Coming Together

10 April 2010

Apparently the east coast of North America is a global hot spot for the natural abundance of salt marshes. The U.S. MidAtlantic is also one of the most overdeveloped parcels of Earth’s real estate. Can the “Land of Pleasant Living” be such for both humans and herons?
With this thought, I’ve played with my sketches from Farm Creek and Blackwater Refuge, fitting together spartina grass plains and trees, the sky and the channels of water with pencil, ink wash, and intuition. As for any good work of art, the composition has to be pleasing, the value patterns sensible in the visual language of painting. What I’m feeling is that there’s a sense of mystery and timelessness to the salt marsh. From a low perspective, as if I were a fox on a sandy path, or a heron hunting silently along a tidal creek, this place would feel very much wilder and more expansive. I want my painting to express this, so my pencil pushes the foreground grasses over my horizon line. To express the expanse of grassy plain, weaving among the ranks of scrubby pines, I bring in a bit of atmospheric perspective with some light humid mist. Then I have a rather daring idea: why not a nocturne?
It is mostly by day that we humans enjoy the bay: fishing, crabbing, boating, hiking and birdwatching. We are diurnal creatures. By night the marshes belong to the wildlife. If I were a heron I would appreciate not only the nocturnal peace and quiet, but perhaps also a full moon. Not only a source of beautiful, mystical light, the moon is also the queen of the tides and, thus, the life cycles of the salt marsh ecosystem. A marsh under a rising full moon- – it is perfect!
It is, also, of course, a challenge. A night motif is as much emotional expression as it is visual reality. It is impossible to paint en plein air at night away from city lights. Still, this painting is, in many ways, more about expressing a sense of wonder and wildness than a reproduction of exact observation. . . and I enjoy a challenge.