For nearly a year now, I’ve been so eager to do some paintings down at Islip’s commercial fishing docks. I love the proportions of the docks, it is one of the few places that you can feel dwarfed, in suburbia. I love walking beneath the tall masts, boat cargo cranes, huge, hulking, ocean going boats, bright green trawling nets on giant spools in the back. And here and there are the boat hands, the captains of the boat, wending their way in and out of the warehouse, talking as they go.
The painting that I did for Starbucks, a year ago now, placed me in the midst of all of this wonderful commotion. I got to know a few of the captains by name. They described the state of fishing, the way it used to be, how uncertain the future was. One day, the Kristina Marie came in. It was one of the midsized trawlers, and it came chugging slowly into the slip. The captain, Pete, was alone. Today he was upset.
“Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. You just can’t trust anybody” he muttered, as he began throwing the fish into baskets. There were scores of beautiful fish, piled up on the floor of the deck. I was painting there on the docks, and I stayed quiet. Pete looked up, and asked how the painting was going. I told him it was going well, then I asked him how his catch had gone. “The catch was fine, as you can see. But as I just came into the canal, the guy radioed in. He told me he didn’t need ’em afterall.” He paused, looked down at the water. “Rules are, I have to count them all, then head back out to the ocean. Then, by law, I have to drop the dead fish into the water. All that, scores of fish, hundreds of dollars, now for nothing. Just because some bait shop owner doesn’t care about fishermen.” Coming to know a bit more of the fisherman’s plight made me want to paint their world even more.
A year went by. My studio was opened, my baby was born, my school was started, my kitchen floor was replaced, life happened. Yesterday, I returned to the commercial docks, and asked Pete if I could paint his boat. Pete was there with his golden lab, doing this and that. I described how I had a model, an older man, and wanted to do a painting of a commercial boat captain, his hand on the wheel, returning from a day on the water. “Sure, Kev, you can have the keys to the cabin, whatever you need.”
A friend of mine, Tom, agreed to come and pose for the painting. Today, we went down to where the Kristina Marie is docked, and I set up my easel on the boat. I placed my five foot wide canvas on the easel, I readied all of my paints, sketched things out, and he set up. But, the weather was brutally cold, below thirty degrees, the wind chill even lower, and I realized that I’d better do some preliminary sketching in the studio.
Tom and I returned to my studio, and I just simply began a painting sketch of his face, on a small canvas. This composition is not necessarily going to be that of the finished painting. I just wanted to do something, involving light hitting his face. As I moved paint, dragged bristle brushes, feathered sable brushes, I realized something. I’ve learned a new way of painting, lately. I’ve been painting so much, these past weeks, and I’ve suddenly stepped into a new way of loading paint onto the canvas. I discovered how to manipulate lead white paint by mixing it with marble dust, and trowel it on to get the effect of light that I’ve always been looking for. I saw Rembrandt do that in a painting at the Pitti Palace in Florence, only I never knew how he did it until today. I don’t know if it is evident to the onlooker, but when I brought home this three hour sketch to Margaret, she was so astonished by the new way I learned to apply paint. She said it glowed.
So, it was a cold but wonderful day.