Hurricane Irma was a wake-up call for me. As the storm track ticked farther and farther west, I was forced to contemplate the likelihood that I’d lose the gallery, my studio and the warehouse filled with my artwork. Luckily, we didn’t get the 15 feet of storm surge that forecasters had predicted, and everything and everyone survived Irma no worse for wear.
But you don’t go through an experience like that without being affected, and I started to wonder in the recesses of my mind if I really wanted to continue being holed up in my studio for days and weeks at a time.
I love creating art. During the creative process, I feel connected to God, the universe, a higher power that guides my brush and hand strokes. But I missed the sun and sky and palm fronds fanning the light zephyrs that blow in from the Gulf and Matlacha Pass.
Then I happened to see a picture that Sir Richard Branson had posted on Instagram. If the name sounds familiar, he’s the founder of Virgin Airlines. He’s one of the world’s most successful and original entrepreneurs. In fact, he was knighted at Buckingham Palace for “services to entrepreneurship” and received the Tony Jannus Award for his accomplishments in commercial air transportation.
And several years ago, I was commissioned to paint his portrait to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Virgin Airlines.
His Instagram photo depicted the eye of Hurricane Irma passing over his home and favorite hideaway on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands. And I remember Sir Richard telling me at the time I presented him with his portrait that he didn’t have an office. “With all the different businesses [he’s founded more than 400] and outside interests I have, I’m never in one place for very long, so there’s absolutely no reason for me to have an office,” he told me. “My office is wherever I happen to be.”
Then it clicked.
Why do I need a studio?
When I was in the upper peninsula in Michigan this summer, I painted on location. As Mike and I drove to Kentucky to see the total eclipse, I painted solar rocks on site – just as I painted the eclipse as it was happening.
So, I’m done with my brick-and-mortar studio. From now on, my studio is wherever I am. From now on, my inspiration is whatever happens to be in front of me.
And as an impressionist painter, that actually works even better as I’m not looking to capture every little detail I see in my subject, but rather the impression of what I see and my reaction to it.
It’s kind of ironic that it took a hurricane and a photo posted on Instagram by Sir Richard Branson to remind me of a lesson that Claude Monet taught his contemporaries in the 1880s. Back then, he’d urged his fellow impressionists to abandon their own studios and vow to never paint another stroke except in front of their motifs. That’s why he converted a little boat into a floating studio that allowed him to paint as he sailed up and down the Seine River. I was the first American to paint on a replica of Monet’s floating studio. I paint once, sometimes twice a year, outdoors in Monet’s gardens in Giverny, France. But it took Irma to make me realize anew the wisdom of Monet’s advice and admonitions.
Instead of a floating studio, I’m developing a mobile paint box. In fact, I’m creating a dozen mobile paint boxes – for my car, my bike, for any place I want to go. From now on, I’m mobile.
And in so doing, I know I’ll be able to inject new adventure and renewed spontaneity into my art and artworks.
So just stand by!