Jonalyn's Watercolor Blog

Painting in the Caribbean

First a reflective thought on social media, then a beautiful story about painting people in the Caribbean. Happy Saturday!

How I See Social

I meet with a couple of painters to critique our work via Zoom, and during one of these meetings I realized we are all struggling with how to show up on social in an authentic and meaningful way. There’s a metaphor I’ve created that’s helped me navigate this “social” world.

I see social like a Roman well during the time of Jesus. It’s a place everyone shows up, daily, for the news. Whether we like it or not, social has become a meeting place. And we must go to find out what people are talking about today. And just like a Roman well, we don’t own the place. We are not in control. We know some conversations are banned, but we can still decide to show up to listen and contribute (sometimes even in code) as I’m sure many Jews did at Roman wells.  All the while, we know that the best conversations remain hidden, on what’s now called ‘dark social’. Dark social just means any conversation that a computer cannot track. Dark social has always been the best place to learn, change, and grow.

We will all show up on social differently, there shouldn’t be a homogenous formula that we all follow. That’s part of the challenge to actually show up as ourselves. Otherwise, we are squeezing ourselves into social, rather than making social fit us. And what will we each offer the world in this time?  Your conversation at the Roman well should be different from mine. But our goals: connection, love, goodness, beauty, healing, can be the same.

So, with that in mind, here’s a story from the land of dark social (golly doesn’t that sound intriguing?!).  A dark social event that you’ll be able to celebrate with me over God’s goodness to connect us, on or off social.


It started when we left Puerto Rico on a cruise to celebrate the life of my mother-in-law, who loved to travel to the Bahamas. Once we cast off, I realized that this cruise held captive hundreds of unsuspecting victims, err subjects, to paint. And they never had to know! I could sit in the shadows, under an umbrella and get lost in the maze of sun-bathers, piled up towels, and dance music. I had dozens of good subjects, happy people enjoying themselves. I didn’t even have to ask them to smile. No one suspected me under that enormous sunhat.

So the first group I chose was sitting by the pool, a silver-haired spunky lady in a lime one-piece. She was effortless and, most important, holding relatively still. And next to her, sitting far enough away another perfect subject, a poised younger woman with an amazing jaw and neckline. I sketched them with the mountains of Tortola, British Virgin Island soaring up over the ship’s balcony. The sunshine gave them great rim-light to paint. I was done in about an hour and they stayed put for 30 minutes of that.

Painting a couple of ladies next to the pool, Tortola, B.V.I.

I didn’t take a single picture of them, but you van see what I painted that afternoon 2/12/23 from 3 – 4pm (see pic). It was only when I finished that I blew my cover.

It was sheer satisfaction that I’m learning to paint moving, live people in an unusual environment that I was bursting to share with someone. And who better than the people I had just painted?!

That’s when I stood up and before this exuberance left me, I approached the puzzled and slightly taken back family, staring at this forward floppy-hatted stranger with yellow paint across her cheek. But they broke into huge grins and crowded around to see the painting as soon as they heard me out.

I told them how I could tell they had a good conversation going. The green swimsuit lady pointed to the younger woman and say, “She’s a special one. She’s my daughter!” I got to meet the husbands as well and they requested a pic of my painting. And that was that.

Deck 10, Aft

It was two days later when I was painting on the back deck that a gentleman came over and announced at me “You’ve gotten me into a lot of trouble.” Slightly startled and curious I looked up.

“And how did I do that?” I asked.

“Well, you painted my wife and daughter and as soon as you left, my wife said, ‘I cannot believe you didn’t buy that painting!’ So I told her I would find you on this cruise ship. And I just knew I would. I’ve been looking all over and here you are. I knew I’d find you. Can you get me out of trouble? Can you sell me that painting?

I was laughing at this point. “I never sell my travel sketchbook paintings, but I’d be happy to paint you an original piece when I’m back home in my studio.”

The guy was grinning at this point and happily got my contact info. He then went on to announce to the surrounding guests (who were all strangers to us both) that I was going to paint him an original piece of his wife and daughter. This conversation all took place while I had been trying to finish the rainbow for a painting of Dominica before we sailed. You can see that painting below left. I finished feeling like I had just found a pot of gold. There are few things as rewarding as finding collectors who value my work!

Dominica with rainbow, from the back deck of Celebrity Cruises.

Back Home

Back home I shared a few of my sketchbook paintings on social and enjoyed revisiting the paintings that captured so many good memories (see them all below). Two weeks later I received an email from A.H. who wrote:

We met recently on a cruise after you painted a picture of my mom and I by the pool. I would love to order a copy of that work for each of us!

And that is how I ended up painting “Poolside Conversation” for A and her mother. I included a chance to purchase a custom print as well (this option is included in all my commissioned pieces). A’s mother will open “Poolside Conversations” as her present for Easter. I tell ya, painting sure has its wonderful moments. These connection points between a family, to be able to capture a moment they all enjoyed, and to  know my work is valued, seen, framed and celebrated; that is what makes my days meaningful. I hope you catch a little of the joy in the slideshow below!

Another group I found to paint, relaxing in the hot tub as we cruised back to Puerto Rico.
My favorite experience, this is Barbados, along a beautiful locals shopping area. My 1 lb stool worked perfectly to paint the scene in about 30 min.
So much happy surprise in this woman from the Barbados markets. She loved the painting of her stand and her green umbrella.
The most challenging part of painting from life is how quickly people move. So I worked on sketching really fast and painting even faster. This sketch took 45 minutes.
This scene wasn’t as successful. But it’s still full of interest and the warmth of the shadows in St. Maarten.
Fresh, cold (they were in his ice chest) coconuts after a dusty walk back from the Farmer’s Market!  These are my boys sucking them dry while my husband squared up.
These cargo barges were everywhere. This one, in the sunlight, was so beautiful I painted from the ships’ indoor dining room.
This is what a lot of the Bahamas feels like, clean, eclectic infrastructure and buildings and sunshine. My sweet family walking together. Dale is shouldering all my art supplies!
Sketching the cargo ship while everyone talked together.
Back at home, holding up the original for A.H. on the left and her mom’s archival print on the right.


“Poolside Conversations” commissioned by A.H., plein air study used as reference while on board Celebrity Cruises, Deck 10 Poolside with view of Tortola, B.V.I., Feb 12, 2023, 3 – 4pm.

4 Responses

  1. I love this story! The connections we as artists make with, and through, our art are some of the main reasons art exists, imo. When we can capture something meaningful, give it form, and then gift it to someone, that is the best! I feel this way about items I bake and decorate for special occasions. Being able to create something beautiful and delicious that will have meaning to someone gives me joy like nothing else.

    1. Bonnie,
      I’m blessed to read your words. You know, cake making and decorating is a type of sculpting, isn’t it?! And I think the way you put it “capture something meaningful and give it form” is really what God did when he made us, breathing life into clay. And I agree with you, the joy that comes when we present an idea in visual form that helps others connect, with each other and with us. It’s a deep joy! I don’t ever want to stop doing this art. Glad for your comment, please keep baking! 🙂

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