Paint Schoodic

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Home is where they wear you out with parties


When your car is too ratty for Buffalo, you may have a problem.
Erie Canal, by Carol L. Douglas
I woke up to the smell of lake water in the air—a uniquely Buffalo smell, and one that presages rain. It’s my last day here, and I’ll be glad to head home after eight days on the road. I can’t keep up the pace of all this partying. It’s the official sport of Buffalo, after all.

Buffalo’s always been a hard-partying kind of town. At one time the bars stayed open all night to cater to shift-workers. There are no more manufacturing jobs, and the bars now close at 4 AM. I don’t know any American city more dedicated to drinking than that.

Rock tumble at the Holley canal spillway, by Carol L. Douglas
My childhood chum Tim Wendel is in town promoting his newest book, Cancer Crossings. I’d like to catch up, but I comfort myself with the idea that he doesn’t have any more time than I do. I’d hoped to connect with another childhood friend, dancer Cynthia Cadwell Pegado. She’s one of my oldest friends, actually, since we met at our infant dedication at Delaware Baptist Church. I managed to connect with my sister-in-law and her new husband yesterday. And I had dinner in Ellicott Creek Park with my brother and his family. When your life is in your car, you meet up where you can.

It’s like this every time I go on a road trip, but never more so than when I’m in Buffalo. This is my home town, and I’m proud to be from here. However, I can’t see myself ever coming back to live. I can’t handle the pace.

Bluebells on the Erie Canal towpath. WNY has its moments of fascination, for sure.
Buffalonians are, in general, polite drivers, but I still don’t much enjoy sitting in traffic. There’s more and more of that in my old haunts. After a sixty-year hiatus, my home town is finally coming into its own. I’ve waited for this, but I can’t say that I like it much.

I followed a Lamborghini down Niagara Falls Boulevard yesterday. This was always a city of rusty cargo vans. Suddenly, I’m self-conscious about the condition of the old Mercury Monterey we’re tooling around in. I didn’t realize it was possible to drive a car that’s too ratty for Buffalo.

I drove to Grand Island to look at a replacement for my trusty Prius yesterday. At 257,000 miles, it’s grown fragile. My best option, I think, is a pickup truck. “That’s a rather extreme shift,” my daughter commented.

After 257,000 miles and 13 years, the Prius is growing fragile.
I’m spending more and more time on back roads. My Prius, while indomitable, has broken two springs. It was never designed for the dirt roads of Nova Scotia, for example. It’s too small to camp in, and I had to have the roof repainted after (inadvisably) carrying my canoe on it.

I looked at SUVs, but they all seem designed more for luxury than for off-roading. I hate scrubbing paint out of upholstery, so a truck is starting to look like my best choice. Still, $40,000 is a lot to spend on a vehicle.

I don't even remember painting this sketch of a NYSDOT tug on the Erie Canal. I wonder where it ended up.
I have one more task—to load my youngest kid’s stuff in my van—and then we can take off. By mid-afternoon, I should be tooling east on US 90 toward Massachusetts. After that, I get to work in earnest. I have a commission to finish, and a piece to write for Saranac Lake, and if I plan to make any money this summer, I’d better deliver some new work to my galleries.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: the architecture of trees


To paint trees, you have to know trees. That doesn’t mean you need to memorize species, but you do need to be able to see the differences.
Along the Ottawa River, by Carol L. Douglas. You don't need to be able to identify species at 200 paces, but you do need to be able to recognize how trees differ.
Trees, clouds and rocks are all frequently abused in the same way: the oblivious painter never thinks about their individual characteristics but paints them interchangeably. That's a mistake.

Old Bones, by Carol L. Douglas
There is a major division in the forest world between conifers (the trees with needles) and broadleaf trees. Most, but not all, conifers are evergreens; the biggest exception being the larches (tamaracks), which turn a delicious yellow-gold in autumn. Which are dominant in your landscape? Even in the Pine Tree State, the distribution of conifers to deciduous trees is about 50-50.

Most scenes will include a variety of canopy shapes.
For broadleaf trees, the most important distinguishing characteristic is the branching pattern of the tree, which defines the shape of its canopy. Silver maples are large trees with open, vase-like canopies. Oaks have large spreading crowns; beeches have similar crowns that appear to have melted. Most broadleaf trees branch alternately but maple, ash, dogwood and horse chestnut branch in opposite pairs.

Pines have fewer branches than spruces or firs, and their branches grow in circular whorls on the trunk. As they age, they develop an open, jagged canopy. Spruce branches grow in an upturned direction; as youngsters, they look the most like ‘Christmas trees’. In their dotage, they turn a fine, weathered figure to the wind. Firs have wide lower branches and a downcast mien. Notably, their cones point upward.

Along Kiwassa Lake, by Carol L. Douglas
Conifers are most easily identified by their needles. Pine needles grow in clusters of two, (red pines), three (yellow pines), or five (white pines), held onto the stem with a tiny papery wrapper. Spruce needles are short, stiff and grow individually from twigs. Fir needles are soft and flat. Cedars have flat, scale-like leaves and stringy bark. Junipers (including, confusingly, the Eastern Red Cedar) have berrylike, bluish cones on the tips of their shoots.

Basic broadleaf leaves.
Many people can identify the common broadleaf trees by their leaves, and I’ve included a chart to help you. The important part for the painter, however, is to see the differences in color. Silver maples have a lovely grey-silver color. Sycamores are garbed in military-fatigue green. Black spruces are dark while Eastern White Pines are fair and soft in their coloring.

This is why I discourage my students from using tube greens and encourage them, instead, to mix a matrix of green colors.

Baby black spruce and pines, by Carol L. Douglas
Too often, we painters ignore young trees, something I tried to rectify (with varying success) last season. Young trees often look radically different from their aged ancestors, but they have a beauty of their own.

To be a convincing painter, you don’t need to memorize the species of trees, but you do have to learn to distinguish between them. Any plausible landscape will contain a variety of them, with different bark, branch structures, and leaf colors.

It's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Approaching the finish line

Joined together under a single cell-phone plan, they are now (almost) man and wife.

The artist's great conceit is that he or she can make anything. Today I'm going to make bouquets out of heirloom roses and thistles. I kind of wish the bridal party was carrying helium balloons instead.
Some time this afternoon, I’m supposed to close down my workroom, freshen up my makeup, and appear at the wedding rehearsal as if I’ve been doing nothing more than hanging out at a spa all day. Plein air artists do this every time we have an event opening. One moment, we’re madly framing on the back decks of our cars. Then the final bell tolls. We’re done, for better or worse. We find a public restroom, wash as well as we can, and slip into our nice clothes. Then we go into the sale gallery and look at our paintings and think of all the things we wish we’d done differently.

I once did an event with Laurie Lefebvre where, under her beautiful clinging party dress, she was spattered with brilliant paint that wouldn’t wash off. Laurie is statuesque and beautiful, so she carried it off. I usually have paint rubbed into my eye sockets, so I often look like I’m coming off a nine-day drunk.

Some of the other flowers in my order didn't travel as well.
When my first daughter was married, I missed her rehearsal and dinner entirely. The crystal and flatware at the venue were not cleaned to my standards. There were more than 200 guests at that wedding, so washing the dishes and resetting the tables was no small feat. Still, it had to be done—or so I thought at the time.

I’ve smartened up since then. I’ve resolved to take Philippians 4:5-7 as if it were a pointed comment directed right at me. I asked another daughter yesterday (not the bride) whether I was overreacting about browning on the flowers. She assured me I wasn’t, so I’m waiting now for a replacement delivery. My chef friends tell me your results are only as good as the ingredients you use. It’s certainly true of painting.

The designer put boning in this bodice for a reason. A tailor removed it. I replaced it. Hopefully, when the owner shows up today, the dress will fit her.
I’m not faulting the online vendor. The flowers were packed on the wrong truck and carted around Niagara Falls by mistake. So far, the company is responsive. Still, I’m starting to feel the pressure of delays against a fixed deadline.

Daughter number two is furloughed this week, waiting for the Federal government to renew her contract. I’m terrifically proud of this kid for many things, but one of them is that she and her husband are careful money managers. They’re not knocked off their pins by this setback, and it’s given us a chance to spend time together.

At one point yesterday, she was deboning a chicken while I was boning the bodice of a dress. My youngest found the language so offensive he went out for a walk.

The bride found my tasteful fascinator too funereal, so I fun-fettied it.
Meanwhile, the bride and groom met up with Sandy Quang at a restaurant near Rochester, where she handed over the critical documents needed for a marriage license in New York. They then went to the closest town clerk and got the business done. Future genealogists will be stumped looking for that license, since Henrietta, NY plays no part in either of their histories.

They then proceeded to a T-Mobile store to buy a cell phone plan. That, in modern parlance, is probably the true joining together of man and wife.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Sensible Maine


Not all regional differences are about the landscape, the accents and the buildings. There are also differences in character.
Erie Canal Sketch by Carol L. Douglas. You're pretty, New York, but don't let it go to your head.
Last year, Bobbi Heath and I stopped on the road and bought boxes, bubble wrap and tape. We left these, carefully marked, for our work to be returned after a show in New Jersey. Mine were mailed back unsecured and unwrapped. Mercifully, nothing was damaged, but had that $3000 of inventory been ruined, the Postal Service would have been justified in not paying the claim. Our host at that event was gracious and kind, but the slipshod mailing left me thinking poorly of the event.

Compare that to my experience at Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta earlier this month. When my frames arrived broken, co-chair Jane Chapin loaned me three of hers. That flexible, kind attitude was visible in small and large ways throughout the event. They held three receptions for the artists. They cooked for us and cared for us. Their attitude makes me want to hurry back.

There are invisible differences from place to place in America, and sometimes they're more important than what you see.

Erie Canal Bridge Sketch, by Carol L. Douglas.
I engage with government in very limited ways—the department of motor vehicles, the town clerk, the planning office, and the post office. In my small town of Rockport, ME (pop. 3,330), I’m accustomed to public officials being accommodating and thoughtful. The other day I visited the clerk’s office to ask what my excise tax would be on a new car I’m considering. It was a few minutes before closing time. The deputy clerk calculated it, commiserated, and made a friendly joke as we left.

In New York, it’s a high crime and misdemeanor if every dot and tittle is not in place. Its clerks guard their prerogatives assiduously. I should have remembered that, but I’ve gotten soft.

Catskill Farm, by Carol L. Douglas
So I was a little blindsided when my daughter ran into trouble at the local town hall. She and her fiancé need a marriage license by the weekend. They had followed the instructions on the New York State website. Of course, like everyone else, they followed them wrong. She was carrying the wrong identification.

Still, the town she is getting married in is very close to the town where she was born. She’s carrying the highest-and-greatest form of identification—her United States Passport. It ought to have been no big deal to just get a new birth certificate.

No way, no how. They won’t give it to her without her Social Security card, one of the most loosely-controlled documents Americans carry. “Homeland Security visits us, you know!” the clerk told her.

The Dugs, by Carol L. Douglas
“This is New York, right?” a friend quipped. “Try bribing them.” I won’t do that, but if it doesn’t get straightened out today, I’m going to try sending a little muscle along. And there’s always ‘the touch’, putting the word out to friends and family to see who knows someone who knows someone. Because in New York, that’s how things get done.

But back to sensible Maine for the answer. I called Camden Falls Gallery and got Howard Gallagher on the phone. “Sure!” he said, and he sent Sandy Quang over to my house to get the requisite documents from my safe. Then she got into her car and left for New York a few hours earlier than she had planned. If all goes well, Mary’s birth certificate and social security card should be in her hand by midday and the wedding will proceed as planned.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

$2 billion in art distributed for free


The Corcoran’s demise is a sad reminder that many cultural institutions in America skitter on the brink of insolvency.

Simplon Pass, 1911, John Singer Sargent, has gone to the National Gallery.

In 2014, the board of trustees for the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, announced that they were closing that venerable institution and offering its assets—for free—to other agencies to manage. That meant its school, its Beaux Arts building, and its collection would all be given away. The assets were staggering, somewhere around $2 billion, and somehow the money machine would be kept out of the process.

This week the deal became final, with the Corcoran board announcing the dispensation of the final 11,000 artworks. (The National Gallery had first dibs and took about 40% of the collection.) The art school, the building, and about 800 works go to George Washington University. Much of the rest of the collection is headed to the American University Museum, with the Smithsonian American Art Museum and other institutions rounding out the list. The art will stay in Washington, in the public view.

Niagara, 1857, by Frederic Edwin Church, has gone to the National Gallery.
The Corcoran was one of America’s oldest art museums, founded to house the private collection of a 19th century financier, William Wilson Corcoran. Doing nothing by half-measures, Corcoran hired James Renwick, designer of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and the Smithsonian ‘Castle’ in Washington, to build his museum.

Corcoran made his fortune on war bonds and retired to a life of philanthropy by 1854. His good works were legion. They included the land and chapel for Oak Hill Cemetery, a benevolent fund for the poor of Georgetown, innumerable gifts to universities, and securing Mount Vernon for the nation. He was also a southern sympathizer who left for Paris at the outbreak of war.

Forty-two Kids, 1907, George Bellows, has gone to the National Gallery.
Corcoran was also an early patron of American art. He counted painters Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Doughty, and George Inness among his friends. The Corcoran was established in 1869. Its School of Art was founded in 1878.

Fast forward a century and Corcoran’s vision was showing signs of financial strain. “When news broke that Board was considering selling the building, it felt like every conversation I had placed the beginning of the Museum’s decline to an earlier and earlier point,” wrote Blair Murphy. “One D.C. artist I spoke with argued that the Museum had never recovered from declining to purchase the collection of the shuttered Washington Gallery of Modern Art. That was in 1968.”

Ground swell, 1939, Edward Hopper, has gone to the National Gallery.
In 1989, the gallery agreed to host Robert Mapplethorpe’s The Perfect Moment. Worse, it cancelled the show when trustees and supporters voiced opposition. A change in leadership staved off bankruptcy temporarily. But history conspired against the institution. Rerouted traffic after 9/11 made it harder to get to. In 2005, the museum was unable to raise funds for a highly-touted addition by Frank Gehry. The financial crisis of 2008 hit cultural institutions hard. Giving to the Corcoran fell off sharply.

The Last of the Buffalo, 1888, Albert Bierstadt, has gone to the National Gallery.

Washington is a city of free, government-subsidized museums. The Corcoran was neither. By the end, in 2014, the admission fee was $10. Why pay that when there are so many other options that cost nothing?

The Corcoran’s demise is a sad reminder that many cultural institutions in America skitter on the brink of insolvency. What do we do about that?