Paint Schoodic

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Sunday, May 19, 2019

Monday Morning Art School: packing for overseas trips

Leave home the flammable chemicals, make sure your passport is current, and you should be fine.
I like Panel-Pak carriers but usually run short of slots on a long trip.
Most problems with painting in other countries are due to flight regulations, not your destination. I haven’t had a problem flying with my paints since the early days after 9/11, but they are in a clearly-labeled clear-plastic bag.

Do not bring large tubes of oil paints in your carry-on luggage; they exceed the 3 oz. rule. It is not necessary to empty your pochade box if it still has useful paint on it; paint is no more volatile on the palette than it is in a tube.

According to the FAA, nonflammable paints are those with a flashpoint above 140° F (60° C). Linseed oil has a flashpoint above 550°F. This information is found on the product’s material safety data sheet (MSDS). The flash point is in section 9 of the MSDS. Section 14 indicates if the product is regulated for transportation. Here is a PDF for Gamblin Oil Colors’ general artist oil colors sheet.

My paints are in a clear plastic bag with a label written by Lori Putnam, which I print from the Gamblin website.
Gamsol has a flash point of 144° F, which makes it theoretically transportable by plane, but I’ve never done it. The FAA itself says “paint thinners, turpentine, and brush cleaners are flammable liquids and may not be carried in carry-on or checked baggage.” Odorless mineral spirits (called ‘white spirits’ in some countries) are cheap and easy to buy in any art store. One quart lasts me two weeks.

Don’t plan on bringing medium, either. Most of them have naphtha added as a drying agent. This is a volatile petroleum solvent, more powerful than mineral spirits, and it has a low flash point. It appears across a wide range of pre-mixed mediums including alkyl gels (such as Galkyd) and the Grumbacher mediums that I prefer.
Don't forget the rain gear, especially in Scotland.
Your choices are to buy a small bottle at your destination, paint without medium, or use a traditional drying oil like linseed oil. If you choose to do the latter, remember that it will dry more slowly. Plan accordingly to carry your wet canvases home.

I use PanelPak wet canvas carriers, but there are times (like this morning) when I have more wet canvases than slots. If paintings are almost dry and have little impasto, interleaving them with wax paper will get them home safely. If you have a mess of wet canvases, you may need to improvise. Your goal is to create a space between the canvas boards. The easiest way is to cut cardboard or plastic spacers. Once the strips and the boards are in a stable pile, I tape or tie the whole mess together. Carry the gooiest ones, or the ones you like best, in your carrier.

Interleaved wax paper can stop almost-dry paintings from sticking to each other.
Americans already live in the world’s largest art market, so traveling to other countries to work doesn’t make a lot of sense. Still, it sometimes happens. You may need a work visa. This is a laborious process. Ask the organizer of your event for documentation.

Our State Department maintains a list of travel advisories for foreign destinations. These include additional-vaccination suggestions. Some foreign destinations require visas. Others require that you have at least six months left on a passport. You should check with your health insurance provider about whether you’re covered abroad, and with your auto insurance provider about whether your policy covers an international rental car.
But for gooey paintings, you're going to need to improvise some kind of spacer strip.
You will need power adapters for most foreign destinations. I find a USB power bank very useful for long plane trips. And I just smile and pay the $10 a day fee to use my cell phone overseas; without that, you wouldn’t be reading this blog this morning.

Here is my personal packing list, and here are supply lists for oils, watercolor, and acrylic supplies. I print the relevant ones every time I pack and use them as a checklist.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Scots invented everything

Narrow roads, lochs, mountains, the sea, and a pint. The road from Edinburgh to Iona is beautiful no matter the season.
Sheep ambling down to the pub at Fionnphort. Photo courtesy Douglas J. Perot.
I drove from Edinburgh to Fionnphort just three years ago. This year, I relaxed as others managed logistics. At the Green Welly, one of our party purchased a CD of traditional Scottish songs. Amazing Grace was the last tune, and we all sang as we climbed the last rise to Fionnphort harbor. Single-track roads in the UK can make an atheist pray.

The subtext of this week’s trip has been, “The Scots invented everything,” which seems very nearly true. The Scottish Enlightenment was part of a worldwide outpouring of ideas. In Scotland, that took a particularly practical bent. Their chief aim was improvement, virtue, and practical assistance. Matters like lighthouse design were not too plebian for Scotland’s greatest thinkers.

If you head to the Hebrides, you go on a boat operated by Caledonian MacBrayne. This company has been in operation since 1851, although it had a period of government ownership from 1973-2006. As with most ferries, it’s a monopoly. A ditty around here goes:

The Earth belongs unto the Lord
And all that it contains
Except the Kyles and the Western Isles
And they are all MacBrayne's.

Eilean Musdile light, designed by Robert Stevenson. Photo by Carol L. Douglas
Two waters intersect across a bar on the route of the Oban-to-Mull ferry. On either side, there’s a lighthouse standing atop a rock.  Eilean Musdile is the larger of these two. It stands at the mouth of Loch Linnhe and has a prehistoric standing stone as well as other ruins. Its lighthouse was built by Robert Stevenson in 1833.

The Stevensons are famous for their literary son, Robert Louis Stevenson, but they were known in their day as great lighthouse engineers. Robert Stevenson learned his trade from his stepfather Thomas Smith, an engineer with the Northern Lighthouse Board. At the tender age of 19 he was entrusted to supervise the Clyde Lighthouse construction on Little Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde.
Bell Rock Lighthouse, 1819, watercolor and gouache on paper, JMW Turner, courtesy Scottish National Gallery
His most famous work was the Bell Rock lighthouse. Balanced on a partly-submerged reef, its construction was risky and difficult. It was done so precisely that its masonry has endured for more than 200 years. Robert Stevenson invented the flashing lights that are still used on lighthouses. He also designed and built roads, bridges and other public structures.

In 1797, Stevenson married his step-sister. Three of their sons, Alan, David, and Thomas (RLS’ father), became lighthouse engineers as well. David’s sons carried the lighthouse business into the fourth generation.

Celtic cross on Iona, under last night's waxing moon. Photo courtesy Douglas J. Perot.
Opposite Robert Stevenson’s Eilean Musdile light is the smaller Lady's Rock, which is submerged at high tide except for its small lighthouse. This rock has a romantic Scottish tale attached to it. Lachlan Cattenach was a Maclean of Duart on nearby Mull. He was unable to father a boy and blamed his wife, Catherine. He left her on the rock to await the incoming tide, taking care that it should look like an accident.

Lachlan duly reported her death to her brother, the Earl of Argyll. Later, the earl invited Lachlan to supper, where the scoundrel found Catherine seated next to her brother at the high table. Lachlan was allowed to leave unharmed, but was later found murdered in Edinburgh.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Golden Hour

My Edinburgh portrait is finished. Now I can head to Iona and some plein air, once again in the footsteps of the Scottish Colourists.
The Golden Hour, Carol L. Douglas. This isn't a perfect photo, but is the best I could do at the time.
In some ways you might have found the execution of this painting brutally workmanlike. There was no flailing or fits of self-discovery; I save those for my own studio.

I started on Wednesday of last week. I laid down my brushes for the final time at 4:26 PM yesterday. That was exactly four minutes before I’d agreed to finish. Most of those days, I worked strictly from 9 to 5. The exception was Tuesday, when I overran my hours and worked until after sunset. But that wasn’t panic-painting; I simply needed more time for Poppy (the dog), who hadn’t figured in my original plan.

The client stated up front that he wouldn’t look at the painting until it was done. Indeed, he carefully averted his eyes whenever he entered the drawing room.
My worksite.
His only request was that the painting be in the manner of Francis Cadell. I studied a number of Cadell paintings over the winter. Once I entered the drawing room, however, I resolutely looked at no other paintings, except the James Morrison landscape peering over my shoulder. Morrison’s a terrific modern Scottish landscape painter and there are two of his paintings in this townhouse. It was a unique opportunity to study his work closely.

Interior with opera cloak, date unknown, Francis Cadell, courtesy Portland Gallery. This was painted just a few doors down from this townhouse.
I did see one Cadell painting at the preview for Bonhams’ Scottish Sale. But otherwise, I cloistered myself from other painters for the duration. Studying art while in the midst of an important painting muddies my vision.

We’d planned an unveiling for 4:30 yesterday. Yesterday, my client chipped a tooth and needed emergency dental work. By the time he came back, I’d cleaned up my kit and we’d returned the drawing room furniture to its usual places. He looked at the painting, made a brief, eloquent, and complimentary speech, and then turned back to spend more time with the piece. I can’t remember a word he said, but the model was happy, the patron engaged with the painting, and I breathed a great sigh of relief.

My client inspecting the finished work.
Someone asked me how I was able to estimate my time so precisely. Part of that comes from painting for a long time. I’m pretty certain how long it takes to finish a canvas. But part of that is also confidence—not in my own abilities, but in God. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?” Jesus famously asked. I get up every morning knowing that the God who has brought me this far intends to carry me through. That saves me a lot of worry and self-doubt.

I’m off to Iona in two hours and still have not packed. I first visited this island in 2016. Since then I’ve longed to return and paint its white sands and tropical aquamarine waters. This takes me, once again, in the footsteps of the Scottish Colourists. Here Cadell worked in a much looser style, as befits plein air, but on Iona I anticipate working in the manner of nobody but myself.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

In pursuit of the picturesque

Scotland is a stew of genuine Medieval and Victorian architecture, ideas, myths and fables, with a dollop of pop culture thrown in.
Merlin’s Tomb, 1815, by Joseph Michael Gandy, is a fantasy based on Rosslyn Chapel.
The Scotland we imagine was largely the invention of the novelist Sir Walter Scott. It was he who made the legends of the Highlands fit reading for polite society. At the time, Scotland was moving into the modern world of capitalism and engineering. Meanwhile, the Highland Clearances were pushing people out of their tribal lands and off to the New World. Scott wrote at this pivotal time in Scottish history, and his stories drew a line between the romantic then and the pragmatic now.

There’s a monument to George IV in Edinburgh; it marks the first visit of a United Kingdom monarch to this city in two centuries. To be fair, much of that time Scotland was in rebellion.
Portrait of George IV of the United Kingdom, 1829, David Wilkie, courtesy of the Royal Collection. The king actually wore pink tights for his visit.
Scott stage-managed the king’s visit. He had just three weeks to plan the event, but succeeded in creating an affair that impressed both the ruler and his own countrymen. Tartan had been banned after the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, but Scott dressed the king up in it. Overnight, tartan became a potent symbol of Scottish national identity.
Rosslyn Castle, c. 1820, Joseph Mallord William Turner, courtesy Indianapolis Museum of Art
As Scotland went off the boil, many Englishmen visited. Among them was the painter JMW Turner. During his first trip in 1801, he sketched Rosslyn Castle. Later, he returned and painted the Castle for Scott’s serial, The Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland. This teamed the United Kingdom’s greatest romantic writer with its greatest romantic artist. Turner continued to illustrate Scott’s books, becoming enough of chum to visit Scott at his vast country pile, Abbotsford, in 1831.
Edinburgh from Calton Hill, c. 1819, Joseph Mallord William Turner, courtesy National Galleries Scotland
The picturesque was a compromise between two Enlightenment ideals: beauty and sublimity. By the end of the 18th century, thinkers had come to the conclusion that these were not rational, but emotional states. The beautiful was sensual; the sublime provoked awe or terror. The picturesque combined them in a more easily-digested package.

Where better to experience this than in the Scottish Highlands? “The mountains are ecstatic,” wrote Thomas Gray in 1765. “None but those monstrous creatures of God know how to join so much beauty with so much horror.”

Nobody was more susceptible to the Scottish picturesque than Queen Victoria. In 1842, she and Prince Albert paid their first visit to Scotland. They were so struck by the Highlands that they returned regularly, ultimately purchasing the Balmoral estate in 1848.
View from the walk near the Dee in Balmoral Grounds, 1849, Queen Victoria, courtesy Royal Collection Trust
Victoria’s affection for Scotland was deep and abiding. The Royal Couple enthusiastically decorated Balmoral Castle in Balmoral tartan, stags’ heads, and other Scottish tchotchkes. This led to an international craze for all things Scottish.

The queen visited Rosslyn Chapel on her first trip north. It was then half-ruined and overgrown, and she noted that it deserved restoration. Work commenced in 1862, and the chapel was rededicated to worship that same year. Today, Rosslyn Chapel is a stew of Medieval and Victorian architecture, ideas, myths and fables, with a dollop of pop culture thrown in—much, in fact, like the myth of Scotland itself.

A feminist painter and her feminist royal patron

It’s very trendy right now to ‘discover’ women artists. But how lost were they, really?
Mary Moser, c. 1770-71, George Romney, courtesy National Gallery
I’m in Edinburgh finishing a portrait this week. My subject bought me a copy of The Lady. This is one of Britain’s longest-running magazines. Founded in 1885, it was where the gentry advertised for domestic servants. Between the nanny ads and the horoscopes, there are some pieces of surprising interest, including a biography of 18th century painter Mary Moser.

Moser is best remembered for her decorative painting at Frogmore House, an English country house within the Home Park at Windsor. Started in 1680, it was largely renovated by Queen Charlotte, whom Americans know as the wife of King George III.

A Vase of Flowers, 1792-97, Mary Moser, Frogmore House, courtesy Royal Collection Trust
But the Queen was much more than that. Among other things, she was a champion of women artists and a keen amateur botanist who helped expand Kew Gardens. It was this interest in botany that led to her hiring Moser to decorate the South Pavilion at Frogmore House.

The house was more than a century old when Queen Charlotte purchased it in 1792. She used it as a retreat from nearby Windsor Castle, where she and her daughters could practice their hobbies of “painting, drawing, needlework, japanning, reading and ‘botanising’.” The Queen had borne 15 children (13 of whom lived to adulthood) and had a mentally-ill husband, so it’s perhaps understandable that she then built another retreat within the gardens of this retreat. That’s Frogmore Cottage, where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex now live with their new baby.
Queen Charlotte, 1761, studio of Allan Ramsay
Moser was already well-regarded as a floral painter when she took up the commission at Frogmore House. She had been trained by her father, an enamellist and himself a drawing tutor to George III. She was one of 36 artists who joined together to form the Royal Academy of Arts. At the age of 24, she was the youngest Academician and one of just two women among the founders. The other was Angelica Kauffman.

Moser did not marry until later in life. By convention, a woman’s professional life ended upon marriage. “[P]erhaps there was no man worth giving it all up for,” suggested The Lady.

Moser carried on an affair with miniaturist Richard Cosway. He was well-known as a libertine, and “commonly described as resembling a monkey.” (His wife was, in turn, getting it on with Thomas Jefferson.) In his notebooks, Conway made lascivious comments and “invidious comparisons between her and Mrs Cosway,” implying that Moser was more sexually responsive than his wife. He died insane, just in case you’re wondering if there’s cosmic justice.

A Bunch of Flowers, 1792-97, Mary Moser, Frogmore House, courtesy Royal Collection Trust
Moser married at age 49. Bowing to social pressure, she retired and began exhibiting as an amateur under her married name. She’d made a pile of money as a painter; the Frogmore commission alone earned her £900, which is equivalent to £100,000 today. She left most of her wealth to women: relatives, friends, and the wives of other artists.

It’s very trendy right now to ‘discover’ women artists. But how lost were they in the first place? Artemisia Gentileschi, for example, may not have been a household name twenty years ago, but was well-known to students of the Baroque.

The problem wasn’t so much with their own times, but with the peculiar blinders of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Moser’s membership in the Royal Academy was circumscribed to some degree by her gender; she could not attend nude sketch sessions, for example, and some meetings were closed to her. But all in all, she had a happy and complete life as a painter.