The pale light of a new day falls on a skipjack lying alongside a wharf on Maryland’s Eastern shore. It’s early morning at Dogwood Harbor on Tilghman Island, and all is quiet aboard the Rebecca T. Ruark.
It’s a moment captured in oils by Neal Hughes, the New Jersey-based artist known for his realist seascapes. Dawn is sometimes called the “golden hour,” he says, when warm and tranquil colors can make a painting more interesting than work done during the middle of the day. “My objective was to capture the light and color being reflected on the boats, water and landscape while the sun was first starting to rise,” Hughes says. “The colors are so rich during the sunrise and sunset … so the painting is a lot about color.”
It’s also about the boat, Chesapeake Bay and history. The Rebecca T. Ruark is said to be the oldest working skipjack on the Bay, built in 1886. “I am very interested in working boats and the people who make their living on the water,” Hughes says. The skipjack, a fishing boat used to dredge oyster beds, is a symbol of the Bay and is the state boat of Maryland.
Hughes worked as an illustrator after graduating from the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts), then transitioned into painting. His work often begins as a sketch with outlines of major shapes. He fills in blocks of color and refines them with details, building thin layers into richer, fuller hues and textures.
Hughes has been specializing in plein air works, which are painted on-site. “I am happiest when I paint outdoors. I enjoy the experience of creating an image directly from nature [and] the surroundings at the moment,” Hughes told Plein Air magazine in a 2015 interview.
“Any day in which I can paint is a good day,” he adds.
To view this and other works by Neal Hughes visit the J. Russell Jinishian Gallery website at jrusselljinishiangallery.com or visit the gallery at 1899 Bronson Road in Fairfield, Connecticut.
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue.