I spent a wonderful day yesterday drawing plein air with my friend and artist, Marjett Schille. It is gloriously the height of spring, with azaleas bursting forth, wisteria garlanding the trees with soft mauve fragrance, and the birds in courtship songs and displays everywhere one goes. We went to an island in the Altamaha River Delta, Butler Island. South of Darien on the Georgia coast, it is accessible by road, but the area harks back to the antebellum rice plantation days. There are still the dikes and canals, along with the "trunks" which are the historic tide-driven gates that allow water to flood the rice fields carved out by slaves so long ago. The landscape is very much still man made, but since it is a Georgia State Wildlife Management Area, the ponds and fields are home to many bird species, enormous fish and clearly, many raccoons - to judge from the footprints along the sandy roads. In other words, a perfect place to go and paint or draw in spring.
While we were working there in companionable silence, amid a chorus of bird song from the bushes all around us, I kept thinking back to a passage I had recently read in the May edition of American Artist, where classical oil painter Patricia Watwood is quoted as hoping that, amongst other reactions, viewers would respond to her art by sensing"that there is time enough for the things we value. Time to craft a painting, to study, to learn, to enjoy, and time to sit still and contemplate a picture and the world that it contains."
There is a grace and a privilege for each of us if we can somehow organise our lives as artists - and viewers of art too, of course - to have enough time for matters artistic. To be able to have enough flexibility to put aside a block of time just to go off and paint, single-mindedly, for a day outside in some beautiful place. To have had the time to hone one's skills sufficiently that one can feel comfortable working plein air. To have the inner serenity, without nagging preoccupations, to be able to enjoy the whole experience of being out in nature, where ponds pulse with life and the trees are visibly leafing out hour by hour. And indeed, at the end of our time of painting and drawing, to look at Marjett's lovely watercolours and marvel at her creativity that results in highly original yet evocative paintings.
Ensuring that we all have time for the people, the things and activities we value: that is the true art of living, I suspect. As an artist, I felt that my day on Butler Island yesterday met those criteria wonderfully.