Standing with the Sea Painting from Life

“I don’t know how she does it, but Terrill’s paintings make me feel the rush of being there, of being part of it,” comments Anita Lewis, who shared on Google Plus the following completed painting.

I wish I had an adequate answer for Anita. The truth is I am not exactly sure. I can tell you that the landscape painter must have the courage to stand in the moment with as much raw, unfiltered honesty as possible. In this case, I am standing with the sea.

At first this standing is about the grey that shifts continuously in rolling spring storms. It is about a tide that seems to neither want to come in or go out as I set up the easel.

It is about enduring the dreariest gulf islands spring since the beginning of weather records. This has followed on a winter that saw snow on the west coast during most months.

I have come to realize that we are likely to miss out on are usual warm days of spring this year. Now my endurance is settling on an early summer. But at the moment rain is coming. It is time to pack up and leave with the 22 x 28 inch canvas roughly blocked in using walnut oil paints.

The next day it rains a steady drizzle. No plein air painting is going to be possible. I sigh and move on to other tasks. The following day seems like it may be promising. But it isn’t. As the painting class and I huddle under a gazebo in the national park near the painting location, they get a good chortle. The sun is shining through the rain but it isn’t going to be enough to break the spell and let us plein air paint. We retreat to the Mayne Island Community Centre and I provide tutorial examples while answering various painting problems posed by the students. The day is salvaged through our collective flexibility.

It is a long day which becomes even longer that evening when I learn that a long-time friend has lost his gallant 20 or-so-year battle with cancer. We had spoken only a few short weeks earlier. He had basically called to say good-bye. At the time he commented that he wasn’t sure if the cancer would get him or if his heart would fail first from an unrelated issue. In the celebration of life notice his family has asked that donations be made to the Heart and Stroke foundation instead of bringing flowers. I am assuming this might be a clue to how his question was answered.

From the time we could barely call ourselves teenagers, through our wild years, into young adults, on into our mature years and finally to becoming grandparents – we never lost sight of being friends. Even if years sometimes passed without so much as a phone call, there was no question – we were friends. Though I will miss him, I cannot help thinking he suffered more than his share to remain with us as long as he did. He fulfilled one of his greatest wishes and saw his children grown and had time to enjoy his grandchildren. He knew great love and what deep caring really means through his relationship with his partner. His life was fully lived around what I feel matters most – love, family, friends, frank honesty and hard work.

The next morning has offered up the promised sun. I am standing before a grey-scale roughed in painting with a heavy heart, squinting into the sky blues. Yes, I definitely will miss him. I look across the Strait of Georgia which seems to widen with every glance. I put up the sunshade to keep my canvas neutral.

I work diligently as if without skin and bone protecting the most vulnerable parts of my being. I listen to the sea as it rolls waves forward with each passing boat and ferry. The moments are filled with frequent commas from song birds that are occasionally punctuated more heavily by seagulls and eagles. The sea lions roll up to the surface with their unmistakable breathing raising the hairs above my pinched shoulder blades. I am consumed by salt air, spring grass and exposed seaweed. The breeze lifts the branches of the fir trees behind me and the escaping sun warms my back in brief fragmented caresses. What blue? What blue do I need most? I mix and layer and release the colours onto the canvas within the rhythms of the sea, the rhythms of life…. and the rhythms of our immediate and pending death. Finally the brushes still.

I take the painting back to studio. After letting it rest for a bit, I add a few more brush marks over the afternoon and a few more the next day before calling it done.

The painting was only five days from start to finish. Yet, the world, my world, is forever changed. I am reminded of a line from a poem “The Speed of Darkness” by Muriel Rukeyser – The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.

A final photograph is still needed of course but this one will do for today.

So the “how does she do it” remains a mystery in some ways, even from me – hidden in unedited, intuitive renderings of experiences from life onto a canvas.

When was the last time you stood by the sea and asked it to share with you its greatest mystery?

© 2017 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

For gallery and purchase information about Terrill’s photographs and paintings go to

6 thoughts on “Standing with the Sea Painting from Life

  1. Terrill,
    I believe you answered this question with your musings within this post, not only “how does she do it?” but also why you do it.
    Artistic, creative talent, using your purpose to express yourself “is” how and why you do it. Painting the now, being present even in the midst of thoughtful memories of love and loss imbue your art and your life.
    ((Hugs and Blessings )))

    • Jeff I think you are right. So much about figuring out how a painter does what they do is to focus on what pigments they use, the brand of paints, how the palette is organized, the process steps and style used, even the size and shape of brushes employed. But no of these would get very far in answering the query Anita posed. I resonate with your reference to “using your purpose to express yourself ‘is’ how and why you do it.” This is much more informative and precise than say “I do it because I must!” Thanks for this Jeff and all the best of today to you. 🙂

  2. Terrill — I absolutely agree with Anita Lewis. Your paintings never fail to “make me feel the rush of being there, of being part of it.”

    As just one example of this shared feeling, this is what I wrote when I saw your piece titled WINTER SUN II – WEST COAST SEASCAPE: “The texture—light in the clouds, heavy in the waves—brings this painting to life. I can practically feel the mist on my skin and hear the timbre of the waves under the soft canopy of mango-kissed clouds.”

    Or when I saw your painting, FARM IN FOG and wrote: “The moment I saw it there was something—an emotional ache—about Terrill Welch’s Farm In Fog that captivated me. It took some contemplation and self-reflection to discover the feeling it evoked — hiraeth, a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.”

    Those are but two examples of your work that “make me feel the rush of being there, of being part of it.”

  3. How interesting that you started with such a deep gold underpainting. I see flecks of that in the final work, but I’m not sure if they are lifted from below or flecks of gold you added after. Also it’s so interesting to see how that actual landscape changed as you were painting it and yet you stayed true to your original vision, or so it seems, throughout. Yes, I do feel I am there with you too.

    • The gold you see in the sandstone reef Deborah has been added on top but there is always flex of the ground that come through and influence the final work, it is the main reason I do a ground actually – to get those west coast blues to come alive. I think there is still some of the grey day showing in the final work that was completed with the light blues of sunshine. But the composition stayed the same. I managed to keep with the same time of day and close to the same tide level. And happy you have you there with me Deborah. The more the merrier!

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