I was straining my eyes. We found a nice lightbox set-up on FB Marketplace and put that to good use.

The Murphy bed unit has shelves and cabinets where I keep art supplies. There are various painting mediums in there; gels, pastes, liquids, thinners, and such. Three hundred-plus paintbrushes live in Mason jars on a handy shelf.

I have no idea how many tubes of paint I have. Painting is done mostly with three primary colors, reds, blues, and yellows, which are mixed for various shades, along with whites, blacks, and umber. I keep some secondary colors and a few tertiary colors to speed up mixing certain shades and provide small amounts of quick color. Hanging shoe racks make a good place for keeping the colors organized where I can find what I need quickly.

I’m painting in acrylics and they dry extremely fast. This makes blending a challenge and I use goat hair mop brushes for large areas of blending. Glazing liquids help with blending smaller areas. I recently purchased a line of “open” hard-bodied Golden paints which have a slower drying time, the drawback is that they also have a longer tacky time, which is when your brush strokes can lift all of the layers off of your canvas, so there is a lot of time spent waiting for paint to dry, even when using a blow dryer to speed the process.

 

I like painting in early mornings when the light is good through the sliders that allow me to gaze out onto the palm-lined canal whenever I feel the need.

Morning time is when I feel most alert and focused, unlike late evenings when I felt a deeper connection with my writing.

There is a lady, Lisa Timcak, who owns a local gallery and shop, Island Visions. She has expressed some interest in displaying some of my work in her place next door to the ice cream shop. Inside of her gallery, there are tables and chairs to sit and eat your ice cream, which everybody who visits Matlacha has to do, so this is good exposure. She will be coming back to the village in October, so we shall see how that pans out.

The sun is coming up and I will be back to painting soon. I have been working on this large canvas for a few weeks now. It’s a slow process from start to finish, but quicker than writing a novel. And once the sun starts to set, I’ll be off to take my evening walk.

Let me know how your creative endeavors are coming along. Besides Alejandro, is there anyone else who has tried their hand at painting? I just picked up the brushes for acrylic painting about a year ago. I find it most relaxing and the minor frustrations are relatively easy to cope with. Have you thought about giving it a try? You may be better at it than you ever imagined.

Settling into Matlacha Island Life

The new header is a drone shot of our new island home. We are on the southwestern end of the peninsula that joins the road. Most of the area south of the road is a public park, except for the main drag thru town, which is quite charming. The bridge to the island is a draw bridge used mostly by sailboats.

Now that we are finally settling into island life, I’m thinking about resuming my writing. I’m still passionate about my artwork and have no plans to limit my painting time. Also, I’m still practicing Kundalini yoga and have a 15-minute sadhana with several common kriyas and one or two different meditations I do every morning. Jai Dev Singh is a fantastic teacher and his words resonate with me even more than the exercises.  I attribute my explosion in creativity to the prana, or life force energy, that Kundalini brings forth. When I taper off my practice, for whatever reason, I feel the motivation and energy for all things creative waning. It only takes one class to bring it up again. That’s what I love about Kundalini. It’s fast and powerful as compared to other yogic practices.

Here are the paintings I have created in the month and a half that we have been on Matlacha This totals forty-one paintings in this first year. I will start showing again soon and really need to have a sale to clear some space for more.

11X14 acrylics on canvas board: Psychedelic Wave
16X21 Acrylics on student grade canvas: Shore Fisherman
24X24 Pro-grade canvas (my largest yet) Island Cottage. This one is going over our bed.

I completed a body study, also. I’m not so thrilled with the shading and have considered painting over it, but it was a good lesson in color mixing for flesh tones. FYI: When I am painting, all of my colors start out from red, blue, yellow and white. Sometimes I use a burnt umber brown or black to avoid wasting paint. All of the shades, tones, and hues are derived from color mixing. I don’t buy, for example, a tube of purple or turquoise.

24X18 Acrylics on student grade canvas. Body Study

We sized down to less than half the square footage that we had in our Orlando home. Gave away three-bedroom suites, a living room suite, and a dining room suite. The lanai here is under roof, and not including it, we are down to 1200 sq ft. and paid nearly twice as much for it. Ha! But, yes, we are on the water facing the gorgeous sunsets and life is grand. The house has a great room and our bedroom doubles as Greg’s office, while the guest room (with a Murphey bed) doubles as my studio. When my grandkids came to visit, I heard the four-year-old ask the nine-year-old, “Why is grandmother’s kitchen in the living room?” There is a nice island in the center, but I thought that was hilarious. The perception of kids.

It’s a double lot with 120 feet of seawall and dock and has mature fruit trees. I made my first key lime pie with homegrown (definitely organic) citrus. The angle of the picture makes the crust look really thick, but it wasn’t. It was thin and crispy. Key limes are about the size of a ping-pong ball. I won’t deny that there is likely some knuckle in that zest.

As I mentioned earlier, I have an urge to start writing again. The candy man on the corner, William Tidball, who makes the best Turtles in the world, also sells local author’s books in his shop. I gave him a copy of Naked Alliances. He is reading it now and then we’ll discuss whether he will add it to his shelves. Most of the books that sell well are the ones specifically about Matlacha and Pine Island, but he has had some luck with several Florida writers.

Greg thinks I should live on the island and get to know more people before I start writing stories located here. I disagree. You can drive through and see the Trump 2020 flags, read the local Progressives column in the newspaper, and walk down any street to get the flavor of the place. The only black man I have seen on this island of roughly 700 residents, is the guy who plays the steel drums at Bert’s Bar and Grille every day from noon till 3 pm. Not sure how Brandi will fit in if I continue that series. Snowbirds come in September/October. According to the US Census Bureau, there is a 0.3% black population here. Not nearly the diversity that is seen in Orlando. But I do know that the candy man is gay. So there’s that. I don’t really want any of my characters fashioned after specific people on the island. It’s not anonymous enough.

Skip Elliot Bowman, resident drummer. He plays about two dozen different instruments, has played in NYC and at Carnegie Hall.

For example, some people have made characters fashioned after 62 yo Leoma Lovegrove, a colorful local character in her own right. She has a super sweet, bubbly personality and appears by other names in people’s books here. Leoma’s husband is an author and they host Indie Author Day here yearly. There are many artists, tho not as popular, who live on the island. There are a half dozen galleries in Matlacha alone and Pine Island has more. I could see an art-related story developing, but I would not want my storyline drawn on any specific character. There are also stores here that sell artifacts, both native American and Pioneer.

If you have time to read on, I will share a brief history of the place.

Around 1925, Lee County began dredging shell fill from the oyster beds of Matlacha Pass for use in the construction of a road they were building to connect the mainland to Pine Island. The abundance of the shell fill they dredged created a mass of land heretofore not existing on any maps. A wooden swing bridge was put in place across Matlacha Pass in 1927. (Pine Island was once inhabited by the Calusa Indians and later the Seminoles.)

Shortly thereafter, the Great Depression began and a group of squatters moved onto the excess shell fill. They didn’t have much, but the excellent fishing provided food and made this small parcel of land an attractive option to homelessness. The squatters began in tents and cars, eventually building shacks, shanties, and stilt houses. Over time they developed a full-scale fishing industry on this unclaimed land. At one point there was a showdown with the local government and the squatters emerged victorious. The land was deeded to them by the government through homestead rights. Thus the legendary fishing village of Matlacha was born.

Elvis music and movie, “Follow That Dream”

This entire drama is documented in Richard Powell’s novel, “Pioneer, Go Home!” (1959). The novel then became an Elvis Presley movie called “Follow That Dream” (1962). We watched the comedy-musical a few nights ago. The wooden swing bridge over Matlacha Pass was replaced with the present-day concrete draw-bridge in 1969. Plans to replace the existing bridge with an identical one because of its age are purportedly underway.

Much of Matlacha was constructed during the ’20s and ’30s. One and two-room clapboard houses with tin roofs went up along Pine Island Rd. These informally built, casually constructed structures embody the essence of Florida as it was prior to the building booms following WWII, during the 1960s and thereon. Yes, we live on a spoil island, and it’s one of the few unspoiled places you will find in the state. Stacked on shell that has cemented over time, it’s not likely to wash away like the sandbar islands. I’ll take my chances with the hurricanes for these sunrise and sunset views.

OH, YEAH! I almost forgot. There’s a Kindle Countdown Deal going on and “Naked Alliances” is on sale for 99 cents.

Review: “Richard Noggin and his trusty sidekick expose the bare truth about a ten-year-old murder and get to the bottom of an ugly human trafficking scheme. With tight prose and a cast of unforgettable characters, Naked Alliances doesn’t let up until you’ve seen it all!” ~ Tim Baker, author of Eyewitness Blues.

 

In the Path

Most everyone who comes to this blog knows I live in Central Florida. Orlando, to be precise.  Hurricane Irma is supposed to hit Florida head on, but hurricanes are unpredictable and nobody really knows for sure what is going to happen. Currently the hurricane is directly over Cuba.

In 2004, we sighed with relief when Charley went into the Gulf of Mexico. However, at Charlotte Harbor, Charley turned eastbound up the Peace River. My husband and his former souse were sitting in Orlando watching on the television as the eye of the hurricane moved over their investment home on the Peace River and leveled it. His boat ended up in his neighbor’s living room. Then, Charley headed north, and hit Orlando wide open.

Charley was small, fast and furious, cutting a path across the state before heading back into the Atlantic on the other side of the state. When it hit the Gulf, all of Central Florida had let down their guard. Tornadoes were spawned in Charley’s wake. So there was much devastation across the state.

In 2004, I had never experienced a hurricane. That night, I was off work and sitting on my front porch talking to my dad on the phone while watching the huge oak trees across the street kiss the ground in the torrential rains. My little apartment was on the ground floor of a two-story cinder block building on the NW side of town and I felt safe.

Little did I know that the SE side of town was ripped apart near the airport. I never lost power, so I had hot water and air-conditioning. But I was most fortunate, most were without power for nine days. Early the next morning I was called into work.

As an RN I was considered first responder during Charley and our employers made nurses stay at work 24/7….could not even go home to shower and had to sleep in patients rooms on the floor. I mean we chose that job…but that’s how it was. I lived five mins away and off the night of the hurricane, but was called into work that morning and had to show the police my “Disaster Preparedness Team” papers to be able to be on the interstate. I was in College Park and worked off Michigan. After 16 hours of work, they wanted me to sleep on the floor in a patient’s room because we received a huge amount of patients that had been evacuated from a facility in Lake Wales that had lost its roof. They let me go home for 8 hours, but I had to sign a paper agreeing to be back when I said I would….or risk termination.

We lost a lot of patients during that time. The Nursing Home was without power for nine days. The backup generator only supplied a few room’s outlets. The oxygen concentrators are electric, and once we ran out of O2 tanks, people started dying. We saved more than we lost, but people were literally dying in the hallways. A van of nurses came from Lake Wales to help take care of their patients every day. A couple of days after Charley went thru, the van was involved in a terrible accident in the torrential rain and two nurses were killed and one was paralyzed for life. I don’t think non-essential employees should be mandated to stay on their jobs during such a crises. But it’s crazy here and people can be fired for leaving a job at McDonald’s. Unless they live in a mandatory evacuation area, they are expected to stay.

Life is an adventure and then you die….seriously…we’ve been helping people board up homes and secure pets for those that need to leave. Some of our friends have relatives on the coast that can’t drive any distance (elderly people) so they are going to get them and bringing them to Orlando…I actually feel safer here in Central FL than anywhere else in FL at the moment.

In the aftermath of Charley all you could smell when you walked outside was Bar-B-Q. People were grilling meats that had thawed and was one big party from backyard to back yard…lol It was quite an experience. Free food everywhere….people helping cover rooftops with tarps. Chainsaw sounds were deafening.

But here is the real kicker: We just bought a house on Matlacha. The island is basically a sandbar between Pine Island and Cape Coral in the Gulf of Mexico, just behind Sanibel Island. Pine Island is a conservation island where no more development is allowed…no big condos, hotels or big box stores. Matlacha (pronounced Matt-la-shay) is that tiny red island.

The homes are three feet above sea level…the quaint bungalow we hope to retire to is on a lot that is built up by about 6 feet, and Irma’s storm surge is expected to be 6-10 feet. The Key Westy home is surrounded by coconut trees and sits on a deep water canal just a few yards from the channel that runs wide open to the Gulf. The home is waterfront with picturesque shuttered windows all around, opening views to the dock and the bay. Sanibel and the barrier Islands offer some shelter, but you just never know about these things.

So there is that. Sure hoping the 1964 house will still be standing when all is done, and the island property is not on the bottom of the bay. It’s been there for more than fifty years, so all we can do is hope it can at least last another fifty years.

 

At any rate, we have a generator for powering our a/c and fridge here in Orlando in case we lose power, and the family is gathering at our place to weather whatever part of the storm hits us here in Orlando Sunday night. There is still a sliver of hope that Irma will continue westward, but all hope of it turning north and heading up the eastern seaboard is gone at this point. It is currently bearing down on Cuba and when it hits the mountains it should weaken. The FL Keys are just starting to get hit with the outer bands, and they are warning them for Cat 3 with 105-125 winds with gusts to 145, and it’s not looking good for Matlacha. However, the house was built in 1964, has weathered many a storm, and we can hope to weather another half century.

Battening down the hatches and riding out the storm!