Heading north in slow stages

Frozen paints…
…lead to a frozen sketch.
A week ago today, I drove up the Maine coast in slow stages. Maine is beautiful in winter, but it’s not the same kind of beauty as in August. Mid-coast Maine and Rochester have about the same winter temperatures. (As here, it gets colder the farther away from open water you go.) But there’s far more winter sun in Maine, and it creates the illusion of warmth.
Belfast tugs, last summer. That’s my student Brad Van Auken’s painting start.
I stopped in Belfast, ME for groceries, a gallery call, and a few moments of sketching at the harbor. Belfast often has tugs under repair in its boatyard, and it is a pretty place even in January. I pulled out my watercolor sketch kit and started a fast sketch of the pretty red boathouse. When my paints froze in the pan, it was a sign that I should move on.
North of Ellsworth, US 1 becomes a much quieter, more contemplative road.
After Ellsworth, ME (the turn-off to Bar Harbor), US 1 becomes a much quieter road, especially in winter. My goal was to arrive in Winter Harbor by dusk.  After a quick trip out to Schoodic Point to catch the winter sun setting over the ocean, I settled in for the night.
Sun setting over Schoodic Point.
Not wanting to head into Winter Harbor for a pub meal, I was forced to cook myself dinner. I reminded myself that wine goes with everything, and soldiered on.
Wine goes with everything.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochurehere.

Power of art

The symmetry of Thomas Hart Benton’s mural at the Power Vista balances the Iroquois and Europeans, who are also evenly matched in stature, equipment and clothing.
When I was a child, we used to take field trips to the Niagara Power Vista. This is a glorified observation deck over the Niagara River. (Back in the day, we actually saw one of these behemoth turbines at rest in the bottom of its deep chute, which was a terrifying experience to a child with imagination.)
Among the attractions was a mural by Thomas Hart Benton. While other Benton murals are being transferred to major museums, this one sat for years in direct sunlight, fading. In honor of the Power Vista’s 50th anniversary, it’s been restored.
Father Louis Hennepin discovering Saint Anthony Falls, Douglas Volk (1905). The difference between Benton’s and Volk’s characterization of the Native people is striking.
Thomas Hart Benton established his reputation in the 1930s with five murals that championed a new American art movement known as Regionalism. His was the most well-known voice of the Work Projects Administration (WPA) mural program. He was the first artist ever featured on the cover of Time magazine (in 1934).
The History of Water, Thomas Hart Benton, 1930. This was executed for a drugstore in Washington DC in 1930, but was removed shortly thereafter and stored in the basement. It was rediscovered in 1985. After being verified as a long-missing work by Benton, it was put up for auction at Sotheby’s and is currently with Vivian Kiechel Fine Art in Lincoln, Nebraska.
His Power Vista mural depicts the Belgian missionary Fr. Louis Hennepin blessing Niagara Falls in the winter of 1677. Those who know and love the Falls recognize the topography, as stylized as it is. What I most admire is the respect Benton showed to Hennepin’s Iroquois guides. The Iroquois were far from savages. Not significantly behind the Europeans of the time, they quickly adopted what technology they didn’t have. They were mercantile and warlike, and Benson paints them and their European counterparts as equals.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Weather notes

When I arrived in Waldoboro, it was hovering around a high of 27° with a low in the single digits, and no snow.

A few weeks ago I quoted a sailing instructor:
For God’s sake, learn how to read the weather!

For home work, I made my sailing students keep a notebook chronicling the daily weather. It had to have the forecast from the newspaper with their own observations.
At the time, I said that would be a great idea for my plein air painting students, too. Rather than assign work I haven’t tried myself, I packed a small watercolor sketchbook, ruled off into six squares per page, and my trusty old Winsor & Newton pocket paint kit.
That was the pattern until the end of the week, when the temperatures moved up and the sky started building.
In Rochester my studio faces to the north and east, away from the weather front, and the southwest sides of our house—which is where the action is, weatherwise—have more limited visibility. After this week of balancing in precarious positions, I feel like I might just go out on the stoop and sit. It takes fifteen minutes for the paints to really freeze.
I was in Winter Harbor, left, when snow moved in.
What have I learned so far? It’s generally sunnier here in winter than it is in Rochester. The winter light is lemony and the shadows are purple, whereas in Rochester, the winter light tends toward peach and the shadows toward blue (perhaps because it’s never truly bright). And a blizzard is a blizzard is a blizzard, no matter where it’s blowing.
I hope to shovel out and hit the road to Pittsford today, but the plows remain obstinately quiet. Still, they needn’t come by until I’m ready to roll. Just in time is fine.
The day before the blizzard, left, was a perfectly clear Maine day.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.


Whose woods these are I think I know.  
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here  
To watch his woods fill up with snow. 
I knew weather was coming, but I had no choice but to stay; yesterday I had appointments all day in mid-coast Maine. When I finished at dusk, there was little choice but to hunker down and ride it out.
I think of blizzards as time-out-of-time: they’re an extra Sunday in the week, unannounced holidays. Trouble is, I don’t want a holiday; I want to get home and continue on the groove I’ve made for myself.
I’m an old hand at blizzards, but this is my first experience with one off-the-grid. Like many Maine houses, this one has knee walls on the second floor. My little bed is tucked up under the rafters. We’re heating with wood, which makes my bed the warmest place in the house. My window is single-pane, and it’s allowing gouts of cold air to blow in. But it’s not on the west wall, and the wind is from the west. As I write this, it is increasing in ferocity. There are wind chimes somewhere outside , and their frantic atonal melodies rise in counterpoint to the clunk of the tie-downs on the wood pile and the whistle of the wind.
Thank you to my daughter for the texting gloves. They’re making this bearable. Later I’ll see if they work as watercoloring gloves.
Mainers are accustomed to bad weather and they seem inclined to keep deep pantries. There was none of that rush for bread, milk and eggs at the local Hannaford when I stopped. However, there was a line of trucks waiting for gas; seems like everyone has a generator here.
Since I took this photo, the far tree line has vanished in the snow.
My family has blown all over the map in this storm—some in Rochester, one in Washington, DC, some in Albany. The governor of New York has suggested that everyone stay home; one wag responded, “He’s probably not self-employed, then.” (Mr. Cuomo is left-footed on the subject of snow, which is no surprise seeing as he hails from Queens. But his advice is usually greeted with derision up in the Snow Belt.)
Blowing, drifting snow…
Six inches of snow in Rochester overnight so it’s business as usual. Doesn’t matter, though; the Mass Pike is closed, and the New York State Thruway is kinda-sorta closed. I’m stuck here for the duration.
The wood pile.
We have water, we have firewood, we have food. There’s no chance of the power being knocked out, because there isn’t power anyway. So my Prius slumbers by the side of a dirt road that won’t be plowed for hours if at all. I think I will curl up and spend the day reading.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,  
But I have promises to keep,  
And miles to go before I sleep,  
And miles to go before I sleep.
(from Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening)

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Oldies but Goodies

Adjust the pigments for 21st century tastes and this is a perfect explanation of how paired primaries are actually more versatile than having every pigment on your palette. I’d substitute quinacridone violet for alizarin crimson, and Hansa yellow for zinc yellow.
This weekend, I was on the Schoodic Peninsula to test painting sites for my August workshop. When I got back to Waldoboro, a friend showed me two books she bought at the Damariscotta Public Library used book sale. They are Grumbacher art guides: one for drawing, and one for mixing paint. Each was worth the 25¢ she paid, but the color mixing guide is particularly good.
Best fun I’ve had for a quarter in forever.
In 1966, thalo green and alizarin crimson were the pigments de jour, but today we aren’t keen on either of them. A good art teacher would cross them out and replace them with their 21st century analogs: quinacridone violet for the crimson, and nothing for the thalo green (which has to be the pigment I hate most in this world). But why bother? Another two generations, and archivists will be sneering at the pigments we’re using today.
Ignore the names of the pigments on this chart, and notice instead that violet is the darkest pure pigment, and yellow the lightest.

The principles are what matter. Look at the illustration of primary pairings. It shows an essential rule of painting—there are no pure pigments, so you need a warm and cool version of each primary color to get the greatest gamut (or range of colors). In fact, if you set up your palette with paired primaries, you can dispense with the secondaries altogether. There is no real need for orange, purple or green when you have primaries that can mix to them. (I do keep cadmium orange on my palette and dispense with cadmium red, but that’s an idiosyncrasy that I’ve arrived at after years of painting. Consider it the exception that proves the rule.)

The second half of the book includes mixing examples from their suggested palettes. Ignore the specifics and notice how many neutrals they make with high-chroma pigments. Now go repeat this on your own.
P.S. Dressing in the dark undoes the artist’s advantage in matching his or her clothing. I have no idea if my long johns go with my turtleneck this morning.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochurehere.

Heading East Northeast

Winter on the Schoodic Peninsula.
Having finished my work in Waldoboro for the moment (whew!) I’m heading for Acadia today—right into a winter storm. This is the kind of vagary my southern friends have no experience with, but which we northerners anticipate. My car is not brilliant at bad roads, but I’m carrying a shovel, blankets, Clif bars, a candle and matches, and I can wait out any disasters.
The part of Acadia I’m heading to is that northernmost corner near Winter Harbor.
Acadia is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi, founded in 1919. The Schoodic Peninsula Historic District near Winter Harbor dates from 1929. Specifically I’m headed to this area, the northernmost part of the park.
In 2002, the National Park Service acquired the former naval base located on the Schoodic Peninsula and renovated it into the Schoodic Education and Research Center. This is where our 2015 workshop will be based.
Schoodic Peninsula surf.
My kit is in the back of my car, but the likelihood of painting in the teeth of a blizzard is slim. Still, I do have a watercolor set and if the visibility is not completely whited out, I expect I can do a study or two. If nothing else, I can check out the accommodations for my students.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Those crazy circadian rhythms

Night falls much earlier in the winter.
Once again I’m living off the grid in mid-coast Maine, and once again my friend is laughing at my peculiar habits. As P. points out, my eyelids start to droop exactly three hours after the sun sets, and I’m awake with the gloaming. This is apparently our pre-industrial pattern, and she delights in me validating it.
The sun knocks me out of bed in the morning, just as it seems to send me to bed early in the evening.
I like being up with the sun and down with the sun, which today in Maine means sunrise at 7:06 AM and sunset at 4:34 PM. That might seem like a short day, but if you are outside for a good part of the day (which I am) you are exhausted from the cold.
In my normal life, I’m a shallow sleeper who rises several times a night. Without electric lights, I seem to fall into a stupefied slumber and not wake until the sun comes up. It’s wonderfully restful. Having spent several weeks living like this—at all different times of the year—I can say that it is unique to this place.
Off the grid doesn’t mean out of this world. Handwarmers, texting gloves, a spare battery-pack, and an electric toothbrush are wonderful accoutrements for a cabin in the woods. 
This doesn’t mean I want to adopt off-grid living, but it does give credence to the theory that our electronic tethers have the potential to make us irritable and anxious. Who knows what the combined thrum of a thousand little fans does to our ability to be calm?
Sunrise streaming in my window, which faces east.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Maine Photo Project

The Haven, Bertrand H. Wentworth, undated, Monhegan Museum
Most of us go to Maine and come back with hundreds—thousands—of photographs. Within a year of the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 there were people taking pictures here, according to the Maine Historical Society.
Katahdin Canoe, Leland Whipple, before 1900, hand-tinted lantern slide, Bangor Public Library
The Maine Photo Project is a year-long series of exhibitions and public programs exploring this fascination. It’s interactive in the sense that we’re all invited to participate, using the hashtag #mephotoproject on Instagram. I’ll definitely be playing.
Untitled (East Machias Post Office), Berenice Abbott, undated, gelatin silver print, Farnsworth Art Museum
This statewide collaboration runs through 2015 and includes displays and contributions by museums, art galleries, historical societies, artists, collectors, and arts organizations across the state, with oversight by the Maine Historical Society.

Unidentified Group of Men, Albion Moody, c. 1880-1904, glass plate negative, Brick Store Museum

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Beautiful, artistic Maine

Camden and Mt. Battie, by Carol L. Douglas
Tomorrow morning, I’m going to the Belfast Creative Coalition’s annual meeting. I’m going because I’m interested in a Land Trust proposal, but mostly to satisfy my curiosity.
Belfast is a city of 6,800 people, located in a county of about 38,000 people. Yet Belfast has enough art galleries to have a Fourth Friday gallery walk, and the Coalition could put together a Columbus Day Farm and Art tour with more than a hundred venues.
Visit Castine, population 1300, and you’ll be given this map of attractions.
Belfast is just one of many art cities on the Maine Coast. There are Rockport and Rockland, which is now home to the Center for Maine Contemporary Art and the Farnsworth. Camden, and Damariscotta are also chock full of galleries, teaching spaces, and studios.
The list of painters with feet in both Maine and New York is extensive and includes Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Childe Hassam, Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, Frederic Church, and Thomas Cole. For them—like me—the draw isn’t primarily the art community, but the land and sea themselves: the ceaseless rise and fall of the tide, the granite outcroppings, and the dark pines.
Damariscotta, by Carol L. Douglas
Later this week I’m heading up to Schoodic to scope out painting sites for next year’s workshop. The class is about half full now, so I recommend that if you’re interested, you get in touch with me soon.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

The best-laid plans

Maine Ice Storm, Jamie Wyeth.
My pal Toby warned me that I was driving into an ice storm. It stretched from coastal New Jersey to western Massachusetts. But I’ve been driving for almost 40 years (legally) and I drive a lot. In fact, I’d estimate that I’m one of those “million mile” drivers without infractions or accidents. There is always a bolt hole somewhere along the way to stop, and I have emergency provisions in my car.
Ice on the Hudson, Childe Hassam, 1908
The first indication you’re in trouble is usually when your car picks itself up and floats across the road. Mercifully, there was no oncoming traffic on Route 20. When I arrived at my destination, my Prius floated down the hill with no intention of stopping. I opened my door and realized that I was on perfectly smooth skating ice, unfortunately without skates.
Morning mist in the mountains, Casper David Friedrich, 1808
This morning I’m crossing the Berkshires, and I’d rather let someone else test the ditches. So I’m dallying in Pittsford over a second cup of coffee.
Study for Ice Flow, Allagash, Neil Welliver, 1996
Hopefully, my vagabond summers are coming to an end. I’m meeting with a Realtor tomorrow morning in mid-coast Maine. From there, I’ll head up to Schoodic to do a little painting (weather permitting, of course). But first another cup of coffee and a hot shower before I hit the road.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.