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

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Power of art

The symmetry of Thomas Hart Benton's mural at the Power Vista balances the Iroquois and Europeans, who are also evenly matched in stature, equipment and clothing.
When I was a child, we used to take field trips to the Niagara Power Vista. This is a glorified observation deck over the Niagara River. (Back in the day, we actually saw one of these behemoth turbines at rest in the bottom of its deep chute, which was a terrifying experience to a child with imagination.)

Among the attractions was a mural by Thomas Hart Benton. While other Benton murals are being transferred to major museums, this one sat for years in direct sunlight, fading. In honor of the Power Vista’s 50th anniversary, it’s been restored.

Father Louis Hennepin discovering Saint Anthony Falls, Douglas Volk (1905). The difference between Benton’s and Volk’s characterization of the Native people is striking.
Thomas Hart Benton established his reputation in the 1930s with five murals that championed a new American art movement known as Regionalism. His was the most well-known voice of the Work Projects Administration (WPA) mural program. He was the first artist ever featured on the cover of Time magazine (in 1934).

The History of Water, Thomas Hart Benton, 1930. This was executed for a drugstore in Washington DC in 1930, but was removed shortly thereafter and stored in the basement. It was rediscovered in 1985. After being verified as a long-missing work by Benton, it was put up for auction at Sotheby's and is currently with Vivian Kiechel Fine Art in Lincoln, Nebraska.
His Power Vista mural depicts the Belgian missionary Fr. Louis Hennepin blessing Niagara Falls in the winter of 1677. Those who know and love the Falls recognize the topography, as stylized as it is. What I most admire is the respect Benton showed to Hennepin’s Iroquois guides. The Iroquois were far from savages. Not significantly behind the Europeans of the time, they quickly adopted what technology they didn’t have. They were mercantile and warlike, and Benson paints them and their European counterparts as equals.


Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Weather notes

When I arrived in Waldoboro, it was hovering around a high of 27° with a low in the single digits, and no snow.
A few weeks ago I quoted a sailing instructor:

For God's sake, learn how to read the weather!

For home work, I made my sailing students keep a notebook chronicling the daily weather. It had to have the forecast from the newspaper with their own observations.

At the time, I said that would be a great idea for my plein air painting students, too. Rather than assign work I haven’t tried myself, I packed a small watercolor sketchbook, ruled off into six squares per page, and my trusty old Winsor & Newton pocket paint kit.

That was the pattern until the end of the week, when the temperatures moved up and the sky started building.

In Rochester my studio faces to the north and east, away from the weather front, and the southwest sides of our house—which is where the action is, weatherwise—have more limited visibility. After this week of balancing in precarious positions, I feel like I might just go out on the stoop and sit. It takes fifteen minutes for the paints to really freeze.

I was in Winter Harbor, left, when snow moved in.

What have I learned so far? It’s generally sunnier here in winter than it is in Rochester. The winter light is lemony and the shadows are purple, whereas in Rochester, the winter light tends toward peach and the shadows toward blue (perhaps because it’s never truly bright). And a blizzard is a blizzard is a blizzard, no matter where it’s blowing.

I hope to shovel out and hit the road to Pittsford today, but the plows remain obstinately quiet. Still, they needn’t come by until I’m ready to roll. Just in time is fine.

The day before the blizzard, left, was a perfectly clear Maine day.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Blizzard


Whose woods these are I think I know.  
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here  
To watch his woods fill up with snow. 

I knew weather was coming, but I had no choice but to stay; yesterday I had appointments all day in mid-coast Maine. When I finished at dusk, there was little choice but to hunker down and ride it out.

I think of blizzards as time-out-of-time: they’re an extra Sunday in the week, unannounced holidays. Trouble is, I don’t want a holiday; I want to get home and continue on the groove I’ve made for myself.

I’m an old hand at blizzards, but this is my first experience with one off-the-grid. Like many Maine houses, this one has knee walls on the second floor. My little bed is tucked up under the rafters. We’re heating with wood, which makes my bed the warmest place in the house. My window is single-pane, and it’s allowing gouts of cold air to blow in. But it’s not on the west wall, and the wind is from the west. As I write this, it is increasing in ferocity. There are wind chimes somewhere outside , and their frantic atonal melodies rise in counterpoint to the clunk of the tie-downs on the wood pile and the whistle of the wind.

Thank you to my daughter for the texting gloves. They're making this bearable. Later I'll see if they work as watercoloring gloves.
Mainers are accustomed to bad weather and they seem inclined to keep deep pantries. There was none of that rush for bread, milk and eggs at the local Hannaford when I stopped. However, there was a line of trucks waiting for gas; seems like everyone has a generator here.

Since I took this photo, the far tree line has vanished in the snow.

My family has blown all over the map in this storm—some in Rochester, one in Washington, DC, some in Albany. The governor of New York has suggested that everyone stay home; one wag responded, “He’s probably not self-employed, then.” (Mr. Cuomo is left-footed on the subject of snow, which is no surprise seeing as he hails from Queens. But his advice is usually greeted with derision up in the Snow Belt.)

Blowing, drifting snow...
Six inches of snow in Rochester overnight so it’s business as usual. Doesn’t matter, though; the Mass Pike is closed, and the New York State Thruway is kinda-sorta closed. I’m stuck here for the duration.

The wood pile.
We have water, we have firewood, we have food. There’s no chance of the power being knocked out, because there isn’t power anyway. So my Prius slumbers by the side of a dirt road that won’t be plowed for hours if at all. I think I will curl up and spend the day reading.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,  
But I have promises to keep,  
And miles to go before I sleep,  
And miles to go before I sleep.
(from Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening)

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Oldies but Goodies

Adjust the pigments for 21st century tastes and this is a perfect explanation of how paired primaries are actually more versatile than having every pigment on your palette. I'd substitute quinacridone violet for alizarin crimson, and Hansa yellow for zinc yellow.
This weekend, I was on the Schoodic Peninsula to test painting sites for my August workshop. When I got back to Waldoboro, a friend showed me two books she bought at the Damariscotta Public Library used book sale. They are Grumbacher art guides: one for drawing, and one for mixing paint. Each was worth the 25¢ she paid, but the color mixing guide is particularly good.

Best fun I've had for a quarter in forever.
In 1966, thalo green and alizarin crimson were the pigments de jour, but today we aren’t keen on either of them. A good art teacher would cross them out and replace them with their 21st century analogs: quinacridone violet for the crimson, and nothing for the thalo green (which has to be the pigment I hate most in this world). But why bother? Another two generations, and archivists will be sneering at the pigments we’re using today.
Ignore the names of the pigments on this chart, and notice instead that violet is the darkest pure pigment, and yellow the lightest.

The principles are what matter. Look at the illustration of primary pairings. It shows an essential rule of painting—there are no pure pigments, so you need a warm and cool version of each primary color to get the greatest gamut (or range of colors). In fact, if you set up your palette with paired primaries, you can dispense with the secondaries altogether. There is no real need for orange, purple or green when you have primaries that can mix to them. (I do keep cadmium orange on my palette and dispense with cadmium red, but that’s an idiosyncrasy that I’ve arrived at after years of painting. Consider it the exception that proves the rule.)

The second half of the book includes mixing examples from their suggested palettes. Ignore the specifics and notice how many neutrals they make with high-chroma pigments. Now go repeat this on your own.
P.S. Dressing in the dark undoes the artist's advantage in matching his or her clothing. I have no idea if my long johns go with my turtleneck this morning.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochurehere.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Heading East Northeast

Winter on the Schoodic Peninsula.
Having finished my work in Waldoboro for the moment (whew!) I’m heading for Acadia today—right into a winter storm. This is the kind of vagary my southern friends have no experience with, but which we northerners anticipate. My car is not brilliant at bad roads, but I’m carrying a shovel, blankets, Clif bars, a candle and matches, and I can wait out any disasters.

The part of Acadia I'm heading to is that northernmost corner near Winter Harbor.
Acadia is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi, founded in 1919. The Schoodic Peninsula Historic District near Winter Harbor dates from 1929. Specifically I’m headed to this area, the northernmost part of the park.

In 2002, the National Park Service acquired the former naval base located on the Schoodic Peninsula and renovated it into the Schoodic Education and Research Center. This is where our 2015 workshop will be based.

Schoodic Peninsula surf.
My kit is in the back of my car, but the likelihood of painting in the teeth of a blizzard is slim. Still, I do have a watercolor set and if the visibility is not completely whited out, I expect I can do a study or two. If nothing else, I can check out the accommodations for my students.


Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Those crazy circadian rhythms

Night falls much earlier in the winter.
Once again I’m living off the grid in mid-coast Maine, and once again my friend is laughing at my peculiar habits. As P. points out, my eyelids start to droop exactly three hours after the sun sets, and I’m awake with the gloaming. This is apparently our pre-industrial pattern, and she delights in me validating it.
The sun knocks me out of bed in the morning, just as it seems to send me to bed early in the evening.
I like being up with the sun and down with the sun, which today in Maine means sunrise at 7:06 AM and sunset at 4:34 PM. That might seem like a short day, but if you are outside for a good part of the day (which I am) you are exhausted from the cold.

In my normal life, I’m a shallow sleeper who rises several times a night. Without electric lights, I seem to fall into a stupefied slumber and not wake until the sun comes up. It’s wonderfully restful. Having spent several weeks living like this—at all different times of the year—I can say that it is unique to this place.
Off the grid doesn't mean out of this world. Handwarmers, texting gloves, a spare battery-pack, and an electric toothbrush are wonderful accoutrements for a cabin in the woods. 
This doesn’t mean I want to adopt off-grid living, but it does give credence to the theory that our electronic tethers have the potential to make us irritable and anxious. Who knows what the combined thrum of a thousand little fans does to our ability to be calm?
Sunrise streaming in my window, which faces east.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Maine Photo Project

The Haven, Bertrand H. Wentworth, undated, Monhegan Museum
Most of us go to Maine and come back with hundreds—thousands—of photographs. Within a year of the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 there were people taking pictures here, according to the Maine Historical Society.

Katahdin Canoe, Leland Whipple, before 1900, hand-tinted lantern slide, Bangor Public Library
The Maine Photo Project is a year-long series of exhibitions and public programs exploring this fascination. It’s interactive in the sense that we’re all invited to participate, using the hashtag #mephotoproject on Instagram. I’ll definitely be playing.
Untitled (East Machias Post Office), Berenice Abbott, undated, gelatin silver print, Farnsworth Art Museum
This statewide collaboration runs through 2015 and includes displays and contributions by museums, art galleries, historical societies, artists, collectors, and arts organizations across the state, with oversight by the Maine Historical Society.

Unidentified Group of Men, Albion Moody, c. 1880-1904, glass plate negative, Brick Store Museum
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Beautiful, artistic Maine

Camden and Mt. Battie, by Carol L. Douglas
Tomorrow morning, I’m going to the Belfast Creative Coalition’s annual meeting. I’m going because I’m interested in a Land Trust proposal, but mostly to satisfy my curiosity.

Belfast is a city of 6,800 people, located in a county of about 38,000 people. Yet Belfast has enough art galleries to have a Fourth Friday gallery walk, and the Coalition could put together a Columbus Day Farm and Art tour with more than a hundred venues.

Visit Castine, population 1300, and you'll be given this map of attractions.
Belfast is just one of many art cities on the Maine Coast. There are Rockport and Rockland, which is now home to the Center for Maine Contemporary Art and the Farnsworth. Camden, and Damariscotta are also chock full of galleries, teaching spaces, and studios.

The list of painters with feet in both Maine and New York is extensive and includes Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Childe Hassam, Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, Frederic Church, and Thomas Cole. For them—like me—the draw isn’t primarily the art community, but the land and sea themselves: the ceaseless rise and fall of the tide, the granite outcroppings, and the dark pines.

Damariscotta, by Carol L. Douglas
Later this week I’m heading up to Schoodic to scope out painting sites for next year’s workshop. The class is about half full now, so I recommend that if you’re interested, you get in touch with me soon.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The best-laid plans

Maine Ice Storm, Jamie Wyeth.
My pal Toby warned me that I was driving into an ice storm. It stretched from coastal New Jersey to western Massachusetts. But I’ve been driving for almost 40 years (legally) and I drive a lot. In fact, I’d estimate that I’m one of those “million mile” drivers without infractions or accidents. There is always a bolt hole somewhere along the way to stop, and I have emergency provisions in my car.

Ice on the Hudson, Childe Hassam, 1908
The first indication you’re in trouble is usually when your car picks itself up and floats across the road. Mercifully, there was no oncoming traffic on Route 20. When I arrived at my destination, my Prius floated down the hill with no intention of stopping. I opened my door and realized that I was on perfectly smooth skating ice, unfortunately without skates.

Morning mist in the mountains, Casper David Friedrich, 1808
This morning I’m crossing the Berkshires, and I’d rather let someone else test the ditches. So I’m dallying in Pittsford over a second cup of coffee.

Study for Ice Flow, Allagash, Neil Welliver, 1996
Hopefully, my vagabond summers are coming to an end. I’m meeting with a Realtor tomorrow morning in mid-coast Maine. From there, I’ll head up to Schoodic to do a little painting (weather permitting, of course). But first another cup of coffee and a hot shower before I hit the road.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Homer's "Wine-Dark Sea"

Heavy Weather, done for now.
Occasionally, scholars get themselves tied up in knots over Homer’s “wine-dark sea.” The Aegean is just as blue as any other sea, and there are many theories about what Homer (or whoever actually wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey) was thinking: it was discolored by red marine algae, Homer was color-blind, the Greeks drank wine that was actually blue, or they didn’t have words to describe the deep blue-green of the sea.

There are times when the ocean just looks ominously dark, and that’s what I think he meant. The wine-dark sea is, to me, Prussian Blue dulled with Burnt Sienna—an unfathomable darkness.
Occasionally, optics can make the ocean look reddish. I took this photo off Sandy Hook, NJ.
It’s very easy to anthropomorphize sailboats. Still, I was startled to realize that Heavy Weather is an autobiographical painting. It is me skittering over the wine-dark sea.

“That should make it therapeutic to paint,” my friend B. said. I don’t really think so, but realizing it is autobiographical made it very easy for me to reach through the painting to correct its fundamental problem.
Heavy weather, increasing the seas.
My cousin Antony is a dedicated sailor. He got right to the issue when he said, “I would expect a lot more white water around if you only had a storm jib up.” Reference photos have a way of flattening hills, mountains, vistas—and raging seas. I needed to feel the water as a surging force, and then paint it as such. Once I realized what I was painting, that was a snap.

This is exploratory, and there are qualities that are very tentative. I have no problem painting water en plein air, but I need a little more assurance to get the same insouciance from reference photos, especially when I don't have any particularly good ones.
Heavy weather, underpainting.
I’m going to revisit this same subject in a few weeks. But before that happens, I’m off to Maine to do some research for next summer. I’m planning to freeze off my ears so that when you come to Schoodic to paint next August, it will be a perfect trip!

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The sad truth about obscenity


My pal Stu Chait and I did a show at RIT last year that ended with early closure because of my nude figures. I’ve long since moved on, but Rob Curry made a video of the opening and I just got a copy of it.

Despite its abrupt and ignominious end, it was a great show and I hope you enjoy the video.

I’m sorry that I live in a time and place where it’s possible for nudity to offend, especially with so much unschooled dreck passing for art in the academic world. 

Submission, 24X20, by Carol L. Douglas. This is one of the works in our closed-down show. Too bad it was silenced by censorship, because it is certainly 'relevant'.
We live in oddly bifurcated times. We not only tolerate but glorify the cardinal sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. On the other hand, we are leery of serious conversations, we don't like serious effort, and we insult, vilify and occasionally massacre those with whom we disagree. A god and a morality that’s big enough to command respect ought to be big enough to brush off criticism.

I may never have wanted to read Charlie Hebdo, but I sure as heck think artists ought to be able to say or think what they want without threat of censorship or worse.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Having some ‘work’ done

Most celebrities are chary about admitting they’re having plastic surgery. I’ve decided to bore you with all the details.


It's called ptosis, and it can be fixed with crutches or surgery.
Years ago I decided that I’d never have plastic surgery. I didn’t want to take a chance that my daughters would one day have to admit, “My mom died having a boob job.” So the first time my ophthalmologist suggested that I needed my eyes ‘lifted’, I just laughed. My father’s eyes were hooded, my grandmother’s eyes were hooded; if they could live with them, so could I.
Until now I thought those heavy eyelids made a great sun visor. I guess not.
Nonetheless, I’ve been having increasing trouble seeing, and that’s not good for an artist. Although I have symptoms of cataracts, my ophthalmologist tells me that’s not the problem. Yesterday I took a field-of-vision test. It proved to me that my droopy eyelids really are causing less light to reach my eyes. (Hopefully, my insurance company will be equally convinced.) So very shortly I’m gonna let a man with a knife mess with my lovely face.

I never had a visible eyelid.
My grandmother, father, siblings, and three of my four children all have that epicanthal fold, which is a trait more commonly seen in Asians. It was no problem when I was eight, but at 55, the skin on my lids has fallen forward and is covering my pupil.

Why do some Northern Europeans have that Mongol eye? Some speculate that the layer of fat above the eye protects it from extreme cold--and that Renee Zellweger recently had the same eye surgery to disguise her ethnic eyes. (Maybe she was just having trouble seeing, too.)
It will take about a week to recover, during which time I plan to listen to books on tape. But in the meantime, I need to zip up to Maine to do some reconnoitering for next year’s workshop. 

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Heavy weather

Heavy Weather, underpainting, by Carol L. Douglas
For this painting, I am trying to envision a sailboat being hit broadside by a large wave, with the question of whether it will capsize or right itself left unanswered.

My own sailing has been seriously curtailed for decades. That means that if I have questions about what a boat might do under sail, I have to consult an expert. My go-to guy is my cousin Antony. Not only does he get to sail in the southern Indian Ocean, but he’s in a totally different time zone, so hopefully he will answer my questions while I sleep.

The Gulf Stream, 1899, by Winslow Homer.
This morning I was looking for photos of boats in heavy weather. I came across the following, by a blogger who identifies himself only as Joe:

Sometimes the sea can be a very scary place.

A very, very scary place.

Before you undertake a voyage to adventure, make sure you are well trained, have some real sailing experience, and know how to survive if things go wrong. Believe me things can go wrong. Thank God I have my Navy training.

Fishermen at Sea, 1796, J.M.W. Turner
Don't assume that the guy sitting in his flight suit on the ready alert is going to come and rescue you. You might be out of range.

For God's sake, learn how to read the weather!

For home work, I made my sailing students keep a notebook chronicling the daily weather. It had to have the forecast from the newspaper with their own observations.

The Fog Warning, 1885 by Winslow Homer
That might be a great idea for my painting students, too.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Linchpin

Girl falling into fountain while texting, 6X8, oil on canvas
Years ago I had a large brush-pile in my backyard, left over from clearing trees. I would have burned it where it sat, except it was too close to the woods for safety. As the greenwood decayed, it slumped into a solid, stinking mass. I pulled and yanked but got nowhere. After hours of clipping, cutting, shifting and swearing, I was about to quit, when something shifted and the whole thing just came apart.

Beak! Boss! 6X8, oil on canvas
Anyone who’s ever sewn knows that the last seam you put in when you’re overtired will be wrong. And I can’t count how many times I’ve done a computer project only to realize when I was almost finished that there was a faster, easier way to do it.

Art has a steep learning curve because we're often doing things we've never done before. A lot of our time seems to bear no fruit. But stagnation and even falling backward are an important part of the process.
Baby Monkey Riding on a Pig #2 (Abi's Opossum),  6X8, oil on canvas
Every morning I spend about ten seconds posting my blog pictures on Pinterest. I get the occasional note that something has been repinned, but in general it doesn’t feel like anyone is paying that much attention. Yet I recently got a note that I had more than 26K Pinterest hits in 2014.

Esther is the one of the two Bible books that has no star turn for God. It seems to be a series of human interactions, the majority of which go pretty badly for Esther and her people.  But a seemingly insignificant thing happens—Ahasuerus can’t sleep. The story his courtier uses to put him to sleep turns out to be the pin which releases the salvation of the Jewish people. The events are all worldly, but the net result is miraculous.

Baby Monkey Riding on a Pig #1 (with gumdrops), 6X8, oil on canvas
All of which is to say that our human perception of progress is exceedingly narrow. So keep plugging. You never know when you’ll pull the linchpin.

Pull Up Your Big Girl Panties, 6X8, oil on canvas
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.