Anyone who has spent time on a Maine island knows the extraordinary effect these islands can have on a person. Island life brings out one’s creativity, one’s fervor. It gets under your skin and in your heart and you can never get it out. Wini Smart has painted on Great Cranberry Island for 20 years, and she knows this feeling well. “An artist must be in love with their work to do their best work. When you live on an island you get quite passionate about it, there’s more passion in the work.”

Smart finds that living on an island is conducive to painting. “Living here I’ve had more time to concentrate on my work. On an island there’s more peace and quiet, it’s more meditative, I can really study my subject.” Smart paints primarily shoreline scenes, many portraying flowers against the sea. Her main interest is painting flowers, for which she raises flowers in her garden each year.

Little Cranberry Island has been home to artist Ashley Bryan since 1979, though his ties to Maine date back to 1946. While Bryan’s desire to create manifests itself in many ways, including papier mache and puppet making, his passion is drawing and painting. “Everything I do stems out of love of drawing and painting,” he said. “To find some means of expressing myself, everything stems from that desire.”

In the summers, Bryan spends much of his painting time working from the landscape. “It’s what brought me to Maine,” he said. Like Smart, Bryan also enjoys painting flowers. In June Bryan said he was working from the iris and lupine that were blooming on the island. “I follow whatever as we move through the season. Sometimes I focus completely on the garden,” he remarked.

Bryan spends many evenings working on book projects, for which he may best be known. He has written and illustrated more than 20 books for children, and is currently working on an illustration for the African American proverb “Never try to catch a black cat at night.”

“I draw upon childlike feelings on canvas, essential rhythms that sustain viewing endlessly,” he said. Through October 19th, Bryan is a featured artist at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass., which opened last year.

Sometimes one’s passion can reveal itself as more of a tempered enthusiasm, as with Great Cranberry native Charlene Allen. Allen is a self-taught painter who displays typical island modesty. “I didn’t consider myself an artist for the longest time, but people kept saying ‘yes, you are!'” Allen finds that painting is an enjoyable way to spend the long winter months. “I like doing it, it’s very relaxing,” she said. “When the right moment arrives, that’s when I do the best, like when a light bulb comes on.”

Allen usually uses acrylics to paint landscapes and flowers from memory. “I like to paint natural things,” she said. “I don’t even try houses.” She had been dabbling in painting “for 20-odd years,” but would inevitably put it aside. “All of a sudden I decided some of my paintings were as good as anyone else’s,” she recalled. Now she paints in the winter and shows her work in her sister’s gift shop in the summer.

Touching a Chord

Painter Christine Coombs has lived on Islesboro full-time for the past two years, but has lived there on and off for 11 years. While Coombs paints a lot of Maine scenes, she “is not out to just do a pretty picture.” She paints when she sees something that hits her “just right,” something she is compelled to paint. “I try to catch moments that feel right. I am trying to touch a chord in each painting,” she said. “I know I am successful because people walk up to my stand and burst into tears, or feel a moment in their life that they recall suddenly.”

Coombs also finds life in Maine, and island life in particular, agreeable to her vocation. “I make my living selling paintings in Maine in the summer. I grew up in New Hampshire. There aren’t too many artists who make a living there,” she said. “I’m glad Maine is so supportive of the arts.” Islesboro “is a lovely place,” she continued. “It is quiet, it has solitude, I like that. It has given me a great deal of subject matter.”

Islesboro has also brought Coombs success. She first showed work on the island at the Historical Society eight or nine years ago. The show featured large paintings of a couple of local lobstermen. Actress Kirstie Alley, who once owned a house on Islesboro, bought one of the paintings of the lobstermen for the man portrayed in it, as well as a number of other paintings.

Jack McConnell is passionate about Islesboro. While the photographer/artist spends most of his year in Connecticut, the three months he spends on-island each summer are precious. “It’s a chance to explore different environments than I am used to,” he said. “I explore people more than landscapes. I think of people as landscape. The faces of old timers, years of living, working on the water. There is character in their faces, bodies and hands.” McConnell described the hands of his friend “Tractor George” with reverence, referring to them as “toiler’s” hands. “I am really in love with the people here,” said McConnell. “I portray them as gently and as sweetly as possible.” McConnell has taken many photos of Islesboro old timers over the years, and since many of those people have died, his work has become an historical archive. “The ‘young’ codgers and geezers aren’t quite the same,” he said.

McConnell also finds that “the landscape here has more character. The New England landscape is underfoot, the stuff in people’s yards, stone walls. There is an auto graveyard here I could spend years drawing and photographing. Sometimes [islanders] have to kick me out of their yards because I’m finding so much to photograph.” When on Islesboro, McConnell shows at the Seven Knots Gallery, which he owns with his wife, Paula McNamara. His current show, with junk metal sculptor Cliff Houle, is called “Junkyard Dogs.”