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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Plodding, one foot in front of the other


As with every cold, my current one is the worst that any person has ever endured.

Brandywine Morning, by Carol L. Douglas. It's a sign of my mental state that I forgot to photograph it out of the frame.
Marshalton, PA is a quaint, charming hamlet of Revolutionary War vintage located in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Last night I had a brief, telling conversation at the historic Marshalton Inn while handing in my daily paintings for Plein Air Brandywine Valley.

“You could kill yourself crossing that street at rush hour,” I mused.

“Everyone’s cell phone constantly reroutes them onto the fastest route,” said a man named Lyle. “All these local roads get a lot more traffic now.”

My cell phone certainly agrees with him. Each day, it takes me on a different path through winding bottomlands from Newark, DE to West Chester, PA. I’ve seen at least a million miles of this countryside in the dark. It’s a lesson in patience.

There’s some unusual traffic. I followed a propane truck across a one-lane bridge yesterday morning, learning the etiquette of beeping before trying the blind hill. He had more reason than me to be there; he eventually stopped to make a delivery. Last night I followed an eighteen-wheeler going cross-lots. On Monday, there was a delivery van which weaved and started and stopped, making me wonder if its driver was impaired. Eventually, I overtook him and realized he was watching a video screen.

Beautiful Revolutionary War era hamlets and traffic everywhere.
I don’t condone impaired driving, but I can see how these roads could make a person careless. My ‘commute’ this week is about 25 miles. Yesterday it took almost an hour and a half.

Route 1 wanders through here, but bears little resemblance to the chirpy commercial road on which I live in Maine. There my son walks across the street to his summer job. Here, it’s a four-lane highway resolutely plugging through the suburbs.

I’ve lived my life in the quiet backwaters of the northeast, where population is stable. I don’t spend much time in the urban circus that stretches from Philadelphia to Washington, DC. Why do we think we need more people in America when so many of them have to live like this? No amount of shopping or fine dining could compensate for the loss of quiet they endure on a daily basis.

Blacksmith shop, by Carol L. Douglas. My two-hour Quick Draw.
Meanwhile, I’m struggling at this event. Handing in my work, I notice a stupendous street scene by Alison Menke and a beautiful, stylish house by Mick McAndrews. Suddenly everything I’ve painted seems weighty and old. Perhaps that’s because I’m feeling weighty and old myself. My cold is in full bloom.

I’m pounding zinc lozenges every three hours. These promise to reduce either the severity or the length of my cold by 28%—I can’t really remember which—if dissolved on the tongue starting at the first sign of a cold. I haven’t noticed much difference; as with every cold, my current one is the worst that any person has ever endured. But I keep going; after all, I’d be just as miserable not painting, and at least I’ll have something to show for it at the end of the week.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The first day is always the hardest


The coldest winter day I ever painted in Maine was actually in the Brandywine valley in October.
Morning Flight Path, 16X12, by Carol L. Douglas.
I’m at Brandywine Plein Air. We must paint in specific venues each day. That’s a good thing. Chester County, Pennsylvania is historic and hilly, and has no two roads that run in the same direction. I’d spend the whole week lost were it not for good navigation points.

We also must hand in no more than three paintings a day, but are expected to produce between four and ten over four days. This is a clever rule. It prevents an onslaught of paintings at the last minute, which then must be labeled and merchanidized by the organizers. It also stops the artist from endless dithering at the last minute. “Set it and forget it,” as the Ronco rotisserie ads once famously said. 

Of course, handing off paintings at a designated site requires more driving through the maze of Brandywine roads. I’m not sure this event was doable before the advent of cell phones.
It was cold, dark and miserable. On the rare moments the sky appeared, I rushed to add it.
The proper cure for a head cold is the “two-hat cure,” wherein one lies on one’s four-poster bed consuming Hot Toddies until the hat on the footpost morphs into two. (I got that directly from my doctor, by the way.) Instead, I’m dosing myself with Zicam and shivering in the wind. I should have stopped at CVS and bought Depends before I started coughing. If I weren’t 600 miles from home I’d have quit and gone to bed. On the road there’s no choice but to paint.

Enter Bruce McMillan, a fellow Mainer with an oversized Icelandic sweater and an exuberant personality to match. Without him, I might have died of grumpiness yesterday. I found myself kvetching about the light, the wind, and my lousy painting. He smiled and opened his arms as if to embrace the entire world, yelling into the wind, “What? It’s beautiful here!” He’s right, of course, and it didn’t take much to jolly me back into loving my life.

Blustery day, 12X16, by Carol L. Douglas. Same hedgerow, different angle. The black walnuts always lose their leaves first.
Still, I was—as Brad Marshall so memorably once said—“flailing around.” I texted my first painting to Bobbi Heath at noon, with the note, “crap composition, no focal point. It’s not inaccurate, it’s just ugly.” Well, days like this happen, and the only answer is to get up the next morning and do it again, only better this time. So here I go.

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Monday, October 29, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: ditching the color

A painted value study is a great tool for understanding your subject.
Pile of rocks value study, by Jennifer Johnson
Last week, I had you find and identify the simple shapes within a drawing. The prior week, we learned how to do abstracted value studies of our own homes.  This week I want you to do a monochrome (black and white) painting based on a value drawing.

Jennifer Johnson is usually two steps ahead of me. At the end of Tuesday’s class she told me she’d done this assignment before I assigned it. She graciously offered her paintings to illustrate this post.

Jennifer started by doing this meticulous, detailed drawing of her pile of stones.
Before you can work successfully in color, you need to be able to work successfully in black and white. This is possibly the most valuable training an artist can give him or herself. I often do watercolor value studies before I paint in oils, but any painted medium will do for a monochrome study—gouache, watercolor, acrylic or oils.  It is not necessary to use a pricey substrate for this exercise: gessoed paper is sufficient for acrylics and oils; use any paper you have for gouache or watercolor.

Jennifer was trying to teach herself about rock structure, so she set up a pile of stones. First, she drew a meticulous, careful drawing of her subject. This step is akin to research; you are learning the details of your subject.

She traced the basic shapes for each iteration. It saved her tons of time and made it easier to do multiple iterations of the same idea.
Next, she simplified and redrew her picture in graphite, focusing on the values, not the fine details. She then painted the rocks in monochrome acrylic. She added a final step, using five different colors to represent five different value levels. If you want to add this step, the exact colors you use are immaterial, but they should go from warm to cool or cool to warm as they get darker.

Jennifer used tracing paper to redraw her outlines. That’s perfectly fine, since she didn’t get hung up on the drawing. You may find yourself doing a half-dozen drawings before you get the levels and composition just right. Your goal isn’t to simply copy reality, but to design a construction that pleases your eye. It may be almost exactly what you see, or it may be very different.

Next came a simple value sketch of the rocks.
Value is the first and most important visual element available to the painter. Get it right, and you can be wrong about a lot of other things and still produce a stellar painting. It’s a lot easier to experiment with value when you’re not fussing about color management at the same time.

Why use paint instead of a pencil for your value study? In practice, many students have trouble applying different pencil tones to paper. They leave most of the paper white. Moreover, it’s hard to differentiate four or five value steps with a #2 pencil.

In addition to her monochrome painting, Jennifer did a version where she assigned different colors to different values. If you do this, make sure the colors move warm-to-cool or cool-to-warm as they get darker or lighter.
Work from light to dark. When you’re done, check where the area of highest contrast is. If that’s not where you wanted the focal point to be, you may have a design problem. If so, just do it again until your work can be read like a story: first focal point, next focal point, next focal point, etc.

Don’t be timid about laying in darks and don’t worry about neatness. This is rough work, and it should be done fast.

Why not do your value studies on the canvas you intend to work on? Once you cover it up, you no longer have it for reference. That becomes very important as the light shifts. Having a value study on hand can make the difference between being able to finish a painting or not.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The worst curses aren’t from witches


Many people are blocked from art by that one person who told them they couldn’t do it.
Confused, by Carol L. Douglas. People tell little lies all the time. Don't let them define you.
This little car is headed to Plein Air Brandywine Valley, where it—unfortunately—is going to head into the remnants of Hurricane Wilma. Well, it’s not the first time I’ve painted in a torrential downpour and it won’t be the last, although I’m kicking myself for leaving my waterproof boots at home.

I drove as far as Rensselaer County, NY with my youngest daughter, M. That gave me seven hours to talk one-on-one with her. We haven’t really done that since we drove across Canada two years ago, and now she’s married. We talked about word curses—the ways you hear something about yourself and integrate it as part of your self-identity.

My granddaughter is often called a princess by her father’s large, wonderful family. My daughter J. is an engineer. She wants more for her own child than beauty. To compensate, she tries to use words like “smart” or “brave” instead of “beautiful.” I don’t think it’s going too well. Last night, G. told me, “I’m a princess!”

I’m considering telling her, “No, you’re a bad-ass.” She'd like it but my daughter would object.
Waiting, by Carol L. Douglas
On our drive, M. told me how her schooling fell apart the year I had my first cancer. She was in second grade. I’m not surprised she thought I was dying, even though she didn’t express that at the time. I looked terrible and moved like an old lady. I was constantly in and out of the hospital.

M. had a teacher who told her that she wasn’t more forgetful than other kids, she was just a better liar. That stuck with her enough that she still feels it today.

I took my kids to a family counselor. When M. tried to talk about her profound sadness, she was hooted down by her siblings. The counselor turned to them and M. walked across the room and disappeared into the couch cushions, which was her usual way of coping with stress. We never went back.
Talking to Michelle, by Carol L. Douglas
All of which reminded me of something from my own childhood. My sister died of a cerebral hemorrhage at Children’s Hospital in Buffalo. During that terrible week when she hovered between life and death, my parents were—obviously—with her. I had brothers, but I felt terribly lost.

But I had a lovely Principal at my school, Mr. Gibbs. He pulled me out of my class. We didn’t talk. He just let me follow him around as he did his daily work. There weren’t school counselors then; there was just compassion. It transcends time, place and job titles. And it’s no more likely to appear today, with all our systems for helping kids, than it was in 1969.

Words are powerful tools for good or ill. If we’re lucky, as adults we can see our way to repudiating and replacing lies with truth. But where we’re fearful, it’s not so easy. Many people have had a lifetime interest in art, but were blocked by the voice of that one adult who told them they weren’t talented, or that they needed to focus on ‘real’ work. It takes a lot to get past that.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

My favorite painter?


I admire too many artists to have a ‘favorite’. Here are some I profoundly admire.

The Procession to Calvary, 1564, Pieter Bruegel the Elder
“Who are your favorite painters?” a reader asked. That’s an impossible question. Instead, here are some painters who’ve influenced me.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder was the most significant of the Dutch/Flemish Renaissance painters. Among the first generation to paint other than religious scenes, he was a great landscape artist. His paintings, especially genre paintings, are a whirl of human activity. But what I admire the most is his ability to hide the focal point, or multiple focal points, in insignificant corners of his paintings. His figures are as fresh and realistic as when they were painted.

Knight, Death and the Devil, 1513, Albrecht Dürer.
Albrecht Dürer was a great painter, but I admire his engravings, woodcuts and drawings most. He was a superlative draftsman, particularly in perspective. It’s his simple, profound understanding of the Passion that moves me most. He did at least three versions, and they’re the visual equivalent of J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion.

The Fall of the Damned, c. 1620, Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens may have been intellectual, classically trained, and the favorite painter of the Counter-Reformation, but to me, he’s the progenitor of comic-book art. I draw a direct line between his dynamic canvases and the work of the late Steve Ditko. Both dealt with cosmic issues in a restless, complex way.

Weymouth Bay, c. 1816, John Constable
John Constable is best known for his great set-pieces like The Hay Wain, but he is also the (largely uncredited) inventor of modern plein air painting. In place of a classical education, he spent his youth wandering the fields of his native Essex. This "made me a painter, and I am grateful," he said. By the time he convinced his father to let him study art, the damage was done—he was a fresh, observational painter in an age when classicism was king.

The Railway Station, 1873, Édouard Manet

Édouard Manet is known as a pivotal painter in the transition between Realism to Impressionism., but his importance to me is his surface treatment. He was the first painter to eschew sparking bright lights and a superlative finish in favor of his own, raw, handwriting. He is, in this sense, the father of Modernism.

The Red Vineyard, 1888, Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh hardly needs any introduction, being one of the most influential painters in art history. His importance to landscape painters can’t be overstated. He was the precursor to Fauvism, and that, far more than Impressionism, is what speaks to our own times.

Algoma Sketch 48, 1919-20, by Lawren Harris (member of the Group of Seven)
Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven came into being across Lake Ontario from my hometown of Buffalo, but I didn’t really learn about them until adulthood, since realism was so out of favor in my youth. Still, these painters did more than any others to apply the principles of Impressionism to the North American landscape. They vary greatly in style, but they were united by their love of the Great White North and the wilderness. They were intrepid extreme plein air painters.

Resurrection Bay, Alaska, 1965, by Rockwell Kent
Rockwell Kent was eulogized as “a thoughtful, troublesome, profoundly independent, odd and kind man” by the New York Times. That’s all true, but he was also terrific painter, aggressively simplifying his subjects to their essence. His subjects—concentrating on the Adirondacks, Alaska and Monhegan—are all about the ever-changing light of the north.
Red Shirt and Window, 2013, Lois Dodd (courtesy Alexandre Galley, New York.
Lois Dodd could be admired just for her tenacious success in the male-dominated New York art scene. Her credentials are as sterling as any of her male peers, but she had her first career museum retrospective in 2013, when she was already in her eighties. That would mean nothing if she weren’t also a superlative, self-directed painter. She ignored Abstract-Expressionism and Pop Art to forge her own, realistic way.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Changing my support


If you don’t like how you’re painting, knock the struts from under yourself and see what happens.

Damariscotta Lake overlook, watercolor on Yupo, by Carol L. Douglas
I’ve been mulling over the color-shift I see between my oil paintings and my watercolors. My pigments are essentially the same. (Here are my supply lists for watercolor and for oil painting.) But my oil paintings of the same scenes always seem cooler. Is that because I’m toning in red? Or is something else at play?

David Dewey suggested the problem was, in a sense, all in my head. I’m so rooted in oils, he thought, that I’m more observational, and feel less free to depart from reality. My watercolors are a lark to me, so I give myself permission to experiment.

Since then I’ve been trying to be less bound to observed color. It’s too soon to say what the outcome will be, but I did look at a small painting in my studio yesterday—one that I thought was garish and overshot when I did it earlier this month—and thought, “That’s really not half bad.” There’s a lesson there, and it’s to not be too quick to judge your own work.

Damariscotta Lake overlook, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
Perhaps the problem is also the substrate. After all, my excitement about watercolor exploded when I discovered Yupo.

Because my residency oils were quite large, they were done on stretched canvases. For work under 24X20, I like RayMar panels. They’re solid, stable, archival—and pricey for beginning students. For them, I suggest a decent panel over a cardboard or MDF backing. As they grow more confident, they can move to a better-quality panel.

In May, I bought a bunch of different boards by different makers to test. Then I got busy with my season and forgot them. RayMar’s medium landscape cotton panel is a toothy board even after heavy toning. That makes for great control, and it’s a high mark for competitors to match.

Linen’s advantages over canvas mainly show on stretcher frames. Linen is highly reactive to the moisture in sizing and primer, and it’s very strong for its weight. It dries tight and it stays taut. Nothing is more satisfying to paint on than hand-stretched Belgian linen.

But those qualities are irrelevant in a glued linen panel. There isn’t much sense in paying a premium for linen to be glued down.

Still I’d bought a few linen panels from different makers in my assortment. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the surface: it’s less toothy, which made it fun to slosh the paint around.

The problem with less-expensive boards is always their backing (although the gesso can be pretty thin, too). MDF and cardboard are perfectly fine in smaller sizes or for student work. But they aren’t as rigid as wood. Cardboard, particularly, bows and curls with time.

Poppy's handmade birch panel.
On Sunday, as we were setting up for our last, quick,painting, Poppy Balser handed me a panel she’d made herself. It was clear birch, finished with two coats of Golden GAC 400 and clear gesso. She’d left the board unsanded, which gave it a better tooth than the manufactured versions of the same thing. And it was uncradled, which made it frameable for plein air events.

I made a poor painting on it, but that was my doing, not the board’s. It’s the best new product I’ve painted on all year—of course, because it’s the most work. Still, I plan to make a few and keep playing.

Note: I’ve decided to teach one more plein air session in Rockport. No, I'm not nuts. If it's miserable, we'll meet in my studio. But the light has been so fantastic in midcoast Maine, we might as well do another session before winter closes in for real.

Yesterday in Rockport.
I’ll be teaching a six-week plein air class on Tuesday mornings from 10-1. It runs from November 13 to December 18.

When weather permits, we paint at fantastic locations around the Rockport-Rockland-Camden area; rain dates are in my studio at 394 Commercial Street. Watercolor, oils, pastels and acrylics; all levels of painters are encouraged to join us. The fee is $200.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Travels with Poppy


I have many friends and I love them all, but painter guests are the best treat of all.
Autumn morning, by Carol L. Douglas
Poppy Balser is teaching a workshop in St. Andrews, NB, this week. My house is just a hop past the border, so she came down at the end of last week to paint.

It wasn’t the Saxby Gale, but her arrival coincided with some fierce wind. It was so high that the sensible plein air painter stayed home. But we’d waited a long time for this painting opportunity, so we put on our warm clothes and headed out.

Last week I gave you a 40-mile circuit of painting locations in midcoast Maine. That was from memory. I can now tell you that it will take you a full day to drive it and take reference photos. Stopping to paint draws it out substantially. Poppy took about a thousand pictures. I took far fewer, but I live here.
Under the Marshall Point Light, by Carol L. Douglas
Marshall Point is windy enough on a normal day, and it was brutal on Friday. The only way to paint was to haul our stuff down the rocks and hunker in the shadow of the lighthouse. It’s not so far, but it is rocky going. “How’d you get down there?” a few intrepid tourists asked. The real question was how we were going to drag our gear back up.

On Saturday, we found another protected niche behind rocks on Beauchamp Point. It was a little bowl that reflected sunlight, and it seemed almost warm. We could take our time, at least until we decided, mid-afternoon, that we needed dinner.
Sunset, by Carol L. Douglas
The sun sets here at 5:30, but Rockport harbor is set within hills. The light fails even earlier. We always think of Nova Scotia as north, but it’s in fact almost due east. Digby, where Poppy lives, is straight across the Bay of Fundy from Grand Manan Island, which lies off the coast south of Lubec, ME. As the bird flies, Rockport is closer to Yarmouth, NS than it is to Boston, ME.

But Nova Scotia is on Atlantic Time, which means the sun sets an hour ‘later’ for Poppy. By Christmas, we’ll be experiencing sunset at 4 PM here. This is why I support efforts to put Maine on Atlantic Time.
Poppy in her painting-during-hunting-season cap.
All too soon, it was Sunday and time for Poppy to leave. We solemnly agreed she would depart by noon in order to be over the Airline before dark and in St. Andrews by a reasonable hour. We only ran over by an hour, which has to be a record in promptness.

For our last paintings, I took her to an otherworldly, exposed, out-of-time place to paint: Clary Hill. It was blustery and 39°. Up we ambled, along the Land Trust path, then up the lane to where three birders were silhouetted against the sky. They're there every time I visit.



Poppy stopped and asked, “is that gun or a dump truck?”

Off Clary Hill, by Carol L. Douglas
We counted back from deer season. Yes, it is bird season right now (Maine’s and the maritime provinces being almost the same). But the shots were coming from across the valley so we carried on.

A short while later, hunters passed us on the lane. Poppy was wearing an orange hat, so we weren’t panicking. We were eventually foxed, however, by the sound of guns behind us. It was just unnerving. But when we left, the birders were still at their posts, high on the hill.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: finding the super simple shapes


If you think it’s too complicated to draw, you’re looking at it all wrong.

Winch (American Eagle), by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy of Camden Falls Gallery.
This exercise builds on last week’s Monday Morning Art School, where we did simple drawings of our homes and then experimented with cropping them. The idea was to see beauty in the everyday, and to see how even big architectural drawings are just a combination of smaller shapes.

This week I want you to go back to your homes, find something prosaic, familiar and commonplace as a subject, and then analyze your drawings in terms of these simple shapes.

That painting is just a series of simple shapes.
I’m near-sighted. I just need to remove my glasses and I’m working in simple shapes. That’s more difficult for someone with perfect vision; you poor schmoes are going to have to squint. Either way, by blurring your vision, you can reduce the scene before you to a few basic elements.

When you blur your vision, smaller shapes fall away and form a few, larger shapes. It’s much easier to break down a scene if you can’t see it in sharp detail. You don’t have to do this for every drawing—just enough to grasp the concept of simplification.

Old Greek Revival farmhouse in Western New York.
Consider this elderly farmhouse I photographed in western New York. With my glasses on, it might seem daunting—a collection of windows, doors, pillars, peeling paint and overgrown shrubberies. But it’s easily broken down into a series of rectangles, triangles and circles. Anyone can draw those, even the people who tell me they can’t draw a straight line. “I’m going to draw an abandoned Greek Revival house” is a lot more daunting than “I’m going to nail down these few shapes.”

This is a computer estimation of what it looks like to me without my glasses.
Concentrating on the big shapes not only makes starting easier, it leads to more accurate measurement. It’s much easier to draw the big rectangle of the portico and fit the pieces into it than to start with one window and grow the shape outwards.

Either way, it breaks down to these approximate shapes. Anyone can draw them!
Once you’ve drawn the basic shapes, you can work inward to add detail. When you have a decent basic sketch, you can start thinking about the composition you might want to paint. A good composition has a variety of shapes and angles.

The painting at top is of the American Eagle in drydock. A boat is a long, lean thing, in or out of the water. A side view isn’t its most flattering angle. (Come to think of it, that’s true for me, too.) For this reason, it poses a compositional problem in drydock or at its berth. Here, I’ve reverse-engineered the drawing into a series of simple shapes, so you can see my solution to the problem. 

My house drawing from last week.
Let’s go back to my shape drawing of my house from last week. In the end, that can be reduced to a black-and-white cut-out (below). Simplified, is there a coherent black-and-white pattern? Is it pleasing enough to bother with? If the answer is no, then back to the drawing board. That is the point of a thumbnail. If it doesn’t work in a tiny sketch, it isn’t going to work in a painting.

Does it reduce to a few simple shapes that make a pleasing pattern? I think so.
Your assignment—like my class here in Rockport—is to choose a simple scene in or near your house and break it down to extremely simple shapes. How do they intersect? Is any one intersection more compelling than the rest? If so, that’s probably your focal point.

Friday, October 19, 2018

God save the Queen


One may be the Queen of England, the other a cleaner, but they’re both ladies of a certain age.
Ena, by Ruskin Spear, available through Chris Beetles Gallery.
Tom Root is a portrait artist I know only from Facebook. He—like many other artists—occasionally uses Facebook to post paintings that catch his eye. This is how I first saw postwar Briton Ruskin Spear’s work.

While Spear painted many typical portrait commissions of public figures great and small, he was attracted to the simplicity of ordinary people in ordinary dress. Ena, above, is a bustling little woman who appears ready to jump off the canvas and get back to work. Spear concentrated his modeling on her strong, stout arms, but the central motif is her formidable English handbag.

Spear had a thing for cats, which he painted being coddled and on their own doing kitty things. Wheelchair-bound due to childhood polio, he would have presented an inviting lap for felines. It’s clear he returned the affection.

Sleeping Cat, by Ruskin Spears, courtesy Somerset Museums Service.
Queen Elizabeth II recently unveiled a new portrait by Benjamin Sullivan for the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force Club. The Queen has been photographed and painted countless times, by personages as varied as Cecil Beeton, Andy Warhol, and Lucien Freud. The only one I have truly loved was her 2008 portrait by Annie Leibovitz. Most of the others have been either colorless or nasty. She deserves better.
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Benjamin Sullivan, courtesy of the Royal Air Force Club.
Sullivan’s portrait is lovely, and not just for the ubiquitous Launer handbag at her feet. The painting is sympathetic, yet honest about her advanced age, which is visible in the slight swelling of her ankles, her lined face, and those beautifully folded hands. Moreover, it captures her steadfast tenacity, the trait that’s made her Britain’s longest-living monarch.

“It’s where she put it, and I thought I could take it out,” Sullivan said of the purse, “[B]ut then I thought—actually it’s quite a nice thing, a personal thing.” It’s really more than that: it’s her staff of office and her own personal seal. It is her sisterhood with Spear’s Ena. They were worlds apart socially, but they are also two redoubtable women from Britain's finest hour. God save the Queen.

Postscript: Last night I got home to a note from an artist demanding that I take down her work immediately. The post was old, from a time when it was difficult to link to the artist’s website (because they didn’t have them). Still, there was nothing illegal in my use of the images. I thought about writing back and explaining the Fair Use Exemption to American copyright law. However, that wasn’t her biggest problem.

Most artists are overjoyed to get good reviews. Either she doesn’t understand the value of publicity or hadn’t taken time to read the piece. Unfortunately, in the ensuing years, I’d lost my taste for her work. It’s gone now, the first post I’ve ever deleted at the request of an artist who objected to free publicity.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

So you want to paint in Maine


Tell me what you want to paint and I’ll tell you where to go.
Cliff below Owls Head, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy The Kelpie Gallery.
This afternoon, I’ll show Poppy Balser around my few miles of Maine coastline. It’s the best fun two artists can have.

Belfast lies at the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River. It is a city only in the organizational sense—it has about 6700 people this time of year. Its boom was in the early 19th century, and its mansions and brick-fronted commercial streets reflect that.

Belfast’s real charm to the painter lies in its exceptional harbor access via Harborwalk, which runs along a working boatyard out to the Armistice footbridge. From there, you can see its iconic red tugboats and look back on the harbor from the water side (courtesy of the footbridge).

The Three Graces, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Camden Falls Gallery.
Just south of Belfast is Bayside, founded as the Northport Wesleyan Grove Camp Meeting in 1848. At one time, it drew thousands of the faithful to its 30 acres of oceanfront. Today, it’s a sleepy hamlet of historic beachfront cottages, most built between 1870 and 1920. There are no services, no stores, and no stoplights.

Lincolnville is low to the ground, a beach fronting its main street, so it has the whiff of more southerly climes. My favorite place to paint here is the mouth of the Ducktrap River, which snakes into Penobscot Bay around a gravel bar.

Poppy will have seen Camden, one of the great summer colonies along the coast. It’s famous for its schooners and pleasure boats. Many of these will be wrapped for the season. But there’s always something to paint in this harbor.

Rockport Autumn Day, by Carol L. Douglas (private collection)
I don’t even need to go that far. Rockport’s fishing fleet is clustered in the mouth of our harbor, bounded by beautiful old buildings and a working boatyard. It’s one of the prettiest villages on the Maine coast.

But if Poppy wants to paint trawlers, she’ll have to go south to Rockland’s Municipal Fish Pier. We could paint at the North End Shipyard or the city’s famous lighthouse. Below the Apprentice Shop, there’s a great view of the working harbor. It’s a city famous for its art, from the Farnsworth Art Museum and Center for Maine Contemporary Art to its innumerable commercial galleries. Like Belfast, it has a beautiful downtown.

American Eagle in Drydock, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Camden Falls Gallery.
The St. George Peninsula, however, is my favorite place to paint in this area. We can start at Owls Head, with its lighthouse and beautiful waterscapes in every direction. There’s a good angle on its fishing fleet from Lighthouse Road. Down the road is South Thomaston. The Weskeag River passes through it, changing character with the tide. From Spruce Head to Port Clyde, this peninsula has some of the best rocky shoreline south of Acadia. We might slip down to Clark Island, or over to Long Cove. 

Tenant’s Harbor is a place I haven’t painted enough. It has a lobster pound, a fishing fleet, an inlet and beautiful architecture. Mosquito Harbor is lined with low marshes. Then there’s Drift Inn beach, and the Marshall Point Lighthouse before we get to Port Clyde. This is another famous beauty spot, with a great fishing harbor visible from many angles. It’s also where we catch the ferry to Monhegan.

Lobster Pound at Tenants Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy The Kelpie Gallery.
That represents slightly more than 40 miles of driving, but it’s enough to keep a painter busy for a lifetime. Consider, then, that the Maine coast is about 5000 miles long. All the landscape painters in America could come here and we’d never fully capture its infinite variety.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Cleaning vs. painting: the great dilemma

Some people can paint no matter how messy their house is. I’m not one of them.
My studio on a bad day, by Carol L. Douglas
I saw my friend Karen at the Farmers Market on Saturday. “Do you paint every day?” she asked me. I had to laugh. I hadn’t picked up a brush in almost a week.

True, I worked non-stop from June until the end of September. On October 1, I declared myself on vacation and spent the week with my grandchildren and some treasured friends. Sadly, that wasn’t the end of my time off. There was still mail to answer, a piano tuner to call, and windows to be cleaned before winter. A summer without a hausfrau left this place downright grimy.

OK, so it wasnt' the only bad day.
I’ve written before about the difficulties of working from home. They’re my problem and not my husband’s. His office is next to my studio, the two spaces separated by a glass wall. He spends his days staring at monitors. Apparently, this transforms him to another dimension. He can plug away without noticing anything. On the other hand, I’m irritated and distracted by disorder. Let it get bad enough and I’m completely immobilized. I find it confusing, and distracting.

This is a common problem, but one I hear about mostly from other women artists. I’ve always thought of it as a uniquely female problem, one of the few gender differences I’d admit to. Last week I had coffee with Rockland painter Stephan Giannini. He was as distracted as me, but about his roof. I guess it’s not about gender after all, but about what side hustles demand your attention.

Butter dish, by Carol L. Douglas
I know two professional cleaners. I asked them how long it takes to turn over a summer rental unit compared to cleaning their own homes. They figured they could turn a rental property over in two hours or less. (The biggest time-consumer is the laundry.) Their own homes took much longer. I asked them why.

“Every time I turn my back there is a mess being made around me!” said Sarah Wardman, who has four young kids.

“Cleaning my own house always takes longer than it would for a cleaner to do because I get sidetracked with tidying, or little put-off projects,” said Naomi Fiehler Aho. Naomi retires at the end of the year, which will allow her to make art full time.

I forgot how fun some of these things were to paint.
Later, I ran into D., who is an artist who also owns a seasonal rental. He and his wife do the turnover together. It takes them longer than the pros—basically a full day between the two of them. “But our own home is a wreck,” he added, laughing.

My friend Toby has convinced me to embrace the ideas of KonMari, although nothing ever really stays joyously, starkly, beautiful in my house. Three years after moving here, our closets, attic basement, and, especially, kitchen are bursting at the seams. This winter, I’m going to be systematically weeding out. I don't like doing it, but it will make for a better season next year.

But before that happens, I need to make this place surface clean. Nova Scotia painter Poppy Balser is coming to visit tomorrow and we’re going to paint.