Paint Schoodic

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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.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Nine good reasons to come to Maine

Maine has a distinctive, venerable, and broad art culture. You’d best plan on a nice long trip.
Teach Me Web by Reuban Tam, courtesy of Monhegan Museum.
Yesterday I invited you up to Maine to watch some great plein air in the making. While you’re here, you ought to stop and see some other art as well.

I don’t know how many commercial art galleries there are in Maine, but you can’t walk down a Main Street here without tripping over one or several—they’re everywhere, and of very high quality. This state’s an absolute must-visit destination for serious fans and collectors. But if you’re interested in 19th and 20th century masters, there are also nine good reasons to come to Maine: our art museums.
City Point, Vinalhaven, Marsden Hartley, courtesy Colby College Museum of Art.
The Maine Art Museum Trail Guide will take you to the major museum galleries in the state. I can’t predict how long it would take to tour all nine museums, because they’re also located in some outstanding places. There are wonderful attractions near each museum that might make you tarry. For example, could you visit Bar Harbor’s Abbe Museum without also spending time at Acadia, America’s first national park? And to get to the Monhegan Museum of Art and History, you need to take a ferry. There’s simply no better fun than that ferry ride on a fine summer day. While you’re there, you should tromp around the island and get a feel for its unique character. Then, there are the state's food and the breweries and boats and… you get the picture.

Fancy basket by Sarah Sockbeson, Penobscot, courtesy of the Abbe Museum.
Maine has had a distinctive painting culture for almost two hundred years. Its story starts with the Hudson River School painters. The nineteenth century was a period of rapid industrialization and urbanization. That brought many great things, but it also brought smog, noise, disease and overcrowding. People began to long for an untouched Eden. Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Thomas Doughty and other Hudson River School artists quickly tapped Maine for subject matter. It was as iconic as the American West and a heckuva lot closer to New York.

That unleashed a flood, and generations of American artists have been inspired here. Luminist Fitz Henry Lane painted the harbors and ships of the Maine coast. George Bellows, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, three generations of Wyeths, and many, many others have painted here. Many of those paintings remain in (or have been returned to) Maine.

Her Room, by Andrew Wyeth, courtesy of the Farnsworth Art Museum.
Because it’s close to my house, I am most familiar with the Farnsworth Art Museum. When I taught workshops out of Rockland, I took my students there. A person could reverse-engineer the process of painting by carefully studying Andrew Wyeth’s drawings.

Colby College Museum of Art is one of the best academic museums in the country. Bowdoin College Museum of Art is one of the oldest, having been founded in 1811. The Abbe Museum showcases Wabanaki art (and is a Smithsonian affiliate). The Ogunquit Museum not only exclusively deals with American art, it has a great seaside location. So, good luck choosing.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

SRSLY time to watch us paint

Three opportunities to watch well known plein air painters at work on Maine’s rugged coast.
Rachel Carson Sunset, Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard, was painted at Ocean Park.
I had so much fun with Bobbi Heath’s Gloucester easel in Cape Elizabeth that I dragged my old one out of the garage. (It's such junk compared to hers!) I won’t go as big as I did last week, but I do plan on doing some larger works over the next two weeks.

I’m also packing my super-lightweight pochade box because I’ll be painting on the beach as well. I can’t haul that Gloucester easel over sand. We’re entering the gladdest, maddest weeks of summer and it’s good to be prepared.

Anthony, Russ and Ed painting on the beach at Ocean Park.
Art in the Park starts on Sunday, July 15 at Ocean Park, ME. This is as much a band of happy brothers as it is a paint-out. Ed Buonvecchio, Russel Whitten, Christine Tullson Mathieu, Mary Byrom, Anthony Watkins and I have done it as an ensemble for several years now. There’s no jurying and no awards—just excellent painting in an historic seaside community.

As relaxed as Art in the Park is, I’ve painted some very good things there, because Ocean Park has sand, rocks, marshes, architecture and, above all, ice cream. There are lots of hotels, motels and B&Bs in the area, so if you’ve ever wanted to come see a plein air event in action, this would be a good one to catch.
Jonathan submarining, Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard, was painted at Castine Plein Air. This remains one of my all-time favorite paintings.
Anthony and I then drive straight to Castine for the sixth annual Castine Plein Air Festival. It opens on the village green on Thursday at the absurd hour of 6 AM. I’ve done this event since its inception, and it’s attracting top-flight artists. This year my old pal Laura Martinez-Bianco of New York and my new pal Alison Menke of Maryland will be there for the first time. Alison just earned first place/artist choice at Telluride, so she’s definitely a force to reckon with. And, of course, I’ll see many of my old friends there as well.

Castine is the home of Maine Maritime Academy, which is why the Arctic schooner Bowdoin hangs out in its harbor. It’s out on a neck on the far side of Penobscot Bay, making it a kind of Brigadoon, forgotten by time. Main Street slopes down towards the sea, with just enough shops and restaurants to make it fun to visit, but not so many as to distract from its white-picket-fence charm.

The plein air festival wraps up with an open reception on Saturday July 21, from 4 to 6 pm. Wandering around and watching the artists is a great way to get to know this postcard-perfect town. If you can’t get a room in the village, Bucksport is not far away.

Before the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta, Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard, was painted at Camden harbor.
The next week, I’ll be painting in Camden Harbor during the Camden Classics Cup. This event brings about 70 sailboats into Camden Harbor to race for the weekend, right before the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta. Camden Falls Gallery is the sponsor, and the event will feature their represented artists. I can’t tell you which ones will show up, but Ken DeWaard, Dan Corey, Renee Lammers, Olena Babek and Peter Yesis are all local, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them—and others.

Camden is accustomed to visitors, so you’ll have no trouble finding a room.

Since I live just down the road and love to paint wooden boats, I’ve blocked out my schedule from Wednesday, July 26 through the weekend. Boat lovers are welcome to walk out on the floating docks to see the boats in harbor, but if I’m lucky, I’ll have found someone to take me out to a float.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Safety in small brushes

In life, as in painting, which brush is going to give you the results you crave?

By Sheryl Cassibry, in gouache. Occasionally, I like to brag on my students. These are all from yesterday's class.
Yesterday my class painted on the public landing at South Thomaston, watching the Weskeag River burble its short, strapping way to Penobscot Bay. I was, as I often do, coaxing a student to use a bigger brush. My students accept the reasoning behind this, but they often revert back to smaller brushes by the time I visit their easels again. It feels safer.

“What a metaphor for life!” exclaimed Roger Akeley. “You want to paint bold, but you run back to the tiny brush!”
 By Roger Akeley
He is right. In life as well as in painting, there is a time for measured, patient, diligent action, but there’s also a time for bold deeds. The trouble is, by the time we’ve reached our mid-twenties, the bold has been trained right out of us.

Bold carries a more obvious risk of failure. This is illusory. Bold alone carries the potential for greatness. Safe is a one-way ticket to mediocrity.

My youngest nephew joined our class yesterday. He's going into the eighth grade.
I’ve been pondering the lyrics of Needtobreath’s Slumber this month:

All these victims
Stand in line for
The crumbs that fall from the table
Just enough to get by…

It’s a sadly-apt vision of most of our lives. We hang on from paycheck to paycheck, with no real plan for the future. We want a better job, the opportunity to live somewhere else, satisfying relationships and real community. Yet we stay rooted in our spots, unwilling to make the hard choices that make real, significant change.

By Rebecca Gorrell, in acrylic.
When should you reach for the bigger brush? Assuming you’re not a miniaturist, the answer is: nearly all the time. Most of the struggle in painting is getting the big relationships right. The rest is just detail. If modern painting has taught us anything, it’s that excessive detail is extraneous and often intrusive. It can interfere with the viewer’s ability to understand emotional truth. Detail, in painting, should be saved for where it really matters.

By Jennifer Johnson, in oil. Sorry about the glare.
I’m an artist with the soul of an accountant, myself. I like order; I actually enjoy math, spring cleaning and vacuuming. There are no fuzzy edges in any of these tasks. When I’m done with them, I have a sense of simple satisfaction. But they aren’t central to my life.

By Jen Van Horne, in oil.
The Pareto Principle implies that 80% of our results come from 20% of our work. This doesn’t mean that fussing isn’t necessary, but that it should come at the end, when the work has assumed its overall shape and statement.

By Sandy Quang, in oil.
Using a bigger brush isn’t necessarily more emotional or less rational. In fact, it’s usually the other way around. When I have my monster size 24 flat in my hand, I’m very thoughtful about where I set it down. Flailing around is much easier with a size six filbert. Extend that metaphor to life. It’s much easier to complain about your home town than it is to clean the basement out, sell up and move. In fact, we all complain a lot. But which is going to net you the real results you crave?

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.