Paint Schoodic

Join us in Acadia National Park in August. Click here for more information.

Friday, July 20, 2018

This has not been one of my better days

It only takes a moment to change your frame of reference.
From Battle Avenue, by Carol L. Douglas
My father said, “This has not been one of my better days” nearly every day. When I’m having a difficult time, I tell myself that. Then I laugh, remembering that all discomfort is relative. That invariably restores my good humor.

I was hot on the trail of a painting and refused to stop for anything. My pal Berna brought me scones and coffee in the morning. Chrissy Spoor Pahucki and her son Ben brought me cake in the afternoon. Still, I should have taken a break. I stumbled around in the wind and sun breaking things. I tore the end off my tube of ultramarine blue. I broke my framing gun for the second time. I was a filthy mess myself and got blue paint all over a frame. In trying to clean it off, I scoured the frame corners raw. As I fumbled, the wind blew my umbrella into my painting. Yes, it was one of those days.

I’m usually pretty mellow about problems, but I was incandescent, ready to take easel, paints and brushes to the cove and dump them in. A car pulled up. It was an old friend with whom I’ve painted and shared digs at Adirondack Plein Air.

“This has not been one of my better days.” I told her, but this time saying it didn’t help.

President's House fence, by Carol L. Douglas.
“I was painting something really good,” she responded. “But my phone kept going off. Finally, I checked and the calls were from my new daughter-in-law. They’ve only been married a month.”

We love our families, but we don’t necessarily want to talk to them when we’re working. It’s hard to answer the phone when you’re covered in goop. They generally don’t call unless it’s an emergency, so I completely understood her worry as she looked at her screen.

“She wanted to tell me she’s pregnant,” she explained. I had to laugh, because I fully appreciated what was going through my friend’s head.

“That’s wonderful,” she was thinking, along with, “Now hang up and let me finish this blasted painting.” Well, the painting didn’t happen; instead she burst into tears. Mazel tov, Grandma!

Jonathan Submarining, by Carol L. Douglas. The kids raced around in their 420s while Poppy Balser and I stood in the surf painting. It was a magical day.
That completely restored my good humor. I went home and had dinner with two teenage boys and their grandmothers. One of them modeled in the best painting I ever did at Castine, Jonathan Submarining. That day, he was a little kid bouncing around on heavy seas. Just a blink of an eye, and he’s now a young adult, teaching in the same sailing school.

“You’ve gotten so old,” Berna exclaimed.

“It’s a good thing they don’t say that to us,” I laughed. Castine may be Brigadoon in many ways, but even here, time doesn’t stand still. It’s a reminder that the work will keep; treasure the ones you love.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

How long did that take you?

Our actual painting time is a fraction of the total time we spend on our work.
The Stage Door, by Russel Whitten.
For the past four years, the third Wednesday in July has been the longest day in my calendar year. This year was no exception. It started at 6 AM, when I started writing for this blog. At 8 AM, I’d breakfasted and was in the field painting for the last day of Ocean Park’s Art in the Park. I finished at 1 PM, arranged my display and then set up my tools for Castine Plein Air (which starts this morning). From there, I returned to my host’s home, where I showered and dressed in respectable clothes. Then I packed my car. The reception ended at 7:30; at 7:42 I was pulling out of my parking spot. I did not even stop to eat.

I’ve driven into Castine when it lay enchanting under a full moon, and through dense coastal fog. Last night, a crescent moon hung low in the sky. “Midnight blue” is not advertising jargon; it’s the real color of the sky when there’s no ambient light and the stars seem to quiver in the night sky. It was beautiful but also very, very late when my friend Harry welcomed me back to his home.

Laundry, by Christine Tullson Matthieu
Recently a reader asked, “How do you stay awake for those long drives?” I find that singing is the best cure for sleepiness, so I do it loudly and enthusiastically. In fact, I sing so much that I’ve decided to form a NeedtoBreathe cover band, as I may be the only person in the world who can decipher their lyrics.

Temple, by Anthony Watkins.
Several people have asked, “How long does a painting that size take?” It’s a difficult question to answer. An 8X10 might take me three or four hours of actual painting time. That doesn’t include the time I spend setting up my palette, or dragging my gear across a beach, or the hours I spend driving or priming canvases and making frames.

Ocean Park Ice Cream Parlor, by Ed Buonvecchio.
Yesterday, Russ Whitten was trying to remember where he’d left a stack of watercolor paper. He spent precious time tracking it down, which cost him a final painting. That kind of thing happens because we’re tired, we’re hot, and we’re stressed. It has to be factored in to our schedule, as do equipment failures.

Some days it rains, by Carol L. Douglas
Two people asked me, “Of the five paintings you did for this show, which is your favorite?” It made me think about the values I was aiming for. In the end, I chose my rain painting. It was technically difficult and I think it captures the energy of that storm.

Based on that, I asked each of the other artists to choose their favorite painting to share with you. Meanwhile, I'm off to paint; our boards were stamped starting at 6 AM this morning.

If Rembrandt and Van Gogh could time travel

What would they think of modern painting in Maine?

Some days it rains, by Carol L. Douglas.
Last week, I wrote about Maine’s Art Museum Trail. A reader commented, “Standing in front of Rembrandt's Saint Matthew and the Angel at the Louvre, or Van Gogh's The White Orchard in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam are sure to change one forever.” He’s right, of course, but were these two masters somehow superior to, say, Rockwell Kent?

I wonder what either artist would think of the contemporary work being done in landscape painting today. Both would have delighted in the wealth of pigments and materials at our disposal. That’s especially true of Rembrandt, who did so much with such a limited palette. Van Gogh was an admirer of the Primitivist Paul Gauguin; he would have understood that our contemporary painting style reflects the pace and shape of our lives. Both artists were misfits in their times and cultures. It is only retrospectively that they—and their styles—are lauded as brilliant.

Mostly, I think they’d like what they saw simply because mature artists tend to be very interested in other artists’ technique, approach and worldviews.

Ed Buonvecchio painted me painting the rain in the doorway of Ocean Park's temple. We oil painters have it a little easier in a deluge than watercolorists. Russ Whitten's solution was to run home and grab a hair dryer.
Russel Whitten and Christine Tullson Mathieu are having an especially tough time with the fog and rain at this year’s Art in the Park. It buckles watercolor paper and the paint never dries. This makes for extremely soft passages. Commiserating with Russ, I showed him the John Singer Sargent watercolor from Monday’s post, with its great amorphous, wet blob of darkness. In response, Russ told me that Andrew Wyeth, after seeing a Sargent show, came out and told the waiting critics, “I want to kill myself.”

It’s comforting to imagine a painter of his skill and stature reacting like that. We’ve all said something similar along the way.

Sea Mist, by Carol L. Douglas.
Why don’t artists see their own brilliance, but are keen to recognize brilliance in others? We know our own work too intimately to be impressed with it. The more one paints, the truer that becomes. Running down other artists is the province of amateurs.

“People strengthen each other when they work together, and an entity is formed without personality having to be blotted out by the collaboration,” Van Gogh wrote to Anthon van Rappard. That’s exactly what’s happened to this group at Ocean Park. This is our fourth year painting in a small ensemble.  We’re secure enough in our friendship to help each other.

It was inconvenient for painters and vacationers, but we needed that rain.
Meanwhile, the rain ended at midnight, and the last droplets are splattering down from the ancient trees overhead right now. That gives us a few hours before we have to pack our supplies, shower and deliver our work. Our show opens at 5 this evening at 50 Temple Avenue, Old Orchard Beach. If you’re in southern Maine today, come out to see us!

I’ve got one more workshop available this summer. Join me for Sea and Sky at Schoodic, August 5-10. We’re strictly limited to twelve, but there are still seats open.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Alone but not lonely

Technique is important, but it’s emotional power that draws people to paintings.
Reading, by Carol L. Douglas.
“I see artists who paint only flowers, only still life, only barns, only open landscapes, only portraits, only pets, only kitchen utensils, only books, only sailboats,” an artist said. “Why isn’t the artist painting more subjects, and trying new things?”

I’ve been painting long enough to have been there, done that. Some things I've tried simply don’t move me enough to focus on them. If I painted them, it would be only for mercenary reasons, and I don’t think that ever pays in the long run.

I paint still life when I can’t get out, but my interest is limited. Still, anyone who paints professionally ought to be able to paint a credible impression of almost anything in his or her line of sight.
Beach Grass (Goosefare Brook) by Carol L. Douglas
Ocean Park is typically crowded in the high season. If we were to be perfectly honest, our paintings would be full of people. I can draw people, so I don’t have much trouble adding them to my landscapes. Still, I don’t often do it. The problem is in meaning.

Yesterday, I set up downtown, looking at a table on a side-porch at the Curtis. There was nothing especially pictorial about the scene. But it had an evocative quality, suggesting a small, convivial party, relaxing after a day on the beach.

That’s the shell of sociability, and it’s as biographical as the clothes we wear. We recognize it in many places—a lonely writing desk, the objects in the console of another person’s car. In fact, much of still life is intended to suggest character that’s just briefly stepped away. Landscape can do exactly that, too.

Beach Toys, by Carol L. Douglas, 2017. In this painting, the figure is completely neutral, neither supporting nor distracting from the composition.
And yet the composition was still not satisfying to me. A person reading could add to the sense of stillness and anticipation, I thought. He or she should not be central to the frame, so I set a figure on the rail, feet dangling, a book in her lap. That was a mistake. The dangling legs interrupted the serenity of the scene. I turned the still androgynous figure to the right, in the classical languor of a Maxfield Parrish nymph. That didn’t work, either, because it’s a silly pose for 2018. However, it gave me the general bounding box of where the figure should fall.

A note: if you’re doing this, have a friend stand in the general area just long enough to make some marks to indicate their approximate height. Even the most perfectly-drawn figure will look ridiculous if it’s too large or small for the scene.

Later, Ed Buonvecchio and I went out to paint in the fog. It seemed like a good place to use my four-way flashers.
Why did I reject dangling feet and or a figure seated in a chair?  Either would have made a good subject for a painting, but they weren’t right for this one. I was feeling the terrific stillness of morning in Maine, and action and presence would have diminished that. In fact, too often, our last-minute tchotchkes end up damaging, not helping, our paintings.

As I was finishing, a lady carefully inspected my painting. It spoke to her on the same level as it spoke to me, so she commissioned me to do another version for her. There’s a lesson there for me: it’s not all composition or technique. People ultimately react to the emotional pull of place. Unless you feel it, they won’t, either.

I’ve got one more workshop available this summer. Join me for Sea and Sky at Schoodic, August 5-10. We’re strictly limited to twelve, but there are still seats open.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: the lost-and-found edge

Sometimes it’s about what you don’t say.
Girl with the Red Hat, c. 1665-66, Johannes Vermeer, courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Earlier this month, I mentioned I once had a painting teacher who told me that heavy edges were “my style.” Like many younger artists, I just hadn’t learned how to marry edges in my painting. Beginning painters tend to give all edges equal weight—they are borders to be colored in. Part of the learning process is learning when to keep the edge and when to lose it.

Vermeer’s Girl with the Red Hat, above, perfectly illustrates the lost-and-found edge. The smooth transitions between the hair and the hat on the left, within her gown, and the lack of contrast in the shadow side of the model’s face drive our eye to the highlighted passages. Squint and concentrate on just the shape of the highlighted passage for a moment. It’s just one long, beautiful abstract shape in a sea of darkness.
In Church at Old Lyme, 1905, Childe Hassam softened the edges between leaves and sky by making them the same value. Courtesy Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Losing the edges helps link visual masses into a coherent whole. It deemphasizes things that aren’t important. It’s a way to create rhythm in a painting.

The human mind is adept at filling in blank spots in visual scenes (and seeing things that aren’t there). If you doubt this, squint while looking around your room. In any collection of similar-value objects, you don’t see edges, but you understand what you’re looking at. Your mind sorts it out just fine.

A careful drawing is different from a value study. Both are important, and the wise artist does them both. But a drawing explores the shapes and contours of an object. It’s a fact-finding mission. A value study concentrates on the links between objects and the final composition.

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882, John Singer Sargent, courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 
In the oil painting The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, John Singer Sargent uses the great dark entryway as a framing device, a compositional accent, and a poignant social statement. Only a hint of light in the shape of a window implies what is behind. The girls recede into space in order of age, with the eldest (Florence, age 14) almost enveloped in the darkness of the drawing room. Florence and Jane have no accents in their hair; their dresses and stockings disappear into the murk.

The Bridge of Sighs, c. 1903-04, John Singer Sargent.
Sargent painted at least two versions of this study of the Bridge of Sighs; a mirror-image is in the Brooklyn Museum. In this version, Sargent placed a hard edge at the top of the arch where sky meets stone. The shadows on the left bleed without any attempt at architectural precision. This creates the same kind of murky dark passage as in The Daughters of Boit. (A note for watercolor purists—the whites of the gondoliers’ clothes were done with white paint.)

In Two Women on a Hillside, 1906, Franz Marc tied the women to the background by repeating greens in their skin and garb. Courtesy Franz Marc Museum.
To lose an edge in painting, start by making both sides of the line the same value, even when they’re different hues. Conversely, the highest contrast will give you the sharpest edge. You can add to either effect by softening or sharpening the paintwork with your brush. Introducing the color of the adjacent object will also soften the contrast between an object and its background, as in the Franz Marc painting above.

Detail from John Singer Sargent’s Lady Eden, 1906, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Remember that the sharpest, most contrasting edges draw our eye. The trick is to find a balance that supports the composition. Sometimes only a small flick of paint is necessary, as with Sargent’s sequins in the detail from Lady Eden, above. These support the dynamics and direction of the composition. If they didn’t, they’d undermine all his careful compositional work.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Nine good reasons to come to Maine

Maine has a distinctive, venerable, and broad art culture. You’d best plan on a nice long trip.
Teach Me Web by Reuban Tam, courtesy of Monhegan Museum.
Yesterday I invited you up to Maine to watch some great plein air in the making. While you’re here, you ought to stop and see some other art as well.

I don’t know how many commercial art galleries there are in Maine, but you can’t walk down a Main Street here without tripping over one or several—they’re everywhere, and of very high quality. This state’s an absolute must-visit destination for serious fans and collectors. But if you’re interested in 19th and 20th century masters, there are also nine good reasons to come to Maine: our art museums.
City Point, Vinalhaven, Marsden Hartley, courtesy Colby College Museum of Art.
The Maine Art Museum Trail Guide will take you to the major museum galleries in the state. I can’t predict how long it would take to tour all nine museums, because they’re also located in some outstanding places. There are wonderful attractions near each museum that might make you tarry. For example, could you visit Bar Harbor’s Abbe Museum without also spending time at Acadia, America’s first national park? And to get to the Monhegan Museum of Art and History, you need to take a ferry. There’s simply no better fun than that ferry ride on a fine summer day. While you’re there, you should tromp around the island and get a feel for its unique character. Then, there are the state's food and the breweries and boats and… you get the picture.

Fancy basket by Sarah Sockbeson, Penobscot, courtesy of the Abbe Museum.
Maine has had a distinctive painting culture for almost two hundred years. Its story starts with the Hudson River School painters. The nineteenth century was a period of rapid industrialization and urbanization. That brought many great things, but it also brought smog, noise, disease and overcrowding. People began to long for an untouched Eden. Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Thomas Doughty and other Hudson River School artists quickly tapped Maine for subject matter. It was as iconic as the American West and a heckuva lot closer to New York.

That unleashed a flood, and generations of American artists have been inspired here. Luminist Fitz Henry Lane painted the harbors and ships of the Maine coast. George Bellows, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, three generations of Wyeths, and many, many others have painted here. Many of those paintings remain in (or have been returned to) Maine.

Her Room, by Andrew Wyeth, courtesy of the Farnsworth Art Museum.
Because it’s close to my house, I am most familiar with the Farnsworth Art Museum. When I taught workshops out of Rockland, I took my students there. A person could reverse-engineer the process of painting by carefully studying Andrew Wyeth’s drawings.

Colby College Museum of Art is one of the best academic museums in the country. Bowdoin College Museum of Art is one of the oldest, having been founded in 1811. The Abbe Museum showcases Wabanaki art (and is a Smithsonian affiliate). The Ogunquit Museum not only exclusively deals with American art, it has a great seaside location. So, good luck choosing.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

SRSLY time to watch us paint

Three opportunities to watch well known plein air painters at work on Maine’s rugged coast.
Rachel Carson Sunset, Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard, was painted at Ocean Park.
I had so much fun with Bobbi Heath’s Gloucester easel in Cape Elizabeth that I dragged my old one out of the garage. (It's such junk compared to hers!) I won’t go as big as I did last week, but I do plan on doing some larger works over the next two weeks.

I’m also packing my super-lightweight pochade box because I’ll be painting on the beach as well. I can’t haul that Gloucester easel over sand. We’re entering the gladdest, maddest weeks of summer and it’s good to be prepared.

Anthony, Russ and Ed painting on the beach at Ocean Park.
Art in the Park starts on Sunday, July 15 at Ocean Park, ME. This is as much a band of happy brothers as it is a paint-out. Ed Buonvecchio, Russel Whitten, Christine Tullson Mathieu, Mary Byrom, Anthony Watkins and I have done it as an ensemble for several years now. There’s no jurying and no awards—just excellent painting in an historic seaside community.

As relaxed as Art in the Park is, I’ve painted some very good things there, because Ocean Park has sand, rocks, marshes, architecture and, above all, ice cream. There are lots of hotels, motels and B&Bs in the area, so if you’ve ever wanted to come see a plein air event in action, this would be a good one to catch.
Jonathan submarining, Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard, was painted at Castine Plein Air. This remains one of my all-time favorite paintings.
Anthony and I then drive straight to Castine for the sixth annual Castine Plein Air Festival. It opens on the village green on Thursday at the absurd hour of 6 AM. I’ve done this event since its inception, and it’s attracting top-flight artists. This year my old pal Laura Martinez-Bianco of New York and my new pal Alison Menke of Maryland will be there for the first time. Alison just earned first place/artist choice at Telluride, so she’s definitely a force to reckon with. And, of course, I’ll see many of my old friends there as well.

Castine is the home of Maine Maritime Academy, which is why the Arctic schooner Bowdoin hangs out in its harbor. It’s out on a neck on the far side of Penobscot Bay, making it a kind of Brigadoon, forgotten by time. Main Street slopes down towards the sea, with just enough shops and restaurants to make it fun to visit, but not so many as to distract from its white-picket-fence charm.

The plein air festival wraps up with an open reception on Saturday July 21, from 4 to 6 pm. Wandering around and watching the artists is a great way to get to know this postcard-perfect town. If you can’t get a room in the village, Bucksport is not far away.

Before the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta, Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard, was painted at Camden harbor.
The next week, I’ll be painting in Camden Harbor during the Camden Classics Cup. This event brings about 70 sailboats into Camden Harbor to race for the weekend, right before the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta. Camden Falls Gallery is the sponsor, and the event will feature their represented artists. I can’t tell you which ones will show up, but Ken DeWaard, Dan Corey, Renee Lammers, Olena Babek and Peter Yesis are all local, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them—and others.

Camden is accustomed to visitors, so you’ll have no trouble finding a room.

Since I live just down the road and love to paint wooden boats, I’ve blocked out my schedule from Wednesday, July 26 through the weekend. Boat lovers are welcome to walk out on the floating docks to see the boats in harbor, but if I’m lucky, I’ll have found someone to take me out to a float.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Safety in small brushes

In life, as in painting, which brush is going to give you the results you crave?

By Sheryl Cassibry, in gouache. Occasionally, I like to brag on my students. These are all from yesterday's class.
Yesterday my class painted on the public landing at South Thomaston, watching the Weskeag River burble its short, strapping way to Penobscot Bay. I was, as I often do, coaxing a student to use a bigger brush. My students accept the reasoning behind this, but they often revert back to smaller brushes by the time I visit their easels again. It feels safer.

“What a metaphor for life!” exclaimed Roger Akeley. “You want to paint bold, but you run back to the tiny brush!”
 By Roger Akeley
He is right. In life as well as in painting, there is a time for measured, patient, diligent action, but there’s also a time for bold deeds. The trouble is, by the time we’ve reached our mid-twenties, the bold has been trained right out of us.

Bold carries a more obvious risk of failure. This is illusory. Bold alone carries the potential for greatness. Safe is a one-way ticket to mediocrity.

My youngest nephew joined our class yesterday. He's going into the eighth grade.
I’ve been pondering the lyrics of Needtobreath’s Slumber this month:

All these victims
Stand in line for
The crumbs that fall from the table
Just enough to get by…

It’s a sadly-apt vision of most of our lives. We hang on from paycheck to paycheck, with no real plan for the future. We want a better job, the opportunity to live somewhere else, satisfying relationships and real community. Yet we stay rooted in our spots, unwilling to make the hard choices that make real, significant change.

By Rebecca Gorrell, in acrylic.
When should you reach for the bigger brush? Assuming you’re not a miniaturist, the answer is: nearly all the time. Most of the struggle in painting is getting the big relationships right. The rest is just detail. If modern painting has taught us anything, it’s that excessive detail is extraneous and often intrusive. It can interfere with the viewer’s ability to understand emotional truth. Detail, in painting, should be saved for where it really matters.

By Jennifer Johnson, in oil. Sorry about the glare.
I’m an artist with the soul of an accountant, myself. I like order; I actually enjoy math, spring cleaning and vacuuming. There are no fuzzy edges in any of these tasks. When I’m done with them, I have a sense of simple satisfaction. But they aren’t central to my life.

By Jen Van Horne, in oil.
The Pareto Principle implies that 80% of our results come from 20% of our work. This doesn’t mean that fussing isn’t necessary, but that it should come at the end, when the work has assumed its overall shape and statement.

By Sandy Quang, in oil.
Using a bigger brush isn’t necessarily more emotional or less rational. In fact, it’s usually the other way around. When I have my monster size 24 flat in my hand, I’m very thoughtful about where I set it down. Flailing around is much easier with a size six filbert. Extend that metaphor to life. It’s much easier to complain about your home town than it is to clean the basement out, sell up and move. In fact, we all complain a lot. But which is going to net you the real results you crave?

I’ve got one more workshop available this summer. Join me for Sea and Sky at Schoodic, August 5-10. We’re strictly limited to twelve, but there are still seats open.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

RIP, Steve Ditko

A great artist passed away last month, but I doubt you’ll read about him in art history class.
From The Avenging World, 1973, Steve Ditko, published by Bruce Hershenson.
I was introduced to the Silver Age of Comic Books by my husband when we were just teenagers. He still sends me great frames by Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby to study. I believe I’d have been a better artist if I’d studied cartooning first, because these two artists manage to pack a world of action and insight into a canvas only a few inches across.

Steve Ditko passed away at the end of last month. True to his reclusive nature, he died so quietly that nobody is sure of the date.

Ditko was a Slovak from Pennsylvania steel country. He grew up reading Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant and Batman, idolizing the latter’s Jerry Robinson. On graduating from high school, he immediately enlisted in the US Army and served in occupied Germany.

From The Amazing Spider-Man #31–33, 1965, by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, Marvel Comics.
After demob, Ditko enrolled in the Cartoonist and Illustrators School in New York. This had been founded three years earlier with just three teachers—one of whom was Robinson—and 35 students. Most of them, like Ditko, were there on the GI Bill. The school would grow up to become the School of Visual Arts.

Ditko began drawing professionally in 1953, working for a brief time with Jack Kirby. From there he moved to a low-budget publisher called Charlton Comics, producing science fiction, horror, and mystery stories. In 1954, he contracted tuberculosis and returned to his parents’ home in Johnstown, PA to recuperate.

From Dr. Strange, by Steve Ditko, published by Marvel Comics.
When he got back to New York in 1955, he began drawing for Atlas Comics, which would later morph to Marvel Comics. His contributions to Strange Tales  again paired him with Jack Kirby. These books were not comic at all, but the predecessors of graphic novels and intended for adult readers. They were odd, provocative, dystopian and literary, and they included masterpieces of visual art.

Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Stan Lee originally tapped Kirby, his chief artist, to draw his new superhero, Spider-Man. Lee hated Kirby’s approach. “Not that he did it badly,” said Lee. “It just wasn't the character I wanted; it was too heroic.” Ditko got the job. Spider-Man debuted in August, 1962 and was quickly given its own series. Ditko was eventually also given writing credit.
Ditko caught the arc of American anxiety.
Ditko created the character of Doctor Strange in 1963. The art was weirdly prescient as America moved into the psychedelic era. It suggested a different time-space dimension, bizarrely spacious, often anxious. It grew increasingly more complex and abstract as the comic matured.

Ditko and Lee stopped speaking, and eventually Ditko moved on. The real reason for the rupture isn’t known, but it was almost certainly based in clashing artistic visions.

From there, Ditko drifted. “By the '70s he was regarded as a slightly old-fashioned odd-ball; by the '80s he was a commercial has-been, picking up wretched work-for-hire gigs,” wrote Douglas Wolk in 2008. Ditko retired from mainstream work altogether in 1998.

And my all-time favorite, from Journey into Mystery Vol 1., courtesy of Marvel Comics.
Ditko never married or had children. He didn’t have particularly close relationships with friends. All he ever cared about was his work. Even when he was done with major publishers, he continued to draw for eight hours every day, self-publishing his own Objectivist screeds. “I do those because that’s all they’ll let me do,” he grumped at the New York Post.

It wasn’t Ditko who had changed; it was the world. The Silver Age of Comic Books was over, and there was nothing fashionable in Ditko’s worldview.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: How to make time to make art

Having trouble finding time to get anything done? We all are.

Commit to working with others, either in a class, a group, or a workshop. It will jumpstart your process.
These days, I’m turning over my guest room as fast as the Starlight Motel down the street is turning over theirs. Not well, I might add; my brother tells me I’m in danger of losing my five-star rating. Even though I strongly discourage guests in the high season, there are still people whom I want to see.

Not having enough time to make art isn’t a unique problem. It’s something I hear from other artists in every station of life. Jobs, children, parents, spouses or homes aren’t time-killers; they’re the very fabric of our lives. Still, too often we go to bed realizing we’ve done no actual artwork that day.

Schedule studio time. If you work at the same time every day, you spend less mental energy waiting for inspiration to kick in—you just dive in and do it. That’s more than a mental trick. Your body and mind crave routine. Working on art at the same time every day makes it easier to transition into the flow zone.

Take a class. They’re fun, social, advance your skills, and—just like joining the gym—you have money riding on your involvement.

Keep the set-up to a minimum. I keep my palettes in the freezer so I can paint in small increments. I sometimes work in watercolor when I don’t have time to set up in oils. I draw when I can’t do either.

I've been recording the passing scene in sketchbooks forever. I wasn't always kind.
Put down your cell phone and pick up your sketchbook. Draw in meetings, classes and church—it won't lower your comprehension much. I’ve written about the importance of sketching many times; it separates good artists from mediocre ones.

Make work a habit. Set aside a half hour a day and use it to make some kind of art. You really can cement a habit by doing it for a month.
A small amount of time with a sketchbook can yield wonderful results.

Cut out the screen time. Even with the decline in TV watching, Americans average about eleven hours a day in front of some kind of screen. You might find that all the time you need to make art can be found just by deleting the Facebook app. (Just be sure to subscribe to this blog before you do it! The sign up box is at the top right.)

Make a studio. If you don’t have a room to dedicate to art, make a studio in a corner of your bedroom or some other underutilized space. Having a dedicated, organized work space cuts down on the set-up time each time you want to work.

Find a corner somewhere where you can leave your project up.
Make art a social activity. Join a figure-drawing or plein air group. There’s accountability in committing to work with someone else.

Run away from home. Apply for a residency somewhere. Even a week of focused work, sans family, can be great for your development. I’ll be doing one at the Joseph Fiore Art Center this September.

The dreaded deadline. I hesitate to recommend this, even though the best way I know to chain myself to my easel is to commit work for a show. Yes, deadlines make you finish things. However, they’re corrosive to body and soul. Better to just develop good work practices.

Be patient with yourself
I had cancer at age 40. Since then health issues have played a much larger role in my life. I’m always infuriated by being sick, because I like to keep busy. But if you’ve just had a baby or are recovering from pneumonia, you’re not going be efficient. Be patient. Just as you have to walk a little farther every day to regain fitness, you need to slowly reform your work schedule.

I’ve got one more workshop available this summer. Join me for Sea and Sky at Schoodic, August 5-10. We’re strictly limited to twelve, but there are still seats open.

Friday, July 6, 2018

The lies we tell ourselves about painting

Some have a germ of truth; some are out and out wrong.
Île d’Orléans waterfront farm, by Carol L. Douglas. ‘Immediate’ shouldn’t mean half-baked.
Don’t overwork it: This is the most common bromide I hear. I hate it. It encourages painters to stop prematurely, and to not work out the latent potential or problems in the work.

It’s far better to go too far and need to fix your mistakes than never understand your limits or see where you might end up. “Don’t overwork it” is a great way to permanently stunt your growth as a painter.

Replace it with this: “If you can paint it once, you can paint it 1000 times.” It liberates you to scrape out, redraw, paint over, scribe across your surface and otherwise really explore your medium. And it’s actually true.

Cirrus clouds at Olana, by Carol L. Douglas. I couldn't have painted this had I not learned how to marry edges.
That’s your style: When I was a painting student, I had a teacher tell me that heavy lines were my ‘style’. They weren’t; I just hadn’t learned how to marry, blur or emphasize edges. These are technical skills, and to master them I had to move on to the Art Students League and teachers who understood the difference between technique and style.

Ultimately, we all end up with identifiable styles, but they should be un-self-conscious, the result of putting paint down many, many times. Anything that we do to avoid learning proper technique is not a style, it’s a failure.

Blues player Shakin Smith once told me that his style was the gap between his inner vision and his capacity to render it. That made me stop worrying about style at all.

Vineyard, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy of Kelpie Gallery. The dominant greens in this painting are based on ivory black.
Don’t use black: “Monet didn’t use black, and you shouldn’t, either!” That’s true, but only after 1886, when Monet (apparently) adopted a limited palette. On the other hand, his palette included emerald green, which was copper-acetoarsenite, the killer pigment of the 19th century. There are limits to aping the masters of the past.

Monet made chromatic blacks, which are mixtures of hues that approximate black. Every artist should learn how to make neutrals, and not rely on buying Gamblin’s premix. But there are places where black is useful. One is in mixing greens. Another is in mixing skin tones. Contemporary painting is all about the tints (mixing with white) but ignores shades (mixing with black) and tones (mixing with black and white).

Back in the day, art students learned not just tints, but shades and tones.
Pros use more paint: Beginning artists generally don’t use enough paint, so it’s useful to tell them to increase the amount of paint. However, there are some great painters out there who work very thin—Colin Page is an excellent example. The problem is in getting to that point. It’s a mastery born of years of experience. To get there you need—annoyingly—to start with more paint.
Fish Beach, by Carol L. Douglas.
If it’s not beautiful, you’re doing something wrong: Seeking beauty instead of truth is a great way to make static paintings. Paintings go through many ugly phases before they’re finished, and sublimating their ragged edges is a great way to drain all the juice out of your painting.

I’ve got one more workshop available this summer. Join me for Sea and Sky at Schoodic, August 5-10. We’re strictly limited to twelve, but there are still seats open.