Paint Schoodic

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Friday, July 20, 2018

This has not been one of my better days


It only takes a moment to change your frame of reference.
From Battle Avenue, by Carol L. Douglas
My father said, “This has not been one of my better days” nearly every day. When I’m having a difficult time, I tell myself that. Then I laugh, remembering that all discomfort is relative. That invariably restores my good humor.

I was hot on the trail of a painting and refused to stop for anything. My pal Berna brought me scones and coffee in the morning. Chrissy Spoor Pahucki and her son Ben brought me cake in the afternoon. Still, I should have taken a break. I stumbled around in the wind and sun breaking things. I tore the end off my tube of ultramarine blue. I broke my framing gun for the second time. I was a filthy mess myself and got blue paint all over a frame. In trying to clean it off, I scoured the frame corners raw. As I fumbled, the wind blew my umbrella into my painting. Yes, it was one of those days.

I’m usually pretty mellow about problems, but I was incandescent, ready to take easel, paints and brushes to the cove and dump them in. A car pulled up. It was an old friend with whom I’ve painted and shared digs at Adirondack Plein Air.

“This has not been one of my better days.” I told her, but this time saying it didn’t help.

President's House fence, by Carol L. Douglas.
“I was painting something really good,” she responded. “But my phone kept going off. Finally, I checked and the calls were from my new daughter-in-law. They’ve only been married a month.”

We love our families, but we don’t necessarily want to talk to them when we’re working. It’s hard to answer the phone when you’re covered in goop. They generally don’t call unless it’s an emergency, so I completely understood her worry as she looked at her screen.

“She wanted to tell me she’s pregnant,” she explained. I had to laugh, because I fully appreciated what was going through my friend’s head.

“That’s wonderful,” she was thinking, along with, “Now hang up and let me finish this blasted painting.” Well, the painting didn’t happen; instead she burst into tears. Mazel tov, Grandma!

Jonathan Submarining, by Carol L. Douglas. The kids raced around in their 420s while Poppy Balser and I stood in the surf painting. It was a magical day.
That completely restored my good humor. I went home and had dinner with two teenage boys and their grandmothers. One of them modeled in the best painting I ever did at Castine, Jonathan Submarining. That day, he was a little kid bouncing around on heavy seas. Just a blink of an eye, and he’s now a young adult, teaching in the same sailing school.

“You’ve gotten so old,” Berna exclaimed.

“It’s a good thing they don’t say that to us,” I laughed. Castine may be Brigadoon in many ways, but even here, time doesn’t stand still. It’s a reminder that the work will keep; treasure the ones you love.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

How long did that take you?


Our actual painting time is a fraction of the total time we spend on our work.
The Stage Door, by Russel Whitten.
For the past four years, the third Wednesday in July has been the longest day in my calendar year. This year was no exception. It started at 6 AM, when I started writing for this blog. At 8 AM, I’d breakfasted and was in the field painting for the last day of Ocean Park’s Art in the Park. I finished at 1 PM, arranged my display and then set up my tools for Castine Plein Air (which starts this morning). From there, I returned to my host’s home, where I showered and dressed in respectable clothes. Then I packed my car. The reception ended at 7:30; at 7:42 I was pulling out of my parking spot. I did not even stop to eat.

I’ve driven into Castine when it lay enchanting under a full moon, and through dense coastal fog. Last night, a crescent moon hung low in the sky. “Midnight blue” is not advertising jargon; it’s the real color of the sky when there’s no ambient light and the stars seem to quiver in the night sky. It was beautiful but also very, very late when my friend Harry welcomed me back to his home.

Laundry, by Christine Tullson Matthieu
Recently a reader asked, “How do you stay awake for those long drives?” I find that singing is the best cure for sleepiness, so I do it loudly and enthusiastically. In fact, I sing so much that I’ve decided to form a NeedtoBreathe cover band, as I may be the only person in the world who can decipher their lyrics.

Temple, by Anthony Watkins.
Several people have asked, “How long does a painting that size take?” It’s a difficult question to answer. An 8X10 might take me three or four hours of actual painting time. That doesn’t include the time I spend setting up my palette, or dragging my gear across a beach, or the hours I spend driving or priming canvases and making frames.

Ocean Park Ice Cream Parlor, by Ed Buonvecchio.
Yesterday, Russ Whitten was trying to remember where he’d left a stack of watercolor paper. He spent precious time tracking it down, which cost him a final painting. That kind of thing happens because we’re tired, we’re hot, and we’re stressed. It has to be factored in to our schedule, as do equipment failures.

Some days it rains, by Carol L. Douglas
Two people asked me, “Of the five paintings you did for this show, which is your favorite?” It made me think about the values I was aiming for. In the end, I chose my rain painting. It was technically difficult and I think it captures the energy of that storm.

Based on that, I asked each of the other artists to choose their favorite painting to share with you. Meanwhile, I'm off to paint; our boards were stamped starting at 6 AM this morning.

If Rembrandt and Van Gogh could time travel


What would they think of modern painting in Maine?

Some days it rains, by Carol L. Douglas.
Last week, I wrote about Maine’s Art Museum Trail. A reader commented, “Standing in front of Rembrandt's Saint Matthew and the Angel at the Louvre, or Van Gogh's The White Orchard in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam are sure to change one forever.” He’s right, of course, but were these two masters somehow superior to, say, Rockwell Kent?

I wonder what either artist would think of the contemporary work being done in landscape painting today. Both would have delighted in the wealth of pigments and materials at our disposal. That’s especially true of Rembrandt, who did so much with such a limited palette. Van Gogh was an admirer of the Primitivist Paul Gauguin; he would have understood that our contemporary painting style reflects the pace and shape of our lives. Both artists were misfits in their times and cultures. It is only retrospectively that they—and their styles—are lauded as brilliant.

Mostly, I think they’d like what they saw simply because mature artists tend to be very interested in other artists’ technique, approach and worldviews.

Ed Buonvecchio painted me painting the rain in the doorway of Ocean Park's temple. We oil painters have it a little easier in a deluge than watercolorists. Russ Whitten's solution was to run home and grab a hair dryer.
Russel Whitten and Christine Tullson Mathieu are having an especially tough time with the fog and rain at this year’s Art in the Park. It buckles watercolor paper and the paint never dries. This makes for extremely soft passages. Commiserating with Russ, I showed him the John Singer Sargent watercolor from Monday’s post, with its great amorphous, wet blob of darkness. In response, Russ told me that Andrew Wyeth, after seeing a Sargent show, came out and told the waiting critics, “I want to kill myself.”

It’s comforting to imagine a painter of his skill and stature reacting like that. We’ve all said something similar along the way.

Sea Mist, by Carol L. Douglas.
Why don’t artists see their own brilliance, but are keen to recognize brilliance in others? We know our own work too intimately to be impressed with it. The more one paints, the truer that becomes. Running down other artists is the province of amateurs.

“People strengthen each other when they work together, and an entity is formed without personality having to be blotted out by the collaboration,” Van Gogh wrote to Anthon van Rappard. That’s exactly what’s happened to this group at Ocean Park. This is our fourth year painting in a small ensemble.  We’re secure enough in our friendship to help each other.

It was inconvenient for painters and vacationers, but we needed that rain.
Meanwhile, the rain ended at midnight, and the last droplets are splattering down from the ancient trees overhead right now. That gives us a few hours before we have to pack our supplies, shower and deliver our work. Our show opens at 5 this evening at 50 Temple Avenue, Old Orchard Beach. If you’re in southern Maine today, come out to see us!

I’ve got one more workshop available this summer. Join me for Sea and Sky at Schoodic, August 5-10. We’re strictly limited to twelve, but there are still seats open.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Alone but not lonely


Technique is important, but it’s emotional power that draws people to paintings.
Reading, by Carol L. Douglas.
“I see artists who paint only flowers, only still life, only barns, only open landscapes, only portraits, only pets, only kitchen utensils, only books, only sailboats,” an artist said. “Why isn’t the artist painting more subjects, and trying new things?”

I’ve been painting long enough to have been there, done that. Some things I've tried simply don’t move me enough to focus on them. If I painted them, it would be only for mercenary reasons, and I don’t think that ever pays in the long run.

I paint still life when I can’t get out, but my interest is limited. Still, anyone who paints professionally ought to be able to paint a credible impression of almost anything in his or her line of sight.
Beach Grass (Goosefare Brook) by Carol L. Douglas
Ocean Park is typically crowded in the high season. If we were to be perfectly honest, our paintings would be full of people. I can draw people, so I don’t have much trouble adding them to my landscapes. Still, I don’t often do it. The problem is in meaning.

Yesterday, I set up downtown, looking at a table on a side-porch at the Curtis. There was nothing especially pictorial about the scene. But it had an evocative quality, suggesting a small, convivial party, relaxing after a day on the beach.

That’s the shell of sociability, and it’s as biographical as the clothes we wear. We recognize it in many places—a lonely writing desk, the objects in the console of another person’s car. In fact, much of still life is intended to suggest character that’s just briefly stepped away. Landscape can do exactly that, too.

Beach Toys, by Carol L. Douglas, 2017. In this painting, the figure is completely neutral, neither supporting nor distracting from the composition.
And yet the composition was still not satisfying to me. A person reading could add to the sense of stillness and anticipation, I thought. He or she should not be central to the frame, so I set a figure on the rail, feet dangling, a book in her lap. That was a mistake. The dangling legs interrupted the serenity of the scene. I turned the still androgynous figure to the right, in the classical languor of a Maxfield Parrish nymph. That didn’t work, either, because it’s a silly pose for 2018. However, it gave me the general bounding box of where the figure should fall.

A note: if you’re doing this, have a friend stand in the general area just long enough to make some marks to indicate their approximate height. Even the most perfectly-drawn figure will look ridiculous if it’s too large or small for the scene.

Later, Ed Buonvecchio and I went out to paint in the fog. It seemed like a good place to use my four-way flashers.
Why did I reject dangling feet and or a figure seated in a chair?  Either would have made a good subject for a painting, but they weren’t right for this one. I was feeling the terrific stillness of morning in Maine, and action and presence would have diminished that. In fact, too often, our last-minute tchotchkes end up damaging, not helping, our paintings.

As I was finishing, a lady carefully inspected my painting. It spoke to her on the same level as it spoke to me, so she commissioned me to do another version for her. There’s a lesson there for me: it’s not all composition or technique. People ultimately react to the emotional pull of place. Unless you feel it, they won’t, either.

I’ve got one more workshop available this summer. Join me for Sea and Sky at Schoodic, August 5-10. We’re strictly limited to twelve, but there are still seats open.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: the lost-and-found edge


Sometimes it’s about what you don’t say.
Girl with the Red Hat, c. 1665-66, Johannes Vermeer, courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Earlier this month, I mentioned I once had a painting teacher who told me that heavy edges were “my style.” Like many younger artists, I just hadn’t learned how to marry edges in my painting. Beginning painters tend to give all edges equal weight—they are borders to be colored in. Part of the learning process is learning when to keep the edge and when to lose it.

Vermeer’s Girl with the Red Hat, above, perfectly illustrates the lost-and-found edge. The smooth transitions between the hair and the hat on the left, within her gown, and the lack of contrast in the shadow side of the model’s face drive our eye to the highlighted passages. Squint and concentrate on just the shape of the highlighted passage for a moment. It’s just one long, beautiful abstract shape in a sea of darkness.
In Church at Old Lyme, 1905, Childe Hassam softened the edges between leaves and sky by making them the same value. Courtesy Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Losing the edges helps link visual masses into a coherent whole. It deemphasizes things that aren’t important. It’s a way to create rhythm in a painting.

The human mind is adept at filling in blank spots in visual scenes (and seeing things that aren’t there). If you doubt this, squint while looking around your room. In any collection of similar-value objects, you don’t see edges, but you understand what you’re looking at. Your mind sorts it out just fine.

A careful drawing is different from a value study. Both are important, and the wise artist does them both. But a drawing explores the shapes and contours of an object. It’s a fact-finding mission. A value study concentrates on the links between objects and the final composition.

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882, John Singer Sargent, courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 
In the oil painting The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, John Singer Sargent uses the great dark entryway as a framing device, a compositional accent, and a poignant social statement. Only a hint of light in the shape of a window implies what is behind. The girls recede into space in order of age, with the eldest (Florence, age 14) almost enveloped in the darkness of the drawing room. Florence and Jane have no accents in their hair; their dresses and stockings disappear into the murk.

The Bridge of Sighs, c. 1903-04, John Singer Sargent.
Sargent painted at least two versions of this study of the Bridge of Sighs; a mirror-image is in the Brooklyn Museum. In this version, Sargent placed a hard edge at the top of the arch where sky meets stone. The shadows on the left bleed without any attempt at architectural precision. This creates the same kind of murky dark passage as in The Daughters of Boit. (A note for watercolor purists—the whites of the gondoliers’ clothes were done with white paint.)

In Two Women on a Hillside, 1906, Franz Marc tied the women to the background by repeating greens in their skin and garb. Courtesy Franz Marc Museum.
To lose an edge in painting, start by making both sides of the line the same value, even when they’re different hues. Conversely, the highest contrast will give you the sharpest edge. You can add to either effect by softening or sharpening the paintwork with your brush. Introducing the color of the adjacent object will also soften the contrast between an object and its background, as in the Franz Marc painting above.

Detail from John Singer Sargent’s Lady Eden, 1906, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Remember that the sharpest, most contrasting edges draw our eye. The trick is to find a balance that supports the composition. Sometimes only a small flick of paint is necessary, as with Sargent’s sequins in the detail from Lady Eden, above. These support the dynamics and direction of the composition. If they didn’t, they’d undermine all his careful compositional work.