It could always be worse

Portrait of Ă‰mile Zola, 1868, by Édouard Manet
My friend Martha recently told me, “Taxes are the price you pay to live in a free society.” I’m doing my taxes this week and debating what I should post while I’m off in the land of spreadsheets and illegible receipts I never got around to entering.
I’ll start with some French realism today, to remind myself that things could always be worse. We could be struggling to heat our homes and our children could be executed for stealing crusts of bread. Officers could be convicted of heinous crimes simply because of their Jewishness.
Let’s start with Manet’s portrait of Émile Zola, who was France’s most important social realist writer. Zola was nominated for the first and second Nobel prizes in literature (which were won, characteristically, by nobody you ever heard of). He is remembered chiefly for his championing of the falsely-accused French artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus.
But that was still in the future when this painting was conceived. It was a thank-you gift for Zola’s passionate support of Manet’s work. The setting is Manet’s studio. On the wall is a reproduction of Manet’s scandalous Olympia, tying this painting very clearly to Manet’s gratitude. Zola is seated at his work table. The book, inkwell, quill, books and papers tell us he is a man of letters.
Jean-François Millet’s The Gleaners, 1857. Note how the figures are dehumanized by their faces being obscured and how they are separated from the prosperity in the distance.
The French Barbizon painters championed realism as a painterly technique (in response to the accepted Romanticism of the time). But they were also social realists, taking an unflinching look at the vast poverty that endured in rural France.
Hunting Birds at Night, 1874, by Jean-François Millet.
Unfortunately, social realism can be tough to appreciate over time, because appalling poverty starts to look quaint when we are distant from it. This is the fate that has overtaken Jean-François Millet’s The Gleaners. In its day, it was an electric criticism of French society. The wealthy (who tend to buy paintings) seemed to get a whiff of the tumbrels of the French Revolution and it made them decidedly uncomfortable.  â€śHis three gleaners have gigantic pretensions, they pose as the Three Fates of Poverty … their ugliness and their grossness unrelieved,” wrote one reviewer.

Short on money, Millet sold this painting at a sharp discount. A century and a half later, it is one of the most recognized and beloved paintings of all time.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Back to the studio

There were visitors to the gallery all evening long. The show is up until April 11.
You can be the belle of the ball on Friday night, but you’re still a painting teacher on Saturday morning. It was a great opening with a fabulous turnout, and lots of insightful questions. There were crowds until 10 PM, at which time I stumbled home to bed, because Saturday mornings are always a rush.
Teressa’s been drawing on and off with me for a few years, but she finally bit the bullet and did her first painting this weekend.
Painting classes, I’ve noticed, are split between two populations. There are the forty- and fifty-somethings who always wanted to paint but never had time, and young people from their mid-teens to mid-twenties. This makes for a nice mix of people in the studio, but it also tells us something about our times. Nobody in the prime working years has time. They’re running flat out. Between grasping the brass ring and raising children, everything else takes a back seat.
My own Mary, who’s a talented artist but majoring in biomedical engineering, graced my studio with her presence. I am afraid I will have to ask her for some lessons in drawing with a tablet one of these days.
It’s kind of a pity that we’re so frenetically busy from our mid-twenties to our mid-forties. The time to be reflective shouldn’t be a luxury of the old and the young.
So it’s back to business as usual, but I’ll have the flowers to remind me of a wonderful evening. Thanks, guys!

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

All about me, all the time

The Davison Gallery is lovely and contemporary, and conducive to spare design. Sue moved the show graphic to the floor, which allows the paintings room to breathe. It looks fantastic.
Tonight is the opening of my show, God + Man at the Davison Gallery at Roberts Wesleyan. As you know, I’ve been painting like a dervish to get ready for it, and it was awfully satisfying to watch it come together under the highly-skilled hands of gallery director Sue Bailey Leo.
Sue and her assistant Allysa installing the floor graphic.
This is the second show of my work that Sue has managed, and I’m humbled by how good she makes me look.
A woman and a hammer… invincible! Here Sandy Quang learns how to use a plumb line to level paintings.
I frequently tell people that “it’s all about me.” This weekend, it actually is. I have three solo shows up across the Rochester metro area. When does that ever happen?
Mary Brzustowicz offered to help me move canvases. Little did she know she’d be pressed into service popping air bubbles.
You are welcome to tonight’s opening, from 6-10. Ignore your mapping software; it will take you to the center of the campus. Instead, take US 490 to Buffalo Road west. Pass Westside Drive and the athletic fields at Roberts Wesleyan. You will see the Howard Stowe Roberts Cultural Life Center on your right; there is ample free parking, including parking lots on the west and northeast sides of the building.
Sandy temporarily interned as a lighting assistant, and did a great job of it, too.
The gallery is also open Monday-Friday, 11-5, and Saturday, 1-4. The show is up until April 11.
If you’d like to see my secular landscapes, this is the last weekend they are up at VB Brewery at 6606 State Road 96 in Victor. (Yesterday I stopped there with my friend Mary, who pointed out that the brewing smelled like warm feed for horses. It was delectable.)
Be there, or be square.
And my Stations of the Cross are up at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church at 2000 Highland Avenue. Since they’re part of the Lenten worship experience, you’ll need to call the church at 585-442-3544 to make an appointment.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Gone but not forgotten

Beauty Instead of Ashes, 48X36, oil on linen, 2014, by Carol L. Douglas
Last summer my friend Loren and I went for a hike along the Goose River in Rockport, ME, and discovered vast piles of lime tailings. Rockport is one of America’s beauty spots, but it was once a center of quicklime manufacture. Nature slowly attempts to cover this wound, but it is a slow process.
Midcoast Maine is full of limestone deposits. When limestone is burned, the carbon dioxide burns off and quicklime is left. This is used to make plaster, paper, mortar, concrete, fertilizer, leather, glue, paint, and glass. By the Civil War, midcoast Maine was producing more than a million casks of lime a year.
Eventually God will cover our sins, but it takes a long, long time. Sin can endure through generations, but ultimately, the spirit of the Lord will be with us, “to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3-4)

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Limping toward the finish line

The Harvest is Plenty, 36X48, oil on linen, 2014, by Carol L. Douglas
Today I put the finishing touches on the above painting and tipped it into its frame.
Jesus sent out disciples two by two, telling them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Those of us who spend time in the agricultural world understand this metaphor: we sow seeds, we tend plants, and when the harvest comes in, it’s a lot of work and we’re generally short-handed.
But what if the order of things is interrupted? What if a line squall off Lake Ontario flattens the entire field right before the combine arrives?
When wheat ripens, it has heavy, nodding heads on delicate stems. As summer deepens the wheat assumes a color that has no equal in the artificial world—it has a shimmering beauty that’s impossible to capture in paint or photographs—much, in fact, like human souls. Looking at the field from the angle of the threatening storm, we should stand convicted of our need to get busy.
Ack! I have to teach in this space on Saturday!
Speaking of “tip,” my studio is quickly becoming one. I’m generally pretty neat but framing and painting in the same space is difficult. (I have a wood shop in our garage but it isn’t heated and it’s still painfully cold outside.)
I’m running three fans in the hope that these paintings will be dry enough to transport on Thursday, which is my promised delivery date.
Last painting, detail. I’ll finish it tomorrow and tip it in its frame and then deliver on Thursday. Talk about cutting it fine.
I’m finishing my last canvas—hardly where I expected to be when I started this in November, before unexpected surgery and recovery trashed my schedule. On the other hand, the one passage I’ve finished makes me pretty darn happy.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Dead Wood

Dead Wood, 48X36, oil on linen, 2014, by Carol L. Douglas
 It’s very unusual for paintings to just flow off the brush without a lot of second-guessing, but I have experienced it a lot getting ready for this show. This painting is a case in point: it’s complicated, I don’t have any particular reference, and yet it was no big deal to get all the pieces in place. Weird, that.
Branches that fall into streams tend to collect other sticks into logjams. This debris can alter the flow of the river itself. There is great force holding such river jams in place; in fact, breaking a logjam is something best left to experts, as it can be very dangerous.
Sin drops into the current of our life, and gets caught up on other sins. By the time we are adults, we have a logjam of sins pushing one against another, altering the very flow of our lives, defining what we understand to be our character or personality. “She’s temperamental.”  “He is afraid of his own shadow.” These are not true marks of character, but the distortion caused by this logjam of sin.
How do we identify the key log to break the logjam? We don’t; we need help from the Holy Spirit.

(My thanks to Tony Martorana, senior pastor at Joy Community Church, who used this image in a sermon.)

Red-bellied Woodpecker outside my studio window.
I was using the bare branches outside my studio as reference for the distant trees, when I saw this little fellow knocking at my pear tree.  I suppose it’s a sign of spring that he’s out looking for insects, but it’s bad news if my pear tree is sick. It’s older than my house.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Sometimes things don’t go as planned

A whole pile of potential. Stock cut for seven frames.
I chose a thin, contemporary molding for my show at Roberts Wesleyan’s Davison Gallery, because it’s a sleek, contemporary space. I had a feeling this frame stock might be somewhat slender for such large pictures, so it was no big surprise when I released the clamp from the first frame I’d glued and the joints peeled apart in my hand. No matter how strong the glue, wood is heavy and a tiny contact surface can’t support a lot of weight. (Frame shops use V-nailers or underpinners to join miters, but they start at around $1200, so aren’t appropriate for the casual framer. And in most cases, glue is sufficient.)
I prefer doing this job in my outdoor wood shop but it was 12° F. when I started. The glue would have frozen instead of setting. Next best place: my studio. The tools you need (in addition to a miter saw) are a drill, wood glue, strap clamps, a paintbrush to assure you’ve applied the glue evenly, and a mallet to tap the corners down so the two sides are flush with each other.
We’re a one-car family and my husband was off playing his bass. That might have been a real problem, but I was saved by technology. I visited a big box store’s website, identified the correct flat corner braces, found a store that had enough of them in stock, and bought them online. They texted my husband’s phone when the order was ready for pickup. He collected them on his way home. It was a matter of two hours to install the plates, and now I’m relatively certain that these frames could survive a minor earthquake.
You’re not going to get that mending plate on there straight without carefully marking and drilling pilot holes. At this point, the joints have been glued and clamped; the mending plate is the icing on the cake.

Interestingly, the depth of the molding wasn’t even from piece to piece, but as long as the mending plate was the same distance from the edge, I was happy.

I’ve posted about how to make frames before. If you can cut an accurate 45° angle (which is as much about having a good saw as it is about having woodworking skills) you can make decent frames in a home workshop. Affixing mending plates to a thin molding is a bit trickier, because they must be aligned perfectly so that they don’t show from the front and don’t impede installing the painting from the back. The only way I know how to do that is by careful marking and drilling pilot holes.
Two hours later, a whole heap of happiness. I can curse the never-ending winter or thank God I have a spare room in which these big frames can rest until they’re needed. Which will be tomorrow morning, of course.
Despite the supports, I’ll affix the hangers to the stretchers, not the frames. No sense tempting fate.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Surprise, it’s snowing!

Wharf Scene in Winter, c. 1910, Charles Salis Kaelin
We woke up to yet another grey, snow-covered day with a temperature of 12° F. and all-day snow on the forecast. It’s a good thing snow is beautiful, and ever so paintable. Here are three snow scenes from American masters.
Charles Salis Kaelin was one of the earliest American exponents of Divisionism (or Chromoluminarism). This is the style invented by Georges Suerat, where colors are separated into individual dots or patches which interact optically.
 Kaelin was a respected member of the art colony at Rockport, Massachusetts. 
Snow scene by Emile Albert GruppĂ© . He painted many variations on this theme—mountains, stream, snow.
Emile Albert GruppĂ© was born in Rochester, NY, but spent his formative years in the Netherlands. He was the son of painter Charles P. GruppĂ©. The family returned permanently to the United States in 1913 as the political situation in Europe deteriorated. GruppĂ© was one of the most famous of the Cape Ann painters, establishing himself in Gloucester, MA.
Winter Rocky Landscape, William Partridge Burpee. There’s a hint of Spring in there.
William Partridge Burpee was born in Rockland, ME. He studied with marine painter William Bradford in the late 1870s and began painting in the luminist marine style of Fitz Hugh Lane. He began showing in Boston in the 1880s but did not take up pastel until after a Grand Tour to Europe in 1897, where he became more familiar with impressionism. In 1914, he returned to his birthplace, where he died in 1940.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

You’re invited…

Join us for the Gallery Opening of


Paintings by Carol Douglas

At the Davison Gallery, located in the Cultural Life Center at Roberts Wesleyan College.

6-10 PM, Friday, March 28

2301 Westside Drive, Rochester, New York 14546

I spend much of my time painting en plein air. The physical environment shows the marks of our existence, our relationship with each other, and ultimately our relationship with God. This visible record is subtle, but once you start to notice it, you realize it’s everywhere.
In mid-October, I returned home after a summer teaching painting in Maine. I had two things to do: put the final touches on my daughter’s wedding and paint the work for this show. What wasn’t on my schedule was another cancer diagnosis.
I’m a systematic person, so I scheduled making canvases during the four-week recovery period between my lumpectomy and hysterectomy. Immediately before my surgery, I drenched the canvases with Naphthol Red, which is a rich crimson color that is an excellent undertone for landscape. I do this regularly for plein air, but the effect of all these looming large canvases dripping blood was disconcerting.
After my surgery, I continued to leak blood. In early February I hemorrhaged, which put my recovery back to square one. I realized there was a connection between my current experience and my current paintings, which were proceeding by starts and fits.
I have tried to let the canvas show through in each of these paintings, because they were literally born in blood. If I’d proceeded along my original course, they would have been polished and buffed to the point where no undertone was visible. But I couldn’t do that, and I don’t regret it.

Happy Spring!

Orchard with Blossoming Apricot Trees, 1888, Vincent van Gogh.
Today marks the vernal equinox, generally considered the first day of Spring. In the eastern United States, it’s been a dismal winter (which still hasn’t released us from its clutches). We long for Spring.
Blossoming Almond Branch in a Glass, 1888, Vincent van Gogh.
Vincent van Gogh painted a series of flowering almond trees in Arles and Saint-Rémy in 1888 and 1890. When he arrived in Arles in March 1888, the orchards were about to bloom. The blossoms ensnared him. In a month he produced fourteen paintings of blossoming peach, plum and apricot trees. “I am up to my ears in work for the trees are in blossom and I want to paint a Provençal orchard of astonishing gaiety,” he wrote.
Van Gogh’s Almond Tree in Bloom, 1888, resonates with me because it is a baby tree. So often we only see the picturesque in old trees.
The most well-known of his blossom paintings, of flowering branches against a blue field, has been reproduced on everything from ipod hardcases to duvet covers to switch plate covers.
It’s a pity this painting has been so misused, because he painted it in commemoration of the birth of his namesake nephew. “How glad I was when the news came… I should have greatly preferred him to call the boy after Father, of whom I have been thinking so much these days, instead of after me; but seeing it has now been done, I started right away to make a picture for him, to hang in their bedroom, big branches of white almond blossom against a blue sky,” he wrote.
Van Gogh was already studying flowering trees before he went to Arles. His Japonaiserie Flowering Plum Tree (1887, after Hiroshige) is a study in the Japanese woodcut style he admired so much.
I love orchards at any time of the year, but particularly in spring. This year I am feeling the same stirring to be out in an orchard when the apple trees blossom.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!