Ben Hicks and I have been friends since our very first Art Show together about three years ago. We both liked all things ocean and surfing, we were both making a career of something we loved, we were both expecting little groms of our own soon... We still have so much in common, and so does our art. When I started this painting of Boca and Deerfield, "The Hatchling Charge", it didn't immediately occur to me that I was painting Ben's life as a photographer. As most of you know, his main subjects are waves and sea turtles and Boca is his main stomping ground. I am always so inspired by the way he captures the character of those babies charging it, making their way to the ocean after already digging out of a shell, AND a deep hole in the sand! I try to create a character of my own while painting, but Ben is revealing that baby's actual character, and telling the story in the moment. It is no secret that a painter needs good reference photos to make the composition, subjects, colors, and shadows believable in his or her paintings, but I look to Ben for more than that. I want my paintings to also open up a new view into the lives of these creatures that we share our beaches with. How does he do it?
We may be similar, but we each have very different ways of expressing ourselves through visual art, and I thought it would be fun to describe the "behind the scenes", or "in the minds of" the artwork with paintings and photographs side by side. Ben is joining in, and will be writing in italics.
"Photography is in the moment, painting is in your head"
When I start a painting, it is a little different than a normal painter. It's more like a sculptor actually, because I am looking to the nautical chart to reveal opportunities, focal points, positive and negative space that I can use, etc. I usually have a subject in mind, but sometimes, have to change it if the chart doesn't have the right space for it. It's not like I couldn't just do it anyway, but my goal is to create harmony with my painting in the chart. I want you to feel likes it belongs there. These babies were meant to hatch, this surfer was meant to get tubed… I get a vision in my head after staring for a while and then I get as many photo references as I can to support my vision. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to have taken my own, sometimes I look to my friends like Ben. It's important to me not to ever completely copy a photographer, because that's encroaching on their art realm. I do however, take three or more photos of a wave, for example, and after sketching ideas that might fit the chart space, I create a composite of those photos in the final painting. Waves especially are a subject that needs a lot of practice to be understood. I look to other artists like Ed Obermeyer, for my wave painting crushes, and learn through observing and practicing. All the visual memory, photo references, skills, experiences, color knowledge and practice, floats around up there, and then comes together where the chart points it to. I can say some of it is definitely in the moment as decisions are made, but for the most part, I disappear in my head.
When I started out as an image maker many of my nature scenes were very spontaneus spur of the moment scenes that I put myself into. I started to realize the stories behind the images were impacting a lot of people especially with sea turtles. With so few opportunities a year to photograph hatchings, each new season I prepared more and more to be as ready as possible when I got my opportunity. I spend hours in and out of the water waiting for the moment to capture. Within the last 3 years I really started thinking of ways to create new images in ways people haven't seen before. There are thousands of failed images, but when I get one it is such an inspiration for me to bring the moment into the world. Images can tell a thousand words and for me to be able to create those words with an image that can impact the way people feel about the environment then my motivation generates even more inspiration! I do still have ideas in my head for specific photos, besides those taken in the moment. One of my recent successes, I had been trying to capture for almost three years!
"Editing photography vs. editing with watercolor painting"
The camera can only recreate a certain amount of what I see. Some images I have to adjust color temperature or exposure to make sure the image was how I saw it. Subtle editing is very important and key to sharing images as how they were.
Watercolor is unforgiving because your "white" is the paper. I don't even get to start with white sometimes because that isn't the color of that part of the chart. The sea turtles in this painting don't have an ounce of white on them because they are on the land part of the chart, where everything was already tan. I have to play with shadows and temperatures of colors to make it look like high lights and leave spaces empty. If I overwork it, and cover my highlight, there is no getting that back… I either work with it and make it look like it's suppose to be there with other shadows, a change in composition, or scrap it and start over.
"We both show you, the viewer, what we want you to see"
I definitely keep the main goal in mind. I want your eyes to wander the whole painting to see new details and moments with the subjects and the locations every time you look. These long, skinny paintings are a challenge because there is so much space to do that, and I don't want to create chaos, but baby sea turtles climbing out of the sand don't march in twos or anything! I can change your focus with specific details on some turtles, where others are more obscure. I can use the large compass, and obviously the giant sun radiating colors to bring your eye back to the center. I can even paint some subjects literally pointing back and forth to each other, so your eye darts back and forth. Oh the power! Seriously though, as cliche as it is, I'm trying to give you a new perspective.
I often will think about the viewer but also mostly consider perspectives that have yet to be seen in the world. The audience is important but the stories behind a single image can be told in so many ways. I often have split seconds to consider the message I want to send, the story I could potentially tell and so on when shooting.
"We both know our subject well, in different ways"
My subject is my passion. If I wasn't a photographer I would still be out in nature around or in the ocean exploring. It is a privilege that I get invited to see and photograph some amazing scenes. Understanding every aspect of the subjects that I photograph will only help me understand their habitat and when it is appropriate for me to have a camera within the moment. Nature is very fragile and I strive to not impact anything that I photograph.
I have been painting for a long time now, and I have favorite techniques and ways to make the magic happen in the painting, but it really comes down to getting to know my subjects. I think that artists like to choose a series to literally obsess over something they want to understand more. Though the specifics of that obsession change regularly, the ocean is something that I can't seem to shake (not that I would even want to). I haven't seen the bottom, and observed as often as I want to lately after having another baby and trying to raise two young boys at home, but I can pull up the sight of it in my mind in an instant. The sight is only a small part of it too, all my senses are caught up in trying to know and understand what it's like to be in that world, and how to capture and recreate that feeling.
"Our motives are the same- love of nature and love of life"
Anyone can see that. I think I touched on it up there as well, but I want people to feel connected to these creatures and protective of them! I love living here, and enjoying all the wild life we share this place with. I want my kids to get to do the same!
How can you not like nature? Well there are a lot of people that don't respect it! Everyday I try to continue creating epic moments that I can share my love for nature and the ocean environment. The energy while being out in is like no other! Both Carly and I have created our families in a time where understanding our environment and respecting it is so important. Everyday we teach our little ones more and more about it and share our love to embrace it!
Special thanks to Ben Hicks for contributing to this article, and for all that he does to help us see and understand more of the natural world! You can purchase prints of these photographs and more on his website.
Here are a couple more detail shots of "The Hatchling Charge." Email me at Carly@CarlyMejeur.com if you would like one of the canvases in the limited edition of 10. They are 26"x73".
Carly Mejeur is a floridian artist, inspired by her ocean hobbies and travels. This Blog is for news, events, and just for fun. Click here for the artist's Bio.