As we have seen during the past 18 months, artists are adept not just at making lemonade out of lemons but at then sharing their metaphorical lemonade with the rest of us.
In honoring “what we could do this year that we couldn’t do last year,” West Falmouth artist Mimi Schlichter created a painting practice this spring wherein she created one painting a day from the front seat of her car for 54 days, the same number of days that the beach parking lots in Falmouth were closed last year.
In an effort to share the project with the community, Ms. Schlichter has published the book “The 54: 54 Falmouth Beach Paintings in 54 Days.”
The idea for the project came to Ms. Schlichter in March, when she was painting from the front seat of her car in the parking lot at Chapoquoit Beach. “I was wondering to myself why I didn’t do more of this last year and then I remembered that it was because I couldn’t. The beach parking lots were closed,” she said.
Ms. Schlichter said she came home that day and looked back to see when the parking lots had closed and then reopened. “They closed on April 1 and reopened on May 24...54 days in all,” she said.
Although she tends to paint mostly at Chapoquoit and Megansett beaches, Ms. Schlichter decided that the project would alternate between all the public beaches in Falmouth, which meant painting at Bristol Beach, Falmouth Heights, Grews Pond, Menauhant Beach, Old Silver Beach, Surf Drive, Woodneck and Stony Beach in Woods Hole in addition to Chappy and Megansett.
For the project Ms. Schlichter used a pallet knife and employed a painting style called “alla prima,” which in Italian means “at first attempt.” In other words, all the paintings were finished in one sitting, “in the car, in the beach parking lot. Once I left the parking lot,” Ms. Schlichter said, “I was done.” The one exception to this rule was Woodneck Beach, where the beach can’t be seen from the parking lot. “At Woodneck I had to pick nice days,” Ms. Schlichter said, “ones that were not too windy, and actually sit on the beach and paint outside.”
The size of each painting and the time it took to paint each varied. “Some have more detail than others,” Ms. Schlichter said. “The nature of painting with the pallet knife is that from an artistic standpoint it’s really good for loosening up a painting. I found one of the things that’s challenging when you’re dealing with wet on wet oil painting is the paints will mix, any kind of architectural renderings are for the most part not an option.”
What started as a painting discipline for Ms. Schlichter grew into a community-supported project when the artist began posting her paintings on social media, namely the Fabulous Falmouth Facebook page, a group she enjoys because the people posting are generally positive and upbeat. “People online started saying they were looking forward to the posts and that they loved the way it celebrated Falmouth,” Ms. Schlichter said. While she said it was never a question whether she would finish the 54 consecutive paintings, Ms. Schlichter said she was “blown away” by the support she received from the community. “It took on a life of its own that I did not anticipate,” she said.
Painting for 54 consecutive days means painting in all sorts of weather. Ms. Schlichter recalled a windy day at Megansett when she saw a family trying to brave the beach only to be herded back to the car by the family dog. The painting that Ms. Schlichter described as being the “hands-down favorite” on social media was painted on a rainy day “through the windshield wipers” she said, adding that she suspected its appeal came from the differences in the colors that day.
While she said she didn’t necessarily go out looking for different light each day, “different light happened.” Probably the bigger decision, Ms. Schlichter said, was which beach to go to on any given day. “I am a very prayerful person. I believe in starting your day by asking for direction. That probably guided me more than anything when it came to which beach to go to and which angle to paint,” she said.
The initial project was to paint a painting a day between April 1 and May 24, and while that’s what is included in the book, when the 54 paintings were finished, Ms. Schlichter said she wasn’t ready to stop. “I actually did 100 days,” after which, she said, she intentionally stopped.
The project forced Ms. Schlichter to go out and explore the beaches and to find things to like about each spot. Grews Pond in Goodwill Park proved to be one of the more difficult spots because of the grayness of the surroundings in April. “When you’re looking out at the water and across to the Vineyard at some of the beaches there’s lots of interesting stuff to paint. Grews Pond is different in those respects,” she said.
Ms. Schlichter said she sold two-thirds of the paintings during the course of the project. Part of their appeal, she theorized, is that the alla prima technique combined with the pallet knife, renders a “freshness to the paintings.” That, and “people love their beaches.”
With so many of the paintings already sold, Ms. Schlichter saw the book as a way of presenting the whole series. In the book she describes her motivation for the project, and the process of painting alla prima. In the back of the book she lists some of her impressions of the different beaches. She dedicates the book “to all who love Falmouth and its beaches.”
Each image gets its own page in the book. Because there were four days in which she was motivated to make two paintings, there are 58 images in all.
The images are of shimmering oceans and expansive skies, small strips of land and jetties, and differences in colors that clue viewers into what the weather must have been like on a particular day. Short captions are included under each image.
Ms. Schlichter said she doesn’t outfit her car specifically for painting but that after 54 paintings, “You get a process down.
“I drive an older car, so I wasn’t too concerned about getting paint on things. I sit in the driver’s seat, put a towel over the steering wheel and push the seat way back. I use what’s called a Guerrilla painting box and that, and using a painting knife, makes the process simpler.”
As the days went on and the project gained momentum on social media, Ms. Schlichter said, she was occasionally approached while painting by people who were following the project online. “I’m indebted to the Falmouth community for the support and encouragement that they gave me,” she said.
“The 54: 54 Falmouth Beach Paintings in 54 Days” is available at Eight Cousins Books in Falmouth, Old Main Mercantile in North Falmouth and at Ms. Schlichter’s gallery at 345 West Falmouth Highway as well as through Ms. Schlichter’s website, mimisart.com. Hours at the gallery vary and are posted on the website. Ms. Schlichter is also giving workshops and talks about the project, one such talk is upcoming at the Woods Hole Public Library on August 12. She has also created a short video explaining the project. The video can be seen on YouTube.
Along with encouraging her to explore all the public beaches in Falmouth, Ms. Schlichter said the project connected her to nature this spring: “I found myself more aware of the changes in light and the changes in the timing of things and watching people start to appear; going back to the same place after a few weeks and seeing seasonal changes, things going from brown to green.
“When you paint or you sketch someplace, it anchors the experience so much more because it makes you look in a way that we don’t always pay attention and focus anymore.
“I love the sky over the water. It’s what I see when I look out. I don’t see all the houses and structures. To me it’s a celebration of nature and creation and of God’s wonder and beauty whether it is a sunny day or a rainy day. My hope is that we might appreciate that much more those things that we didn’t have for a while.”