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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Holiday gift guide #4 (the gift of learning)

Sea & Sky Workshop

August 9-14, 2014 
Acadia National Park

Dramatic, inspirational Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park will be the base for my Maine workshop this year. This is the quiet side of Acadia, far from the hustle of Bar Harbor, but with the same dramatic rock formations, pounding surf, and stunning mountain views that make Acadia a worldwide tourist destination.

The Schoodic Peninsula is more secluded than the main body of the Park; only about 10% of park visitors ever get there. Its main feature is Schoodic Head, at 440 feet above sea level.

Open sea, stunning views of Cadillac Mountain, and veins of dark basalt running through red granite rocks are the dominant features of this “road less traveled.” Pines, birch, spruce, cedar, cherry, alder, mountain ash, and maples forest the land. There are numerous coves, inlets, islands, and lighthouses.

Of course, all skill levels and media are welcome. From beginner to advanced; watercolor, oils, acrylics, pastels — bring any or all with you.

Concentrate on painting

Your meals are included so you can forget about cooking. That’s five nights accommodation, private bedroom with shared bath at the Schoodic Institute in Acadia National Park.

There will be a lobster feast on Sunday evening, and all meals and snacks up to and including breakfast on the day of departure.

And of course there will be morning and afternoon instruction, Monday-Friday—or even a nocturne if you want to try it.


Private room with shared bath at the beautiful, secluded Schoodic Institute, with room, board and instruction is just $1150.

Non-painting partner sharing a painter’s room is just $500 including all meals.

There are limited family apartments available for a $500 upcharge plus $325/person for meal plan. Contact me ASAP if you want one of these; they go quickly.

All rates include 8% Maine hotel tax.


$125 Early Bird discount if your deposit of $300 is received by December 31, 2014.

We’re offering a $50 discount to New York Plein Air Painters OR returning students.

To register

Space is limited! Email me for a registration form.

Refunds available up to 60 days prior to start, less a $50 administration fee.

Don’t forget my holiday sale, next week!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Clifford has a friend

Max, 2003, by Florentijn Hofman, from the artist's own website.
If you were born after 1963, you’re probably familiar with Norman Bridwell’s children’s book, “Clifford, the Big Red Dog.” Since 2003, Clifford has had a real-world double in the Netherlands, a large, red, eco-friendly sculpture of what we would call a German Shepherd, named Max.

Max, 2003, by Florentijn Hofman, from the artist's own website.
At 40X26X82 feet, Max towers over the village of Leens in Groningen province. He was built from locally sourced, low-impact materials like potato crates, pallets, wood, straw and rope, and bound together with wire. He was then wrapped in bright red shrink-wrap.

His creator, Florentijn Hofman, is a Dutch artist whose other work includes a rubber ducky floating in Hong Kong’s harbor and hippo in the Thames.

Max, under construction in 2003, from the artist's own website.
It took two months for him to build the dog, with assistance of local youth. “Max is the watchdog which guards the farm as a cultural heritage,” writes Hofman. Leens itself is a tiny village in a marsh which has been more or less occupied continuously since the Iron Age.

Max, under construction in 2003, from the artist's own website.

I promised details on my 2015 Maine workshop today, but they’re not ready. Still, don’t forget my holiday sale, or the workshop, which I promise to roll out tomorrow. Really.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Holiday gift guide #3 (accessories for the artist)

If you’re crafty, you can make wet canvas carriers using two painting frames glued face-to-face and some big rubber bands. That was my intention but, after I scoured all our thrift stores unsuccessfully for the proper size frames, I gave up and ordered PanelPak wet canvas carriers. For the sake of my car’s interior, I wish I’d bought them 200,000 miles ago. I use the 8X10 and 12X16 the most, but that’s an individual thing.

Another pricey but invaluable accessory is a stainless steel brush tank with a leak-proof lid. Yes, artists can use glass jars with tightly screwed lids, but they make a mess in the field. Get a small one for a plein air painter. Cared for properly, these last a lifetime.

In our house, Santa doesn’t bring presents but he does fill stockings. He always remembers sketch books. I like Strathmore’s Visual Journals with smooth Bristol paper and #2 mechanical pencils, but you can scale that up or down as your budget requires. You might add micron pens if your list includes teenagers who like to draw comics.

I have a Winsor Newton watercolor sketch kit, but dedicated watercolorists love to create their own pan sets. Anyone would be thrilled to get this Schmincke empty palette set, but if your painter is young and hip, get him just the empty half-pans, some double-sided tape and a few tins of Altoids. Pair this with a watercolor field book, and he will entertain himself for the rest of the year.

Every painter should have a set of grey-scale markers for value studies. A navigational compass and a cheap (because it will get dirty) business card holder are both useful field tools.

Every year, a million knock-off French box easels appear nestled under aspiring artists’ Christmas trees. Do me a favor and don’t buy one; they’re heavy, cumbersome, and discouraging. For the watercolor artist, see my post here about choosing an easel. For oil painters, a pochade box and tripod is a better option, although they can be expensive. Good with your hands? Here’s a pochade box I built for under $50; it serves me well and it can be paired with a less-expensive tripod.

If your artist really needs a studio easel, I think the Testrite aluminum mast easel is good value for money. It is what I use for my students. If your artist likes to work really big, go with their hinged professional model. I’ve been using one for decades.

And, of course, art lessons are always good.

Don’t forget my holiday sale, or my 2015 Maine workshop. Details on that are coming tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Holiday gift guide #2 (what you need is a painting)

About ten years ago, I realized I had purchased enough toys, appliances, and tchotchkes for a lifetime, and I gave up Christmas shopping. It’s not like anyone ever got sentimental over the PS3 game I bought, after all.

So when I decided to have a Black Friday sale of my paintings, I figured it’d better be an un-sale.

Evening squall at 12 Corners, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
It’ll be in my house. You can come over and buy nothing, if you want. Hang out on Clifford, talk to the family, drink wine. Or buy a painting. Or ten. It’s all good.

This holiday un-sale is from 2-9 on Friday, November 29, 2014, at 410 Oakdale Drive, Rochester, NY 14618. It includes plein air and studio work, framed and unframed, along with prints and notecards—everything 25-50% off.

This is a great opportu­nity to acquire an original work of art for a fraction of its gallery price. And did I mention there would be wine?

Can’t wait to see you on Black Friday!

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Message me if you want information about the coming year’s classes or this workshop.

Monday, November 17, 2014


Cece and her self-portrait in progress.
Cece has been working on her self-portrait for two weeks; Jingwei  for a week. This is a laborious process of learning to measure, learning to model, and then assembling these techniques into an autobiographical whole. This is the hardest assignment I give to high school seniors, and their ability to buckle down into it says a lot about their future prospects.

Sandy's charcoal self-portrait of this week.
Since Sandy Quang was here and we weren’t painting, she decided to do a fast charcoal self-portrait as well. This gave me a great opportunity to compare her drawing to the one she did for her own portfolio in 2008.

Sandy's graphite self-portrait of 2008.
The biggest difference between a teenager and an art school graduate is assurance. Sandy whipped this drawing off in an hour, and her mark-making reflects that. Her measurement and transcription were painstaking in 2008; they’re automatic today. That reflects hundreds and hundreds of hours of drawing in the interim.
Jingwei's unfinished graphite self-portrait.
Every plein air painter is used to certain comments from passers-by. One that I’m sensitive to is, “I used to paint, but I don’t have time anymore.” Another is, “That looks like so much fun!” Yes, art is fun, but it rests on a solid foundation of instruction, learning and practice. If you’re not willing to do that, you’d be wise to choose an easier career path.  Most successful painters I know have spent years learning their craft. When youngsters come to me to study art, the first question is whether they have the tenacity for an art career.

Cece's unfinished graphite self-portrait.

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Message me if you want information about the coming year’s classes or this workshop.

Friday, November 14, 2014

On my bucket list

The superheated pyroclastic material from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD preserved Herculaneum, Pompeii, Stabiae, and Oplontis intact (including food, human bodies, and wooden superstructures). The historian Pliny the Younger wrote about the eruption to the historian Tacitus, so we even have an eyewitness description of the volcano. And they’re in the Campania, which is a fantastic tourist destination in its own right. No wonder so many students opt to learn about them.

One of three new mosaics unearthed this year at Muzalar House in the ancient city of Zeugma, in modern Turkey.
While they are famous and well-studied, they are by no means the only Roman mosaics in Europe, Asia Minor or the Middle East. Last week a Turkish news bureau announced that this year’s digs have unearthed three new Roman mosaics in the ancient city of Zeugma.

"Gypsy Girl," a fragment of mosaic found in the ancient city of Zeugma, in modern Turkey.
Zeugma was formally settled around 300 BC by Alexander the Great’s infantry general, Seleucus I Nicator. It was named for the bridge of boats (zeugma) which crossed the Euphrates River there. Its location was unknown until a few years ago, when signs of archaeological looting combined with plans to dam the Euphrates led to its investigation. Only a small number of its mosaics have been located and preserved to date.

Detail from a mosaic from the ancient city of Zeugma, in modern Turkey.
In its heyday as a Roman city, Zeugma was home to more than 70,000 people. The get-rich-quick hangers-on of the Empire built their usual sumptuous villas, distinguished by mosaics. But Zeugma was also one of those “crossroads of the Ancient World” places where civilizations cross-pollinated. The site includes pre-Hellenistic, Greek and Roman ruins and artifacts.

One of three new mosaics unearthed this year at Muzalar House in the ancient city of Zeugma, in modern Turkey.
Pompeii and its environs have been explored since the end of the 16th century. There is nothing new we could possible say about them. In comparison, Zeugma has been studied for 25 years. Since the mosaics are being removed to the Zeugma Mosaic Museum, future students will never examine them in situ as they do at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Still, Zeugma’s mosaics are sophisticated, naturalistic, and well-preserved. They should attract any student of ancient art.

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Message me if you want information about the coming year’s 
classes or this workshop.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Holiday gift guide #1—brushes for oils, acrylics, and watercolor

That Holiday is coming up. I am often asked for gift ideas. Brushes are expensive, and most students limp by with rotten ones rather than spend the money on good brushes. A gift certificate to an art supply store would give the most flexibility, but some people don’t want that.

The brush department is where most painters stand and drool in an art store

Oil and acrylic plein air painters should limit themselves—in general—to long-handled hog bristle brushes. These carry paint most effectively. Shape is a personal preference, but a decent mixture of sizes and shapes gives the greatest flexibility.

Oils and Acrylics

In general, painters are better off with fewer good brushes than a lot of mediocre ones. Sizing is not standard across manufacturers, but a variety between #2 and #12 should suffice for most field work.

Here are the fundamentals:
Brights are stubby flat brushes, useful for short, aggressive strokes and heavy paint application.

Filberts are oval brushes. They carry more paint than a round but the pointed end allows for greater paint-carrying capacity. People who like to blend their edges often like filberts best.

Flats have been my go-to brush for many years. They can be used on edge for fine work, but used on the flat they carry lots of paint and create a bold style.

Rounds are good for details, lines, and fills. I generally carry a few smaller rounds in my kit, but many painters swear by them in all sizes. 

Here are specialty brushes, for the painter who already has a basic kit:

Riggers: These are short-handled, pointed, long round brushes made of sable, and their main mission in life is painting boat rigging and other fine lines.

Fans: While you could use these to daub happy trees, they are really intended for blending. I have a couple in my studio kit, but I don’t carry them in the field.

The basic shapes
Egbert or Double filberts are long, squishy brushes. I have three of these. They are easily damaged and shouldn’t be left to stand in a can of turpentine. They are especially good for figure work, and give a dancing, prancing line.

Spalters are big flat brushes with either long or short handles. I use them to underpaint my studio canvases and as dry blending brushes.


Watercolor painters have the choice between Taklon, squirrel and sable. The latter costs the earth but has the finest paint-carrying capacity.

The three basic shapes are:

Round: this is more pointed than an oil-color round and is suitable for most detail work. Sable takes a point better than synthetics, and this is a place where spending the money would be appropriate. A #10 for regular painters, and a #16 for big painters is a good place to start.

Flat wash: Most painters carry a few of these. I have a .5” and 1”, both of Taklon. These often have an angled end for scraping and burnishing.

Mop/oval wash: This is a big floppy brush useful for laying in large areas. It is usually made of squirrel hair, and is very absorbent.

Hake: Also a wash brush, but of Asian extraction. I find a mop more versatile, but it wouldn’t hurt to have one to play with.

Riggers: These are short-handled, pointed, long round brushes made of sable, and their main mission in life is painting boat rigging and other fine lines.

Script/Liner: A detail brush for outlining and long continuous strokes.

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Message me if you want information about the coming year’s 
classes or this workshop.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Timing is everything

Yesterday would have been a perfect painting day, but I’m a native of these here parts. I knew it was probably the last day we had to winterize before Mother Nature dumps snow on us. So my laddie and lassies and I moved and stacked the seven face cords of wood we’ll need this winter, raked the turf and swept the driveway, rolled up the hoses, trimmed the roses, and put things away for the season. We get lots of snow here in Rochester, and not being prepared gums up the works.

Conversely (and perversely) the day we met to shoot my how-to-paint video was miserably cold and windy. Why can’t Mother Nature cooperate?

Serina Mo filming.
But Serina Mo did a GREAT job with it, and I've learned just how much of a Buffalo accent I really have. Enjoy!

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Message me if you want information about the coming year’s classes or this workshop.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

If you don’t have something good to say…

Doodled illumination, by Gail Kellogg Hope
 My pal Gail Kellogg Hope is home chasing a toddler around. Gail’s a trained artist, with an MA in art education from RIT. Occasionally she gets bored and does something ‘arty’ although she doesn’t have the mental space or energy to paint seriously right now.

This is why she ended up making the illuminated borders here. They’re pen-and-wash doodles, and she thought she’d make a set of them as cards as a gift for someone.  I thought they were sweet and told her so. Then she showed them to a group on Facebook, where she received a scathing rip by a fellow artist about her lack of detail.

Doodled illumination, by Gail Kellogg Hope
There is a place for constructive criticism, and Facebook—in general—isn’t it. This is not to say that I never critique work on Facebook, since I have hundreds of artist friends and we’re always bouncing images back and forth. But critique is best done one-on-one and among people you trust.

Doodled illumination, by Gail Kellogg Hope
The artist has just presented you with the best work he is capable of at this time. He is profoundly attached to it. Like a parent, he is blind to its weaknesses. Yes, you can gently point out ways to make the work stronger—and that is, after all, the primary job of a teacher—but you had better start from the position that the work is fundamentally good.

This is why nice people sandwich the negative between two positives: “I love your use of color/the horizon is crooked/your composition is strong.” Practice that technique. It will come in handy all through life, not just in art.
Doodled illumination, by Gail Kellogg Hope
I have a painting in my studio that I wrecked after a bad critique session. Fifteen years later, I know that the comment that crushed me—“It’s like a bad Chagall”—was neither true nor helpful. I would hate to think I ever did that to another student.

Be honest, but if you don’t have anything good to say, then you probably shouldn’t be critiquing work at all.

Doodled illumination, by Gail Kellogg Hope
I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Message me if you want information about the coming year’s classes or this workshop.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Facing up to it

Cece (who's really being a good sport about these photos) starts by measuring her features and their positions.
Almost every high school student who expresses an interest in going to art school is proficient at one thing: drawing from photographs. When I introduce them to the idea that they have to learn to draw from life, their reaction is always the same: they don’t want to do it because it’s hard.

Drawing is such a fundamental tool that every high school student should know how to do it, but they don’t. And this is true of kids from every high school, so I know it’s a general trend, not a problem specific to one place. (And, by the way, this is nothing new. In my public high school in the 1970s there were three art teachers, only one of whom taught traditional methods.)

It's a good likeness but any competent reviewer is going to know she did it from a photo.
The difference between a life drawing and a photographic drawing is something a trained artist can pick off at twenty paces. Life drawing is going to give kids an edge when it comes to portfolio review, and it’s going to make the transition to college easier. By the time I get them, most of these kids are already advanced enough to get into the college of their choice. My goal, therefore, has to be to help them get as much scholarship money as they can muster, because art school is expensive.

Finally, the measurements are done and she can start working on the modeling.
I have three high school seniors in my Saturday class, and they are currently doing an assignment they all loathe: a self-portrait done from a mirror. This requires that they suspend their idea of what they look like, which for all of us (but adolescents in particular) is a litany of things we don’t like about ourselves. It also forces them to use the first technique of drawing: measurement and angles.

We started this with practice drawings in charcoal. From here they go to carefully-rendered pencil drawings. I had hoped to work alongside them, since my ravaged old face hasn’t been immortalized in a while, but alas, I’ve been too busy.

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Message me if you want information about the coming year’s classes or this workshop.

Friday, November 7, 2014

When life hands you lemons, draw them

Passing a kidney stone. Did I mention there's very little privacy in a hospital ward?
Yesterday I found myself bunged into the hospital. (This is about the miasma that passes for a climate here in November, and it’s nothing to worry about.) Luckily I nabbed my toothbrush and sketchpad on the way.

It ran into the drawing above, but I loved the caring gesture by the doctor.
I may be the only patient in history that asks to be left on a gurney in the hall. There’s much more interesting stuff to draw.
Two guys who were passing through.
Don’t believe what you hear about people lying on gurneys waiting for hours; in general they’re treated in a minute or two. In most cases, I have very little time to work. (It’s always about me, isn’t it?) I start these drawings as fast gestures. And no, nobody objects to my drawing them—they’re too sick to care.

The easiest people to draw are staffers working on computers. Engrossed in patients’ records, they’ve been known to sit still for minutes at a time. Conversely, sick people move around all over the place. They’re uncomfortable.

Inevitably, someone said, “I’m so jealous of your talent! I can’t draw a thing.” I answered as I always do: I can teach anyone to draw. Her disbelief was writ large in her face, but it’s true. The point isn’t whether these are good, bad or indifferent drawings. The point is that you learn to draw mainly by using your time to draw.

Having said that, I’m down to my last three pages of clean paper. Either they spring me loose this morning or my daughter is going to have to bring me a new sketchbook.

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August.  Message me if you want information about the coming year’s classes or this workshop.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Nature of Change

Dune without Sand Fence, study, Tina Ingraham
While in Phippsburg, ME, this October looking for locations for next year’s workshop, I came across a postcard for a Bath, ME painter. Her name is Tina Ingraham, and she painted a series on the erosion changes at Popham Beach State Park after Hurricane Sandy. This work, Dune Evolution, was shown last winter at the First Street Gallery in New York.

Popham Beach is a place I rarely visit, since it’s not on the way to anywhere. Fort Popham, on the Kennebec River, was originally built to protect the Bath ship-building industry during the Civil War. The beach stretches to the south and west of the fort. It is sandy like those in southern Maine, with long rolling breakers.

Breakers rolling in at Popham Beach.
In recent years, erosion has threatened the southwestern end of the beach, with massive dune loss at the state park and the area bordering the park. Ingraham’s paintings document those changes.

Popham Beach was the site of the Sagadahoc Colony, a short-lived English settlement founded in 1607—just a few months after the Virginia Colony established Jamestown.

Sentinel in Sun, 2012, Tina Ingraham
The Popham colonists built the first ship completed in the New World, a pinnace called Virginia of Sagadahoc. Although smaller than many pleasure boats today (being 50’ long with a beam of 14’) it apparently floated well enough to sail across the Atlantic several times, including once on a supply trip to Jamestown.

And thus was launched the shipbuilding industry at Bath, ME, although there are no traces left of the colony or its shipbuilding.

Sentinel V, 2012, Tina Ingraham
The landscape is in constant flux, sometimes from man’s activities, sometimes from the stunning power of nature. Ms. Ingraham focuses on the attempt to save the dunes at Popham Beach, but what is implied in her paintings—but never visible—is the tremendous power of the Atlantic Ocean beating rhythmically on the shore.

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August.  Message me if you want information about the coming year’s classes or this workshop.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Victorian Death Portraits

The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing. (Marcus Aurelius)

I’ve been reminded of that a lot this week as I watch a friend struggle with her husband’s end-stage cancer. It makes one keenly aware that life isn’t exactly a picnic.

There is a misunderstanding that Victorian parents were somehow distanced from their children because they lost so darn many of them. 19th century literature, with its recurrent cry of loss, tells us otherwise. It was a period of great innovation but death rates did not drop; in fact it was the Dark Ages of child mortality in the western world. Urbanization, industrialization, poverty, war and unsanitary obstetrical practices were ruthless killers of people of all ages, but especially children.

If you were wealthy, you could hire a sculptor to immortalize your late son in marble, as here, in the Blocher Memorial in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo.
Consumption, or tuberculosis, was the “family attendant” in all too many Victorian households:

I paid a sad call at the Worths where 2 children seem to be at the point of dying, the poor terrible little baby has constant fits & little Madge two years old, who has been ill 12 days with congestion of the lungs. This is the second time I’ve seen them in this illness…we went into next door where we saw poor little Miss Lee evidently very near the end, but sweet and affectionate as ever. (Louisa Baldwin’s diary, 26 April 1870)

If you were middle-class, your posthumous family portrait was done in daguerreotype.
The spread of the daguerreotype photographic process made portraiture more commonplace, but until late in the century most people had never been photographed. This was especially true of children. To the parent who had unsuccessfully nursed a beloved child through a cruel illness, the steady slow erasure of memory was the final blow.

These portraits were not ghoulish memento mori; they were keepsakes to remember specific people. The practice remained in vogue until Rochester’s own George Eastman standardized photography equipment and film, making picture-taking an everyday art form.

Early examples took advantage of the slow exposure of daguerreotypes (and the required stiffness of their posing) to make the subject look lifelike. The deceased was photographed in poses with living family members, braced on furniture, or with a favorite toy.

The family grouping with dead child would probably be the only photo of the kids together.
There was very little palliative care for the dying Victorian. Most people died in their homes. Yet the idea of assisted suicide or “death with dignity” would have been inconceivable to them. It is a thoroughly modern concept.

I have done one death portrait, of a newborn baby. I don’t have a photo of it since I delivered it hurriedly to the family, but it was (I think) one of the most important things I’ve ever painted. It is rare that artists have the chance to help with healing.

Message me if you want information about the coming year’s classes and workshops.