I recently decided to organize & eliminate some old archived artwork taking up space in my flat files & I discovered that revisiting old art accomplishments is much like going through old family photographs . . . it’s fun revisiting the past but it can also be an emotional journey. As I flipped through my art efforts from years past, I came across a drawing I did some 37 years ago in 1984. It caught my attention because it had me reminiscing about the story behind it, & also reminded me of the many reasons I love making art.

Wastin’ Away In Margaritaville

While living in the Florida Keys back in the early 80’s I spent a lot of time in Key West, and in my frequent travels around the Island I would often notice a particular gentleman sitting on the porch of a quaint little Conch House, always with a cigarette in hand and a bottle at his feet. Something about him drew me in each time I’d pass. His face had the character of an old man at sea, seemingly observing the world without a care from his front porch, & the artist in me saw him as inspiration for a future work.

So armed with my telephoto lens, I went after my subject like a celebrity paparazzi, hoping to go unnoticed while gathering details of my Key West gentleman on the porch. After shooting several rolls of film (before digital was even a word), I headed to my usual Key West Photomat to develop my rolls of inspirational photos for reference material to be used when I returned to Pennsylvania.


“Day In / Day Out”

Key West is a beautiful, colorful place, & I couldn’t help but wonder what my subject’s real story was. Given his appearance, I was inclined to have empathy for him, but at the same time he seemed content to spend his days on his porch watching the tourists come and go. Like all snowbirds, I too headed north, but knowing I’d be back to visit him again to escape the next PA winter.

I returned to my PA studio, anxious to explore the stranger frozen in time in my reference photos. Inspiration can come from the strangest places, & given his seemingly unassuming lifestyle, I couldn’t help but think that he’d laugh if he knew some crazy snowbird artist found him to be interesting subject matter.

After composing some rough sketches, I set about bringing my photos to life & the vision I had of my subject slowly emerged with each pen stroke.


Pen & Ink on Bristol board
23 x 14 inches

After completing my tribute to my Key West inhabitant, I lovingly placed him in my flat file drawer with previous art accomplishments.

The following Winter, I once again headed to the Keys & made my customary visit to Key West shortly after I arrived.

But something had changed.

My anticipated drive-by visit to see my Key West gentleman quietly sitting on the porch of his Conch House, now revealed a different scene. The subject of my drawing and the porch where he observed life, seemed to tell a different story.

I’ll never know what became of him, but my take is, his life wasn’t so bad ~ sitting on his porch, day in and day out, watching the tourists struggle to escape the fast paced world for the brief privilege of enjoying a few relaxed, sun-filled, worry-free days in Paradise.

But I believe the subject of my drawing was living the simple life many would envy. For him every day was just another day in Paradise & perhaps ultimately, that’s the story I found so intriguing & hoped my art would convey about him.

The Stories Within

Digging through my archives gave me a real perspective on just how far I’ve come as an artist. Yet some of my most sophomoric, amateur pieces brought back sentimental memories of time & place, making an otherwise trash-worthy piece of art seem like a masterpiece. Much like a child’s refrigerator art can be viewed as the Mona Lisa by an adoring parent, seeing my unremarkable pen & ink drawing brought back memories and immediately I felt all of the responses that originally inspired me to create it.

Art can trigger an emotional response for many reasons. If pressed to give details about a piece of art you own, chances are you have a personal story to go with it . . .

Where you acquired it

Why you were attracted to it

What memories it brings forth

How it makes you feel

Like family photos, the art we own has special meaning to us. Which explains why I viewed my pen & ink drawing from 1984 as more than just another one of my novice attempts at art destined for the trash. Although it’s far from my best work, my decision to organize & clean out some bad art, resulted in the resurrection of my Key West gentleman & saved him from the abyss of my flat files. I’d like to think he’d be happy knowing he is now framed & hanging so this snowbird artist can enjoy the memories he provided years ago.