All images © Carol L. Douglas, Rochester, NY.
No reproduction or reuse permitted without
express consent of the artist.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Is love really too much to ask?

Sir Stanley Spencer did not paint violence often, but when he did, as in “Crucifixion,” he focused on our response to it.
Stanley Spencer didn’t paint violence often, but when he did, as in “Crucifixion,” he focused on our response.
Years ago I belonged to an anti-polygamy activist group. I broke with them when they published a photo of a suspected child molester sleeping with his infant granddaughter on his chest. Yank the troll’s chain all you want, I said, but keep the children out of it.
My friend’s nephew is going to be sentenced for a high-profile crime on Friday. Yesterday his picture was published on a racist website, with frequent bandying of the n-word. He’s an adult and can take it, but they also published photos of his two little boys. Their only offense was the color of their skin.
I sent the link to my programmer husband in the hope that he could identify the host. My husband overcame his revulsion and looked long enough to tell me that there wasn’t an open-or-shut identity. “There is some obfuscation employed,” he said.
Spencer’s “Christ Carrying the Cross,” 1920, is an image of bystanders ogling violence. It’s a very real response that spans history.
Spencer’s “Christ Carrying the Cross,” 1920, is an image of bystanders enjoying someone else’s misfortune.
Beyond that, all I can do is to pray that God strikes the server with lightning and counsel my friends to ignore it. That’s easier said than done, I realize.
I am blessed with many friends. They are, on the whole, civilized people. “I hate that guy” is empty verbiage to us. I’m always shocked when I hear about real hateful behavior. And yet, if you believe our crime statistics, it’s not only all around us, but it’s increasing.
This week’s incident is race-based, but it isn’t always. Several years ago, my friend’s son was arrested for second-degree murder. The lad was (rightfully) acquitted, but that didn’t stop him from receiving death threats. His family—innocent in every respect—had to sell their home and moved to a different town.
“Knowing (the Beatitudes of Love),” Stanley Spencer
“Knowing (the Beatitudes of Love),” Stanley Spencer
In some cases, the dangerous places we live are physical. In others, violence is a mental climate, fed in part by media and the internet. It’s a pity that these have become vectors for lies and hatred, because they have been a boon in so many ways.
The people who published those little boys’ picture obfuscated their service provider because they have been reported before. They know what they’re doing is wrong. My friend would like them to creep back under the rock from which they crawled, but to me that is only a short-term solution. They’ll just crawl back out somewhere else.
None of this can be blamed on the election or any other outside force. People choose to hate, just as they can choose to love.
“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said.
Sir Stanley Spencer was a true naïf whose innocence was much abused. And yet his reactions to love and violence were very much along the lines of those suggested by Jesus. It’s why he is one of my favorite painters.
“Gardening,” Stanley Spencer
“Gardening,” Stanley Spencer
“I love them from within outwards and whatever that outward appearance may be it is an exquisite reminder of what is loved within, no matter what that exterior appearance may be,” Spencer said.
Is love really too much to ask?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Made in China

"Stone of Hope," 2011, Lei Yixin
“Stone of Hope,” 2011, Lei Yixin
Having spent my weekend with a 2” sash brush, I turned to my husband this morning and asked, “Now do I get a day off?” He reminded me that it’s a holiday.
Martin Luther King, Jr. deserves better than the national memorial we’ve created for him. It is simply terrible, the worst of art-by-committee.
Its master sculptor, Lei Yixin, is a communist-trained public artist from the People’s Republic of China. He has sculpted some 150 public monuments, including multiple statues of Mao Zedong. If you’ve never seen his other work, join the club. Lei hasn’t got an online persona as would a western sculptor. He churns out politi-prop and decorative art, a state-sponsored artist of no particular distinction.
"Abraham Lincoln," 1920, Daniel Chester French
“Abraham Lincoln,” 1920, Daniel Chester French
Lei’s sculpture of King is not a portrait in the western sense. Compare it to Daniel Chester French’s Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial. French was one of most acclaimed of 19th-century American sculptors. His work is across America, including the Minute Man at Concord. He was immersed in American hagiography, and it shows.
Lei’s is a colossus in the totalitarian sense, similar to busts of Lenin, Saddam Hussein and Chairman Mao. These have a long history, including the many colossi erected by various Roman emperors. They are an emblem of power and control.
"Bound slave (Atlas), 1530–34, Michelangelo
“Bound slave (Atlas), 1530–34, Michelangelo
Lei’s idea of King emerging from stone came from western artistic practice. In this case, the source is non-finito sculpture, practiced from Michelangelo to the present time. Michelangelo’s slaves have been interpreted in many ways, but they’re clearly emblematic of a struggle to freedom. For Auguste Rodin, the unfinished marble was more complex, as shown in his 1895 “La Pensée.” But for Lei, it’s simply a paralyzing device.
Why did we pay China millions of dollars, hire a Chinese artist to create an icon to an American freedom fighter, and import granite from China when all of Maine is made of the stuff?  In part, it’s because the Chinese government kicked back $25 million to make it possible. In part, this is what you get when art is done by committee.
While still an undergraduate, sculptor Maya Lin won a public design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, beating 1,441 other competition submissions. Lin’s idea was simple: a wound in the earth that represented the loss of the soldiers. Her work was controversial at the time, but for different reasons—none of us had ever seen anything like it.
Lin believes that had the competition not been open and blind, she never would have won. Her ethnicity, her age, her gender, and her lack of experience all told against her. Her experience is a powerful argument for jurying.
"La Pensée," 1895, Auguste Rodin
“La Pensée,” 1895, Auguste Rodin
In contrast, Lei’s work was chosen by three guys on a committee. In 2006, Public Art St. Paul held a sculpture competition and symposium similar to the Schoodic Sculpture Symposium held here in Maine. Lei was one of the participants. (His hometown, Changsha, Hunan, is one of St. Paul’s Sister Cities.)
“They [the committee members] knew that a 30-foot sculpture of Dr. King was going to be the centerpiece of the memorial, and they’d been looking for several years for a sculptor who could work on that scale. And they had despaired,” Christine Podas-Larson, president of Public Art St. Paul told media.
“But when they saw publicity about how we had all these sculptors from around the world in St. Paul, they hopped on a plane,” she continued. “They knew they were going to find their sculptor. They didn’t know which one, but they knew they’d find their artist.”
For our next generation’s sculptors, shut out of the process before it even started, that hurts. For King’s legacy, that hurts too.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A sane estimate of my capabilities

"The Creation of Adam," c. 1508-1512, Michelangelo
“The Creation of Adam,” c. 1508-1512, Michelangelo
The other day I read a translation of Romans 12:3 that cracked me up: “Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance, but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of the faith that God has given to you all.”
I think of myself as a person who can do anything, and I pretty much have done. However, a ‘sane estimate’ of my capabilities probably ought not continue to include stripping wallpaper. My back is in open rebellion this morning.
My self-worth doesn’t lie in the things I make with my hands, but my work is how I spend my days. Would I continue to paint if I were confined to a wheelchair and could no longer scramble around rocks while doing so? I don’t know. Would I continue to create if I were blind? I don’t know.

"The Ancient of Days in Europe a Prophecy," copy D, 1794, William Blake
“The Ancient of Days in Europe a Prophecy,” copy D, 1794, William Blake
Would I be less valuable without a strong back or good eyes? No. Would I be happy? Since I’m thrown if the toothpaste is in the wrong drawer, the answer is a decided no.
When I was 40 years old, I ran. I was fit enough to still wear a two-piece bathing suit. That year I had cancer that resulted in a colostomy. Not only was my appliance ugly, uncomfortable and expensive to maintain, but it leaked. There’s nothing like bowel spillage down your shirt to undermine any sense that you’re beautiful or desirable.
Eventually, they were able to reverse my ostomy, but in the time I had it, it changed something in my self-concept. I was no longer powerful and sexy; I was a cancer survivor. I’ve written about shedding that latter self-identity, but I’m afraid these self-images might be like the layers of an onion.
Detail from "The Creation of Adam"
Detail from “The Creation of Adam”
I was at a class this week where groups were asked to make posters. I flipped open my phone to Blake’s The Ancient of Days, which, I thought, made the visual point better than anything I might draw. Another person grabbed a marker and translated Blake’s idea to poster form. A third translated it to words. Even though I wasn’t drawing, I was still operating within ‘a sane estimate’ of my abilities.
The Ancient of Days was not intended by Blake to be a portrait of God. He is Urizen, a demiurge. That, in gnostic systems, is an artisan who makes and maintains our physical universe. In our popular imagination, Urizen has come to represent the creative face of God. (Blake was a true seer, subject to visions from the age of four, but he was also a Christian.)
Note the hand holding the compass in The Ancient of Days. It is taut, energetic, and in absolute control.
Detail from "The Creation of Adam"
Detail from “The Creation of Adam”
Compare that hand to the hand of God in Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. Again, God’s hand is taut and active. Adam’s is limp. God is surrounded by the unborn, in a great carapace that resembles a human uterus. Chief among these is Eve. Still in the womb, wrapped in God’s embrace, she looks more lifelike than her future mate. Michelangelo is making a point here: our life force comes from God.
Like life itself, the gifts we have are transitory. Once given, they can be lost again in an instant. They don’t totally define us, but they are a part of who we are.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

In search of an imaginary boat

"Swells," by Carol L. Douglas
“Swells,” by Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday a visitor to my studio told me about recently purchasing her first piece of artwork, a print by University of Maine’s own Karen Adrienne. My friend had sold some possessions to pay for it, trading unwanted treasures for something she really loved. The look on her face as she told me this was radiant joy.
Just the day before, my piano tuner had, coincidentally, told me about the first piece of art he’d purchased. As he described this photograph, his face was lit by the same expression of joy. Both works were, to their new owners, highly prized and personally transformative.
We all wrestle with questions of calling. Artists, in particular, can have a hard time justifying their careers to others. We seldom see the impact of our work on the people who receive it. I’m grateful for that rare glimpse.
I’d never intended to finish the painting above. It was badly drawn and the composition—two crossing boats—seemed static. I came home from the harbor and threw it on my slush pile to be ignored. Someday my kids can shingle a house with that slush pile, but in the meantime, a visitor saw this painting, liked it, and asked me to finish it.
I can’t tell you why that happens, but it happens enough for me to say with some certainty that artists are frequently the worst judges of our own work.
Now I had a badly-drawn boat and absolutely no reference photos. (It’s a lot harder to substitute boats than it is to substitute roses or trees.) After fiddling for a while, I decided to add swells. That rectified some of the twist in the hull, and I could figure out the rest.
Working without a clear drawing is a sure-fire route to muddy color. However, I do occasionally like puddling around totally in my own imagination. I don’t think I’m done, but I’m going to let it rest a few days.
Basalt below West Quoddy Light in Lubec. These are either grey rocks or weathered basalt, depending on how much attention you're paying.
Basalt below West Quoddy Light in Lubec. These are either grey rocks or weathered basalt, depending on how much attention you’re paying.
Painting landscape without paying attention to reality can strip it of its character. After all, we can be either in our heads or in the world, but seldom in both places simultaneously.
For example, Maine is a world of granite studded with occasional basalt. Granite is blue, pink, purple, orange and peach; basalt is black. The muddy result in photographs might be browns and greys, but that is not the real color of our rocks, and painting our rocks brown is a sign of not paying attention.
I was reminded of that when I ran across this old photo of the rocks under West Quoddy Head Light in Lubec. At the time, I didn’t realize that I was seeing weathered basalt columns. My painting was fine, but I think it would have been so much more dynamic had I understood the play between the basalt and granite on Quoddy Head.
My poor defunct living room.
My poor defunct living room.
I have a friend staying with me this week. She decided to strip the wallpaper in my living room. Since the plum stripes clashed with my red couch, I am very grateful. In the evenings, I’ve had the satisfaction of peeling a bit of paper myself.
In other words, it’s been a week for doing, not thinking. Inevitably, that leaves me with a lot of deferred thinking to do. That’s what I love most about my job. It’s a constant tug-of-war between my hands and my head.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

When does it stop being plein air painting?


"The Three Graces," Carol L. Douglas
“The Three Graces,” Carol L. Douglas
I have never been much for the debate over what constitutes plein air painting. What percentage needs to be done on location? Does painting from your car count? These questions mostly just annoy me. At every plein air event I’ve done, painters continue to work at night after they leave their location. Years of painting give you excellent visual memory. Letting your eyes rest after a day of working in bright light is an important step.
Since the only requirement is that the work be finished within a certain period, it’s up to us to interpret what “painted en plein air” actually means. And the vast majority of artists, I find, are very strict about the rules they establish.
"The Three Graces" as it looked when I took down my easel.
“The Three Graces” as it looked when I took down my easel.
In most cases, I can tell at a distance whether a work was done on location or not. The energy of plein air painting is not easily faked, although the lighting and brushwork may be indistinguishable from studio painting. In plein air painting, the whole scene is constantly subject to change. That lends a frisson of nerves to the process.
“My clients don’t care whether it was painted on location or not,” Brad Marshall once said during one of these interminable discussions. “They’re just interested in whether it’s a good painting.”
"Mercantile's anchor," Carol L. Douglas
“Mercantile’s anchor,” Carol L. Douglas

That’s true, but it becomes an issue for painters when they’re selecting paintings to apply for upcoming plein air events. At what point do after-the-fact edits disqualify a work from consideration?
I did the two paintings in this post during the same week. There was gorgeous weather and I painted almost non-stop on the floating docks at Camden. Of course there were interruptions, since wherever I go, that’s where the party’s at.
Had I gone back to my studio and made the same changes I made yesterday, I’d have had no hesitation in calling them en plein air paintings. However, my husband flew home from Norway, and I didn’t get back to them until yesterday.
"Mercantile's anchor" as it looked when I took down my easel.
“Mercantile’s anchor” as it looked when I took down my easel. Because I’d painted this boat in dry-dock, I know its black hull is underpainted in green.
I made no structural changes to either painting, because I’m trying to make a point. (Otherwise, I’d have moved that boom out of directly behind the anchor.) In neither case was a photo necessary to finish. But in both cases, the surface has been overpainted almost completely, and I had the luxury of time in which to finish them.
So, for the purpose of jurying, is this plein air painting? I don’t have a ready answer, and I’m interested in your opinion.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The meaning of blue: color temperature on a snowy day

"Lewis R. French raising her sails," by Carol L. Douglas
“Lewis R. French raising her sails,” by Carol L. Douglas
I’m busy finishing plein air work from last season. Some of this needs nothing more than a few brush-strokes and a signature, some of it returned home as nothing more than color notes that need to be fleshed out into a painting.
That was the case with this small painting of the Lewis R. French raising her sails at Pulpit Harbor. I started this in the early morning, knowing I had only a few minutes to finish before the American Eagle sailed out. I probably did fewer than twenty brush strokes on site, but Sue Baines of the Kelpie Gallery saw something in it and urged me to finish it.
Normally, I trust my plein air sketches for color notes. In this case what I’d recorded didn’t match my emotional memory of the day, which told me that this had happened just after sunrise. So I heated up the lighting structure and it much more closely resembles the mood of that early morning in Pulpit Harbor.
"Doe drinking in the woods," by Carol L. Douglas
“Doe drinking in the woods,” by Carol L. Douglas
Blue shadows on evening snow. (Carol L. Douglas)
I painted Doe drinking in the Woods years ago. It was a demonstration to my students on how the color of light works in practice. The setting and lighting were imaginary.
The photograph of footprints in the ice on a winter evening, above, clearly shows blue shadows across the snow. I think it also gives a sense of my frustration about the condition of the sidewalks.
The exception to the color-of-light rule happens in indirect light. There are many places where an ambient cloudy milkiness is the dominant weather condition. In it, both color temperature and contrast are muted.
Snow shovelers in a snow squall. (Carol L. Douglas)
Snow shovelers in a snow squall. (Carol L. Douglas)
A snowstorm is an exaggeration of indirect light. There are no shadows; there are merely objects in space. A snowstorm exaggerates atmospheric perspective, too, rendering even middle-distance objects indistinct and neutral.
Artists constantly check themselves against a construct called “color temperature.” There are warm and cool colors, and warm and cool variations within each color. A warm color gives us a sense of warmth and energy and tends to draw our eye, like the life preserver on my painting of the Cadet. A cool color recedes from the eye and gives us a sense of static coldness, like the underside of Rockwell Kent’s iceberg from yesterday.
I’ve written before about the color of light, and it’s one of the most important concepts in painting. The earth’s atmosphere bends light just like a prism does, so what you see is always tinted. Either the light is warm and its shadows cool, or the light is cool and its shadows warm. Which that is depends on the time of day and the season of the year.
In the wintertime, the sun barely crests the treetops here in the North. The ground is often covered with neutral white snow. That gives us textbook conditions to see light temperature in action, for the sun on the horizon always gives us warm light and cool shadows.
Blue shadows on evening snow. (Carol L. Douglas)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Painting the Great White North

“Hayfields, Niagara County,” Carol L. Douglas
“Hayfields, Niagara County,” Carol L. Douglas
My bedroom is unheated. On a -3F morning like this I am not anxious to jump out of bed. Yes, I’ve painted outdoors on days like this and, no, I’m not not in any hurry to repeat the experience.
Among my painting fraternity, the two people out there painting last week are both watercolorists: Poppy Balser, who’s up in Nova Scotia using vodka in her wash cup to keep the paints moving, and Russel Whitten in Ocean Park, who just worked fast until his paint crystallized.
Oil paint will eventually stop moving in this weather as well, although it takes this kind of extreme cold to get there. The painting of hayfields, above, was done on a similarly frigid morning. It was so cold that my car battery died while I was painting. I trekked to a farmhouse to call for help. “I couldn’t figure out what you were doing out there on a day like this,” the woman answering the door said. “I thought you were watching coyotes.”
That year, I had committed to a plein air painting every day, six days a week, regardless of the weather, which in Rochester, NY can be wicked. I painted in gales along the Lake Ontario shore, blasting snow in a vineyard, lashing rain, and occasional electrical storms. That year made me into a painter, and it is also how I finally moved from being an amateur to a professional. I had so many paintings lying around, I had to sell them. It also proved to me that I could paint in any conditions, and that I didn’t need to ever again—unless I wanted to.
“Iceberg: Sledge Dogs, Greenland,” 1935-7 and 1952, Rockwell Kent
“Iceberg: Sledge Dogs, Greenland,” 1935-7 and 1952, Rockwell Kent
Rockwell Kent first visited Greenland in 1929, saying the visit “had filled me with a longing to spend a winter there, to see and experience the far north at its spectacular worst; to know the people and share their way of life.”  In 1931, Kent built himself a hut in in the tiny settlement of Illorsuit (then called “Igdlorssuit”), a village north of the Arctic Circle. He wintered and painted there. As a socialist, Kent was enamored of Inuit society, considering their little village a kind of utopia.
Kent later said that his year in Illorsuit was the happiest and most productive time of his life. Among his other pursuits, he acquired a sled and team so that he could make even more remote painting and camping expeditions. In a witty aside, Kent painted himself painting this iceberg, surrounded by his sled dogs, here.
“The Sea of Ice,” 1823–24, Casper David Freidrich
“The Sea of Ice,” 1823–24, Caspar David Friedrich
As a German Romantic, Caspar David Friedrich could, I suppose, be described as a utopianist of a different stripe. His goal was to portray that sublime moment when the contemplation of nature causes a reawakening of our spiritual self.
Friedrich set out a manifesto for painters that still rings true: “The artist should paint not only what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him. If, however, he sees nothing within him, then he should also refrain from painting that which he sees before him. Otherwise, his pictures will be like those folding screens behind which one expects to find only the sick or the dead.”
“The Hunters in the Snow,” 1565, Pieter Bruegel the Elder
“The Hunters in the Snow,” 1565, Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Friedrich recognized winter as a still and dead time, and the only hint of human activity in The Sea of Ice, above, is the subtle, moralizing shipwreck. This is very different from Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s ““The Hunters in the Snow,” which is a panoply of everything we do in the wintertime. While the overwhelming sense is one of order and human industry, there are precursors of Friedrich’s wrecked ship in this painting: the hunters and their dogs are exhausted, and their bag is one measly red fox.
This painting was done during the Little Ice Age, when the threat of famine was real. It is both a medieval Labours of the Month painting and a Renaissance narrative painting.
“Winter Comes From The Arctic To The Temperate Zone,” 1935, Lawren Harris
“Winter Comes From The Arctic To The Temperate Zone,” 1935, Lawren Harris
Lawren Harris was one of the driving forces behind the Canadian Group of Seven, and the most plastic of those painters. He went from impressionism to art nouveau realism to complete abstraction in a matter of two decades. His break with realism occurred in the early 1930s, after he visited and painted in the Arctic.
Harris believed in the arctic as a living force: “”We are on the fringe of the great North and its living whiteness, its loneliness and replenishment, its resignations and release, tis call and answer, its cleansing rhythms. It seems that the top of the continent is a source of spiritual flow that will ever shed clarity into the growing race of America.”

Friday, January 6, 2017

Two old-timers debate the future

“Barge Haulers on the Volga (Burlaki), 1870–73, Ilya Repin
“Barge Haulers on the Volga (Burlaki), 1870–73, Ilya Repin
Last night I heard from an old friend. I met him through his kids, who are of an age with mine. He’s 57 years old and leaving next week for Puerto Rico to start graduate school. “It depends on my mother and my kids,” he said, “but my intention is to leave the country to teach English.”
My home town of Buffalo has been clinically depressed since the middle of the last century. This makes it a great place to be from. Either you left at 18 or you slog it out until retirement, at which time you escape the snow and taxes by moving to Florida, the Carolinas, or Arizona. (Sound familiar?)
Portrait of the Artist's Mother at 63," 1514, Albrecht Dürer
Portrait of the Artist’s Mother at 63,” 1514, Albrecht Dürer
In 1917, George Eastman built the Eastman Dental Dispensary to provide dental care to indigent children. It’s been closed for a while, but is now being converted to low-cost housing for seniors. “Do you realize I qualify to live in that place?” my friend asked. I myself can’t imagine a more depressing place to end my years, since there isn’t a decent store in miles. It would be day after day of hobbling painfully through slushy downtown streets to one’s bus stop while impatient New Yorkers sound their horns.  Give me the village almshouse any day.
When America was still a rural Arcadia, old timers lived with their kids. As a person’s capacity for hard physical labor slowly declined, they were assigned less onerous tasks, like child care, sewing, cooking and gardening.
“Old man sleeping,” 1872, Nikolaos Gyzis
“Old man sleeping,” 1872, Nikolaos Gyzis
The Industrial Revolution really messed this up. There is no room for Grandma or Grandpa in urban America. Our kids live in very small flats, if they’re not working in Hong Kong. There are no fireplaces, and no babies to dandle on one’s knee.
It was actually the Great Depression that rang the death knell for multi-generational families. Faced with a choice of providing for children or parents, the only solution for America’s poorest families was to send Granny to the poorhouse. These locally-financed institutions were—as were a lot of things then—overburdened and meager. The terrible condition of America’s elderly in the 1930s is why we ended up with our current Social Security system.
“Old Woman Dozing,” 1656, Nicolaes Maes
“Old Woman Dozing,” 1656, Nicolaes Maes
The problem is, we’re living longer and longer, and we’re healthier while we do it. According to the nifty Social Security life expectancy calculator, I should live until 86; my friend until 83 (someone ought to do something about that actuarial gender bias, by the way). Assuming we retain our marbles, there’s time for a whole second career there.
That’s especially true in a society which is making its workers redundant not at 65, but at 50 or 55. By delaying our Social Security benefits until 66 and 10 months, the government has told my age cohort that it wants us working longer. It hasn’t, however, given us any means of forcing someone to keep employing us.
On the other hand, twenty, thirty or forty years is just way too long to spend playing golf. So what’s a poor rebellious Son of Toil to do? Head elsewhere. Reinvent oneself. Do something meaningful.
Take up painting, obviously.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Holiday greetings from famous artists

Elissa Gore
Elissa Gore
I love getting holiday cards. One of the best things about having so many professional artists among my close friends is the number of cards I get that feature original art. (I seldom send any back, but I do love getting them.) Here’s a small selection from this year’s cache.
The painting at the top is by Elissa Gore. She lives in Manhattan. That is a neat counterpoint to her work, which focuses on serenity. Right now, Elissa seems to be concentrating on things glimpsed through tree screens. That is an interest of mine as well, so I’m curious where she’s going with them.
Renee Lammers
Renee Lammers
Renee Lammers sent me this lovely pen-and-watercolor drawing, which she said she did a long time ago. Added to her note was the suggestion that I try watercolor sometime. In fact, I use watercolor as a sketch medium whenever circumstances don’t allow for oils, such as during my 2015 jaunt to Alaska. Renee lives in Bucksport, and we paint together as often as our schedules allow.
Nancy Woogen
Nancy Woogen
Nancy Woogen didn’t specify what medium she used for the poinsettia above, but she is a master of Golden’s fluid acrylics, so I’m guessing she used them. Nancy is a lifelong resident of the lower Hudson Valley region in New York. I know her through New York Plein Air Painters. She has taken several of my Sea & Sky workshops, where our acquaintance deepened into friendship.

Bobbi Heath
Bobbi Heath
Bobbi Heath and I met at the first Castine Plein Air and have done that show together ever since. Her work focuses on the simplicity of accurate drawing and integrated flat color fields. She splits her time between Massachusetts and Yarmouth, ME. Right now, we’re planning a short mid-winter painting jaunt together—more on that later!
Yesterday, I also got a Thanksgiving card in the mail that had been postmarked on November 18. That’s not an error by the post office, it’s because our mailing address is different from our street address. If you ever need to contact me by mail, it’s PO Box 414, Rockport, ME 04856.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Making pictures while the sun don’t shine

"Cadet," 8X6, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
“Cadet,” 8X6, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
My friends taught me to cook scallops a few years ago. Of course, to cook them, you have to have them. Last year and this, they’ve gotten me a gallon of the beautiful bivalves from their own fisherman source up in Castine.
Berna and Harry are cooking connoisseurs, but I’m usually a deeply insecure cook. Something snapped during the Christmas holiday, though. Over coffee, I confessed to Berna that I’d spent a good deal of the week in front of a stove. I’d run up a few batches of Christmas cookies, made sauce and meatballs, fried some cod, made a chicken pot pie and then schnitzel and red cabbage. As I have been known to not cook for years at a time, this greatly surprised my family.
My "Christmas Angel," was a 4H project. I trot it out every year on Facebook to amuse my childhood chums.
My “Christmas Angel,” (the real thing, not the painting) was a 4H project. I trot it out every year to amuse my childhood chums.
A childhood chum recently told me that my mother, who was our 4H cooking leader, had fostered his love of cooking. I didn’t seem to catch that from her, but it’s true that most of my foundational knowledge about cooking, baking, and sewing came from 4H. That group, an outgrowth of the Cooperative Extension, shows up in the most surprising places. Berna, it turns out, was also a 4H-er. We talked about the County Fair, baking sponges, and other joys of our youth.
I sure did enough canning as a kid. Putting up scallops reminds me of that (although it’s a lot easier). How, I wonder, did Mainers put up seafood before the invention of little plastic freezer bags?
Preparing luxurious pet food for Max.
Preparing luxurious pet food for Max.

I know that I could do something thrifty with all those bivalve feet—like make stock—but my 19-year-old Jack Russell terrier really loves them. Since he won’t be around next scallop season, I gave them to him. The ‘foot’ seems to be just a muscle attached to a bigger muscle. It’s tough, but it’s not like the toothless old guy chews his food anyway.
I frittered away my lunch hour chattering with Berna, so I had to work past dark. For my readers in more southerly climes, that means 4 PM in Maine in January. I finished my little painting of the Cadet under artificial light.
Years ago, I studied with Cornelia Foss. She would never turn the studio lights on at dusk, insisting that dim light was actually good for color management—it caused your paintings to be brighter and lighter than you expected. In general, I’ve found that to be true, but you have to wait until dawn to see the results.
I’m generally early to bed and early to rise so my dimly-lit studio is usually not a problem, but it does mean I have to make pictures while the sun shines.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

I’ve got a crush on every boat

It's a start.
It’s a start.
Yesterday I planned to stop in to the North End Shipyard to take a good look at the Jacob Pike, which I think I want to paint. From there I would go home and do an exercise painting the branches behind my studio.
It would be improper to poke about without saying hello to Shary Cobb Fellows (and her chocolate lab, Coco) in the office. Captain Linda Lee of the schooner Heritage was there. We chatted about the Jacob Pike’s history as a sardine carrier. It may have been a vacation day for many people, but for Captain Linda, it was another day in a new season of fitting out.
The "Jacob Pike" in drydock.
The “Jacob Pike” in drydock.
Sometimes what you need to do is just look, so that’s what I did. I looked at that old sardine boat from the front, the back, the propellers, and the top. While I was doing so, I ran into Sarah Collins from the schooner American Eagle. She was crossing the yard in search of wood filler. I talked with her as she sanded that young slip of a rowboat, Roscoe.
In November, Shary took a great photo of the sun rising over Owls Head. In the foreground, the little tug Cadet nestles against American Eagle; behind them is the Rockland light. Yesterday, I noticed that Cadet was back in the same place. That in turn reminded me that I had intended to paint that tugboat last summer; the idea had just gotten away from me.
Sarah Collins making everything ship-shape for next summer's cruises.
Sarah Collins making everything ship-shape for next summer’s cruises.
Cadet was rebuilt over ten years by the American Eagle’s captain, John Foss. She was built in Kennebunkport, Maine, by Bernard Warner in 1935 or 1936 for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Captain John Foss wrote in 2011. “At some point she was sold to Ellis S. Snodgrass, who built the Cousins Island bridge in Casco Bay. The Cadet went on to be owned by Cianbro from 1969-1984 after which she was bought by William Clark as the Cadet Corporation in the Portland area. She was used last by John C. Gibson from 1984-1989.”
"Cadet" nestling up to the "American Eagle."“Cadet” nestling up to the “American Eagle.”

Instead of my painting kit, I was traveling with my ancient dog. There would be no field painting with his help. But forget the study of the winter woods. I could paint the Cadet. I went back to my studio and started a small sketch. (Boats are complex; it will take me more than a day to finish it.)
As I drew, Pandora queued up Donovan’s Atlantis. That song combines the coolest groove with the stupidest lyrics. Yet, somehow, his mumbling about his “antediluvian baby” seemed perfectly appropriate to the Old Girl on my canvas. I laughed, and my groove was back.