Brendan Coudal embodies the Florida lifestyle. The avid fisherman captures scenes from his everyday life on canvas.
It is best described as a Florida fisherman's paradise. Paintings of majestic tarpons and other exotic game fish grace the walls. Sunny island music from Jimmy Buffett, Bob Marley and The Beach Boys floats through the air. Fishing rods double as decorations, and there is a 17-foot boat parked at the ready in the nearby garage.
But there'll be no fishing today. Overcast and rainy, avid fisherman Brendan Coudal cradles a cup of black coffee and picks up his oil paint and brushes. Dozens of bright Florida visions swim in his head. If Mother Nature won't let Coudal witness Florida's natural beauty, he'll make it himself. It's time to paint.
Coudal, 49, can be found most days (when he’s not out on his boat) in his art studio on the lower level of his Nokomis house. Joined by his wife Nicole, who handles the business side of his online art business, and their two cats, Max and Phoebe, Coudal’s environment is a reflection of the artist himself. His style is relaxed, yet bright and inviting. He is known for retro-inspired paintings of Florida scenes, wildlife and World War II bomber-style pinup girls that he transfers onto postcards, wooden signs and other nostalgic-feeling conduits.
“I bring a contemporary spin to a mid-century illustrative style,” Coudal says. “I’m not a hyper-photorealist, but I’m a painter for the love of the painting, the brushwork and the medium itself.”
New artistic model
Coudal began his journey by a traditional artistic route. From 2002 to 2005 Coudal ran his own gallery, the Brendan Gallery, out of The Beachcomber Hotel on Casey Key. He sold his fish scenes and Floridascapes to locals and tourists. But Coudal soon realized that mode of distribution wasn’t the best to turn a profit.
“For me, the old model of hanging a painting a gallery and waiting for it to sell is dead,” says Coudal. “It’s great if you can do it but for me if I can license the image, merchandize it, sell it on prints, posters and apparel and then the original works as well then all the better.”
Coudal, who sells his works on his website, brendancoudal.com, works with Sarasota printers to feature his trademarked designs on postcards, prints and T-shirts. For his wooden signs featuring his trademark pin-up girls, which have been used as prizes and event images for the Florida Winefest & Auction and the Sarasota Tarpon Tournament, he has them produced by a woodshop and carpentry collaborator in Atlanta.
Like a true fisherman, Coudal likes to take his time. He usually completes about a dozen paintings a year.
"I try to capture a romanticized notion of Florida, a more innocent and nostalgic Florida," Coudal says.
But before he created a livelihood from his nostalgic take on Florida, he was just a Florida transplant, like many others, trying to eke out a living. After graduating from the Chicago Performing Arts Academy, Coudal helped his grandfather moved to Venice. He says that he was only supposed to stay for a few weeks. It turned into a never-ending vacation. Coudal paid the bills by waiting tables, bartending, working in hotels and condos and eventually becoming the maintenance man for the Island House Motel on Casey Key.
But in 2001, after 9/11, Coudal re-evaluated what he wanted to do with his life. His father gave him a watercolor set that sparked his old creative juices.
He sold his first commissioned painting in 2001 to the owner of the Island House, which he was managing at the time. The owner paid him $25: He wanted something in blue to be hung in room No. 10. Coudal, a part-time fishing guide at the time, created a scene from his everyday life: a landscape featuring a fisherman and his guide pointing out to the sea toward a fish.
“I would describe myself as a contemporary artist painting in a retro style,” says Coudal. “I try to focus on portraying a story of some sort and my perspective on Florida.”
Inspired by iconic early- to mid-20th century illustrators and artists such as Thorton Utz, Gil Elvgren, Stanley Meltzoff, John Seerey-Lester and, of course, the authority on American illustration, Norman Rockwell, Coudal sees his work not only an extension of his perspective on Florida but also reviving a seemingly lost art form.
"I like to think that Florida still exists if you just take a minute to look for it," he says. "Get off the interstate and ride down an old seashell Florida road. Everyone bemoans progress and development, but there's still a bunch of old Florida left to be discovered and enjoyed."