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Nature Art: The Lighthouse

In Honolulu, it was Diamond Head that followed me everywhere--on the beach, through the city streets...  Here in Marblehead, Massachusetts, about 20 miles north of Boston, it's the lighthouse.

Marblehead Harbor is famous for its summer sailing and its lobsters. Some even call it the birthplace of the American Navy and, from anywhere in the old town, you can see the lighthouse that marks the harbor mouth. Here's a sketch with the lighthouse at the top and a tiny fleet of sailboats below:

All the artists in town paint the lighthouse. If you're a realistic marine painter, it's important to include all the bracing on each of its four legs, just as you would include accurate drawings of the rigging of a boat you were painting. It took me years to realize that I could let the legs go, that I could just hint at them and trust you, the viewer, to understand what I meant. I painted the view below on a 90-degree day, and I chose unrealistic colors to emphasize how hot I felt. No sea breeze ever came up:

I'm painting with opaque watercolors, called gouache. They have a velvety finish when dry and clean up with water. They come in small tubes, and I simply squirt color (about the size of a dime for a sketch) onto a coated white paper plate when I'm setting up my palette. I throw the plate away when I'm done painting. You could also use a white glass plate or metal butcher tray as your palette, but I like to travel very light when I'm painting outdoors. I paint on regular watercolor paper with the usual brushes. Because gouache is opaque, I can paint over an area that didn't work and try again, which makes it a relaxing, vacation-like medium to use. You can find tubes of gouache at your local art supply store or at most online art supply stores. Here's my finished painting of the lighthouse:

Gouache is easy to travel with and, if you're traveling by air, the tiny tubes will fit in the zip-lock bag required by the TSA. I hope you give it a try wherever you may be in August!

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.

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