As live crabs scurried across a table in her backyard, Carol Newsome chased them from behind her camera lens to capture their vibrant colors and textures. The photographs were then used as a reference to paint their portraits.
"I just love painting blue crabs," the Beaufort resident said. Her exhibit, "Lowcountry Inspirations," opens today and continues through Sept. 15 at the Beaufort Art Association Gallery, 913 Bay St., Beaufort.
"I like the colors, and I think they are neat," Newsome said, holding a detailed watercolor of a blue crab that shows its feelers and 10 legs. The watercolor is one of about 25 watercolor and acrylic paintings in the exhibit.
"I had a time taking pictures of them," she said. "They wanted to run all over the place."
Becoming a painter
Since her husband's job brought the family of six to the Lowcountry in 1975, Newsome has been attracted to the beauty of the area.
But it wasn't until she was 58 years old that she got the urge to pick up a paintbrush.
Newsome's older sister was an artist and encouraged her to try painting.
One day, while window shopping at Gloria Dalvini's gallery in downtown Beaufort, she signed up for her first art class.
Shortly after, she joined the Beaufort Art Association, where she has learned many new techniques, among them painting with salt.
She began by painting pictures of old buildings, then graduated to flowers. These paintings hang in the den of her Shell Point home.
Her living room walls hold her works, which depict the beauty of the Lowcountry, as well as a Kentucky waterfall to remind her of roots as the daughter of a coal miner.
Paintings of flowers and Lowcountry scenery are among her favorites. She loves to paint gleaming marsh grasses, fierce ocean waves and live oaks.
A special live oak, the 1,500-year-old live Angel Oak on Johns Island, caught her attention in 2000. Recognized as the South Carolina millennium tree, Newsome had to take four photos to get the entire tree, which is more than 66 feet tall and 187 feet wide.
"That's my claim to fame, I guess," she said modestly. "I've sold a lot of prints of that. That is when I really started liking oak trees."
Visitors to the Beaufort Art Association Gallery frequently request prints of Newsome's Angel Oak.
"They say they have seen it (the tree) and heard that she has a print in the gallery," said Ethie Morrison, Beaufort Art Association secretary.
Newsome said she doesn't have to look far for new subjects for her work.
"Anywhere you look in Beaufort you can be inspired to paint something," said the petite and soft-spoken Newsome. She points out dogwoods, magnolias, oak trees and the water.
Each of Newsome's paintings has a story and a memory of adventure. "Willow Point Marsh" was painted from a photo she took while walking around her granddaughter's neighborhood.
Pictures taken by her daughter of egrets wading in the water, then taking flight, resulted in Newsome's painting, "Ready To Fly." It is also in the exhibit. Newsome was awarded the Beaufort Art Association's EBA Giclee Award in the spring 2011 exhibit for another painting of the egrets titled, "Personality and Attitude."
The rustling of Palmetto trees in the wind can almost be heard just by looking at her lifelike painting of the Hunting Island Lighthouse.
The photos help her remember the details.
"I have in mind what kind of painting I want to paint, and I take pictures just for that purpose ... to do a painting," Newsome said. "When I shoot a photo, I try to take a picture of how I think I can do a painting. And sometimes I take several photos, and I have to put them together. One thing about painting is that you can take out or add stuff that is not in a photo."
Translating her pictures of nature to watercolor or acrylic is therapeutic for her.
"That feeling you have when you want to paint what you see ... I am just enjoying the process," Newsome said.
"If somebody likes it, that makes you feel good. It is relaxing when the brush goes to the paper," she said. "It will take your mind off of your problems and helps you forget things, but it is frustrating when you can't get it the way you want it. They say you can always do it over. It is just paper."