Paint Schoodic

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Monday, April 30, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: your first big event


You’re nervous, wondering how on earth you got into this show in the first place. What now?
Brush Creek, by Jeanne Echternach, courtesy of the artist.
I’m holed up on a ranch east of the Pecos with six superlative painters here for Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta. “What advice would you give the emerging plein air artist before his or her first big event?” I asked them.

“Find something that grabs you and not the thing you think is the most important thing to paint. If I don't have that connection, then I don't have that edge,” said William Rogers of Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
Sonoran Preserve, by Richard Abraham, courtesy of the artist.
In other words, don’t focus on the picture postcard view. Sponsors often arrange paint outs for participating artists, and they’re very helpful to those who don’t know the area. But if it doesn’t move you, move on.

“When I was starting out, the worst thing was wasting time driving around looking for the best subject. Once you see something that would make a good painting, stop driving and start painting it,” said Deborah McAllister of Lakewood, CO. “Don’t worry about the other painters in the event or whether you’re going to win an award or not.”
First Snows, First Light, by Karen Ann Hitt, courtesy of the artist.
It’s easy to be unnerved in what is, essentially, a competition. “Find the joy and don't let the event get in your head,” cautioned Jane Chapin of Santa Fe.

Remember that you were invited to this event because the jurors liked how you paint, so stop comparing yourself to others. That’s an insidious way to mess up your own excellent style. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn from others, but It’s best to put that in a tiny corner and ignore it for the duration of the event.
Ricardo and his horses, by William Rogers, courtesy of the artist.

I put the question to Karen Ann Hitt, of Venice, FL, as she drove away merrily in her big truck. “Less talk and more wine,” I thought she said. Later, she told me she’d actually said, “Red wine and dark chocolate, main food groups!” I'll take that to mean: remember to bring snacks and plenty of water.

Later, she talked about the first painting of the event. “Start small, keep it simple, and get your first one under your belt. Don't sweat the details,” she said. It’s a trap to try to do your masterwork on the first run.

Vendor, by Jane Chapin, courtesy of the artist.
“Paint something you're familiar with. Play to your strengths,” added Jeanne Echternach, of Colorado.

Richard Abraham of Minneapolis knocked it out of the park with his first painting of this event. “Make sure you do your best painting the first day. Then you can relax,” he joked. But there’s some truth there. If your first painting is good, it builds confidence.

Still, you must leave room to be experimental. “Don't chase your successes,” said Karen Hitt. By that, she meant, don’t fall into a formula. Take time to experiment, enjoy the place and the event, and challenge yourself.
Cottonwoods on the LaPoudre River, Deborah McAllister, courtesy of the artist.

“You can’t learn any younger,” said Jane Chapin.

Your painting will be better if you’re having fun. Take time to socialize. “Make friends with some new artists,” said Deborah McAllister.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The survival of realism


In the 1930s, a quiet battle was going on between the forces of realism and abstraction. Abstract painting won—for a while.

Death on the Ridge Road, 1935, Grant Wood
American Regionalism arose during the 1930s as a response to the Great Depression. It had a short life as art movements go, ending in the 1940s. Focusing on small-town America, it rose in opposition to Abstract Expressionism. While it seemed dead by mid-century, it paved the way for the later resurgence of realism in American art.

The 1913 Armory Show introduced New York audiences to the experimental styles of the European avant garde. New York might have been dazzled, but the rest of America was not. Regionalism gave American artists the confidence and voice to look to their own culture for inspiration, rather than endlessly parroting Paris and New York.

Achelous and Hercules, 1947 mural, Thomas Hart Benton, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
Regionalism was the first completely indigenous American art movement. It was reactionary, but it was more than that. It was closely tied to Social Realism and its impulse to depict the real conditions of working class America. Its regional pride originates partly in its overlap with the New Deal artwork we discussed yesterday. Regionalist artists were, like the rest of small-town America, looking for something to celebrate in all the bad news of the Great Depression. That made them tied to their audience in a way the abstract painters were not.

There were three stars in Regionalism: Grant WoodThomas Hart Benton, and John Steuart Curry. All three started their education at the Art Institute of Chicago, all three started their careers looking east for inspiration. In the end, each turned back to a distinctly middle-American viewpoint.

Plaid Sweater, Grant Wood
Grant Wood is famous for his American Gothic, but that shortchanges his contributions to American art. Born in rural Iowa, Wood was raised in Cedar Rapids by his widowed mother. After attending The Handicraft Guild in Minneapolis and the Art Institute of Chicago, he returned to Iowa to teach in a one-room school house. In the 1920s, he traveled repeatedly to Europe. "I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa,” he told critics of American Gothic.

The painting was wildly misinterpreted. East Coast elites lauded it as a criticism of the narrowmindedness of middle America. Iowans were furious at this. In fact, Wood meant it as homage.

Thomas Hart Benton was born into a family with advantages. His father was a four-term Congressman. Benton was raised between Washington, DC and the Ozarks. Intended for a career in politics, he rebelled and attended the Art Institute of Chicago and the Académie Julian in Paris. After a stint as a military artist during WWI, he settled in New York. It was not until his late 40s that he abandoned New York and return to the Midwest.

Ajax, 1936-37, John Steuart Curry, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
Like Benton, John Steuart Curry was known for his murals. Although his parents were Kansas farmers, they were college-educated and well-traveled. After a brief stint at the Kansas City Art Institute, he transferred to the Art Institute of Chicago, ultimately transferring again to Geneva College. Curry worked for several years as an illustrator. In 1926, he too made the obligatory trip to Paris. On his return, he settled in the New York City area.  

In 1936, Curry was appointed as the first artist-in-residence at the Agricultural College of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His job was to promote art in rural communities by providing personal instruction to students. This same year he was commissioned to paint New Deal murals in Washington, DC and Kansas.

We modern artists owe these three painters a great debt for keeping the tradition of realism alive in the US. And that’s all I can write. In a moment they’ll be calling my flight and I’ll be off to Santa Fe for Plein Air Fiesta. Have a great weekend!

It's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The art of the Great Depression


Santa Fe, the visionary New Deal, and the start of a new American art movement.
The Voice of the Earth (The Basket Dance), 1934, Will Schuster, courtesy New Mexico Museum of Art.
In 1934, one in four American workers were idled. The government stepped in with programs we would eventually lump together as the ‘New Deal’. Asked why the program included artists, WPA head Harry Hopkins replied, "Hell, they've got to eat just like other people!"

That was only half the picture. Even in the depths of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration was keenly interested in advancing American culture. “I, too, have a dream—to show people in the out of the way places, some of whom are not only in small villages but in corners of New York City—something they cannot get from between the covers of books—some real paintings and prints and etchings and some real music,” Franklin Roosevelt wrote.

Tonight, I head out to Santa Fe for Plein Air Fiesta. Santa Fe is the capital and cultural center of New Mexico, and it is home to much New Deal art and architecture.

Acoma Trail, William Penhallow Henderson, courtesy US District Courthouse, Santa Fe.
William Shuster went to New Mexico because he had tuberculosis secondary to being gassed in WWI. He was commissioned to paint murals at the New Mexico Museum of Art, portraying the traditional life of Native Americans.

Six murals by William Penhallow Henderson hang in the US District Court building. Henderson was a Boston-trained painter who went west for his wife’s tuberculosis. The courthouse recently acquired three more New Deal murals. These scenes of Navajo life were originally painted by Warren Rollins for a post office in Gallup.

The murals of Santa Fe were part of a series of Federal New Deal art programs. In the first four months of 1934, the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) hired 3,749 artists and produced 15,663 artworks for government buildings around the country.

Golden Gate Bridge, 1934, Ray Strong for PWAP. Franklin Delano Roosevelt liked it enough to hang it in the White House. Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
“They had to prove they were professional artists, they had to pass a needs test, and then they were put into categories—Level One Artist, Level Two or Laborer—that determined their salaries,” said George Gurney of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Because the program was based on need, not skill, most of these artists have fallen into anonymity; the more famous Depression-era artists came from the Works Projects Administration. But the PWAP artists were instructed to paint ‘the American Scene,’ which in most cases meant landscapes populated by American workers. That makes their work an important historical record.

The murals in Santa Fe are among the 1400 New Deal murals in municipal buildings around the nation. There is one in the little post office in Middleport, NY, when I was growing up; there is one in the post office near Franklin Roosevelt’s grand house in Hyde Park.

These came from a successor project to PWAP, the Section of Painting and Sculpture. Its purpose was to select, administer, and pay for these public murals. Its mandate was to make high-quality art accessible to all people.

The focus was on buying excellent work, not work based on artists’ reputation or neediness. Artists were selected through blind jurying and were paid a lump sum for their efforts. In return, they were expected to create work that reflected the host communities. In practice, that meant that many of the artists were locals. Those who weren’t sometimes visited their towns. Others carried on lively correspondence with the postmaster. The paintings were done on 12’x5’ canvases that were then shipped and glued in place.

The New Deal not only kept artists alive during the Great Depression, it introduced Americans to the idea that there was something here worth painting. Along the way, it helped create an indigenous American art movement, Regionalism. More on that tomorrow.

It's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Unhappy in your art career?


Envy, covetousness, and false expectations are all ways to guarantee a rotten time as an artist.
Dyce Head in the early morning light, Carol L. Douglas
I haven’t been able to paint for weeks. It seems as if my peers have made fantastic strides in that time. I look at their work on Instagram and Facebook and it’s downright depressing to see the clarity, color, and compositions they’ve achieved while I’m lying on the couch with my feet elevated.

I’m competitive; I’ll admit it. It’s not a good trait. I have a dear friend who is capable of shrugging off the worst jurying news. She isn’t focused on the competition, but on her own development as an artist. If I ever grow up, I’d like to be just like her.

As Ecclesiastes reminds us, “all toil and all skill in work come from a man's envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” Envy leads to anger and covetousness, but it also burns up the envier. Being competitive is a rush when it’s all going our way, but more often, it just makes us miserable.
Lonely Lighthouse (Parrsboro, NS), Carol L. Douglas
Another great way to kill your joy in painting is to tailor your work too closely to a niche a gallerist has identified for you. Yes, lighthouses sell on the coast of Maine, and they’re fascinating to paint. Do you want to spend all your days churning out pictures of them?

Fitting work to the marketplace is wise. Fitting it to anyone else’s expectations is very foolish. What will sell is not just a matter of content; it’s a combination of that and your approach to the content.

If you’re a young person, you probably seek advice from your parents. Neither of mine were entrepreneurs. Their advice, while grounded in love, was the product of their own experiences.

Cape Spear Road (Newfoundland), Carol L. Douglas. That's not one, but two, lighthouses.
Even though my father taught me to paint, my parents were hardly enthusiastic about an art career for one of their children. I remember my first complete bust of a show. I’d sold nothing and a pastel fell off the wall, damaging the frame. “Well, you gave it a good try,” my mom sighed, thinking I’d get over the idea of a career in the arts.

This isn’t because families are not supportive; it’s because they believe the lie that it is impossible to prosper in the arts. To a degree, they’re right; it’s a lot easier to make a living as a computer programmer. But the arts are not a one-way ticket to poverty, either.
Owls Head Light, Carol L. Douglas
Still, once you decide to follow a career in the arts, you’ve made the decision that money isn’t your paramount value. Why, then, would you let money dictate every small decision you make thereafter? The marketplace is too intelligent to reward this, anyway. Trying to produce work that looks just like someone else’s is a guaranteed path to insignificance.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

End of the trail


You can still buy some pretty horrible unauthorized copies of James Fraser’s work, but few people remember the artist.
End of the Trail, cast 1918, by James Earle Frazer, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had the smaller version in our house when I was growing up
 When I visit a city, I try to seek out its famous artists. Minneapolis-Saint Paul gave us Prince, Leroy Neiman, and A Prairie Home Companion. However, visual artists are thin on the ground. That’s surprising, because it’s a robust city of great beauty. Moreover, the prairie has given us so much great art, ranging from the novels of Willa Cather to the paintings of Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and so many others.

1913 Indian Head Nickel, courtesy US Mint (coin), National Numismatic Collection (photograph by Jaclyn Nash)
James Earle Fraser came from tiny Winona in the southeast corner of the state. His name is pretty well forgotten today, but two of his works are iconic 20th century pieces. The Indian Head nickel was struck from 1913 to 1938 as part of the US government’s first attempt to make beautiful currency. “I felt I wanted to do something totally American—a coin that could not be mistaken for any other country's coin. It occurred to me that the buffalo, as part of our western background, was 100% American, and that our North American Indian fitted into the picture perfectly,” Fraser said about his design.

End of the Trail was intended to be cast in bronze, but wartime shortages prevented that. The original  slowly deteriorated until 1968, when it was obtained by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum  and restored.
Fraser sculpted a monumental plaster version of a Native brave dropping in exhaustion for the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. End of the Trail was based on his experiences growing up in Dakota Territory. “As a boy, I remembered an old Dakota trapper saying, ‘The Indians will someday be pushed into the Pacific Ocean.’”

“The idea occurred to me,” he later wrote, “of making an Indian which represented his race reaching the end of the trail, at the edge of the Pacific.”

End of the Trail was copied on the cover of The Beach Boys 1971 album Surf's Up.
The sculpture earned a Gold Medal at the fair. Within a few months, thousands of photographic prints had been sold. In 1918, Fraser began producing bronze miniatures of the statue. They caught the troubled spirit of the times. They were everywhere, including in my father’s study when I was growing up.

You can still buy horrible copies of it, both in bronze and in less permanent forms, like this t-shirt.
Fraser had great sympathy for the plight of the Native Americans, who were being pushed west or restrained on reservations. His father, Thomas Fraser, was a railroad engineer helping to push the great rail lines across the country. A few months prior to James’ birth, Thomas was among a group sent to recover the remains of the 7th Cavalry Regiment after the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

End of the Trail was meant to illustrate the Native American plight. Instead, it became an early piece of pop-art, copied endlessly not only in bronze but in prints, posters, t-shirts, pins, bags, belt buckles, and bookends. It was featured (badly) on the cover of The Beach Boys 1971 album Surf's Up.

The same is true of the Indian Head Nickel. This is an insulated Whataburger Coffee Mug.
Fraser learned to carve by scavenging limestone from a nearby quarry. He attended the Art Institute of Chicago, the École des Beaux Arts and the Académie Julian. He worked as an assistant to America’s foremost sculptor,  Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Starting in 1906, he taught at the Art Students League in New York, eventually becoming its director.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: How to develop an oil field sketch


A fast, simple way to do a quick, finished field study.

Megunticook River, Camden, by Carol L. Douglas
 A few weeks ago I mentioned that I use Inktense pencils to mark out my paintings on canvas. This is a technique borrowed from my pal Kristin Zimmermann.

Value study in charcoal.
My first step is always a value study. Whether I do this with charcoal, greyscale markers, or pencil is immaterial—if the value structure doesn’t work, the painting won’t work. After writing my post about value studies with Inktense pencils, I realized I could just as easily use the Inktense pencils and water to do my value study on paper as well as the transfer. That removes one more extraneous item from my backpack.

Inktense pencil transfer.
Next, I draw the picture on my canvas with the watercolor pencil. This is never simply a question of transferring my rough value sketch, nor is it a finished drawing into which I paint. What I do is a carefully-measured map of the future painting. I find this particularly useful when painting architecture, where measurement matters a great deal.

Using a watercolor pencil allows me to erase to my heart’s content with water, but when I finally start painting in oil the drawing is locked into the bottom layer.

Big shapes, blocked in.
From this point, I block in the big shapes, paying attention to preserving the values of my sketch, and working (generally) from dark to light. This is especially important if you plan to take more than a few hours to do a painting, because it allows you to paint through significant changes in lighting.

I say “big shapes,” but while I focus on these, I do not obliterate all the drawing I did earlier.

I’d originally set this painting up without the framing walls on either side of the river. It was on reaching this degree of blocking that I realized that I wanted the wall on the left back in. Putting it in over wet paint (without a drawing) resulted in it being somewhat vague compared to the rest of the painting, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Ironically, looking back at it five years later, I think the composition was better without the tight framing. That just points to how subjective these decisions are.

It's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

Friday, April 20, 2018

How dare you speak to me like that?


Criticism is tough to take. Sometimes, that’s because the criticism itself is lousy.

The Raising of Lazarus, by Carol L. Douglas. Really, was it so bad?
I don’t remember the exact words of my first printed review, but they are burned in my memory as, “I can’t believe the curator included this dreck,” and “absolutely amateurish use of color.” My stalwart friend Toby, also an artist, listened to me whine and cry for about an hour. She stoutly agreed that the critic was an ass. That's a pal.

It was a national show, but the critic and I knew each other slightly and had mutual friends. Knowing me didn’t make him more kindly-disposed. That’s a good lesson in general, by the way: never assume that connections will carry you in the art world. They are just as often a handicap.

I’ve critiqued a lot of paintings myself since then. The older I get, the more I understand that there are few absolutes in art. It’s always childish and supercilious to rip on another artist. There’s almost always something that you can learn from another’s work if you take the time to try to understand his processes or point of view.

Well, heck, you may as well see the whole series. This is Submission. Later, it would be in a show closed for obscenity.
That was an unsolicited review. What is far more common is criticism that we ask for.

The worst mistake we can make is to ask for an opinion when we really want a pat on the back. We sometimes hear home truths we aren’t prepared for. Always ask yourself why you’re asking that particular person for a critique. If it’s because you crave his or her approval, quietly move on.

Even if you are genuinely interested in an objective opinion, what do you intend to do with the information? I, like everyone else, am plagued by self-doubts. I tend to immediately grab on to a criticism and act on it, without thinking it through.

I once paid another artist to critique a large work that had me flummoxed. “It kind of reminds me of an immature Chagall,” she said. She felt I needed to loosen up, abstract more, and conceptualize less. I went home and wrecked the painting entirely. I’ve carried it around for twenty years now as a bitter reminder. Under all that schmaltz lies a beautiful idea that died from an overdose of opinion.

A third painting from the same series. I can't even remember what it was called, but I have certainly gotten less political in my old age.
Sometimes it’s easy to see what your critic means: darken that sail, raise that cloud cover. But sometimes, he or she is making a subtle but very real point that will take you months and years and many more paintings to understand.

Very few people have earned the right to critique my work. They earned it by being trustworthy, not having an ax to grind, and understanding my goals and motivations. I can count those people on one hand. Ours are relationships of long standing. I trust that they understand my goals in painting, even when those goals are radically different from theirs.

Scrotum man, also from the same series.
“When you ask another painter—unless they’re an experienced painting teacher—they’ll often just tell you how they would have painted it,” Bobbi Heath said. Listen for this and guard against it. The questions the critic should be addressing are broad ones of value, composition and technique.

Even with an experienced teacher, an opinion may still be flat-out wrong. Poppy Balser once asked me what paintings she should submit for an award. I’m glad she ignored me, because the one I didn’t choose won Best Watercolor. The jurors were focusing on different things. In retrospect, I saw their point.

By the time you read this, I’ll be flying to Minneapolis for a weekend of dancing on crutches. Meanwhile, it's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer. I plan to be able to walk by then. Really.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The art of rocket science


Space Age art had an important patron: the Federal government.

Toroidal Colonies, pop. 10,000. Cutaway view, exposing the interior, c 1970 by Rick Guidice, courtesy NASA 
We have no shortage of plutocrats today, but Gates, Zuckerberg, et al seem disinterested in public art. Modern American art patronage is largely a group activity. There’s been no greater player than our Federal government, in all its many guises.

The NASA Art Program was responsible for much of our mid-century thinking about Outer Space and its potential. It was launched in 1962, just four years after President Eisenhower established NASA itself. It started prosaically but grew to be an important propaganda arm for the agency. With a huge budget and little practical application to the average voter, NASA needed dreams to justify its existence.
First Steps, 1963, Mitchell Jamieson, Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
In 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought a portrait of space pioneer Alan Shepard to NASA headquarters. Administrator James E. Webb promptly commissioned him to do a group portrait, one that would capture “the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation.”

Webb was a visionary when it came to art. He proposed, for example, “a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching,” as well as paintings of life in space. But as an administrator he wanted this program developed systematically. “The important thing is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…”

From the Earth to the Moon, 1969, Norman Rockwell, courtesy Look Magazine
The NASA art program would not just record events, it would capture the visceral side of missions, “in a way in which history could look back and fully appreciate all that the agency had achieved.”

In 1963, eight artists were chosen to depict the final Mercury flight. They were paid $800 ($6,567.21 today). The chosen artists ranged from traditional to avant garde.

Meteor and Mars Series 2, c. 1970s, Ren Wicks, courtesy Artnet
“When a launch takes place at Cape Canaveral, Fla., more than 200 cameras record every split second of the activity. Every nut, bolt, miniaturized electronic device is photographed from every angle. The artist can add very little to this in the way of factual record… It is the emotional impact, interpretation and hidden significance of these events which lie within the scope of the artist’s vision. An artist may depict exactly what he thinks he sees, but the image has still gone through the catalyst of his imagination and has been transformed in the process,” National Gallery curator Hereward Lester Cooke wrote in his invitation to these artists.

NASA’s stable included Annie Leibovitz, Robert Rauschenberg and Norman Rockwell, among others. It commissioned original music as well. In 2002, NASA commissioned  Way Up There, which memorialized lives lost in the Challenger disaster. A version by Patti LaBelle was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Toroidal Colonies, pop. 10,000. Interior view, c 1970 by Don Davies, courtesy NASA
Rick Guidice painted for NASA for 15 years. His paintings helped develop a public fantasy of what space colonization might look like. He and some of the other great NASA artists went on to illustrate The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space, by Princeton Physicist and Professor Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill, which has become a space colonization classic.

From the Seeds of Change… a Discovery, 1984, Robert A. M. Stephens, courtesy NASA
Then came Sen. William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Award and its chilling effect on the more fantastical elements of government spending. NASA earned one, not for its art program but for its search for extra-terrestrial life. The age of exuberance in government spending was over. Government agencies may have continued spending as madly as before, but they did it more furtively.

It's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Going by the numbers


We should all immediately switch to Instagram. But as with blogging, there’s a lot of unpredictability on the internet. There’s still plenty of room for intuition.
Joan of Arc, 1879, Jules Bastien-Lepage, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
Yesterday I had my left foot operated on, giving me a matched pair of incisions and some hope for less pain going into the summer.

My mind is muddled, so I’d hoped to reprise an old post. To that end, I consulted my stats for this blog. Blogger tells me what my top posts are (although this blog has been on three different platforms over the years). A few years ago, the most popular posts were The One Thing Every Painter Should Know and a recipe for scallops from my friends Berna and Harry.

Plastic bags, dethroned by art history.
Since I last checked, art history has steamrolled over them. The top view-catcher is this post about Jules Bastien-Lepage’s Joan of Arc. It’s eleven years old, it violates the modern dictums of length and language, it’s complex, and it continues to get readers. In fact, there are a number of art history posts on that top ten list, including The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow and Ingres and Napoleon.

Measured week-to-week, however, art history is a slow starter. Those posts usually have the lowest immediate readership, even when they have much to say.
Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne, 1806, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, courtesy, Musée de l'Armée, Paris
After more than a decade of blogging, I still see no discernible pattern for what will be popular in a post. That’s liberating. It means I can write about whatever I care about, rather than pitching content to some ‘expert’ idea of the public’s low taste.

A survey tells us that new galleries are opening more slowly than they did a decade ago. This is part of a general decline in entrepreneurship in the United States. It’s no surprise to those of us who worry about our battered small town Main Streets, but there’s good news in that same report.

It surveyed a group of high-net-worth individuals about their collecting habits. These are people with more than $1 million but less than $5 million in assets. The vast majority (89%) spent $50,000 a year or less on art and objects. That suggests they aren’t buying from tony Manhattan galleries, but from low- and mid-tier galleries. In other words, they’re buying works by people like you and me, in places like S. Thomaston, Camden and Ogunquit.

The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow, 1567, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, courtesy Oskar Reinhart Foundation
Meanwhile, the online market for art and collectables continues to grow, but at a slower pace. That makes sense as a market matures, and it’s nothing to worry about. More than half of online art buyers said they will buy more art online in 2018 than they did last year, according to the Online Art Trade Report.

Instagram has dethroned Facebook as the preferred means of online promotion. In 2016, galleries used the two platforms almost equally. Now only 31% of respondents prefer Facebook to the 62% who liked Instagram. Instagram is also the favored platform for collectors under 35, 79% of whom said they discover new artists on Instagram and 82% of whom said they use it to keep up with artists they like.

Going by the numbers, we should all immediately switch to Instagram. But just as with blogging, there’s a lot of unpredictability in sales. There’s still plenty of room for intuition.

It's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How I plan to spend my summer (if it ever gets here)


Teenagers and artists choose interesting paths.

Teressa studying painting in Rochester, many moons ago.
Yesterday, I got two registrations in the mail for my Rochester workshop. Kamillah started painting with me when she was a junior in high school, working at a local diner so she could afford art lessons. Now she’s a graduate architect, studying for her boards. Her sister Teressa is in nursing school. It’s a joy to see these kids embrace adulthood with such grace.

Kamillah once painted with me on a late spring weekend in the Adirondacks. We were at an inn that hadn’t opened yet for the season. It was blowing and snowing, as the higher elevations tend to do this time of year. Kamillah is tiny, and I was concerned she’d be blown off the mountain and right into half-thawed Piseco Lake. Summer eventually showed up that year, as it will this year—at some point.

I get to teach in some mighty gorgeous places!
After I got their registrations, I opened my Little Book of Workshops. As of today, I have: 

(I don’t know about Exploring Rye through Paint (May 11-12, Rye, NY); contact the Rye Arts Center for information about that.)

That puts me about exactly where I am every year at this time. Suddenly, when it warms up enough for people to think about painting, those slots fill up.

Will I have a chance to paint in the surf this season? Who knows? Photo by Ed Buonvecchio.

Meanwhile, I—like every other plein air painter—anxiously await jurying results. Most are not in yet, but what I have promises an interesting summer ahead. On the 27th, I fly to Santa Fe, NM for Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta.

William Rogers from Nova Scotia is in that event too. That means I’ll see him twice this summer, since he’s the Honorary Chairman of Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival in early June. The roster at that event is like old home week, including many artists I’ve painted with for ages. That includes, of course, Poppy Balser.

Nova Scotia is one of the world's great beauty spots. It's a privilege to paint there.
I’ll be at Ocean Park’s Art in the Park in July. That’s really six old friends doing an ensemble act together, as we've done for several years. At Cape Elizabeth I’ll run into Janet Sutherland for the second time this summer. She’s a crackerjack painter and a regular at Castine, but we seldom get time to say more than a few words to each other. If only I could slow the tape down!

In August I’ll be back in New York for the Adirondack Plein Air Festival. And other than that, the jury’s still—literally—out.

Barnyard lilacs, by Carol L. Douglas
Except for one other thing, which is perhaps the biggest thing of all: in September I’ll be an artist-in-residence at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center. I was raised on a farm, and I’ve got a deep affection for agriculture. This will be the first time in several years where I’ve isolated myself to paint reflectively, rather than tearing around in a car painting fast. I’m terrifically chuffed.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: Basic principles of painting

Some painting rules are meant to be broken. But they all exist to make painting faster and easier.
Cadet, by Carol L. Douglas. That's American Eagle in the background. That's the boat my June workshop will be on.
 It’s closing in on plein air season again. Here are some basic rules to speed up your field painting.

Buy the best materials and equipment you can afford: I was reminded of that this weekend as I struggled to get my low-end sewing machine to handle layers of tulle. If you invest in decent paints and decent brushes at the onset, you’ll make better progress in the long run. You’re better off with a decent limited palette and two decent brushes than more stuff of lower quality. Then you can add to, instead of replace, over time.

Skinny layers in the beginning, please!
Fat over lean (oil painting only): This means applying paint with more oil-to-pigment over paint with less oil-to-pigment; in other words, use turpentine or odorless mineral spirits (OMS) judiciously in the bottom layers and painting medium in the top layer.

The more oil, 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.

Can't tell what that's going to be? No matter; it's the shapes that drive a painting, not the other way around.
Big shapes to little shapes: Work on the abstract pattern before you start focusing on the details.

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? Are there color temperature shifts you can use? 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. Composition is the key to good painting, and the pattern of lights and darks is the primary issue in composition.

Following the fat-over-lean rule, above, allows you to think about broad shapes first. In the field an underpainting done with turpentine or OMS will be mostly dry when you start the next layer. Stop frequently to make sure you haven’t lost your darks. If you have, restate them.

Follow the natural working characteristics of your medium: For oil painters, that’s dark to light. For watercolorists, that’s light to dark, because dark is impossible to eradicate. Acrylic painters can proceed any way they want, as long as they’re using opaque paint.

Doing the drawing in a dark neutral follows the natural working characteristics of oil paints. By Carol L. Douglas.
In oils, it’s easy to paint into dark passages with a lighter color; the reverse isn’t true. This doesn’t mean oil painters don’t jump around after we set the darks; we can and do. In watercolor, it’s almost impossible to erase a dark passage, so it’s best to know where it belongs before you commit to it.

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.

By the way, this is a common rule of painting to break. Just be sure you have the process down before you start experimenting.

Drawn slow and painted fast by Carol L. Douglas.
Draw slow, paint fast: This isn’t a classic tenet; it’s something my student Rhea Zweifler coined in my class years ago. Nevertheless, it’s a great rule.  

Taking time over your drawing allows you to be looser and more assured in your painting. Do value studies and sketches before you commit to color. Your mind needs time to think about the shapes it sees. Spend that time in the drawing phase, when ideas are easy to assess. Otherwise, you will be doing it on canvas, where your mistakes are more difficult to clean up.

Value study at Point Prim, Nova Scotia, by Carol L. Douglas.
Value studies and sketches allow you to be inventive. When you’ve only spent three minutes on a sketch, you don’t lose much by throwing it out. Drawing and value studies at the beginning actually speed you up, rather than slow you down.

It's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

This post was originally published in May, 2017 and has been edited and updated.