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Watercoloring Big Deans Susan explains: My body of art reflects various ideas. These watercolors were done with Norman Rockwell in mind. They are genre scenes which reflect the life found on the beaches of Venice and Santa Monica, California circa 1979 - 1983. I tried to show the life and architecture of a time when life was pretty simple, costs were fairly low, creative energy was high and people loved to play. 

So these watercolors are now historic. Every year I do a few more, mostly commissions or if something is very important to me.

I live on the beach in Santa Monica. When I open my studio door, outside is the Merry-go-round and the boardwalk. So skaters, bicyclists, and people pass by all the time. It is like living in a fish-bowl in the middle of a continuing human drama. When I go out to walk my Chow Chow, I feel as if I am on a large proscenium and I become part of the action.

Click on any image to enlarge it and enjoy the slide show

After The Storm

Half of the pier was washed away in the big storm of 1983. There was debris all up and down the beach. This silhouette image shows a remnant of the famous Santa Monica Harbor pier, now rebuilt. I like to do skeletal work because there is not too much color to distract from the feeling. I did this one for my mother in her favorite colors, purple and yellow.

Bagel the Beagle

Marilyn, who now has a big factory in San Francisco, used to make "ocean walkers". These were very comfortable, voluminous, lightweight, brightly colored baggy cotton overalls. Why was everyone wearing them on the Boardwalk? Bagel, her dog, was a real traffic stopper or I could say, "shill". He was everyone's favorite dog on the beach. People walking by just had to stop to visit him and usually buy something. Look at those eyes. Bagel brought in the bucks!

Big Dean's Bar

Big Dean's Bar and Grill is a local Boardwalk hangout, which serves beer and football to it's many fans. People are regulars there, as it has a long history and is one of the featured attractions on this Boardwalk. Down the way was Hot Dog on a Stick. The owner told me that he wanted to build a restaurant that served only one product, and one drink - he accomplished this.- Corn Dogs and Lemonade. He then went on to set up more that 100 little stores like this one, and became a millionaire. Of course he is gone now, but his family still runs the enterprise and my landlord now owns Big Dean's.

Blue Sky Pier

Some compositions are difficult. I could never get what I wanted in this one but when I got the sky in and the signs on the right it seemed like time to stop. Some paintings are very simple, and some are overdone. Artists always look for that magic moment when the painting says STOP


Decades ago a Carousel, originally built before the Great Depression, was acquired and was to be restored. It still sits on the pier right off the beach. It took years to fully restore this antique. People ride it all the time. I created a series that documented the ongoing work. I wanted to paint the carousel building in as many ways as I could think of. When I brought my class down here they thought there was only one way to paint this image. I have painted it in perhaps 20 to 25 different ways.

Carousel Construction

During restoration there was construction debris around the Carousel. It was dark, broken, and ugly. There was debate about how fast and how much money would be required to complete the project. This painting has a strange quality because unless you were there and saw the surrounding area you do not really know what it is. Actually you are looking past the wood and concrete of the pier toward the construction area.


Carousel Light

There is a time of year when the light of the setting sun comes right through the windows of the Carousel House. The light drew me in and I had to faithfully capture the scene so I used oil paint. I include it here because I used the same style as for the others and when it is printed it looks like a watercolor.

Carousel Horses at Night

At night there are no children riding the horses and chariots in the dark. This can be a mysterious time. Some have imagined that the carved wooden figures come to life after closing time. A movie crew was filming Blood Beach and I had the opportunity to paint the Carousel at night. I had fun with this one because I had a chance to paint with warm and cool blacks and grays contracting these with the circle of light above.

Carousel and Steve

I spurred on the production of a mural around the Carousel. I did the background and children painted sea creatures over this. It turned out wonderful and every day when I opened my door I was greeted by my own painting. With all the construction was going on it gave me a very good feeling to know that I had made this area a little more beautiful. And the fact that passers by created the images made it even more wonderful.

Early Morning Run

Santa Monica Beach is a favorite place for people to run. The best place to jog is where the water and sand meet, especially when the tide is just perfect. The day I painted this, the tide was perfect. Some friends lived in a condo up the beach, and they wanted something that was cool, quiet, gray and calming to remind them of the perfect time to run.


Empty Beach With Birds

Many find that their favorite time of day is early in the morning when everything is quiet and still. The birds are just starting their day. They stand on the sand and, still waking up they startle and rise up in a flock, circle, and land again. It is somewhat mysterious how animals can cooperate as if they were one organism. They fly or swim in a group moving as one. Amazing!


Girl Eating Hot Dog

Roller skating and eating are still two of the main pass times when the weather is good. The weather is good most of the time. This draws an interesting crowd to the beach.


Girl and Lion Toy

People can win big cuddly animal toys in the arcade up on the pier. This girl's favorite was a lion. She was a model. I photographed her in various scenes for her portfolio, producing some of these as watercolors. 


Girl Silhouette on Pier

We all feel somber and contemplative from time to time. The pier can be a wonderful place to go to listen to the waves and meditate. It refreshes the spirit.


Girl Under The Pier

Under the pier has always been sort of fascinating. It is dark, cold, and mysterious. Children love to go down there and chase the waves. Much of it has been closed off now for safety's sake but not down at waters edge.


Gorilla On The Beach

How did this gorilla get on our beach you ask? The movie industry loves this location but this time it was a politician's way to get noticed. The area around the Carousel was perfect for these events. Now there is a proscenium there for any kind of event imaginable and the city is always allowing some group or other to put on their performances. These always inspire ideas for paintings.


Harbor Sign

This sign arches over the entrance to the pier. This painting was done with the idea of using it as a commercial image to put on brochures, letterheads and such. Though many people have painted this sign, mine is floating in the air giving the painting an almost spiritual quality.

House on Palisades Road

This was painted for a man who lived in the white house on Palisades Road. I recently turned this image into a giclee print for the man who lived in the little brown house. Those two tiny houses are gone now. In their place is a multi million dollar condo but the little houses remain not only in our memory but hanging on the wall.


Lee And Friend

Lee lived upstairs in the Outlook Hotel. This day a girl walked by and our eyes popped out. She had big boobs, lots of hair, and a wonderful attitude. I could not resist painting the scene. Lee comes back every so often and would love to live here again. Maybe he will.


Life Guard

Our icon was the lifeguard tower. It still is. These towers run the course of the beach. They stood watch, silent in the winter but full of activity in the summer with all those lifeguards and beach goers. People used to live under them but not any more. Recently the TV series Baywatch concluded filming here and what was Bay Watch Production's logo? The Santa Monica Life Guard Tower.

Love Buggy

This image of two children with a rented bike has always been meaningful to me. The shapes have always been satisfying to my eye. I also painted it all in black and I began to understand the power of the silhouette. I used this idea constantly in my painting even today.


Love Buggy and Walk

We used to have a few of these love buggies at the skate shop. They were cute, and unusual. People loved to ride up and down the boardwalk on them. We had had all kinds of vehicles on the walk including trams, rickshaws and horses. They all gave character to the area. We still have quite a collection of vehicles on the walk, most rented from the many shops that have sprung up in recent years.


Moby's Dock

Pacific Park now occupies the place of this memorable restaurant. This painting has proven to be one of the most popular in the series. It just worked right from the beginning. I tried to balance my composition in an evenly uneven way. The yellow takes your eye in a circle around the painting, from the sun, to the sand, to the trash barrel, up to Moby's Dock again. This painting has been sold many times as a giclee print, and was used on the Emeritus College faculty art show brochure.

Mural Skaters

After I painted the background of this mural, I invited people to paint the foreground images. People skated by and I enlisted them in my project. Each person painted their own image - a chest full of gold, a mermaid, a submarine, various fishes even a sea serpent. Many years later the city built an aquarium on this very spot and in a spate of history repeating itself the public participated again in creating undersea murals that can be viewed the next time you visit.

Our Street

My studio is right in the middle of our block, and yet it is invisible. I learned in Venice how to be out in the open and still be invisible. The sign does not stand out. Even though the window is open, people do not notice it. This is a remembrance of when I had my gallery in front and sold these watercolors right out of the window.


Our Street Pizza

On the north side of my studio were these little shops. They were much different in the 70's than they are now. The skate rental is now a part of the pizza place, and Dan's place has turned into a t-shirt shop. We are going to change the front of the building again this year. After we see how it turns out I hope to do a new watercolor of the street.


Our Street With Bill

These people who were standing around under the pier ran our building. They are immortalized here for all time. I believe they have all gone now and I wonder sometimes if they like the changes to the area around the pier.


Pizzaria Police Bikes

The police were really something. Their clothes were snappy, their attitude charming, and they still are the best cops I have ever known. They spiced up our neighborhood and were a real part of the community. I don't know how many people could say that about their neighborhood cops.


Silhouette Man On Pier

Silhouettes can be so powerful. I like this composition because all the darks are on one side, and your eye goes to the light first, and then has time to roam around in the dark. The shapes are interesting and fit together like a hand in a glove.


Skater In Front Of Mural

These are all skaters but who is real and who is painted? The mural has skaters painted on it and there are people skating in front of it. This one was fun to do.


Tad and Laura on The Beach

This painting is a composite of the features of our beach. In doing this one I took various elements from different photographs and put them together to complete a vision of the time that Tad and Laura had when they were visiting here. I can do this kind of painting on commission, just send me your photos and I can put them together putting you in the scene.

The Georgian

The Georgian was one of my favorite hotels. The activity in the lot below was quite amazing. I developed a style of simple drawing that used the main features of each person's face and style of dress in such a way that you could tell who they were even without much detail.

The Pier 1979

Everybody has produced an image of the Santa Monica pier. It has such a rich history. This image shows the pier before the heavy damage of the 1983 winter storm. Although there was talk of not rebuilding thanks to the Pier Restoration Corporation it is now better than ever.


The Sea Castle

This was always one of the most beautiful buildings in my neighborhood. When it was damaged in an earthquake we all wondered if it would ever be rebuilt. There was a mural of whales on the north side of the building. The art deco ornaments came from the 1920's. The Sea Castle was rebuilt a few years ago, and now there are hotels behind it. The art deco ornamentation is not there anymore but the magic is still there.

I have begun a new series of watercolors that will show how Santa Monica and Venice have both changed and stayed the same. The new waterolors are based on current photos of the same place, setting, or scene as the old ones were. You can read about this if you want to and then please continuing enjoying my work.

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