Last month, I finished a series of landscape paintings around Asbury Park, New Jersey. Each day I drove from my home in the Pine Barrens to the historic seaside city, hoping to find views that were recognizable to the area and interesting to my painter’s eye.
The project began when I was approached by Asbury Ocean Club, a luxury boutique hotel opening later this summer. The creative team was looking for an artist’s interpretation of the city, a way to share the local landscape with guests. The painted images would be used for their postcards and gifted to patrons of the hotel and restaurant. Unlike many commissioned projects where I am working from a photograph, I had the ability to work from life and total freedom to pursue the landscapes that spoke to me.
I visited Asbury Park just a few times in the past- its streets, character, and shapes were still new. Walking through the city I found myself drawn to the charming flourishes on each structure, huge crumbling stone seashells and eagles, and pale green patina reminiscent of the early 1900s. I took note of abandoned things that looked beautiful simply because they are near the sea. I felt the energy of the past and New York City so close and calling by train. The views of Victorian romantic Ocean Grove shone from across the little canal. I wanted to say these things but in my shapes and colors.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours painting outdoors, but experience does not negate the challenges of plein air painting. The weather can change and so can the light. I worked on 4x6” canvases, the same size as the postcards and a scale that I found intimidating at first. I hoped to convey grand things in a tiny space and that my clients would see beauty in the things I chose to paint.
The landscape painting process goes something like this. In any given spot I may see multiple interesting viewpoints. I decide based on the canvas size, the direction of the sun, and the way things line up from where I stand. To the best of my ability I fix this image in my mind, because the light will inevitably change, and if you are always chasing the light you will never finish a painting outdoors.
I first cover the canvas in Indian Yellow, a rich yellow tone that I find charges landscapes with a certain energy. As this layer dries I mix a dark hue to draw with and then mark off some big shapes. I generally start with the sky, trying to mix the colors I see, slowly working my way forward in the landscape. The finished painting is the result of adding, subtracting, and adjusting shapes and colors.
I don’t typically create series of paintings but it is gratifying to see the canvases grouped together on my wall, the light and shadow that is Asbury Park. I would like to thank the team at Asbury Ocean Club for trusting my vision and commissioning me to create these paintings. I’m proud that my artwork will soon be in the hands of their guests and I hope the postcards are hung on walls and sent with thoughtful notes to many places.
Four of the paintings were purchased by Asbury Ocean Club. If you are interested in collecting the available landscapes, you can find them here.
Written by Michelle Farro. Photos by Don Ross.