Back of beyond

Like it or not, we’re all in this web together. This particular web was at Wahconah Falls in the Berkshires, where I plan to stop to paint on my way to Maine in two weeks.
Non-New Yorkers always seem skeptical when we tell them there are vast tracts of our state that are uninhabited. Hamilton County, for example, sprawls over more than 1800 square miles of land, but its population is fewer than 5,000. That gives it a population density equal to North Dakota.
Since I leave—shortly—for the duration of the summer, I took a short trip this past weekend. I’ll be off-grid for much of the time I’m in Maine. I needed a better sense of what was negotiable with these old bones and what I can’t live without. I haven’t done any back-of-beyond camping in more than a decade.
My 2005 Prius–which went over 200,000 miles on Friday–has a perfect smartphone holder in the door. Amazing, since there were no smartphones when it was built.
Yes, I can still sleep in a tent and get up the next morning and be (relatively) limber, providing I have some kind of air mattress. Yes, it’s still a lot of work to camp, what with pitching a tent, hauling water and food and rolling and rerolling bedding. And although I used to like to cook over a campfire, I find it a pain these days.
Since I almost never paint from photos anyway, there is a declining advantage in hauling around my Panasonic DMC-LX5. If I’m just testing viewpoints for a painting–as here–I might as well use my pocket-sized computing device, a/k/a ‘phone’.
What has changed since I last went back of beyond is the nation’s cell phone network. I was on the top of a hill with no running water, no electricity, no septic, no artificial lighting of any kind—and an absolutely stellar 4G signal.
I’m thinking that will change how I interact with you while I’m on the road. Daily blogging without wi-fi or electricity may be difficult (although there are open wi-fi networks everywhere) but Instagram and Facebook are available everywhere. Does that mean my camera, with its beautiful, fast Leica lens, is obsolete in favor of my cell phone? Perhaps.
Of course, going off-the-grid with a party of youngsters is a little different from going with a party of painters. Mainly, the toys are noisier. (What we have here is a convoy.)

I have two openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

I may make rotten frames, but I have a perfect nose

My perfect nose. Eat your heart out, Georgia O’Keeffe.
So, it was another bad day, which I won’t go into, because I’m sick of cataloging failure. But when I finished twelve hours on my feet, I consoled myself with reading the Daily Mail, which has to be both the most ridiculous and most entertaining ‘news’ website out there. And the Daily Mail tells me that the perfect, sexiest nose is tilted at 106°.
So I take a selfie and, lo and behold, my nose is perfect. Never mind the wrinkles, the grey hair, the aching feet and legs… according to the Daily Mail, I am hot.
That certainly makes up for a bad day at work, doesn’t it? 
A few other dames with perfect noses.
I have two openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

This hasn’t been one of my better days

Usually making frames is my happy place. Not yesterday. This beautiful and perfect gilded frame? I mis-measured the painting.
In my father’s later years, he was a sad guy. Every evening he would say, “This hasn’t been one of my better days.” My husband and I both tend to run on an even keel, but when one of us has had a bad day, we find ourselves telling the other, “this hasn’t been one of my better days.” That’s both a private joke and a reminder that we are, in the bigger picture, blessed in ways my father couldn’t imagine.
Having said that, yesterday was not one of my better days. It started with the tedious business of cleaning and wrapping paintings to go to RIT-NTID’s Dyer Art Center. (I clean every painting with Winsor & Newton’s Artists’ Picture Cleaner before it’s shown.) From there I went into my shop to make frames.

Wrapping and tagging paintings is part of the glamour work of an artist. Mostly for local moving, you worry about the corners.
I love making frames almost as much as I love painting, but yesterday I mangled everything I touched. I made a perfect frame out of some luscious gilded stock, only to realize I’d mis-measured the painting. I had some lovely gunmetal frame stock I’d used for previous figure shows, and I cut a frame for my 36X60 nude and glued it, only to discover that I didn’t have a clamp large enough for it. I ran to the hardware store, which was out of the screws I needed, and ran home with mending brackets, with which I supported and reglued it. Frankly, it looks pretty bad.
Why am I messing up left and right? I want to go to Massachusetts to see my daughter this weekend and if I’m not done prepping for this show, I have to stay home. When I mix family and work, the ante rises fast. I don’t have a solution to this problem, nor would I want to. We should care more about our family than our work.
Then there are those lucky few paintings which have their own fitted packing crates. Those are usually paintings that travel a bit.
Meanwhile, my husband (he’s a programmer) went back to his office at 8:30 PM because he has a project that isn’t working and he also wants to go visit our kid. Some times, you just have to keep your head down and weather the storm.

I have two openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

You can paint anything if you can paint greens

View from Catherine’s gazebo, by Anna McDermott. (The color of these paintings is somewhat overblown because it was almost dark when I snapped these shots.)
There are places with gazebos in Rochester, but when there’s electrical activity on the horizon it helps if they’re not too far from a parking lot. Yesterday was a humid, dark day with thunderstorms forecasted for 5 PM. I went over my list of options with my student and pal, Catherine, ending up with the Fairport Library gazebo.
The actual scene she was painting. The greens of summer can be acidic and unvaried in New York.
“No, not that again!” she responded, and I had to agree. Although it overlooks the canal, it’s got boring sightlines.
View from Catherine’s gazebo, by Sandy Quang.
So we met in her gazebo, which overlooks a 10-acre pond. The trouble is, there’s a rain forest between the gazebo and the pond and no amount of chopping seems to keep the sightlines open.
The actual scene she was painting. 
All of which I knew before I got there, but I still love the view, since you’re looking across a thicket of sumacs to a far hillside. Of course, it’s all green, but greens are an excellent challenge. If you can sort out a painting from a thicket of scrubby trees, you can paint anything.
In the Forest of Fontainebleau took Camille Corot five years to complete (1860-65). I gave my students three hours.

I have three openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

The first day of summer

Poplar Grove Along the Shore, 9X12, oil on canvasboard, $395, by Carol L. Douglas.
The first day of summer found us huddled up against a cold wind off Lake Ontario, none of us sufficiently insulated against the cold. I’d recommended that my intrepid band of painters—sadly depleted now that the semester is ending—stay out of the direct sun so as to avoid overheating. Foolish me! I should have recommended we wear parkas instead.
It was a mistake to wear shorts. It was a mistake to not wear a parka.
The Great Lakes achieved record ice cover this past winter and we’re still feeling it. The water temperature off Rochester is 58° F, and the winds off the lake pick that up and throw it at us. So even when it was in the high seventies at my house—about five miles from the lake—it was in the low sixties in the shade near the lake.
In Rochester, it’s not too freaky to go to the beach wearing a parka and a bathing suit.
My students borrowed my car and drove to Don and Bob’s for hot drinks and fried food. It didn’t help that Anna then promptly dunked her brush in her tea (it happens), but the onion rings apparently sustained her.
Sandy painting in the poplar grove.

Eventually, we all went home and took hot baths, but it was worth it. A great day of painting!

I have three openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

How I’m spending my summer vacation

My show, God+Man, is at Bethel’s AVIV Gallery, 321 East Avenue, Rochester, until the end of June. This is a reprise of a show created for the Davison Gallery at Roberts Wesleyan, and it’s easy to visit: just enter through the rear Anson Place doors across from the Body Shop.

Our student show runs to the end of the month at the VB Brewery, 6606 Route 96 in Victor. (It’s still possible to bid on one of the abstractions there to benefit the Open Door Mission. The brewery is open Wednesday-Sunday.

On July 11, Stu Chait and I open “Intersections: Form, Space, Time & Color” at Dyer Arts Center at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. The show runs July 7–30. This includes more than sixty paintings. From me, that’s both my studio nudes and plein air paintings; from Stu, that’s mostly abstraction, although he does include a few plein air pieces from back when we first met.
From there I go to Maine, where I’m participating in Castine Plein Air from July 24-26. This event draws 40 juried artists from around the northeast to the historic city of Castine, home of the Maine Maritime Academy.

Next on the docket is Camden Plein Air, hosted by the Camden Falls Gallery. The painting dates are July 31-August 8, and the work will be hung in the gallery during the month of August.
Then my workshopruns from August 10 to 15 in Belfast, ME. There’s still room, but not very much, since I’m only teaching one of them this summer.

Then—after catching my breath for a day or two—I drive to Saranac Lake, New York, to participate in the Adirondack Plein Air Festivalfrom August 21-24. My friend and student Carol Thiel has been telling me about this for a while now, but what really clinched the deal was realizing that many of my Lower Hudson Valley PAP pals would be there.

I’ll be home for Labor Day!

I have three openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

It’s all about Michelle

Michelle will be happy that she finally has a face in this painting. (From my upcoming show with Stu Chait at RIT-Dyer.)

The other day I wroteabout photographer Terry Richardson and allegations that he abused his models. I said, “Artists and their models can be friends; sometimes they’re even lovers. But every artist-model relationship also involves an implied balance-of-power calculation.”
I’ve worked with a lot of models over the years, and I think my relationships with them have been professional and courteous. Over the years, several of them have become my friends, including Kate Comegys, Gail Kellogg Hope and Michelle Long.
Michelle as a sort of Madame X character. (From my upcoming show with Stu Chait at RIT-Dyer.)
Michelle is as close to an international model as Rochester has. She collaborated on a project with Keith Howard called “Eve’s Garden: The Lost Creation.” I wish I’d thought of this idea, because it revolved around the idea of printmaker Howard sending his painting work offshore to China. The result was visually pleasing and perfectly in tune with the zeitgeist.
Usually my skin-tones are modulated with grey, but I want the illusion of florescent light, so I’m using blue. Note there is no true red on my palette right now.
I’m finishing a painting of Michelle for my upcoming duo show with Stu Chait at RIT-Dyer. True to form, Michelle won’t be there; she is leaving to work in Uganda. If you want to support her at the Ugandan Water Project, go here.

This painting has been sitting unfinished for a long time, because I was mad at it. It taught me the limits of drafting huge paintings in my 18X18 studio. I ended up having to redraft her head and shoulders to correct the severe foreshortening.

Yep, those are my skintones. Along with my modulating colors, they gave me the faces above.
Occasionally someone asks me how to mix skin tones for different races. I think that’s a funny question, because I use exactly the same paints for everyone; only the proportions change. For that matter, I’m using the same paints I use to paint foliage.

I have three openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available 
here.

What you do when nobody’s looking

Ellwanger Berry Garden, 12X16, $650, by Carol L. Douglas.
Sure, I get to drive around and visit with fascinating people and go to interesting shows and occasionally pick up a brush and paint something, but I spend more time than I’d like on bookkeeping and that bugaboo of all sales: inventory control.
Stu Chait and I are putting the final details together for our upcoming show at RIT-NTID’s Dyer Arts Center, which opens July 11 from 4-7 PM. If you’re in town, you should really find a way to get there, since this is a sprawling show.
Manipulation in Red by Stu Chait.
Stu and I met at the Ellwanger Garden here in Rochester. We were the only painters there, so we stood at opposite ends of the garden and painted facing each other. I’ve long since sold that painting, but I painted another painting with him at the same place, which will be in this show.
It’s been years since I pulled out all my work to organize a show, but since the passage of time is part of our theme, I inventoried every piece of work I have in play right now. That is nearly a hundred pieces, which is less absurd when you consider that I have three separate bodies of work: landscape, figure, and faith-based. (Even with all those paintings, I am actually scant on work to meet specific summer commitments.)
The Servant, 36X40, $3000, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas.
What surprised me even more is how many paintings are no longer in my inventory.  Next winter I’m going to go through my photo archives and sales records and try to piece together a comprehensive catalogue. I loathe that kind of task, but if I don’t do it soon, I’ll never get it done.


I have three openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available 
here.

High art, 2014-style

Submission, 24X20, by Carol L. Douglas. $1500.
We have two competing views of women here at the start of the 21st century. Neither is healthy: woman as casual sex object vs. woman in a burqa. I painted Submission, above, at the beginning of the 2003 Iraq War. Sadly it hasn’t gotten any better in the last eleven years.
Terry Richardson is an American fashion and portrait photographer whose clients and models include the glitterati of New York. He has repeatedly been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. “Is Terry Richardson an Artist or a Predator” tells us that he’s both. However, he’s also a product of our culture.
  
Richardson’s assistant, Alex Bolotow, has been photographed fellating her boss many times, starting in her very early twenties. “There was something exciting about being involved in something that feels just really freeing,” she said, “like, ‘Oh, I’m totally expressing myself, and this is great.’ I remember being like, ‘I’m just glad to be alive in a time when this is happening.’”
Artists and their models can be friends; sometimes they’re even lovers. But every artist-model relationship also involves an implied balance-of-power calculation. In the case of Richardson and his models, that varied depending on who was in front of the camera.
“Miley Cyrus wasn’t asked to grab a hard dick. H&M models weren’t asked to grab a hard dick. But these other girls, the 19-year-old girl from Whereverville, should be the one to say, ‘I don’t think this is a good idea’? These girls are told by agents how important he is, and then they show up and it’s a bait and switch. This guy and his friends are literally like, ‘Grab my boner.’ Is this girl going to say no? And go back to the village? That’s not a real choice. It’s a false choice,” said an agent (who chose to remain nameless).
Terry Richardson likes to photograph his models in the nude, by which I mean he is in the nude. Here he is with Kate Moss in a shot from Terryworld. Sadly, that’s as innocuous a photo as I could find.
Richardson is an amazingly messed-up guy. He was the child of a broken marriage. His father was schizophrenic and drug-addled; his mother was brain-damaged. He’s taken his trauma and driven it brilliantly through a culture surfeited with sex. It’s what the public clamors for: used copies of his books sell in the thousands of dollars.
Is repugnance at his working methods a sign that our attitude has changed toward casual or even coercive sex? Not at all. Terry Richardson is just the sacrificial lamb for a culture that is still wallowing. Anathematize him, and he’ll be replaced.

Yes, the burqa is abusive, but so too is our current western approach to sex and relationships.


I have three openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available 
here.

Folk wisdom says

Red sky over the Duchy says I’ll have an opportunity to catch up on my studio work today.
Red sky at morning, sailors take warning;
Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.
Dawn this morning featured a lovely rose-colored sky. Since I trust the ancient couplet, above, as much as (or more than) I trust the Weather Channel, I’ll be teaching in the studio tonight.
How old is that couplet? It’s quoted in Matthew 16:2-3, making it at least two thousand years old:
[Jesus] answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

For those who don’t read sky signs and don’t trust their arthritis, there is NOAA’s weather page, with its hourly graphs. They include sky cover, which makes them the plein air painter’s best tool for predicting sunsets.
Joseph Mallord William Turner had a great interest in painting atmospherics. Here is his Sunrise, with a Boat between Headlands, c. 1835-40.
This wisdom works where there are strong westerlies, which happen in the middle latitudes (in which both Jerusalem and Rochester fall). Of course, I also use NOAA’s website; their hour-by-hour weather graph is the plein air painter’s best friend.

I have three openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.