Painting on the River

Posted by Peter Senesac on 9th May 2019

This simple trip down the river started out way more complicated. It was a beautiful Spring day. Cool and breezy with a bright, clear sky, and low humidity after a front went through. Perfect for paddling. The original trip was planned for the Wekiva river. We were going to put in up river near Gulf Hammock and float down river and be retrieved by the guide in about 4 hours at Wacasasa Park Boat Ramp. On the morning of the trip, around 8 am, while we were waiting for our ride to pick us up, we got a call saying the trip is off, A tree fell and we can't get down river. We were disappointed to say the least. After nearly a day of preparation, we didn't want to just stay home. We were ready for an adventure. So after some discussion about all the possible rivers and springs we could visit we decided to try something all three of us had done before, float down the Santa Fe from 441 to Rum Island.

I had fishing and painting gear with me and I was ready to do both as we floated down stream. I should have known better. It's hard enough to do one thing while paddling a kayak, never mind tend to fishing and doing a sketch. Some how I did manage to do a little casting and even had a small fish on before I decided to give it up and just try to sketch.

Sketching in a boat moving down river, especially a kayak, is difficult. The boat was moving about 4 mph and not going where I wanted it to go! It would not track and it was a constant battle to keep it headed down river and not sideways or backward. Of course, it always headed for the low hanging brush along the banks. Paddling became way more involved than I thought it would due to the poor maneuverability of the boat.

I was prepared to work fast with watercolor pencil and markers, but this was crazy fast. No sooner did I get the paper out than I had to correct course and get back to the middle and out of the weeds. Then look down at my bag and get a pencil, look up and quickly find my composition again. But in that short time, I had moved, the view was different. I dashed in a few lines and grabbed the water brush and to get a quick wash going from the Elegant Writer or the Dark Wash Derwent graphite pencil. I was using paper that I had previously gessoed with a neutral color so I was concentrating on getting the dark's and lights. Shadow patterns and reflections. That is a lot to ask for in a 30 sec sketch There was no going back. Not only would I have to turn around and go back up stream, but I was falling behind the other boats and after each sketch I would have to paddle like a mad man to catch up. Over the course of the 3 hour float I got 5 sketches. However I didn't get any real reference shots because the picture I took after the sketch would have to be behind me! I wrote on the back of each one what I was doing and where.

sketch #1 After this one I learned I needed to use the toned paper. Just too much real estate to cover to try to get all the mid tones in. By the time I got the water and background in it was too late to work on the trees. I was off course and falling behind

#2. I remember this scene as being very bright around the base of this tree with the intense light of new spring green growth reflecting on the water from behind. No time to fill in the river bank and distance on the right.

#3, I don't think I actually had 2 minutes for this one. I think this is where there were some small rapids coming up and I didn't want to go over those bumps sideways. So I was in a hurry

#4. The striking contrast between the new foliage in the sun light and the deep shadow was the thing that caught my eye in most of these. The water was probably dark and not a midtone in this view but again, no time. This was an exercise in first impressions. What am I looking at and what do I like about it and how fast can I express it?
I think this is the spot where I did #4 sketch. However, before I could get the camera out I had drifted past the tree that is on the left of the sketch. A whole new composition was revealed . Certainly good for enough for another painting. I could have easily made several compositions from this spot.

#5. We were nearing the end of the trip here. The ramp was just around the bend. I was getting used to working fast and used a lot more water on this one. I had the tools out and ready to go. I was starting to get the hang of it.
There is a new painting about every 100 feet along this river. I'll have to go back but I'll bring an anchor next time