Paint Schoodic

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Friday, June 22, 2018

Group norming

Feeling out of place, like a failure? Perhaps the problem isn't you, but your tribe.
Five Chairs, by Pamela Hetherly, courtesy of Kelpie Gallery. This painting stopped me yesterday. The color is beautifully integrated, something that’s lost in the photo.
I spent a few hours yesterday at the Kelpie Gallery in S. Thomaston. I’d meant to drop paintings off and leave, but it is a very restful place with a clean, open atmosphere. I always spend more time there than I expect to. Susan Lewis Baines, the owner, is so interesting and interested that before you know it, the day is half over.

It’s an airy, light space with grey walls, a grey tiled floor and lots of white trim. What little furniture there is, is elegant and subservient to the art. I look at Sue’s handmade desk (no, it’s not for sale) and wonder if I need one like it. Then I remember that I live in an old farmhouse and it wouldn’t match at all. As a decorator, Sue is light years ahead of me. That’s a great quality in a gallerist.

Sometimes I See, by Kay Sullivan, courtesy of the artist. Kay's works are small, active, and yet somehow peaceful.
She represents a small stable of painters. These include vibrant small pastels by Kay Sullivan, the austere abstractions of Ann Sklar, mystical landscapes of Julie Haskell and Beth London, moody interiors by Pamela Hetherly, and the idiosyncratic landscapes of the late Erik Lundin. On first glance, the work is widely disparate. but the visitor notices that they all hang together well. They are united by a common color sensibility and composition. That makes it possible for high realism to hang side-by-side with abstraction and have the combination complement both paintings.

As different as the paintings are, there’s definitely a group norm at work, and it’s bound to provoke a response from the visitor.

A crow painting by Beth London, available through the Kelpie Gallery.
I tell people I left New York because I can’t paint like a Hudson River School painter. It is a continuous tradition in New York, dating back two hundred years. In any other place, painting with that golden light and attention to detail would be an annoying affectation. But in New York, it has some wonderful modern practitioners, including Tarryl Gabel and Patrick McPhee.

Mary Byrom is at the Smithsonian American Art Museum this week. Yesterday, she commented about Abbott Handerson Thayer’s Roses, “Such a wonderful quiet stillness, from before these modern times. It makes a difference.” Tarryl and Patrick can still tap into that stillness, and they have many fans because of it.
Untitled, by Erik Lundin. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery. His disinterest in selling made him the most unaffected of painters.
I don’t feel things in that way. I’m thoroughly the product of my time, which means less value modeling and more color and brushwork. As long as I stayed in New York, I was subtly pushed toward painting a different way. Galleries liked it, jurors liked it. And I found it personally disheartening. I needed to seek out my own tribe. I did that by going on the road, and later by moving to Maine.*

This is where a good knowledge of art history proves useful. It allows you to see over the lip of the basket you live in, to see where you fit in the greater scheme of things. I like the basket I have moved to, but if I felt confined in it, I’d be exploring other places and other representation.

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*An exception to this is Adirondack Plein Air, which is not style-driven. In fact, I find this true of plein air events in general. They usually attract a much wider variety of painters than from the local catchment area.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Missing the mark


Other people say it’s good, but you think it’s awful. What do you do with it?
Spruces and pines on the Brook Trail, by Carol L. Douglas. This is more or less where my mark-making is today.
Last week I listened to a fellow artist grumble about her painting. I really couldn’t see anything wrong with it; it was quite good, and I told her so. “But it’s not what I set out to do!” she answered. The wind, the rain, and the changing light had robbed her scene of the vivacity she’d first envisioned.

That causes a funny sort of brain cramp in artists. Our vision is so deeply overlaid with the pattern of what we want to say that the gap bothers us. We can’t see the strengths in our work because we’re focused on what is missing. In this case, my friend couldn’t see her strong composition and the brooding quality of the painting because she was mourning the light that had escaped behind clouds. “I can’t even remember what attracted me to this scene in the first place,” she said sadly.

Hedgerow in Paradise is from a time when I was hiding behind fraudulent brushwork. The only thing wrong with it was that it was fundamentally dishonest.
I was curious about this phenomenon so when I got home I asked a musician if this ever happens to him. “Oh, all the time,” he laughed. He told me that he’d just finished composing and recording an album and to him it was totally rotten, because he hadn’t achieved his goals for the project. Still, he published it, and then he started something new.

A long time ago, Marilyn Fairman told me that the longer she painted, the less satisfied she was with her work. I’ve noticed the same thing. If you’ve never been blindsided by the gap between your inner vision and the results, I suspect you’re not challenging yourself enough.

Spring Allee is another painting from the same period. The marks are better, perhaps because it's a deeply autobiographical painting.
I struggled for many years with hating my own brushwork. I visualized long, sinuous lines of paint. Instead, my finish was always short, abrupt, and energetic. Because of that, I frequently overworked the finish in an attempt to obliterate my own handwriting. That invariably muddied what had started as a strong painting.

Finally, I realized this was a kind of self-loathing. It was akin to always hating yourself in photos (which, I confess, I do). I stopped fussing and forced myself to leave my brushwork alone.

Then I spent a long time in the wilderness. I eventually threw out this painting of Letchworth Gorge because it was so muddy.
If it were someone else’s, I concluded, I would be fine with it. I might even love its jumping energy. But it told me something true about myself that I didn’t understand and found uncomfortable. I felt as if I had to hide this unexamined truth. That’s ironic, because painting is supposed to be forthright, and that was the most authentically honest thing about my work.

Middle Falls at Letchworth, by Carol L. Douglas. I spent that entire season at Letchworth Gorge and eventually came up with two paintings I thought were credible. It wasn't until much later that I realized I'd finally cracked the problem of paint application.
What do you do with that dissatisfaction? This is where wiping out bad paintings is a bad practice. It steals the opportunity to study what has just happened. I’ve learned to leave those canvases alone, carry them home, rack them to dry, and then revisit the work at a later date. By then, my memory of my ambition has faded. I can see the new painting in its own merits. Often, I’m shocked to realize that I love the ones I once hated, and the ones that seemed to be easy successes now bore me.

Join me for Sea and Sky at Schoodic, August 5-10. We’re strictly limited to twelve, but there are still seats open.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Jet lag from crossing back home


Time to ditch Daylight Savings Time, and move Maine to the Atlantic Time Zone
Marsh with running tide, Carol L. Douglas. These are my finished paintings from Parrsboro.
Crossing into New Brunswick, the Mainer goes from the Eastern Time Zone to the Atlantic. There’s one more time zone to the east on our continent, the little-known Newfoundland Time Zone, which is staggered on the half-hour. This is followed only on Newfoundland, its offshore islands, and the most southern parts of Labrador.

As weird as that is, it’s no weirder than the sprawling Eastern time zone, which starts somewhere around Grande-Rivière, Quebec, and runs to Ontonagon, Michigan. Sunrise in Grande-Rivière was at 4:17 AM this morning. It was at 6:03 AM in Ontonagon. That’s an unwieldy span.

Headlands, Carol L. Douglas
Our pre-clock ancestors marked the time of day by measuring with a sundial, making noon whatever time the sun was directly overhead. They weren’t worried that this was slightly different down the road. After all, if you walked from Winchester to Canterbury, any difference in the time would be lost along the way.

Greenwich Mean Time was established to aid navigators to determine longitude at sea. Nobody changed their clocks to match it; they just carried on with solar time right up to the 19th century.
Breaking Dawn, Carol L. Douglas
Enter the railroads. It was a bit difficult to set a schedule when towns fifteen minutes apart by train used different time systems. By the middle of the 19th century, British rail companies were using Greenwich Mean Time and portable chronometers to standardize time keeping in Britain, although it was a tough sell in places. British clocks from this period sometimes had two minute hands, one for railroad time, and one for local time. But by 1880, Greenwich Mean Time was the standard for Great Britain.

Low tide, Carol L. Douglas
Here, time was confused in a uniquely American way. Every railroad company had its own standard time, based on where it was headquartered. Its schedules were printed in its own system, leaving the stationmaster at an important junction with the unenviable task of translating several different train lines’ timetables into local time. The solution was multiple clocks, one for each railroad.

Standardization was reached on Sunday, November 18, 1883, known as “The Day of Two Noons,” when each railroad station clock was reset as it reached the standard-time noon. The western limit of Eastern Standard Time was my home town of Buffalo, NY. That’s more than 700 miles east of the current western boundary.

Fox River School, Carol L. Douglas.
Last fall, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued a report recommending that their state ditch Eastern Standard Time “under certain circumstances.” Effectively, it would get rid of Daylight Savings Time—hurrah—and put Massachusetts on Atlantic Time year round.

My quick-draw of Parrsboro and its mudflats.
I’m all for ditching Daylight Savings Time nationwide. It’s a meaningless exercise that throws our internal clocks off twice a year. I’m also in favor of switching Maine to Atlantic Time. The sun rises 25 minutes earlier in Halifax than it does here. That puts our internal rhythms more in tune with the Maritime provinces than with Michigan. 

The problems of such a switch are overstated. If we can do business with Californians and Australians, we can probably figure out the time difference with New York.

A kindly carpenter made teepees for Cathy LaChance and me. Only in Canada!
It gets dark mighty early here in the winter—Boston’s earliest nightfall is just 27 minutes later than in Anchorage. Since I live 185 miles north and east of Boston, it’s even worse here. Correspondingly, it gets light awfully early in the summer as well.

Have mercy on us, legislators, and let us get some rest.

Just one more workshop this calendar year, but it's an awesome one! Sea and Sky at Schoodic, August 5-10. Be there or be square.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Not the Kardashians, but working on it


Parrsboro, NS, is working its way into being a regional arts center.

Breaking Dawn, by Carol L. Douglas. Second runner up at Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival.
This weekend there were lots of well-known faces at the Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival. Organizers snagged Richard Sneary to judge, and there were high-profile painters in the mix. It was a festival of luminaries, and the painting was first-rate. I’m hoping that translates into Parrsboro becoming an arts destination for tourists and city-slickers.

It’s not an impossible dream. Five miles down the road from my home is Rockland, ME. It started as a shipbuilding and fishing town, expanding to include canneries, grain mills, foundries, lumber mills, cooperies, tanneries, quarries, and other miscellany of coastal living. By the mid-twentieth century, its historic industries were moribund.

The Age of Sail workshop aboard American Eagle was scheduled to coincide with a gam, a rafting up of the historic vessels on Penobscot Bay.
Enter the Farnsworth Art Museum, established by Lucy Farnsworth in 1948. It’s now the nucleus of a gallery scene that now rivals any art scene anywhere, both in volume and in quality.  Roughly 36.7 million tourists visited Maine in 2017, and we’re on track to break 40 million this year or next. Art is a big part of that tourism, and an important part of Maine’s image. I wish that for Parrsboro. If anyone can do it, the folks at Parrsboro Creative can. They’re smart, focused people.

One of the nicest things about traveling is meeting new people who tell me, “I read your blog.” This weekend, many added that they subscribe to two art things, my blog and Poppy Balser’s newsletter. We’re both daughters of the Great White North and we both love boats. Poppy is a terrifically nice person, so I don’t mind at all being lumped in with her.

Hard at work about American Eagle, photo courtesy Ellen Trayer.
My blog is an example of that old maxim about genius being 99% perspiration. It works because I get up early every morning to write it, Monday to Friday. Other than holidays, the only time I don’t write is when I’m out of network range, which was the case during last week’s Age of Sail workshop.

It’s such a pity that I couldn’t share it with you because it was downright magical. American Eagle should really be called the Kindness, because the crew is so good-hearted. Any doubts as to whether a painting workshop on a boat could work were laid to rest. All participants enthusiastically said they’d do it again next year.

Ellen demonstrates a paint-throwing technique to Lynn. We waited until we were off the boat before we did this.
Michael Fuller isn’t a plein air artist but he gamely tried the Quick Draw at Parrsboro anyway. “It makes you notice the transient things,” he told me. I think that’s what the boat workshop did as well. In a sketchbook done on the move, one takes away impressions, not finished pieces. The discipline will make you put away your cell phone and change how you work.

The discipline of getting up early is equally hard to break. I found myself restively trying to ‘sleep in’ on Saturday, so at 4:30 AM (Atlantic time) I quietly dressed and headed from my host billet near Fox River to the beach below Ottawa House. I stopped for coffee and a bagel at Tim Hortons and figured I was too late for the sunrise. I was wrong; the subtle pyrotechnics went on for some time.

This piece was the second runner-up, or third prize winner. I figured Richard Sneary gave it to me as a reward for being the only person nuts enough to get up that early.

Neither Parrsboro Creative nor American Eagle have set their calendar for next year, but I have every intention of doing both again. It was a wonderful week. I’m just sorry that you couldn’t be there with me.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: taking a reference photo

On vacation? Here are some tips for taking reference photos you can work from later.
Winter Lambing, 48X36, oil on linen, Carol L. Douglas.
My workshop aboard American Eagle included a professional filmmaker who once studied with Ansel Adams. She was taking pictures with her iPhone, a tool Adams could never have dreamed of. She used it like a ‘real’ camera, cropping, composing and controlling exposure on the fly. She wasn’t waiting for a scene to pass by her; she was making something magic happen. “You don’t take a photograph, you make it,” Adams is famous for saying, and that’s exactly what she was doing.

A great photograph does not necessarily translate into a great painting; in fact, in my experience, it’s very rare that it does. The photographer seeks to move us emotionally; the artist wants a picture that preserves information. The same spatial relationships that make a great photograph can appear contrived in a painting. High contrast blows out the details that the painter needs.

And here is the reference photo. It was a snowdrift, nothing more.
Photograph what really interests you. It’s so easy to get sucked into what we ‘should’ take pictures of that we sometimes miss the essential object that we will need later. Go ahead and take fifty photos of the jack pine on the cove, and then put them in a folder labeled “jack pine cove.” On the day that you need a lonely tree for a composition, you’ll have it on hand. After all, film is cheap these days.

Don’t over-crop your photos. Often, I’ve found that the information I needed to finish something was just to the left of the edge of my frame. “You need a camera with a zoom,” one of my students told me. Actually, I don’t. Most modern digital cameras take such high-resolution photos that a small fraction of the frame can be blown up and used for painting.

All Flesh is as Grass, 48X36, oil on linen, Carol L. Douglas.
I have a Panasonic Lumix camera with a Leica lens. It wasn’t terribly expensive. It’s excellent in low-light situations, which means I can take even interior reference shots without a flash. That’s far more important than getting the details of the main topmast right from a quarter of a mile away. I can look those up; I can’t replace the details that get lost in bad light or by using a flash.

Of course, if I were a wildlife painter, I’d need a totally different outfit. Then a massive zoom lens would be important.

Bracket your exposures. This means you should take one photo at a higher value and one at a lower value than what your camera chooses automatically. Even if you have the most basic point-and-shoot camera, you can do this by hovering on lighter and darker parts of the picture. If you’re unsure about how this works, consult your instruction manual!

The above painting relied heavily on photos I took of an apple tree being cut down across the street from me. They were wonderful pie apples, too, but the new owners wanted more conventional landscaping.
Understand the limitations of reference photos. The camera is as subjective as the human eye. It misrepresents color relationships, depth-of-field, and size relationships. It obliterates subtle differences in color temperature. Reference photos are invaluable, but they should be the slave to your sketches and field notes, not the other way around. You’re under no obligation to represent every detail.

Which comes to my last and most important point: you shouldn’t be painting from other people’s photographs. This is more than just a question of legality (although that’s a real consideration). This is a question of ideas. A well-realized photograph is a complete artistic statement in itself. You have nothing to add. Anyone who has painted a commission from someone else’s snapshot knows just how much emotional information is missing when you weren’t there at the beginning.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: what is color?


Understanding color space is the most important thing an artist can do.

A little bit of everything, by Carol L. Douglas. That’s the incredibly cool light of a midsummer day.

Color is a word with radically different definitions depending on its use. In optics, it refers to
the unique way in which the cone cells in the human eye are stimulated by electromagnetic radiation. How an object reflects or emits light gives it its unique color.

In common parlance, we think of red, green or blue as colors. In art, however, those aren’t colors. Colors have three attributes, all of which you must understand in order to navigate color space successfully:

Value – How light or dark is the pigment?

Hue – Where does the color sit on the color wheel? All colors fall into one of the following hue families: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. Within those families, however, are many subdivisions.

Chroma – How much intensity, or “punch” does the color have?

Doe drinking in the woods, by Carol L. Douglas, has warm light and cool shadows.
Since color has three attributes, it exists in a three-dimensional color space. However, we’re used to looking at it in two dimensions, in the form of a color wheel. I think the Quiller watercolor wheel is the best color wheel, since it shows you where neutral pigments fall inside the hue families.

Still, the conventional color wheel doesn’t take value into consideration. Every pigment has its own natural darkness or lightness. Dioxazine purple, for example, is very dark coming out of the tube. Lemon yellow is very light coming out of the tube. That does not mean that dark colors are cool and light colors are warm, however. Consider burnt umber. It’s very dark, and it’s also very warm.

Winch (American Eagle), by Carol L. Douglas. There was definitely some warm light that winter day.
There’s a misunderstanding that mixing across the color wheel darkens pigments. Only with certain greens and reds does this work. Mixing across the color wheel gives you neutrals: grays and browns.

We call the hue families of green, blue and violet “cool” and the hue families of yellow, orange and red “warm.” Within each hue family, there are warm and cool variations. Gamblin has this nifty chart of warm and cool pigments so you can see where your paints fall.

White, black, and grey are chromatic neutrals. Raw umber is fairly neutral. Naphthol red and phthalo blue are very high-chroma colors. In general, modern pigments are much more intense than the mineral pigments of the Renaissance.
Cobequid Bay Farm, by Carol L. Douglas. Warm evening light translates to cool evening shadows.
It works to sort colors this way. I use a system of paired primaries which gives me a great, high-key mixing range. However, the whole idea of warm-vs.-cool is a painterly convention. It’s best to not have this discussion with a physicist, who will tell you that you have it backwards. He may be right, but that doesn’t mean he can paint.

I’ve written about the color temperature of light here, but there’s a simple rule that helps. The predominant shadows will always be the opposite (across the color wheel) from the color of the light. On a sunny day, the light will be cool and the shadows will be warm. At dusk the light will be golden and the shadows violet. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but it’s a good place to start.

Breaking storm, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Camden Falls Gallery. I’m potting around on this boat this week, teaching watercolor. Wish you were here!
I strongly recommend this video from Gamblin, which organizes color space in three dimensions. It’s also full of information about the history of color.

There’s no internet (and darn little cell phone service) out in Penobscot Bay. After this post, my blog is going dark for the week. Don’t be alarmed! Assuming there are no pirates, I’ll be back next Monday.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Fears and doubts


To go where no man has gone before, you have to give up the safety net.
Keuka Lake Farm, by Carol L. Douglas. In honor of my friends painting at Finger Lakes Plein Air this week, I give you some work from that region.
 A reader yesterday sent me a long, thoughtful response to my post on leisure. “I, too, beat myself up for contemplation time,” she concluded, “but then I have learned that I do better work if I give myself over to it. What I do battle with most is the belief that I am a complete hack, so contemplation can’t go on for very long. My enemy, anymore, is being riddled with doubt.”

The painting world is as fashion-driven as any other human endeavor. There are always themes which get a response and are relentlessly copied. (Today’s landscape motif, for what it’s worth, seems to be birches. Last year it was nocturnes.)

Autumn in the Finger Lakes, by Carol L. Douglas
This is not to be confused with the major developments of an art period. These are driven by technology and the zeitgeist, and the painter is wise to understand his own place within them. Our own time, for example, values intensity, immediacy, and direct painting. That’s in part because we have the tools to make those things possible, and in part because we live in a culture with immediate, nerve-racking stimulus. We can appreciate the painting of our Renaissance forebearers, but any attempt to paint like them is doomed to be a curiosity.

But that’s not a fashion question. Catching the wave of fashion is a good way to gain public approval and sell work. It’s not a great way to think radically outside the box. Push it far enough and you’ve turned yourself into a mass-market commodity as did Thomas Kinkade. He created an empire, but it made him so miserable that he died at 54 of acute intoxication.

Finger Lakes Farm, by Carol L. Douglas
We say we want artists to be visionaries, but the ease with which we sell birches and the difficulty in finding a market for paintings of abuse tells us just how commodified art is. In the end, people want something to hang on their wall that makes them happy. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you understand where you're standing.

More commonly, we’re straddling the line. On the one hand, I’m painting landscapes. On the other, I’m not painting them in a way that makes them terrifically accessible. We should always be going places that make us nervous.

Bloomfield Farm, by Carol L. Douglas
Writing this blog often requires me to look at my work going back several decades. I always notice:

  • It’s better than I remember;
  • The work which I like the best now is often the work I hated when I did it.
  • The work I loved then sometimes seems very conventional in retrospect.


Even if you don’t write a blog, you can take time to review your past successes. It’s the best way I know to calm my own internal doubts. On a road with no signposts, the only way you know where you're going is to remember where you've been.
Keuka Lake, by Carol L. Douglas
If you are sometimes paralyzed with the doubt, frustration, and creative blocks of making art, read Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. If nothing else, you’ll realize you’re not alone.

I leave Sunday night to teach my watercolor workshop aboard American Eagle. There’s no internet (and darn little cell phone service) out in Penobscot Bay. I’ll pre-publish Monday Morning Art School, but after that my blog will probably go dark for the week. Don’t be alarmed!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Art career, interrupted by life


Hard work has to be balanced by leisure, delay by activity. There’s a season for everything.

Tilt-a-whirl, by Carol L. Douglas
A reader sent me this review of On Doing Nothing: Finding Inspiration in Idleness, by author and illustrator Roman Muradov. I found the review so stressful that I think reading the book is in order. Of course, I don’t have the time right now, but I’ll get to it.

This came on the heels of a conversation with a former workshop student, a woman who is in some ways my doppleganger. She works incredibly hard, and feels both guilty and bored if she sits still for long. She wanders around in shapeless old clothes, because it would be wrong to spend her resources on herself. Right now, she’s in a slough of exhaustion. I can relate.

More than they bargained for, by Carol L. Douglas
I pointed out the story of Mary and Martha from the gospel of Luke. Jesus was visiting, and Martha was overwhelmed by the preparations that had to be made. She asked Jesus, “Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Of course, Martha is exactly how we both roll. Periodically, I find myself having taken on so many responsibilities that there’s no room for reflection. I’m tired, hurting, and cranky. That’s when I know it’s time to shed something and try to enjoy the space I’m in.

Why do I work so hard? I had years of delay in my art career—years when I needed to work elsewhere to earn a living, when I was raising my kids, had elderly parents, and was sick with two different cancers. It’s my season to work hard, but I’m still fine-tuning exactly how to do that without killing myself. My son-in-law calls me a “binge worker.” That needs fixing.

Headlights, by Carol L. Douglas
Josef Pieper's Leisure, the Basis of Culture argues that culture is born of contemplation, and contemplation requires time spent sitting around. Of course, I read this book in high school, when I had the energy to eagerly absorb new ideas. I remember my father telling me that he no longer read for pleasure. “I don’t have time,” he lamented. Of course, what he really meant was that he didn’t have the necessary energy and peace. Thinking requires a refreshed mind.

At any rate, back to Pieper. He got his ideas of leisure from Aristotle, who said “We work in order to be at leisure.”

“For the Greeks, ‘not-leisure’ was the word for the world of everyday work; and not only to indicate its ‘hustle and bustle,’ but the work itself,” wrote Pieper. He described compulsive work as “the hard quality of not-being-able-to-receive; a stoniness of heart, that will not brook any resistance…”

Beach Haven, by Carol L. Douglas
Joseph Pieper was a German Catholic philosopher. He said he would have devoted himself entirely to social sciences had the Nazis had not come into power. From 1934 on, it was impossible for a Christian to speak in public about social issues. That gave him an enforced period (including a spell in the army) to reassess his priorities and develop his great thesis. It wasn’t until middle age that he was able to take a position at a German university.

All of which comes full circle to the importance of delay, interruption, and periods of inactivity as celebrated in Muradov’s book. Had Pieper been able to take a university chair right after completing his studies, he never would have written Leisure, the Basis of Culture. For those of us whose art careers have been frequently interrupted by life, that’s an important lesson.

Next up, a watercolor workshop aboard American Eagle, June 10-14, and my annual Sea & Sky workshop at Acadia National Park, August 5-10. Email me if you have any questions.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Two openings this Friday

You looking for me? This is where I’ll be this Friday.

Village at Camden Harbor Maine, Ann Trainor Domingue, courtesy of Camden Falls Gallery
I’ll start with Homecoming at Camden Falls Gallery, on Friday from 5-7 PM. This features the work of mixed media artist Ann Trainor Domingue and other gallery artists, of which I am one. I love Trainor Domingue’s work, which explores the interplay of family, friends, work and home in symbolic, playful, and non-realistic, terms.

I’m also looking forward to seeing owners Howard and Margaret Gallagher. They’ve been retailing art and craft in Camden for 37 years but decided to become official ‘snowbirds’ last winter.

“I don't want to say it's like migrating fish returning to their place of origin, but there's something really special about coming home to the gallery on the edge of Camden Harbor,” said Howard.

Ann Trainor Domingue was born in Fall River, Massachusetts and raised in Barrington, Rhode Island. Summer holidays spent on Cape Cod deepened her affinity for coastal estuaries, harbor towns, and the doughty New Englanders who earn their living from the sea.

Best Part of the Day, Ann Trainor Domingue, courtesy of Camden Falls Gallery
After graduating from Rhode Island College, Trainor Domingue had a successful career as an illustrator and art director. Two artist residencies from the Copley Society in Boston enabled her to return to Provincetown to paint after her escape from the corporate world.

Camden Falls Gallery is located at 5 Public Landing, Camden, ME. For more information, call (207) 470-7027 or email info@camdenfallsgallery.com.

Yellow dinghy (Camden), Ed Buonvecchio, courtesy of the artist.
Then I’ll amble down to Tenants Harbor to see Inspirations: 4 Paint Maine, featuring the work of Ed Buonvecchio, Suzanne deLesseps, Kathryn Baribeau, and Fran Scannell. Ed and I are good friends. We paint together at Ocean Park every year, and traveled to Nova Scotia together last year for the Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival. For some reason, this season has gotten away from me and I haven’t seen him yet.

Iced in at Rockport, Ed Buonvecchio, courtesy of the artist. This is a scene I know well.
Ed is from Camillus, NY, and has a BFA from SUNY Buffalo. An avid outdoorsman, he started painting in oils seriously while he and his wife Julie Richard lived in Arizona. “Plein air painting has been an extension of my love for nature and a way to study it. Painting is my way of sharing what I see and feel with others,” he said.

The show opens at Jackson Memorial Library, 71 Main Street, Tenants Harbor, ME, also from 5-7 PM. If you haven’t seen a show here, it’s worth the trip just to visit the library.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The car cures itself


Summer for a professional plein air painter can involve as much driving as painting.

Cape Blomiden makes its own cloud, by Carol L. Douglas, was painted during a rainstorm in the first annual Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival.
One of my students missed last weekend’s workshop due to a painful flareup of plantar fasciitis. Another student, himself a doctor, told me about taking the disease into his own hands. He simply stretched the offending tissue until it audibly tore. "The relief was instantaneous," he told me as I stared at him aghast.

My little Prius has done something similar. It has, over the last year, developed a loud scream at high speeds. Turning up the radio was useless. I had the tires rotated to see if that helped. No luck. A front wheel bearing was replaced in March; I replaced its mate two weeks ago. The right rear brake locked up while my car was in Logan Airport long-term parking in April. That wasn’t the root of the noise either. Meanwhile, every month I’ve been spending more money on this car than the payment on a Ford F-150.

I appreciate AAA's tow service, but I've seen too much of it recently.
But even the money hasn't been the real problem. "It’s no longer reliable," I lamented to my husband. Next week I drive alone to Parrsboro, NS, where I’m painting in the second annual Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival. There are some lonely stretches up that way, and I don’t like the idea of getting stranded. I’ve started car shopping, but I don’t have the time to do proper research.

Meanwhile, I’ve had a busy spring. On the night of my daughter’s wedding rehearsal, I stopped for a light at a busy intersection. I woke up seconds later to find that I’d rolled right into the line of oncoming cars.

I have more than a million miles of accident-free driving under my belt and I’d like to keep it that way.  Yesterday when I found myself blinking away sleep on the New York State Thruway, I did something I never do: I relinquished the wheel to my co-pilot. Thus, it was he, not me, who was driving when a tire burst on the interstate.

Two Islands in the Rain, Carol L. Douglas, also from Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival
In the end, this turned out to be the Prius healing itself. A few hours later, we were back on the road. The sound that’s been plaguing me for months was gone. It was a defective tire after all.

We rolled into Rockport around the time that the fishermen are up rubbing the sleep from their eyes and checking the weather. The thermostat in my car read 43° F. and it was foggy and pouring.

I have a short tight week here in Maine. I leave to teach watercolor on the schooner American Eagle on Sunday evening. After we dock, I leave directly for Parrsboro, NS.
Teaching watercolor aboard American Eagle mercifully involves no driving. The dock is just minutes from my home.
I’ll be missing the opening reception for the latter, but Poppy Balser kindly stopped by on her way to Paint Annapolis to collect my boards for me. She’ll get them stamped so I don’t have to spend half of my first day there trying to find someone to stamp them for me. I’ll just have to find Poppy.

And the eco-warrior is back on the road, all healed.
This is nothing unusual; it’s the life of many of my friends each summer. We sort events into boxes. Sometimes we can stop at home, swap the boxes, and do our laundry. But often we stack our calendars up in the back of our vehicles: frames and supports for the different events share trunk space. If we’re crossing the border, we take a deep breath as we approach Customs. We’re not breaking the law, but a search of our cars will result in an awful mishmash of our supplies.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: the basic rules of oil painting


This weekend’s workshop was all oil painters. This gave me the opportunity to review some fundamentals.
Nicole Reddington's painting ruthlessly subjugated detail for design, and was tremendously powerful for that. I wish I had more student work to show you, but I can't find my camera!
Use enough paint

Using too little paint is a rookie error. Too little paint on your palette means you’ll try to stretch it with solvent on the bottom layers or medium on the top layers, and before you know it, you’re going to have a mushy, monochromatic mess on your hand. In the northeast, that soup usually assumes an unpleasant green tone.

Modern paints are formulated to use almost straight out of the tube. They may need a small amount of solvent for underpainting, or a dab of medium to create a juicy top layer, but too much of either ruins paintings.

In my weekly classes, I don’t let students touch painting medium until they have the steps of constructing a painting firmly in hand. That’s hard to do in a workshop, but remember that painting medium is a boost, not a crutch.

Sandy Quang's painting of a downed tree.
Big shapes to little shapes

Stop thinking of your value sketches as something you must get through before you get to the fun of painting. They’re the most important part of the process, and they’re also a lot of fun.

I like to do lots of preparatory sketches before I start to paint, either in marker or in monochromatic watercolor. The abstract pattern is far more important than the details. In the early phases of a painting, you must relentlessly sacrifice detail to the good of the whole.  This is true whether the results you want are hyper-realistic or impressionistic.

The untrained eye looks at a scene and thinks about it piecemeal and in terms of objects: there’s a flower, there’s a path, there’s a tree. The trained eye sees patterns and considers the objects afterward.

Is there an interesting, coherent pattern of darks and lights? This pattern is the primary issue in composition.

Stop thinking of drawing as something you have to get through, and start doing your dreaming in a sketchbook.
Darks to light

In oils, it’s easy to paint into dark passages with a lighter color; the reverse isn’t true. Put down white paint too quickly, and you’re going to fight all afternoon to avoid fifty shades of meh.

This doesn’t mean oil painters don’t jump around after we set the darks; we can and do. But that dark pattern controls your paintings.

Don’t choose slow-drying or high-stain pigment to make your darks. The umbers are great because the manganese in them speeds drying. However, I don’t want to carry an extra tube just for this. I use a combination of burnt sienna and ultramarine.

A student's palette... This is the color space in which the modern painter can work. It sizzles.
Fat over lean

Odorless mineral spirits (OMS) replaces turpentine as the modern solvent. This is different from medium, which is some combination of oil, drying agent, solvent and varnish. Paint with solvent in the bottom layers. Paint with medium in the top layers. As noted above, use both sparingly.

The more oil in a layer, the longer the binder takes to oxidize. This keeps paints brighter and more flexible. However, oil also retards drying. Using too much in underpainting will result in a cracked and crazed surface over time.

The makers of Galkyd and Liquin say their products are designed to circumvent this rule. However, we have no track record for these alkyd-based synthetic mediums, whereas we have centuries of experience layering the traditional way.

Even if we could change it, why would we want to? Underpainting with soft, sloppy medium gives soft, sloppy results. The coverage is spotty and thin. The traditional method is tremendously variable and gives great control. It just takes a little while to learn it properly.

Next up, a watercolor workshop aboard American Eagle, June 10-14, and my annual Sea & Sky workshop at Acadia National Park, August 5-10. Email me if you have any questions.