A family affair

Cecilia and her granddaughter. (Photo courtesy of Janith Mason)
Several workshop participants are traveling with their spouses, their children, grandchildren, and a niece. Yesterday, one of my students was watching the cavorting of some of these kids and remarked, “It’s so nice to see these kids here.”
Three sprites on a rock. The Maine coast is perfect for doing nothing. (Photo courtesy of Sandy Quang)
I agree. I’m not teaching them, but I’m enjoying having them with us. Some of them are drawing or painting along with their adults, too.
Look beyond the lighthouses and rocks and sea, and there are other parts of the landscape that are uniquely Maine. There is the light, which veers between sharp clarity and misty fog. There are the modest Maine capes of the early 19th century, with their steep roofs and gables. And there are the trees, shaped by the offshore breezes.
We started the day painting under a shelter, because it was cool and rainy. (Photo courtesy of Sandy Quang)
Yesterday dawned cool and misty, so we started painting in Belfast City Park, which has a shelter. One would never know that there was an opposite shore on the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River, with all the mist. What a great opportunity to work on painting the traps in trees in the style of the Canadian Group of Seven painters.
By mid-day we were able to move out from beneath cover. (Photo courtesy of Brad VanAuken)
Several workshop participants have asked me to post Loren’s color wheel on my blog. Loren made this as a way to teach himself how to mix the paints on his own palette. The outer ring is comprised of either the straight-out-of-the-tube paints themselves or mixes of two straight pigments. The next wheel is made of tints of the outer-wheel colors with white. Next are shades of the outer-wheel colors mixed with black. The center is the color mixed with its complement.
Loren made this color wheel to help himself better understand the pigments on his palette. I like the idea so much I suggested it to everyone as homework.
Today we are off to Mount Battie and Camden Harbor—a lovely end to a week that has just flown by.
My recommended palette–here in acrylics: white, cadmium or Hansa yellow, Indian yellow (transparent), cadmium orange, yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, naphthol red, quinacridone magenta, ultramarine blue, Prussian blue, black.
Message me if you want information about next year’s programs. Information is available here.

Lesson #1: sunscreen makes a lousy white paint

Three houses, a bad photo of a decent painting by little ol’ me.
It’s a little hard to get an hourly forecast for a specific spot on the Maine coast. It can be pouring in one place and clear in the next town over. However, not only was the National Weather Service calling for rain, my New York buddies were all talking about the whopping deluge they’d just gotten.
Lyn painting the Fort Point lighthouse.
No painting trip to Maine is complete without a lighthouse, and my intention had been for us to paint the Grindle Point Lighthouse on Islesboro. Without knowing exactly when it would start raining, relying on ferry transportation seemed unwise. Instead we drove north to the Fort Point light, where my charges promptly spread themselves across a quarter mile of terrain to paint. That is why I take my bicycle while teaching, although since the grounds include the ruins of a Revolutionary War fort, a mountain bike might have worked better.
Loren learned that the cover on his truck leaks.
The rain held off until  we could regroup at the hotel for a demo, which I did using Sandy’s kit.
Elizabeth and Sandy did some foraging for the painters.
It’s always hard to use someone else’s paint, and I was complaining that hers mixed poorly. That was partially because it’s not good paint, but it turns out that dab of white at the left of her palette was sunscreen, not paint. I’m not asking why it was there.
Dedicated students watching a demo in the rain. “I learned that you oil painters have it easy,” said Virginia.
A demo is a great opportunity to reach painters of all levels. Earlier in the day, I’d talked to Cecilia and Nancy about a new way of setting up their paintings than straight-up drawing. Both are naturally good compositors, but this technique gives more consistent control over the outcome. I was able to demonstrate that.
Nancy’s first attempt at the view.
After a while, Nancy left and went back to her own balcony to finish a painting she’d started earlier. When she was done with that, she painted the same scene again. I loved seeing how she integrated what I’d told her, and how it made the second painting stronger.
Nancy’s post-demo painting of the same view.

Message me if you want information about next year’s programs. Information is available here.

Rain affects people differently. This is the artist formerly known as Brad.

Let’s start at the very beginning

This is Janith’s second-ever painting, of tugboat reflections.

Lynn managed to find a place to paint where her feet could be in the water. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Coghill.

My favorite places to paint are harbors. I love boats of all kinds, I love the rise and fall of the tide, I love the work that goes on in them. Set into the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River, Belfast harbor is as lovely as any harbor on the coast. It is Newark to Camden’s Manhattan: it’s more industrial and less gentrified.
This is Stacey’s second-ever painting, of the tugboats themselves. Whew, what a lot of drawing!

Marjean ran to the art store and bought herself a palette knife at lunchtime. Since it was new, she used it to cut the cheese before resuming painting. 

But boats are not easy to draw, let alone paint, and I have three absolute beginners in this workshop.
Brad floating on the dock.

I have two youngsters with us who are not properly part of the workshop but who are still painting. Here’s Ilse amid the foliage. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Coghill.

A man and his son stopped to see Marjean and were dumbfounded when she said it was her second day painting. “She’s a ringer,” said the father. We laughed. Marjean has painted walls and windowsills and furniture, but never a painting.
And here’s Sophia with her grandmother, Virginia. Both girls are great young artists. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Coghill.
This is Marjean’s second-ever painting, of the boats in the outer harbor.
But as I told him, painting is a learned process, not some kind of magic trick. If you can break down the process into manageable steps, your students do a lot less fumbling. The process differs in different media, but is remarkably similar in different styles. The same rules apply whether the end result is abstraction or fine detail: if you want the paint to stick and the composition to work, you approach painting in a methodical way.

Cecilia dealt with the comings and goings of boats by working on two paintings. When one boat disappeared, she picked up the other canvas.. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Coghill.
Bernard attempted to recreate his missing boat from memory. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Coghill.

Message me if you want information about next year’s programs. Information is available here.

Where we meet the tide, and win (at least for yesterday).

Janith expresses my feelings exactly.
We started our painting week at the mouth of the Duck Trap River, which gave us several iconic Maine vistas—a rocky promontory, a shingle beach, small boats swinging on their lines, and a lovely old concrete bridge. The weather was superlative.
Nancy’s painting of Howe Point.
Marjean’s beautiful hat.
The first day of any workshop is dominated by questions of set-up, where new ideas meet old kits, or new painters learn to use their tools for the first time. This was exacerbated by having so many new painters in the group, but Sandy Quang is my monitor, and she helped get them all set up and working. I consider a first painting to be a success if the paint gets stuck to the canvas in a sensible order; everyone did that and much more.
Brad’s painting of the bridge and the Duck Trap River.
It’s very rare that I demo at the beginning of a workshop, but with so many new painters in the group, it made sense.
The tide presents questions of painting (as objects appear and disappear, and angles change) but the supermoon meant a supertide, and it was a thief. First it stole Hal’s belongings. Lyn went in after them, and rescued everything but his shoes. A team of friendly canoers kindly raced around the bar and saved his shoes. Then my umbrella went aloft and ended up in the drink. Hal returned the favor by diving in after it. My fault: I’ve already lost that umbrella once; in the Rio Grande, and I should have known to check that it was tethered. And the tide lifted two stuff sacks from Janith’s kit, too.

Dinghy, 8X6, oil on canvasboard, by me.
Critique session.
It’s a beautiful foggy morning today; my favorite for painting in harbors. And today we’ll be at Belfast’s public landing, so it is all working out perfectly.

Message me if you want information about next year’s programs. Information is available here.

I must be out of my mind

Painting by the light of the moon in beautiful Belfast.
Next time I schedule a full moon, it’s going to be during midweek in my workshop. We tried, we really tried, but we were too befuddled by travel and packing and unpacking to paint last night. Still, it was a lot of fun wandering down to the beach and watching the moonlight sliver the waves.
Bernard Zellar’s watercolor.
Our biggest problem was battery failure. Stacey was using the flashlight app on her cellphone (an app which always cracks me up) and it killed her battery. Nancy’s flashlight battery died. My two halogen flashlights—which never run down their batteries—both went for an amble.
Ain’t it lovely?
Still, I know the position of my paints on my palette, so how hard could painting in the pitch dark be? I blocked in a lovely soft blue-black for the night sky. Someone danced by with a light, and I realized it was actually bright violet.
On top of traveling all day, we’d had a few glasses of wine on the deck. What a fantastic group!
“Sandy, why don’t you finish this for me?” So she did—also without a light. By 9:30 PM we were all ready to call it a night. Tomorrow is the official first day of painting, and we want to be fresh for it.
Message me if you want information about next year’s programs. Information is available here.

Things they don’t teach you in art school

This is as far as the Eco-Warrior can go. From here, it’s on foot with a flashlight.
I learned a new word this week: dépaysement, which is that sense of disorientation one has on arriving in a strange place. It’s the perfect description of my initial shock at living in this cabin. As I’ve developed routines and some sense of familiarity, it’s gotten easier.
My bathtub, which I shared with a chorus of indignant bullfrogs.
I just finished my last night alone here. (I’m returning for one night at the end of my workshop, but I will have Sandy with me.) In the end, the things that I expected to bother me didn’t, and some things I never thought of at all proved very irritating. For example, I hate washing dishes without copious hot running water, but yesterday I succeeded at taking a sponge bath with a quart of cold water. 
This is a stovetop oven; it’s a neat little device that replaces the toaster oven or microwave in the on-the-grid kitchen. Working in the dark is a fact of off-the grid living. 
Being alone doesn’t bother me but walking alone up a dark path at night makes me very jumpy. I read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood at an impressionable age and can never quite shake my fear of two-legged predators in the silent countryside. Last week, my sleep was interrupted by a serenading coyote who was close enough that I could hear the thrum of his vocal cords. I decided to discourage him by sprinkling human urine in a large circle around my cabin. He hasn’t been back.
There are, of course, many consolations, including the incredible beauty of the landscape.

I would not describe myself as a girly-girl, but three weeks without the luxuries of 21st century grooming have left me feeling pretty disreputable. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to neatly shave one’s legs without running water. And walking in sandals on dirt paths grinds one’s pedicure away in no time.

Beans and eggs to the right, boiling drinking water to the left. It’s a propane stove hooked up to a standard gas grill tank. Without it, life would have been unbearable.
The fifteen bucks I spent on my portable toilet seat turned out to be my best investment. It is neater than using an outhouse, as long as one is diligent at burying waste, and the mosquitoes aren’t too bad if you go out to do that at first light.
My biggest difficulty has been in drinking enough water. I either need to boil it or carry it in, and I never seem to have enough time for the former or enough memory for the latter.
The off-the-grid coffee grinder. Really.
The darkness here is a force that presses against one’s consciousness, particularly in the deep woods. I love the beauty of the night sky, and the darkness feels friendly to me, but for many people, that much darkness is a problem. In winter in Maine, the sun sets in mid-afternoon. Then darkness will be an ever-present friend. In fact, for all the reasons that camping is more difficult in winter, living off the grid will be more difficult then, too.
The off-the-grid shoe-drying rack.
I have long been fascinated with the Tiny House movement, perhaps because I feel I’m saddled with too much house and too much stuff for this phase in our life. I find myself constantly bumping up against the lack of workspace in this 12X16 cabin. Put two people in here and it would be impossibly claustrophobic. Perhaps the people who thrive in Tiny Houses have no avocations except living in Tiny Houses, for my studio and my husband’s guitars alone would fill one up.
I think I could live like this if I had to, but having no sense of moral imperative to do so, I’ll be very happy to return to the interconnectedness of on-the-grid living.

Sorry, folks. My workshop in Belfast, ME starts today! Message me if you want information about next year’s programs. Information is available 

Last day painting at Camden

At Rest, available through Camden Falls Gallery.
Once again, I asked Harbormaster Steve Pixley for suggestions. Instead of just giving me ideas, he gave me a lift out to a floating dock, from which I painted the transoms of two lovely boats. Seeing clouds moving in, and knowing that there were thunderstorms predicted, I moved my operation back to the quay in midafternoon.

Even if I didn’t like the painting I did (and I do) I’m keenly aware of how blessed I am to be able to spend the day on a finger dock in Camden harbor, surrounded by beautiful boats.
A nice man put up a sun shade for me.
Alas, I wasn’t quite as quick on my feet as I was the day before, and my kit and I both got a good dousing. I found an overhang under which to shelter, and used a hand-dryer in the ladies’ room to blow the water off my wet canvas. (It worked perfectly.)

I met a newlywed couple from Dallas also dodging raindrops. They were bundled up and shivering; I was in a sleeveless shirt grousing at the rain. We are all acclimated to the climates in which we live.

The end of yesterday’s rain. I loved watching it pocking the water surface.
This evening from 5-7, you can stop by Camden Falls Gallery to see the opening of Camden Plein Air, featuring the work of more than a dozen gallery-represented artists. We’ve been infesting the streets and harbor for the past week or so. Our work is many and varied, and I can’t wait to see it all together.
In addition to my work, there are paintings by Todd Bonita, Lee Boynton, Jonathan McPhillips, Michael Vermette, and others.

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 


Clouds massing over Curtis Island, 12X9, oil on canvas, $395, Camden Falls Gallery.

The Curtis Island overlook is a lovely spot from which one can not only see the Curtis Island light, but can also look back toward Camden Harbor and Mount Battie.

I started painting there in late morning at low tide. The water was a lovely turquoise color one might think was impossible this far north. As I worked, I began to see pink clouds massing to the north. I recognized these clouds; they mass over Lake Ontario at times. When they’re barely distinguishable from the violet haze on the horizon, they tend to presage a thunderstorm.
Waiting out the thunderboomers.
I was just sliding the work into its frame when the first fat drops hit. I can kinda-sorta paint in rain, but I cannot frame in rain, so I moved my tools back to the Eco-Warrior and headed down to the Public Landing. Although the two spots are at most a quarter of a mile apart, it wasn’t raining in downtown Camden. I was able to get the work framed and delivered.
At which point the skies opened up. It is nice to know that I can read the weather in Camden the same way as I read it in Rochester.
Working Boats, 8X6, sold.
I decided to sit in my car and sketch two working boats on the floating docks. When the rain let up to a fine drizzle, I set up to paint. It was very quiet because of the weather; the only people around me were a photographer who wanted to take shots of my palette (it happens) and a couple waiting out the rain in a car behind me.
They’re taking that painting home with them. She loved watching the work progress from a sketch to a finished product. I love that it will always remind them of a day at Camden harbor.

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.

Up with the chickens

Lazy Jack II, oil on canvasboard, sold.
Yesterday, I got up at 4:15 in order to arrive at Camden Harbor at 6 AM. The harbor was hushed, but even by that hour there were men at work on the fishermen’s dock.
Almost three hours standing on a finger dock can undo the strongest legs, since the docks rock with the slightest movement. I was feeling it by the time the Lazy Jack II moved across the harbor to take on its first passengers of the day. I gratefully moved up to the quay and finished sketching in the boat’s rigging before it left harbor. The rest was just a matter of the setting, and since I’d already sketched the boathouse’s position in place, I didn’t need the Lazy Jack for that.
Camden Crossing, 16X12, oil on canvasboard, $650, contact Camden Falls Gallery.
In the afternoon, I decided to change it up and paint a street scene. I last did this on Labor Day weekend, and the traffic was so heavy that it was difficult to see the lower stories of the buildings. Surely a Tuesday in mid-summer wouldn’t be quiteas bad, right? Wrong. But here’s where painting in all kinds of places comes in handy: all those cars I’ve painted on city streets made it easy for me to block them in even when I couldn’t actually see much of them.
Getting up before the chickens is tough when you don’t have lights or running water. I found myself stumbling around in the gloaming trying to find a place to dig a hole. So this morning I’m taking it easy. I have an errand to run in Waldoboro, I need to fill my car with gas, I want to stop at Hannaford’s and when I’m done doing all those things, I’ll amble over to paint Curtis Island from Bay View Street.

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.

It’s complicated

Camden schooner fleet, 20X16, oil on canvasboard, $1085, contact Camden Falls Gallery.

Perhaps it’s my advanced age, but I think I’m channeling Grandma Moses this summer. (She was from Greenwich, New York, which is a tiny town near Glens Falls, so we have that Upstate thing in common.) I’m finding myself less interested in modeling with value and brushwork and more and more interested in creating complex patterns of flat color.

Luckily, I got it mostly painted before the boats started to leave on me.
Yesterday I was up at the crack of dawn so I could paint the schooner fleet at Camden. Even by my standards, this painting got awfully complicated, particularly when the fleet started to go out, one by one.
The kayak students went by so many times the instructor asked me if I’d included them in my painting.
But it all worked out just fine—I’d drafted the hulls first, so it was just a question of filling in the rigging. Today, I’m in search of the Lazy Jack II, and since I know it goes out at 9:45 AM, I’m going to try to get to Camden by 5:30. Which is why I’m keeping this brief.
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.