Watercolor and Pastel Artists at CHAW

Nancy Arbuthnot combines watercolor and poetry to portray timelessness in time and tide

Editor’s note: In this post, Nancy describes her process and challenges in rendering, in words and paint, the timelessness of a gull amid shimmering ripples. Her resulting work of art is currently part of the show “Summer Work” at the CHAW Gallery, 545 7th Street, SE, Washington, DC. 

Nancy Arbuthnot: Gull on the Shimmering Flats

Gull on the Shimmering Flats is one of a series of what I call my “meditations in watercolor and poetry” on the world around me—in this case, a herring gull at momentary rest on the Heal’s Eddy mudflats on Kennebec Point in Georgetown, Maine, where I spend my summers.

My previous paintings have been landscapes or still-life arrangements, and one of the chief challenges here was in choosing to portray a live creature. Although gulls do stand still, they tend to flap off when approached. I could not get close enough to observe carefully enough the colors and shapes of beak and legs and wings and so on, or even to photograph my chosen gull effectively. Fortunately, bird identification books, internet research, and my own drawing and redrawing enabled me to depict a bird realistic enough for me to then render in watercolor.

Nancy Arbuthnot Gull

This photograph gives an idea of the gull and the background I wanted to portray.

Before, during, and after my struggles with the drawing and painting of the gull itself, I found the background to be a completely different challenge. Often the backgrounds in my paintings are a kind of afterthought, filled in with broad brushstrokes. Here, the background is an absolutely crucial part of the painting. But how could I reproduce the shimmering quality of the mudflats in sunlight? Eventually I chose an impressionistic technique of small strokes of vivid, individual colors, thus marrying the more realistic depiction of the gull with a more fanciful abstract setting.

A third challenge concerned composing a short poem that would illuminate that moment of timelessness in the midst of changing tide and time that I experienced with the gull on the mudflats. Each phrase, each word needed to be just the right phrase, the right word, the right sound. Instead of sitting at my desk, where I usually situate myself to paint, I walked around, talking aloud to myself, composing and recomposing my poem. I think it now says what—and how—I want it to say. . . .

Here is the poem:

Gull on the shimmering flats

Conscious of mud and tide

Impart to us

Your patience

In the face of change

And time

My final challenge, one that I encounter in all my writing, in all my art, is accepting that I must stop, finish, sign and frame my artwork, publish (or give up to an audience beyond myself) my poems. At this point, relieved that my work is completed, I also find myself feeling grateful and joyful and even a little astounded that these challenges have filled a blank white paper with a swirl of colors and words.

Nancy Arbuthnot Gull on the Simmering Flats

Nancy Arbuthnot. Gull on the Simmering Flats. Watercolor.

Nancy’s profile is available here: Nancy Arbuthnot
To see some more of her work, click here: Nancy Arbuthnot’s Gallery



About wisemarian

One comment on “Nancy Arbuthnot combines watercolor and poetry to portray timelessness in time and tide

  1. wendyprothrohoward
    September 18, 2018

    wonderful rendering by Nancy Arbuthnot!


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This entry was posted on September 17, 2018 by in Artist process, Watercolor and tagged .
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