All images © Carol L. Douglas, Rochester, NY.
No reproduction or reuse permitted without
express consent of the artist.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Welcome to the neighborhood

One of my favorite subjects for blogging has been the food we've eaten in our workshops. Here, doughnuts from the Willow Bake Shoppe, now just down the road from me.
While I was in mid-Hudson, I got a note from a student suggesting I send my blog link to the Bangor Daily News. I’d been a full-time resident of Maine for exactly five days, three of them spent back in New York painting at Olana and the Catskills. I was more than mildly surprised at their interest. If all goes well, tomorrow my blog will appear on their portal rather than on Blogger, where it’s been since 2007.

Then there are my favorite places. Here, Camden Harbor.
One of my painting students is branding guru Brad VanAuken. He once told me I should blog regularly, or forget about blogging at all. On his advice I started posting every weekday. That’s improved my readership, but it’s also helped me develop an economical writing style, one that doesn’t take over my entire day.

It would be fun to kick off this new blog with something exciting like a painting festival. But the flip side is that I have time this week to work on the transfer. I still have a lot of work to do before I hit the road, exciting stuff like going to the dump for the first time, figuring out my mailbox question, and registering my car.
I love writing about the technique of painting. This was a how-to for making canvases.
What will I write about on this new platform? The same stuff I already do, I imagine: plein air painting, art history, an occasional digression into social commentary. I hope you come along for the ride, dear friends.
As always, painting with friends is the most important thing.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Traveling truths

Catskills over Athens, NY, 8X6, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas. The grass is courtesy of a park worker who was string-trimming nearby. Not to worry; it will pick off when the painting is dry.
When Nancy Woogen and I were painting at North –South Lake on Thursday, a woman glided past us in her kayak. “Oh, you’re painters!” she exclaimed. “May I join you?”

Turns out she has been looking for her tribe. I introduced her to my pal Jamie Williams Grossman, chair of Lower Hudson Valley Plein Air Painters. We arranged to meet the following day at Site #9 on the Hudson River Art Trail, also known as Promenade Hill Park in Hudson, NY.

A tug approaching the Athens-Hudson Lighthouse in the Hudson River.
Like many upstate New York towns, Hudson went into decline after its primary industry was closed down, but its industry wasn’t the usual paper or steel mill. For a century, Hudson was notorious for vice. Its red-light district included 50 bars, 15 whorehouses, two major illegal horse gambling rooms and a big-stakes floating crap game—all in a community of just a few thousand people. A series of high-profile raids in 1951 put an end to that. Hudson slumped into the familiar pattern of decay.

Power lines crossing the Hudson, 8X6, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas.
It’s been gentrified since my last visit, driven into the inexorable real-estate maw of New York City. This is great for the landowners of Columbia County, and not so good for those who need to buy or rent houses.

I talked to an artist who commutes to Manhattan and who is considering relocating to Troy, farther upriver. “Two hours on the train I can handle,” she said. “But two and a half is just too much.” Having done my time commuting from Rochester to Manhattan, I understand.

I painted a half-day at Promenade Hill, and decided to start the trek back to Rockport, ME, where my commute is, well, nothing at all.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Friday, June 5, 2015

I flub where giants walked

Roundtop from North-South Lake, 8X10, Carol L. Douglas
Located on a flat outcropping of the Catskill Escarpment at an elevation of 2250 feet, North-South Lake was once split by an earthen causeway, now gone. A spit of land projects into the lake at the stub of the old causeway. This was the site of one of the seminal Hudson River School paintings, Thomas Cole’s Lake with Dead Trees (Catskill).

Jamie Grossman wearing painting mittens made by Jeanne Demotses. It's been awfully cold for the first week of June.
Lake with Dead Trees (Catskill) was one of three Cole landscapes exhibited in 1825 at William Coleman's frame shop in New York City. Priced at $25 each, they attracted the notice of Colonel John Trumbull, president of the Academy of Fine Arts. He purchased Kaaterskill Upper Fall, Catskill Mountains, which is now lost. He then encouraged  writer William Dunlap to buy Lake with Dead Trees (Catskill) and artist Asher B. Durand to buy View of Fort Putnam, also now lost. All three paintings were exhibited at the New York American Academy of Fine Arts later that year, launching Cole’s career and establishing the Catskills as the center of American landscape painting for a generation.

Beaver detritus can assume some fantastical shapes.
Even without this background, that spit of land is a wonderful microcosm of nature. It is lined with beaver-gnawed trees, marshy on one side and rocky on the other. Last year I watched a turtle laying its eggs here. Moments after I left, two friends photographed a bear swimming where the causeway had been.

Laurel grove, 6X8, Carol L. Douglas. No focal point, no color separation. What a mess.
It's a pity that my exhaustion and rustiness finally caught up with me in this paradise of paradise, and I painted a truly awful painting (above).

Yesterday dawned damp and cold, despite the NWS’ assurances to the contrary. North-South Lake was completely buried in fog, and I decided to paint a grove of laurels in the mist. Happily—or otherwise—it cleared halfway through. Sometimes it’s a mistake to chase the light, and sometimes it’s a mistake to follow through with an idea that has vanished. I made the latter mistake.

A damp morning has its consolations.
I’m not particularly ashamed of my failures; they’re part of the process. I never wipe them out because they teach me a lot. Including, sometimes, that they aren’t exactly failures, but rather signposts to a new direction.

Meanwhile, most of our fellow painters left, driven away by the biting cold and lack of light. It was down to me and Nancy Woogen.

You can take the retired teacher out of the classroom, but you can't take the classroom out of the teacher. Nancy Woogen talking to a visiting fourth grade class.
By mid-afternoon, it had cleared, and I was able to paint the iconic view of Round Top painted by Cole and Jasper Francis Cropsey. This painting built up fast, which was a good thing, because the warmth and sun left equally quickly.

Across North-South Lake, 8X10, Carol L.Douglas
One last try—a stand of trees across the shore. By the time we finished, the biting cold was back, and we were hungry. But one out of three still ain’t bad.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Friends

Olana Overlook, 6X8, Carol L. Douglas
Painting at a site for the first time is kind of like dating in middle school—you’re drawn to flash. It takes a while to see the quality in the quieter subjects. This is the third retreat I’ve painted at Olana. I’ve gotten the big vistas out of the way and am starting to be drawn to deeper, more intimate views.

Compared to my mid-Hudson pals, I’m still at a disadvantage. “That’s a lovely little tree,” I said to Jamie Grossman.

“I know,” she answered. “I’ve painted it three times.”

Garden Lane, Olana, 8X10, Carol L. Douglas
In July, I’ll be back at Olana for the Fourth Annual Plein Air Paint Out and Festival. In some ways, yesterday’s painting was reconnaissance.

Since I am tired and rusty, I figured that getting all my gear down to mid-Hudson and actually set up would count as success. Actually painting anything would be a bonus.  I opened the cooler in which I keep my paints—only to find that I’d brought my framing tools instead.

You can improvise a lot in painting, but paints are a necessity.
Coreopsis, 8X10, Carol L. Douglas.
Immediately several people jumped forward to offer me theirs. Turns out I had enough loose paint on my palette for the day. But it’s heartwarming to know I have such good friends.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Oh, happy day!

Overlook at Olana, 9X12, by Carol L. Douglas
There is a limit to the mileage you can get out of caffeine and vitamins, and although I haven’t hit it yet, I sense the end is near. And yet today is one of the maddest, gladdest days of my painting year and it’s dawning spectacularly. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Sketch for south façade of the main house at Olana, Frederic Edwin Church, c. 1870, watercolor, ink and graphite on paper.
Every year, the chapters of New York Plein Air Painters congregate at Olana for a one-day paintout and picnic lunch. Olana is the palatial home of Hudson River School painter Frederic Church. It overlooks the Hudson, with fantastic vistas in every direction.

Olana is not just your typical rich man’s confection of Victorian whimsy. It was designed by architect Calvert Vaux but the influence of the artist is apparent everywhere.

Painting at Olana with Nancy Woogen, right.
In the fall of 1869 Frederic and Isabel Church returned from an 18-month-long trip to Europe and the Middle East. Impressed by the architecture they saw in Beirut, Jerusalem and Damascus, they envisioned a home that would incorporate Moorish elements. 

The facade at Olana.
As many times as I’ve looked at the house, it never fully registered to me that the cornices were not tiled, but stenciled. Church translated the tile work he saw in Islamic mosques into stencil patterns, which he used inside and out. Hundreds of his pencil and oil sketches for them survive.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

You’ve got mail

Hard to see how one can have a mailbox here. Where does it go?
Since my husband had already field-tested my router in Rochester, setting up my internet connection was basically plug-and-play.  That was a pleasant surprise for my overtired brain, which was expecting the usual scramble of crossed wires and endless holding for technical support.
The house is 125 years old, and the center of this bedroom floor has never been finished. I'm afraid I might break with tradition, though.
My New Year’s resolution was to unsubscribe from every email advertising list, and I kept it. Still, there were 444 messages in my inbox when I got back on line. Amid the detritus, I found this one about my workshop: “I'm interested in joining you in Maine but the form I have has your Rochester address on it and from following your blog I know you’re moving.  Where should I mail it?”

I always was a sucker for a cute wood stove.
This has me flummoxed. There is no mailbox at this house, and my pal from West Rockport told me she doesn’t have one, either. I’d just buy one and put it up, but there’s a sidewalk running along the curb. I can’t see any way a person in a mail truck can lean over far enough to shove the mail in a box. Nor am I keen on going into town every day to get my mail.

This morning’s project is to sort out the mailbox issue and to ponder a life where it’s easier to get email than physical mail.
My pizza-baking daughter is coming to visit later this month. I may not have my studio set up, but I'm ready for her!
This afternoon I head down the road to Olana for the annual New York Plein Air Painters retreat and a nice chin-wag with my pal Jamie Williams Grossman. That beats the heck out of setting up housekeeping any day. I know where my paints are. If I can find my clean clothes, I’m golden.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Addendum: The post office supervisor is going to check this out and then get back to me. In the meantime, they're holding my mail for pickup. They couldn't be nicer folks.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Receiving angels

My studio. Clifford doesn't stay here but I have to remove some doors before he can be moved. Wish you were here.
Since Friday, I’ve loaded half my earthly belongings on a 16’ rental truck, hooked my Prius up to it on a trailer, driven a gazillion miles, unloaded the truck and trailer and returned it to a rental center in Waterville, ME. It’s no surprise I’m moving slowly this morning.

The only way to live like a vagabond is to organize the hell out of your life, and that’s what I usually do. When you’re 25 and moving into your first home, you have a strong back and lots of young friends. When you’re my age, you have a weak back and you realize, sadly, that your friends are all in the same boat.

My business life, still shrink-wrapped.
But I have a husband and children, and they have friends, and the combination got that truck loaded and out of Rochester. The problem was on the Maine side, where it was down to me and a crusty old codger who busted up his back as a stone mason. It took us five hours of brutal hard work to get the heavy stuff off the truck and into either the studio or the garage.

That's my modem and router. I decided I needed coffee before I got it working, which is why this is late. Coffee, food, internet: McDonald's.
When I suggested he ride to Waterville with me to turn in the truck, he told me he was going home and taking a nap instead. “You can’t get they-ah from he-ah,” he told me in his broadest Maine accent.
This, my friends, is about a thousand pounds of paper and steel. Unloaded by the crusty old codger and me. Youth and talent are no match for old age and treachery.
I can’t back the Prius off the trailer without a spotter. It was a Sunday, the rental place was locked up tight, and the only people around were hanging out the windows of the bar across the street.

“Just gun it and pray like mad,” my friend had suggested as he drove away.

I sloshed around in the mud, disconnected my car, pulled out the ramps, checked to make sure everything was neat. As I was about to take a deep breath and follow his advice, an old beater driven by a young gearhead pulled into the lot.

It's a darn good thing I pulled out my stuff for Olana before I left Rochester.
“You work here?” I asked him. Well, he didn’t, not exactly, but he guided me off the ramp anyway.

‘Lean less on your own understanding and more on God’s provision’ is something I give lip service to, but am not very good at. But, boy, it’s nice when it works.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Doing well by doing good

Asticou Azalea Garden, designed with the financial support of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in the late 1950s.
Earlier this month, financier David Rockefeller announced that he is giving a thousand acres of land on Mount Desert Island to the Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve on the occasion of his 100th birthday.
The park at Stourhead, designed by various landscape architects, 1741-80. English landscaping tremendously impressed our American gilded-age fashionistas.
Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve is comprised of two gardens built in the late 1950s. Asticou Azalea Garden is patterned after a traditional Japanese garden. Thuya Garden and Lodge is a semi-formal herbaceous garden in the English style. The donated land abuts the Thuya Garden property and includes carriage roads, hiking trails, fields, woodland and streams.

Duck Brook Bridge in Acadia National Park
In 1910, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. built a hundred-room cottage in Seal Harbor called The Eyrie. Acadia was a gift to the American people, but it also effectively sequestered Seal Harbor from the hoi polloi who holidayed on the Maine coast.

The Eyrie was torn down in the early 1960s.
Rockefeller and his neighbors were concerned about ‘overdevelopment,’ by which they meant the possibility of neighbors like you and me. They created an association, donated 5,000 acres to it and gave it to the Federal government. Rockefeller bought more land and donated it; this formed the nucleus of what is now Acadia National Park.

A car venturing on the Acadia carriage road, 1920s.
With its carriage roads, Acadia was very much a combination of English park and public accommodation. So it is fitting that it would also have its formal gardens in the English style (Anglo-Asian gardens being an English garden theme), and fitting that they would end up being public spaces.

I’ve always found it kind of charming to imagine American robber barons aping their British cousins in the creation of their Stately Homes, their vast Parks, and their Gertrude Jekyll-inspired gardens. Many of those British homes have been transferred to the National Trust; many of their American equivalents have become museums and parks. It almost gives you faith in the democratizing tendencies of Father Time.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Gonna take a sentimental journey

We've had a lot of good times in this studio, including swing-dancing model Michelle Long.
I am frequently asked, “How do you feel about this move? Are you excited? Sad to leave?” I have loved the 21 years I’ve been in Rochester, but I’m ready to move on. Most of my thinking has been practical, not reflective.

Now my studio is dismantled, just a heap of boxes.
Except today.

I was packing my studio with my younger daughter when a Taylor Swift song started playing. If you've raised teenagers, you know they tend to play songs until they're burned into your mind, and this one reminded me powerfully of her teen years. “I don’t want to leave,” I sniffed at her.

“Get real, Mom,” she said. “Of course you want to do this.” And she's right, but I have had a lot of fun here.

The girl, making me cry.
On that note, I received a lovely note today from a student. I almost declined to take her because I didn’t feel I could accomplish much in the few weeks she had to work with me. And yet, she has turned out to be an amazing pupil and painter.

“I made a list of things I learned in your class,” she wrote. “This is not exhaustive, but some highlights.”
  • Charcoal is a wonderful sketching medium, great for roughing in tones, and very easy to rub out if you aren’t pleased with the results.
  • Don’t hold your paintbrush like a pencil, hold it out closer to the end and magic happens. (Okay, maybe not magic, but the results are much better.)
  • How to mix reds.
  • How to mix greens.
  • How to organize a palette.
  • All about easels.
  • How to fold a plastic bag.
  • Buy paints by pigments, not by their “lipstick” names.
  • Warm light, cool shadows or cool light, warm shadows.
  • Paired primaries—learn them and love them!
  • Don’t belly-up to your painting. Stand back. And sometimes, step back.
  • How to build a painting: establish a tone study on the canvas (using a mix of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna), then block in colors, and then develop them dark to light.
  • Be brave about putting marks on the canvas. And keep putting marks on canvas, or paper, or whatever.
No student every did more color exercises in my class than Matt Menzies. Matt, I'm throwing that big palette away today.

She learned all this in about 18 hours of instruction time.

Which brings me to my Maine workshop. If she could learn so much in just a few half-days, imagine what you can do in an intensive week of study. I have just a few openings left, and I strongly encourage you to register now.

Marilyn Feinberg, Kamillah Ramos and Zoe Clark, on a warm summer day painting at Irondequoit Bay. All three of them left Rochester before me.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Doggone brilliant

Portrait of a Jack Russell, by Joaquín Sorolla (1909)
A reader sent me this Portrait of a Jack Russell, by Joaquín Sorolla (1909). She knows I have an ancient Jack Russell and love Sorolla’s treatment of white and black.

Some of the tones Sorolla used to make white fabric and dog in the painting above.
This painting has no white in it whatsoever and most of the black is modeled with browns and plums, but we understand the dog to be white and black, seated on an off-white drapery, with light coming from the left.

The human mind interprets these colors to be black and white because, in fact, when we look at a black and white object in light, we see neither true black nor true white. Every object’s local color is tempered by the color of the light reflecting off it.

Some of the tones Sorolla used to make the black fur in the painting above.
Remember that color is composed of three characteristics:

Hue: the position on the color wheel, like red, blue and yellow;
Chroma (Saturation): how strong or weak the color is;
Value: how light or dark the color is.

The painting in gray-scale loses depth, because it is modeled with hue as well as value.
In gray-scale, the lighting on Sorolla’s dog is far less striking. That is because Sorolla uses the color of light to define shapes.  His light is warm and his shadows are cool.

I used Photoshop to make a rough hue map of the painting. It is clear that hue is driving this painting at least as much as value is.

Hue map of Sorolla's painting, above. Clearly the light is coming from the left.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

The genius of routine

The Red Truck, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas
 I believe that creativity rests less on freedom than on structure. I’m not the only person who’s discovered that genius requires discipline: from this Navy SEAL asserting that everything starts with making your bed to Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, the idea permeates current thought on the creative process.

Portrait of the Artist's Studio. If you're looking for the exotic air of the sereglio in my studio, you have come to the wrong place.
Writers and artists are frequently asked how we make meaningful work while earning a living. Currey set out to amass as much information as he could find about the routines underlying successful careers in the arts. Several of his common themes resonate with me.

A workspace with minimal distractions. People often want to stop and see my studio, and they’re always disappointed. It is not an ‘arty’ place. It’s a practical workspace, not much different in form from my wood shop. My most successful artist friends concentrate on having their stuff where they need it, even when the space is tiny and appears to be overflowing.

For me, the most difficult part of working out of my house is that I’m easily found.

I walk every day, unless the temperature drops below zero and the wind is blowing, or the snow is too deep.
A daily walk. I actually take two walks every day—the first one first thing in the morning, the second in late morning or at lunch time. This is a lifelong habit. Walking is my time to think, reflect, and pray. I rapidly sink into ennui when deprived of it.

As time-consuming as it is to walk several miles a day, my productivity actually drops if circumstances keep me from exercising.

Accountability. Unlike a writer, the visual artist can’t count brushstrokes or square inches of work. But we can assure that we work regular hours. I have noticed that this helps me get in the groove of painting faster. I’m convinced that the brain recognizes routine and appreciates it.

This is jeweler Jennifer Jones doing some of the busywork in her job—sorting findings by color.
A clear dividing line separating our important work and busywork. Most artists spend half their work day doing things like marketing, accounting, taxes, inventory control, etc.  Unfortunately, we use our computers for that, which sucks us inevitably into the world of email and Facebook. Our ancestors may have spent a ton of time doing busywork, but at least it didn’t ding at them morning, noon and night.

I’ve noticed that I’m doing less sketching since I’ve gotten a smart phone. It’s too easy to pull it out to check messages and then get drawn into it.

A supportive partner. My husband and I have been happily married for almost 35 years. About two years ago, we had a heart-to-heart talk about my career and where it was going. It was obvious that getting out of Rochester was the next logical career step for me. He never hesitated. “Go,” he said, and I am. That’s amazing loyalty and support.

It used to be that painting en plein air saved you from distraction. Sadly, we now carry our distraction around with us.
Limited social lives. You know that arty guy you see at every opening? I wonder when he has time to get any work done.

Most successful artists I know are to some degree antisocial, and yet our work is essentially communication. People don’t just feel that they know us, they do know us, and we have to honor that. But like anyone else working for a living, we need time to actually get stuff done. I love teaching art and talking about art, but during the day I want to be busy making art.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.