Faced with a puzzle trying to paint a boat, anything short of the boat will be a failure. Visually, I will sketch out the boat starting with its hull. From the bow to the stern, I will make lines along the curves of the boat as I see them, work my way to the mast with tall marks and block in the sail with shapes in proper perspective.
Using fresh paints, I mix them to find relative colors as they are in my eyes, and I paint the boat humbly as it appears in front of my easel. Indeed it looks almost like a boat, but there is more to this puzzle.
There is the character of the boat; the worn texture on its sides, barnacles from trips out to sea, peace from wooden docks, and age through rough storms. Loud is the yelling from stretched afternoons, and quiet are the many morning drawls and dusty bottles . The boat is courageous, and I paint it how it is, brushing in rough strokes and making colors bold. Can courageous be painted?
I paint more of the boat. I paint its home: flat waters and neighboring birds, frayed fishing nets and old, worked worn ropes. And what is the boat without its captain? I paint the captain. I paint Southern Comfort, and in the painting are the boat’s stories I hope, the boat’s history of weathered waves, brand new, old.
The painting is grey, as all paintings are—blue grey, payne's, white, bits of orange and turquoise, and it is as much the boat as I can paint so I abandon it because there's no use to paint anymore than there is. I sit down, staring at the painting, imagining the boat and what it would think of its portrait, if it would nod in the wakes in approval or if it would wonder, too, of the puzzle in hand. How'd I do, Boat, what do you think?
After a few moments of wondering in the sun rayed, wind-wrecked silence, the familiar realization arises that I have only painted colors and shapes from feelings, and understand that I never painted the boat—did I ever?—that I could never actually paint the boat. I can only paint myself. I recognize the captain. I would take it down, think why I ever painted the boat to begin with, and start again. I suppose I have failed. It is a consequence of painting, of searching, that is easily avoided if only one stays safely harbored.
But as they say, t’is not for what boats are made.