For years, Florida artist Robert J. Simone had a quick answer for people who asked where he liked to paint: Fort Desoto State Park in Pinellas County, Florida. But then he participated in a plein air event in Bradenton that introduced him to the fishing village of Cortez, in Manatee County, Florida. Now he is a devotee of the historic town and its busy fishing industry.

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The scenic fishing village of Cortez, Florida

“It’s a little bit like a step back in time,” explains Simone. “You feel like you are back in the ’50s and ’60s in a town that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the fishing industry.”

Just south of Tampa Bay on the Intracoastal Waterway, Cortez is a popular tourist destination that retains its charms. “The snowbirds flock there in the winters,” says Simone. “You can’t get fish any fresher. You’re sitting in a restaurant on the water looking at the boat that brought your dinner in.”

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Robert J. Simone painting on location in Cortez

Simone recently participated in Bradenton, Florida’s “Paint the Town” event, in which artists are invited to paint at several locations and vie for prizes. Simone’s piece “Waiting for the Next Set” won the Cortez Prize, naming it the best of the pieces painted in the fishing village. He said probably all of the 30 or so artists in the event painted boats on the water at Cortez. “I was working hard to try and get another perspective or unique subject matter — something that’s not quite so obvious,” he says. “In these paint-outs, you want to be different. You want to stand out.”

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“Make Shift Boat House,” by Robert J. Simone, 2013, oil, 9 x 12 in.

The artist does have an eye for interesting scenes that others may miss. He also painted a makeshift boathouse sheltering a sailboat in repair, consisting of a big yellow tarp stretched over two tractor trailers. “I paint the flotsam and jetsam,” Simone says. “Crab traps, crates — it’s an amusement park for marine painters. Everything is there.”

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“Ft. Desoto Dunes,” by Robert J. Simone, 2013, oil, 8 x 12 in.

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The dunes in Fort Desoto State Park

Simone still has a soft spot for Fort Desoto State Park, with its beaches, Australian pines, Civil War monuments, and extensive wildlife — especially birds. “It’s just 20 minutes from my house, and there’s a big variety of scenery there,” he says. But Cortez and its boats beckon. Simone says that because there are several boat builders in Cortez, he can even bank on some boats staying in port for the entire painting session. “With those lifts that pick the boats up out of the water, you find plenty of boats on dry land. Some are there for six months or so. Most artists in this area have painted in Cortez at least once over the years.”

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