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November 2, 2022

‘Driftwood, like the sea, has many faces… sometimes smooth, sometimes rough but always, different’

Words Lara Refalo

This years treasure trove of driftwood mainly consisted of plywood and old pallet wood, but also included some intriguing pieces of old ships timbers with copper nails and wooden plugs providing interesting clues to their previous life. Driftwood is one of the sea’s most beautiful creations, each piece being unique and providing the most versatile of surfaces to paint on, depending on the type of wood. The creative process starts on the beach. 

Back on the boat and having decided what to paint, I sketch out the subject and cut out a template to make it easier to get the initial outline onto the wood. Multiple layers of paint are required to get shading and depth so patience is key here. The finishing touches are often the most important to bring the subject to life, followed by a coat of matt spray varnish to seal and protect the work.

My first painting on our voyage was inspired by the red rock crabs of Tenerife that would scuttle along the walls of the marina when the tide was out. In the past I would have turned my nose up to a piece of plywood but it is just as satisfying to work on. Borings in the wood, made by little marine animals, greatly improved the appearance of the crusty shells of the crabs. Further along the way, on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, I became aware of the perils faced by the seahorses of the Mar Menor, a coastal saltwater lagoon in the Iberian Peninsula located south east of Murcia. Great efforts are being made by the Sea Horse Trust to protect Spain’s sea horses and their habit, which provided the inspiration to paint seahorses.

With each brush stroke I became more confident and took on more challenging pieces of driftwood including a piece of plywood resembling the shield like shell of a turtle. I set about painting one and following several layers of paint, a turtle slowly emerged from the jagged grooves. We were very fortunate enough to see some turtles on our travels. The idea of painting a nautilus shell came to me for multiple reasons but mainly because it was the first thing my partner gifted me when we first met. Also, the piece of driftwood I chose to paint on was large and ornamental, like the nautilus shell. While the shape of the wood is important to consider, the colour of the wood is equally important. After selecting a dark piece of plywood with traces of wood veneer still attached to it, my partner suggested I painted Captain Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean. I was a bit apprehensive at first but as it turned out, the dark background complemented this tentacled pirate perfectly. 

Upon our arrival in Malta and following the feast of Santa Maria, the lampuki started to make an appearance. The thought of painting this fish with it’s distinctively humped head and vivid green and yellow colouring instantly appealed. After a couple of special requests from family members I had just enough time for one more painting; the humble hermit crab, symbolic of one’s retreat into one’s shell as the summer draws to an end.

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