A change is as good as a rest

If one can make a pretty photo out of squirrel ectoplasm, one can make anything beautiful!
By the time I’m done doing my five miles and my exercises, I’m usually ready to go back to bed.
Yesterday, I did exactly that. I’m worn out.
In May, a large stack of empty frames clattered to the floor from an overhead shelf. As they fell straight down into an out-of-the-way corner and I was in my usual dither, I ignored them.
It’s been a pretty crazy summer, but I have an even crazier autumn ahead: two trips to Maine, a trip to Rye, and a daughter’s wedding, all happening in the next six weeks. And I have to get my winter supply of canvases in before the snow flies.
To that end, I decided I should use this glorious fall day to straighten my workshop. I picked up the pile of frames only to learn that they had crushed a squirrel to death. Months ago.
I confess: I’m a screamer. After Sandy Quang poked the remains with a stick, she was a screamer too. The IT department is at his day job. His sole contribution was a text that read, “So, meat’s  back on the menu!” It was left to poor Charles Wang to dispose of what was left of the corpse. He was remarkably calm about it, considering that both Sandy and I were pretty well off our respective nuts.
“What are we going to do about this mess on the floor,” I asked Sandy.
“Take a picture,” she responded (like the true artist she is). So I did.
I decided that spraying bleach everywhere would probably work about as well as burning my garage down. By the time I was done explaining to our mailman what the ruckus was about and running to the store for bleach, my energies were quite restored.  As soon as that bleach has burned its way through my floor, I’m ready to make a thousand canvases!

Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

How blue is the sky?

Saussure’s Cyanometer. Should put any fears of Prussian Blue being fugitive to rest; he made this in the mid-18th century.
How blue is the sky? Landscape painters know that this varies depending on where one is standing, the season, the weather, and even the direction in which one is looking. Local conditions also apply; for example, here the sky directly to the north often fades to a softer blue from the water vapor that hangs over Lake Ontario.
Then there’s the question of altitude. With the advantage of modern travel, many of us have been to the Rockies. We know that the sky there can achieve an aching blueness that is nothing like what we see here in the east.
Baldy Mountain, Montana
“Why is the sky blue” was not actually answered until the end of the 19th century (which makes you wonder what earlier parents told their pesky children). The question of why that blueness varies in intensity was answered in the 18th century, and it was answered in part by that peculiar little device at the top of this page, the Saussure Cyanometer.
Horace-Bénédict de Saussure (1740-1799) was a Genevan aristocrat and physicist who grew up climbing and studying nature.  In 1760, he hiked the Chamonix valley in France, making extensive notes and sketches, and climbed the Brévent, which faces Mont Blanc, the highest point in western Europe. 
A sky in the Steam Valley in Pennsylvania has a very different color.
In the spirit of the times, he measured and recorded everything he could. He was an inveterate tinkerer, making new instruments, including a hygrometer, a magnetometer, an anemometer,  a diaphanometer (to measure the clearness of the atmosphere) and a eudiometer. He puttered with a heliothermometer—a  thermometer to measure the intensity of the sun’s rays—and purportedly built the world’s first solar oven.
Alpine legend held that if one climbed high enough, the sky turned black and one could see into the Void.  Saussure understood, however, that the blueness of the sky was an optical effect that was somehow related to the sky’s moisture content.  
Saussure dyed paper squares with Prussian Blue (which stains terrifically dark) in every shade he could manage between white and black. He assembled these into a numbered circle that could be held up to the zenith at a standard distance from the eye.
Descent from Mont-Blanc in 1787 by H.B. de Saussure, Christian von Mechel, copper engraving, colored.

Saussure made an unsuccessful attempt on Mont Blanc in 1785. After two Chamonix men attained the summit in 1786, Saussure himself made the third ascent of the mountain in 1787. With a servant and 18 guides to lug his equipment, he reached the summit in 3 days. Saussure measured everything he could. The sky was the deepest shade he ever recorded, at 39 degrees blue (out of a rather confusing 52° circle).
Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Wrestling with God, Part 2

The Calling of Saint Matthew, 1599-1600, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, no stranger to sin himself.
Yesterday, Sandy Quang wrote about wrestling with God and Oswald Chambers’ realization that his calling was not to art school, but to the ministry. Last night I got this note from a friend who is a Texan, a convert to Judaism, and who has sort of fallen away from her spiritual practice.  
I was staying with my friend Lester, in his guest room on the lake, while another Bubba put a new steering column in my truck for me. All day on Saturday [Yom Kippur], I was feeling guilty about not fasting, not attending service, not hearing a shofar this year… yada, yada, yada.
Lester proceeded to get totally shit-faced drunk and act like an ass on Saturday night. I had no truck, because it was at Mechanic Bubba’s.
We had to go to Walmart so I could get cash to pay Mechanic Bubba the next morning. I drove Lester‘s car because he couldn’t drive anywhere without risking arrest. (I’d been drinking tonic water.)
While I was in Walmart, a big thunderstorm rolled in. When I ran out to the car, I was drenched in 30 seconds flat. When I started to drive back to Lester’s house, I realized the defroster wasn’t working, so we had to use a towel to wipe the windshield down every 30 seconds. I could only see four feet in front of me on the highway. Someone honked at me, and I was unsure if the headlights were even on, so I asked Lester to take a look.
I should have driven off and left him standing there.
When he got back in he started cussing at me that I had lights. Was I happy that he was soaking wet? When we got back onto the highway, he really started yelling. I could, literally, see nothing in front of me; the rain was coming so hard.
I said, “Lester, you’d better stop yelling at me.” He wouldn’t stop, and I was getting mad.
Mad.
I said, “Keep talking, bud, keep talking.”
So he did. “I was a g*d d%^$*#d Air Force Navigator for twenty effin’ years! You don’t HAVE to see anything because I know where I’m going.”
I saw a bright light. I swerved to the side of the road, reached in the back seat for my purse and told him “Good luck getting home without getting arrested, because this is where I get out.”
It was 10 PM. I could see what looked like a little honkytonk, with light streaming out of the doorway and music playing.
Lester leaned over and yelled, “That big black guy down there is probably going to attack you!”
I stood in the middle of the road in the darkness, looked at drunken Lester, then looked back down the hill to the source of the light and the music. The big guy in the doorway was wearing a tallit and blowing a shofar.
And there, in the driving thunderstorm, I laughed at Lester and pointed down the hill. “I’ll be safer down there with him than up here with you!”
I sat outside that little multiracial church for over an hour waiting for a ride from my mechanic. I didn’t go in, but they were very nice and lent me a cell phone to make my call. The rest of the time I just sat outside the open door, under the eaves of the old honkytonk. The sign was even still up: “The Double Ringer.”
They had taken over the building but hadn’t even taken the honkytonk sign down yet.
I had a great time, and reveled in the irony that I got to hear the shofar and preaching, and yelling, and speaking in tongues, and laying of hands, and healing, and preaching on fornication (which I was quite proud not to have had to ask forgiveness for).
Conversion on the Way to Damascus, 1600-1601, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. In addition to being the best-painted horse’s derriere in art history, it graphically illustrates that it’s never a good idea to turn your back on the Living God.
Hearing prayers for Israel and the Jewish people, in English and Spanish, was pretty dang cool, although I have to admit at one point, I was looking up at G-d, saying, “Why me?” But the shofar answered that, and I laughed. And I hope G-d laughs. Anyway, I’m pretty darn sure He must.
Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Wrestling with God

The Vision After the Sermon (Jacob wrestling with the Angel),Paul Gauguin, 1888, Scottish National Gallery.


I asked my trusty assistant, Sandy Quang, to fill in for me today:

I recently watched a documentary about Oswald Chambers. Chambers was essentially Jacob from Genesis 32-22-32. Chambers had experienced failure in his career as an artist, and one night he went alone to pray in a cave. Like Jacob, Chambers wrestled with God. The moment they went to pray and wrestle with God was the moment of their transition. Following the path of God and following their desire’s yielded different results. Following their own desires had left them cornered, but prayer allowed them to have a change of heart.

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Gustave Doré, 1855, wood engraving.
As an art historian, I often see images of Jacob wrestling with an angel and not a man. The first painting that comes to mind is Paul Gauguin’s vibrant “Vision after the Sermon”, and the second is a solemn engraving by Gustave Doré entitled “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel”. Gauguin’s painting is brightly colored, depicted as a spectacle. Breton village women are gathered watching the struggle. As for Doré  the story is depicted as a personal struggle on a cliff, heightening the sense of danger that comes with the struggle. Doré seems to be closer to the truth in his depiction: the quietness of the surrounding in which one ought to wrestle with God. Despite the different portrayal of the subjects, the story of struggle and change rings true. For Jacob, his wrestle with God resulted in a new name, Israel. For Chambers, his wrestle with God resulted in a new career path.
(Sandy Quang)

Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

The Art of Silliness

A tinfoil base lends stability to a hat, and stops those pesky aliens from annoying you.
My daughter threw a bridal shower today. Part of the entertainment was making hats in the style of the Royal Wedding. The hats were so darn good; Philip Treacy has nothing on them. But I also realized that no matter how brilliant one’s design, one will never win against a cute little girl, especially if she has mad millinery skills.

Two workers in the creative fields: the one on the left is a writer; the one on the right is a jeweler. They sailed through hat-making.

A fine Victorian bonnet with a sprig of Queen Anne’s Lace for contrast.

But the quality of the work was nothing compared to how much fun this project was. Everyone loves making stuff.

Never compete with a beautiful little girl, especially a creative one.

Sometimes people really surprise you. I never thought Marie would be so avant-garde.

This was a great way to get rid of stuff I’d stashed in my cabinets, including yards and yards of white tulle.

Two ladies and their milliners. Robin and Lily used their friends as hat stands. Neither hat stand complained about the staples.

It is, however, patently obvious that no matter how brilliant one’s design, one will never win against a cute little girl, especially if she has mad millinery skills. Little Sophia scored the prize.
A contingent of young milliners.
Back to painting, tomorrow.
Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Answering the artist within you

Beads by Laura Turner

I have taught enough students who waited until retirement to take up painting that I always joke that when I retire, I’m taking up accounting. In fact, I have several accountant friends who do some kind of art on the side—a forensic accountant who draws, a CPA who writes comics, and a small-business accountant who makes beaded jewelry.

The last, Laura Turner, recently bought a small kiln to make fused-glass beads of her own design. What makes someone suddenly feel the urge to make jewelry? “I needed something besides reading to entertain myself while I recovered from major abdominal surgery,” she told me. “With a rectangular plastic cake carrying box, I could sit in bed to do it and lose very few beads in the covers.”
Well, there are lots of things one can do in bed that don’t involve small objects. And how do you go from stringing someone else’s beads to making your own?
Bead by Laura Turner
“Making a piece of jewelry from scratch, not using pre-manufactured focals and findings, is much more satisfying, she said. “It’s also much more time-consuming. So it’s an adventure again, whereas beading alone had begun to be something of a chore.”
As all artists know, new disciplines mean new costs. “There’s always another tool needed.” Considering it’s just baked sand, glass is remarkably expensive, she says. “Because I live out in the sticks, most of my purchases are online, so I incur shipping costs as well. As much as I love buying on the internet, the truth is that sometimes what you get is not what you thought you were getting.”
Of course she’s eyeing a bigger kiln now. She’s an artist.
I asked her what she gets out of the process. “A sense of achievement, a sense of completion. A sense of embracing the colors I’m working with, and the feeling that whatever I make somehow expresses something inside me,” she answered.

Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Here’s to you, Dad

Portrait of Ann Douglas, by John P. Douglas, pastel on paper, c. 1969
Last week I wrote, “My father loved Maine, painting, and sailing wooden boats. Several times this week when I signed my paintings I thought of how amazed and happy he would have been to see his daughter getting paid to stand on a dock in Maine, painting wooden boats. Here’s to you, Dad. Thanks for teaching me to paint and draw and sail.”
When a reader responded to the above by asking me to share some of my father’s work, I hesitated.
I have only one piece by my father. This is a posthumous portrait of my sister, who died at age 14. These were very dark days in my family, because just a few years later, my parents also lost a son to a drunk driver. If I had a choice of his work to share, it would not be the piece that reminds me of such sad times.
My sister was a very larky girl. My father caught that, even in his deep grief. Although done from memory, it’s a good likeness. Decades later, I can still see the spark of her personality, which photographs never seemed to capture.
My father was born in 1924. By the time he graduated from high school, he could draw, he could letter, and he could print black-and-white photos as well as most BFA holders today. He intended to go to art school, but that plan was interrupted by WWII.
Can’t imagine why signing my name while painting in Camden (bottom) would put me in mind of my father (top)
I doubt my father taught us to paint and draw because he wanted us to go into the arts—he just saw art as a basic function of a well-rounded personality. And, I’m sure, he also wanted to keep us busy.
Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Seeking beauty in the built environment

Northbound on 10th, 16×22, acrylic, by Patti Mollica
A lot of painters focus on either the natural or the man-made environment; I truly love painting both. In the built environment, I see both the best and worst of mankind. In the landscape I see God’s hand-print. I love the intersection of these two elemental forces.
I recently asked my pals who are doing Rye Art Center’s Painters on Location with me to let me post their silent auction pieces on my blog. Today’s contribution is by Patti Mollica. She captures the excitement of New York’s streets as well as anyone I know.  

Interested in my Where the Sea Meets the Sky Workshops? October 2013—the last session with openings in 2013—is selling out fast. Or, let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information, or email Lakewatch Manor!

Desperately seeking the Immaculata (and other things)

Summer Sky, by Marilyn Fairman, oil on linen, 9X12. It’s another entry in Rye Painters on Location’s silent auction, and a darn lovely one, too! If I had more time, I’d see Marilyn more than once a year, right?
A few weeks ago I talked with a wonderful New Hampshire-based painter who is busy raising two daughters, ages 10 and 12. He struggles to have time to advance his career. I sympathize; I have four kids myself. And yet, I told him, I would not change the choices I’d made.
I like to think it’s easier now that my kids are older, but all I need to revise that opinion is to commit myself to reaching a goal by Friday. This week’s goal is in itself parenting-related, since we’re expecting out-of-town company for my daughter’s wedding shower. My family has been outstanding at keeping the house up, but a lot of clutter and grunge accumulates when the mom is gone as much as I am.
I foolishly believed I could devote four hours a day to cleaning and four hours a day to painting. Hah. I haven’t even got the receipts from my summer travels off the dining room table, and I’ve been at it for two days.
Today I met with a gallery director at a local college to finalize plans for a show next spring. The show will be about the relationship between God and man in the natural world, and I’m very excited to have the opportunity to do something so dear to me.
The lesson in this is that I do not have the luxury of procrastination. There are so many interruptions in a busy life, one must grab the time one has. March is just around the corner.

Interested in my Where the Sea Meets the Sky Workshops? October 2013—the last session with openings in 2013—is selling out fast. Or, let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information, or email Lakewatch Manor!

Wine pairings

Manship Toasting the Angels, by Barry Faulkner, 1923. At the Farnsworth.

My favorite work in the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockport, ME is Manship Toasting the Angels by Barry Faulkner. This 1923 wall screen shows angels coming down from heaven bearing wine. Two couples (Faulkner, his pal Paul Manship, and their wives) raise their glasses in anticipation; meanwhile, Adam and Eve party down in Eden. Note the solid trees-as-Swiss-chard, the traveling coupe, the smiling sun. The names of the great wine-producing regions are inscribed along the borders.

I don’t understand why the Farnsworth doesn’t sell a postcard of this screen; my purchases of it alone would catapult it to top-seller status.
Mankind living in close quarters can do amazing things, but inevitably fouls up the water supply. Until there were water-treatment plants, civilization rested on fermentation. Used responsibly—say, small beer for breakfast and no fortified wines until luncheon—alcoholic spirits are a wonderful boon to humanity. Wine truly is a gift from God.
School has been back in session for almost a week. My favorite sommelier and wine professional, Martha Hoag Schmidt, recently sent me some wine pairings that seem perfect for the busy household with school-age kids. 
“Sauvignon Blanc is excellent with gluten-free Cinnamon Chex. However, I could not find a wine that paired well with Cheetos.
“Pinot Noir and gluten-free cheese goldfish crackers are a classic, good for lunch and dinner.  Pinot is such a versatile grape.
“Classic Bordeaux-style blend and buttered toast are a great combination, but it just can’t stand up to peanut butter.  If you prefer your toast with peanut butter, switch to crisp Chardonnay. It works surprisingly well.
“Popsicles need a fruitier—perhaps rosé—sparkler.”
And there you have it. Since she is also the sommelier who introduced me to my favorite everyday red (in a screw-top bottle), I take her recommendations very seriously.

In addition to this fantastic screen, the Farnsworth is chock full of Wyeths and other Maine painters. We visit it during each of our Where the Sea Meets the Sky Workshops. If you haven’t but want to, know that October 2013—last session with openings in 2013—is selling out fast. Or, let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information, or email Lakewatch Manor!