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Painting the Last Day of Summer; North Beach, Sandy Hook NJ.

Updated: Oct 7, 2021

At high noon on a hazy autumn equinox two years ago, I was standing on North Beach, Sandy Hook bathed in a surreal light only that season and time of day can create. Through the haze and across lower New York Bay the distant co-ops of Coney Island and Brighton Beach were also catching that light, and could when I squinted make out The Parachute Jump and Cyclone Roller Coaster at Luna Park-- even, barely, the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan further North and West. Almost no one was around. It was otherworldly.

Paul Jacks, sketch for "Autumn Equinox, North Beach, Sandy Hook"

I took a few shots. It was why I had gone there in the first place, and not my first time. On a map, Sandy Hook appears to be a thin and modest sand barrier-- an easy day trip quickly navigated and seen. In truth, it is a sizable area of coastal plain "wilderness" --desolate, haunted and beautiful-- with too much subject to be swallowed all at once and new secrets revealed on every trip. Notably, defunct Fort Hancock still carries an austere authority on the north end. I have both shot and painted the abandoned and forlorn parade ground and officer's quarters of "Officers Row"; a faint "stand-at-attention" still evident in their listing and tired facades. Ramparts and gun turrets struggle with the scrub. A mansion or two hide wounded in the hardwoods. And, at its heart, the oldest operating lighthouse in the United States stands defiant over all of it.

Initial blocking on "Autumn Equinox, North Beach, Sandy Hook".

So how do you capture that weird light and haze? That alien scene? After a sketch (which I don't always do), I started with a rather dark blue-gray base. This was a loose mix of ultra-marine blue, titanium white, mars black, cadmium yellow and a bit of light violet. I blended this base on the canvas with the gesso still a little wet; then scratched the canvas a little and pulled some paint with a rag for added texture.

When this was dry, the background clouds were painted with more gesso added to the base blend and a little Hooker's Green dark hue for definition.

Over all of this, and three times during the course of the painting, I applied a wash over the background which was the base blend again only with more white, blue and, of course, water. This created the haze and brightened the sky, but with the initial dark-ish base still present and adding depth.

The Beach base color was Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna.

Blocking "North Beach, Late September".
Adding the element of distant Coney Island and Brighton Beach, "Autumn Equinox, North Beach, Sandy Hook".

To this I applied gesso with the same colors, creating several layers each brighter than the one before, and in between scratched the canvas when semi-dry and dabbed it with a cotton rag to create the texture of the sand. Final highlights were a nearly straight titanium white, blended in with a dry brush.

The color of the buildings are more of a fantasy of glowing retro brick than what they are in reality. I used cadmium orange and crimson, with variations of light violet for the ones further back. They were painted into the background before the first wash.

Water --the ocean-- is a difficult thing to paint. Some time ago I created a go-to blend: ultra marine blue, hooker's green deep hue, prism violet and even a little black. Lightening this with white or even yellow pulls up nice emerald greens and purples, but still leaves behind great depth where you need it.

Paul Jacks, Sandy Hook NJ

Paul Jacks, Parade Ground of Fort Hancock, Sandy Hook, NJ.

The autumn scrub was initially laid down roughly with an old and badly worn flat brush, nearly dry. I keep my old brushes for this reason; they're great for painting the scrub, weeds, grasses and plants in fields. Here the colors used are: Hooker's Green Deep Hue, Prism Violet, Napthal crimson, Cadmium orange, burnt sienna, and green gold.

And finally, the anchor of the painting: Those two cloud formations billowing up on the thermals, mirroring the dune line, hanging like bloated dirigibles in the mid foreground.

Here I used that same base color I did for the background sky, only I added more blue to really punch them out against the haze and to define the high noon light. The final highlights are a straight titanium white, also to define the high noon effect.

Overall, the effect is a bit surreal-- which was my goal from the start.

Paul Jacks, Sandy Hook NJ

Paul Jacks, North Beach, Sandy Hook NJ

"Autumn Equinox, North Beach, Sandy Hook" Original. Prints/other imaged merchandise.

Photographs and other imaged merchandise of Fort Hancock and Sandy Hook.

"House at Fort Hancock" Prints/other imaged merchandise.

"House at Fort Hancock II" Original. Prints/other imaged merchandise.

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