Paint Schoodic

We're offering three workshops for 2020, at Acadia National Park and aboard the schooner American Eagle. Register before January 1 for an Early Bird Discount!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A roadmap to my party

This was sent to me by children’s book author and artist Bruce McMillan, who noted that my December 7 Open House and Studio Party celebrates painter Stuart Davis’ 125th birthday (December 7, 1894).

If going to the Open House make sure to gas up for the trip. The ghost of Stuart Davis may be going with you.
Gas Station, also known as Garage No. 1, Stuart Davis, 1917, courtesy Hirshhorn Museum
Make sure you drive to Rockport ME and not Rockport MA. Oh ME, Oh MA!
Report from Rockport, Stuart Davis, 1940, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
Go past the yellow house; there has to be a yellow house somewhere along the drive. [Editor’s note: it’s next door.]
Private Way, Stuart Davis, c. 1916, courtesy Christie’s Auction House
"Davis and his family first went to Gloucester in the summer of 1915, attracted by John Sloan's enthusiasm. Eventually, his parents acquired a house on Mount Pleasant Avenue, where both Davis and his sculptor mother kept studios; over the next twenty years Davis would spend extended periods on Cape Ann. Gloucester imagery would permeate almost all of the work of this avowedly-urban painter for years to come, but if the accoutrements of the working harbor held a lifelong fascination for him, the particulars of Gloucester space and geography were crucial to his early evolution." (Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, p. 55)

Hope it doesn't snow on Stuart's 125th birthday, that the driving will be clear and dry.
City Snow Scene, Stuart Davis, 1911, courtesy Christie’s Auction House
Davis combined the principles of Henri's teaching with the technique and palette of his contemporary and close friend, John Sloan. Davis succeeds in rendering a dreary winter's day in lower Manhattan. With a generous application of whites, Davis works up the surfaces to portray the texture of the snow which is juxtaposed with the more carefully applied reds to develop the architecture in the background. Broad, heavily applied strokes of black are the only device Davis employs to represent the pedestrians with the exception of a few simple touches of orange that delineate the faces of the primary figures in the foreground. Vigorous dashes of greyish-white provide a sense of the blustery, swirling snow, the drama of which is underscored in the foreground figures who are bracing themselves against the elements. Davis employs strong linear perspective to capture the broad avenue and achieves spatial effect by placing two figures in the foreground marking the entry point into the composition. To carefully define the space, Davis uses planar structures along the left side and staggered vertical lampposts and industrial smokestacks to establish depth. Figures are also used to demarcate space intervals in the scene as they are integrated at varying points in the composition.

Don't stop to gawk at or sketch any boats along the way; you'll see boats in Carol's art once you get there.
Sketchbook 19-7: Rosemarie, Boston, Stuart Davis, ink on paper, 1938, courtesy Cape Ann Museum
Hey, skip the boats—really—and head up to heights above the harbor on Route 1.

Boats, Stuart Davis, 1930, courtesy the Phillips Collection
At last you'll be at the artist's studio… Carol's, not Stuart's.
Studio Interior, Stuart Davis, 1917, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
There will be crowds and crowds, though no servant girls, sorry; it's self-service. What do you think this is? A restaurant?
Servant Girls, Stuart Davis, 1913, watercolor and pencil on paper, exhibited at the Armory Show. Courtesy Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute
The Association of American Painters and Sculptors originally planned to exhibit only the work of members and those they invited. However, in response to a growing chorus of queries, they asked interested artists to submit works to the Domestic Art Committee for selection. Davis's work was chosen, and at twenty-one years old, he was one of the youngest artists represented in the Armory Show. In later years, Davis described the 1913 exhibition as a turning point in his artistic development. He called it “the greatest single influence I have experienced in my work,” which prompted him “to become a ‘modern artist.’”

And as the sign says: You Are Here. While everyone wonders, how does Stuart know?

Want to read more of Bruce’s writing? Sign up for his daily postings here. And, my Hidden Holiday Sale has gone public!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Monday Morning Art School: four color exercises

By the time you’re done with these exercises, you’ll have lots more experience in mixing color.
Our basic classroom still-life for these exercises. 
Above is the still life I created for these exercises. Make your own, or work from a photograph. You can use the same subject for all four exercises. Keep it simple; it doesn’t pay to get lost in the details when you’re supposed to be thinking about color.

Mimicking the masters

The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, 1889, courtesy MoMA
What’s your favorite painting? Look carefully and mix the basic colors in it. One student referenced The Starry Night, above, for her painting, below. 
Jennifer's painting based on The Starry Night.
The goal is to use those colors in various positions in your own painting. That means substituting Van Gogh’s blue for the blue in your painting, etc. You don’t need to use the same proportion of colors as Van Gogh used; just use them in your painting. If a color in your painting doesn’t appear in the picture you are mimicking, work around that. Don’t mix to approximate what you see.

Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background, Vincent van Gogh, 1889, courtesy MoMA
Van Gogh painted a series of olive trees in 1889. One of these, Olive Trees in a Mountainous Landscape, (above) was a complement to The Starry Night. You can see how he manipulated the palette (and linework and composition) to relate the olive trees to the night sky.

Color triads

For this exercise, I refer you back to this blog post on color harmonies. Re-read the section on triads, because you’re going to use either an equilateral triad or a harmonic triad to build a painting.

Mary's color triad painting.
The easiest triad to use is a primary triad. The still life at top was set up to include primary triads and secondary triads, depending on which objects students emphasized. They started by choosing a dominant color and then from that, subservient ones. For example, one might base the painting on the cobalt of the blue vase, with the yellow bowl and red apples subservient to the blue.

Harmonic triads are not balanced, but are counted 3-4-5 in either direction on the color wheel (as in the section on triads). Again, mix a dominant tone, and then its subservient tones. Your goal is not to match the real colors in your subject; your goal is to substitute the color palette for what you see.
This, plus white, is a limited palette.
Limited palette

In theory, you can get to any color using just red, blue, yellow and white paint. But the chroma and clarity of those mixes depends on the pigments you start with. For example, cadmium red mixes brilliantly on the orange side, but muddily on the blue side.

Limited-palette paintings tend to be more unified than broader-palette paintings, precisely because you can’t hit all the points in the color wheel.

My limited-palette demo using the paints above.
The classic color pigments are cadmium yellow, cadmium red and ultramarine blue. You’ll need white as well. Don’t buy extra paints for this exercise; use what you have that’s closest to these colors.

Hardwood, by Carol L. Douglas. This is a color substitution painting.
Color substitution

The painting above is a kind of substitution painting, but we’re going to use a narrower interpretation of the idea. We’re going to substitute each main color for its complement on the color wheel.

Olive Orchard with a Man and a Woman Picking Fruit, Vincent van Gogh, 1889, courtesy Kröller-Müller Museum
In Van Gogh’s olive tree painting, above, he’s substituted a warm gold for a blue sky. We’re going to do the same thing, except we’ll do it everywhere on the canvas. Keep the value and chroma the same as the original color, but substitute the complementary position on the color wheel. It sounds simple, but it’s devilishly difficult. Have fun!

Friday, November 15, 2019

An artist I didn’t know was from Buffalo

And why does everyone hate on mistletoe?
Buffalo Grain Elevators, Ralston Crawford, 1937, oil on canvas, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
“We saw a beautiful painting by Ralston Crawford in an exhibition at the Ashmolean (American ‘Cool’ Modernism). It said he was a Buffalo painter, but I’d never heard of him. I’m picky about abstract art, but I really loved that painting!” wrote an expatriate reader.

I’m from Buffalo, and I hadn’t heard of him, either. I certainly never saw his paintings at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo—because they own none. They do, however, own prints of some of his photos.
Buffalo (2 grain elevator cylinders), Ralston Crawford, 1942, gelatin silver print, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
Crawford was born in St. Catharines, Ontario (across the Niagara River from Buffalo) in 1906. He spent his childhood in Buffalo, where he shipped aboard Great Lakes Freighters with his father. At the age of twenty, he pushed out of Buffalo harbor for good, crewing on tramp steamers plying the coast of North and Central America. That landed him in California, where he enrolled in California’s newly-minted Otis Art Institute. After a stint working at Walt Disney’s studio, he headed back east to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1934, he had his first one-man show, at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

He was associated with a 1930s group from Bucks County, PA, called the Independents. They—rather predictably, by this time—were in rebellion against the Pennsylvania Impressionists then in vogue. But Crawford suffered from bouts of wanderlust all his life, so he didn’t stay in Philly, either. He painted and took photos all around the world. He was invited to witness the first public test of an atomic bomb in the Marshall Islands in 1946. What he saw ended up as the basis of a series of paintings of the “devastating character” of the nuclear bomb. He’s buried in New Orleans, in a cemetery that—in life—he loved to paint.
1961--Number 3, Ralston Crawford, 1961, oil on canvas, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
“Why are Mainers so worried about mistletoe?” asked a summer visitor. “Isn’t it supposed to be festive?”

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant. I don’t know why it ever became a symbol of fertility, because it’s toxic and destructive. At least the English version is decorative. The species that grows in Maine—Eastern Dwarf Mistletoe—is too small to see from the ground. Instead, it stimulates its host to produce large twiggy growths called brooms. Its preferred hosts, unfortunately, are our majestic native spruces, usually on headlands along the open ocean, although it will colonize on pine, balsam, and larch, too.  Farther away from the water, it’s less common for the infestation to be as heavy, and such trees may carry their parasites for many years.

However, those on the coast will die over time, especially those with serious infections. The only ‘cure’ is to chop down mature infested trees and hope that reforested babies avoid infection. But the ancient spruce overhanging the sea is a Maine icon, so mistletoe is definitely unwelcome here.
Lafayette Street, Ralston Crawford, 1954, lithograph, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
Last weekend for first dibs on my holiday sale.

Have you wanted to get someone (or yourself) one of my paintings but never quite been able to afford one?  I’m offering a few paintings starting this week at steep discounts. These are on a hidden page, which only my readers have access to.

Here’s the link: Hidden Holiday Sale

There are 28 paintings in all, discounted 30, 40, 50, even 60% off their list prices. Not only that, but postage to the US and Canada is included.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Clean air in the studio

How do you get rid of the stink without opening windows?
Midsummer mid-Atlantic, 18X24, oil on canvas, unframed; see Hidden Holiday Sale for price.
“Got any air purifier recommendations?” my correspondent wrote. “My new studio windows don't open.” She’s an oil painter who uses Gamsol as a solvent. She has only two entrances, both of which open to interior spaces.

Oil paint is pigment suspended in a binder, usually linseed oil. The oil is neither toxic nor flammable. The pigments can’t get airborne, so they’re not an air pollutant.

It’s the Gamsol that’s raising a stink. Not all odorless mineral spirits (OMS) are created the same. Different brands use different additives to speed up drying time. Gamsol contains naphtha. Gamsol is mildly flammable but, more importantly, a known aspiration toxin.

Beauchamp Point, 12x16, oil on Archival cotton panel, unframed; see Hidden Holiday Sale for price.
The best solution is to use an exhaust fan and provide adequate cross-ventilation. Needless to say, OMS should never be used near an open flame. Containers (including trash bins for used paper towels or rags) should be kept closed when not in use. Dump the trash daily.

My correspondent uses paper towels, not rags. That increases her ventilation problem, because OMS evaporates faster from thin paper towels than from thick rags.

She’s located on the Gulf Coast, where heating is not an issue. Working windows would solve her issue. However, those of us in the north face the same question. The recommended turnover for studio air is ten times an hour, something that’s nearly impossible in a cold climate. There are air exchange systems available, but they’re expensive.

Horno, 8X10, oil on archival cotton panel, unframed; see Hidden Holiday Sale for price.
There are two kinds of indoor pollution: particle and gaseous. Particle pollution includes airborne drops of liquid and solids like pastel dust. These particles can be incredibly small, but they can still be trapped in a HEPA filter.

Paint solvents emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These gasses are made up of chemical molecules bonded together and vaporized into the air. The molecules are vastly smaller than even the tiniest particle, and a HEPA filter won’t touch them.

Luckily for artists, there’s been a lot of attention paid recently to “gassing off” by interior home finishes like carpets, paint, vinyl, etc. That means we have air cleaners available to remove VOC molecules from the air. These are based on activated carbon, a substance that adsorbs VOCs effectively.
However, carbon filters are useless for particles. If you’re filtering the air, you might as well take the dust out too. For that purpose, they make combination air cleaners as well. It turns out that both of my old HEPA air cleaners also have charcoal filters in them—I checked.

Today, you have a choice of activated charcoal, HEPA, or combination filters, all starting at a few hundred bucks and going up from there. But I found an even cheaper solution, one that will take less room than an air cleaner—a simple bag of activated charcoal that I can set near my painting station.

My correspondent would be wise to get those windows unstuck for other reasons—fire being the first thing that comes to mind. But failing that, she can still get cleaner air using activated charcoal.

My Hidden Holiday Sale for readers of this blog is on its sixth day—check here to see all the additions! On Friday, the sale goes public with advertising, so your chance for first dibs is limited.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Monday Morning Art School: Should I apply to that show?

Entering shows willy-nilly can be expensive and unproductive. How can you tell what will pay off?
Midnight sail from Camden Harbor, 24X30, oil on canvas; see Hidden Holiday Sale for price.
“When should I enter calls-for-entry?” a reader asks. “There is a plethora suddenly in Colorado. I have pieces headed to a library for their show this winter (no entry fee, but I have to mail or deliver the paintings 200 miles away). Others are going to a museum ($35 entry fee; they keep 25% commission) and possibly a gallery ($35 for three paintings, $50 for 6; they keep 50% commission).

“When is it worth it for the exposure, and some lines on my resume? How can one tell whether artwork actually sells at these shows? When do you stop entering them? Is it all just a vanity thing for amateurs? If one is, like me, wildly experimenting in all directions, does one pick a particular ‘body of work’ to enter, or send a smattering of everything?”

This is a different business model from the one where gallerists assumed all the risk in exchange for 50% of the sales. The art market is changing rapidly, and I no longer think all pay-to-play galleries are inherently bad; in fact, I’m gingerly putting a foot forward in one for next summer.
Farm song, 14X18, oil on linen; see Hidden Holiday Sale for price.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the models you describe, although I do think 50% on top of $50 is a bit steep. They’re not necessarily just for amateurs, although some are banking on people desperate to get their foot in the door. Many reputable shows charge an entry fee. 

As an artist, you must figure out what return you’ll get for your investment. That’s easiest with local opportunities—just go and investigate the gallery space on your own. Is it a good-looking storefront in a good area, staffed by knowledgeable, competent gallerists?

Not all of us live near a thriving art market. Farther away, the research gets more difficult. If you have a buddy in that area, ask him or her for an opinion. Read the organization’s website carefully, and check the show terms with an eagle eye. If you can’t get there in person, use Google Maps to inspect the street where the gallery’s located. Is it a place you’d go to buy art?
Early spring at North End Shipyard, 14X18, oil on archival cotton panel; see Hidden Holiday Sale for price.
Many of these shows are offered under the imprimatur of established organizations. How long have they been doing the event? Do they have a proven track-record of shows? Google the show itself, something along the lines of “Charming Gallery Annual Landscape Show Artists” and see if you know anyone who’s participated. Contact them and ask about results.

However, you can stand this whole process on its head. This is how I did it: I looked at the resumes of artists I admired and had work sympathetic to mine. (It’s easier today, since everyone has websites.) I noted what shows they’d done and who represented them. Then I researched those shows and galleries.
Early spring run-off, 8X10, oil on archival cotton panel; see Hidden Holiday Sale for price.
That didn’t mean that I expected to get into their current galleries. I’d scroll to the bottom and see where they entered the art market. This required a lot of research across many artists, because galleries and shows come and go. But it taught me a lot.

As for what to send if you’re still ‘wildly experimenting,’ just send in the work you like the best. Acceptance and rejection is in itself feedback.

My Hidden Holiday Sale for readers of this blog is on its fourth day—check here to see all the additions over the weekend! On Friday, the sale goes public with advertising, so your chance for first dibs is limited.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Welcome, you Bright Young Things!

I’m having a studio party on December 7, but there’s a hidden surprise.

Before I moved to Maine, I did studio open houses annually. The house was already cleaned for Thanksgiving and I’d recruit my reluctant kids to help schlep paintings. I’ve since moved from a county with a million people to one with under 40,000. If I throw a party, will anyone come?

I’m sure the answer is a resounding yes, so I’m opening my studio for a good old Jazz Age shindig on December 7 from noon to five. There will be cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, and because it’s the holiday season, sweets. And you—my faithful reader and friend—are invited.

Here are the details:

Carol L. Douglas Studio Open House
Saturday, December 7, 2019
Noon to Five
394 Commercial Street, Rockport

If you’re from away, you can get excellent rates at local motels this time of year. (I'd have you all stay over, but my house isn't that big.) Maine is beautiful every day, so why not experience it on a winter weekend?
Midnight Sail from Camden Harbor, 24X30, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas.
Now, for the secret. 

Have you wanted to get someone (or yourself) one of my paintings but never quite been able to afford one?  I’m offering a few paintings starting this week at steep discounts. These are on a hidden page, which only my readers have access to.

Here’s the link: Hidden Holiday Sale

I'll be adding discounted paintings four per day from November 8 to November 15 (28 in all). These are discounted 30, 40, 50, even 60% off their list prices. Not only that, but postage to the US and Canada is included.
Hillside farm (The Logging Truck), oil on linen, 16X20, by Carol L. Douglas
Stop back daily, because I'll be updating them every morning. I won't start marketing them generally until after November 15. If you want to see them up close, send me an email and I’ll send you a full-size version of the image.

Why am I doing this? That’s going to be another surprise announcement, but here’s a hint: big changes are in store for 2020 and I need the space. 😉

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

What is truth?

There’s more to truth than observable facts, and it’s your job to talk about that.
Last day of golden light, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard
On Monday, Ken DeWaard and I went out to catch the last of the autumn gold before yesterday’s drenching rain. We met at a beautiful old farm in Hope, owned by an elderly lady who gave us some hollyhock seeds in the bargain.

There were two structures that interested me—a fine old Maine cape, and a white frame building glowing violet with a young maple blazing yellow in front of it. “You choose first,” we told each other. This is often the hardest—and always the most important—part of field painting. In the end, I chose the farmhouse and he chose the maple, and I proceeded to complain for the rest of the morning.

The scene I painted.
I know that narrative is very old-fashioned, but it has its place in grounding plein air paintings. The farmyard’s story was obvious. But with the building and tree, either the tractor would need to be included to explain the log pile, or some major narrative fudging would need to happen. That was out; the scene was inherently too delicately-balanced to muck with.

I believe in truth in painting as well as in life. But what does that mean? To a scientist, truth is what can be established through the scientific method. That viewpoint (itself not objective) has permeated our culture. It is, however, a very narrow definition. It leaves out aesthetics, ethics and the associative thinking that the human brain is so good at.
Snow on the forecast, by Carol L. Douglas
Today, we all know that Galileo was right, but by the scientifically-known facts of his time, he was wrong. In fact, part of what Cardinal Bellarmine argued was that heliocentrism shouldn’t be taught unless it could be proved.  What infuriates us moderns is the idea that the Inquisition could muzzle science, and we’re right to feel that way. But that’s based on an unprovable ethical argument: the idea that science should operate independently of church or state.

If you were to walk to the post office with me this morning, you probably wouldn’t notice the power lines. You’d see the elegant houses, grand old trees, and raking light across the harbor. That’s because we see with our hearts, and we focus on some things to the exclusion of others. When we’re very young and first investigating realism, we think we should include every detail. As we get older, we’re more attracted by that emotional truth, which has little to do with the objective truth.
The scene I was riffing off.
Yesterday, I managed to sneak in a tiny painting of the building that Ken originally painted. I was demonstrating limited palette. That’s another subject where truth is too complex to be boiled down to easy inanities. In theory, you can get to any color using just red, blue, yellow and white paint. But the chroma and clarity of those mixes depends on the pigments you use and the medium you’re working in.

It’s not that the paints transmogrify, it’s that each different pigment and base has different undertones. These mix well in some directions, but cancel each other out in other mixes. If you doubt me, try to make a classic chromatic black (cadmium yellow, cadmium red, ultramarine blue) with acrylics. You’ll get something that looks like you picked it up on your shoe.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Monday Morning Art School: how to choose a workshop

The ads are flying fast and furious (including mine). How can you tell what workshop is right for you?
Storm clouds over Schoodic.
There are many fine teachers out there. We each stress something different, but when we’re in a back room chatting, it turns out that most of us really use the same methodology and work through the same fundamentals. But there’s more to a workshop. Here are questions you should ask yourself when choosing.

How many students? This is the first question I’d ask about any workshop. Mine are limited to 12 students, with a monitor or crew supporting me. Any more than that and the teacher will spend most of his or her time demoing, because there’s no way anyone can give personal attention to twenty or thirty students.

Tuscany or Teaneck? There are fine teachers all over America, or you can follow your dreams to Europe or beyond. The great advantage of local classes and workshops is that they’re affordable, and that’s where most of us learn our craft.

Waves, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvas
However, the travel workshop is immersive, and that brings out something different in your work. You’ll work, live, talk, eat and think in the culture of that place. Painting in new places is fun, and you meet new friends.

Are you up to this? Plein air workshops are not physically grueling (for the student) but they do require some physical capacity. I accommodate mobility issues in my land-based workshops, but it would be difficult on American Eagle. Talk clearly with the instructor beforehand about special needs.
On shore leave from American Eagle. Photo courtesy of  Ellen Trayer.
Do you like the teacher’s work? Most good teachers can see through your individual style to the technical questions you face. However, the things a painter stresses in his or her own work will be the things that are stressed in instruction. If, for example, you strive to be a Luminist, you’re unlikely to be happy in a class that stresses modern color theory.

Is the instructor a good teacher? This will set the tone for the entire workshop. He or she should be supportive and kind while still giving you practical suggestions to push you forward. There is no reason to put up with bad temper or class management. There are many fine painter/teachers out there who are also very nice, organized people. Ask the instructor what percentage of returning students he or she has. And why not ask for references?
Aboard schooner American Eagle for my annual Age of Sail workshops.
Is the workshop properly permitted and insured? Teaching in national and state parks requires permits and insurance, and teaching on private property requires consent. You should ask whether the workshop organizer has those permissions in place.

What are you getting for your money? The per-person rate for my workshops includes room and board (or berth). Some—including my watercolor workshops—even include materials. That’s a great advantage where accommodations are scarce and/or expensive, and it has the advantage of saving lots of time. Know what your fee is covering—is it just instruction, or does it include other things?

Schoodic Peninsula, site of my annual Sea & Sky Workshop.
My workshops for 2020 include two watercolor workshops aboard the schooner American Eagle. I’ll also be reprising my popular Sea & Sky workshop at Schoodic Institute in August. Both revolve around the incredible landscape and water of the Maine coast, but are very different experiences.

On American Eagle, we concentrate on capturing the quickly-changing marine view in watercolor sketchbooks. At Schoodic, we’re at the largest National Park Service Research Learning Centers in the United States, with superlative landscapes right at our fingertips.

I’ll be marketing these through Facebook and Instagram throughout the Christmas season, but the important thing to remember is that if you register before January 1, you get an early-bird discount. That’s an encouragement to give a workshop to yourself or to a loved one for Christmas.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Why do so many New York artists move to Maine?

It’s a cultural thing, not an economic thing.
Nunda (NY) Farm, pastel, Carol L. Douglas, available.
The President has discovered something that many artists already know: New York is a great place to be from. Last week I was at a meeting of painters in Camden. Turned out that all but one of us are from New York. On Wednesday I went to a potluck supper and ended up chatting with two very recent settlers from Staten Island. You can’t swing a paintbrush here without hitting an expatriate New Yorker.

Here in Rockport, winter temperatures are the same as in my home town of Buffalo. People from New York City and Long Island move three agricultural zones colder when they relocate to the warmest parts of Maine. Inland, Maine hits colds seen in the Adirondack Mountains, a place so inhospitable that native people never wintered there.
Bracken fern, 12x9, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas, available.
This is not a low-tax state, although it’s better than New York. There are many lower-tax states in the Union, and a lot of them are warmer. A tax-refugee or snowbird isn’t likely to put Maine at the top of the list.

Of course, Maine is beautiful. But so is New York.

I blame the culture. Maine is—in my opinion—the only western state in the northeast. It’s not densely-populated, meaning it avoids many stresses of modern life. There are few large employers here, and the idea of self-employment (and self-determination) isn’t scary to kids who grew up with self-employed parents. Many of the young people in my church go into trades, where they can expect to make a good living without a load of college debt.

Nunda (NY) Farm, pastel, Carol L. Douglas, available.
Altogether, that creates an attractive can-do spirit. When I moved here, I was surprised by how many people live off the grid in fairly central communities. They’re content to be in the middle of civilization without engaging with its systems. A friend and her husband have been rebuilding a collapsed farmhouse for several years; suddenly, it’s looking not just habitable but darn smart. Most older homes here have at least a kitchen stove. And people are genuinely thrifty; ask someone on the coast where to buy clothes, and you’re as likely to hear “Goodwill” as the name of a retail store.

New York City is the art-purchasing capitol of the world, but Maine excels in the production of the stuff. Nobody here apologizes for being an artist; there are so many of us that it’s not remarkable.
Beaver Dam, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas, available.
A case in point: about six months ago, the Knox County Art Society was formed around the nucleus of a few members. Today it has fifty members, has mounted several shows, has an ambitious roster of speakers and has spun off special-interest small groups. It’s in the process of incorporating, but until that is finished, it’s being run by Dave Blanchard and an ad hoc group of advisors. Last week, Dave announced that he’ll be the executive director of the Art Loft in Rockland as well, with the idea that the two groups, already running along parallel tracks, will eventually merge.

Dave’s approach has been to start with the big idea (the programming) and see what shakes out, rather than to build the formal, legal structure and then start doing things. That’s a cultural difference, that's hard for this lifelong New Yorker to grasp. But our goals aren't getting bogged down in the minutiae of legalism. For me, it's a great learning experience.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Spirit repellent?

It’s the season of ghosties and goblins and night hags. Try some blue for relief.
Haint blue porch ceiling. Photo courtesy of Lake Lou.
Like many Americans, I painted my porch ceiling a soft, watery blue (when I had a porch). I knew it was originally a Southern custom, but it’s one that also has surprising traction in the Northeast. No matter what color your house is, it’s a pretty, restful detail, especially on an overcast day.

I didn’t realize that we get that tradition from Hoodoo. That’s the folk magic of the low-country Gullah people. It has African and Creole roots, overlaid by the Bible. The Boo Hag is a regional variation of the night hag. This is a worldwide mythological idea that gives us the modern expressions nightmare and hag-ridden.
The Nightmare, 1781, by Henry Fuseli. Courtesy Detroit Institute of Arts. The night-hag was a worldwide explanation for sleep paralysis, nightmares, shortness of breath, and waking up feeling tired.
Hags gain strength from riding or sitting on their victims. Boo Hags, in particular, get sustenance from their victim’s breath. Because they have no skin, they’re red. So, to be less obvious, they steal human skin and wear it for as long as it lasts. Talk about disposable ‘fast fashion.’

Once the hag finds a potential victim, she gains access to the house and then hovers over her victim sucking out its breath. Of course, the hag must be back in its hole by dawn, so the victim either awakes as if out of a terrible dream, or feeling tired and out of sorts. Like my husband this morning.

Back to the blue paint. That color was originally called ‘haint blue’ and was made with the fermented leaves of the indigo plant. Adding lye causes the color to precipitate into something that can be pressed, dried and powdered and—voila! It’s a stunner of a color, still worn all over the world in the form of blue jeans.

Indigo dye. Photo courtesy of Evan Izer (Palladian)
Indigo is among the oldest dyes known to mankind, and therein lies its first mystery. Its development and manufacture originated in India and southeast Asia, but the oldest known example of indigo-dyed fabric (6000 years) was discovered in Peru.

By the time our slave trade was being developed, indigo was a plantation crop in the American south. How the paint color became a talisman to ward off haints and hags is conjecture. Either it mimicked the appearance of the sky so spirits could pass right through, or it looked like water, which ghosts couldn’t cross.

Or, there was something about the color that repelled insects. That actually might be true, although it isn’t true today. Indigo dye was made with lye, and there was lime in the historic milk (casein) base. The resultant paint may indeed have been a good bug repellent.

Remnants of Haint Blue ceiling at Owens-Thomas House slave quarters. Photo courtesy of Telfair Museums.
The Gullah people used this beautiful blue far more liberally than we do today. They painted it on their porches, doors, window frames, shutters, even ceilings. It barred entrance, and if the haints got in, it encouraged them to scoot.

I can tell you, however, that haint blue doesn’t repel the short, costumed witches, goblins and other creatures of modern Halloween. As long as we had a blue-ceilinged porch, they came out in droves, like locusts. And it was great fun.

A special thanks to Jennifer Johnson, who told me this story in painting class yesterday.