“Palmas del Mar”

“Palmas del Mar”,
by Robert Leedy, 2010,
watercolor on Arches 140 lb. paper


This was the first of our painting ventures on a recent painting trip to Puerto Rico. Indiana artist and good friend, Lou Posner, was working en plein aire with me. We set up on the beach at Palmas del Mar where we were staying and got a rather late start after lunch and a long session of body surfing in a fairly nice swell of 3 – 4  foot waves. It was so nice to be in a warm climate in mid-January and the salt water felt great on the skin.

I did a quick sketch and began setting up to paint. Little did I know that I was about to encounter a plein aire obstacle I had long-forgotten about: Puerto Rican ants. These guys are so intelligent – more so than their Stateside brethren for sure. When Vicky & I lived in Puerto Rico, we always laughed at people who said the trick to keeping ants out of the sugar bowl is to put the sugar bowl in the center of a saucer filled with water. This is not a problem for these island ants – they simply build a human – excuse me – ANT bridge so that other ants may cross over the water. When it comes to biting humans, they put on their stealth boots. North American ants start crawling on you  and you can feel them; you simply jump up and brush them off as fast as you can.

The Puerto Rican hormiguero, on the other hand, carefully sneaks up your leg then blows a whistle of attack. All of a sudden you are bitten by the entire army and you wonder where they came from as you didn’t see any ant beds – and – you are sitting on a portable stool in what looks to be perfectly harmless beach sand. I firmly believe the term guerilla warfare should be replaced with the term hormiguero warfare.

What’s worse, is the artist victim who is so into what he’s painting that he does not hear the whistle nor feel the bites. I didn’t discover the bites until the ants had planted the Puerto Rican flag and were well on their way to another tourist gringo absorbed with non-ant things like sun, surf, relaxation and drink. These guys are easy targets…

The bites aren’t so bad until about 3 a.m. the next morning when you wake up scratching itching, bleeding legs convinced that the Lilliputians in Gulliver’s Travels were based on the lives of Puerto Rican ants. The bites I received stayed with me throughout my stay in Puerto Rico. And I got attacked by a  second company of ants just about the time the first round of bites seemed to calm down. Mary & Lou brought Benadryl and a bug bite remedy but they were merely quick, temporary fixes for me.

The above painting is not finished. It has a very nice value pattern flowing through it and I hope to retain many of the whites to keep a nice, airy play of light and shadow. It will probably serve as a study for a larger painting. The painting, as is, is fresh and full of nice marks. I run a risk of over working this should I choose to paint on it more.

So, you ask, did the ants run me off?

No the fading light and the guy collecting beach chairs at the end of the day did.

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