Sometimes all she carries with her in the kayak is a sketchbook and a stick of charcoal. Even a pencil will do. Other times, it’s a small canvas, not much larger than her hand, and a limited palette of yellow, blue, red and white. The materials are minimal. It’s all about getting the composition and values down.
“It’s like being on my own island,” she says of the times when she slips through the meandering creeks, watching the breeze play upon the smooth cord grass of the marsh. The view is magnificent.
All she has to do is look across the water from her James Island home for a profile of the Charleston peninsula. In these moments, it is perfectly obvious why Laura Lloyd Fontaine specializes in contemporary landscapes, why water and softly lit skies play such a dominant role in her art. She lives surrounded by natural beauty and is inspired by it each morning when she wakes up and looks out of her window.
“It’s such an amazing view at night, to see all the lights downtown. And every morning it becomes something new and beautiful. I look outside and can’t wait to get out on the water in my kayak and sketch.”
Contemporary impressionism with a traditional flair is how she refers to her dreamlike work. The colors are gorgeous, the edges soft. It’s a gentle look at a familiar world, a world of natural beauty that those who live in the South Carolina Lowcountry know well.
Fontaine, a mixed media artist, loves to paint large, on gallery wrap canvas primed with a product called Venetian Plaster, which, she says, absorbs the paint and helps her layer colors. She begins with a quick sketch then adds layer after layer of oil glazes. Large brushes are her favorite, as they create a soft luminosity. The highlights are lifted with a palette knife, and layers of varnish and buffed wax are applied at the end to seal the work.
Her work has earned her numerous honors over the years. She’s been juried into exhibits from Florida to South Carolina and, in 2012, several of her paintings were published in Best of American Oils. This year, she is the featured artist for Kiawah Island’s Legends magazine.
After completing her bachelor’s degree in studio art at Hollins College, she studied at the Philadelphia College of Art, and then began working for designers in Philadelphia and New York, distressing and faux finishing walls and furniture. Those years made an indelible impression on her future as a painter. The style and techniques of the old masters in creating textures and achieving depth became second nature to her.
When she’s not painting landscapes, she turns to angels. The angels started about 20 years ago, during an especially hard time in her life: a difficult pregnancy, divorce, the loss of loved ones. She found herself in front of a canvas one day, brushing paint on, and the first of them began to take shape. They are luminous female figures, serene, in soft focus, surrounded by water. “Water has always felt spiritual to me,” she says. “It feels natural to place my Lowcountry angels near water and trees.” She finds peace in painting them, turning to them when she needs to renew herself or take a breather from her larger landscapes. “After painting six to 10 of these, I can dive right back into my landscapes.”
Sitting on her dock, looking out over the marsh and water she so loves, she says, “I’m truly blessed to be able to be here.”
Fontaine speaks of friends and fellow artists with whom she has shared this spectacular view. “I’ve taught art to others in the past,” she says. “I’d like to take it out of the studio, though.” She waves her hand toward the water and sky and waving grasses of the marsh. “I’d like to bring people out in kayaks and teach them what I’ve learned out there.”
Jason A. Zwiker is a freelance writer in Charleston.