Painting For The Planet

by Carol DeFrank

JOHN F. KENNEDY'S WORDS, “The supreme reality of our time… is the vulnerability of our planet,” appear on the Echo Message Board page of Carol McArdle’s Web site. It gives viewers an instant understanding of McArdle’s mission—to preserve the natural habitat of Florida on canvas.

Born in Jamaica and raised in England, McArdle knew by the age of ten, that she had an inborn talent. After attending West Surrey College of Art & Design in England she traveled to Ireland with her husband, had two children and stayed for ten years working at her own sign painting business.

“One Christmas, when my girls were young, I bought some paint supplies and played around with them. The first time I put paint to canvas I fell in love. Knowing that art could easily absorb my life, I put my paints away immediately, because I was divorced and had two children to support.” For years McArdle made a living working in various facets of art, from sign painter to graphic artist. Her creations have appeared as illustrations in magazines, on buildings, and as part of a movie set in “Far and Away” starring Tom Cruise.

The artist came to the United States in 1992, moved to Florida in 1995 and became an American Citizen in 2001. For four years she made her living painting Mediterranean murals in homes. Craving to rediscover the expressive feelings she put aside that Christmas long ago, she decided to schedule regular, personal, creative time.

“At a certain age we all wake up and realize it’s time to please ourselves, rather than the world. So, one day every week, I began experimenting. I fell in love with the expressiveness and possibilities of abstract painting. It was freeing and allowed me to incorporate harmony, gracefulness, vibrancy and serenity, into my pieces.”

McArdle reveled in the discovery, and took the time to develop strength and confidence before showing her creations publicly. When she did, reality stepped in. Though she had won awards, she soon discovered there was no commercial demand for abstract art in southwest Florida.

Determined never to return to painting Tuscany murals, she looked for inspiration elsewhere and found it surrounding her. Remembering that she fell in love with Florida as soon as she arrived, she focused on natural Floridian scenes. “It dawned on me that I had the ability to preserve this beautiful land on canvas. Mother Nature became my teacher; she centered me.”

Thinking back, McArdle realized that even her abstract prints focused on nature. The organic myriad of colors, tones, shapes and textures of tree barks, the lines and patterns in stones, as well as the colors of the waters at a tropical beach were always part of her art. “I feel nourished, refreshed and full of gratitude by these visual gifts. I explore, interpret and reproduce the endless sights that nature offers.”

Unlike the abstracts, this series is popular with customers and galleries. “Besides sharing beauty, my purpose is to educate. So much of native Florida has been taken by the very people who locate here because of its beauty. Excavators rip up the land and contractors build on it. New roads, buildings, homes, non-native plants and trees have all invaded and changed the landscape. It’s been going on for so long that many people don’t know the difference between native or invasive fauna and flora. I like to think I’m preserving what’s left on canvas.”

State parks, preserves and other natural places spark her imagination. She loves the mangroves, the palms and landscape. The Estero Bay Buffer Preserve that runs along the Estero River is one of the artist’s favorite places. “I can walk for miles and miles along the river. It’s important land; it helps preserve the waterways. In the summer it’s so wet you can’t walk in it and in the winter it’s dry as a bone.”

When her brush touches a clean canvas, she’s never sure what the finished piece will look like. Each painting is spontaneous and evolutionary. The main starting point may be one color, a combination of colors, a tree or water.

Her paintings are unique. “They can be hung from any side; there is no right or wrong way, only your way. I like to think that my art is as much about the owner as it is about me. You become a part of the print by how you experience and react to it.” She uses oils, acrylics and occasionally oil pastels and soft pastels.

Her camera is a constant companion. At first it was used as a reference and research tool, but over time, it became an artistic medium. Most artists focus on one art form, which becomes their signature. Galleries may like that method but McArdle prefers variety. She believes some subjects deserve to be photographed rather than painted so she’s incorporated it into her repertoire.

Carol creates prints from her photos through a process called giclee (pronounced: ghee-clay ). Giclee prints are made from high-resolution digital images, which capture great detail and accuracy. They’re made on canvas and paper, using archival quality inks, which are then sealed with a protective, final coat. The results are beautiful pieces of art.

Her work can be found at several local galleries including the Coconut Point Mall Office Gallery, WildChild in Matlacha and Water Wheel on Amelia Island, Georgia. She is also the resident artist for Delnor Wiggins Park.

McArdle will be painting an abstract to music at Coconut Point Mall during the Healing and Arts Day, March 29. The piece will be a part of a silent auction that will be held at the conclusion of the event. Proceeds will go to healing the environment at Delnor Wiggins Park.

At 53, she’s a self-declared recluse, who works seven days a week. She forces herself to go out and network. “It’s challenging to paint, and do your own marketing, but it’s necessary. Trying to find people who want to buy original art is tough right now,” McArdle says. “People consider it a luxury.” Her paintings range in price from $150 to more than $5,000. She also does commissioned artwork. Signed and numbered limited edition prints are available.

“I’m thankful for my talent and really believe in what I’m doing. Art is an inborn ability that I have no control over. It’s impossible to do a regular job and paint too, so I’m gambling everything I have, to make it work.”

To see more of McArdle’s work, visit www.carolsheart.com or www.carolmcardle.com. •

from the March-April 2008 issue

'Mangroves in the Morning'

'Morning Blush'


"It dawned on me that I had the ability to preserve this beautiful land on canvas. Mother Nature became my teacher."

Carol McArdle
in Delnor Wiggins State Park