Paint Schoodic

EARLY BIRD DISCOUNTS! Register before January 1 and get a discount on Age of Sail, Sea & Sky and Pecos workshops for 2021.

Friday, December 4, 2020

The Power of Ten

A strong work ethic is a good thing, but sometimes it gets in the way of our real work.

Soft September Morning, by Carol L. Douglas.

Everyone has bad weeks, including me, although I’m usually so annoyingly chipper that it’s hard to tell. This week was a challenge to my sang froid; nothing major (thank God) but a concatenation of little things.

I started the week feeling bloated and out of sorts from too much holiday. My studio is a mess. Then there are the usual stresses of the Christmas season. Like many of us, I suspect, I went back to work on Monday morning in a deflated mood.

On Monday night, I managed to drop my still life—a pie plate filled with water and warm wax—directly into my laptop’s keyboard. I turned it over and shook out the water. My students are smarter than me; they told me to stop our Zoom class and dry out my laptop. My long-suffering technical support department (my husband) disassembled and dried it for me. Other than the sound and mouse, it appears to be working. However, since both of these things are critical, I’ve got a new laptop in my near future.

Add five or six more tealights, then dump in your keyboard. It turned out to be a lousy idea in so many ways.

Of course, I wasted hours of our time. And that made me grumpy. It’s backed up, but shopping for a replacement and recreating a work environment is no simple matter. In the past, this might have thrown me for days.

The Power of Ten is a simple game I play with myself to overcome a bad mood, inertia or paralysis. If I’m facing a mountain of laundry, I tell myself I’ll fold ten items. If my dining room table is covered with papers, I tell myself to file ten of them.

Mess? What mess?

This is not a way to fool myself into doing more; I do stop at ten. It’s a method of staring down what gets in the way of my real work. Like everyone else, I’m the product (in part) of my childhood programming. A strong work ethic is a good thing, but sometimes it gets in our way. Mine tells me I have to finish my chores before I can paint. Doing just a little work gives me permission to ignore the bigger mess.

Taken into the studio, that means I pick up and put away ten things. My suitcase on the floor that still has stuff from my Tallahassee workshop? That counts as six items, once I’ve put them back where they belong. The pile of frames that Colin Page gave me? That will be eight of today’s items.

Over a week, of course, I’ve managed to put away fifty items. Imperceptibly, order is being restored. More importantly, I’ve not stopped and spent a day cleaning my studio; instead, I’ve painted.

My ten brush strokes took the form of branches on this canvas, which I keep around just for fun.

My problem Tuesday was not just disorder, but worry and distraction about my laptop. That can completely derail me. So, I applied a variation of the Power of Ten to my palette. First, I laid out fresh paints; that always helps. Then I told myself I could make just ten brushstrokes. Voila! I’d eased the transition to real work.

Ten brushstrokes is a great limit when you’re having trouble concentrating. It’s also helpful when you’re confused about how to finish a painting. It makes you stop and think intentionally about each mark you make. That stops you from noodling, which has been the death of many fine paintings. Limit yourself, and see how quickly your mind zeroes in on the real issues.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds

Yes, inconsistency is immature, but that doesn't make it a bad thing.

Rocks and Sea, 1916-19, Edward Hopper, courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

The other day, Bruce McMillan sent out a blog post asking readers to identify an artist. (He kindly mailed me the images, which illustrate this post.) I’m pretty good at art history, especially 20th century American landscape painting, but I could not peg the painter. The drafting style was Wyeth-strong, the composition late Winslow Homer, the paint handling, California Impressionist, the lighting, Rockwell Kent. The overall impact wavered enough that I figured he’d slipped in a few ringers from other artists just to see if we were paying attention.

Sea and Rocky Shore, 1916-19, Edward Hopper, courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

Instead, he had quoted that preeminent painter of gritty American realism, one every self-respecting painter should be able to identify at fifty paces—Edward Hopper. Man, did I feel foolish.

Harbor Shore, Rockland, 1926, Edward Hopper, courtesy Blanton Museum of Art

Of course, most of these paintings were done before he ‘became’ the Hopper who painted Nighthawks, but surely a painter of his caliber should have some consistency? Actually, not. Many great painters have produced work with wildly different brushwork, drafting and intention over their careers. That’s obvious with modernists like Pablo Picasso, but it’s equally true of masters from antiquity such as Caravaggio.

Sketch of Portland, ME, by Edward Hopper

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. It’s a quote that should be printed and tacked into every art box, because striving for consistency is a trap.

Cove at Ogunquit, 1914, Edward Hopper, courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

Critics sometimes say that inconsistency is a mark of immaturity—and it should be, because new painters are playful and experimental. That’s a good thing, and something that the rest of us should emulate. We tend to lose our inventiveness as we grow more accomplished. But the greatest painters are not afraid to move beyond what others perceive as good art.

Rocks and Cove, 1929, watercolor, Edward Hopper, courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

A lot of treacle has been churned out on the subject of style, including by me. Of course, style is very important in art. The problem is, it’s impossible to teach or control. Style is influenced by your place in history, your aesthetics, what you study and think about, your working process, and—ultimately—your soul.

Rocks and Waves, 1916-19, Edward Hopper, courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

Style should not be confused with mannerisms. Mannerisms are on the surface; style is internal. An example of a mannerism is palette-knife painting—you can put it on and take it off at will. But if you look at a brilliant palette-knife painter like Cynthia Rosen, you realize there’s far more to her style than the implement she’s using to apply paint. If she started painting with brushes tomorrow, that wouldn’t affect her way of seeing, her use of light, or her color sense.

Sketch of Pulpit Rock, Monhegan, by Edward Hopper

Conscious attempts to develop a style inevitably result in limitation. The artist puts himself into a box from which he cannot escape. The tragic career of the late Thomas Kinkade is an extreme example. The man was not without talent; who knows what he might have painted had he not locked himself into the ghastly pastorals that made his fortune? He died rich but miserable, at age 54 of acute alcohol poisoning, exacerbated by Valium.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Monday Morning Art School: painting water

Water is infinitely variable, and that means there’s no one way to paint it.

Electric Glide, by Carol L. Douglas. The length of reflections may vary, but they do need to be directly below what's being reflected.

Artists often trip up where things have a general pattern but can’t be predicted precisely. We either ignore the pattern altogether or overstate it into rigid regularity. These stochastic processes are everywhere in nature, but most especially in the behavior of water.

Water can be utterly still, random and choppy, or it can create orderly patterns of ripples or waves. When it hits an obstacle like a ledge or the shore, its surface is distorted by what’s happening underneath. In a rainstorm, fresh water floats on the surface of salt water, adding another pattern.

Ripple pattern off the deck of American Eagle in Stonington Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas

With all that variety, there’s no one way to paint water. In my Age of Sail workshops, we paint repeated quick studies of waves and light; none of them are ever the same.

Reflection involves two rays - an incoming (incident) ray and an outgoing (reflected) ray. Physics tells us that the angles are equal but on opposite sides of a tangent. This is immutable. It’s why reflections of a boat, lighthouse or tree must run down in a straight line to the viewer’s feet.

Parker Dinghy, by Carol L. Douglas. You can see into water when you're looking straight down into it, or into the side of a wave.

The surface of water is not perfectly reflective, although it can come very close. Some rays of light are absorbed rather than bouncing back at us. This happens in both directions, so we can see some of the color (or objects) under the water.

Waiting to play, by Carol L. Douglas. The bands of orange are reflected light from underwater. Available from the artist.

Moreover, water is never absolutely flat. Even the slightest breeze distorts its surface. Although waves start out as regular oscillations, they are rapidly distorted by wind and current. Their surface can be rough and infinitely varied. Light rays are reflected at many different angles, radically disrupting the image. This can give the surface of the sea or its spray a solid or matte appearance.

Where we look directly into water, it’s the least reflective. That can either mean looking straight down or into the face of the wave (where it appears to be green). The tops of the waves reflect the sky, but the sky isn’t the same color in all directions. Other surfaces reflect what’s in the distance—moonlight, other boats, structures, trees.

Three Graces, by Carol L. Douglas. The closer the object, the longer its reflection.

While a reflection must be lined up horizontally with what’s being reflected, that doesn’t mean the reflection will be absolutely symmetrical if you turn the canvas on its side. Tall objects are (generally) taller, but the farther away they are, the shorter they appear in a reflection. So, a mountain may loom in the scene in front of you and be relatively shorter in the reflection.

In still water, ripples are generally elliptical, although they may join in long strings or twitch with the vibration of the breeze. As water becomes less still, it generally sorts itself into waves.

Breaking Storm, by Carol L. Douglas. Waves start as regular oscillations and are distorted by wind and current. Available through Folly Cove Fine Art, Rockport, Mass.

Most of us see waves when they’re approaching the shore. There their behavior changes radically. They tend to pile up as the water gets shallower, effectively growing taller and slowing down. As they break, all predictability ends. The spray from a breaking wave can and does go anywhere.

If you live where it’s still warm enough to paint outdoors, find a body of water near you, and draw or paint the reflections. My Zoom classes are going at this a little differently; we’re going to paint the reflections in a pie-plate of water or in a mirror. It’s not the setting that’s important; it’s the reflections that we must master.

New Zoom classes start December 7-8; current students have priority, but if you want to be added to the list, email me. And it’s that time of year when you can get Early Bird registration discounts for my workshops—for Age of Sail, Pecos, and Sea & Sky.

This weekend I got one of the best endorsements imaginable, from student Beth Carr. “I kept saying ‘in my retirement’ but one never knows. I figured I’d better not wait! Carol’s Zoom class is helping save this pandemic period from being a total bust. And I’m SO glad I came to Schoodic and met you all.”

Friday, November 27, 2020

Have yourself a very educational Christmas

Four options for advancing your skills in 2021.

Painting aboard schooner American Eagle.

A workshop or a class is a great gift for someone who’s working toward better painting skills. If you register for any of these workshops or classes prior to January 1, you’ll get an early-bird discount.

All my workshops and classes are strictly limited to 12 participants. Partners are welcome; these locations are fantastic destinations in their own right. And, of course, you can register after January 1, but it will cost you more.

I'm assuming that COVID will be just a bad memory by 2021, but if not, all workshops are refundable for COVID cancellations.

All supplies are included in the schooner workshops. Also a healthy dose of color theory.


We’re offering Age of Sail aboard schooner American Eagle twice in 2021. It’s an all-inclusive (including materials) rollicking sail-and-paint class aboard the finest windjammer on the Maine coast.

The June sail coincides with the Gam, a rendezvous of all the boats in the Maine windjammer fleet. There’s live music and visiting between boats. The lobster fleet is hard at work, and we’ll see lupines in bloom as we poke around Penobscot’s quaint harbors.

On the other hand, September is a delightful time to sail on the Maine coast. The ocean is still warm, and the colors are spectacular.

All the information you need about both trips can be found here.

Painting at breathtaking Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park.


My Sea & Sky workshop is a perennial favorite and one of the high points of my year. We paint in the splendor of America’s first national park, but far from the madding crowds.

Schoodic Peninsula has dramatic rock formations, windblown pines, pounding surf and stunning mountain views that draw visitors from around the world. You might see dolphins, humpback whales or seals cavorting in the waves. Herring gulls visit while eiders and cormorants splash about.

A day trip to the harbor at Corea, ME is included. Far off the beaten path, Corea, ME is a village of small frame houses, fishing piers and lobster traps. Its working fleet bustles in and out of the harbor.

 Again, it’s designed to be all-inclusive so that you don’t have to stop and figure out meals or drive in from your hotel. (They’re in short supply in the high season here in Maine.)

Information about this trip can be found here.

Painting in an historic settlement near Pecos, NM.


A fast-moving river, high mountain vistas, hoodoos, dry washes, tiny settlements and the colorful skies of New Mexico all beckon us to this very special place.

The village of Pecos, NM lies below the Santa Fe National Forest. Nearby, Pecos National Historical Park, Glorieta Pass, and Pecos Benedictine Monastery provide superb mountain views. Ranches and small adobe settlements dot the landscape. This is a landscape of pine wildernesses, horses, and pickup trucks. Yet it’s within commuting distance of Santa Fe, so accommodations, necessities and world-class galleries are just a short drive away.

Information about this workshop can be found here.

We have almost as much fun on Zoom as we do in real life, except nobody falls in the water.


Zoom classes are offered Monday nights and Tuesday mornings. They resume the second week of December. The six-week session stresses all the elements of painting we cover in workshops and plein air classes, but you can access them from anywhere in the world. Returning students have priority, so seats are limited. If you’re interested, contact me soon.


First, read the links on my website. Registration is fast and easy and can be done by mail or phone. Of course you can always email me with specific questions. And happy holidays, my friend!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Books for the art lovers on your Christmas list

A student asked for book recommendations for Christmas. I’ve gone over my own bookshelves in my mind’s eye. If the binding is worn from overuse, or it’s a new acquisition I’m excited over, I’m recommending it.

I frequently recommend Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It lays out the fundamental rule of artmaking: if you want to be an artist, you have to make art, lots of it, over and over again.

Drawing is a skill, not a talent. Not being able to do it holds you back as a painter. Sketching from Square One to Trafalgar Square, by Richard Scott, is a series of exercises that will take you from simple measurement to complex architecture.

Art of Sketching will help you expand your drawing to be more intuitive and spontaneous. The Practice and Science of Drawing is a classic Harold Speed text from Dover Art Instruction. It’s dated (especially in its opinions of ‘modern’ art) but contains much useful information on drawing technique.
If you’re looking for similar exercises in figure drawing, I recommend Drawing the Human Form, by William A. Berry. It’s based on anatomy, not style.

Every art studio should have one anatomy textbook. I love Atlas of Human Anatomy, by Frank H. Netter. Netter was both a doctor and an artist, and he did his own beautiful illustrations. There are other, art-targeted, anatomy books, but this provides all the information I need. Since you’re not practicing medicine, you can buy an outdated copy.

Landscape Painting Inside and Out, by Kevin Macpherson, is a clear, concise guide to getting paint from the tube to the canvas.

I have a shelf full of watercolor books, but my primary pigment reference is a website, Handprint, by Bruce MacEvoy. This has replaced the classic Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green, by David Wilcox. There are many different ways to get watercolor on paper. If you want to buy only one book on the subject, try The Complete Watercolorist's Essential Notebook, by Gordon MacKenzie.

There are two color books I love. The first is Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color, which is filled with exercises to understand how color works. It’s fifty years old. The writing is dense to our modern sensibilities, but stick with it.

Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color, by Philip Ball, is a brilliant, readable treatise on how chemistry and technology have combined to influence art. (It’s far better than Victoria Finlay’s Color, which is merely a travelogue.) When you’re done reading it, you should have a firm handle on the differences between earth, organic and twentieth-century pigments.

I have shelves full of catalogues raisonné, museum guides, and other illustrated histories of art, but following are a few of my favorites:

The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, by David Silcox, deals with the painters who’ve most influenced me as a landscape painter. Growing up in the shadow of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, I had no concept of twentieth-century realism, but there it was, being made right across border from me.

John Constable: The Making of a Master, by Mark Evans, illustrates a simple truth of landscape painting: it all starts outdoors. I also have Constable’s Skies by the same author. It’s a beautiful picture book.

America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s, by Judith Barter, et al, is a catalog of Depression-era paintings by some of America’s most important painters. If you’re a fan of Regionalism, you’ll like it.

William Blake's Watercolors to the Divine Comedy, 2000, by David Bindman is only available on the used-book market now, but it’s one of my favorite books. Of course, I’m energized by Blake and Dante; if you’re not, you won’t care.

I keep returning to Dover Publications’ Albrecht Dürer woodcut and engraving books. They should be subtitled, “so you think you can draw?”

F.C.B. Cadell by Alice Strang, is a book I refer to for composition inspiration. He’s my favorite of the Scottish Colourists.

Frederic Remington: The Color of Night, by Nancy Anderson, et al. One could argue that Remington invented the nocturne. Certainly, nobody did it better.

Vital Passage: The Newfoundland Epic of Rockwell Kent with a Catalogue Raisonne of Kent's Newfoundland Works, by Jake Milgrem Wien, is a book I just purchased and love. My buddy Stephan Giannini tells me I should also read Kent’s own travel memoirs, which are extensive. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

N. C. Wyeth: New Perspectives by Jessica May, et al, is a catalog for a show originating at Portland Museum of Art and Brandywine Museum. Wyeth was, of course, much more than an illustrator.

(As ever, I am not getting a spiff for these recommendations. I used Amazon links for convenience, but by all means order these from your local bookseller instead.)