Deep in the heart of Myakka, past the prairies and the pine flats, the snap-happy alligators,
strutting herons and all the signs of civilization that continue to encroach on this last bastion of Old Florida wilderness and all its magic and malice, answers await for the artist who dares venture in search of them. They won’t find eternal youth and they won’t find the meaning of life, but they may find the artist Jean Blackburn, and a painter’s hand nigh unparalleled in capturing the beauty and boundless nature of the surrounding waters.  

Artwork by Jean Blackburn,

ARTWORK BY JEAN BLACKBURN.

Perhaps a gift born of deep connection, all her life, Blackburn never strayed far from the water. Born in Anna Maria Island, the Girl Who Would Be Artist grew up on the beach, becoming one with the waves. Come college in Gainesville, learning while landlocked, she finds solace in the nearby springs and streams, fully harkening the siren song of the sea upon graduation, living on a boat and sailing through the Caribbean and around the Bahamas for most of her 20s. Returning to dry land, she eventually settles in a cabin along the Myakka River, where she’ll spend hours a day wading chest-deep through the waters, head down with her camera, taking thousands of pictures and searching for the perfect snapshot of the Myakka borealis—when sunlight bounces off the quartz sand of the riverbed, staining the tannin-soaked waters red and yellow as the surface reflects the blue sky above, transforming gently flowing water into an aqueous kaleidoscope of complementary colors. 

Artwork by Jean Blackburn,

ARTWORK BY JEAN BLACKBURN.

“I’m endlessly compelled by the variations, the visual opportunities,” Blackburn says, and though she began her studies of water painting plein air, it’s this adoption of photography into her process that enables her to capture what she does, and perhaps what’s most rewarding. “The real joy and the relationship with the water comes when I’m there,” she says. “When I’m walking through it and working on the angles and just completely mesmerized by what’s happening—that’s when I’m really lost in it.” Back in the studio, photo in hand, it becomes a question of craft.

Artwork by Jean Blackburn,

ARTWORK BY JEAN BLACKBURN.

Working in oils, despite the apparent chemical contradiction, Blackburn prefers painting large-scale on panel. Oils are more “forgiving,” she says, drying slowly and allowing her to play with layers and blending, as she strives for the perfect representation of a challenging subject. She opts for walnut oils, which stay wet and malleable even longer. Larger works may take as long as six weeks to complete, alone in the studio for hours with nothing but audiobooks to keep her company. She’s considered just exhibiting the photographs, but knows, deep down, that they wouldn’t do her vision justice. “The image gains something by being enlarged and translated with oil paint,” she says. “There’s something that happens in that translation.”

Far from black magic, it’s the human element etched in every brushstroke—the artist’s alchemy that transforms rote recreation into purposed creation, and assures the audience that every mark holds a meaning.