It is a little before seven thirty am and I’m poised, brush in hand, on the side of the road next to the beach, glancing expectantly from the scene in front of me to the mountain behind, and back again. I feel like a spectator at a play, waiting for curtains up. At seven thirty precisely the moment arrives in all its majesty. The sun rises from behind the mountain and the scene in from of me is centre stage, fully spot lit. And what a scene, what a transformation, as the dingy dullness is transplanted by dazzling contrasts, revealing a ready-made picture-perfect composition, of sky, sea, luminous purple blue shadows radiating out from plane trees, themselves forming a visually pleasing arch around the road which curves around one side of the allotted rectangle of my canvas. I had noted the potential in the scene a few days previously whilst out walking my dog, marvelling at the solidity of the shadows which balance out what would be an otherwise uneven composition. I knew I had to paint it, and I recognised the importance of it being this particular time of day, both for the length of the shadows, long and dramatic, and the convenience of painting before the sun’s heat turns up too high. Several days and much preparation later, with all elements in place, I am ready to begin.
Knowing that time is of the essence, I start working on those areas I know will be most prone to dramatic change, namely the shadows on the beach and on the side of the trees, so these go in first, with fast, frantic, grasping brushstrokes, trying to convey everything at once, and feeling inadequate, and failing, failing, failing to get all the information down. The essence of the scene is constantly slipping out of my grasp, as even now the shadows are on the move, being pulled towards the trees as if by an invisible thread, contracting in speeded-up motion as the sun rises further behind me, causing rivulets of sweat to trickle down my back. The heat is evident in it already, even in this, its early morning ascension. I am slowed down by technicalities... the turpentine I’m using to clean my brushes seems constantly dirty and has to be renewed every few minutes, causing me to lose my thread of thought over and over. The paint keeps running out and I bend down to top it up, again and again, noting with horror the passage of a colony of giant ants through my art materials, up the legs of my easel, along my arms and in my hair. I realise that short of leaving or instigating an ant massacre there is nothing to be done so I carry on, pausing frequently to wriggle away from an ant-induced itch or flick a stray specimen from out of the wet paint on my canvas. As I move from the shadows to the sky I am overwhelmed by hopelessness. Everything I have done looks childish, cartooney. I should just go home, before I waste any more of my expensive paints on this act of folly. But a little interior voice coaxes me on, reminding me of the hours of preparation, the inconvenience of the early start. I can’t give up now, so I push grimly on, convinced of failure, battling anger and frustration with every brushstroke. And then, forty-five minutes in, I break through the pain barrier and emerge, blinking on the other side, equipped with the sudden realisation that it’s going to work out. It’s a good painting; I am through the worst bit. It hasn’t all been a waste of time. I feel the tension leave me, the tension that is so necessary to the success of a painting, and my shoulders relax as, with renewed confidence I carry the painting towards its conclusion.
I am now more aware of my surroundings; I have emerged from the bubble and I start to notice things. An old-ish Greek man runs level with me, abruptly stops, turns and runs the other way, like a swimmer reaching the end of his lap at a pool. I am obviously his marker point. ‘I’m training’ he calls out, in explanation. He reappears at intervals two, three times before pausing to look at the painting. He shakes his head, sadly. ‘No…no…’ he begins in slow Greek, and then, in a voice surely reserved for foreign or stupid people, both of which he clearly considers me, he points out the error of my ways: ‘You’ve got the wrong view…’ and before I can protest he has taken me firmly by the arm and I am being briskly led round the corner. ‘That’s the view, see? Harbour, Village, Mountains. View.’ I try to explain that I deliberately chose my particular spot for its unique lighting qualities, but he is already off, running his next lap, still shaking his head and muttering dark things under his breath.
I get back to the painting, tying up the loose ends; the leaves on the trees, the house in the background. The shadows recede further and I am pleased with my foresight about putting them in first. I am pleased in general, in the special, elated way I only feel after finishing a good painting, especially one which was a struggle. I feel that the painting is wholesome and honest, and carries weight whilst still conveying lightness and space. I stop before I overwork it, and pack up my things, pausing to take one last long look at the piece in situ. ‘I was here’, it seems to say, a marker point in the fabric of everything. What more could you ask of a painting? I am truly satisfied… I am content.