All images © Carol L. Douglas, Rochester, NY.
No reproduction or reuse permitted without
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What does style mean?

A Pool With A View, by Bruce Bundock, is an example of the artist's worldview.
The women I lived with last week are all at the top of their game, but paint in a variety of styles. Tarryl Gabel paints meticulously detailed, ethereal landscapes. Crista Pisano’s are minute but less about detail and more about form. Mira Fink is a high-chroma pattern-maker, a lot like me but in watercolor. Kari Ganoung Ruiz paints in the subdued palette of her native Finger Lakes. The two pastel painters were as different as chalk and cheese: Marlene Wiedenbaum is a romantic, while Laura Bianco works in bold, fast strokes.

Baroque Arch, Rome, is an example of Brad Marshall's meticulous drafting.
What do those differences mean? Do they reflect something about the personality? I doubt it. Brad Marshall (whose show Italia is opening at the Fischbach Gallery on September 12) is a far more methodical and controlled painter than me. He’s more of a risk-taker in his 9-to-5 life—hanging from scaffolding on the side of tall buildings—but there are no glaring differences between our values, our lifestyles, the cars we drive, or our homes.

Certainly the content of a painter’s work reflects his worldview. Consider, for example, Bruce Bundock’s Faces of Vassar: An Appreciation, which opened last February. I love his work because Bruce is less interested in the grand than he is in the everyday.

Millbrook Hill, a pastel by Marlene Wiedenbaum, is wonderfully romantic.
I had a conversation last week with a successful, professional painter lamenting her lack of formal art education. Many formal art programs teach very little about actual painting and most artists do most of their learning on their own, after the classes and workshops end. Since she paints beautifully and her style is fully realized, there is little she can gain from a teacher now, and much she could muddy up.

Whereas Autumn Glow, a pastel by Laura Bianco, is absolutely graphical.
I don't think style comes from the personality, but I do think it comes from the soul. The goal in painting is to get rid of the stuff that stands between us and our true self. Personal style is what’s left when we have tried our hardest to tell an accurate story with our brushes. It’s an artifact of imperfection. True personal style can’t be taught or learned. It comes from within. That's why teachers who try to create copies of themselves among their students inevitably fail to foster greatness.

Message me if you want information about next year’s workshops. Information about this year's programs is available here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

It's a wrap

Weather Moving In At Barnum Bog, 12X9, oil on canvasboard.
I’m home, finally, after a very tiring five and a half weeks on the road. Much of the time, I was working so many hours that blogging was an afterthought. That is why I posted only a few of the paintings I did last week. Today I thought I’d share the rest from Saranac Lake with you.

Whiteface Makes Its Own Weather, 16X12, oil on canvasboard.
I painted nine works in three days. (Three of which I’ve already posted.) That’s unusually prolific for me, and I blame it in part on my housemates, who worked so diligently that I constantly felt like a piker.

The Au Sable River at Jay, 12X9, oil on canvasboard.
Not only was I prolific, however, but I felt that I was painting very well. I’ve been in a style shift over the last year, and this work reflects where I’m going more than where I’ve been. To me, that’s important, because in some ways the Adirondacks are closely tied to my past, so that I’m able to paint them without intimations of the past is a healthy sign for future progress.

Whiteface and Marsh, 16X12, oil on canvasboard.
If I am ever complacent in my painting, just take me out and shoot me. Painting is exploration. It should always be a challenge, a personal battle, a jousting match.

Town Hall, Saranac Lake, 10X8, oil on canvasboard.
Message me if you want information about next year’s workshops. Information about this year's programs is available here.

Special Trout Fishing Area, 12X9, oil on canvasboard.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The night before exams

Sunset over Saranac Lake, by little ol' me.

This week I’ve lived with a group of women painters in a house overlooking Lake Flower in Saranac Lake. I’ve known two of them for a long time, but the rest were strangers to me before the week began. We are strangers no more; there’s intimacy in living in an all-girls’ dorm, which is probably lost in a world which no longer segregates college students by gender.

Crista Pisano touching up her work the night before the show.
Not that we were living in the others’ pockets: we crept off silently in the early morning to paint where and when we wanted, meeting up for dinner. Occasionally we painted together, but most of the time we went our own ways.

My roomies, from left: Mira Fink, Crista Pisano, me, Marlene Wiedenbaum, Laura Bianco, Kari Ganoung Ruiz, Tarryl Gabel.
The sun wasn’t in evidence much last week, so when it made its appearance on Saturday we all made the most of it. When it finally dropped, we reluctantly set down our brushes and went back inside for the serious work of framing, signing  and titling work. This included a group critique session, targeted toward culling the work for jurying. Crista Pisano offered a great insight: work for a jury ought to be consistent, so we worked to make our groupings-of-three coherent small shows in their own right.

I painted with other pals as well. Here with Sandra Hildreth, left, and Carol Thiel, right.
Inevitably, someone made the suggestion that a work would look better in a different frame. The business of swapping framing materials began. It was like being in school again, except that we were swapping art supplies rather than makeup.

Among my favorite places to paint was the bog at Paul Smiths College Visitor Interpretive Center, where Pitcher Plants were much in evidence.
Our house made a strong showing: Crista Pisano took Best in Show (for the second time in three years) and Tarryl Gabel took the Saranac Lake Cover Art Award.

And then this morning we demonstrated that seven women can clean a house in no time flat.

Message me if you want information about next year’s Maine workshops. Information about this year's programs is available here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Me and my big mouth

Front Porch View, 5X7, oil on canvasboard.
The residents of the asylum all got up at 6 AM yesterday to paint our 5X7 donation paintings. Four of us painted from the same location—our porch, because it was raining. My painting was finished and handed in by 8 AM. Sadly, that was the high point of my day.

Marlene Wiedenbaum painting from the front porch.
I’ve said before that rain is the great equalizer; it falls on the just and the unjust alike. That was true yesterday, and it slowed us all down. I abandoned my painting of Main Street after 2 hours, intending to return to it after lunch. Instead, I went out to paint Whiteface Mountain—a scene I said was idiot proof. Whoops. As soon as I had my painting composed and blocked in, a cloud rolled down the mountain, obscuring it.

Unfinished painting of Whiteface Mountain. I'll finish the mountain when it stops having a hissy fit and hiding behind the clouds.
Not only did it bring rain, it also brought No-See-Ums out. And three visitors, one of whom spent almost an hour with us asking questions about what we were doing.

Whiteface hiding behind its clouds.
There was no finishing this composition without the top of Whiteface showing, since all the weight would then fall to the bottom of the page. Still, both are salvageable. I’ll finish them tomorrow.

Painting along Route 86 (photo courtesy of Laura Bianco).

Message me if you want information about next year’s Maine workshops. Information about this year's programs is available here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Buckling down to do some work

Mountain Farm in Evening, 8X6, oil on canvas
Yesterday, I spent several hours hiking at the 3,000-acre Paul Smith's College Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC). We’re expected to paint there tomorrow, and I’ve never been there. Toting up the various trails I followed, I figure I hiked about five miles, which is my normal daily walk at home. Hiking trails, however, are different from paved urban sidewalks, particularly in a mountainous area.

Mira Fink working on her watercolor at the VIC.
There is an iconic view of a rock outcropping in the VIC’s Heron Marsh which is lovely, but it is perhaps too perfect for my taste. Brian McDonnell, VIC facilities manager, warned me that it would be swarming with artists on Friday. A lovely view on the far end of the marsh caught my eye, but it’s a mile and a half from the parking lot. There is a spruce swamp that is simply magical, but I’m not sure how I’ll convert that to something intelligible. I won’t choose now; I think it would be better to let the views percolate in my mind’s eye before committing them to canvas.

Approaching the spruce swamp at the VIC.
I also went back to two sites that I visited on Tuesday, because I wasn’t certain they would make good compositions. I did greyscale drawings to satisfy myself that painting them would work.

A panoramic view of the High Peaks can only work if there's foreground interest. I'll tidy up the trees and I think it will work.
At about 5 PM, I went to town to have my boards stamped. From there, Crista Pisano, Laura Bianco and I went to Gabriels, NY to paint farms in the waning evening light. It was the first time I’ve actually flexed my brush hand in a week, and it felt good.

I'm still not convinced about these river rocks at Jay, but painting should be all about taking risks, right?
Message me if you want information about next year’s Maine workshops. Information about this year's programs is available here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Before we even started, Crista plucked a dead dragonfly out of her radiator.
“How long have you been working on that” is a common question asked of all painters. Of course that doesn’t include the time spent on prep, which includes ordering supplies, setting up one’s palette, building frames and equipment, and, above all, reconnoitering painting spaces.
The Flume. Requires some hiking, but there's great energy, and a log on which to sit.
I know the lower Adirondacks well, but I don’t know the High Peaks as well. Tarryl Gabel and I went for a drive to look at painting sites yesterday. Along the way, we discussed what makes a great composition.

Meadow view of Whiteface. A little too balanced, too static, but it has its good points.
  • Interesting light. For Tarryl, this means a raking light from the side; for me, the definition is a little vaguer, but there are sites that are appropriate for morning and sites that are appropriate for afternoon. (In the Adirondacks, it’s hard to find sites that look great at midday, because the green gets a little harsh.)
  • Naturally occurring compositions—sometimes you have to work at it, and sometimes it’s there automatically. Both have their virtues, but frankly the natural ones are easier.
  • Layers—I’m always looking for this, and in particular on long views in the mountains. I don’t want to make wide panorama paintings; they’re not my thing. So I want foreground, trees, mountains, and clouds (if I can get them).
Roadside view, gives an s-curve to the far distance, but not a lot of layers.
  • “Atmosphere, perspective, depth,” added Tarryl, and I think it’s as good a guide as anything.
  • From an ergonomic standpoint, I want shade and a level surface on which to stand for a long period of time. If I can’t stand on a level surface, I’m going to sit.
  • Some place to pee.
  • For safety’s sake, it makes sense to not choose a spot where you are totally alone.
Waterfall in Jay has energy, layers, and lots of depth.
Perhaps most interesting to me is how the same scenes that set my pulse racing didn’t do as much for Tarryl, and vice-versa. For her, it’s about inviting people in to a restful place; for me it’s about energy and pattern. That’s what’s wonderful about art; no two of us see things the same way.

I love the looming mountains and warm tones in the foreground, but am unsure about making a good composition.
Setting up my palette is all about the greens here—I want enough separation in them to make the paintings work. But there are intimations of fall in the air even now, and the soft maples are starting to go red.

Mixing greens is a priority when everything is green. That's a matrix of black, ultramarine and Prussian on the vertical, and Hansa yellow, Indian yellow, and yellow ochre on the horizontal. Modulated with a lavender tone, that gives me 18 different greens in a hurry.
Message me if you want information about next year’s Maine workshops. Information about this year's programs is available here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dépaysement, redux

Still life composed by Tarryl for my amusement. My fellow painters here are all down-staters.
A few weeks ago I wrote about dépaysement, the sense of disorientation one has on arriving in a strange place. I have to confess I’m feeling that again. I’m in Saranac Lake, NY, for the Sixth Annual Adirondack Plein Air Festival, and it’s 38° F. this morning. Yes, you read that right. I’m staying with a group of artists led by Tarryl Gabel, who is a veteran of painting up here in August. As I’m writing this, she’s sliding jeans over her leggings, preparing to hie off to Paul Smiths. 

My bedroom is an old-fashioned sleeping porch.
Coming from the Maine coast as I did, I have sleeveless shirts, capris, and sandals with me. “But you’re a northern girl,” Tarryl protested, implying that I should have known better. This is true, but Rochester and Buffalo have warm autumns, courtesy of the Great Lakes, which act as massive heat exchangers. Having said that, 38° F. on an August morning is cold for anywhere in New York State.

Crista cooks like I do, meaning she put herself in charge of snack food.
I’ve known Tarryl for a long time but not that well. She and Crista Pisano and I have done Rye’s Painters on Location together for many years. They’re the only people I expect to know in this temporary artists’ commune.

The essence of the Adirondacks: a porch overlooking the lake.
Our home-away-from-home is a ramshackle turn-of-the-century pile along Flower Lake. The view is lovely and the furniture is vintage. After the solitude of my off-the-grid cabin and the luxury of the Fireside Inn, this is a third kind of living: it has the character of a family camp in the mountains, complete with deferred maintenance. But as I keep saying, “I don’t have to fix it.”
Tarryl's painting hat. It's iconic.
Message me if you want information about next year’s Maine workshops. Information about this year's programs is available here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The best laid plans

Double rainbow over the schooner Appledore, returning to Camden Harbor.
I like to lead painters in a convoy to our painting sites, since they are usually places rather than addresses. On Friday, my parade managed to get ahead of me. No problem, I thought, because we are heading for one of Maine’s best-known sites: the Mount Battie Auto Road in Camden Hills State Park. The view from this 800-foot peak is assumed to be the place that inspired Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Renascence, composed when she was a teenager living in Camden, and first recited to guests at the Whitehall Inn.

Marjean and Nancy painting the vista.
All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked another way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I’d started from;
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.

Janith's fifth day of painting ever, and she turned out this very credible painting of the view.
Camden is one of my favorite painting venues in Maine. However, the problem with Camden as a teaching venue is that the traffic is atrocious. Suffice it to say that with the miracle of modern GPS, I managed to lose everyone, and we started late. No matter, though; the view was wonderful. And nobody fell off the summit of Mount Battie.

Clouds you could eat with a spoon.
Some travelers took off for Pemaquid, some for Portland, and the remainder went down to Camden to have fun. Although the forecast was for it to be clear, a small spit of rain moved in. It didn’t soak us, but it did make an amazing double rainbow over the windjammer fleet at Camden Harbor. “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth,” said God, and who can look at a rainbow without a sense of awe? It was a fitting end to a fantastic week, and a promise of more good things to come.

Nancy loaned me her hiking poles (mine were buried in my trunk) to climb over the rocks from painter to painter. I reciprocated by using them as pointers.

Message me if you want information about next year’s programs. Information is available here.

I love the constant action at Camden Harbor. Here, a class has a sailboat race.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A family affair

Cecilia and her granddaughter. (Photo courtesy of Janith Mason)
Several workshop participants are traveling with their spouses, their children, grandchildren, and a niece. Yesterday, one of my students was watching the cavorting of some of these kids and remarked, “It’s so nice to see these kids here.”

Three sprites on a rock. The Maine coast is perfect for doing nothing. (Photo courtesy of Sandy Quang)
I agree. I’m not teaching them, but I’m enjoying having them with us. Some of them are drawing or painting along with their adults, too.

Look beyond the lighthouses and rocks and sea, and there are other parts of the landscape that are uniquely Maine. There is the light, which veers between sharp clarity and misty fog. There are the modest Maine capes of the early 19th century, with their steep roofs and gables. And there are the trees, shaped by the offshore breezes.

We started the day painting under a shelter, because it was cool and rainy. (Photo courtesy of Sandy Quang)
Yesterday dawned cool and misty, so we started painting in Belfast City Park, which has a shelter. One would never know that there was an opposite shore on the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River, with all the mist. What a great opportunity to work on painting the traps in trees in the style of the Canadian Group of Seven painters.

By mid-day we were able to move out from beneath cover. (Photo courtesy of Brad VanAuken)
Several workshop participants have asked me to post Loren’s color wheel on my blog. Loren made this as a way to teach himself how to mix the paints on his own palette. The outer ring is comprised of either the straight-out-of-the-tube paints themselves or mixes of two straight pigments. The next wheel is made of tints of the outer-wheel colors with white. Next are shades of the outer-wheel colors mixed with black. The center is the color mixed with its complement.
Loren made this color wheel to help himself better understand the pigments on his palette. I like the idea so much I suggested it to everyone as homework.
Today we are off to Mount Battie and Camden Harbor—a lovely end to a week that has just flown by.
My recommended palette--here in acrylics: white, cadmium or Hansa yellow, Indian yellow (transparent), cadmium orange, yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, naphthol red, quinacridone magenta, ultramarine blue, Prussian blue, black.
Message me if you want information about next year’s programs. Information is available here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lesson #1: sunscreen makes a lousy white paint

Three houses, a bad photo of a decent painting by little ol' me.
It’s a little hard to get an hourly forecast for a specific spot on the Maine coast. It can be pouring in one place and clear in the next town over. However, not only was the National Weather Service calling for rain, my New York buddies were all talking about the whopping deluge they’d just gotten.

Lyn painting the Fort Point lighthouse.
No painting trip to Maine is complete without a lighthouse, and my intention had been for us to paint the Grindle Point Lighthouse on Islesboro. Without knowing exactly when it would start raining, relying on ferry transportation seemed unwise. Instead we drove north to the Fort Point light, where my charges promptly spread themselves across a quarter mile of terrain to paint. That is why I take my bicycle while teaching, although since the grounds include the ruins of a Revolutionary War fort, a mountain bike might have worked better.

Loren learned that the cover on his truck leaks.
The rain held off until  we could regroup at the hotel for a demo, which I did using Sandy’s kit.

Elizabeth and Sandy did some foraging for the painters.
It’s always hard to use someone else’s paint, and I was complaining that hers mixed poorly. That was partially because it’s not good paint, but it turns out that dab of white at the left of her palette was sunscreen, not paint. I’m not asking why it was there.

Dedicated students watching a demo in the rain. "I learned that you oil painters have it easy," said Virginia.
A demo is a great opportunity to reach painters of all levels. Earlier in the day, I’d talked to Cecilia and Nancy about a new way of setting up their paintings than straight-up drawing. Both are naturally good compositors, but this technique gives more consistent control over the outcome. I was able to demonstrate that.

Nancy's first attempt at the view.
After a while, Nancy left and went back to her own balcony to finish a painting she’d started earlier. When she was done with that, she painted the same scene again. I loved seeing how she integrated what I’d told her, and how it made the second painting stronger.
Nancy's post-demo painting of the same view.

Message me if you want information about next year’s programs. Information is available here.

Rain affects people differently. This is the artist formerly known as Brad.