Doing well by doing good

Asticou Azalea Garden, designed with the financial support of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in the late 1950s.
Earlier this month, financier David Rockefeller announced that he is giving a thousand acres of land on Mount Desert Island to the Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve on the occasion of his 100th birthday.
The park at Stourhead, designed by various landscape architects, 1741-80. English landscaping tremendously impressed our American gilded-age fashionistas.
Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve is comprised of two gardens built in the late 1950s. Asticou Azalea Garden is patterned after a traditional Japanese garden. Thuya Garden and Lodgeis a semi-formal herbaceous garden in the English style. The donated land abuts the Thuya Garden property and includes carriage roads, hiking trails, fields, woodland and streams.
Duck Brook Bridge in Acadia National Park
In 1910, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. built a hundred-room cottage in Seal Harbor called The Eyrie. Acadia was a gift to the American people, but it also effectively sequestered Seal Harbor from the hoi polloi who holidayed on the Maine coast.
The Eyrie was torn down in the early 1960s.
Rockefeller and his neighbors were concerned about ‘overdevelopment,’ by which they meant the possibility of neighbors like you and me. They created an association, donated 5,000 acres to it and gave it to the Federal government. Rockefeller bought more land and donated it; this formed the nucleus of what is now Acadia National Park.
A car venturing on the Acadia carriage road, 1920s.
With its carriage roads, Acadia was very much a combination of English park and public accommodation. So it is fitting that it would also have its formal gardens in the English style (Anglo-Asian gardens being an English garden theme), and fitting that they would end up being public spaces.
I’ve always found it kind of charming to imagine American robber barons aping their British cousins in the creation of their Stately Homes, their vast Parks, and their Gertrude Jekyll-inspired gardens. Many of those British homes have been transferred to the National Trust; many of their American equivalents have become museums and parks. It almost gives you faith in the democratizing tendencies of Father Time.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Gonna take a sentimental journey

We’ve had a lot of good times in this studio, including swing-dancing model Michelle Long.
I am frequently asked, “How do you feel about this move? Are you excited? Sad to leave?” I have loved the 21 years I’ve been in Rochester, but I’m ready to move on. Most of my thinking has been practical, not reflective.
Now my studio is dismantled, just a heap of boxes.
Except today.
I was packing my studio with my younger daughter when a Taylor Swift song started playing. If you’ve raised teenagers, you know they tend to play songs until they’re burned into your mind, and this one reminded me powerfully of her teen years. “I don’t want to leave,” I sniffed at her.
“Get real, Mom,” she said. “Of course you want to do this.” And she’s right, but I have had a lot of fun here.
The girl, making me cry.
On that note, I received a lovely note today from a student. I almost declined to take her because I didn’t feel I could accomplish much in the few weeks she had to work with me. And yet, she has turned out to be an amazing pupil and painter.

“I made a list of things I learned in your class,” she wrote. “This is not exhaustive, but some highlights.”
  • Charcoal is a wonderful sketching medium, great for roughing in tones, and very easy to rub out if you aren’t pleased with the results.
  • Don’t hold your paintbrush like a pencil, hold it out closer to the end and magic happens. (Okay, maybe not magic, but the results are much better.)
  • How to mix reds.
  • How to mix greens.
  • How to organize a palette.
  • All about easels.
  • How to fold a plastic bag.
  • Buy paints by pigments, not by their “lipstick” names.
  • Warm light, cool shadows or cool light, warm shadows.
  • Paired primaries—learn them and love them!
  • Don’t belly-up to your painting. Stand back. And sometimes, step back.
  • How to build a painting: establish a tone study on the canvas (using a mix of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna), then block in colors, and then develop them dark to light.
  • Be brave about putting marks on the canvas. And keep putting marks on canvas, or paper, or whatever.
No student every did more color exercises in my class than Matt Menzies. Matt, I’m throwing that big palette away today.

She learned all this in about 18 hours of instruction time.
Which brings me to my Maine workshop. If she could learn so much in just a few half-days, imagine what you can do in an intensive week of study. I have just a few openings left, and I strongly encourage you to register now.
Marilyn Feinberg, Kamillah Ramos and Zoe Clark, on a warm summer day painting at Irondequoit Bay. All three of them left Rochester before me.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Doggone brilliant

Portrait of a Jack Russell, by Joaquín Sorolla (1909)
A reader sent me this Portrait of a Jack Russell, by Joaquín Sorolla (1909). She knows I have an ancient Jack Russell and love Sorolla’s treatment of white and black.
Some of the tones Sorolla used to make white fabric and dog in the painting above.
This painting has no white in it whatsoever and most of the black is modeled with browns and plums, but we understand the dog to be white and black, seated on an off-white drapery, with light coming from the left.

The human mind interprets these colors to be black and white because, in fact, when we look at a black and white object in light, we see neither true black nor true white. Every object’s local color is tempered by the color of the light reflecting off it.

Some of the tones Sorolla used to make the black fur in the painting above.
Remember that color is composed of three characteristics:
Hue: the position on the color wheel, like red, blue and yellow;
Chroma (Saturation): how strong or weak the color is;
Value: how light or dark the color is.
The painting in gray-scale loses depth, because it is modeled with hue as well as value.
In gray-scale, the lighting on Sorolla’s dog is far less striking. That is because Sorolla uses the color of light to define shapes.  His light is warm and his shadows are cool.
I used Photoshop to make a rough hue map of the painting. It is clear that hue is driving this painting at least as much as value is.
Hue map of Sorolla’s painting, above. Clearly the light is coming from the left.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

The genius of routine

The Red Truck, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas
 I believe that creativity rests less on freedom than on structure. I’m not the only person who’s discovered that genius requires discipline: from this Navy SEAL asserting that everything starts with making your bed to Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, the idea permeates current thought on the creative process.

Portrait of the Artist’s Studio. If you’re looking for the exotic air of the sereglio in my studio, you have come to the wrong place.
Writers and artists are frequently asked how we make meaningful work while earning a living. Currey set out to amass as much information as he could find about the routines underlying successful careers in the arts. Several of his common themes resonate with me.
A workspace with minimal distractions. People often want to stop and see my studio, and they’re always disappointed. It is not an ‘arty’ place. It’s a practical workspace, not much different in form from my wood shop. My most successful artist friends concentrate on having their stuff where they need it, even when the space is tiny and appears to be overflowing.
For me, the most difficult part of working out of my house is that I’m easily found.
I walk every day, unless the temperature drops below zero and the wind is blowing, or the snow is too deep.
A daily walk. I actually take two walks every day—the first one first thing in the morning, the second in late morning or at lunch time. This is a lifelong habit. Walking is my time to think, reflect, and pray. I rapidly sink into ennui when deprived of it.

As time-consuming as it is to walk several miles a day, my productivity actually drops if circumstances keep me from exercising.

Accountability. Unlike a writer, the visual artist can’t count brushstrokes or square inches of work. But we can assure that we work regular hours. I have noticed that this helps me get in the groove of painting faster. I’m convinced that the brain recognizes routine and appreciates it.
This is jeweler Jennifer Jones doing some of the busywork in her job—sorting findings by color.
A clear dividing line separating our important work and busywork. Most artists spend half their work day doing things like marketing, accounting, taxes, inventory control, etc.  Unfortunately, we use our computers for that, which sucks us inevitably into the world of email and Facebook. Our ancestors may have spent a ton of time doing busywork, but at least it didn’t ding at them morning, noon and night.

I’ve noticed that I’m doing less sketching since I’ve gotten a smart phone. It’s too easy to pull it out to check messages and then get drawn into it.

A supportive partner. My husband and I have been happily married for almost 35 years. About two years ago, we had a heart-to-heart talk about my career and where it was going. It was obvious that getting out of Rochester was the next logical career step for me. He never hesitated. “Go,” he said, and I am. That’s amazing loyalty and support.
It used to be that painting en plein air saved you from distraction. Sadly, we now carry our distraction around with us.
Limited social lives.You know that arty guy you see at every opening? I wonder when he has time to get any work done.

Most successful artists I know are to some degree antisocial, and yet our work is essentially communication. People don’t just feel that they know us, they do know us, and we have to honor that. But like anyone else working for a living, we need time to actually get stuff done. I love teaching art and talking about art, but during the day I want to be busy making art.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Field sketches

Sketches by C. Leroy Baldridge.

Cyrus Leroy Baldridge (May 27, 1889 – June 6, 1977) was an artist, illustrator, and author. During WWI, he traveled through occupied Belgium and France as a war correspondent and illustrator.
Sketch by C. Leroy Baldridge.
Returning to the United States, he was called up to the border when Mexico’s revolution spilled over the border. In 1917 he joined the French Army as a stretcher bearer. With the entrance of the United States into the war, he transferred to the American Expeditionary Forces.
Sketches by C. Leroy Baldridge.
There he joined Stars and Stripes, the American Expeditionary Forces newspaper. His work appeared in every issue from March 1918 until the armistice of November, 1918.
Sketches by C. Leroy Baldridge.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Shell game

The Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1563
From: “Hunter College Art & Art History Department”
Date: May 21, 2015 at 2:33:12 PM EDT

To: undisclosed-recipients:

Subject: Course Updates: Renaissance Art and Art of Africa
Dear all,
Unfortunately “Renaissance Art I” has been cancelled.  If you are one of those preregistered for this course, please get in touch with me asap so that we can find you a replacement.
And on a more positive note: the “Art of Africa” course will be taught by Dr. Gary van Wyk.  Please see the description, below.  Again, email if you would like to enroll in this course.

St. Mark Preaching in Alexandria, Giovanni Bellini, 1504-07
That note was received yesterday by a Hunter College MA candidate in Art History. Whatever the relative merits of African vs. Renaissance art, the latter is fundamental, not just for art historians, but for literate citizens of the western world in general.
The School of Athens, Raphael, 1510
This gap is not just about a class: if there is no Renaissance painting class being offered at the graduate school, there is nobody to advise a student in writing his or her thesis. That means Renaissance painting is effectively off the table as a concentration. In turn, that student is at a disadvantage in seeking work focusing on Renaissance art.

“The course will explore post-colonial and postmodern positions on Africa in the art world, with special focus on the School of Dakar and the Negritude movement (Senegal), the Nsukka School (Nigeria), and the Resistance Art Movement in South Africa,” reads the course description for Dr. van Wyk’s class. “The course will consider contemporary artistic and curatorial practices that re-frame Africanity in today’s global context, including the current Venice Biennale, curated by Okwui Enwezor.”

 In Manhattan’s art world, Renaissance art dwarfs any contemporary African collections. Hunter is setting its students up for irrelevancy in the very job market in which it is located, which is also the most important art market in this country. 

But there is another problem here, common to public universities. Required classes are often not available, leading kids to take longer to finish degrees.
The Ghent Altarpiece, Jan van Eyck, c. 1432
While about 80 percent of undergraduates earning degrees at private colleges and universities finish within four years, at public institutions the rate drops to 50 percent.
That can make a public school education less of a good deal compared to private colleges. Not only must the student shell out more tuition than originally anticipated, he or she loses a year of earnings in the bargain.
Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter, Pietro Perugino, 1481
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Redeeming the day

East Main Street, Rochester.(Photo by Douglas Perot)
It’s just ten days until my move to Maine, and it’s a pretty ragged time. The Volunteers of America truck will be here tomorrow, my house looks like the aftermath of urban rioting, and I figure I’m about three weeks behind on my to-do list. Everything, in short, has been going as well as can be expected.
Rochester, struggling? Yeah, that’s one reason. (Photo courtesy of Ivan Ramos.)
Then a series of cascading events hit yesterday:
  • My Prius was hit by a flying traffic cone, shattering the front bumper;
  • Our Civic needed $500 worth of brake work to pass inspection;
  • I dropped my mobile and shattered the screen;
  • An hour after the Civic got new brakes, it blew its muffler.

Rochester. (Photo courtesy of Ivan Ramos.)
Of course, all these things needed attention before I leave town. The only solution was to throw money at the cars, but after dropping a thousand dollars on them, I wasn’t keen to spend more on a new phone.

I’ve enjoyed my weeks of packing and sorting, oddly enough, and didn’t want my good mood to fizzle. “Lord, don’t let this steal my enjoyment of this day,” I prayed.

Rochester. (Photo courtesy of Ivan Ramos.)
I called Verizon; they wanted $180 to fix the screen. A used replacement was about $200, only marginally less than a new one. We watched a Youtube video on fixing it ourselves, but the replacement parts were $33 plus tax with two-day shipping, and when and how I’d do it remained up in the air.
Just to tell myself I’d checked off every option, I called an independent repair shop. Run by two nice young men, the Wireless Wizard fixed my screen for $70 including tax. The young man who helped me told me he’d worked at Rochester General Hospital before he and his brother rehabbed their first office space on East Main Street two years ago and opened for business. They moved across the street two months ago, and have just added a nail salon next door to their shop.
Once a star in Rochester’s firmament, East High now graduates about 39% of its students. (Photo courtesy of Ivan Ramos.)
My last studio was almost across the street from their shop, so I know the neighborhood well. There are parts of Main Street that are almost genteel, but that block is struggling. Any new enterprise that moves in is a triumph of hope over experience.
At N. Winton Village, East Main becomes almost genteel. (Photo courtesy of Ivan Ramos.)
Seeing a new business succeeding in Rochester cheered me up a great deal. Having my phone fixed at a decent price cheered me up even more. The day was redeemed.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

If you haven’t got anything nice to say…

By now, I assume you’ve seen the video, above, of the art student who lost her temper at her classmate’s inane and snarky critique. Although she has been characterized as unstable and over-the-top, I feel her pain. Nasty criticism is everywhere, and, sadly, young artists often lead the pack.

I remember the first time my work was reviewed for publication. The writer—a successful, middle-aged gallery director—was snarky and destructive. I felt it keenly. 

Conversion on the way to Damascus, Caravaggio, 1600-1. This was the moment when Paul stopped being rigid, inflexible, discontented and critical. For most of us, however, it’s a far more gradual process.
This past Sunday, Pastor James Laughlin talked about the characteristics of St. Paul that made him such a formidable evangelist. It occurred to me that they were applicable to teaching and criticism as well.
St. Paul, Georges de la Tour, 1615
Paul comes down to us as one of the most influential people of antiquity, and certainly the most important figure of the Apostolic Age. That’s pretty amazing considering that after he gave up his Pharisaical career, he spent the rest of his life as a peripatetic tent-maker, preacher, prisoner, and letter writer.
St. Paul in Prison, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1627
Philippians 4:10-20 reveals a writer who was affirming, content, flexible and confident. He exhorts his friends in Philippi, he talks freely of his own challenges, but he’s always optimistic.
His success as an evangelist ought to encourage us to imitate him as critics and teachers. And yet so often teaching and criticism takes exactly the opposite approach—it demeans.

People are capable of wonderful things, but our society routinely discourages people from daring to be great. When someone disregards all the voices telling them they can’t do something, and they challenge themselves with hard work and dedication, they ought to be encouraged.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Enough is enough

Dinghy, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas.
A man was fishing in a small boat, not particularly doing much of anything, when one of those bumptious, officious ‘self-made man’ types wandered over to give him some advice. 
“Yanno, if you put a little effort into it, you might catch something. Get yourself a sonar fish finder and an engine for that boat, and you might actually find some fish.”
“Why would I want to do that?” asked the fisherman.
“Well, this here’s great fishing country. I bet you could set up shop as a guide, take people fishing, maybe get a fleet of boats, take lots of people fishing.”
“Why would I want to do that?” asked the fisherman.
“To make money!” yelled the exasperated man.
“And why would I want to do that?” asked the fisherman.
“So you can retire and have time to fish!”
M. is a returning student for my Sea & Sky workshop, so of course I have a vested interest in her being rested, healthy and happy by August. Sunday, she reported: “I sold one of the looms (to finish paying off the winter fuel bill for one of the apartments) and put a second coat of primer on the dormer windows on the back side of our house while my husband mowed yards. How many years till I can retire?”
Getting out of a similar grind has been my goal for several years. I find my acquisitiveness waning. I noticed it while house-hunting in Maine, when I was content to look at properties and say, “That would make a great project… for someone else.”
Sign of the times.
If you’ve never visited a Whole Foods Market, they’re a temple to pampered dissatisfaction. I’m hardly the only person to notice this; there’s an internet meme, “Overheard in Whole Foods/Waitrose.” In a way, these stores are our culture’s temple. They sell necessities totally divorced from need.  Their customers may be the punchline to a joke, but they’re really just an extreme example of a malaise we’re all prone to.
Yesterday a friend asked me how I was coping with packing. My first reaction was an old campfire song:  “I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart…” And then I actually apologized for being happy. It runs against the grain in our society to admit that things are pretty good. We caution against tempting fate.
The Harbormaster’s Dinghy, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas.
Yes we all suffer, and I don’t mean to make light of that. But the things from which we suffer—illness, death, uncertainty—are eternal verities, and even they have been pushed back by science.
If I suggest to people that they count their blessings, they usually start and end with their loved ones.  For some reason, our material blessings—our nice houses, cars, and bank accounts—aren’t generally included. But we are rich beyond most people’s wildest imaginings. We have more than any other people in the history of the world, and still we’re unhappy.
I admire beautiful things as much as the next person; I just no longer covet them.
Like many bad behaviors, this is both sinful and self-destructive. It’s sinful because it denies God the proper credit for our blessings. It’s self-destructive because it robs us of joy.
We really could spend less time building and more time enjoying what we’ve already built.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Check out my new website

Go ahead, look at it. It will be fun.
I have needed to update my website for several years. The minion who built my last one grew up and got married. Finding a capable, willing replacement has been tough.
But here it is, and I’d appreciate your finding lots of little things for me to fix. That way, I’ll be so facile at updating it that I will never let it get out-of-date again.
After this year’s auction, I’ll add a page of painted buoys. Just because.
The problem with living in a household of programmers is that it’s generally easier for them to do it themselves rather than teach you. They spurn graphics-based software, and they frequently lapse  into acronyms.
I’m a retired graphic designer, and I’ve always been good with computers. But I was routinely pipped at the post, mostly by the size and complexity of the project.
If I’d had more time, I’d have included more images of painting with friends.
I can write, I can paint, and I can design, but I can’t do them all simultaneously. Forget multitasking; I get hopelessly confused. Add to that years of incremental changes, and it’s more than I can handle.
For example, I have more than 3,000 painting and blog images online. They started in another blog platformed, jumped to Picasa, and have been rolled into Google+. It’s no longer simple to sort them. My links are a swaying footbridge that I barely trust.
My programmer family believes this is all the information anyone needs to design a website. Turns out they’re right.
There are a few other things I need to fix. Not all the pages on this new site are scalable to all devices. And I still haven’t figured out how to make my blog feed on the home page stay neatly in a little box. But overall, it’s a lot better. I hope you enjoy it.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.