Donna Lee Nyzio - Working on Painting Working Boats
Donna Nyzio uses her palette to create mesmerizing scenes from maritime locations up and down the Eastern seaboard. Her love of being surrounded by water transfers to her other love of creating artwork. We spoke with Nyzio about her Working Boat Series and what inspires her choice of subject as she has paints near to and on the water.
You capture a moment so precisely in your paintings, do you paint from memory, photos, or en plein air?
I actually paint from all three, plein-aire, photographs, and memory. I enjoy painting from life, Plein-aire is great for docks, a color study or quick sketch or even a tonal start to a painting. Often, when working on boats on the water, or in places where there is limited ground for footing, let alone an easel, plein-aire may not be feasible. Other times, things are moving, moving, and gone. So photographs are handy - providing a detail or an insight into something that can add a finishing touch. But my most successful paintings are from memory while combing the other 2 concepts. I often see exactly what I want to paint and the shapes and movements that “make” the painting. I am amazed at how much I remember when I experience something. I may take a quick snapshot to capture a physical memory. I then select small details that make my painting sing - not everything in the photo. I use a pocket camera on an automatic setting. Just something to get the gesture of what I want. I may snap a photo to catch a detail, but not for the story of the painting. As an example, I saw a flash of light while riding on a ferry to Ocracoke at sunrise. There was a boat, maybe a mile away, I took out my camera to see if I could see it better and snapped a few photos, and yes, my photos are blurry and awful, but they have good enough bones to release the painting in my head. That is how the Pied Piper came about, the flash off the front windows.
In your Working Boats Series you place the viewer out on the water watching the boats work, do you ever go out on the water to find your inspiration?
Absolutely! Thats why they look like they are out working …. they are! I am surrounded by all types water (sounds, rivers, oceans) and ways to travel on and around them. With a multitude of docks, marshes, and roadways there are many opportunities for adventure. I can get on kayaks, skiffs, ferries, tour boats, and boats owned by friends (better than my own boat, so I can focus on what is around me).
Why did you choose working boats?
Here in coastal North Carolina, there is a strong fishing industry and there are boats everywhere. These working boats are all slightly different in design and use, and remind me of people. They have distinct personalities. The windows are like eyes looking at you, so I paint them as portraits, each having their own personality and story. These boats are great large shapes, in various colors, which can be moved around in a vast sea and sky to create spacial relationships or capture natural phenomena.
I am also a blue collar girl. I have always worked with my hands. I appreciate the work that these guys do, and these wooden boats are basically small businesses. They work hard, independently, and out on the seas in very small in scale in comparison to the large sea and sky. They work, they earn; they are not just pretty, [they] are boats with a purpose, and a means to support a family and a community; a symbol of a way of life that is hard, happy, but fading into history.
As you travel the coast investigating places to paint, what makes you stop and paint?
I take back roads along the coast and look for… well, whatever I find. I look for old docks and boats, but there is so much more. It is an atmosphere that strikes me... it could be foggy indistinct shapes or how the light hits anything - a road, path, or tree that has a story to tell. Hopefully there is a boat, [or] even better, a boat in use. Usually, most of the “action” is before sunrise, so cameras are not going to cut it. You have to have a sketch book and memory. Boats with good lines are magnets too, oyster buy boats, crab boats, trawlers… big shapes against the sky and water. Sometimes it is a balance of quiet space and the bustle of activity. The older wooden boats seem to have a story and become part of the story of a community. When I travel I plan to view every sunset and every sunrise, preferably on or near the water. I even seek them out when it is foggy or rainy - you never know what you will see.
Why did you choose realism as your genre?
Realism chose me. I bought my first painting at a flea market. I was 6 and it was a framed Rembrandt sketch. I still have it. It takes skill and patience to draw and paint well, as well as lots of practice. With so many things to balance and learn it is challenging and you know when it is a success and when it is not. It is nice to have a subject that people can enjoy and appreciate without having to explain what it is. Realism was not popular when I was in college, but I was still drawn to it. I was even a photo-realist for a time, but have moved toward a more atmospheric and implied realism. I paint big abstract shapes and hint at pieces and parts so it is the viewer who ties it all together.