Paint Schoodic

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Friday, June 28, 2019

Dance with the one what brung you


“I’m the worst, I’m totally garbage at scheduling” is not an excuse; it’s just a sign that you were raised by wolves.
Cape Elizabeth Cliffs, by Carol L. Douglas
Tomorrow is the wedding of the season in my former town of Rochester, NY. The sister of the bride is flying in from Scotland; the sisters of the groom from France. The gathering will include my husband, my daughter, and many of my old and treasured friends.

I’ll be thinking of them as I paint at Cape Elizabeth Paint for Preservation. No, I do not think my career is more important than my old friend, but I was accepted to this event before she announced the date.

Back in the last millennium, etiquette mavens taught that the only proper reason to break a prior commitment was an invitation to the White House. I’m liberal enough to include a personal emergency or a date in court, but the principle was that your word, once given, is inviolate.
Painting in Cape Elizabeth Paint for Preservation last June. (Photo courtesy of Karen Lybrand)
It can be difficult to maintain this policy. Last autumn, I’d signed up for Plein Air Brandywine Valley when my daughter invited me to London and Bath. I had no prior relationship with the show and my family was very persuasive. My husband went to England; I painted in Pennsylvania. I liked Children’s Beach House, the sponsoring organization, enough that I’ll be back again this year.

I think it’s no bad thing to be reliable. One of the few things I regret decades later is having flaked on someone who was really counting on me.

Modern culture has a bad reputation for flaking, or not showing up when you say you will. Having given three weddings for my daughters, I’ve experienced this first-hand. The worst offenders, by the way, have not been much-maligned millennials, but people who are old enough to know better.

“Technology makes it so much easier to flake out,” said clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior. “It's infinitely easier and less awkward than having to talk to someone by phone or, worse, tell them in person.”
Painting in the cold rain at Brandywine last autumn.
But showing up when you promise is as important to festival organizers as it is to the mother of the bride. Organizers invest a great deal of time and energy on a short list of painters, one they’ve carefully selected through a complex process of invitation or jurying. Your name and work have been assiduously promoted to their lists, and they encourage your fans to come to their event.

Most committees work on their event all year long, and they work indefatigably during the run-up and the week of the event. Much of the work is done by volunteers, working alongside paid staff. The work involved in putting on a successful plein air competition is staggering; it is probably equal to organizing a white tie dinner at Buckingham Palace.

Some events have runners-up to fill last minute gaps. But even these shows will have publicized your presence to their punters. Not showing up leaves them plugging a mystery “Special Guest” in the place of their headliners.

So, if you’re thinking of bailing on an event, don’t. And if you must, make sure you have an awfully good reason—your own death, for example. “I’m the worst, I’m totally garbage at scheduling” is not an excuse; it’s just a sign that you were raised by wolves.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

In Nova Scotia, the tide is turning


PIPAF is emerging quickly in the plein air movement. But in terms of gender equality, it’s already a leader.
View From Back Street Oil on Panel, by Chantel Julien was the 2017 PIPAF Best in Show winner. (Photo courtesy Parrsboro Creative)
Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival has emerged quickly as an important contender in the plein air scene. It attracts big-name artists, sales are increasing, and visitation is up. But there’s one way in which I hope it remains unchanged: gender equality.

Each year since its inception, the grand prize winner has been a woman artist: Chantel Julien, Nancy Tankersley, and Poppy Balser. (A hat tip to Becky McAndrews for noticing this.) And it didn’t stop with the top prizes, either. The lists have been remarkably fair-handed.

At most plein air competitions, top prizes are taken by male artists. Some sponsors have tried to address this by alternating between male and female jurors, but have found that the gender of the juror doesn’t make much difference. Painting is one of the last bastions in western culture where men’s work is perceived as more valuable than women’s work.

Nancy Tankersley was the 2018 PIPAF Best in Show winner. (Photo courtesy Parrsboro Creative)
This imbalance is unfortunately not just for dead artists. A data-mining exercise last year found that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) collection is only 11% women-made. At the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 18% of the artists are female.

A search of MoMA’s database reveals one painting by Lois Dodd, View through Elliot's Shack Looking South, which they acquired a few years ago. Meanwhile, there are 86 works on their website for her contemporary and peer, Alex Katz.

Is gender in the eye of the beholder? Identifying cultural attitudes with art auction prices, by Adams, Kräussl, Navone and Verwijmeren, found that women’s art in the secondary market traded at a 47.6% discount. It was worse in misogynistic cultures, and better in western nations. However, the world’s new wealth is being minted in those misogynistic places. That doesn’t bode well for the future of women’s art.

The Romantic ideal of the Cult of Genius underlies much of the misogyny of the modern art world, because Genius was thought to be a male trait. “Underlying the question about woman as artist, then, we find the myth of the Great Artist—subject of a hundred monographs, unique, godlike—bearing within his person since birth a mysterious essence, rather like the golden nugget in Mrs. Grass’s chicken soup, called Genius or Talent, which, like murder, must always out, no matter how unlikely or unpromising the circumstances,” wrote Linda Nochlin in a ground-breaking feminist essay in 1971.

Sunset Glow at the Weir, by Poppy Balser was the 2019 PIPAF Best in Show winner. (Photo courtesy Parrsboro Creative)
The great virtue of plein air painting is that it rejects the Cult of Genius in favor of craftsmanship and hard work. And despite its lack of recognition in the art establishment, it is the first new art movement in decades, and overall one of the greatest in art history.

Adams, et al sought to burst the idea—once and for all—that art prices reflected any difference in quality between male and female painters. They devised two experiments where paintings were assigned arbitrary genders. In both cases, knowledgeable buyers appreciated paintings less when they thought the artist was female. Ouch.

But in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, the tide is turning. I can’t credit Canadian culture for this: two of the three jurors have been American. Nor is it a case of women jurors crediting women painters, because two of the three jurors were male. However it happened, it’s wonderful to see prizes awarded to women painters.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Monday Morning Art School: taking risks


Painting is inherently exploratory, so there’s no sense revisiting what you already know.

Parrsboro basin, by Carol L. Douglas. This was my two-hour quick-draw.
I just came back from Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival, where I painted with my pal Poppy Balser. Several times, we discussed the question of whether one should take risks in a competitive event, or save those paintings for times when one is under no pressure.

Risk-taking falls into three categories:
  1. Changing materials and tools;
  2. Compositional or technical changes;
  3. New subject matter.

Painting with Poppy at Parrsboro. Say that ten times fast. (Photo courtesy of Anne Wedler.)
The latter is the easiest to address. I heard several people say, “I’m not a boat painter” right before they attempted the devilishly-difficult fleet standing against the seawall at Advocate Harbor. I am a boat painter and the boats of Nova Scotia have defeated me many times. These are the highest tides in the world, and they move with heady speed. As they drop, they leave the short, squat trawlers standing upright on the shingle.

That doesn’t mean I don’t try; I am not in Nova Scotia fishing waters often enough to let the opportunity slide by. My error was in dragging a 16X20 canvas down onto the wet sand and trying to finish it before the tide and weather moved in. Devoting a day to painting something I didn’t know was no mistake.
Peek-a-Boo Island, by Carol L. Douglas
Changing up your method is a different question. There really is only one sure-fire way of applying oil paints in the field, but within that, there are many variations. Equally true, watercolor is almost universally applied light-to-dark, but there are variations within that, too. By the time an artist has gotten accepted into a major show, the process is usually solidly established. However, things happen to upset that. At Rye’s Painters on Location a few years ago, I lost my painting medium. Tarryl Gabel kindly shared some gel medium. It softened everything up, and I found myself painting in far greater detail than is my wont.

This time I used a new titanium white which was much oilier than my usual paint. And I painted on a new substrate, a clear birch board. The board was a fabulous success; the former not so much.

Poppy Balser with her two competition paintings. The one at left won Best in Show.
Poppy took more compositional risks than did I. Her two paintings entered for the competition were of the weir in dim light and another looking straight up a cliffside of sedimentary rock. In the weir painting, the subject is strongly foreshortened and dark on one side. In the hands of a less-adroit painter, it could have resulted in a balance issue, but it was far more interesting than the usual composition. Her risk-taking paid off handsomely. She won Best in Show.

However, behind that painting was three years of painting the weir from every angle and in every different lighting condition. The herring weir is Poppy’s Mont Sainte-Victoire. I’ve personally seen her do at least fifteen paintings of it. That deep familiarity means she can take risks with the shape and composition. She’s stared at it for so many hours that it’s become intimately familiar to her.

In the end, all our solemn pondering of risk-taking was so much hot air. Eventually, the risks always won out. Painting is inherently exploratory. There’s no sense revisiting what you already know; that always leads to boredom.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The working artist survives through cooperation


Perhaps a little less plumage and a little more truth might build more cooperation in the workplace. You first.
Parrsboro marshes, by Carol L. Douglas
I wish I could get the timing right on Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival. Last year, I was a day late because I was teaching watercolor aboard American Eagle. This year I’m not quite so behind, but my husband has a medical procedure this morning. I’ll miss the opening reception where they stamp our boards.

I asked painter Stephan Giannini if he’d bring my boards up to Nova Scotia with him. He’ll hand them off to Poppy Balser, who’ll take them to the cottage we’re staying in. Neither Poppy nor Stephan hesitated when asked. “I’m going right by your house anyway,” said Stephan. I left my studio open so he could collect them while I was teaching elsewhere.

Parrsboro low tide, by Carol L. Douglas
I find myself asking for or offering help all the time. Bobbi Heath and I have shared driving, and I’ll be staying with her at Cape Elizabeth’s Paint for Preservation next week. Poppy will stay at my house while I’m at my residency in July. Meanwhile, she finished a birch panel for me to use this week. Then there was the memorable and fun night Chrissy Pahucki and I headed out into the mountains to rescue Crista Pisano, and then ended up with an almost-flat tire ourselves.

Cooperation among artists is born of necessity. Most circuit-riding plein air painters operate on very slim margins. The amenities found in other industries—hotels, travel upgrades, couriers, etc.—would eat away at our profitability. We’ve learned to travel austerely and rely on each other when we can.

Parrsboro below Ottawa House, by Carol L. Douglas
I’m always impressed that the same artists who are in direct competition with each other for prizes and sales can remain so collegial. Kvetching about the judging is a time-honored sport, but the artists who win prizes are usually people you know and like.

I see cooperation in my classes, too. Yesterday, I had my students paint lupines, which range from white to pink to blue-violet. I’d decided against bringing dioxazine purple to amp up their mixes. As I walked from easel to easel, I noticed that pigment appearing on more and more palettes. Those who had it were sharing it around, just as they shared different insect repellants in a vain attempt to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

Yesterday's painting class on Beauchamp Point.
Long-term cooperation is not possible without trust. Trust is fragile, and to be “trusting” and “trustworthy” are not the same thing at all. As most parents eventually figure out, the best way to get others to be trustworthy is to trust them in the first place. We have a deeply-engrained need to reciprocate good for good and bad for bad—in short, to act like friends.

But we live in a society that is—frankly—wealthy enough to dispense with trust. We’re socialized into being great liars, hiding behind images of beauty, affluence, success, and invincibility. We have been told that this is what sells our product and, indeed, our very selves.

The working artist doesn’t have that luxury, at least not on the road. We’ve all seen each other in our old, paint-spattered cars, wearing our paint-spattered jeans. (“We’re taking up a collection to buy you some new clothes,” Captain John Foss told me last week.)

Perhaps a little less plumage and a little more truth might build more cooperation in the workplace. You first.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Monday Morning Art School: The seven deadly sins of plein air painting.


Here are some easy ways to condemn your outdoor painting. Try to avoid them!
October afternoon at Beauchamp point, by Carol L. Douglas. The weight is off the edge, and the rocks are accurate. Now if I could just remember what I did with this painting.
Weight all to one side. Often, we’re attracted to a scene where a large, dark mass in the foreground breaks to show us a distant, high-key vista, like mountains or the sea. That is very appealing in life, but plopping a large object on the far side of your canvas is simple bad design. Look for ways to balance lights and darks. Breaks in the tree screen, changing the angle, or some value adjustments will make it flow better.
It's easy to throw all the weight on one side when drawing a shoreline or a mountain vista.
Tchotchkes to try to fix a bad composition. Yes, there are boats, branches and gulls in nature, and they have a place in your painting. They shouldn’t be added at the last minute to fix an unbalanced composition. If you find yourself frequently tempted to add ornaments at the last minute, you’re probably not spending enough time on your drawing.

Tossing a gull, a branch, or a boat in there at the last minute is just going to look goofy.
Going straight to canvas. A good drawing—in a sketchbook, not on your canvas—sometimes seems like a waste of time, but it serves three important purposes. It’s how you sort out good vs. bad compositions. It gives you a chance to explore the subject without making a muddy mess with paint. And it gives you reference that can outlast changes in the weather, the light, or even your subject leaving. 

Marking outlines on a viewfinder is no substitute for a good sketch, which is why I don't permit them in my classes. The primary point of a sketch is to think.

No focal point(s). A painting is read by its viewers, and part of your job is to control how they do that. You may have only one focus, or you may have several that are noticed in order of importance. Your preparatory drawing should have helped you narrow this down. Now it’s your job to make those points draw your viewer. How do you do this? You have color, line and detail to drive the viewer’s eyes.
Shorelines are not perfect ellipses.
Too much detail too soon. Detail is the last thing you should worry about when painting. Your masses should be blocked in, shadows laid down, and colors organized before you worry about the texture of trees, rocks and grass. 

Think for a moment what it would be like if you could see every leaf and blade of grass simultaneously. Our eyes protect the brain from snapping with overstimulation by only focusing on one thing at a time. Do your viewers a favor and make those choices when you’re painting. Apply detail sparingly.

Not seeing past the shore ellipse. Perfect ellipses are lovely in painting, but they’re not great for shorelines. Most shorelines don’t curve perfectly, but are broken by irregularities. Even when they’re perfectly smooth, they curve less at the top than at the bottom—that’s perspective. And within the curve of a cove, there are waves and tidal lines that break the regularity. If you’re going to draw the long curve of a shore, take the time to learn its real shape. And you don’t need to include the whole, long edge for the viewer to get the point.

A trifecta of bad design: a goofy ellipse, all the trees on one side, and a gull added to try to balance the composition.
Rocks are not potatoes, and trees are not popsicles. When I painted in Scotland last month, the first thing I noticed is that the granite rising out of the North Atlantic wasn’t exactly the same as the granite on the American side. The Iona stone is pinker and studded with greenstone. 

Different minerals cleave and erode differently. How they break and tumble gives rock faces their character. Rocks are almost never brown or simple grey. They’re an amalgam of beautiful colors ranging from blue-green to burnt orange. Likewise, trees branch very differently depending on their species. Foliage colors vary, as does the density of the canopy.

You don’t need to be a geologist or botanist to notice and appreciate these differences, and getting them right is what gives a painting authenticity.

Friday, June 14, 2019

A tough decision, clarified by ocean breezes and seawater


A real good time and the lack of cell-phone reception helped me decide to cut back on blogging.
Under sail and hard at work.
 With the spring we’ve had this year, I was understandably worried about the weather for our Age of Sail watercolor workshop aboard the schooner American Eagle. Our time on the water turned out to be perfect. My only regret was a last-minute drop-out of a returning student (due to a family emergency).

Many people think it’s impossible to paint on a moving boat, but I’ve been doing it for four years now. It’s a cinematic experience. Images are flying at you quickly, and you record just as much as your mind can retain. Surprisingly, that’s quite a bit.

Drawing lesson on a deserted island. (Photo courtesy Mary Whitney)
Another misconception is that this is an opportunity to sail with a little painting thrown in. It’s actually a serious workshop on watercolor sketching. We work on composition, color theory, and the properties of watercolor. We just happen to do it in a spectacular setting, and on a magnificent boat.

Deckhand Kevin with the lobsters.  (Photo courtesy Mary Whitney)
I’m the teacher, but I’ve learned a few things. When a boat is traveling at ten knots, it’s time to down brushes and simply revel in the sensation of wind and water. This year I corralled everything before someone (me, for example) lost a brush overboard. And I won’t bring books for students to peruse. There’s very little down time.

The windjammer fleet is a thing of beauty.  (Photo courtesy Mary Whitney)
The big event on this trip is the gam, a raft-up of the Maine windjammer fleet. It’s always an exciting event, with music, a grog toast, and visits to other boats.

Later, we anchored at Stonington. I walked around the harbor with new friends, a couple from Louisiana. From the landing, we walked to Stonington’s beautiful old Opera House, then up to Church Street. John and Susan admired the lilacs, the architecture, and the harbor below.

The one morning of rain, we worked in the Main Cabin, drawing Paddington Bear in a secret life of debauchery. Painting by Colleen Lowe. (Photo courtesy Mary Whitney)
Our captain bought lobsters in Stonington, and from there we motored to nearby Russ Island to eat the darn bugs. It was downright hot, so we tucked ourselves into the shade and painted rocks and shoreline. The next night found us in North Haven’s lovely Pulpit Harbor, with its field of lupines just opening into the June sunlight.

Farro salad, just one of an impossible number of great dishes. (Photo courtesy Mary Whitney)
Captain John Foss and I agree that this is a fun event, so we’re planning to reprise it again next year. The dates are to be determined, but I expect it will be around the same week as this year’s sail. If you’re interested, email me and I’ll keep you on the list for more information.

And then there's dessert.  (Photo courtesy Mary Whitney)
One of the nicest things about the ocean is the lack of cell-phone reception. That meant no blogging this week, which helped me reach a decision. I’ve been blogging five days a week for several years now, and that’s been very successful: this is the seventh-ranked art blog by Feedspot metrics.

Our boats, pulled up on Russ Island. That's the Lewis R. French in the far distance.
But as I enter my busy season once again, I find I no longer want to maintain this pace. I spend about 90 minutes a day writing. This adds up to a full work-day every week. For the remainder of the season, I’ll be writing less often. I’m shooting for three days a week, and when the season has ended, I’ll reassess. Thank you for understanding.

Friday, June 7, 2019

What do young people want?


Art events are filled with older people. “How do we appeal to younger people?” I was recently asked.
Sam Horowitz demonstrating painting to his peers, many many moons ago.
In my experience, youth are very interested in making art until they finish school, whether that’s at 18 or 22. Then they become consumed with the business of building their lives: paying off their loans, pair-bonding, saving for their first cars and homes. It isn’t until they’re around 40 that the first of them lift their eyes from their task lists long enough to think about making art again.

I’ve taught some young people who’ve never lost the creative urge, but they’re the exception. Part of the difference was relationship. They not only studied with me, they came over to my studio on their free afternoons to work and they spent time in my home, with my family. Those years in high school seemed to cement artmaking into their lives. I suppose one might call that mentorship, although I never gave the process a second thought back then.

Matt Menzies in high school. He's since gone on to work on Broadway.
I’ve written exhaustively about art’s intellectual benefits and its economic importance. Despite its many conferred advantages, art has very low prestige. One way to combat that is by showing young people that it’s possible to make lives as artists, but this one-on-one teaching is a slow way to change the culture. Do you have any better ideas?

People over 60—as much as they love art—don’t generally need more stuff in their homes, as I wrote yesterday. People under 30, with few exceptions, don’t have the money for fine art… but they will, and soon.
Teressa Ramos continues to paint while in nursing school...
It’s easy to forget about Generation X, but their spending power surpasses that of Millennials and Baby Boomers. They came of age into economic turmoil, and they’re the first product of widespread divorce in America. They value security, authenticity and social consciousness. In decorating terms, that means they want soothing colors in practical materials. They’re willing to spend for beautiful living spaces. “The Gen X midlife crisis is defined more by worrying about a status kitchen than rushing out and buying a Ferrari,” wrote trend forecaster WGSN.

Millennials are the biggest age cohort in our history. This is the generation that will spend $4 on a coffee, but have no savings. Millennials value social responsibility and environmentalism, but the biggest factor in their purchasing decisions is price. They also value authenticity, local sourcing, ethical production, a fun shopping experience, and giving back to society. But they’re not spending their money on their homes; they’re spending it going out and having experiences.
...as does her younger sister Kamillah Ramos. Here she was in high school; she's now a graduated architect.
Even though 54% of millennials shop online, this generation is more likely to do the research and then head to a “real” store to make the actual purchase. That’s very good news for those of us who promote on Instagram but use bricks-and-mortar galleries to make our sales.

Most importantly, both Gen X and millennials respond to micro-influencers (that’s you and your friends) on social media. They will “share” your posts, if they’re thoughtful and funny.

An important note: I’m teaching on the windjammer American Eagle next week. One of the nicest things about the ocean is that there is no cell-phone signal and no internet. That means no blog from Monday to Thursday. I’ll see you again a week from today!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Fashions in frames


Your frame can’t be all things to everyone, but it’s helpful to know where it stands in the currents of fickle fashion.
Me, with the usual assortment of plein air event frames.
I keep an inventory of frames in my garage in the common sizes in which I paint en plein air, ranging from 6X8 up to 18X24. This takes up considerable space and represents an even more considerable investment. Inevitably, despite careful management, there are some losses—damaged frames, sizes I no longer work in, or—the worst—frames that have gone out of style.

Some go back twenty years. These are black and gold with corner medallions and carving, and I only use them in a pinch. Still, I keep them. The moment I get rid of them, they’ll be back in style.

Picture frames aren’t usually considered a fashion item, but like everything else in the home, they are tied to décor trends. There were elaborate Baroque frames, simple mid-century frames, and modern, minimalist frames—and many subtle shifts within each of these periods.
Apple blossom swing, by Carol L. Douglas. Courtesy Camden Falls Gallery. This is a favorite frame style, but it must be built in two sections.
The current plein air frame is usually a gold, silver or dark wood slab frame with minimal ornamentation. It's widely available and easy to use. But does it actually reflect modern tastes in decorating? Well, yes and no. Look through Elle Décor’s pages at the frames and artwork. While metal finishes are making something of a comeback, farmhouse chic (which means barnwood) is still pretty popular. There are more ‘frameless’ and all-white frames than there are metallics.

The question isn’t what we like, but what our buyers want. My age cohort still loves gold frames, but we're a shrinking market. Millennials say they want minimalism, low-maintenance and modern, with wood and stone surfaces. Mid-century modern and rustic may be fading overall, but they remain strong influences in this group.

Breaking dawn, by Carol L. Douglas. This is a frame syle popular in the Canadian Maritimes.
There are regional differences. My Canadian friend Poppy Balser and I navigate the shoals of cross-border framing every year. Nova Scotians prefer a simpler style with a plain white liner and thin fillet. To our American eyes it looks cheap (it’s not). Our heavy gold plein air frames look tacky to them. I’ve come to love the Canadian frame, but it’s hard to get here.

There are limits to how trendy one can be at plein air events. Oil and acrylic painters generally work on boards, so mass-produced floater frames don’t fit. Even if we were to switch back to canvas, they must be carefully positioned and then screwed down. That’s too hard to do on the back deck of a hatchback. Metallic paint is fine because it can be patched, but gilt and fine wood surfaces are too fragile to move around in a car over bad roads. In most shows, frameless isn’t an option.

Drying sails, by Carol L. Douglas. This frame was an old standby for many years. It clashes with nothing, but clients sometimes complain that it's too dark.
I’ve been coveting Taos by King of Frames for over a year now, ever since I saw it at Jane Chapin’s house. It’s simple, elegant, and too pricey for a plein air event frame. For the second year in a row, I’ve reluctantly passed on it.

Frames are as subjective as the paintings they contain, but they send strong signals to buyers. You can’t be all things to everyone, but it’s helpful to know where you stand in the bigger currents of fashion.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Ai-Da the robot painter


Is she threatening to artists, or threatening to women?
Ai-Da at a tea party photoshoot for the Telegraph, photo by Nicky Johnston. A real woman would have cleaned the silver before entertaining.
My programmer husband forwarded a story from the Telegraph that was headlined, “Meet Ai-Da: the robot artist giving real painters a run for their money.”

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about just yet,” he told me.

I don’t—but some abstract painters might. “From a basic set of parameters, such as a photograph of some oak trees, or a bee, the robot has rendered abstract ‘shattered light’ paintings warning of the fragility of the environment that would look at home in a top modern gallery,” read Ai-Da’s press release.
One of Ai-Da's paintings. I predict she sells out.
Ai-Da is programmed to sample the colors in the photograph and then reiterate them on a canvas. Such algorithms are basic in computer science. They can sometimes mimic thought, but they lack the intuitive connections that real thinking requires. It’s wonderful that they’ve given Ai-Da a hand to make images the slow, tedious way, but the final results are no more creative or meaningful than a screen-saver.

She is programmed to do a more than this, but she was just delivered from the factory in April, so we must be patient with Baby Girl. She can sketch with a pencil and uses facial recognition technology to draw human faces. Apparently, her coordinate system is programmed in three dimensions, because she can sculpt, after a fashion. Her art videos are included in the show. She can read aloud. Then, too, so can my phone.
And her sculpted bee, which is substantially less-effectively rendered than a 3D laptop project would be.
She’s much faster than a human painter. There’s no dithering about light levels, values, composition or meaning, so she can knock off a large canvas in about two hours.

Of course, the real artists are the team that programmed her. That, as you may imagine, is extensive: scientists from Oxford, a robotics firm from Cornwall, and engineers from Leeds.

“Thematically the exhibition questions our relationship with technology and the natural world by presenting how [Artificial Intelligence] and new technologies can be simultaneously a progressive, disruptive and destructive force within our society,” droned the blog Director of Finance. That’s a beautiful parody of the artist’s statement, made funnier because the artist herself has no brain.
Ai-Da in her studio. Note the artfully-daubed flowing painter's smock, along with her immobilized feet, photo by Nicky Johnston.
Ai-Da is having her first solo show at St John’s College, Oxford. If I were in England, I’d probably go, just to see how seamlessly engineers have put the software on my laptop into a large, unwieldy machine.

There’s really no reason for Ai-Da to have a body except to personalize her; she might as well be a hand moving through space, as at the Ford factory. Curator Aidan Meller, who spearheaded the project, conjured up a female minion. Her press photos are set in a studio of campy femininity. But other than her Stepford Wife expression, wig, and long flowing dress, she’s really just a large machine with excessively large hands and feet.

Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, artists have understood the distinction between machinery and mind. Nobody has yet been able to program an Ai-Da with a Big Idea, the one that gets artists jumping out of bed in the morning and working for a year with no guaranteed return. Nor is there enough money in making paintings to justify building lots of robotic painters. She’s a freak of engineering, and nothing more.

I’m feeling more threatened by the fact that this drone is called a “she”. There’s been a creeping expansion of my personal personal pronoun recently. It’s accompanied by the trappings of what men perceive to be feminine, without any real deep understanding of womanhood. Referring to boats as “she” is as far as I want to see it go in the material world.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

A new arts group starts with flair

If you’re an artist in Knox County, ME, you may want to join the Knox County Art Society.
Portland #1, by Bob Richardson, at Boynton-McKay in Camden right now.
The Bangor Art Society is the oldest continuously-operated art society in the US; nearby Knox County Art Society (KCAS) may be the youngest. It holds its first meeting on June 15. The last I heard, it had 23 members, which is a great start. (The whole county’s population is less than 40,000.)

David Blanchard, its founder, is a friend and student of mine. He’s doing everything right. What better way to gin up interest than by having a show? Yesterday I mentioned that I helped hang one for KCAS at Boynton-McCay. That’s an old-fashioned storefront eatery at 30 Main Street in Camden.

This show will be up for the summer months, meaning it will get lots of foot traffic. Dave requested enough work that he can change the inventory monthly, and the labeling and signage are extremely professional.
Resting, Carol L. Douglas, done at Camden Life Drawing earlier this year.
KCAS grew out of Camden Life Drawing. This group gets together at the Lions Club every Wednesday evening to draw from a model. I go when I can, but most of the time it’s sold out, subscription only, on a first-come, first-serve basis. This month, however, sign-ups are light, so if you want to brush up on your figure-drawing skills, it would be a good time to start. No, there are no membership requirements and no secret codes. Just email Dave and give him your information. As always, the earliest bird gets the worm.

Bob Richardson will be teaching Introduction to Life Drawing for KCAS on June 15, at 9:30 AM. Bob has a BFA from Tufts and the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and a MAE from Hartford Art School. He was department head at Berkshire School, Phillips Exeter Academy, Simon's Rock College, Ethel Walker School, and Kingswood Oxford School.
This garden is available to KCAS members to paint on Saturdays. Not too shabby.
He will cover gesture drawing, volume, foreshortening, and perspective. There will be a critique at the end. The fee is $29 for KCAS members registering in advance. Non-members are $36, space permitting.

On Saturdays, KCAS Members gather to paint in the Blanchard garden on Pearl Street in Camden. This double-lot garden features mature perennials and shrubs and is bounded by a woods and weathered-shingle buildings. It’s pleasant and cool.

That’s an awfully good start for a group that—as yet—has no officers, no calendar, and hasn’t had an official meeting yet. I gave Dave my $60 membership fee, along with my best wishes for much success. If you live and work (or summer) in Knox County, Maine, you might want to, too.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Monday Morning Art School: how to hang an art show


You can hang by eye, or measure. The latter will look better, I promise.
Yesterday, we hung a show for the Knox County Art Society, at Boynton-McCay in Camden, ME. Here, Ken Foster demonstrates how not to use a ladder.

You’re bound to be asked to hang work a library, restaurant, beauty shop, or other non-commercial gallery space. These are great opportunities for exposure for the emerging artist, but they’re unlikely to have a commercial hanging system. You can either hang by eye or you can measure. The latter will look better, and it requires no math skills beyond what you learned in 4th grade.

You will need:

Hammer
Tape measure
Yardstick
Leatherman or equivalent all-purpose tool
Pencil
Scrap paper
A calculator

Strap hangers on pictures should be set 1/3 down from the top. Too low and they’ll roll forward; too high and the wire will show. When hanging a group show, you’ll inevitably come across paintings that have been wired too high or too loose. The all-purpose tool is to make those adjustments before you hang.

Lorilei Clayton and I started by laying the work out to see what would look best.
Decide on the order in which the paintings will be hung. In an open room, this is not complicated; just stand them up along the walls and keep rearranging until you’re happy. In a small, cluttered space, you may need to lay small arrangements out on tables, floors, etc. Try to match colors and themes, but don’t be too rigid. A combination of realism and abstraction is pleasing.

Use the areas with the best visibility for large statement pieces. Put the highest-chroma/best graphic design in window spaces. Smaller pieces are better in smaller, more intimate corners.

Start with a basic map of each wall. The blue line is the chalk line, at eye height. The figures above are necessary to give you the centerpoints of each painting, unless you're very, very lucky and all the work is the same size.
Once you’ve decided on the order in which you want to your pictures, you need to make a basic map. Let us say, for example, that you want five pieces to hang along a wall. None are the same size. Total up the width of all the pieces. Measure the overall wall length. The difference between the wall length and the total width of your pieces is how much room you can leave for gaps. If, for example you have 110” of framed work and a 160” wall, that extra 50” is what you can leave between paintings. There are four spaces between paintings and two on the end, so if you want even gaps, they would be 8.33” each. That’s a stupid number to work with, so leave 9” on each end and 8” between paintings. A little juggling will give you reasonable numbers.

Find the center point of each painting and mark it on your plan. For example, if a work is 28” in its frame, the center is at 14”.  I write all these out on my plan, as on the example above.

Run a horizontal chalk line. This is a two-person job. Snap this line at eye height—say 62” for an average American. This line will be your centerline for all the paintings. (It’s possible to align on the top edges, but I avoid that when possible.)

Now, you’re going to start on the left side and mark all those space divisions on your chalk line. It’s not strictly necessary to mark the edges of the paintings, and you’ll want to use an extra-hard mark at the center points, but it’s awfully easy to make a mistake here. Marking them gives a measure of foolproofness.

The problem with paintings is that the wire is never the same height on two works, even when they come from the same framer. You’ll have to adjust for that. Use a tape measure to figure out how far the wire hits below the edge when it is taut. Let us say it’s a 20” tall frame and the wire comes up to 1.5” from the edge of the frame. I know the midpoint is at 10”, so I subtract the 1.5” from that and place the hook—not the nail—at 8.5” above the midpoint. 

Mercifully, this is all the number-juggling you’ll have to do.
At the end, you'll level each painting and hold it secure with rubber bumpers or a bit of museum putty.
Try to work from the center out. It’s easier to correct small errors on the edges. And don’t be afraid to pull and rehang a nail if it doesn’t look right to you—holes are easily filled with spackle.

On a vertical arrangement, measure the total height, calculate the gaps, and make a small drawing for guidance.  Figure the center point and drop a chalk line down. Instead of working from the middle, however, work from the top.

When you’ve positioned the paintings properly, level them. I prefer to put clear rubber bumpers on them to stop them from moving, but you can also use museum putty for this.