Follow An Artist’s Journey Finding The Inspiration To Paint


“It’s really difficult to talk about nature.  I think that’s because we feel nature and we smell nature and in some ways that’s sort of like art, too.  It’s hard to talk about art, it’s something that we feel … I try and paint that feeling” – Stephanie Burns on “Put Some Colour in Your Life”.

In June I travelled to Catalina Island with my son, Laurence Fuller, to find the inspiration for my next paintings. Follow me on the journey as we fly over the island in a helicopter, dive under the water in a submarine and take a boat out to search for Sea Lions.

It starts in the helicopter as we get our bearings of the island.

My camera man looks pretty cool getting off the chopper in the video of my search for inspiration.

Avalon Catalina Island from the helicopter
Avalon Catalina Island from the helicopter

Catalina is much larger than I expected, too large for me to do an aerial painting of the Island and add in people and architectural features. It was great to see the island from  this perspective and feel what it is like from an eagles vantage point. This view might work as a painting.

We get on the semi-submersible sub Nautilus and head out to Lover’s Cove. An area I spot from the helicopter with aqua water and scuba divers.

Stephanie Burns getting on the Semi Submersible Submarine Catalina Island in search inspiration
Stephanie Burns getting on the Semi Submersible Submarine Catalina Island in search inspiration

Although it was great to see the fish the underwater experience did not give me that special feeling I need for a painting.

Stephanie Burns on Nautilus
Stephanie Burns on Nautilus Catalina Island

Out on a boat in search of dolphins and sea lions just past Lover’s Cove that moment of excitement and anticipation swept over me. Up ahead we saw a pontoon covered in sea lions, as we approached a young male slipped into the water.

Sea Lions on the pontoon at Catalina
Sea Lions on the pontoon at Catalina
Sea Lion Catalina
Sea Lion Catalina

Then the moment happened, all of my senses where alert. The smell of the sea lions can be a shock at first, making me aware of the fresh sea I smelt the moment before. As I searched the surface for the male sea lion to surface again he jumped out of the water creating an arc with his reflection in the water. Nature had been amazing and I had my first subject.

Sea Lion Jumping off Catalina Island
Sea Lion Jumping off Catalina Island
Sea Lion by Stephanie Burns
Sea Lion by Stephanie Burns 2016
Oil on canvas
36 x 48 in
USD$5000
© Stephanie Burns

The painting created from the moment the male sea lion jumped is very different from the photo. I use photographs as a memory jogger. A camera does not see the way we see, it doesn’t feel the air, it can’t smell, it doesn’t see the surface and see through the water at the same time. When I paint a subject like this I am not Stephanie Burns standing on a boat with a camera watching a sea lion. I am the sea lion. I feel the air as he jumps from the wet to the air, I feel the water dripping off him, i feel his intention to nose dive back into the water. Most importantly I feel his sense of pride as he shows off to the humans on the boat watching him in front of the females on the pontoon. What male doesn’t feel great when he knows he just pulled off a perfect jump. Bonus, all the girls were watching.

We cruised over towards the shore, the captain pointed out the sea lions and pubs basking in the sun. One of them raised herself onto her front flippers and arched her neck back.

DSC01543There it was another perfect moment.

The sea lion in the water is a great balance to the two on the shore. The background of the hillside wasn’t right. As we turned towards Avalon the water was so aqua and clear it was incredible. A white rock stood out in the distance, there was a sea lion pup lying on the white rock. We got closer he didn’t move. No performance for the humans today from him.

DSC01549 (1)

In my mind I can see my sea lions on that rock.

Detail of Sea Lions by Stephanie Burns
Detail of Sea Lions by Stephanie Burns 2016
Oil on canvas
36 x 48 in
US$5000
© Stephanie Burns

I have my second subject for a painting.

Back at the hotel I start to do a study to see if the structure I have in mind works as a painting.

IMG_7451

The colours work the structure is right, I know when I get back to my Hollywood studio that I can start work on a large oil painting.

Sea Lions by Stephanie Burns
Sea Lions by Stephanie Burns 2016
Oil on canvas
36 x 48 in
USD$5000
© Stephanie Burns

The finished painting evokes the experience of that day. You can even feel the sea lion in the water swimming towards the rock.