Life Will Come to You

by Daniel Ambrose on March 25, 2015


Snook Nook Cottage sketch, Boca Grande

A middle-age, well dressed man runs by me on the island.

A moment later. . .”That would be great if you could catch that dog!”

A few minutes later, he huffs by me with a dejected looking dog tucked under his arm.

Andrew Wyeth said, “if you wait for it, life will come to you.”

I find myself here, painting this small watercolor sketch of flowers and cottage, because two weeks ago, I was beginning another painting and life in the form of a man came up to me and said:

“You know there’s going to be wedding right where your standing, don’t you?”


I had just set my easel up and was starting to paint.  I’d been waiting all day for the light to get right.  My subject was an immaculately restored 1920’s Florida vernacular house. It’s rocker and screen door were the inspiration for “Morning Coffee” and I’d been wanting to paint more of the house.

“So, when is this wedding?”

“In about two hours, but we’ll be setting up here.”

Dang it!

Two weeks later, I’m back again. Same time, good light. No wedding in sight. I set up my easel, get out my brushes, and go back to my van for paint. No paint. I left them at home.

Dang it!


Pack up, get back in the van, and sit thinking and drinking my coffee.

I decide to go look at a small cottage that’s drawn my eye for awhile.

The bougainvillea flowers draped over the picket fence are catching the sun. I realize I have a few watercolors with me. And a new sketchbook. I love breaking in a  new sketchbook. Flipping through the pristine pages, imagining it filled with notes, color, and inspiring ideas always gives me hope—a book filled with life. Life recorded with the the oldest tools; pencil, a few pigments, water and a stick with a bit of hair tied to the end of it. Purity of expression. I use my sketchbook for exploration, letting the subject speak to me.

Maybe it’s the cottage with it’s metal roof, blue in the evening shade. Maybe it’s the pair of flowers, red and purple, or palms or picket fence. Maybe it’s all these things. Associations begin to form, memories of planting flowers and palms and cottage building. Maybe it’s a dream I’m painting, or an idea for the future.

I work over the paper. With pencil and drybrush watercolor recording with hand what catches my eye, and there at the base of the picket fence, are these delicate ferns. Their fine texture thrills me. I don’t know why. Maybe because they echo the palms in miniature. Maybe it’s the way they touch the weathered gray fence—feathery soft against splintery rough.

It began with flowers and comes down to ferns. And this is how I go. Riding on a feeling, instead of painting the obviously picturesque. Searching for the undefinable qualities of a thing. Something beautiful that can only be expressed in the language of art.

I end the sketch here, before I say to much. Better to leave the table slightly full than with a belly ache.

This little sketch is on it’s way to a new home. However, if you are an original collector of mine and you email me your physical address, I might surprise you with one of these sketches in the mail someday. Or go to my Facebook Studio page and “Like” it. I will be doing a random drawing soon, and the winner gets an original sketch.

Art from life will come to you.

Sound good?


    Sunrise II, oil, 24 x 20 in.

Sunrise II, oil, 24 x 20 in.

 “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible.”~St. Exuprey

I was sixteen and riding my motorcycle down a neighborhood road that passed by the local newspaper office. Approaching the entry, I saw an elderly woman in a large, red Cadillac waiting to pull out. She looked right at me, and then she accelerated right into my path. I plowed into her front fender and went flying over the handlebars. I remember seeing the wide-eyed look of astonishment in her eyes as I floated by her windshield.

“I’m alright,” I said, just before tumbling in the grass on the other side of her car.

“I didn’t see you,” she said after.

Through my training as an artist I’ve since learned the validity of her statement. She was looking with her brain and not with her eyes; she was looking for cars and not a figure on a bike. She truly did not see me until it was too late.

Artists learn to see with their eyes. Name it and you lose it. Close observation is key. Drawing and painting from life are excellent trainers. I see you before me, your features and shapes, and you are beautiful. But is it my eyes that see you, or is my brain forming associations that make you more beautiful to me?

All that we see is an illusion. Reflected light from objects enters our eyes and forms images which is transmitted to our brains for processing. It is a complex and miraculous process.

On a serene evening, my eyes roam over a misty, honey-colored light filtering over the white Matanzas dunes. A spring morning, a weightless bird, turning on the warm reflected light of sunrise. And through my heart, I look at you, and see a being of light.

We see through a skewed lens with our eyes and our minds, and yet, we sense fine, true things that are unseen. And we know the beauty and worth of these intangible things with a certainty. If our eyes and minds can deceive us into seeing and not seeing things, perhaps humanity needs more of us to trust in the value of seeing with our hearts.

Perhaps . . .What is essential is invisible.


    Hope, egg tempera painting in progress, Daniel Ambrose

Hope, egg tempera painting in progress, Daniel Ambrose

There was a full moon rising, large and golden, above B.B. Kings head. Magic on a mountain summer night. A balmy night full of hope and future dreams—yes, I’m certain I was there, remember the remnants of pink rhododendrons skirting the path through the forest to the stage. Coming into the meadow, saw twilight crowning the mountains in cobalt blue. Fireflies sparked under the dark pines. I see white crotchet sweater, and careful blue eyes. I see everything and yet, know nothing at all. Maybe it’s the memory of a dream?

I’m on a highway by the sea, a pink mist drives me to the side of the road. A red sunset reels like a movie over the river, makes me take out my phone to share. Send it to Sarasota, it’s just as good a place as any. A yearning tells me to turn around, and there I find you, rising above the sea. Paint it! Comes back the reply—I’m already there.

It’s there I will remain, gardening in the land of hope and dreams. It’s there I will give you, all the beauty that I’ve seen. A teacher of my small children once told me, your eyes are sad. Well, I saw a young girl newly blind, in St. Augustine, learning to walk with a cane, and I heard the sound of my heart break. The eyes are sad by what they’ve seen, but look deeper and you will find a heart that sings, a puppy on the inside wagging it’s tail enthusiastically. Eyes that see beauty above every thing. Take what you have, and give us your best. If you can’t see it—I know—I hope you can feel it too. Can the moon move hearts as it does the tides?

Knowing nothing about these things, I leave it to you. Hope and love are each unseen, but they will lift you high above the shifting dunes like a breeze beneath the wings of a little bird.

It’s there in the realm of August air, among singing birds, and light on the sea, there in rising hope for all, we will dance to the music of the moon.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.—Eleanor Roosevelt.