What’s it like being a painter who lives on a sailboat? Brenda Osborne assures us it is hard. And hard to quit doing.

“It’s a challenge to find the time to paint,” says Osborne. “We move a lot. When we are somewhere for a few days, I can pull out my easel and do some work. But if a storm is coming, or high winds, we have to move the boat, and that usually means taking the dinghy to shore for groceries or laundry for the trip. Either errand can kill an entire afternoon, but you have to get those things done before the waves are big. It can be hot on the boat, or buggy, or very windy. Plus, boats always have issues and need to be fixed. So you must share painting space with the mechanic — my husband. It’s a challenge to find a time, a day, and the space to paint.”

Why bother?

Brenda Osborne reports that the clouds are often inspiring from her view on the sailboat.
Brenda Osborne reports that the clouds are often inspiring from her view on the sailboat.
Osborne and her setup on the sailboat
Osborne and her setup on the sailboat

“The idea of living in a house again is hard to imagine,” replies Osborne. “I don’t know if we ever will. We have new neighbors every day. Rays and manatees visit. And you can’t imagine the stars at night.”

Osborne and her husband are living on a 34-foot Gemini 105Mc catamaran, a twin-hulled sailboat that is best for shoreline sailing. They are currently sailing in the Florida Keys, but the two have taken their boat, Nice Lady, from the Panhandle through the Everglades and in the Ten Thousand Islands area to the tip of Florida. It only draws about 18 inches, so the boat can navigate much shallower water than a typical monohull sailboat.

The Osbornes’ boat, Nice Lady (center, behind yellow buoy), in a mooring field
The Osbornes’ boat, Nice Lady (center, behind yellow buoy), in a mooring field
A cloud study done with a palette knife by Brenda Osborne
A cloud study done with a palette knife by Brenda Osborne

“We just started our fourth month on the boat,” says the artist. “I didn’t want to make the trip initially — my art career was developing. I decided to look at it like a sabbatical and paint on it. Before, I painted mostly in the studio. I knew that in a boat I would mostly be working en plein air. And I knew that plein air increases your skills as an artist — seeing as opposed to thinking what you see. I’m mostly doing color studies and learning how to better match colors. Many of my paintings I give away to folks who help us along the way.”

Osborne does a lot of cloud paintings, and plenty of boats — a new subject matter for her. She foresees some paintings coming from reference photos of birds perched on the distinctive roots of the mangroves. Osborne works in acrylic, but she doesn’t use water from over the side of the boat. “Saltwater is amazingly corrosive,” she says. “Everything rusts, so I worry about the ferrules on my brushes.”

Osborne’s acrylic painting of Saul’s Creek
Osborne’s acrylic painting of Saul’s Creek
Osborne took this shot of a view in the Florida Keys.
Osborne took this shot of a view in the Florida Keys.

Osborne and her husband are outdoorsy, and she grew up on the water in Florida. Now she literally lives on the water. The painter says that she has noticed an unfortunate decrease in the water quality from when she was a girl. “You must be environmentally conscious if you are on a boat,” she says. “You use solar power; you take your garbage to shore. Everything you do, you have to consider differently than you do on land. The water here is aqua in the Keys, but in some places you just don’t want to jump off the boat and go swimming. You used to be able to see the bottom through the water. Now, it’s not clear. It has awakened my environmental activism.”

One of Osborne’s acrylic color studies from Crystal River
One of Osborne’s acrylic color studies from Crystal River

On her website, Osborne writes a blog chronicling the ups and downs of living and painting on a sailboat. For every statement about the inconvenience of taking your dog in a dinghy to shore to let it do its business, there are several accounts of great days and fun nights, and the friendly, helpful community of fellow sailors.

And occasionally, she has time to paint.

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