Paint Schoodic

Join us on the American Eagle in June or in Acadia National Park in August. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Jet lag from crossing back home


Time to ditch Daylight Savings Time, and move Maine to the Atlantic Time Zone
Marsh with running tide, Carol L. Douglas. These are my finished paintings from Parrsboro.
Crossing into New Brunswick, the Mainer goes from the Eastern Time Zone to the Atlantic. There’s one more time zone to the east on our continent, the little-known Newfoundland Time Zone, which is staggered on the half-hour. This is followed only on Newfoundland, its offshore islands, and the most southern parts of Labrador.

As weird as that is, it’s no weirder than the sprawling Eastern time zone, which starts somewhere around Grande-Rivière, Quebec, and runs to Ontonagon, Michigan. Sunrise in Grande-Rivière was at 4:17 AM this morning. It was at 6:03 AM in Ontonagon. That’s an unwieldy span.

Headlands, Carol L. Douglas
Our pre-clock ancestors marked the time of day by measuring with a sundial, making noon whatever time the sun was directly overhead. They weren’t worried that this was slightly different down the road. After all, if you walked from Winchester to Canterbury, any difference in the time would be lost along the way.

Greenwich Mean Time was established to aid navigators to determine longitude at sea. Nobody changed their clocks to match it; they just carried on with solar time right up to the 19th century.
Breaking Dawn, Carol L. Douglas
Enter the railroads. It was a bit difficult to set a schedule when towns fifteen minutes apart by train used different time systems. By the middle of the 19th century, British rail companies were using Greenwich Mean Time and portable chronometers to standardize time keeping in Britain, although it was a tough sell in places. British clocks from this period sometimes had two minute hands, one for railroad time, and one for local time. But by 1880, Greenwich Mean Time was the standard for Great Britain.

Low tide, Carol L. Douglas
Here, time was confused in a uniquely American way. Every railroad company had its own standard time, based on where it was headquartered. Its schedules were printed in its own system, leaving the stationmaster at an important junction with the unenviable task of translating several different train lines’ timetables into local time. The solution was multiple clocks, one for each railroad.

Standardization was reached on Sunday, November 18, 1883, known as “The Day of Two Noons,” when each railroad station clock was reset as it reached the standard-time noon. The western limit of Eastern Standard Time was my home town of Buffalo, NY. That’s more than 700 miles east of the current western boundary.

Fox River School, Carol L. Douglas.
Last fall, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued a report recommending that their state ditch Eastern Standard Time “under certain circumstances.” Effectively, it would get rid of Daylight Savings Time—hurrah—and put Massachusetts on Atlantic Time year round.

My quick-draw of Parrsboro and its mudflats.
I’m all for ditching Daylight Savings Time nationwide. It’s a meaningless exercise that throws our internal clocks off twice a year. I’m also in favor of switching Maine to Atlantic Time. The sun rises 25 minutes earlier in Halifax than it does here. That puts our internal rhythms more in tune with the Maritime provinces than with Michigan. 

The problems of such a switch are overstated. If we can do business with Californians and Australians, we can probably figure out the time difference with New York.

A kindly carpenter made teepees for Cathy LaChance and me. Only in Canada!
It gets dark mighty early here in the winter—Boston’s earliest nightfall is just 27 minutes later than in Anchorage. Since I live 185 miles north and east of Boston, it’s even worse here. Correspondingly, it gets light awfully early in the summer as well.

Have mercy on us, legislators, and let us get some rest.

Just one more workshop this calendar year, but it's an awesome one! Sea and Sky at Schoodic, August 5-10. Be there or be square.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Not the Kardashians, but working on it


Parrsboro, NS, is working its way into being a regional arts center.

Breaking Dawn, by Carol L. Douglas. Second runner up at Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival.
This weekend there were lots of well-known faces at the Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival. Organizers snagged Richard Sneary to judge, and there were high-profile painters in the mix. It was a festival of luminaries, and the painting was first-rate. I’m hoping that translates into Parrsboro becoming an arts destination for tourists and city-slickers.

It’s not an impossible dream. Five miles down the road from my home is Rockland, ME. It started as a shipbuilding and fishing town, expanding to include canneries, grain mills, foundries, lumber mills, cooperies, tanneries, quarries, and other miscellany of coastal living. By the mid-twentieth century, its historic industries were moribund.

The Age of Sail workshop aboard American Eagle was scheduled to coincide with a gam, a rafting up of the historic vessels on Penobscot Bay.
Enter the Farnsworth Art Museum, established by Lucy Farnsworth in 1948. It’s now the nucleus of a gallery scene that now rivals any art scene anywhere, both in volume and in quality.  Roughly 36.7 million tourists visited Maine in 2017, and we’re on track to break 40 million this year or next. Art is a big part of that tourism, and an important part of Maine’s image. I wish that for Parrsboro. If anyone can do it, the folks at Parrsboro Creative can. They’re smart, focused people.

One of the nicest things about traveling is meeting new people who tell me, “I read your blog.” This weekend, many added that they subscribe to two art things, my blog and Poppy Balser’s newsletter. We’re both daughters of the Great White North and we both love boats. Poppy is a terrifically nice person, so I don’t mind at all being lumped in with her.

Hard at work about American Eagle, photo courtesy Ellen Trayer.
My blog is an example of that old maxim about genius being 99% perspiration. It works because I get up early every morning to write it, Monday to Friday. Other than holidays, the only time I don’t write is when I’m out of network range, which was the case during last week’s Age of Sail workshop.

It’s such a pity that I couldn’t share it with you because it was downright magical. American Eagle should really be called the Kindness, because the crew is so good-hearted. Any doubts as to whether a painting workshop on a boat could work were laid to rest. All participants enthusiastically said they’d do it again next year.

Ellen demonstrates a paint-throwing technique to Lynn. We waited until we were off the boat before we did this.
Michael Fuller isn’t a plein air artist but he gamely tried the Quick Draw at Parrsboro anyway. “It makes you notice the transient things,” he told me. I think that’s what the boat workshop did as well. In a sketchbook done on the move, one takes away impressions, not finished pieces. The discipline will make you put away your cell phone and change how you work.

The discipline of getting up early is equally hard to break. I found myself restively trying to ‘sleep in’ on Saturday, so at 4:30 AM (Atlantic time) I quietly dressed and headed from my host billet near Fox River to the beach below Ottawa House. I stopped for coffee and a bagel at Tim Hortons and figured I was too late for the sunrise. I was wrong; the subtle pyrotechnics went on for some time.

This piece was the second runner-up, or third prize winner. I figured Richard Sneary gave it to me as a reward for being the only person nuts enough to get up that early.

Neither Parrsboro Creative nor American Eagle have set their calendar for next year, but I have every intention of doing both again. It was a wonderful week. I’m just sorry that you couldn’t be there with me.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: taking a reference photo

On vacation? Here are some tips for taking reference photos you can work from later.
Winter Lambing, 48X36, oil on linen, Carol L. Douglas.
My workshop aboard American Eagle included a professional filmmaker who once studied with Ansel Adams. She was taking pictures with her iPhone, a tool Adams could never have dreamed of. She used it like a ‘real’ camera, cropping, composing and controlling exposure on the fly. She wasn’t waiting for a scene to pass by her; she was making something magic happen. “You don’t take a photograph, you make it,” Adams is famous for saying, and that’s exactly what she was doing.

A great photograph does not necessarily translate into a great painting; in fact, in my experience, it’s very rare that it does. The photographer seeks to move us emotionally; the artist wants a picture that preserves information. The same spatial relationships that make a great photograph can appear contrived in a painting. High contrast blows out the details that the painter needs.

And here is the reference photo. It was a snowdrift, nothing more.
Photograph what really interests you. It’s so easy to get sucked into what we ‘should’ take pictures of that we sometimes miss the essential object that we will need later. Go ahead and take fifty photos of the jack pine on the cove, and then put them in a folder labeled “jack pine cove.” On the day that you need a lonely tree for a composition, you’ll have it on hand. After all, film is cheap these days.

Don’t over-crop your photos. Often, I’ve found that the information I needed to finish something was just to the left of the edge of my frame. “You need a camera with a zoom,” one of my students told me. Actually, I don’t. Most modern digital cameras take such high-resolution photos that a small fraction of the frame can be blown up and used for painting.

All Flesh is as Grass, 48X36, oil on linen, Carol L. Douglas.
I have a Panasonic Lumix camera with a Leica lens. It wasn’t terribly expensive. It’s excellent in low-light situations, which means I can take even interior reference shots without a flash. That’s far more important than getting the details of the main topmast right from a quarter of a mile away. I can look those up; I can’t replace the details that get lost in bad light or by using a flash.

Of course, if I were a wildlife painter, I’d need a totally different outfit. Then a massive zoom lens would be important.

Bracket your exposures. This means you should take one photo at a higher value and one at a lower value than what your camera chooses automatically. Even if you have the most basic point-and-shoot camera, you can do this by hovering on lighter and darker parts of the picture. If you’re unsure about how this works, consult your instruction manual!

The above painting relied heavily on photos I took of an apple tree being cut down across the street from me. They were wonderful pie apples, too, but the new owners wanted more conventional landscaping.
Understand the limitations of reference photos. The camera is as subjective as the human eye. It misrepresents color relationships, depth-of-field, and size relationships. It obliterates subtle differences in color temperature. Reference photos are invaluable, but they should be the slave to your sketches and field notes, not the other way around. You’re under no obligation to represent every detail.

Which comes to my last and most important point: you shouldn’t be painting from other people’s photographs. This is more than just a question of legality (although that’s a real consideration). This is a question of ideas. A well-realized photograph is a complete artistic statement in itself. You have nothing to add. Anyone who has painted a commission from someone else’s snapshot knows just how much emotional information is missing when you weren’t there at the beginning.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: what is color?


Understanding color space is the most important thing an artist can do.

A little bit of everything, by Carol L. Douglas. That’s the incredibly cool light of a midsummer day.

Color is a word with radically different definitions depending on its use. In optics, it refers to
the unique way in which the cone cells in the human eye are stimulated by electromagnetic radiation. How an object reflects or emits light gives it its unique color.

In common parlance, we think of red, green or blue as colors. In art, however, those aren’t colors. Colors have three attributes, all of which you must understand in order to navigate color space successfully:

Value – How light or dark is the pigment?

Hue – Where does the color sit on the color wheel? All colors fall into one of the following hue families: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. Within those families, however, are many subdivisions.

Chroma – How much intensity, or “punch” does the color have?

Doe drinking in the woods, by Carol L. Douglas, has warm light and cool shadows.
Since color has three attributes, it exists in a three-dimensional color space. However, we’re used to looking at it in two dimensions, in the form of a color wheel. I think the Quiller watercolor wheel is the best color wheel, since it shows you where neutral pigments fall inside the hue families.

Still, the conventional color wheel doesn’t take value into consideration. Every pigment has its own natural darkness or lightness. Dioxazine purple, for example, is very dark coming out of the tube. Lemon yellow is very light coming out of the tube. That does not mean that dark colors are cool and light colors are warm, however. Consider burnt umber. It’s very dark, and it’s also very warm.

Winch (American Eagle), by Carol L. Douglas. There was definitely some warm light that winter day.
There’s a misunderstanding that mixing across the color wheel darkens pigments. Only with certain greens and reds does this work. Mixing across the color wheel gives you neutrals: grays and browns.

We call the hue families of green, blue and violet “cool” and the hue families of yellow, orange and red “warm.” Within each hue family, there are warm and cool variations. Gamblin has this nifty chart of warm and cool pigments so you can see where your paints fall.

White, black, and grey are chromatic neutrals. Raw umber is fairly neutral. Naphthol red and phthalo blue are very high-chroma colors. In general, modern pigments are much more intense than the mineral pigments of the Renaissance.
Cobequid Bay Farm, by Carol L. Douglas. Warm evening light translates to cool evening shadows.
It works to sort colors this way. I use a system of paired primaries which gives me a great, high-key mixing range. However, the whole idea of warm-vs.-cool is a painterly convention. It’s best to not have this discussion with a physicist, who will tell you that you have it backwards. He may be right, but that doesn’t mean he can paint.

I’ve written about the color temperature of light here, but there’s a simple rule that helps. The predominant shadows will always be the opposite (across the color wheel) from the color of the light. On a sunny day, the light will be cool and the shadows will be warm. At dusk the light will be golden and the shadows violet. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but it’s a good place to start.

Breaking storm, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Camden Falls Gallery. I’m potting around on this boat this week, teaching watercolor. Wish you were here!
I strongly recommend this video from Gamblin, which organizes color space in three dimensions. It’s also full of information about the history of color.

There’s no internet (and darn little cell phone service) out in Penobscot Bay. After this post, my blog is going dark for the week. Don’t be alarmed! Assuming there are no pirates, I’ll be back next Monday.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Fears and doubts


To go where no man has gone before, you have to give up the safety net.
Keuka Lake Farm, by Carol L. Douglas. In honor of my friends painting at Finger Lakes Plein Air this week, I give you some work from that region.
 A reader yesterday sent me a long, thoughtful response to my post on leisure. “I, too, beat myself up for contemplation time,” she concluded, “but then I have learned that I do better work if I give myself over to it. What I do battle with most is the belief that I am a complete hack, so contemplation can’t go on for very long. My enemy, anymore, is being riddled with doubt.”

The painting world is as fashion-driven as any other human endeavor. There are always themes which get a response and are relentlessly copied. (Today’s landscape motif, for what it’s worth, seems to be birches. Last year it was nocturnes.)

Autumn in the Finger Lakes, by Carol L. Douglas
This is not to be confused with the major developments of an art period. These are driven by technology and the zeitgeist, and the painter is wise to understand his own place within them. Our own time, for example, values intensity, immediacy, and direct painting. That’s in part because we have the tools to make those things possible, and in part because we live in a culture with immediate, nerve-racking stimulus. We can appreciate the painting of our Renaissance forebearers, but any attempt to paint like them is doomed to be a curiosity.

But that’s not a fashion question. Catching the wave of fashion is a good way to gain public approval and sell work. It’s not a great way to think radically outside the box. Push it far enough and you’ve turned yourself into a mass-market commodity as did Thomas Kinkade. He created an empire, but it made him so miserable that he died at 54 of acute intoxication.

Finger Lakes Farm, by Carol L. Douglas
We say we want artists to be visionaries, but the ease with which we sell birches and the difficulty in finding a market for paintings of abuse tells us just how commodified art is. In the end, people want something to hang on their wall that makes them happy. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you understand where you're standing.

More commonly, we’re straddling the line. On the one hand, I’m painting landscapes. On the other, I’m not painting them in a way that makes them terrifically accessible. We should always be going places that make us nervous.

Bloomfield Farm, by Carol L. Douglas
Writing this blog often requires me to look at my work going back several decades. I always notice:

  • It’s better than I remember;
  • The work which I like the best now is often the work I hated when I did it.
  • The work I loved then sometimes seems very conventional in retrospect.


Even if you don’t write a blog, you can take time to review your past successes. It’s the best way I know to calm my own internal doubts. On a road with no signposts, the only way you know where you're going is to remember where you've been.
Keuka Lake, by Carol L. Douglas
If you are sometimes paralyzed with the doubt, frustration, and creative blocks of making art, read Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. If nothing else, you’ll realize you’re not alone.

I leave Sunday night to teach my watercolor workshop aboard American Eagle. There’s no internet (and darn little cell phone service) out in Penobscot Bay. I’ll pre-publish Monday Morning Art School, but after that my blog will probably go dark for the week. Don’t be alarmed!