Paint Schoodic

We're offering one more workshop in 2020, Find Your Authentic Voice in Plein Air, in Tallahassee, Florida.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Emotional content

What you think about and feel has a way of insinuating itself in your painting without any special effort on your part.

Wildfire, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvas.

I gave up deep thoughts around the time I had children. I very seldom paint topically. Although I admire the paintings of Daumier, Bastien-Lepage, Goya, and others who commented on the human condition, I don’t want to paint about current events.

I recently reviewed my plein air sketches from the past summer, consigning some to the slush pile, reserving others to be more fully developed. There is very little of it compared to prior years. I’ve been teaching a lot this year. My side-hustle threatens to engulf my main work. That seems to be the pattern for many working artists this year.

Nor do I think what I’ve done has been particularly inspired. My paint-handling is just fine, but the content seems somehow lacking. “Does the world need one more painting of a foggy morning at Owls Head?” I sighed as I pitched a study onto my slush pile.

The Dooryard, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
The answer is, of course, yes. There’s an infinite need for the peace of the natural world, whether real (as in the wilderness) or artificial (as in art). I’m just not feeling it right now.

I recently pulled out an old painting of wildfire that I started several years ago. It was based on an experience in the Yukon, in an area frequently burned out by wildfires. We were on a narrow road circling down to a lake, surrounded by burned shells of spruces. The trees swirled around us in a kaleidoscope of destruction. I took photographs, but without the movement of the car, they were just dead images. Could I capture that sense of menace in a canvas, in a way that would compel a viewer? At the time, the answer seemed to be no.

My friend Martha lives in Napa. When I went to bed last night, she was again on evacuation alert. She’s already been evacuated once this summer. Fire came very close to consuming her home. She works in a winery that was shut down last weekend by the Glass Fire. Before she left the office, she texted us an image of flames climbing the hillside opposite their building. Although northern California can be a paradise, it’s been more like Armageddon recently.

Six Bucks a Pound, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas

Thinking of Martha, I reworked my wildfire canvas one more time. This time I have something I like, although it’s by no means a ‘beautiful’ painting. It has the circular motion of that ride, and the punch of dead trees. But mostly, it has an emotional content it lacked.

That’s true of the other paintings I’ve liked from this summer. The Dooryard speaks to my own sense of isolation—that’s my own bedroom with the light off. Six Bucks a Pound is as topical as I ever get; it’s a local lobsterman hawking his wares on Route 1. It’s more illustration than fine art, but if I didn’t paint it, who would?

Blustery, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas

Then I have a moment when I just paint for the sheer joy it brings me. Blustery is one of those paintings. I’d finished my piece for Cape Elizabeth’s Paint for Preservation and set up a second canvas in the ferocious wind. The only changes I made in the studio were to repair the damage from its frequent trips airborne.

Today at 5 PM is my FREE Zoom workshop. While I’m not nervous, I must be keyed up, because I haven’t slept well for the past few days.

Join me with a glass of wine, a spritzer, or whatever else. We’re going to talk about studying painting. What should students expect to get from a workshop or class? What should teachers offer? Have you always wanted to try painting but been afraid of classes? Are you taking classes but want to get more out of them?

Join us for a free-ranging discussion, but you must pre-register.

No comments: