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

Friday, December 19, 2014

Be prepared!

With a sketchbook, even the Emergency Room is tolerably interesting. This, from last month's visit.
Yesterday morning I struggled up out of sleep to the sound of my phone ringing. My second oldest child was taking her turn with the collywobbles-sans-merci and needed a doctor. Without thinking much about it, I threw my clothes on my back, my backpack in my car, and slipped down the Thruway to Buffalo.

Any place people are sitting, there's a drawing waiting to happen.
I drill into my kids that they should carry a scraper, candle, matches,  chocolate or energy bar, small folding shovel, and an extra jacket or blanket in their car. The deaths in Buffalo last month should be a reminder that this is not just motherly paranoia, but a reality for America’s snow belt.

You will never be bored, or at least not impossibly bored.
I’m going to add one thing to my own list: a sketchbook. Even though I’m an old pro at hospitals, the before-dawn phone call rattled me, and I didn't check to be sure it was in my backpack. I spent nine hours in waiting rooms, and all I could find to draw on was my own eyeglasses prescription.

Neither waiting room had magazines, which were, in my day, the last refuge of the terminally-bored person. They’ve apparently been replaced by large television sets. Daytime TV is shockingly bad. I might have already known this except that when I’m in waiting rooms, my practice is to burrow in with my pencil, drawing the passing parade.

And occasionally, waiting rooms contain delightful surprises, like this elegant skeleton.
Let that be a lesson to me. Be prepared. Make sure my sketchbook is always in my backpack where it belongs.

Oh, and my daughter is doing fine, thanks.

Remember, you’ve got until December 31 to get an early-bird discount for next year’s Acadia workshop. Read all about it 
here, or download a brochure here

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gender and creativity

Couple, 24X30, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday, I was reading a short essay by Maria Popova on the premise that psychological androgyny is a trait of highly creative individuals. What fascinated me were the quotes she chose from her source, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:  

… When tests of masculinity/femininity are given to young people, over and over one finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers…

Waiting, 24X36, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
Psychological androgyny [refers] to a person’s ability to be at the same time aggressive and nurturant, sensitive and rigid, dominant and submissive, regardless of gender. A psychologically androgynous person in effect doubles his or her repertoire of responses and can interact with the world in terms of a much richer and varied spectrum of opportunities...

It was obvious that the women artists and scientists tended to be much more assertive, self-confident, and openly aggressive than women are generally brought up to be in our society. Perhaps the most noticeable evidence for the “femininity” of the men in the sample was their great preoccupation with their family and their sensitivity...

At my advanced age, I’ve had the opportunity to observe three generations of gender roles: my parents’, my own, and my kids’ generations. I have known a lot of people, and I don’t think that most of them operate within this caricature of behavior. The ones that do, inevitably seem miserable.

Masculinity, 16X20, oil on gessoboard, by Carol L. Douglas
Most successful artists I know live extremely conventional lives. That has nothing to do with conforming to or rebelling against culture, and everything to do with expediency. On the other hand, we’ve all met artistic poseurs who concentrating on outward social imagery rather than content (usually as rebels). They’re always failures.

If there's a characteristic of the creative temperament, it's that most creatives spend their time thinking about their work, rather than where they fit in their tribe.
Submission, 18X24, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas

Remember, you’ve got until December 31 to get an early-bird discount for next year’s Acadia workshop. Read all about it here, or download a brochure here

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holiday gift guide #5—the gift of fresh water

Death bringing cholera, Le Petit Journal, 1912
Collywobbles has been in use in English since 1823. It’s either a fanciful formation of cholera morbus or colic (in this case meaning dysentery), depending on which dictionary you consult.

For previous generations in the west, cholera was a common killer. The story of how cholera was shown to be a water-borne illness is wonderfully told in The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. Because of the work of Dr. John Snow (who, with curate Henry Whitehead, isolated the source of an 1854 London cholera epidemic) and waterworks engineers like Joseph Quick, most of the developed world now has ample fresh water. That’s a modern luxury, only available to most of us in the last century or so.

Cholera broadside, 1849. It was not until after the 1854 Broad Street Pump outbreak that doctors understood that cholera was spread by water, not by "miasma."
Cholera still infects 3.5 million people a year in developing countries, and causes 100,000–130,000 deaths a year. Most victims are young children, and the vector is usually raw sewage in the water supply. (Along with cholera, typhoid fever, hepatitis A and dysentery are also prime offenders.) 

Paris succouring cholera victims, Antoine Étex, Hopital de la Salpetriere.19th century.
Last year, my favorite model, Michelle Long, went to Uganda to work on the Ugandan Water Project. In the past, I’ve been involved with Project Concern International, which also does fresh-water projects. Organizations like Heifer International and World Vision have similar programs.

A Cholera Patient, Robert Cruikshank, c.1832 
As you wrap your gifts, give a thought to a small contribution to one of those organizations, or another of your own choosing. Help make cholera as archaic a concept in the developing world as it is in the west.  

Remember, you’ve got until December 31 to get an early-bird discount for next year’s Acadia workshop. Read all about it here, or download a brochure here

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Just boats

Drydock at Genesee Yacht Club, 12X16, oil on canvasboard.
I’m sorry about the lack of a post yesterday; the collywobbles-sans-merci blew through my household this weekend. Sometimes when the limbs are still, the mind does its best work.

Last summer Howard Gallagher of Camden Falls Gallery took Lee Boynton and me out to see the start of the Camden feeder of the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta. It’s the first time I’ve ever filled my entire 16-GB memory card and my cell phone with pictures. (I think Lee took about as many.) That day was one of the highlights of my summer.

Howe Point dinghy, 6X8, oil on canvasboard.
I love painting boats, and could spend my whole summer on the dock with them. You can’t paint them under sail en plein air, except as slashes of white against the sky; they move too fast for that. And I don’t generally paint from photos, so I shot pictures of them and contented myself with that. Anyway, my habit for the last decade or so has been to spend the summer painting en plein air and the winter doing figurative work in my studio. Usually that figurative work has an overlay of social commentary to it; I just can’t seem to help myself.

At Camden Harbor, 6X8, oil on canvasboard.
I returned to Rochester in September with a show penciled in for next March and a great concept. Nothing about this has worked out right. The gallery and I haven’t been able to reach terms. I haven’t been able to get the models on board. The model I started with suddenly developed cold feet (perhaps he needs warmer socks). My stretchers were backordered. Yada, yada.

Tide running out, 12X16, oil on canvasboard.
About a dozen times over the past few weeks I’ve muttered to myself, “I’d really rather be painting boats.” And then this weekend, twisting around in the damp embrace of my sheets, I asked myself, “Why aren’t you just painting boats? They make you happy, they make other people happy.” And I realized I have utterly no enthusiasm for this project that has proven so difficult.

At Camden, 12X16, oil on canvasboard.
So I’ve cancelled my spring show in Rochester, and I’m going to paint boats. Not social commentary, just sailboats.

Remember, you’ve got until December 31 to get an early-bird discount for next year’s Acadia workshop. Read all about it here, or download a brochure here

Friday, December 12, 2014

Touring Paradise

Barnyard Lilacs, 8X10, by Carol L. Douglas

Today I’m taking my Texan friend to see the Mennonite/Amish areas of the Finger Lakes. The Amish have a significant presence in New York, despite the impediments to agriculture here. It’s a population that’s growing.

Finger Lakes Overlook, 8X10, by Carol L. Douglas

New York’s farmland is fertile and productive, and cheap compared to Ohio and Pennsylvania. About a quarter of New York State is farmland. However, farming is a tough industry here: between 1997 and 2007, the amount of farmland declined by 7.9 percent. Farms are increasingly being consolidated, although most remain small and family-owned. Moreover, New York is consistently rated worst for business start-ups in the US. So how are these Amish communities moving in and succeeding?

Finger Lakes Farm, 11X14, by Carol L. Douglas
It’s not by evading taxes. The Amish have a religious exemption from some payroll taxes, because they do not believe in commercial insurance or taking money from the government. At the same time, they don’t take those benefits from the state: they care for their own unfortunate, elderly, and disabled within their own communities. But beyond that, they’re subject to all the same taxes we are, including hefty school taxes that they don’t see any direct benefit from (since they educate their own children).

Field in Paradise, 16X20, by Carol L. Douglas

Historically, the Amish settled in Chautauqua County, south of Buffalo, but there are now Amish communities throughout the state, and particularly in the Finger Lakes region. I’ve painted in these towns many times, but it never would have occurred to me to stress the ‘quaint.’ The Amish are our neighbors; they’re as much a part of pageant that is New York as I am.

Spring Blossoms, 8X10, by Carol L. Douglas
Remember, you’ve got until December 31 to get an early-bird discount for next year’s Acadia workshop. Read all about it here, or download a brochure here

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Night rambling

Intrepid nighttime painters in last year's workshop.
Robert F. Bukaty is a photojournalist in Freeport, Maine. He recently wrote about a series of nighttime photos he did in Acadia using his red headlamp (similar to a photographic darkroom safe light) as a paintbrush. The images he created are lovely, and you can see them here.
Nocturne, by Nancy Woogen, painted in Rockland in 2013.
“The dim red light is just bright enough to let you see what you’re doing without ruining your night vision,” Bukaty wrote, which fascinated me. I have a basketful of headlamps, both the kind that strap on and the kind that clip to your visor. They are an uneasy compromise. They were intended for nighttime hiking, walking, or running, and they’re awfully bright for painting. Bukaty’s got me wondering if there is some way to tone them down. The red lamp Bukaty used wouldn’t work, because it would obscure hues, but there might be something in that idea.
Maine has a million night skies, sunsets, and sunrises to inspire.
Inevitably, Maine draws us into painting the night sky. Most of us come from the populous bands of the Northeast, where our night views are seriously corrupted by light pollution. That great big bowl of the night sky, brimming with stars, is arresting every time we see it anew.

Night sky near Belfast, ME.
Bukaty goes to Acadia for his stargazing because there is little light pollution there. My 2015 painting workshop will be at the Schoodic Institute in Acadia, which means we will have ample opportunity to see the unpolluted night sky.

Pack your headlamp!
Lovely watercolor nocturne by Bernard Zeller, painted in Belfast in 2014.

Remember, you’ve got until December 31 to get an early-bird discount for next year’s Acadia workshop. Read all about it here, or download a brochure here

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A warp speed tour of Buffalo

Buffalo City Hall
Yesterday I took a Texan on a mad dash across Buffalo, swerving to get in as many landmarks as possible before the light faded. I remarked to her that Buffalo is a city of superb architecture. Serious students of the discipline travel from all over to see it.

Buffalo City Hall (65 Niagara Street) is a 32 story Art Deco building completed in 1931 by Dietel, Wade & Jones. It is one of the largest and tallest municipal buildings in America, and at the time of its construction was one of the priciest. It is decorated with elaborate ceramic tile frieze-work; its interior is lavishly decorated with murals, skylights, and sculpture.

The main facade of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.
The Buffalo Psychiatric Center (400 Forest Ave) was Henry Hobson Richardson’s largest commission, and the first work ever done in the iconic American style that would be known as Richardson Romanesque. It’s built of dark red Medina sandstone.  Ground was broken in 1871 and the project was finished in 1895, nine years after Richardson’s death. The grounds were designed by landscape architect pioneer Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed the nation's first coordinated system of public parks and parkways in Buffalo.

Detail on the Guaranty building.

The Guaranty Building (26 Church Street) was designed by the “father of skyscrapers,” Louis Sullivan. Finished in 1896, it was one of the finest new office buildings in America, and is considered one of Sullivan’s best works.

The Guaranty incorporated the idea of steel-supported curtain walls, which allowed buildings to grow taller without additional weight. Sullivan let the support piers create the building’s design, and then ornamented the whole thing with intricate terra cotta tiles in natural and geometric motifs.

The Electric Tower
The Beaux Arts Electric Tower (535 Washington Street) was built on the model of John Galen Howard’s Electric Tower, which was the centerpiece of the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo. That event was famous for two things: the assassination of President McKinley, and for being lighted by power from Niagara Falls.

The tower is covered in shiny white glazed terra cotta tiles that sparkle under its colored floodlights (currently red, white and green for Christmas). It is ornamented with molded generators and electric motors, a forerunner of the terra cotta Art Deco ornamentation with which Buffalo is filled.

Buffalo Main Light.
The Buffalo lighthouse was made necessary by the Erie Canal, and was completed and lit in 1833. It sits on an older breakwater roughly at the confluence of the Buffalo River, Lake Erie, and the Niagara River. By the early 20th century, its position was wrong as a navigation aid, and it was decommissioned in favor of an outer-harbor light.  It is built of unpainted limestone, with a cast iron lantern on the top.

Kleinhans Music Hall
Kleinhans Music Hall (3 Symphony Circle) was designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen. The acoustical and lighting research which went into the hall’s design made it one of the finest in the world. It sweeps in understated, smooth, curving lines with a minimum of ornamentation, and uses that newfangled material, plywood, to acoustical advantage. The main auditorium seats more than 2,800 people, the smaller one 900. It opened in 1940, and was the legacy of menswear magnate Edward Kleinhans.

Cargill Elevator on Lake Erie.
No tour of Buffalo is complete without at least a quick sweep past the grain elevators along the waterfront. The steam-powered grain elevator was invented in Buffalo in the 1840s as a way of cross-docking grain from lake freighters to canal boats. Buffalo has the world's largest collection of extant examples, most of them clustered along the Buffalo River near Lake Erie.

This allowed the grain grown in Ohio, Indiana and points west to be moved to New York City and from there to the world.  

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Read all about it 
here, or download a brochure here

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The other faces of Madame X

Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast, John Singer Sargent, 1882-83. This small, intimate painting was done a year before the infamous Madame X, and was given by Sargent to Madame Gautreau’s mother.
Madame X—Madame Pierre Gautreau—is remembered because of John Singer Sargent’s famous portrait. Like him, she was an American expatriate and arriviste, which perhaps explains why she sat for him when so many artists were clamoring to paint her.

She was born Virginie Amélie Avegno in New Orleans in 1859. Her parents were Creoles: her father claimed he was Italian, and her mother was French. Her father—an officer—was killed in the Battle of Shiloh in 1862.

Figure study of Madame Pierre Gautreau by Sargent in watercolor and graphite, c. 1883. The difficulties of painting a socialite's portrait included getting her to settle down to posing.
The South being suddenly inhospitable to planter society, Virginie’s mother moved the two of them to Paris, where the girl was educated for her role as a parisienne. This was the 19th century equivalent of a Sloane Ranger or BCBG—a young, polished woman whose primary raison d'être was to exist beautifully. These women were sometimes called “professional beauties.”

Just as Virginie herself was being reengineered for a European career, Paris in 1867 was in the midst of reinventing itself. The ancient city had been largely redesigned and rebuilt by Baron Haussmann. A brash new city required brash new people, people like Virginie Avegno, now married to Pierre Gautreau, banker. They might not have had pedigrees, but they had money and youth and beauty.

The painting now known as Portrait of Madame X, by John Singer Sargent, 1884. The only one that mattered, and the one that scandalized Paris society.
Virginie was a very pale brunette with an arresting face and an hourglass figure. She was a fardée, or an openly painted lady. Her hennaed hair and lavender powder (to enhance her pallor) enhanced, rather than detracted from, her reputation. She was very much a new woman in the Parisian style. And because she was a stunner, and an American, people gossiped. Did she use arsenic to achieve that pallor? With whom was she sleeping?

Madame Pierre Gautreau, Antonio de La Gandara,1898. Mme. Gautreau went on to be painted by many other society artists, but never as memorably as by Sargent.
Her reputation and exotic looks also made her a magnet for artists. Among them was Sargent. “I have a great desire to paint her portrait and have reason to think she would allow it and is waiting for someone to propose this homage to her beauty. If you are bien avec elle and will see her in Paris, you might tell her I am a man of prodigious talent,” he wrote a friend.

Madame X was shown in the Paris Salon of 1884 under the title Portrait de Mme --, as if that could protect the sitter’s anonymity. Although Mme. Gautreau and Sargent both thought it was a masterpiece, the public reception was one of shock.  Mme. Gautreau’s mother asked him to withdraw the painting, which the artist refused.

Portrait de Madame Gautreau,1891,Gustave-Claude-Étienne Courtois. This was painted seven years after Sargent's portrait, and the falling strap and décolletage raised nary an eyebrow.
Mme. Gautreau quickly recovered from her humiliation, and was painted again by other artists. Sargent moved on to greener pastures in London. And the painting is remembered as an iconic masterpiece.

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Read all about it 
here, or download a brochure here

Monday, December 8, 2014


Literature. If you look closely, you'll find Van Reid in there.
Why listen to me talk about art when you can look at windows from Bergdorf Goodman on 5th and 58th in New York City? Their theme this year is “Inspired” and their windows revolve around the arts.

The music window is everything you want from New York--brash, bubbly, shiny.
And it wouldn't be New York without Broadway.
“We decided to base each window on a major art form, drawing equally from the fine arts, performing arts and applied arts. For our main windows, we settled on literature, architecture, theater, painting, music, dance, sculpture and film. Each window would be designed independently from the others. Each would be made from its own set of materials. But the entire set of windows would constitute a sort of eight-lesson course in art appreciation,” the store announced on its blog.

Sir Christopher Wren presides over the architecture window.
More than 100 artists and display artisans contributed to the windows, which take the store nearly a full year to finish.

The movies...
Happy holidays!

The Rochester window. Ice and monkey and ice tongs.

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Read all about it here, or download a brochure here

Friday, December 5, 2014

A painting to match the couch

Lancaster County, PA, 18X24, by Carol L. Douglas. It's moving from my own bedroom to our guestroom, where it will better match the pale blue walls and furniture.
Artists kvetch about people who buy paintings to match their sofas, but it is a real consideration. A mismatch will never be to the painting’s or the room’s advantage.

I’ve been putting away work from my Black Friday sale. It’s been an opportunity to rearrange some of the artwork in my house (and, yes, to vacuum). It’s interesting how some paintings look grand against some walls and bland against others.

Autumn floral, 16X20, by Carol L. Douglas. I think I'm going to see what this looks like in my dining room.
I had a mid-century street scene done by a cousin in Tennessee hanging in my living room.  It’s a very accomplished painting, but it never looked good against the pale-turquoise-and-red décor. To keep it safe during the sale, I slid it on a hook in my bedroom, which has navy walls and warm accents. Here in a room with fruitwood furniture and a related color scheme, the painting glows.

Where then, to put the high-chroma but abstract landscape that previously was in that spot? With its pale frame and cool colors, it looks far better in our guest room, which has pale blue walls and pale furniture.

And this pastel of geraniums has already relocated to the living room.
Most artists I know own too many paintings, of our own and others. We usually just plop new work on hooks wherever we can. This exercise has been a good reminder that a painting’s inherent value can be obscured by bad interior design.

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Read all about it here, or download a brochure here

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Starting and searching

Rock Study, 11X14, by Carol L. Douglas. I did this rock study with my pal Bruce Bundock and hated it at the time. I love it today.
I admire the well-planned, carefully-drafted, meticulously-executed painting, but something happens between the time I start and the time I finish. A furious spirit overtakes me that drives me irresistibly in the opposite direction.

This is why I’m very reluctant to wipe out all but the absolute worst starts. In so many cases, what I thought was bad five years ago has turned out to be pivotal in my evolution as a painter. I’ve come to listen to my ‘bad’ paintings; they’re usually trying to tell me something.
Rockport, 9X12, by Carol L. Douglas.
Textile artist Jane Bartlett sent me the list below, which was (according to the Internet) found among Diebenkorn’s papers after his death in 1993. I haven’t corrected the spelling or punctuation, even though they pain me.

Notes to myself on beginning a painting (by Richard Diebenkorn)
1. attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.
2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued — except as a stimulus for further moves.
3. Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.
4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.
5. Dont “discover” a subject — of any kind.
6. Somehow don’t be bored — but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.
7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.
8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.
9. Tolerate chaos.
10. Be careful only in a perverse way.

Rock Tumble, 16X20, unframed, by Carol L. Douglas
I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Read all about it here, or download a brochure here