Field testing my ultra-light pochade box

“Bluebell Hopyard,” by Carol L. Douglas, framed and ready to head out the the VB Brewery, where it will be for sale. $300.

Yesterday I wrote about buildingan ultra-light pochade box. When it was finished, I immediately took it out and field-tested it.

My pal and student Catherine Bullinger has wanted to paint at Bluebell Hopyard all season. This isn’t just a passing fancy: she and her husband run the VB Brewery in Victor and are committed to buying local supplies where possible.

Hops are tall and thin, kind of like my husband.
My back has been bothering me, so I elected to paint sitting down (which I only do infrequently). First mark in favor of the new easel: it works well from a seated position.
Hops are the weirdest darn crop. They have leaves like figs, are related to cannabis, and are perennial. The seed cones have been used to flavor beer since the 11th century.

The seed cones are what give the bitter overtones to beer.
Their bines grow up long, long supports—I would guess they grow 15-20 feet in the air. When the air is still, they stand like temple columns or Italian cypresses, but as soon as the breeze picks up, they dance. Finding a composition that caught the essence of their character was a challenge.
As we painted, the wind picked up. I have a tripod stone bag from my Guerrilla Painter easel, but I never needed to use it—the easel presented less of a sail surface than I expected.

Look at this beauty working!
My only complaint—and it’s manageable—is that the clip left a big unfinished area on the left side of the canvas. I corrected it easily enough, and I think I will use a different method of clipping next time.

The way I had it clipped, the left side needed work when it came off the easel.
The whole thing, including the tripod, fits in my frame backpack, which is a great advantage over my prior easel. Although I thought I’d miss the larger mixing surface, I think the 11X14 area worked just fine.

I will take it to Maine with me on Saturday, although I’ll have another easel as a backup.

Sorry, folks. My workshop in Belfast, ME is sold out. Message me if you want a spot on my waitlist, or information about next year’s programs. Information is available 

Making my own super-lightweight pochade box

The finished project, more or less.
Last month Johanne Morin and I painted together at Kaaterskill Falls. She had an efficient, lightweight easel, and her pack was so easy to manage that I begged her for information on how to make one for myself.
The primary parts of Johanne’s easel are a Saunders 10519 Recycled Aluminum Snapak Form Holder and a Promaster T525P carbon-fiber tripod. I purchased the former from Amazon and the latter from eBay. Johanne also used a pochade-box mounting plate from Guerrilla Painter but since I didn’t have time to track it down, I improvised with a block of hard red oak.
I’m not experienced working with aluminum, but my brother Robert was in town yesterday. He helped me assemble the easel. This is how we did it:
This is what the Saunders 10519 Recycled Aluminum Snapak Form Holder looks like when it arrives.
We used a pair of pliers to remove the pin holding the long aluminum inside cover.
The other extraneous piece, inside the box, is best cut off because it shares a pin with the main hinge. Here we used a Dremel with a cut-off wheel.
The female flange adapter for the tripod was countersunk with a 1″ bit.
Then the hole was drilled and the piece cut down to size.
Countersunk and glued.
Pilot holes drilled through aluminum and oak.
The wooden block was dimpled with a drill to accommodate the screwheads. But here the flange is on the wrong side. If the collar faces the aluminum, screwing it tight on the easel locks the whole assembly. (We realized it and turned it over.)
Don’t have a die to countersink the aluminum? Use one of those stupid screwdriver bits that came in a kitone you’ll never, ever use.
After we screwed the base plate in place, we needed to put a wire holders on the left in lieu of a support hinge. I have a gazillion d-rings for picture frames, so we used those, and popped them in place with a riveter.
Works just fine, and picture-hanging wire is great for holding it open, but I hate that glare.
So I masked and sprayed the inside of the box with red primer.

On the left, my current lightweight wooden pochade box and on the right, this aluminum box. No contest!

My investment for this project:

Used Promaster T525P carbon-fiber tripod: $163.43 on eBay.
Saunders 10519 Recycled Aluminum Snapak Form Holder: $35.27 on Amazon.
Female flange adaptor from my local hardware store: 75¢
Four 6X½ flathead screws: 44¢
One 27/64 drill bit: $9.88.

Tomorrow: how it works.

Sorry, folks. My workshop in Belfast, ME is sold out. Message me if you want a spot on my waitlist, or information about next year’s programs. Information is available here.

Who sez art doesn’t pay?

The Concert by Johannes Vermeer was one of 13 pieces, worth $300 million, stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston on March 18, 1990. This was the largest art heist in history and remains one of the great mysteries of the art world.
I came across this factoid in a dumb novel recently: art crime is the third most lucrative criminal trade, after drugs and weapons. The FBI estimates the trade in stolen art and antiquities to be $6-8 billion annually.
This ought to come as no surprise when Christie’s and Sotheby’s together turn over about $11-12 billion a year.
These statistics don’t begin to address the dollar value of the estimated 650,000 pieces looted by the Nazis in Europe. The value of that work is, simply, incalculable.
Poppy Flowers by Vincent van Gogh was stolen from the Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo, Egypt in 2010. The same painting had been stolen from the same museum in 1977, but was recovered ten years later in Kuwait.
My studio assistant, Sandy Quang, is finishing her MA in Art History. Like all liberal arts majors, she’s worried about getting a job, since she’s internalized the message that art careers don’t pay. But that’s nonsense, as a recent kerfufflewith President Obama pointed out: arts graduates are both working and satisfied with their jobs. After all, sellers need art historians to authenticate and research their product. Furthermore, ours is an intensively-designed world. From our cars to the pens in our hands, everything we touch must be both beautiful and symbolic of our values. That’s all the work of artists.
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt van Rijn is another painting stolen in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist of 1990. These paintings have never been recovered.
It’s no surprise that, when there aren’t enough precious works of art around, people will either forge or steal the stuff they want. But that should tell us something about art—it’s neither meaningless nor valueless. The vibrant criminal art economy tells us that art matters.

Sorry, folks. My workshop in Belfast, ME is sold out. Message me if you want a spot on my waitlist, or information about next year’s programs. Information is available here.

Gone to a private collection!

The Halve Maen Passing Hudson Highlands, by little old me.
If you want to see The Halve Maen Passing Hudson Highlands, above, you’ll need to get out to RIT-Dyer this month, because the painting is sold and will be shipped after Intersections of Form, Color, Time and Space closes.
I painted this for the 400th anniversary of Hudson’s voyage of exploration. From the native perspective, the boat is a black spot of melanoma, or the first eruption of the plague—something seemingly insignificant that will forever change the world. The brilliant colors are those of a dying day, a flaming sunset, the end of a season.
I love history but generally shy away from historical paintings. They have great potential to be pedantic. You must study the dress, weaponry, housing, jewelry, and landscape of the period, and then you must edit the regalia down to the point where it no longer drives the painting. The Lenape people, fortunately, are well-documented anthropologically and artistically, including in N.C. Wyeth’s The Hunter (1906).
Stu Chait and me at the opening of Intersections of Form, Color, Time and Space

My Dying Boudicca is on the left; his Atemito is on the right.
I have another historical painting in this show, Dying Boudicca (on the left, above). Boudicca was queen of the Icenis, and led the most successful uprising ever against the Roman Empire. She was married to a client king of the Romans. He was deeply in debt to Roman lenders at the time of his death. He left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Emperor, but on his death his kingdom was annexed as if conquered.
The Hunter, by N.C. Wyeth, accurately depicts pre-contact Lenape work togs. Wyeth trod the narrow line between historical accuracy and gripping painting with unerring taste.
Boudicca was beaten, her daughters were raped, and Roman financiers collected the swag. Boudicca rallied her people and the neighboring Trinovantes. They destroyed Colchester, London and St. Albans. Casualties among the Romans were estimated to be between 70,000 and 80,000 people. Of course the Britons were destined to eventually fail against such superior numbers. Rather than submit to capture and humiliation, Boudicca poisoned herself.

In my painting, Boudicca’s pomp and circumstance, represented by her purple robe, is discarded. At the moment of her death, she is a woman alone.

I’m leaving for Maine next week. Come join me! I’m down to one opening in my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

Opening tonight: Intersections of Form, Color, Time and Space

The Laborer Resting, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvas, 36X48, $3,750.
Several friends have sent me storiesabout Leena McCall’s oil painting of her friend, Portrait of Ms Ruby May Standing, being removed from a Society for Women Artists show in London because it was deemed to be pornographic. McCall painted her work in the flat style of mid-century English painters, and that’s the best part of the painting. She’s baiting a censorship that vanished decades ago. It’s her great luck (or planning) that she found someone—anyone—to object to it in this day and age.
The painting—although obvious—hardly dings my porn meter. I’m a born-again Christian who sometimes paints on the subject of women’s bondage. The only person who complains is my husband, who blocks them on his newsfeed so they don’t violate his employer’s policy.
The Joker, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvas, 30X40, $2,500.
My nudes, by the way, are on view at RIT-NTID’s Dyer Art Centerthis month. The show, Intersections of Form, Color, Time and Space, opens tonight, from 4-7 PM. I hope you’ll come out and say hello. RIT’s campus is lovely, and this would be a fantastic evening to be out there.
Unlike McCall, I’m taking an anti-pornographic stance. I’m painting about the abuse and objectification of women. You would think that a culture that aspires to complete equality for women would see less of this, not more, but these two trends have increased, not decreased, in my lifetime.
Submission, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvas, 24X20, $1,500.
I nursed all four of my kids and nobody ever tried to shame me about it. So I’m amazed at the stories my young friends tell about women being harassed for nursing in public. My friend Tim Vail pointed out that there are centuries of images of nursing mothers. “It seems like the more sexualized our culture gets, the more repression there is over what used to be completely normal.”
I’m afraid we’re living at the high-water mark of women’s rights worldwide. And that’s what I’m painting about. The more I paint, the less able I am to explain the material in words, so I hope you come out tonight to see them.
The Dyer Arts Center is in Lyndon Baines Johnson Building at Rochester Institute of Technology, 52 Lomb Memorial Drive, Rochester, NY 14623Intersections of Form, Color, Time and Space, featuring abstract-expressionist Stu Chait and realist Carol Douglas, is in all three galleries during the month of July.

I’m leaving for Maine next week. Come join me! I have two openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

Medicine’s Michelangelo

Watercolor of arteries of the human head shows Netter’s understanding of the humanity underneath the human anatomy.
Dr. Frank H. Netter was the illustrator of one of my favorite—and most well-thumbed books—the Atlas of Human Anatomy. His is a wonderful cautionary tale for those of you who think you can’t make a living in art.
A native New Yorker, Netter grew up wanting to be an artist. He studied at the National Academy and the Art Students League. It was the tail end of the Golden Age of Illustrating, and he was doing work for the Saturday Evening Post and the New York Times out of high school.
However, Netter’s parents were immigrants, and they had no truck with the idea of their son being an artist. Mama wanted him to get a real job, so he went to medical school.
The most-thumbed page in my copy is his painting of back muscles. It’s saved me from making dumb mistakes countless times.
“This was in 1933—the depths of the Depression—and there was no such thing as medical practice,” he recalled. “If a patient ever wandered into your office by mistake, he didn’t pay.” In a deliciously ironic twist, Netter was forced to fall back on art to supplement his income as a doctor. After an advertising executive paid him $7500 for a series of five illustrations—more than he could earn in a year of practicing—he gave up medicine.
In 1936, Netter did his first commercial work for the Swiss pharmaceutical company CIBA. This fold-up illustration of a heart (to promote digitalis) proved very popular, and grew into a series. Eventually they were distributed as cards wrapped in a folder with advertising content. This ultimately morphed into his Atlas of Human Anatomy.
But today I’m going in to have my digestive tract inspected… parts of it should look about like this, I imagine.
My edition of the Atlasincludes about 600 color plates. This is a fraction of the 4,000 illustrations he did over his lifetime. The bulk of these were owned by CIBA and its successor, Novartis.
Netter’s immigrant parents would have been astonished at the legacy left by their artist son. Wealthy during life, he is remembered today as one of the leading medical educators of his time. His book is faithfully revised by a team of medical experts, and you can now buy a subscription to it online.

While you’re reading this, I’m at Highland Hospital having a colonoscopy and an endoscopy. When I get the all-clear, I’m leaving for Maine. Come join me! I have two openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

This is your brain on art

The artistic hands of Anna Battaglia McDermott. 
Rochester’s School of the Arts graduates around 90% of its students. The overall Rochester City School District graduates an astonishingly-bad 43% of its students. Although this has been the subject of much discussion, the idea that art itself influences the mind seems to have escaped both the pundits and the pedagogical establishment.
Hydrangeas, by Sandy Quang, painted last night. Not even a deluge could stop them from painting.
Various studies have shown that making art reduces stress and help us process traumatic events. In itself, that ought to justify art education. But those of us who make art know that it’s an intellectual discipline like mathematics or grammar, and as such, it helps develop the brain.  A recent studyvalidates that.
Over 10 weeks, scientists at the University Hospital Erlangen asked elderly men and women to participate in hands-on art classes, while a control group took an art appreciation course. Researchers discovered “a significant improvement in psychological resilience” among those who actually drew and painted. 
Birches, by Nina Koski, painted last night. 
The fMRI scans of the art-class group also showed improved efficacy in the parts of the brain associated with cognitive processes like introspection, self-monitoring, and memory.
“The participants in our study were required to perform the cognitive tasks of following, understanding, and imitating the visual artist’s introduction. Simultaneously, the participants had to find an individual mode of artistic expression and maintain attention while performing their activity. Although we cannot provide mechanistic explanations, the production of visual art involves more than the mere cognitive and motor processing described. The creation of visual art is a personal integrative experience – an experience of ‘flow,’ – in which the participant is fully emerged in the creative activity,” wrote the authors.
Gate, by Anna McDermott, painted last night.
Art and music education are the first things we cut when school budgets are in trouble. Meanwhile, a 2012 study found that the total spending on ADHD (just one of many forms of maladaptation to modern school) ranges from $143 billion to $266 billion a year. Perhaps more art classes and fewer drugs are in order.
Young Ilse thinks she’s having fun. Please don’t tell her this is good for her.

Come to Maine and learn to paint. I have two openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

The sunscreen dilemma

Excessive sun and skin exposure isn’t something we worry about in the northeast. This is Sue Leo painting in Rockport, ME, with me last summer. Cool and damp, which is why we all have such lovely skin.
When I was identified as having a gene for Lynch Syndrome, I resolved to be better about applying sunscreen when outside painting or teaching. After all, if you learned you had a mutation that made you vulnerable to lung cancer, you’d hardly keep on smoking, would you?
The problem is that I just can’t seem to break the sun habit. I live in the far north, where we have two months in which we can shed our layers. And I’m chronically Vitamin D-deficient (which is endemic here in the Great Lakes region). Higher levels of vitamin D are associated with better outcomes for colorectal cancer, which I’ve had once and am at a high risk of having again.
When it’s sunny, we’re often bundled up and exposing very little skin. Here we are painting at Owl’s Head, Maine, last October.
A new study seems to indicate that even high-SPF sunscreen provides insufficient protection against melanomas (the skin cancer that kills) although they provide adequate protection against the less-aggressive squamous-cell carcinomas.
 “UV light targets the very genes protecting us from its own damaging effects, showing how dangerous this cancer-causing agent is,” said lead investigator Professor Richard Marais of the University of Manchester’s Cancer Research UK Institute.
His research found that SPF 50 sunscreen did not protect against the development of melanoma with UV sunlight exposure. Although sunscreen protects us against sunburn, it might not protect against skin cancer.  
When it all comes together—sun, warmth and subject—it’s hard to remember to stop and put on sunscreen.
Does this mean I can stop worrying about sunscreen when I’m outside painting? Sadly, no. “This work highlights the importance of combining sunscreen with other strategies to protect our skin, including wearing hats and loose fitting clothing, and seeking shade when the sun is at its strongest,” said Professor Marais.
Well, I do wear a hat, and capris instead of shorts. I could add ¾ length sleeves. But no socks. Socks with sandals are ridiculous.

Buy some sunscreen and come to Maine and learn to paint. I have two openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

Did you miss your calling?

Dr. Seuss was a successful commercial artist when, at age 34, he wrote his first book, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.” It was rejected by publishers dozens of times. He was in his late 40s when he began successfully writing and selling children’s books. He did this advertisement in the 1930s.
This past week I had conversations with two artists about the feasibility of being a full-time artist.
One is a woman with a young family, a mortgage, an MFA and a good (albeit temporary) job. Judging by the work I’ve seen, she has prodigious talent. If given the opportunity for a permanent position, should she take it? Or should she chuck that idea and try to work as a waitress nights and weekends so that she can still make art.
As a working mother, she is already doing two jobs. Adding a third job will be difficult, if not impossible. Until her kids are old enough for school, she’d be smart to do whatever pays best, and save money against the day she drops the day job and takes up painting again. In the meantime, she can carve out a small corner of her house and a few hours a week to nurture her talent, even if it’s by sketching in her spare time.
Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses, was the poster girl for late-life career changes, having turned to painting in her seventies. Here, Country Fair, 1950.
In essence, that’s what I did. I worked in the marketplace until I was in my late 30s, when a combination of life events made it possible—mandatory, even—for me to resume painting. (There was a time when our society acknowledged that raising children was valuable work. Now, childrearing is supposed to run silently in the background, taking no time or effort at all.)
One of my painting students has an MBA and work experience in an area of business analysis I won’t pretend to understand. She picked up brushes in response to a life crisis and in the process discovered that she has a real affinity for it.
On Saturday, we discussed what the next step might be for a person who wants to start selling paintings. As so often happens with these things, Life answered her question; she was approached about doing a solo show at a local venue.
Vincent Van Gogh didn’t actually start painting until he was in his late 20s, when he only had a decade left to live. Most of his masterpieces were created in the last two years of his life. Wheat Field with Crows, 1890, is generally accepted to be his last painting.
That’s a tremendous affirmation, but as we old-timers know, a show is just a doorway through which you enter the next phase of your work. She still has a long, hard slog ahead of her, but she has the character to endure it.
Neither of these women will find it an easy road. But in both cases, I think they will find something very valuable comes from it.

Come to Maine and learn to paint before it’s too late. I have two openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

The real reason I hate Hobby Lobby (and all those other craft stores)

Coral ranunculus at $9.99 a stem on Hobby Lobby’s website. At that rate, a nice floral arrangement would cost what a month’s worth of painting lessons would run you. 
The Census bureau reports that the nation’s international trade deficit in goods and services increased to $47.2 billion in April, as exports decreased and imports increased. (Imported goods and services, by the way, were the highest on record.) The May report will be out at the end of this week, but the news will be depressingly familiar; our trade deficit is about $450 billion a year and it only goes down when Americans are too scared to shop.
I realize that very little of this is from the stuff they sell at craft stores, but what always interests me about these places is how useless most of the stuff they sell is, and how none of it is made in the US.
But why pick on Hobby Lobby? I dutifully put all the stuff necessary to make this Pantone Radiant Orchid Wood Birdhouse in my online Michael’s cart, and it added up to $81.95. That’s about what a factory-reconditioned compound miter saw would cost, and with that you could make something useful.
“Hobby Lobby’s main shoppers are women of all ages. Because of the dependence on disposable income, the company’s stores do best when located in an area with demographics from lower middle class to upper middle class,” reported a shopping center trade rag.
Crafting used to be about saving money: women sewed, we canned, we remade old furniture. Now crafting is a $30 billion entertainment industry. The irony is that none of the stuff in these stores is cheap, and none of it has much to do with either art or craftsmanship.
We are drowning in all the stuff we buy, much of it which will never be used. Many of us then turn to professionals (like Nestle and Bloom, whose photo this is) to put it into some kind of order. That costs even more money.
Meanwhile, crafting’s target demographic carries significant credit-card debt. In 2012, people with incomes of $35,000 or less averaged $5,400 in credit card debt, those making $35,000 to $49,999 averaged $6,700 in credit card debt, those earning $50,000-$74,999 category had $8,900 of credit card debt, while those making more than $75,000 carried $9,200 in debt. And those numbers are down a third from their 2008 highs.
People borrow money they don’t have to buy stuff they don’t need. It clutters up their homes and will eventually be tossed into landfills. It adds to our trade deficit and our dependence on foreign oil. To me, that’s the real moral calculation one has to make before visiting a store like Hobby Lobby.

The heck with that. Come to Maine and learn to paint instead. I have two openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.