Paint Schoodic

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Thursday, August 2, 2018

Don’t suck

Brad Marshall gives me some trenchant painting advice.
On the wall at Camden harbor, watercolor sketch, Carol L. Douglas.
I paint with my pal Brad Marshall about once a year—generally at Rye Art Center’s Painters on Location, and occasionally here in Maine. He’s retired from his day job as a sign-painter in New York City, and his paid gig these days is teaching watercolor on cruise ships. That’s influenced his practice. Instead of hauling his big field kit up to Maine in a minivan, he brought a small shoulder bag full of watercolor supplies in a Honda Civic.

This spring, the organizers at Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival gave each participant a hot-press watercolor block from Winsor & Newton. At 7X10, it’s the perfect size to slip into a backpack with my sketchbook, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it.*

The big dark hull conundrum. I still don't like the solution. It wasn't until after I made the fatal brushstroke in the far water that I remembered this was hot-press paper. It, urm, doesn't scumble well.
Since I don’t sell my watercolors, I give them less attention than they deserve. Still, I do a lot of them over the course of the year—as value sketches for bigger oil paintings, to work out composition issues, or when I just don’t have the steam to set up my full oil-painting regalia. Watercolor is a great medium for experimentation.

We painted in Camden, on a dinghy dock. All floating docks drop with the tide, but this dock is accessible by ladder instead of a ramp. It limited my time. Once it was at the point where I could no longer toss my stuff up and over onto solid ground, I was going to have a harder time climbing back up. It would be ignominious in the extreme to have to ask the harbormaster to rescue me.

But it's all just an excuse to stick our feet in the water anyway. Photo courtesy of Kathy Jalbert.
In a tight harbor like Camden you’ll usually see big visiting boats on the nearest docks. These are too close for a good composition (unless you’re doing a boat portrait) and obscure the boats on moorings. Still, that overlapping jumble of hulls is the nature of the scene. I’ve been experimenting recently on using parts of boats, cropped tight, to suggest that jumble.

Dark hulls, close up, are not an inherently attractive composition. They make for a boring dull strip across the lower half of the paper. If there’s to be any background at all, all that darkness lands on one side and unbalances the painting. Still, it’s such a common situation, and I’d like to devise ways to deal with it.

I’m a mutterer when I paint, I’m sorry to admit. I wrestle through my ideas and problems out loud. Finally, Brad looked over at me and said, “Just don’t suck.” It seemed as good as any other advice, so I took it.

*I think this W/N sample block could convert me to hot press paper, if I can figure out the scumbling question. It’s a nice, flat sheet, easy to handle, and it tolerated the sea mist better than my usual Arches cold press does.

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