Paint Schoodic

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Come see me on Sunday at Open Studio Day


Gallery, studios, music, ice cream, a beautiful lake—and it’s all free!
Clif Travers works on his great tree for long hours every day. I help him along by constantly asking, "Are you finished?"
 I’ve been at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center at Rolling Acres Farm this month. This Sunday (September 30th) I get to show you what I’ve been doing. You, the public, are invited to Open Studio Day, from noon to 3. Stop and see what we’ve accomplished.

Our resident gardener, Rachel Alexandrou, will offer hourly tours of the Center’s garden. Rachel has odd ideas about what a Maine garden can support. She grew red cotton, cardoon, artichokes, amaranth, and tiny black grape tomatoes in a small riot of color. When Rachel isn’t gardening, drawing, or taking photographs, she’s entertaining us with mournful songs on her ukulele. However, she’s a bubbly person, so they’re frequently interrupted with peals of laughter.
Rachel Alexandrou is outstanding in her field. (Courtesy Maine Farmland Trust)
Clif Travers has made himself an enormous tree of recycled tree products. He’s now painting it in oils, a highly-detailed process. On first read, it’s stained-glass, reminiscent of hours spent in church as a child. But his tree is oddly anthropomorphic, standing protectively over creation. In a nod to Renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, many of its parts are made of vegetables. Certain viewers, however, have insisted they’ve seen a hot dog, lamb chop, and other meat products. It is, as far as I can see, totally gluten-free.

Each morning, I’ve met Heather Lyon creeping out of the house at dawn, heading down through the fields to the lake. There, she’s shot beautiful footage of herself in various interactions with water. Wearing a $6 reflective survival poncho she bought at Renys, she was transformed into a beautiful, otherworldly creature. Heather also chilled herself and a collaborator in the very cold waters off Pemaquid Point for the sake of swift-moving footage with seaweed and a crab or two.

Heather Lyon in her studio. (Courtesy Maine Farmland Trust)
I came here with a high-minded idea of painting the confluence between man, water and the land. In reality, I ended up thrashing around between watercolor on Yupo and oil painting. I alternated media every day, painting each subject first in oils, then in watercolor. After a month of this, I can say with certainty only that my brain hurts.

The Gallery here is showing Nature Observed: The Landscapes of Joseph Fiore, with oil and pastel paintings by the late artist and environmentalist. These paintings have influenced my thinking all month. If you practice or love plein air painting, you should come by just to study them.

Damariscotta Lake, by Carol L. Douglas, watercolor on Yupo.
There will be live music on the lawn by jazz trio The Extension Chords, with Myles Kelley on piano, Katherine Bowen on bass and Owen Markowitz on drums. Coffee, tea and local ice cream will be served.

The Joseph A. Fiore Art Center at Rolling Acres Farm is a program of Maine Farmland Trust. Its mission is to actively connect the creative worlds of farming and art making. The Center’s purpose is to continue and evolve the dialogue between human and environment within the context of our current culture and time.
  
My own studio is more of a repository than a workspace. As usual, I'm working out of my Prius.
It’s located on Damariscotta Lake at 152 Punk Point Road in Jefferson. Bring a picnic and enjoy the Center’s grounds for the day.

MFT also runs MFT Gallery, at 97 Main Street, Belfast. It is open Monday through Friday from 9 to 4. On Fourth Friday Art Walks, it is open until 8pm.

Maine Farmland Trust is a statewide, member-powered nonprofit working to protect farmland, support farmers, and advance farming. Maine Farmland Trust created its gallery to celebrate agriculture through art, and to inspire and inform the public about farming in Maine.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: drawing a face

Have trouble drawing people? Here's a way to get a good likeness in a hurry.
Robbie, by Carol L. Douglas
Most artists don’t have trouble drawing individual features. They run into trouble hooking all those parts up into a plausible whole. Sadly, a person’s likeness starts with the overall structure of their head, not with the details. This is a fast and easy way to measure features so you get them straight. The hardest part, I think, is that I'm showing you in words and pictures instead of in person. But if you take the time to practice it, your portrait drawings will improve.

I seldom work from photos, but I’m at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center this month. That means I can’t conscript any family members to model. Instead, I found this old photo of Sandy Quang on my laptop. (It’s odd because she’s not laughing her fool head off.)

If you don't remember the rudiments of measuring with a pencil, please brush up here and here before you start.


I start by drawing a line indicating the angle at which the head is cocked.



The second line goes right through the eyeballs. This is not absolutely perpendicular to the center line, but it's usually close. Remember, you are measuring a 3-D object onto a 2-D surface. It's easy to mistake these lines for a grid. They're not; they're just measurements.

From there, go on to measure the remaining distances as shown above. Eventually, you can add a line for the eyebrows and the bottom of the bottom lip, but I find them confusing at this early stage.

The angle from the bottom of the nose to the pupils is the most important measurement in the face. Check, double check, and then place dots where it intersects with your eyeball line.
Next, draw lines from the bottom of the nose through the center of the pupils. You should create a triangle from eyes to bottom of nose. That's the most important measurement you'll do, and the most confusing.

Why are we using an angle instead of straight measurements on the eyes? This is the most important dimension in a human face, and angles allow us to double-check our work. A triangle is a shape, and that's just easier for the brain to process than a line. That's why I use angles to measure whenever I can. (Brush up on angle-drawing here.)

Unless the model is looking right at you, each eye is not the same distance from the center line. Check and double-check.
This triangle is the most important measurement in the whole face.
Then draw lines down from the center of the eyeballs to the corners of the mouth. In most people, the mouth is about as wide as the pupils of the eyes, but Sandy's mouth is narrower than her eyes.
I did the drawing freehand but added this because it's so difficult to understand from just words.
My last measurement is from the center line to outside of her ear. Conveniently, it's about the same distance as from her hairline to the bottom of her nose. Remember, all measurements are relative. "It's slightly less than two noses long," is how we measure in drawing.


I managed to drop her ear too low at this point; I corrected it as I went. There are always fine corrections to be made. To me, that refinement is the best part of drawing. It's like doing a puzzle.

Having made all those measurements, I was ready to rough in the overall features. I drew the nose and chin as volumes. (The angled line from the nose was to figure out my ear error.)


The drawing guides are superfluous after this point. Time to erase them and start having freehand fun.


Block in the mass of hair. Your eye perceives shapes and sizes differently depending on value and the color, as we learned here. That dark shape is important.


Refine the features, erasing and redrawing as time allows.


Because I was working with a #2 pencil on a cheap sketchbook, I waited until the end to add the shadow masses. Otherwise, they'd smear.

Throwback Sandy, by Carol L. Douglas

We are taught to draw the human face in ‘perfect’ terms: the eyes are halfway down the head, the tear ducts line up with the edges of the nostrils, the face is divided into thirds, etc., etc. In fact, human faces are infinitely varied. 

These ‘perfect’ laws fall apart especially fast when the subject isn’t white. For example, everything you learned about drawing eyes falls apart with an Asian person with no epicanthic fold. It’s far better to start with what’s really there.

This is a system that works, but you'll need to practice it a few times before it feels comfortable. If you have any questions, email me and I'll try my best to answer them.







Friday, September 21, 2018

The corrosive power of chance remarks


Words have the power to inflict or bind wounds. May we choose ours carefully.
Posted, by Carol L. Douglas. Watercolor on Yupo paper. I never did figure out a color for those water-lilies.
I was checking into an event when the canvas-stamping person said, “Oh, you paint on a red ground? I’ll have to check your work out. A lot of people do that near where I live, and I hate it.”

I have no idea what—or even if—she was thinking when she said that. But it has subtly affected me ever since. I’m finding myself less likely to leave the ground showing, more likely to lard the paint on. Neither is good technique.

I’m a confident painter. Imagine if I was less experienced, or less secure. It might have completely shaken a painter at the start of a competitive event. It’s a perfect example of how not to offer criticism.

Private Island, oil on canvas. This was interrupted by headache last week.
Compare that to my dear friend Mary Byrom, who doesn’t like that red ground either. Mary is a crackerjack painter herself. I know she has good technical reasons for her opinion. She is also a loyal, kind, supportive friend. I know her intentions are good. I can listen to her opinion and weigh it fairly, without being defensive. She’s earned the right to critique my painting.  

I’ve spent the month looking at and absorbing Joseph Fiore’s paintings, and I plan to start tinkering with some of his technical approaches, particularly his surfaces and scribing. He clearly—and successfully—paints on white canvases. He leaves areas white, scrubs the paint back, and lets the ground show through.
After checking every day this week, I decided I had to paint the reflections from my sketch, because there's a constant breeze on Damariscotta Lake right now.
Toning, for those of you who aren't painters, means painting the white gesso a color before you start the painting proper. I was taught to always tone my canvases, and it’s something I also teach my students. Of course, the way I learned was to lightly tone with an earth tone in sepia, yellow ochre or grey. The brilliant red was a later addition.

Toning is as old as painting itself, but its rationale is explained through the 19th century concept of simultaneous contrast. This is a fancy way of saying that a color looks lighter against black, darker against white. To see it accurately, you need to see it against something that’s a neutral value.

Toning:
  • Establishes the mid-tone values from the start;
  • Unifies the color of the composition;
  • Sets an emotional tone for the painting;
  • Stops any specks that peek through from competing with your highlights;
  • Gives you a more accurate sense of the value and size of your darks when you first set them down.
In the field, it also stops you from being blinded by brilliant white.
Working Dock is the painting I showed you yesterday, properly photographed this time. (I finished it at dusk.)
From observation, I'd say the majority of my plein air peers start on toned boards. It is something I'll continue to recommend to my students. But should I keep doing it? That I can’t answer until I experiment on a white canvas. And that will wait until this workshop is over, because I only brought toned canvases with me.

While I’d like to say I’m thinking through this as a response to the Fiore paintings, there’s a small niggling part of me that’s still reacting to that woman’s comment. It’s a reminder that words have the power to inflict or bind wounds. Good advice is invaluable, in painting and in life. But may we all be as kind as Mary Byrom when we offer our opinions.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

They like what they see


If you paint in your studio, you miss some marvelous conversations—with animals as well as people.
Working Dock, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas.
I’m using this residency to explore ideas I might otherwise skip over, because they’re not particularly marketable. Yesterday, for example, I managed to channel David Hockney’s peculiar perspective and flat planes onto a grey working lobster dock in Maine. I was surprised when a lobsterman asked me how much I wanted for the painting.

I don’t want to sell any of this work before I’ve shown it as a series. But I looked up my price and told him how much it will eventually be.

He repeated it back to me awestruck, and asked, “Are you famous?
A lobster pound at Tenants Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy the Kelpie Gallery. Working docks are fascinating to paint. 
Well, not unfamous. But that’s not really the point. It’s like lobstering, I said. Both lobstermen and plein air artists have high operating costs and significant business risk. (We also work outside in all kinds of weather, but their job is far more dangerous than mine.)

“It’s a lot more than lobster,” he laughed. Well, if you price it by the pound, yeah.

My intention for this residency has been to do each locale first in oils and then in watercolor, but that’s been shaken up some by the recent rain. Today’s painting is the mate to Monday’s watercolor. I hope I get it straight before I head home at the end of next week.

Little Giant, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy of Camden Falls Gallery.
The other day, Bobbi Heath and I were hit onvery politely, mind you. Bobbi and I are both, erm, grandmotherly, and neither of us were remotely chic. Heck, I never even combed my hair that morning. Then again, I never do.

“Are either of you ladies single?” he asked. Bobbi thought that line needed work, but we were polite in kind.

Later, he came back and asked me, “But are you happily married?”

Pilings, by Carol L. Douglas.
A couple from Pennsylvania stopped to chat. A ruckus erupted in front of us.

“A kingfisher!” the husband exclaimed. After a moment his face fell. “A chipmunk.” Chipmunks are my most steadfast painting companions. They’re always chattering at me.

I’ve seen so many turkeys this year that I’m almost inspired to them (in my studio, in the winter). I’ve also seen a lot of deer mice in unnatural poses. They like to visit the pantry at the end of summer, and they pay for it with their lives.

I’ve met a lot of surprising creatures over the years. I’m basically silent, except for the swish-swish of my brush, and animals get curious. Here in Jefferson, it’s been the usual woodland creatures. A few days ago, I had to stamp my feet at a squirrel who was coming too close. “I’ll make a brush out of your tail!” I told him.

Working Dock in its Hockney phase. There are elements of this abstraction that I'd like to recapture.
Working Dock, above, spent a long time looking as if the far wharf had erupted in flames. I wanted to maintain a separation between the trees. Passers-by avoided it when it was in that stage, particularly the guys who work on the dock. Perhaps they know something they’re not telling.

A studio painter told me that when he paints outside, he’s thrown by the public commentary. I understand how that can happen, particularly if you’re not confident in your skills. But most people are kind, even to the rawest, newest student. They genuinely like what they see: the miracle of that scene over there being translated into this picture, right here.

If you work in a studio, or you work outside with headphones on, you miss some wonderful interactions. Yes, the public can be a distraction, but they’re also a joy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A common footman in the army of art


Plein air painting isn’t highbrow, but it speaks to my soul.
La casa de los abuelitos, by Carol L. Douglas
“You’re lucky to love to do something that people love,” Clif Travers told me soon after we’d met. He meant that sincerely. It’s easier to sell landscape paintings than the large-scale installation piece he’s working on.

The earliest known “pure landscapes” (with no human figures) are Minoan murals dating from around 1500 BC. Landscape flowered in Rome, Egypt and China. It died out in western art and was rediscovered in the Renaissance.
Rocky, by Carol L. Douglas
In China, the mountain-water ink painting was traditionally the most valued form of picture. Here in the west, landscape occupied a low position in the accepted hierarchy of genres, which went:
  1. History, including all that allegorical stuff;
  2. Portrait;
  3. Genre painting, or scenes of everyday life;
  4. Landscape;
  5. Animals;
  6. Still life.
This hierarchy was established in 16th century Italy. It elevated those things which rendered the universal essence of things (imitare) over the mere mechanical copying of appearances (ritrarre). While the Impressionists did much to knock this on its head, there’s still a decided whiff of lowbrow to landscape painting, particularly the plein air variety. I think it’s because people actually like it.

Some days it rains, by Carol L. Douglas
The 17th century Dutch Golden Age painters were among the first artists with middle-class customers, so it’s no surprise that they painted lots of landscape. But they were conflicted about it. Samuel Dirksz van Hoogstraten was the century’s most important art critic. He called landscape paintings “the common footmen in the army of art.” But he also recognized that landscape “provides scope for artistic freedom, for coloristic virtuosity and for chance: for a dialogue between Mother Nature and the artist’s own innate ability.”

It’s surprisingly difficult to find data on what genres of art sell the best, but I did find this top-ten list from Art Business Today. It's for the UK art market, but ours isn't much different:
  1. Traditional landscapes
  2. Local views
  3. Modern or semi-abstract landscapes
  4. Abstracts
  5. Dogs
  6. Figure studies (excluding nudes)
  7. Seascapes, harbor, and beach scenes
  8. Wildlife
  9. Impressionistic landscapes
  10. Nudes

Beach Grass (Goosefare Brook) by Carol L. Douglas
Obviously, none of us invented landscape painting, but each of us invents ourselves as landscape painters. When we start out, there’s absolutely no market for our work. We create that market through dialogue. We produce our first paintings, gauge the audience’s reaction (through sales and critiques), and then refine our message and reenter the fray with new work. That’s an ongoing process throughout our careers. It’s no different from many other lines of work.

There are artists working out there in splendid isolation, not caring what the audience thinks, but they’re very rare. For most of us, painting is a dialogue, and the other half of the dialogue is the buying public.

Bracken Fern, by Carol L. Douglas
Most artists don’t shape their work because a certain kind of landscape painting will sell better (although we are influenced by our peers and gallerists). But the best feedback we get is often in the form of a purchase.

I don’t paint en plein air because I think it’s somehow higher on a hierarchy of landscape. I do it because it appeals to me on a soul level. My friend Brad Marshall once said, “My clients don’t care if I did it in the studio or out. They only care about the quality of the work itself.” Plein air is not, in itself, a virtue. It’s only when it helps the painting become transcendent that it matters.