Paint Schoodic

We're offering four workshops for 2020, at Acadia National Park, Pecos, NM, Tallahassee, FL, and aboard the schooner American Eagle.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Monday Morning Art School: Perspective

Every landscape painter should understand two-point perspective, but don't draw those rays in the field.

Midsummer, by Carol L. Douglas. It's important to understand perspective, but don't use those vanishing points when drawing in the field.

A door is commonplace, but it's also a series of repeating shapes that can teach you a lot about perspective. If you have a choice, use a door with panels like this one. A flat slab door will be so much less fun to draw.

I left mine slightly ajar, but it doesn't have to be. Seat yourself as far away as you can get from it. The closer you are, the more difficult it is to keep your measurements straight. Position yourself at an angle to it so you can think about perspective.

This is intended to be a fast drawing, taking you no more than 15 or 20 minutes. The same rules apply to a careful drawing, of course; you'd just be more meticulous in your measuring and marking. But you'll learn just as much going fast.

My first task is to figure out the angles of the top and bottom of the door. (My camera distorts perspective so what’s in the photo won’t match what’s on my drawing.) I do that by holding my pencil along the bottom of the door and figuring out the angle.

I find that setting my pencil down on my paper at the appropriate angle helps me see it better.

Then I do the exact same thing on the top.

Note that the shelf at my eye level is completely horizontal. Any level surface at eye level has to be horizontal; that's a hard-and-fast rule. 

Two-point perspective, courtesy Luciano Testoni. All those lines traveling off to the vanishing points on the left and right? Let's call them rays.

The picture above is classical two-point perspective with a lot of extra bells and whistles. I don't want you to get bogged down in it; I included it so you can compare the rays in that drawing to what you see in your room. Notice that when you look at lines high in your room, the 'rays' travel downward to the sides, where the so-called 'vanishing points' are. When you look at objects near the floor, the rays travel upward to the vanishing points. That's because the vanishing points are always at the viewer's eye level. 

Every landscape painter should understand two-point perspective, but should never draw those rays in the field. Like every other kind of 3D projection, it’s useful in drafting, but it is a falsehood when it comes to what you’re actually seeing. That’s because the vanishing points would be so far away in the real world as to be rendered useless.

But you can take away some useful information from two-point perspective. The farther away an object is, the less perspective distortion there is. And perspective works the same way above the horizon line as below it, so clouds are arrayed the same way trash cans are.

Next, I do that nifty measuring thing that involves holding my pencil in front of my eye and using it as a ruler. Since the height is already determined by my angled lines, I just need to figure out how wide the door is relative to the height. I figured the door is a little less than half as wide as it was tall. Later, I'll find out just how off I was.

This shape is called a trapezoid, and there's an easy way to find its center. Just draw an X from corner to corner as shown. That's very useful information in perspective drawing, because it helps you place windows, doors, roof peaks, etc. correctly. Make a habit of finding it.

And here’s a quick-and-dirty way to get the perspective right. Divide the two side lines into equal units—thirds, quarters, eighths, or whatever other units you can mark off by eye. Then just draw lines connecting the corresponding sides. The 1/3 point on the left gets attached to the 1/3 point on the right, etc. You’ll have the perspective rays right in one try.

I never get my measurements right on the first try, so I've learned to not fuss too much on my initial measurements. The great thing about repeating shapes is that your mistakes are easy to see. I realized the door was slightly too short and wide, so I adjusted them slightly.

I can’t draw a straight line without a ruler, and my initial drawing had a free-hand curl on the right-bottom corner. I took a moment to correct that. Note how useful the center point is in placing the central spine of the door. I know that the moulding around the glass is the same width all around, so this is one of those repeating shapes I can use to check my work. (Of course, it's going to be ever so slightly wider on the side closer to me, because of perspective.)

My final drawing. You can finish yours to your heart's content, but the important part is learning how to use your pencil as a marker to see angles and distances.

This post originally appeared on November 17, 2017.

Friday, July 10, 2020

A friend challenges me to go deeper.

Paintings aren’t made in grand gestures; they’re made with brushes, one stroke at a time.

Morning Fog over Whiteface Mountain, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

When I was younger, I did a lot of work that told a story and had deeper meaning. Today, much of it seems sophomoric. I prefer to concentrate on simple landscape.

In one sense, I’ve been resting. My childhood wasn’t easy, and I carried psychic wounds for a long time. I’ve no interest in poking at the scabs. Moreover, I don’t know where to start. While the Bible is my own personal source text, all the reasons to paint Bible stories are obsolete now. Film and the written word are far better at communicating sermons.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t great modern painters who’ve told Bible stories. Sir Stanley Spencer’s The Resurrection, Cookham, manages to wonderfully humanize a difficult idea, with its blinking villagers awakening from their long sleep.

Snowfall, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

Story-telling is intimately tied with figure painting, for the obvious reason that our stories are based on people. This week I came across a cache of figure sketches. “These are not bad,” I told Adam Levi, who is the Executive Director of Rye Arts Center. They’ll be mounting a show of my figure work in 2021, and I thought the sketches would make a good counterpoint to the framed work.

But landscape painting also has meaning. A Turner maelstrom, a Constable sky, or a Rockwell Kent sea convey as much about our anxieties, fears and hopes as any figure painting. Which conveys isolation better: Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks or Winslow Homer’s Weatherbeaten? Tough call.

The ideas conveyed by landscape painting are largely non-verbal. When I’m asked for an artist’s statement, I try to put them into words, and I can’t. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands,” wrote King David. It’s hard to improve on that.

Beaver Dam on Quebec Brook, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

This week, John Nicholson sent me a quote that stopped me cold. John’s a Southern Baptist pastor from Marion, Alabama. He’ll undermine every stereotype you ever had about southern preachers.

“The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good.” 

The writer of this terrible challenge was the famous Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky was, like me, a rotten student, a troublemaker in school, and had trouble settling down to a career. After booting around as a prospector in the taiga, he decided to study film. It was the one thing that held his interest.

The Late Bus, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

Tarkovsky remained a devout Orthodox Christian during a time when religion in Russia was actively suppressed. In the end, like so many other Russian intellectuals, he was forced to defect. “The Soviet authorities left me no other choice,” he said. They’d allowed him to make only six films in a quarter of a century. They considered him a “dead soul, a zero.”

In 1966, Tarkovsky made a three-hour epic film about an icon painter, which was immediately suppressed. Ivan Rublev is at once a loose biography of a 15th-century monk, a portrait of medieval Russia, and a self-portrait of the struggles of a modern Russian artist. It won an award at Cannes and today it’s considered a masterpiece.

In the face of such depth, I feel like I have very little to say with my happy little landscapes. I don’t even know if I’m capable of rising to the challenge. But paintings aren’t made in grand gestures; they’re made with brushes, one stroke at a time. I’m thinking about it, John.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Private lessons aren’t the best way to learn to paint

“You cannot step twice into the same stream, said Heraclitus (more or less). That’s true of painting, too.

I no longer remember what Catherine Bullinger and Brad VanAuken were laughing about.

“What do you charge to teach a private lesson?” a fellow teacher asked me. I never teach them, I responded. They aren’t the best way to learn to paint.

In a perfect-size class, the group works like an ensemble and there’s a great exchange of information. For me, that’s between 9 and 12 students in the studio and 6 to 12 in the field. Any more and I’m not giving enough attention to each person’s questions, problems and successes. By necessity, a larger class is based more on demos and lectures and less on one-on-one support.

But a too-small class has its problems too. It’s hard to develop a rhythm.

Learning to paint is not like learning a musical instrument. There, the creative impulse is mostly borrowed, in the form of the musical score. The teacher’s job is to help his student render that music with fidelity, but also with joy, life and meaning.

As you play through your piece, he watches and listens with great concentration. He notes awkward fingerings, flagging rhythms, wrong notes, and peculiar interpretations. Then he takes you through those problematic passages again and again until you get them right. It’s your job to go home and practice until your technique is encoded in muscle memory.

That need for one-on-one attention would make it difficult to teach a roomful of piano students simultaneously. And, of course, it would be utter cacophony.

I may dictate the subject, but each interpretation will be radically different. 

In painting, however, the student is the primary creative force (which is why those paint-and-sip nights are so awful). Yes, I dictate what my students will paint. But their interpretation is always personal, starting from the moment their charcoal hits the paper.

“You cannot step twice into the same stream, said Heraclitus the Obscure. Unlike a pianist, a painter never navigates the same passage twice. I may talk with students about brushwork, demonstrate it, and even have them copy a technique on small corners of their paintings. But as soon as they’re back on their own, they’re in a thicket of their own devising. My role is to advise them, based on my own experience as a painter.

That involves lots of waiting to see what’s going to happen. If the class is too small, I find myself interrupting too frequently. Suddenly, I own the process, not my students.

Teressa Ramos in a class along the Erie Canal.

I was reminded of this in yesterday’s (perfect-sized) Zoom class. I’ve been talking with one student about loosening up and making big, wet washes for water and sky. She is a happy-go-lucky person, but that wasn’t coming through in her brushwork. She did six iterations of clouds. They were all just too tight. She seemed frustrated and on the verge of giving up for the day. I walked through what I meant once more and moved on, hoping that she would hang in there and try again. On that seventh try, she made a lovely, energetic painting of clouds. She simply needed time for the concept to click.

Students learn a lot from each other, too. In a group of twelve, everyone hears what I’m saying to the other students. Usually, the questions and answers are universally applicable. And if nothing else, they’re bound to be entertaining.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Monday Morning Art School: nullification

Don't fuss endlessly with passages you’ve already laid down. This sucks all the life out of your painting.

Blueberry barrens, Clary Hill, oil on canvas by Carol L. Douglas. Available through Maine Farmland Trust Gallery, contact Karen Giles

“Don’t nullify,” wrote watercolorist Stewart White. “Know the mark you want to make before you make it. And once it’s made, don’t try to erase it; it just gets muddy otherwise. Watercolor reveals everything.”

That’s excellent advice. Nullification is bad in every medium, not just watercolor. It leads to weak painting.

By nullification, I don’t mean just scrubbing or wiping out. I also mean repeated overpainting and reworking of the same passages.

Blueberry barrens, Clary Hill, watercolor by Carol L. Douglas. Available through Maine Farmland Trust Gallery, contact Karen Giles.

Francis Bacon scrubbed intentionally, using the technique to depersonalize his portraits. You could say he’s the exception that proves the rule, since his technique points out how badly we view nullification.

In most cases, painters nullify because:

  • They haven’t planned sufficiently, or
  • They don’t like their brushwork.

Process protects us from the need to nullify. By working out errors in a study phase, you avoid splashing them out on a big canvas. But even the most carefully-conceived paintings will have errors. Unless it’s a real whopper, just leave it. The human mind loves mysteries, and what happens between you and your paint is sometimes the greatest mystery of all.

Clark Island Rocks, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas, available through Carol L. Douglas Gallery, 394 Commercial Street, Rockport, ME.

Yes, you can lift watercolor with a scrubber, but it leaves an unpleasant softness in the paper. (Frank Costantino reminded me recently that scrubbing works better on hot-press paper.) In oils, you have more leeway: you can scrape with a palette knife and then wipe off the residue with a cloth. But even so, any alterations in alla prima painting will result in softening the line and contrast.

Nullification is not to be confused with the subtle modifications we do at the end of a painting. That’s often where real artistry comes in, in the heightening of contrast or subduing of less-important passages. One of the reasons I hate hearing students tell each other, “not another brushstroke!” is that it doesn’t respect these critical, end-of-the-painting choices.

But painters do sometimes endlessly fuss with passages they’ve already laid down. This sucks all the life out of their painting. Sometimes we do it because we haven’t got the color right, and we want to modulate it. If the value is right but the hue is wrong, it’s probably best to just leave it alone.

Bracken Ferns, oil on canvas by Carol L. Douglas, available through Carol L. Douglas Gallery, 394 Commercial Street, Rockport, ME.

Just as often, painters nullify because they don’t like their brushwork. The basic requirements for good brushwork are as follows:

  • You’re using decent brushes (that doesn’t mean expensive);
  • You’ve amply experimented with all the directions your brush can travel and the ways it can make lines;
  • You know how to properly marry edges where appropriate;
  • You can draw with a brush as easily as with a pencil;
  • You’re not dabbing or poking dots with the point of your brush;
  • You can make both long and short strokes.

Brushwork is as unique as handwriting. If you can do the things noted above, the problem may be that you just don’t recognize the good qualities in your own brushwork. In that case, “not another brushstroke” is actually appropriate. You need to give yourself time to become accustomed to your own mark-making before you can see its beauty.

Your assignment this week is to do a small painted study that takes you less than one hour. The subject is immaterial. Then, set it aside for two weeks. After that, I want you to look at it and analyze it against the requirements for brushwork above. And ask yourself, do you like it better than you did the moment you finished it? If yes, then learn to embrace your own brushwork. If no, then figure out why.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Volunteering is a trap for professional women

The hours I’ve wasted being a ‘helper’ represent many, many paintings that will never get finished.

Drying towels, by Carol L. Douglas

I was raised in the second wave of feminism, during the so-called “women’s lib” movement. My mother succeeded in her career while still raising six kids and volunteering. Her secret? “You can have it all” meant, “you can do it all.”

She eventually stopped volunteering at a public health clinic when she learned the doctors (then male) were being paid; the nurses (then all women) were working for free. It took a lot for her to turn her back on people in desperate need. But our society trains women to be helpers and then takes advantage of that.

I have higher hopes for my daughters. Laura, age 31, counseled me against volunteering last summer. I wish I’d listened. She’s a software engineer and she regularly refuses ‘office housekeeping’ tasks at work. She’s not heartless; she’s just picky about what she’s willing to do. She volunteers, but not in her profession.

Little Giant, by Carol L. Douglas

Women don’t volunteer because they are inherently more altruistic. They do so, a recent study suggests, because they’re taught from a young age to offer to help. That long silence waiting for a hand to be raised is just quiet for men; it’s a demand and rebuke to women.

Taking on these tasks blunts women’s careers. While women dutifully serve on committees, men do critical research or paint brilliant paintings. That has far-reaching consequences. I can’t blame anyone but myself for the hours I’ve wasted being a ‘helper,’ but they represent many, many paintings that will never get finished.

A lobster pound at Tenant's Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas

Meanwhile, I fight a constant battle between work and the artist’s need for rest and solitude. It’s a delicate balance, and few artists ever get it right. Most start off working another job to be able to afford to paint. Most of my professional artist friends are childless, and for good reason.

My friend Jane Bartlett regularly points out when I’m sliding over the ‘too much work’ line. A great friend manages to make these observations while still making you feel good about yourself. If you want to give, be like Jane: give directly to your peers by being supportive, incisive and kind. I wouldn’t be where I am today without friends like her, and I hope I’m paying that forward.

Headlamps, by Carol L. Douglas

“Artists have to be super careful that they're not enriching everyone else with their work,” a fellow artist remarked about pricing paintings. I think of that every time I buy art supplies. Art supply stores are an $843.1-million-a-year industry, and they didn’t get that way by selling just necessities.

But she was talking about the pernicious practice of asking artists for donations. Every time a non-profit asks you to donate work, you’re paying other people’s salaries. Their staff doesn’t work for nothing, and neither should you. And your donation is not tax-deductible, either.

It’s unlikely that your donation will do anything to advance your career, so donate a painting only if you’d have written them a check anyway. And save your real efforts for promoting your work yourself.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

An impossible bind

We’ve made the working parent the norm in American society, and now we’re making it impossible for them to work.

Best Buds, by Carol L. Douglas. Oil on canvasboard.

Ken DeWaard and I went down to Cape Elizabeth last weekend to paint. It’s the end of peony season here in Maine and the property has spectacular sprawling gardens. This is the last season it will be stewarded by Meghan Wakefield. The new stewards may well be wonderful, but they will create different poetic moments.

I shot a few Facebook videos, which reveal what artists talk about when engaged in painting: nothing of consequence.

I have three daughters and a son; Ken and his wife have three sons and a daughter. His oldest is a year younger than my youngest. I enjoy hearing about what his kids are doing. It reminds me how difficult those years are.

Daddy's Little Helper, by Carol L. Douglas. Oil on linen.

Two of my grandchildren are here this week so their parents can work. They are 4 and 5 and live on a dirt road in the western Berkshires, where they have no near neighbors. Since they have to quarantine while here, they’re starved for normal human contact. There are no casual stops at the Post Office to say hello to Steve and Ann Marie. We can’t run in to Renys or Home Depot. Very little gets done unless I’m willing to park them in front of a screen, which I’m not.

Children—even those not in quarantine—have no sense of personal hygiene or personal distancing. Recommendations are that they not go to stores or public places. That leaves them very much alone.

During the pandemic of 1918, the average American household had about 4.5 people in it. Today, that’s about 2.5 people. My two are lonely and bored, and they have each other.

Baby Monkey, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard. 

My friend Kelly cares for her granddaughter, an only child. The girl misses her friends dreadfully. No amount of computer time can offset the loss of simple play and connection in a 7-year-old social butterfly’s life.

I’ve read various proposals to allow schools to reopen in the fall. These include lots and lots of washing, plastic sheeting to separate the children, and kids attending part time. In one district, the worst-performing distance learners will spend the most time in school. That’s understandable, but it effectively penalizes those kids who’ve worked the hardest.

The New York Post reports that the nation’s largest school district is considering alternate weeks of in-school and online learning, sending kids to school on certain days of the week, or continuing full online instruction. Returning as normal in the fall isn’t even being suggested.

More than 126,000 Americans have died with Covid-19, but only about a dozen were school-age children. Meanwhile, each year about 1,700 children die in the United States from abuse or neglect. Who are the people tasked to watch for signs of child abuse? Most commonly, their teachers. That won’t happen when kids aren’t in school.

They're painting some wonderful things in Grandma's studio, but the floor may never be the same.

The 20th century model of the nuclear family—mom stays home, dad works, kids go to school—is obsolete. The US has the world’s highest rate of single-parent households—almost a quarter of all kids, compared to about 7% worldwide. Those parents lucky enough to be married are often both working to be able to afford to run a household. Very few people can afford nannies, and child-care is not designed for school-age kids. Needless to say, this social model can’t possibly stand the strain of these children being home year-round.

The ancient Levant’s deities, rivals to the God of the Hebrews, are known collectively as the Baalim. Their contemporary critics complained that they required the sacrifice of children. (The story of Abraham and Isaac is, on one level, a cautionary tale against the practice.) We have to be very careful lest we fall into the same trap.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Monday Morning Art School: know what you’re doing

If you don’t have technique, nobody’s going to notice your emotional content.

Boating, 1874, by Édouard Manet, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s beautifully composed, serene and yet energetic.

In one of my classes, an advanced student (who has probably won more awards than me) asked why I focus on systematic painting. “What about emotion and feeling?” she asked.

Oddly enough, for all that we’re social beings, our souls are insulated. We are born alone, and we die alone. At times in between, the lucky among us carry on conversations with each other or with God. But our emotional intelligence is very personal and private. We can share it if we choose to, but I doubt others can influence it. The best we can do is encourage others to be moral and empathetic.

Self Portrait at 28, 1500, by Albrecht Dürer, courtesy the Alte Pinakothek. Is it possible to have a crush on a man who’s been dead for 500 years?

That doesn’t mean I can’t teach students to see and recognize beauty. This is why I often have my students look at and learn to analyze great paintings. I’m a firm believer in the non-linear, associative, synthetic mind, and our sympathetic intelligence. “Think with your gut” is not just an expression. If you’ve ever been truly terrified, you know that only a small part of you is controlled by your rational mind. Beneath that, we run on very primitive lines. The interchange between that and our rational minds is what drives creative expression.

The Census at Bethlehem, 1566, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, courtesy Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. I love how Brueghel always pushes the main action into a corner. Just like life.

But art—no less so than mathematics—is an intellectual discipline. Most great painters approach the problem in the same way: they make design decisions, color decisions, and lay their paint down in the prescribed manner handed down to us over centuries.

Why do they do that? Because it works.

Late Afternoon, Monhegan Island, by Rockwell Kent, courtesy Jamie and Phyllis Wyeth Collection. It's always a toss-up between Lawren Harris and Kent. The light is spectacular, the colors are the essence of sunset.

System is liberating. If you doubt that, consider the last time you flailed around trying to make a picture and ended up with mush. It happened because you either forgot what you were doing or changed your mind in mid-painting.

I used to write music. It sometimes shocks me to sit down at the piano and realize I no longer can run through chord progressions automatically. How did I ever learn that? By learning lots of music by rote. I read it, I regurgitated it, and occasionally, I managed to be lyrical with it. Now that I’ve forgotten it all, I can’t express any emotion through the keyboard.

Moonrise, 1894, by David Davies, courtesy National Gallery of Victoria. It’s simple, austere and powerful.

On the other hand, I’ve painted more than a thousand paintings. Occasionally I surprise myself by being brutally honest, as I was with The Dooryard, painted last week. Its emotional kick wasn’t conscious but it comes from a deep and real place: that’s my darkened bedroom window.

I don’t have to ask myself, “can I do this?” I know the process and I approach a painting the same way every time. Knowing the limits means I know where I can push. I can rise above the technical issues to occasional lyricism.

Haymaking (Les Foins), 1877, Jules Bastien-LePage, courtesy Musée d'Orsay. Exhaustion is something I understand intimately, and he has expressed it so poignantly.

Does that get stale? Of course not. There is enough mystery in painting to keep me working until I die. Recently, Colin Page told me he was studying John Singer Sargent boat watercolors. Colin certainly knows how to paint, and he has a process that works. But that doesn’t mean he’s stopped searching.

Your assignment is to identify your current five favorite paintings and tell me why you love them. Since I’ve demanded that of you, I gave you mine as illustrations for this post. Don’t get too excited. The list might change tomorrow.

Friday, June 26, 2020

How much is that painting worth?

For some artists, the hardest thing in painting isn’t drawing or color-mixing but how to price their work.

The Dooryard, 11x14, oil on birch panel, is available through Parrsboro Creative's PIPAF in Isolation, here. Don't panic; the prices are in Canadian dollars.

A student has someone interested in one of his paintings. “How do I know how much to charge?” he asked. That’s a difficult question in normal times and an impossible one right now.

A British study says that the arts are being hit twice as hard as the overall economy. Meanwhile, other sectors of the economy are booming. The stock market rebounded quickly. Housing remains a seller’s market, with demand outstripping supply.

Nobody knows how this will affect painting sales, least of all me.

A proper price is the meeting point between how much you can produce of the product and how much demand there is for it. If you can’t keep your paintings stocked, you’re charging too little. If your studio is full of unsold work, you’re either charging too much or not putting enough effort into marketing.

Summer Home, 11x14, oil on birch panel, is available through Parrsboro Creative's PIPAF in Isolation, here

Art sales are regional. If you live in a community with an aging population and a prestigious art school, you’re going to have low demand and high supply. If you live in a booming new city, you will have more demand and prices will be higher.

A painting’s value depends on the artist’s prominence. Most artists are terrible judges of their own work, seesawing between believing they’re geniuses and thinking they’re hopeless. Such subjective judgments hinder their ability to price their work.

You can simplify the problem by setting aside your emotions and basing your selling price on your selling history. How do you do that if you’ve never sold anything before? Survey other artists with the same level of experience and set your first prices in line with theirs. Visit galleries, plein air events and art fairs. If you see a person whose work seems similar to yours, find his resume online and check his experience. Know enough to be able to rank events. Painting in Plein Air Easton is not the same as painting your local Paint the Town.

Charitable auctions are a good way to leverage your talent to help others. They provide a sales history to new artists. (But they aren’t tax deductible contributions.)

Six Bucks a Pound, 12x16, oil on panel, is available through Parrsboro Creative's PIPAF in Isolation, here

Let’s say you gave an 8x10 watercolor to your local historical society, which turned around and sold it for $100. Great! You have a sales history (albeit a limited and imperfect one) from which to calculate prices. Just figure out the value per square inch and calculate from there.

Square inch is the height times the width. That means your 8x10 painting is 80 square inches. Dividing the $100 selling price by 80 gives you a value of $1.25/square inch.

To use this to calculate other sizes, you would end up with:

6x8 is 48 square inches. 48 x $1.25 = $60
9x12: $135
11x14: $240
12x16: $315

In practice, my price/sq. inch gets lower the larger I go. This reflects my working and marketing costs, some of which are fixed. If you started with my example, above, a 3x4” painting would more reasonably sell for $3 a square inch or $36, and a 48x48” painting for $.75 a square inch, or $1700.

Fogged in, 8x10, oil on birch panel, is available through Parrsboro Creative's PIPAF in Isolation, but it's not on the website. Contact them directly if you're interested.

Charity sales are known for seriously underpricing work, but it’s better to start low and work your way higher. Periodically review your prices, and make sure you have a copy with you at all times.

Once you have a price guide, it should be absolute. Adjust it fractionally for family members (or just give them the painting), but use the same prices everywhere you sell.

Once you've created a price list, keep it handy and updated.

Continuously update your prices based on your average sale prices for the prior year or two. The goal of every artist ought to be to sell at steadily rising prices. When you find yourself “painting on a treadmill” to have enough work for your next show, it’s definitely time to charge more.

And don't explain your prices. Does anyone ever tell Christian Louboutin that $1695 is a ridiculous price for a pair of mesh ankle boots? No; they either understand Louboutin’s market or they don’t buy designer shoes.

Parrsboro Creative’s PIPAF in Isolation is online! Vote for your favorites here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Argentina in Quarantine: a plein air show

Argentina in Quarantine will open on Saturday, July 11 from 2 to 6 PM, 394 Commercial Street, Rockport.

Glacier Cagliero from Rio Electrico, by Carol L. Douglas

In March, 2020 I traveled to Patagonia to paint with a small group of fellow artists. COVID-19 was still a distant threat on the world stage. That didn’t last. Within 48 hours, the Argentines closed down all internal flights. We were effectively stuck in the tiny village of El Chaltén.

At first, that just meant no contact with the locals, but as the days went by, the cordon sanitaire tightened. By the end, I’d spiked a temp and was confined to my room. (It turned out to be a parasite.)

Meanwhile, it was getting colder in Patagonia. Termination dust—the first snow of the year at high elevations—appeared on the mountains. Our hostel was not built for winter habitation. They grow no food at these elevations. We had to move on.

El Calafate, by Carol L. Douglas

There was no travel within Argentina without a government-issued pass and a very good reason. We learned there would be a last flight from the provincial capital, Rio Gallegos, to Buenos Aires, intended to get foreign nationals out of the country. Rio Gallegos was about 300 miles distant. Much of the drive was through open desert, where guanacos, rheas and jackrabbits bid to become road kill. Armed with a jerry-can of gasoline, we departed at four AM. At each checkpoint, soldiers carefully scrutinized our papers. The road was unmarked and dark.

We arrived at the airport in ample time, but the line was excruciatingly slow. The airline wasn’t honoring our tickets. The terminals were not working. I checked through a half hour after our scheduled departure. The plane taxied as we were escorted to our seats. In Buenos Aires, any hope of a quick flight to the US was dashed. We were escorted out of the airport by a soldier and spent a week in a hotel, under the watchful eye of military guards.

You can read the full account of our trip starting here.

Carol Douglas painting in El Chaltén, Patagonia, photo by Douglas Perot

I did not return with the paintings I’d intended, but I did return with paintings of a strange and wondrous part of the world—paintings I’d love to share with you. Meanwhile, a traditional opening is impossible right now.

Ken DeWaard and I were kicking this problem around recently. It’s not about the viewing space; I’ve figured out how to move my whole gallery outside into a tent for the duration of the crisis. It’s serving refreshments that has me flummoxed. “I can set them on a table and people can serve themselves with little toothpicks,” I said. “But what about the glasses?” It seems like dirty glassware is a potential disease vector.

“Make it a BYOW party,” he suggested. “Bring your own wineglass.”

Brilliant, Ken! Bring your own wineglass or coffee cup or tin cup, and I’ll gladly pour your refreshments. And, of course, bring your mask.

I’ve extended the hours to 2 PM to 6 PM to avoid crowds. Instead of a talk (and the danger that people will queue) I’ll just tell you all about the experience one-on-one.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Monday Morning Art School: fast, efficient color mixing

To paint with assurance, you need to be able to mix colors effortlessly. These tips will help you get there.

Peppers, by me. Cool light, warm shadows.

Start with an organized palette. I paint with my pigments moving from blues on the left through reds and yellows, followed by the three earth pigments to the far right. White is at the bottom. My particular system isn’t what’s important. But always put paints in some kind of logical order and in the same spot.

These basic rules make mixing easier:

  • Never try to paint with hardened paints;
  • Squeeze out enough paint;
  • Put out every color, regardless of what you think you’ll need. Every painting should have a broad range of colors in it, regardless of the subject;
  • Put out more of each color when you use it up, not when you think you’ll need it again;
  • Start mixing each color with the closest match on your palette, and adjust from there;
  • Add small amounts of paint as you adjust the mixture.
Jamie Williams Grossman's lovely painting and palette in the Hudson Valley style, showing color strings. Photo courtesy of the artist.

A color string is a set of premixed paints, usually modulated with white or another light color. Artists sometimes mix a series of these starting from each base color. In the Hudson Valley, you’ll sometimes see artists working from vertical palette boxes containing a slew of these premixed colors.

I use a simpler variation of that idea. I make mid-tone tints of each pigment. Different pigments may look the same when squeezed out of the tube, but there the similarity ends. Knowing how a pigment works when tinted with white is critical. Moreover, these tints become the backbone of a bright finished painting. 

A matrix is a color string in 3-D.

In watercolor, the equivalent is tonal steps, or how the pigment acts in different dilutions. You can't premix them, but you should understand them.

Before you lift a brush, premix three colors for each major object:

  • A light tone, the color of the lightest side of the object;
  • A mid-tone, which is the local color of the object;
  • A dark tone, which is the deepest color.

These should be fairly close in value. For the extremes, you’ll use your global shadow and highlight colors.

In the example at top of the page, the light is cool—you can tell by looking at the tray. There is a warm dark shadow, a ‘true’ mid-tone, and a cool light color for each pepper. The tray is black. Since the shadows are warm, they're a reddish black. They were made by tempering burnt sienna with ultramarine blue. The highlights are pale blue.

Start by getting the value right first. That’s usually the most difficult part. You can’t raise the chroma of a paint, so if you get it too neutral, set it aside and start again. If it’s too intense, mix in a bit of its complement.

My palette, diagrammed by Victoria Brzustowicz. I generally don't use red in landscape painting.

Black has a role in painting, but it’s not in making grey. If you need grey, make one by mixing two complements. Greys are never totally neutral in real life; they always have overtones of color. Start by figuring out what that is. Then start from that color, and add its complement until you hit the perfect neutral note.

Once you’ve mixed your color ‘puddles’, look at them as a whole. How do they go together? Which do you want to emphasize?

Keuka Lake, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

I use a green matrix for painting foliage. Otherwise, greens can be oppressively monochromatic in high summer. Remember those tints I had you mix? You can use them to modulate these greens into hundreds of different shades. Just use blues and violet tints to drive the greens back in space, and yellows and oranges to bring them forward.

By thinking through color relationships before you start painting, you can keep them consistent and unified. As time goes by, you’ll learn to do this intuitively. However, when I muck up a painting, it’s almost always because I haven’t really thought the light and color structure through.

Ten tonal steps of ultramarine blue

Your assignment is to make some color swatches:

  • A chart of ten tonal steps, starting with ultramarine blue. In watercolor, you will make the ten steps by increasing dilution. In oils or acrylics, you’ll add white.
Blue to sienna color variation
  • A color variation from burnt sienna to ultramarine. In watercolor, you’ll just go from straight-up burnt sienna to ultramarine in ten steps, at a moderate dilution. In oils or acrylics, mix each of those pigments with a small amount of white, so that you can more easily see the color shift.
  • A color variation from lemon or Hansa yellow to black. Do a straight-up scale in ten steps. There is no need to add white to your oils. Note: if you have a cadmium lemon “hue”, this is where you’ll find out just what a false economy buying hues is.