Paint Schoodic

Join Carol L. Douglas at beautiful Acadia National Park, August 6-11, 2017. More details here!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What is romanticism?

The next time I need to paint a nocturne, I’m going to a Ford dealership and painting F-150s.

Spruces and pines on the Barnum Brook Trail, by Carol L. Douglas.
Nocturnes are very popular right now, but I suspect I’m not romantic enough for them. I can’t exactly put my finger on what romance in painting means, but I think it involves thinking sensually vs. analytically. Anders Zorn is a romantic painter. Winslow Homer is not (even though he painted some brilliant nocturnes).

I’m not talking about the artistic movement of the 19th century here, but rather the response of the soul to paint. This isn’t a technical distinction or a matter of subject. It’s a question of how we see the world. My old pal Kari Ganoung Ruiz is a wonderful painter of nocturnes. She’s also a very romantic soul. I just keep thinking about how early I must get up in the morning.

Perhaps what I've been talking about, above, is sentimentality. Romanticism may be just a question of what we really love. The lonely light in the darkness is a painting of longing. It reminds me of Jay Gatsby staring at the green light at the end of Tom and Daisy's dock. I’ve read it twice, and I still hate that book.

Young trees, by Carol L. Douglas
Earlier, I’d painted with Lisa Burger-Lentz and John Slivjak at Paul Smith’s VIC. They, like many other painters here at Adirondack Plein Air, are from the greater Philadelphia area. I started a large canvas of rocks, pines and spruces along the Barnum Brook trail. This is a very popular scene, but it’s not my favorite trail in the VIC. I’m usually drawn to the Boreal Life Trail, which runs through a bog. 

Vallkulla, 1908, by Anders Zorn (courtesy Wikiart)
I’ve been drawn to baby pines and spruces ever since seeing Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter in 2014. Zorn treats infant trees with the respect we usually give their towering elders. Tiny trees are everywhere in the forest. They are more than just punctuation marks. Without them, there would be no green at our eye level, because the canopy is far above our heads. Plus, baby trees are cute.

I edited reality to feature two eastern white pines in the foreground where two baby spruces were growing. It didn’t go well, so I stopped and did a small study of young trees. This helped enough that I could go back to my original painting. As in so many things, nature knows best. Spruces worked better there than the white pines, so I put them back where they belonged.

Unfinished, by Carol L. Douglas
As dusk fell, I drove to the local ice cream stand to do the small nocturne, above. This is a terrible photo of a half-finished painting, which possibly needs cropping with a radial arm saw. I hope to set up somewhere today where I have access to my car, so that I can finish it. Really, however, I’m more interested in the pines.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Travel and travail

A long drive gave me plenty of time to ponder the meaning of success and failure.

Whiteface Makes Its Own Weather, was painted last time I was here, in 2014.
Yesterday a radio host was talking about the late Dallas Cowboys football coach, Tom Landry, and his attitude toward losing. “It's got a priority, but it's not number one in my life. This creates for me a certain amount of calmness, even though I'm human enough to suffer when we lose,” Landry said.

I’d just been musing on artists’ reaction to failure. I’m as bad as anyone else about taking it personally. However, like Landry, my career isn’t my highest priority. That helps me regain my equanimity a little faster.

We sometimes think a single-minded focus on painting will make us better artists. If Landry’s career is any indication, that’s not true. In fact, it may hinder our recovery from failure. No matter what your walk in life, it’s never a question of whether you will encounter setbacks or crises. They happen to us all. The question is whether you will have the resilience to recover.

Weather Moving In At Barnum Bog, was painted last time I was here, in 2014.
I had a lot of time to think yesterday, as I was driving from Rockport, ME to Saranac Lake, NY. I had a choice of routes. I could drive cross-lots west, which was the shortest distance. Or I could head south to Manchester, which was the fastest route. The obstacle is Lake Champlain, which was in my way no matter which angle I come from. I chose the coastal route. Every town was a snarl of holiday traffic. The trip took hours longer than I anticipated. I was weary.

If New Hampshire and Vermont were starched and ironed, they’d be at least as big as Texas. They’re mountainous and beautiful and villainously difficult to drive.

At 4 PM I considered just stopping for the night and calling it quits. After all, the Green and White Mountains and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks are all Appalachian uplifts, and they all look more or less the same.

The Au Sable River at Jay, 12X9, was painted last time I was here, in 2014.
On the other hand, the stretch between Middlebury, VT and Lake Champlain is one long flash of brilliant green. Heading west from the Atlantic, it’s the first flat open farmland one sees. Those long fields, so common to the Midwest, don’t happen in the Northeast. Just beyond Lake Champlain, the  High Peaks of the Adirondacks rise again, providing a mountain backdrop to a pastoral scene. Anyone interested in living back of beyond could do worse than to land in Addison County, VT.

Although we were instructed to do a nocturne once the sun set at 8 PM, I was impossibly tired. If one is going to be done, it will be an early-morning painting. The sun rises later here than it does on the Maine Coast.

Judging by this morning, I would have until 6 AM to finish. The Eastern Time Zone is impressively wide along our northern border. It runs from Eastport, ME nearly to Chicago. The difference feels substantial every time I come to New York.  At this rate, the sun must come up around noon in Indianapolis.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Better living through chemistry

Yes, the ‘fat over lean’ rule still pertains in oil painting.

Estuary Light, by Gwen Sylvester.
Gwen Sylvester’s Estuary Light, above, won this year’s Juror’s Choice Award at Wet Paint on the ‘Weskeag. It is a perfect application of acrylic paint: luminous, fluid, but not washed out into faux watercolor. The nominal subject—egrets—are just suggested in the midfield. 

Kay Sullivan and Gwen and I sat together to watch the auction. We are the last three years’ winners of the Juror’s Choice Award. The art world is one of the last strongholds of gender bias, intentional or not. To have three women winners in a row is an anomaly, and speaks well of this event.

A student at my workshop last week asked me whether the ‘fat over lean’ rule still applies now that we’re using odorless mineral spirits (OMS) instead of turpentine. It’s a great, complicated question. Turpentine is pine-tree essential oil. OMS are petroleum distillates. But before you rush back to using turpentine because it sounds “natural,” it is linked to a host of respiratory and other illnesses.

A lobster pound at Tenant's Harbor, was my entry into Wet Paint on the 'Weskeag.
I saw conservator Lauren Lewis at the auction. She told me the answer to Maureen’s question was still yes. That was all we had time for, so the rest of this explanation comes from the internet.

Solvents like OMS or turpentine dry through simple evaporation. The binder oils in paints are more complex; they cure by something called crosslink polymerization.

A polymer is a long chain formed by many little molecules that stick together. A crosslinked polymer network is a mesh of these chains that are woven together. Just as with fabric, woven threads are stronger than individual fibers. Crosslinked polymers can be very strong.

These crosslinked polymers also resist solvents better than simple chains. To dissolve a polymer, each of the long molecules must be surrounded by the solvent and dispersed. As the polymer gets larger and larger, it becomes more difficult to dissolve the polymer molecules.

Sometimes there are enough links to connect all of the polymer molecules into a single mesh.  When this happens, you can no longer dissolve the polymer molecules—they either float away as a single lump of paint or they don’t go at all.

You can't reopen half-dry oil paints like you can half-dry acrylics. That's because of crosslinked polymer chains.
Think about the last time you let your paint dry up on your palette. You can’t ‘open’ half-set oil paint like you can with partly-set acrylics. All the pigment is drawn into the lumps. That same tendency is what makes them so tough on the canvas, and why you want that oily layer on the surface.

Humidity often damages a paint film. This happens when water molecules surround the paint components and push them around. Crosslinks limit how much water can get into the film.

Speaking of humidity, I leave in a few minutes for Saranac Lake, NY, for the Adirondack Plein Air Festival. From there I go to Plein Air Plus in Long Beach Island, NJ. As I’m writing this, cool, damp air is rushing in my window. My house sits above Rockport harbor. The ocean is my air-conditioner. Why do I ever leave in the summer?

Friday, August 11, 2017

What we’ve learned so far

I teach a painting process. Are the personal epiphanies just an extra benefit, or are they actually the heart of the matter?

Becky being mugged by a seagull.
Schoodic Point is the crown of Acadia’s Schoodic Peninsula. It is so vast that I save it for later in the week, when people have gotten the need for the broad vista out of their system. Its grandeur is best expressed in the particular: in a shelf of granite, a tidal pool, the pines, or the hammering surf.

Fay's pines. I apologize for the quality of the photos; they were taken under incandescent light.
Rocks are three-dimensional shapes with volume. In that, they’re no different from houses or a boat. Too often they’re painted as a wall, or as cut-outs. At lunch, we discussed how to draw them using wireframe shapes and perspective drawing. These are the first steps to creating depth. Without them, all the atmospherics, color and haze you lard on the canvas will only partly convince your viewer.

Jennifer's unfinished nocturne.
In the time I’ve been teaching at Schoodic, visitation has steadily risen. That means my students endure a certain amount of kibitzing from bystanders. They took it in good humor, as I expected. This is a cheerful, untroubled band of painters.

Nancy's lighthouse.
At one point, I found Becky, who lives nearby and understands the population pressure on this park, drawing a detailed map for someone.

“I thought you didn’t want to encourage more visitors,” I accused.

“But she had a cute dog!” Becky replied. What a toughie.

Becky's rocks and surf.
Every visitor to Maine needs a lobster, so we had a lobster bake in the evening. Our crustaceans had been hauled out of the sea earlier in the afternoon. “It was very tasty,” reported Jennifer. (I’ve already exceeded my quota of lobster for the season.)

Linda's lighthouse.
We critiqued paintings in the evening. I’ve tried to get a photo of work by each person, but the light wasn’t great, and my fingers were in some of the shots.

Maureen's pines.
Maureen suggested that each person talk about what they’d learned. One teaches in the hope that one’s students learn something, so I was naturally curious. Maureen was struck with the idea of drawing first and cropping afterward, so that her painting wasn’t crammed into a box. Some people said they hadn’t really understood how to work fat-over-lean. And toning the canvas was a new idea to others.

Ellen's surf.
But a lot of things mentioned had to do with attitude, things like being willing to try new things, or accepting mistakes, or the difference in how we think or see as we work.

Don's surf.
I teach a painting process. I’ve assumed that the personal discoveries were just an extra benefit from not worrying whether one is doing it “right.” Now I start to wonder whether they’re actually the heart of the matter.

Maureen making a painting carrier from a box.
After our critique, we brainstormed a box for Nancy to take on the plane today. Predictably, it was Maureen who solved the engineering question. She is never going to buy something she can make from junk. I admire a fellow frugal spirit.

Today, we go to Corea to paint lobster boats. We’ll have a final lobster roll on the wharf. Already the fog is rolling back and another pink dawn appears. We’ve been particularly blessed in people, places and weather this year.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

That’s one sassy ocean

The rules work, even when we don’t notice. That’s as true in life and painting as it is in Acadia National Park.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Johnson.
I’ve been getting workshop permits for Acadia National Park since I moved my workshop up to Schoodic Institute. They mean paperwork and expense, and nobody ever asks for them. Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

Yesterday, a ranger stopped by. “Do you want to see my permit?” I asked excitedly. “Oh, please, do you really want to see my permit?”

Becky comfortable near that sassy ocean.
He already knew we were going to be there; he was just stopping to check something else. I’m glad that the park rangers know what happens in the park, and that I haven’t been wasting my time and money complying with the permitting system.

Even if we aren’t aware of it, rules continue to be in effect. That’s as true in the universe as it is in a National Park, and it’s a good thing. Nobody wants the earth potting off into a different orbit because it’s sick of the one it has. 

A demo on the rocks near the Mark Island Overlook.
It is also true of painting. Many paintings of Ralph Blakelock have darkened beyond seeing because he puttered with the chemistry. It’s a terrible pity, because he was a great painter.

The ranger and I chatted for a while about the most inscrutable (to civilians) rule of national parks, that you can’t take natural materials out. “If we have three and a half million visitors and each of them takes home a rock…” he began. In some places, it might save on dredging, but I see his point.

The Mark Island (Winter Harbor) lighthouse was built in 1856, with a keeper’s house added twenty years later. It’s a handsome assemblage of whitewashed walls and staggered rooflines, and it’s far enough away that one can’t really do a stereotypical lighthouse painting. Instead, it must be in the context of its landscape, with Cadillac Mountain rising behind it. The scale relationship is a little misleading, because Mark Island is less than a mile offshore and Cadillac Mountain is several miles away.

A lighthouse painting doesn't have to be about the lighthouse.
Look north or south and there are sweeping diagonals of pink granite tumbling to the sea, framed by dark spruces and crashing surf. And the seas were definitely crashing. “You sassy ocean, you!” cried Becky as a great long foaming breaker blew over the rocks nearby.

A student studying mixing greens. (Photo courtesy of Donald Fischman)
A sea fog approached and retreated, finally cloaking us in soft pink cashmere around sunset. That was appropriate, because yesterday’s demo was on the color of light. This subject is like one of those drawings that flips from being a vase to two profiles. It’s easy to see once you get it, but difficult to explain.

Ravens Nest  is fine for an individual painter but not for a class.
As the afternoon ended, several students walked down to Ravens Nest. I never teach there. There’s no guardrail, only pot warp strung from tree to tree. There's no room for a large group to paint safely. But it’s an interesting geological formation and quite pretty.

We’ll be heading to Schoodic Point this morning. As I type this, I can hear the surf crashing. The sky is fair and pink. All signs are good for another great day of painting. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Full Monty

You can learn a lot from videos, but the boring parts are edited out. It’s good to see our dithering.

It's all about that green, by Carol L. Douglas.
The weather service was spot on yesterday. It dawned cold and drizzling. We wrapped our southerners in blankets and took shelter under the Schoodic Institute picnic pavilion. Every plein air painter has a few of these protected places tucked into the back of her mind.

Usually I like to schedule the rain on my third or fourth day, so my students have a chance to get down onto the shore and collect detritus to make a still life. This hadn’t happened.

I tend to avoid full demos, instead demonstrating one key process each day during lunch. That’s more about my own hyperactivity than anything else. I never could sit through an all-day demo. Still, you can’t take away people’s processes and not give them a viable option in exchange.

My happy painting crew.
It’s hard to paint from under that picnic pavilion. Traveling around the compass from the north, there is a restroom and a trash can, a chain link fence, a helicopter landing pad, and the mown edge of a woods. I find the restroom the most visually interesting, but settled on a gash in the woods where a service road cuts down to the park’s volunteer housing.

I started with developing an idea, and how I built it from what I saw. I did a sketch, a value study in watercolor and then slowly developed a painting through all its constituent steps, focusing on how to move from thin layers to fat layers at the top.

Oil paints dry at different speeds depending on the pigment. However, the more oil in the paint, the longer it takes to oxidize, and the more flexible the paint film is. That’s great on top layers, where you want an oily binder to prevent “sinking,” where the oils in the top layer settle into lower layers. It’s not so good in the lower levels, where flexibility means instability. Ignoring this practice can result in cracked, less durable, paintings.

By mid-afternoon, the skies were clearing. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Johnson.
Knowing that is one thing, but it’s kind of like making pie crust. Until you’ve seen it done, you don’t know what kind of consistence you’re really looking for. The best way to understand is to stick your finger in the paint, which I invited my students to do.

You can learn a lot from videos, but the boring parts are edited out. It’s good for students to see how many times we dither and change our minds.

Often in peninsular Maine, the weather can be very different in two nearby places. We drove to Frazer Point feeling hopeful. Sadly, it was still dripping. The parking lot was empty. Should we wait it out?

By evening, it was beautifully clear again.
As we talked, the wind shifted. The rain stopped and suddenly the visitors were back in swarms. It was fabulous painting, and some of us stayed almost until the dinner bell rang at six.

I went back to my room and took a hot bath to scrub the paint off. Many of my students went to a talk on bats. “Why didn’t they just drive?” asked my husband. It took me a minute, but then I laughed.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I promised them the moon

Don’t put your drawing in a box, put a box around your drawing.

Painting a nocturne.
 There may once have been blueberries in abundance on Blueberry Hill. Now, it’s a parking loop above spectacular rock shelves and worn round cobbles, reaching down to an impossibly blue sea. The landscape is punctuated by beach roses, spruces, and jack pines.

Yesterday’s was an almost painfully clear light. Schoodic Island lies about three-quarters of a mile offshore. To have painted it in muted greys would have been an abject lie. There was little atmospheric perspective. Farther out to sea, the horizon was a pale, milky gold. Later in the day, of course, the wind rose and that all changed.

Nancy's never toned a canvas red before. She looks skeptical.
I like to start my workshops by asking students to do a painting as they always do, without ‘orders’ from me. This is the only way I can see what they know. That works best with relatively experienced painters, and I’m lucky to have such a group this year.

That doesn’t mean I stay quiet. We only have a week together and I’m full of ideas. I start by making soft corrections. But I don’t yet start to dig into the matter of process.

Beach painting, Maine style.
One thing I’ve noticed recently is how many people start their sketches by drawing a box corresponding to the aspect ratio of their canvas. Then they draw a design inside of that box. To me, that’s backwards.

The drawing is the exploration process. We should start it without limitations, and let our fingers tell us what’s interesting. From there, we can crop the box shape around it, instead of the other way around.

Becky's hair tie.
At lunch, I showed my students four or five ways to do a value study, none of which I currently use. Then I relented and showed them the method I do use. Of course, how it’s done isn’t important, just that it is done.

I’m gently kicking the braces out of what has worked for them before. This is no place to leave people, so this morning I’m doing a long demo about my process. There’s nothing revolutionary about it: it’s cobbled together from teachers and painters who came before me. The goal is a fast, efficient alla prima technique that can deliver a finished painting in a few hours.

This young lad was so taken by Fay's painting, he thought she could sell it, "for maybe $85 or $90."
Meanwhile, I’d promised them the moon. A few minutes after seven we trundled down to the shore of Arey Cove. I’d guessed at three fundamental colors based on how the moon rose on Sunday night—a blue-violet shade, a clear blue shade, and a soft white tinted with yellow ochre.

A bald eagle flew along the shore just in front of us, low enough that we could see his tailfeathers. He perched nearby and stayed to watch the moon with us.

Painting in Paradise.
There was low-lying moisture on the eastern horizon. It looked for a while as if we wouldn’t have any moonrise at all. But suddenly, there she was, flickering behind the scant clouds. She rose steadily in the sky, a brilliant orange harvest moon, nothing like the pallid yellow orb of yesterday. We scrambled to adjust our color while she played peek-a-boo amid the clouds. Scratching from mosquito bites, we watched her slip behind a larger cloud. The eagle swooped into the gathering dark. It was done. We packed up.

As we walked back to our car, the sky cleared momentarily. The moon poured out a brilliant golden blessing of light to guide us home. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Back in Paradise

Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park welcomes us back with its solitude and beauty.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Johnson.
I love Schoodic Point and the Schoodic Institute, but sometimes I toy with the idea of teaching somewhere closer to civilization. Then I drive around Frenchman’s Bay, sensing, rather than seeing, the depth and intensity of it. I stop at Frazer Point, and feel the familiar springy turf under my feet. Then I remember: this is the best place to paint that I know of. And I’ve been in 49 of our fifty states and a majority of our national parks.

I drove up to Corea yesterday to see a man who lets us paint in his backyard. “Any time,” he assures me, but I won’t do it without checking in first. Last year, he surprised me by being out of town. I learned his neighbors are as fiercely protective as geese.

His mother was the mystery writer Virginia Rich. She pioneered a kind of cozy mystery that features recipes. My friend now lives in his mom’s old writing studio, behind a beautiful old general store.

“It’s untouched Maine!” my monitor, Jennifer Johnson exclaimed when we arrived. It’s not much more than a fleet of fishing boats surrounded by old houses and wharves. An old slip next to the store remains from the Down East schooner days, when fish left from these docks and sundries from Boston arrived.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Johnson.
An artist was working along the road near Schoodic Institute. I only knew three of my students, so decided to take a chance. “Are you here for my workshop?” I asked. Turns out she wasn’t; she is a painter from Massachusetts named Victoria Templeton, and she was working on a lovely gouache.

We have the luxury of fine weather ahead. I saw no need to rush into a nocturne before we’d had at least one class. Many of my students had traveled long distances to get here. They were glad to call it an early night after dinner.

Jennifer and I tucked them in and headed out to reconnoiter. It’s always possible that the park service might have an area closed for restoration or construction. It was no trouble; there was a glorious sunset and an equally beautiful moonrise.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Johnson.
I normally do this earlier in the day, but I was delayed. I’d invited one of my workshop students to come to church with me in Rockport. She enthusiastically accepted. It was then that I remembered that I’d signed up to be baptized. “That might be weird,” I thought.

I was baptized as a young woman in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. This means having Holy Water sprinkled over your head with a liturgical implement called an aspergillum. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to think this wasn’t what the Bible had in mind. I’m not implying that any other person’s baptism isn’t valid. I believe that the Holy Spirit directs us in these matters.

By the time I’d changed my clothes and thrown Jennifer’s stuff into my trusty Prius, it was 1:30 PM. That cut it a little fine.

Apple Tree Swing, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Kelpie Gallery.
Even that wasn’t the beginning of my day. Before church, I drove to South Thomaston to deliver Apple Tree Swing to the Kelpie Gallery. What a difference a frame makes! This one was built from chops from Omega Moulding; it was wicked expensive and worth every penny.

Of course, I was there long before the gallery opened for the day. What do gallerists do when they’re not talking art? They weed the crabgrass out from around their signs. Art—like every other career path—has its moments of glamour and its moments of hard slog.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Same spot, different vision

None of us see the same way. It’s more important to achieve the right state of mind than to find the perfect angle.
Dyce Head in the early morning light, 12X9, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas. I’m drawn to lighthouses, even though I know they’re a trope and a trap.
One of the joys of participating in painting events is running into the same people. Often, we don’t just paint in the same locations, we paint the same scene. Still, our paintings end up looking vastly different. How does that happen?

It’s partly a matter of composition and the pigments we choose. Occasionally it doesn’t work; for example, an iconic object like a well-known lighthouse can force painters into a narrow box. A scene with only a single viewpoint creates the same problem.

Not a cloud in the sky, 8X6, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas. This is the Owl’s Head Light painted from the back.
One of the distinguishing factors in painting is how the artist perceives light. To some degree, all of us see it within our own historical perspective, where certain values predominate. In our time, the driving forces are color temperature and chroma. But light in a painting is also a spiritual element that reflects the artist’s own values, identity, and perception of reality.

This isn’t a thinking process: no artist goes out in the morning and says, “I think I’ll seek out a strong rim light today.” It’s a matter of what draws his or her eye, and through it, speaks to his or her soul.

Owl's Head Light, 8X10, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas
In other words, the last thing lighting is in a great painting is an ‘effect.’ You can see that clearly in chiaroscuro. It was wildly popular throughout Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and continues to be used in photography to this day. Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Georges de la Tour and Artemisia Gentileschi all used it; it was the stylistic convention of their time. But they ended up with vastly different results. We viewers can read far more about the artists than just their historical setting. The way they handle light tells us about their character.

Henri Matisse thought deeply about art history and his place within it. He described a distinction in his own work between natural light and inner, or what he called “moral light.”

Cape Spear Road, 10X8, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas. That’s not one, but two, lighthouses.
“A picture must possess a real power to generate light and for a long time now I've been conscious of expressing myself through light or rather in light,” he said.

Matisse was an agnostic. “But the essential thing,” he said, “is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer.”

“What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter - a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.” For a founding Fauvist, that seems contradictory. But Matisse’s essential convictions overrode his stylistic ideas. His work is restful.

None of us see the same way. It’s more important to achieve the right state of mind than to find the perfect angle.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

If you can’t find it in Maine, you’re not really trying.

It’s August: blueberries, lobster rolls, shimmering seas, lighthouses, ocean breezes and the rock-ribbed coast.
Breaking Storm, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Camden Falls Gallery.
Yesterday I drove south to deliver twenty paintings to Brunswick's Local Market. Suddenly, it’s wild blueberry season in Maine. Little stands dot the shoulder of Route 1.

This show will be up for next week’s Artwalk, and remain up through September. It’s an opportunity to show something in addition to landscape. I brought several still lives, including my all-time favorite, my tin-foil hat. I suddenly realized it needed a new name, so Conspiracy Theory it is.

Conspiracy Theory, by Carol L. Douglas
I didn’t paint this as a political statement, but an experiment in reflective surfaces. Still, I work with social media daily. I’m not oblivious to its faults. Whenever I feel a blast of the inanities, I don that painting as a profile picture. Perhaps someone needs the real thing in their office.

Local Market is at 150 Maine Street in Brunswick. If you stop to look at the art, you can also get lunch or a gift while you’re there. It’s that kind of place.

Two Islands in the Rain, by Carol L. Douglas, is at Wyler’s through the end of September.
Farther south, there are a few of my paintings at Jakeman Hall in Ocean Park. The association holds unsold work from Art in the Park through Christmas. It’s not a hardship to visit Ocean Park; it has a long sand beach so you can combine your visit with sunbathing.

Last time I was in Camden, my painting, Breaking Storm (top) was in the window at Camden Falls Gallery. This large canvas features the schooner American Eagle passing Owl’s Head in a purely imaginary tempest. I like the wind and the water and, of course, the boat is a peach.

Fort Point Historic Site, by Carol L. Douglas, was last year’s Juror’s Choice Award winner at Wet Paint on the ‘Weskeag.
I’m also represented by the Kelpie Gallery in South Thomaston, which is the host of Wet Paint on the ‘Weskeag, a one-day plein air event to raise money for the Georges River Land Trust. I’ll be there next Saturday (August 17), but before that, I’m off to teach my annual workshop at Schoodic Institute.

And there lies the rub: while my paintings will be here, I won’t. Of necessity, my own gallery in Rockport closes while I’m on the road. From Wet Paint on the ‘Weskeag, I leave directly for the Adirondack Plein Air Festival, and from there to Plein Air Plus in Long Beach Island, New Jersey. I’ll be back near the end of the month.

I didn't schedule my workshop to coincide with blueberry season, but it always seems to work out that way.
Meanwhile, the line at Red’s Eats snakes along the sidewalk, the blueberries are pie-ready, the fog curls its little fingers around the rocky points. I’m not sure why I’m leaving. I’m not sure how anyone can resist coming here. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Building lightsabers

Steampunk and Star Wars both tinker with our headlong rush into the future.

Lightsaber built by Matthew Krahling, photo courtesy of Emerson Champion.
Sometimes when I fly, I wonder what life will be like when airplanes are obsolete. Will a few examples be lovingly preserved and sailed like the schooner fleet on the Maine coast? This weekend, I decided that those relics will probably look like Star Wars.

I might be alone among Americans in having almost no exposure to George LucasStar Wars franchise. I saw the first movie on its release. It struck me then as lovely, light and energetic, but I didn’t look for any deep themes. Nor did I feel the need to see the rest of them. While I understood the references to Arthurian legend, chivalry and the Samurai, these are universal themes.

Of course, Star Wars references are embedded in popular culture. We remember President Reagan calling the Soviet Union the “evil empire,” and people intoning, “May the Force be with you.”

Lightsaber built by Matthew Krahling, photo courtesy of Emerson Champion.
This week, I saw my parents’ godchild for the first time in many years. Matthew is one of a small coterie of enthusiasts who make lightsabers as a hobby. Why would a smart, engaged young person choose this as a creative outlet?

At age 34, Matthew has grown up in a completely digitalized media world. “People my age are sick of animation,” Matthew told me. “It all looks the same.”

That slickness reflects where he lives: the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan sprawl. It’s one of four mega-cities in America. However, its culture is shared by every large American city: excessively groomed landscapes, traffic jams, box stores and cookie-cutter houses. His generation’s longing and need for authenticity runs deeper than media.

For the original Star Wars film, the props were constructed by special-effects expert John Stears from old press camera flash battery packs and other bits and pieces.  Set designer Roger Christian found the handles for the Graflex side-attach flash in a photography shop in London.

Lightsaber built by Matthew Krahling, photo courtesy of Emerson Champion.

As Matthew talked to me about lightsabers and their devotees, I was keenly reminded of another contemporary aesthetic movement, Steampunk. It is often traced back to the science-romances of Jules VerneH.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley. It’s overtly Victorian in its trappings, but its most important hallmark is the way it mixes digital media with traditional craftsmanship. In that, it directly quotes Star Wars

Lightsaber built by Matthew Krahling, photo courtesy of Emerson Champion.
“The Star Wars universe is the universe in which some of the most respected things can be no greater than my old truck was in real life,” wrote an anonymous fan on the internet. “Lived-in, used, repaired, and somewhat dilapidated, but still of purpose.” In other words, it is a culture of tinkerers.

Steampunk answers the need to modify and control our headlong rush into the future. In 1977, we barely had a glimmer of what that future—controlled and controlling—would be. In retrospect, all that tinkering looms as a landmark aesthetic statement.