"Eucalyptus in the Evening" | Thurston Homestead
18 x 24 inches, oil on linen, en plein air
I received the Artist's Choice Award for this painting during the 15th Annual Laguna Beach Plein Air Invitational. I was caught by surprise and completely taken aback as it was announced. I have never won an artist's choice, but always voted for whatever I believed was the most outstanding painting in every competition or invitational I've been involved with.
For those who may not know, an Artist's Choice Award is determined by secret ballot. The only people eligible to vote are your peers who just spent the past week competing against you – which makes this a recognition I treasure more than anything else. Why? Because only four years ago no one had any idea who I was.
Sure, I could paint back then, and had been doing so for a long time. But until recently I mostly painted in my own part of the world, often alone, and seldom ventured beyond that world to show the work. Then a couple serious things happened to me that revealed the transitory nature of life, and how short it could be, and I decided to travel and paint as much as I could – and meet as many other like-minded outdoor artists as well. Life has been magnificent since. Even on the days I paint like crap.
I am humbled by this recognition. I love this painting but didn't expect it to be received this way. I chose an impossible subject to paint. I fretted and worried as I mixed the colors and marked off my shapes. I watched with a growing sense of despair as my canvas slipped further and further out of control over the three nights I worked it. I almost abandoned the mess towards the end because the light turned out to be so fleeting and beyond my reach. But then I stopped thinking and started painting on faith and it turned onto one of those rare moments when everything comes together at the end. A photo-finish.
Because what I learned from this painting is there is a threshold where terms like difficult or easy, better or worse, smart or stupid merely hold you back and you just have to go for it.
A Laguna Beach planner just sent me this image last night. It is a 1930 photo of the Thurston Homestead, the first house built in Laguna. (c. 1880) This is cool because I believe the trees I have indicated with a red arrow are the same ones that appear in my painting. The house and outbuildings are gone but the eucalyptus remain. The vantage point the photo was shot are the rocky outcroppings what appear in the painting as well.
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Neat, huh? I love history.