Taking stock (part 2)

Happy New Years!  6X8, Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday I wrote that I was surprised that I’d met my goals for 2014, with the exception of selling my house (deferred so my son could finish high school in Rochester).Here are my goals for 2015:
1.       To do a better job with this “accountability partner” thing. I got lucky last year.
2.       To finally learn to update my own website so I don’t have to whine at my children to do it for me.
3.       To identify meaningful ministry and pursue it. To have a talent is nothing if one doesn’t do something for one’s fellow man with it.
4.       To identify and purchase an investment property in Maine, one that will generate income while allowing me a place to rest my tired head.
5.       To create a master schedule of plein air events I want to do. While I realize I could just ‘follow the wind’ and still be working every week, it would be nice to be a bit more organized.
6.       To paint and show a series about wooden boats under sail.
7.       To get stronger and fitter so that I’ve got more energy when the summer painting season comes around again.
8.       To make this year’s Sea & Sky workshop a great experience for my students.
Angel, 6X8, Carol L. Douglas
Whew, that’s a lot of goals!
Somewhere out there, my accountability partner is schlepping her way home from New Jersey. After she recovers from the traffic and the noise, I hope she has a chance to email me hergoals.
Double Rainbow with Unicorn, 6X8, Carol L. Douglas
What about you, fellow painters? Are you willing to commit your professional goals to ink this year?
Santa (blonde), 6X8, Carol L. Douglas

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!

Taking stock

Any summer spent in Maine is a good summer.

In 2014, I had an accountability partner. Last January, we agreed to check in with each other once a month to review our goals. This was a flawed plan because she is a recluse and I hate talking on the phone. Then I lost my notes to myself and forgot about the whole thing.

Kaaterskill Falls, 8X10, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas. In June, I painted in the Catskills with NYPAP members from across the state. Another iteration of Paradise.
Nevertheless, because no thought on the internet is ever really gone, I was able to find my 2014 goals. They were modest:

–Regain my fitness levels from October, 2013, in terms of health and work;
–Finish and hang my show at Roberts Wesleyan opening 3/24;
–Get a workshop schedule together for 2014 and market it;
–Get my house on the market.

      My on-the-road shoe drying rack.
      I started the year just a few days out from cancer surgery, so at the time I wrote these goals, I could barely walk, let alone work. Despite this, I finished the show for Roberts Wesleyan, and it opened to plaudits. I went on to have another solo show at Aviv Gallery downtown, and a duo show with Stu Chait at RIT’s Davison Gallery, plus showed and sold many other pieces in galleries.

      Dead Wood, 48X36, oil on linen, 2014, by Carol L. Douglas, from God+Man show.
      Likewise, my workshop managed to get marketed; in fact, it sold out. And my fitness levels are good—until I got the creeping crud a few weeks ago, I’d have said they were better than in October, 2013.

      The last week of summer I spent painting with these amazing women in Saranac Lake, New York. From left, Mira Fink, Crista Pisano, me, Marlene Wiedenbaum, Laura Bianco, Kari Ganoung Ruiz, Tarryl Gabel.
      In fact, the only thing on this to-do list that I didn’t get done was selling my house. And that wasn’t due to my inactivity, but because my son decided he wanted to finish high school here. Since it wasn’t a critical matter, we deferred selling for a year. That meant, of course, that I lived alone in Maine for the summer months, which convinced me that I don’t like living apart from my family.

      Teaching, whether in Rochester or Maine, is my first love, and I’ve gotten to do a lot of it this year.
      Note that none of these goals were financial. In my life, it seems that if I take care of the work itself, the money almost takes care of itself.

      Tomorrow: goals for 2015.

      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!

      Drawing the genie from the bottle

      Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers, 1888, Paul Gauguin. If still life couldn’t express emotion, Van Gogh’s sunflowers wouldn’t move us.

      I have a young Facebook friend on the other side of the country who likes to draw. I try to give him pointers long-distance, but that isn’t always easy. His problems are less technical than emotional. He was the victim of significant and deep abuse and is now separated from his family. He has a creative block—lots of ability, lots of feelings, but he’s been taught (or taught himself) to repress them so deeply that even expressing them through drawing is difficult. His default behavior is to anesthetize his feelings with drugs, not unpack them and look at them.
      He often asks, “What should I draw?” This is not a question most teens ask; usually their ideas outrun their skill. It doesn’t mean his creativity is impaired; it means he has his thoughts and emotions bottled up. The genie-in-the-bottle is so big that it must be unpacked and examined piece by piece.
      If he were here, I would have him draw and paint still lives. They have no meaning of their own. They are a means through which art students learn technical skills. However, powerful emotions have a way of leaking out around the edges no matter what the subject matter is.
      Red Poppies and Daisies, 1890, Vincent van Gogh
      Yesterday, I was coming back from New Jersey, and found this Facebook message from him: “How do I make drawings of how I feel? What do I draw? I want to draw it but I don’t know how.”
      In recent weeks, my friend has made a good start by drawing the temple that symbolized his abuse. He has drawn it consumed by fire, wrapped in a snake, destroyed by a fire-eating dragon. It doesn’t take a psychologist to see this as a leap forward.
      I often refer to Vincent van Gogh when discussion the importance of practice in drawing. This is Miners in the snow at dawn, drawn in 1880.
      Earlier this year, I wrote about a test called the House-Tree-Person. As initially designed by John Buck in 1948, this test was meant to be purely subjective—the artist would draw a house, a tree, and a person. The psychologist would interpret them.
      And this is Road with Pollard Willows and Man with Broom, from 1881. What a year with a sketchbook can do!
      I suggested to my young friend that he start by drawing these three things. They are both universal and meaningful, because they represent home, life and growth. But I’m a painting teacher, not a therapist. Any of you with proper qualifications who want to chime in with suggestions, they would be very helpful.

      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!

      Better than a marked-down sweater, any day

      Sea & Sky Workshop
      August 9-14, 2015 
      Acadia National Park
      If Santa Claus screwed up this Christmas, it’s up to you to remedy it, and I don’t mean by running down to the mall to score some great Boxing Day deals. By next summer, they’ll be a distant memory, but we’ll be gearing up to paint at Schoodic Point from August 9-14, 2015
      You’ve got less than a week to get the $125 early-bird discount. Four slots of the twelve are already filled, but I DO want to be able to pass on these savings to you. And I can’t do that if I don’t have your registration in hand by January 1.
      Corinne at Owl’s Head in 2013.
      I spend a great deal of time stalking and bagging perfect venues for my workshops. I’m really excited about this one. In 2014, we painted the ‘quaint’ Maine coastline, along the sheltering coast of Penobscot Bay. This year, we’re going for the thundering, open ocean.
      Schoodic Point is far from the hustle of Bar Harbor, but it is has the same dramatic rock formations, pounding surf, and stunning mountain views that make Acadia a worldwide tourist destination.
      The places we’ll go!
      Open sea, stunning views of Cadillac Mountain, and veins of dark basalt running through red granite rocks are the dominant features of this “road less traveled.” Pines, birch, spruce, cedar, cherry, alder, mountain ash, and maples forest the land. There are numerous coves, inlets, islands, and lighthouses.
      Here is the brochure. Here is the registration form. I’m off to Philly for the weekend, but take a moment to sit down and send your registration form in. I promise you it will be a lot more satisfying than a new sweater set in 2014’s color of the year.

      Merry Christmas!

      Winter Landscape, 1811, Caspar David Friedrich
      Our celebration of Christmas is heavily Germanic in origin, marrying the gift-giving and merrymaking of Saturnalia with Yule logs, Christmas trees, greenery, mistletoe and other northern European traditions.
      Fir Trees in the Snow, 1828, Caspar David Friedrich
      Caspar David Friedrich seems like a fitting painter for today. Born in the last years of the Enlightenment, he was a profound romantic, a German landscape painter who saw allegory and symbolism in everything. He was anti-classical and moody—in short the polar opposite of the Age of Reason. Yet if you look at his superb drafting and paint handling, you see that he was a technician of great skill.
      Passage Grave in the Snow, 1808, Caspar David Friedrich
      A strict adherence to rationalism shortchanges the human capacity for thought. We have blinding intuition, we have emotional response, and we have gut reactions. To deny any of these processes is crippling. A strictly linear thinker can’t make the leaps of creativity necessary to be inventive. A strictly intuitive thinker hasn’t got enough grounding in reality to be productive. A strictly emotional thinker is, often, just plain crazy.
      Christmas itself commemorates something profoundly non-rational: the idea that God would come down to share our suffering, and lift the price of sin from our shoulders.
      Early Snow, undated, Caspar David Friedrich
      But critics of Christianity make a mistake in thinking that it is anti-rational. From the initial question of whether the universe had a cause, to the faith’s remarkable endurance, to the stunning internal logic within its books, the Bible is a complex and coherent document. I’ve just been reading the Books of Chronicles. On the one hand, they are the historical record of a series of kings. On the other hand, they set the stage for a great restoration that augurs the concept of grace. There are too many examples of this to even list.  If the Bible was the work of obscure sheep-wranglers from a two-bit kingdom in the Middle East, as its critics say, it represents a literary accomplishment with no parallel in history.
      Trees in the Snow, 1828, Caspar David Friedrich
       Five people can read the Bible, and one of them will be struck dumb by it, and the other four will think, well, they can cross that off their list. For that one person, the Word becomes the organizing principle of his life, and he admits a relationship to the Living God that will change him forever.
      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!

      Requiescat in pace

      Playland Beach View, Seth Nadel (done at Rye Painters on Location)
      Yesterday my pal Crista Pisano texted me that a mutual acquaintance died suddenly. He is Seth Nadel, a landscape painter from Highlands, New York. He died doing something he loved—playing tennis—but that doesn’t negate the fact that a fine painter and caring teacher has been taken from the Hudson Valley art scene.

      Times Square, Seth Nadel
      I did not know Seth well, but we had a passing acquaintence: we did the Rye Art Center’s Painters on Location together for years. Seth had a BFA from Cooper Union and studied at the Art Students League. He taught painting at the Barrett Art Center in Poughkeepsie.
      While I’m celebrating Christmas this afternoon, I will be remembering not only my loved ones who have passed away this year, but my friends who have sustained similar losses.

      Hudson Valley View, Seth Nadel (done for Rye Painters on Location)
      The peace of God be with you today and always. Happy Christmas.

      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!

      Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

      Chelsea Workhouse: A Bible Reading (Our Poor), by James Charles, 1877.
      All Rochester has been talking about the city bulldozing a tent city occupied by the homeless right before Christmas. We’re at the Sturm und Drang phase of the political theater; close on its heels will be the farce. In the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge, let’s revisit the history of the workhouse.

      Charity, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, engraving
      The first recorded almshouse in Britain was founded around 900 AD by Æthelstan; there is an almshouse from the 12th century still functioning in Winchester. Some almshouses were attached to monasteries; others were independent. Monks, nuns and their lay helpers cared for lepers, the poor, pilgrims, or the sick; the terms “hospital” or “hôtel-Dieu” were also used, because the work of almsgiving and medicine overlapped.
      Hôtel-Dieu de Paris, circa 1500. 
      After the population of Europe was laid waste by the Black Death, laborers (in one of the few examples in history) found themselves in great demand. In 1388, the Statute of Cambridge introduced regulations restricting their movements, which effectively restricted their wages. This legislation also made county government responsible for the poor. Ultimately this would be refined to include a formal tax for poor relief and a system of oversight by each (church) parish vestry.
      Collecting the Offering in a Scottish Kirk, John Phillip
      The problem of the poor was exacerbated by Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. The religious had not only provided charity, they had provided employment. A few years later, The Poor Relief Act of 1576 established that the principle that if the able-bodied poor needed support, they had to work for it. This would remain the theme of public assistance right up to the 20th century, with harsh penalties for idleness.
      Poor Blind East End London Stepney Workhouse, 1890, print, artist unknown
      The beginning of the 19th century was a lousy time to be poor. Mass unemployment followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars. This combined with a series of terrible harvests and the industrialization of rural employment to swamp the parish-by-parish relief system. The New Poor Law of 1834 required that the indigent enter poorhouses to get help. The tenor of the time meant that some administrators were gung-ho to make a profit on the unpaid labor of the people they were supposed to be helping. The work was backbreaking—crushing stones or “picking oakum,” which meant unraveling old ropes so that the fibers could be reused for caulking timbers in boats. In 1862, girls under 16 at Tothill Fields Bridewell had to pick 1 pound of oakum a day, and boys under 16 had to pick 1½ pounds. Over the age of 16, girls and boys had to pick 1½ and 2 pounds respectively.
      Some Poor People, Henry Herbert La Thangue
      In America, the workhouse often took the form of a poor farm, which might be in the same complex as a prison farm. These were municipally run, and, like the workhouses, operated until the Social Security Act of 1935 provided basic support for the elderly.
      An Almshouse Man in a Top Hat, Vincent Van Gogh, 1882
      The “tramp” or “hobo” has existed since antiquity (in the form of the “wandering beggar”). They became more common with the Industrial Revolution, with its ill-paying, marginalized casual labor and endemic housing shortages. In the United States, trainhopping became a viable means of transportation after the Civil War, used by hobos. These migratory homeless men developed their own culture, signs, and language. The tramp or hobo was homeless, but he was very much a working man, in contrast to the “bum,” who stayed in one place and was generally not motivated to work.
      Hobo and Dog, Norman Rockwell, 1924

      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!

      Cast of thousands

      Removing the mold from a terra cotta Santon.
      This is the latest my crèche set has ever come out of hiding for Christmas, but at last the multitudes grace my mantelpiece. The festivities can commence. Last December, I wrote about the history of nativities, here.
      I’m fascinated by crèche sets, and every year I entertain the idea of making a set of nativity figures myself. There are just a few techniques used to make them, and the biggest challenge is to choose one and learn it.
      Italians, in particular Neapolitans, are the masters of terra cotta and carved nativity sets. This is from the Vatican in 2012. 
      We are all familiar with Hummel figurines, which were introduced in 1935 as part of the porcelain line of W. Goebel Porzellanfabrik, which is in turn part of an even greater Bavarian tradition of painted porcelain. In fact, if you’re an American of German ancestry, you can hardly avoid the stuff, since it was collected avidly by expats living here.
      This animated Italian molded polychrome horse would set you back $240 plus shipping and handling, if you could get it. It’s sold out.
      Among the many Bavarian export porcelains were molded ceramic nativity sets. The Goebel nativity sets are highly collectible today, but I’ve never come across a set of molds.

      If you think vintage Goebel nativity sets are cute, be prepared to dig deep in your pocket; they can easily set you back a grand or more.
      If you own a plastic nativity set, it’s likely to have been made for the American market by Fontanini, which successfully caught and rode the 20th century American trend of voracious collecting. There are hundreds of different figurines available, every fanciful character with its own fanciful backstory.
      That there was no reason for a centurion or a miller or a goose girl to be at the stable on the night of Christ’s birth has never stopped Fontanini from expanding its cast of thousands. At $20 a figure, it pays to spread the Good News.
      Emanuele Fontanini founded the firm in 1908 as a craft workshop in Bagni di Lucca, making papier mache figurines. In the 1960s, his descendent, Mario, figured out how to translate the traditional figurines into injection-molded plastic, and an empire was born.  Alas, injection-molded plastic is beyond my capabilities.
      The last time I made a creche figure was in the late Sixties, in Sunday School. I’m thinking of marketing that figurine in the red gown as Leah the Leper. My painting skills have improved since then, I think.
      Naples is the place to go for papier mache, carved, or clothed terra-cotta polychrome nativity sets. This being a living, changing art form, it should come as no surprise that one can now buy them animated and lighted. No joy looking for the molds here, either; the best I could find were molds for chocolate nativity sets.

      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!

      Be prepared!

      With a sketchbook, even the Emergency Room is tolerably interesting. This, from last month’s visit.
      Yesterday morning I struggled up out of sleep to the sound of my phone ringing. My second oldest child was taking her turn with the collywobbles-sans-merci and needed a doctor. Without thinking much about it, I threw my clothes on my back, my backpack in my car, and slipped down the Thruway to Buffalo.
      Any place people are sitting, there’s a drawing waiting to happen.
      I drill into my kids that they should carry a scraper, candle, matches,  chocolate or energy bar, small folding shovel, and an extra jacket or blanket in their car. The deaths in Buffalo last month should be a reminder that this is not just motherly paranoia, but a reality for America’s snow belt.
      You will never be bored, or at least not impossibly bored.
      I’m going to add one thing to my own list: a sketchbook. Even though I’m an old pro at hospitals, the before-dawn phone call rattled me, and I didn’t check to be sure it was in my backpack. I spent nine hours in waiting rooms, and all I could find to draw on was my own eyeglasses prescription.
      Neither waiting room had magazines, which were, in my day, the last refuge of the terminally-bored person. They’ve apparently been replaced by large television sets. Daytime TV is shockingly bad. I might have already known this except that when I’m in waiting rooms, my practice is to burrow in with my pencil, drawing the passing parade.
      And occasionally, waiting rooms contain delightful surprises, like this elegant skeleton.
      Let that be a lesson to me. Be prepared. Make sure my sketchbook is always in my backpack where it belongs.
      Oh, and my daughter is doing fine, thanks.

      Remember, you’ve got until December 31 to get an early-bird discount for next year’s Acadia workshop. Read all about it 
      here, or download a brochure here

      Gender and creativity

      Couple, 24X30, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
      Yesterday, I was reading a short essay by Maria Popova on the premise that psychological androgyny is a trait of highly creative individuals. What fascinated me were the quotes she chose from her source, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:  
      … When tests of masculinity/femininity are given to young people, over and over one finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers…

      Waiting, 24X36, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
      Psychological androgyny [refers] to a person’s ability to be at the same time aggressive and nurturant, sensitive and rigid, dominant and submissive, regardless of gender. A psychologically androgynous person in effect doubles his or her repertoire of responses and can interact with the world in terms of a much richer and varied spectrum of opportunities…
      It was obvious that the women artists and scientists tended to be much more assertive, self-confident, and openly aggressive than women are generally brought up to be in our society. Perhaps the most noticeable evidence for the “femininity” of the men in the sample was their great preoccupation with their family and their sensitivity…
      At my advanced age, I’ve had the opportunity to observe three generations of gender roles: my parents’, my own, and my kids’ generations. I have known a lot of people, and I don’t think that most of them operate within this caricature of behavior. The ones that do, inevitably seem miserable.
      Masculinity, 16X20, oil on gessoboard, by Carol L. Douglas
      Most successful artists I know live extremely conventional lives. That has nothing to do with conforming to or rebelling against culture, and everything to do with expediency. On the other hand, we’ve all met artistic poseurs who concentrating on outward social imagery rather than content (usually as rebels). They’re always failures.
      If there’s a characteristic of the creative temperament, it’s that most creatives spend their time thinking about their work, rather than where they fit in their tribe.
      Submission, 18X24, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas

      Remember, you’ve got until December 31 to get an early-bird discount for next year’s Acadia workshop. Read all about it here, or download a brochure here