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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Travel in the age of coronavirus


We live in an age of instant global connection, without filters. That means we’re about to experience pandemic differently than ever before.
Athabasca Glacier, by Carol L. Douglas
Turpenoid, made by Weber, and Gamsol, made by Gamblin, are both odorless mineral spirits (OMS), modern substitutes for turpentine in the oil-painter’s kit. A chance conversation with Kevin Beers last night made me realize that Turpenoid has a flash point of 110-130° F. while Gamsol has a flash point of 144° F. That small difference makes Gamsol safe to fly with, but Turpenoid not.

I received a message from Jane Chapin last night that read, “The office in El Calafate says that our solvent has not arrived, but they will help us. Bring Gamsol.” We and a few other intrepid artists are heading to Argentina tomorrow to paint in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego and a few other places heavy on glaciers, light on trees.
Light snow above the Arctic Circle, by Carol L. Douglas.
Travel always comes with last minute snafus. First among these now is coronavirus. I’ll be through four airports in the next 24 hours. I can’t find hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes anywhere in mid-coast Maine. Luckily, my friend and monitor, Jennifer Johnson, just flew home from Australia. She gave me her stash. It will suffice through to Miami, when Jane can augment my supplies.

Coronavirus is unlikely to be in Tierra del Fuego, but it’s still making me edgy. Will my son be sent home to finish his last college semester through online classes? If so, how will he get here? Will I be locked out of the country or quarantined on my return? The scope of the problem was borne home to me last weekend, when my niece rescheduled her May wedding to September. She’s marrying a Canadian of Asian descent and nobody knows what international travel will look like in two months.

Me, talking to KCAS members, in case you’ve forgotten what I look like. Photo courtesy Jennifer Johnson.
Pandemic is as old as the human race, but today we have decentralized news and powerful social media. As I write this, the death toll from coronavirus in the US is 31—or about 40% as many as have been murdered to date this year in Chicago. But we are intimately aware of each of COVID-19’s victims, because we’ve read about them all. That changes our perception of our own risk.

Still, you can’t live in the fear zone. Human beings are wired to experience negative results more keenly than positive ones, to stop us from doing stupid things that will kill us. This is called our negativity bias, and it results in our thinking that things will go wrong more than they’ll go right. The fewer risks we take, the stronger that belief is. We can become immobilized by the fear of change. The intrepid artist has to work to overcome that, by substituting a positivity bias. I have a simple one: faith in God.


Last night, I spoke to the Knox County Art Society (KCAS) about how negativity bias makes some of us fear outdoor painting excessively. But if I—at age 61—can still go outside and paint in the wild, so can you. “If it doesn’t kill you, get back up and do it again,” I said.

KCAS is the brainchild of David Blanchard of Camden, and it’s grown to eighty members in a year. It’s offering classes, speakers, exhibitions and more. If you’re an artist in Knox County, Maine, you should be a member.

In addition to being the home of one of America’s newest art societies, Maine is home to America’s oldest continuous art society, the Bangor Art Society. It’s time to apply for their 145th anniversary juried show, which will open on May 1. It’s a fun show with a fun reception. Register here.

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