Paint Schoodic

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

It’s not that I can’t do it, it’s that I don’t always want to.

The Wreck of the SS Ethie, by Carol L. Douglas.
You all know the Facebook game where artists are asked to post a painting every day for a week and tag another artist each day, right? (The one where, on the fourth day, you forget and never finish.) I love that game. I’m insatiably curious about other artists and their work.

Recently, my friend Elissa Gore played. She posted work from across her career, which has spanned four decades. Her early work was more detailed than her current paintings. That’s no surprise, since almost all of us are taught to paint literally before we learn to paint emotively.

Sometimes people who don’t paint make the error of thinking that non-realistic painting is somehow easier than strictly representational painting, that photorealism is the apotheosis of painting. “That looks just like a photo!” is not, in most cases, a compliment. Art is not about duplicating reality, but learning to step past reality and take your viewers with you.

The multi-colored shingle at Martin's Point in Gros Morne National Park.
The problem with a subject like The Wreck of the SS Ethie is that it is already playing games with your head. The shingle on this lonely coast in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland is wildly-colored. What’s left of the boat is not an elegant wooden corpse subsiding into the surf, but its steel guts scattered down the shore. Simplifying or abstracting in my usual frenetic style would just confuse the viewer.

I love geology almost as much as I do painting. Each year when I do my workshop, I point out the basalt inclusions in Acadia and how they now shape the erosion of the granite bedrock. Sand might be easier on the feet, but rocks are exciting.

At times, rocks can be conveyed as rough, slashing brush strokes, but that only works for ‘normal’ scenes, where your mind can fill in the gaps. For the out-of-the-ordinary, more information is needed. The rocks at Gros Morne have been ground in the surf so hard, they look like they’ve been through a rock tumbler. Many are striped. That requires time and patient attention to detail.

Weathered parts of the Ethie are thrown everywhere.
While I wouldn’t want to paint like that every day, it felt good.

You can read about the wreck of the Ethie and the brave Newfoundland dog who saved her passengers here. I wrote about the abstraction that was the basis for this painting here. And you can read an ode to the wee pup himself here.

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