COASTAL LAND­MARKS IN WATER­COLOR

Times of the Islands - - Features - BY CATHY CHEST­NUT

With the stroke of a brush, lo­cal artist David Belling mag­i­cally cap­tures the charm of yes­ter­year in his water­color paint­ings de­pict­ing Old Florida and other time­less lo­cales.

DAVID BELLING'S EXQUISITELY DE­TAILED WORKS RE­CALL MEM­O­RIES AND IN­SPIRE VIS­ITS

Scenes of Old Florida are given fresh per­spec­tive in David Belling’s water­color vi­gnettes. As he trans­ports his view­ers along Fort My­ers Beach’s work­ing docks, the Sani­bel Light­house, a his­toric Boca Grande ma­rina, and the salty fish shacks of Pine Is­land Sound, fond mem­o­ries re­turn and new ex­cur­sions along Southwest Florida’s coast­line are in­spired. Belling, 83, has been paint­ing for al­most six decades, many of those as a hobby dur­ing his pro­fes­sional ca­reer as an ad­ver­tis­ing cre­ative di­rec­tor. He has been record­ing his lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tional per­spec­tives since mov­ing to Cape Coral in 1991, turn­ing to his art full time af­ter re­tir­ing in 2004.

Belling of­ten re­turns again and again to cap­ture time­less lo­cales to record a new per­spec­tive. He has a knack for know­ing what is spe­cial. In A Day at Cab­bage Key, the famed restau­rant, boathouse, docks, loom­ing wa­ter tower and cruis­ing Lady

Chadwick com­bine to tell a short story. What sets Belling’s work apart from tra­di­tional im­pres­sion­is­tic land­scapes and seascapes is the ex­quis­ite de­tail in his work. The faint slats of the wa­ter tower, life-pre­server ring hang­ing on the boathouse, pot­ted plants near the restau­rant, dap­pled awning of the Lady

Chadwick— punc­tu­ated de­tails make up the whole in A Day at Cab­bage Key.

Belling says he’s been crit­i­cized by fel­low wa­ter­col­orists for his at­ten­tion to de­tail. It’s some­thing, though, he can’t tame. “I try to be more im­pres­sion­is­tic, but I haven’t got­ten my­self there yet. It might be too late to change at this point,” he ex­plains. “Most of that de­tail is painted di­rectly with a brush in my hand.” On the other hand, he adds, “I get feed­back from peo­ple who are amazed at the de­tail. I’ve had peo­ple tell me, ‘I want to go there.’ They want to see what I saw.”

SEE­ING THE PAINT­ING

Belling pho­to­graphs iconic land­marks and re­turns to his stu­dio in his Tar­pon Point Ma­rina condo, and se­lects the ones he wants to use as sub­jects. He works from a print at his draw­ing board, where he spends an hour or so cre­at­ing a light sketch that serves as the ba­sic blue­print. He spends three or four hours a day paint­ing.

With decades of ex­pe­ri­ence in de­sign and art and pho­tog­ra­phy di­rec­tion, his com­po­si­tion and ap­proach alight in his mind be­fore get­ting to work. “There are days that I can’t wait to get up and get at it—to start paint­ing. When I look at im­ages, I can see it as a paint­ing,” Belling says. “I know ex­actly how I’ll paint it.”

He usu­ally works from one im­age, although for A Day at Cab­bage Key, he com­bined el­e­ments that may not be seen in one frame. “I don’t make up a paint­ing,” he notes.

If he’s not out photo-doc­u­ment­ing his sub­jects, Belling’s art­work still calls him out­side. Last Au­gust, he took a paint­ing trip to Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park with his daugh­ter, Lizette Phillips, a pro­fes­sional pain­ter.

Belling rit­u­ally gath­ered with his art di­rec­tor friends on two an­nual plein air for­ays. One was in Wis­con­sin each fall. Each spring, his group chose an­other des­ti­na­tion, such as Ever­glades City, Florida, or a small Ari­zona town. In Wis­con­sin, he was drawn to rusted-out trucks in ru­ral en­vi­rons, par­tic­u­larly Door County—cre­at­ing some of his most de­tailed work.

He’s an award-win­ning plein air pain­ter whose works were on ex­hibit in Tampa; Old Forge, New York; and Minneapolis in the fall. Na­tional ju­ried com­pe­ti­tions pro­vide feed­back and af­fir­ma­tion from his peers, he says.

“I TRY TO BE MORE IM­PRES­SION­IS­TIC, BUT I HAVEN’T GOT­TEN MY­SELF THERE YET. IT MIGHT BE TOO LATE TO CHANGE AT THIS POINT.”

HE PAINTS BE­CAUSE HE WANTS TO, BE­CAUSE IT GIVES HIM A FRESH CHAL­LENGE EV­ERY DAY.

Belling has par­tic­i­pated in the Fort My­ers Beach Art As­so­ci­a­tion’s an­nual Paint the Beach, reg­u­larly pulling in awards. March will find him at the ju­ried Light­house ArtCenter plein air com­pe­ti­tion on Florida’s east coast, which is re­stricted to 35 artists who paint for six days. He was ac­cepted to par­tic­i­pate last year, too. “Get­ting ju­ried in was a real ac­com­plish­ment for me. I didn’t win any­thing, but I sold all my paint­ings”—the only artist to do so.

He will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t paint to sell—and that, iron­i­cally, he’s his own worst mar­keter. He paints be­cause he wants to, be­cause it gives him a fresh chal­lenge ev­ery day. Belling’s works are rep­re­sented in four lo­cal gal­leries. “I have the good for­tune that I don’t have to sell paint­ings to sur­vive. I paint strictly for my own plea­sure,” he adds.

Cathy Chest­nut is a free­lance writer and fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia who ex­plores the peo­ple and places that make Southwest Florida, her home­town stomp­ing grounds, unique.

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