Watercolor painting seemed like a pretty good retirement pastime to Norman Strawbridge about seven years ago, until he learned how very difficult it is really is.
Too bad he had already fallen in love with the challenge beforehand.
Strawbridge has lived in the Navy Yard for the past 30 years with his wife, Lisa, and raised two daughters there as well while working as a successful architect.
Upon retirement, with architecture so closely tied historically with watercolor renderings, Strawbridge said he had always had a love for the art form all through his career. When he moved on from his job, he thought it would be a good time to investigate the artform more in depth.
“We all in the profession had an optical love of watercolor,” he said. “Little did I know how hard watercolor really is. You have to be ready to make mistakes.”
In fact, one of his early teachers of watercolor often prepared him for the toils, tribulations and mistakes that are required to be successful at watercolor painting – an artform made popular in New England by the likes of masters like John Singer Sargent.
“Often when my paintings weren’t going according to plan, my teacher would see me getting frustrated,” he said. “He would say, ‘Norris, quit whining. The only thing between you and what you want to do is three miles of paper.’ So, I spent many days murdering paper.”
Some seven years later, he has found a great deal more success at his art. Painting things like the Citgo sign in Fenway, ocean scenes and careful studies of light. He said his favorite time to paint is in the morning and the evening when the light hits objects in a more favorable way.
Now, he has come to accept the accidents that happen, and embrace them into the art – with many of them becoming a success.
“Watercolor is a passion for me,” he said. “When accidents happen you have to take them as they come. You don’t know when it will happen. The more you embrace those accidents, the more people can enjoy the work…The viewer is to fill in what isn’t clearly articulated. That partnership between viewer and painter makes watercolor very enjoyable.”
Strawbridge has also enjoyed watercolor because there is a thriving community of watercolor artists in the Boston area and throughout New England. That makes the frustration of it a little easier to take as everyone shares their successes and failures.
“I think it has a community to it that I was surprised to discover,” he said. “Everyone is equally frustrated by it. In Boston there are a lot of people that paint together.”
This month, Strawbridge has accepted an offer to enhance his own community in Charlestown. The Friends of the Charlestown Navy Yard have challenged the community to send in snapshots taken from their window during the COVID-19 era.
Those snapshots will be evaluated for their ability to be transformed into a watercolor painting. Then, Strawbridge has volunteered to paint the shot as a watercolor painting.
“I think it’s a lovely idea and agreed to it right away,” he said. “The one caveat is I’m not picking the best quality of photograph, but rather the one I can make into a good watercolor.”
The deadline for submissions is this weekend, and Strawbridge anticipated he could have a finished product within two weeks.