Watercolor Expressions: “Spread the light; be the lighthouse”

The title is borrowed from a recent Yogi teabag, but is a practice I’ve been trying to embody. Only partially successful a lot of the time and well aware of my imperfections, I still aspire towards this goal. In the light of my best self I hope to find humble solace, to generate true love for others, and to move myself (and hopefully others I encounter) out of darkness.

Early lighthouse paintings

To the Lighthouse, 2017

As a lover of nautical themes and lighthouse symbolism, I’ve long wanted to make a decent lighthouse painting. My first attempts, about 2 years ago, were so technically poor I’ve stayed away from painting them since. The first of the series (pictured right) was done as a small sketch to prepare for the intended bigger version. It was ok, but I had difficulty seeing beyond the imperfections.

Beacon, 2017

My second effort (pictured left) was no more successful – maybe even less so – but came with a personally meaningful insight, the reason I treasure it. Made shortly after a disheartening world event, I, like many others, was searching for peace and hope. The working title for this second painting – To the Lighthouse – is also the title of my favorite Virginia Woolf novel, which added intellectual appeal. But as I worked on the painting for embarrassingly many hours considering the outcome, trying and failing to figure it out, my perspective shifted from seeking the light to being it. It almost seems silly now. After all, the idea is popular enough to be printed on a Yogi teabag tag! But at the time, it was an ‘aha!’ moment for me: You don’t need to find the light, you need to be the light! This insight unfortunately didn’t translate into making a luminous painting, but it did change me and necessitated a title change for the painting. To the Lighthouse became Beacon.

Another try

At times I feel future paintings are simmering in the background, not ready to be conceived, but still in active preparation. I’m not sure this makes sense to someone who isn’t me, but captures my experience of making the lighthouse painting shown below.

Nearly two years after the first lighthouse painting, I started by sketching lighthouses, this time using a photo model, to better understand perspective and form. That helped a lot! The first two paintings were generated from my imagined picture of a lighthouse scene, a vision equal parts primitive and inaccurate. I can see that clearly now.

The photo I used as a model for the new painting waited as an open tab on my internet browser for over a year, a long simmer! Finally, over the past weekend, I made the painting (pictured below). It’s still not perfect, but I’m happy with my progress.

Beacon, 9×12 watercolor (2019)

After I’ve finished a painting, I not uncommonly see new things and have impulses to change it. Away from it for a day, seeing it in my mind’s eye, I decided the sky should be a darker. When I shared that idea with my husband, he protested. The sky, almost indistinguishable from the lighthouse, is what he likes best about the painting. As a lover of metaphor, there are worse things – as we spread light, we may become one with the sky. I’ve quite a ways to go, but happy to be getting closer. Thanks for joining me on the journey!

9 thoughts on “Watercolor Expressions: “Spread the light; be the lighthouse”

  1. what a fascinating blog entry inasmuch as you are revealing your own judgement of your work as it progresses over time. presumably you are referencing the technical ‘goodness of fit’ to an actual lighthouse–the photographed one. and i can see what you mean as the fidelity of your artwork approaches the ‘real’ lighthouse in the photo. one of the fascinating aspects of this to me is the idea that something we create may not be good enough on its own if it isn’t faithful to a standard representation of an object. and that’s an interesting idea because as i look at the sequence of lighthouse art you have created, i find something beautiful in each of the different representations and quite honestly i can’t make a judgement about which is ‘better’ with respect to how i feel about the painting. yes, i can see a technical progression, but the emotional response in me to each of the pieces of artwork is just ‘different,’ not necessarily ‘better.’ it’s not wrong to aspire, and in fact aspiration/intention gives rise to new forms/creations. on the other hand, life as it is has its own beauty right now. what i love about your paintings and why i often say ‘don’t change a thing’ is that at any given moment the work represents that instantaneous common pathway of inside, outside, past, present, and future. with that said, not only your work but also your thoughts about your work are inspirational to me. in fact, your thinking about your work is itself a kind of artwork.

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    • I appreciate this comment so much and am enriched by your response. It’s especially interesting to think about how many different layers of meaning or value something can have. My progression with the technical aspects of painting aims to minimize the distractions from what might otherwise shine through. I’m so glad you found resonance in each of the paintings!

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    • Thank you for your kind support, Bette! It looks like you’re in Maine, a place I love (having grown up in NH and now in MA). The Maine coast is so different than anywhere else!

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