I took my watercolor travel kit on my vacation to Hawaii with great resolve and unsure expectations. In her book, Stecher recommends starting off right away with a sketch/painting, before you even leave the house. That way you’ve broken the dam, so to speak, and have gotten past the initial block. So, the night before we left a neighbor came by to pick up our toy poodle, Max. I love that little dog, and it was torturous to see him go. To help minimize his anxiety, my wife and I left the house and then the neighbor came by to take him away without us there. This sketch is us watching the little shaver from a distance (not pathetic dog-parent faces).

Since my mudblob experience, I felt that my best bet was to go with pen and watercolor. I tried to be very quick and loose with this sketch, and even quicker with the watercolor. The quickness shows. 🙂

I found many subjects for painting on the trip…

Despite my extensive business travel, I somehow brain-farted and packed both scissors and an 8-inch kitchen knife in our carry-on luggage, not to mention a whole host of liquids and gels that greatly exceeded the 1-3-3 minimums. I poured on the charm with the TSA agent, who said that she should really call the state trooper and have him take us away. I’m sure she was thinking that if we weren’t dangerous due to our weaponry, perhaps we were even more dangerous due to our stupidity. At any rate, it became my second sketch/painting. I was well on my way! (And thankfully we were on our way, too, after returning to the check-in counter and checking the offending piece of luggage through).

The flight provided 2 more opportunities to engage the right side of my brain:

On the left, the empty seat is where I was sitting, and that’s my wife (Ellen) next to my empty space. I ask you not to form any impressions of her from my drawing. She is not too happy with how she turned out. Look, instead, at the impressive display of perspective drawing! As we took off from San Francisco, I captured in my mind the 2-minute passing of the city beneath us and tried to re-create the scene in my journal as we cruised over the Pacific (trying to balance pretzels and a soda and my sketchbook). (As an aside, I crave tomato juice when I fly… Strange).

I hit my sketchbooking stride on day 3 and recorded a day of snorkeling exploration, both with drawings and a quick painting. The painting was done while sitting on very sharp lava rocks with the sun beating down (drying the paint virtually on contact with the paper), while Ellen sunned herself on the beach (this moment is captured in the upper left corner).

On day 4 we drove around Oahu. By then Ellen’s patience for my desire to stop and paint was running thin. Bless her. I produced my third mudblob (which, if you blur your eyes enough roughly resembles the Ko’olau mountain range) while Ellen entertained herself in a field of flowers. I don’t know what she was doing, but I imagined her frolicking among the foliage in Julie Andrews style. I doubt she was so taken by the moment, but it helped assuage my conscience.

Just up the coast, I insisted we stop again at a breathtaking little cove. By now Ellen’s patience was all but gone. Still, I (somewhat unwisely) insisted we stop. Here I’ve captured the bay while Ellen took a snooze on a little patch of sand. Again, I didn’t actually witness her snooze, but imagining her in zen-like horizontal meditation (what Ellen calls a nap-flop) surrounded by beauty was what I needed to banish that nagging voice telling me I was pushing her limits.

Turns out that was one painting too many. We spent the next hour of our drive “working out” our differences as they related to my painting obsession (oops, I mean HOBBY).

On day 5, we visited the USS Arizona memorial. This picture was sketched out on my lap as the boat pulled away from the memorial. I added watercolor back at the hotel. Ellen was elsewhere on the boat, reading I believe. We had brokered a peace of sorts since the previous day, and she was encouraging me to paint to my heart’s content (as long as there was something for her to do in the meantime).

On day 7 I stumbled across my new Flat Stanley style of character painting. This picture is me (or what I might look like had I not seen a steamroller coming). The sketch on the right is my view from the ground.

I found that sometimes I wanted to paint my sketches, but other times I didn’t want to risk “ruining” them with paint. I have identified this neurosis as a pattern in my painting. My left brain kicks in and becomes too attached to the outcome. At that point, the “flow” ceases. When this happens I flip-flop between two inner voices:

  • Voice 1 (kicks in when the painting is tending toward a mudblob): “This is terrible. Painting sucks. You call this fun? Wouldn’t you rather just go and take a nap or read a trash novel?”
  • Voice 2 (kicks in when the painting is pleasing to me): “Wow. You’re pretty good. Keep this up and they’ll be calling you Pavlov of the Palette” (Note the subtle reference to Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther Strikes Again).

This internal discourse is my left brain in its full glory—always wanting to make a judgment and label things as good or bad. More on that in future blogs (for a great book on how this seems to be the prevailing human condition, see Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now).

On day 7, we visited Hanauma Bay. It’s quite beautiful, but it’s also quite a tourist destination. After the required safety briefing, we hiked down to the beach and joined the throng of tourists in the water. Imagine the sinking scene in Titanic where everyone is splashing about. Now transfer that to Hawaii and put everyone in bathing suits and snorkels rather than dinner attire, and you will have an idea of what Hanauma Bay can be like. Actually, it wasn’t that bad. After our snorkel, I convinced Ellen that she might enjoy just sitting and enjoying the view while I tried my hand at painting the panorama. I had somehow accumulated enough goodwill for her to indulge me.

The next day we packed up our belongings for the second half of our vacation on the Big Island. This is a sketch done at the airport as I reflected on that morning’s repacking chaos and watched my exhausted wife take a snooze–incidentally, this is one of my first “realistic” figure drawings; I had just read that you should try to reduce a figure to a collection of shapes, so that’s what I did here, and it turned out to come semi-close to resembling Ellen-sleeping-in-an-airport-chair… Except for the face–I need some work there!.

More on Hawaii in another post…

 (I’ve posted my Hawaii sketchbook in its entirety in a separate post)