In the Drink…Again

“Matthew’s Collateral” by Robert Leedy, watercolor on Fabriano Artistico 300 lb. Cold Press paper, 15 1/4″ x 14 5/8″. This is the finished painting AFTER the disaster.

Monday morning began fine. I was up early and on location for my plein air watercolor class. I arrived at Castaway Island Preserve early – around 8:00 – which gave me time to get a good painting underway. My students wouldn’t arrive until 10:00, I had a fresh cup of coffee, the light was gorgeous and the weather was perfect. Right away, my attention turned to a downed pine tree, most likely a victim of Hurricane Matthew, that had clumps of fire orange needles. It needed painting for sure…

As usual on my plein air  outings, no matter how empty a location is, someone will always walk up and engage me in a conversation. I saw the first one coming from a long shot: he studied my car as if it were an official vehicle and then kept turning his head my way. I was setting up my tripod. He wore desert cammo pants and looked as if he was a military veteran.

“Excuse me,” he began, “I was watching you set up and I was curious as to what you are up to – I’m studying to be an environmental engineer and I enjoy coming out here…I’ve seen biologists, wildlife officers, and Corps of Engineers workers out here…but I just can’t quite figure you out.”

My answer always throws them as they look around for buildings or fences loaded with wet paint: “I’m a painter.”

We had a nice chat as I finished setting up. He bid me a good day and walked back down the dock towards the parking area.

I was about twenty feet from shore on the dock. Painting on a dock is always tricky because paint brushes – especially expensive ones – are magnetically attracted to the cracks in between the planks. My thoughts also went back a few years ago when Paul Ladnier and I were painting on a coastal bulkhead in the marsh of the Intracoastal Waterway near St. Augustine. While I went for sandwiches, the wind blew my painting gear into the water. Paul not only tromped a hundred yards or so to retrieve my painting that was carried off by a rapid incoming tide, he also miraculously rescued my easel that sank in seven feet of water off the edge of the bulkhead. I returned with lunch and found Paul with a disappointed look on his face. Despite his heroic actions, he was sorry that he was unable to prevent a surprising act of nature.

Fortunately, there was no wind this morning. Not yet anyway…

I began my painting. I quickly blocked in the shapes and did minimal drawing. I began a wash for the sky. The painting was setting up nicely.

My painting BEFORE the bath.

Visitor #2 appeared. A man and his dog were walking towards me on the dock. This time I initiated the conversation. His dog was a Long Haired Dachshund and since I have one as well, I began the usual small talk.

Joe was a nice guy though he seemed plagued with bad luck. He told me Rufus  was overdue going to the vet for a checkup. It somehow came up that I had a class meeting at 10:00; Joe expressed interest in taking my class. “I used to do a little bit of this when I worked commercially as a painter.”

“Sign painter?” I asked.

“No, house painter,” he answered.

There is that reference again. 

“Do you have a business card?” He asked.

I told him I did and excused myself to go to the car and get one. I got halfway down the dock to the parking area when I heard:

“OH NO! ”

I knew what happened without looking. There was my painting floating face down in the Intracoastal Waterway. The wind had waited for me to leave. It was the perfect opportunity.

“No problem,” I said to Joe, “I’m going swimming for this one. As I started to wade into the water, Joe yelled:

“NO, WAIT! Grab that branch behind you and hand it to me.” I saw the branch in question and pulled it from the brush along the bank. I handed it up to Joe. He balanced himself on the railing of the dock and extended his reach. The floating watercolor paper was just in range by inches! Joe carefully tapped it with the branch and skillfully led it to shore. I bent down and picked it up. Though slightly weaker in color, my washes for the sky were still intact but there was a bit of dirt and scum all over the paper. I gave it a bath in clean water from both mine and Jessie’s – one of my amused students who witnessed the rescue – water containers.

“This is a message from Jesus!” Joe declared.

Yes, I thought to myself, he’s telling Robert Leedy to keep his watercolors the hell away from bodies of water!

“Well, maybe so, Joe…but you were the hero! Can I take your and Rufus’ photo?”

Joe & cute Rufus after rescuing my painting.

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