Painting in Paradise

My painting of the Dyce Head Light from last year.
Because I can count on my fingers, I was distressed to read that artist Bobbi Heath is going to be on crutches for the next eight weeks. That brings us perilously close to Castine Plein Air, where she and 40 other fantastic artists (including me) will be painting from July 23 to 25.
This is the third annual Castine Plein Air Festival, and in that short time, it’s shot to the top of my favorites list, right up there with the Rye Art Center’s Painters on Location. It’s not just because my friends are going to be there, although that’s certainly part of it.
Me, painting at Oakum Bay (Courtesy of Castine Arts Association)
Castine sits at a commanding position at the mouth of the Penobscot River estuary. In the age of the fur trade, it controlled about 8000 square miles of prime hunting land. It was occupied by the Penobscot people, and its age of exploration opened with a visit by the Portuguese explorer Estêvão Gomes in 1524. He was followed by our old friend Samuel de Champlain in 1605. In 1669, the Mohawk raided.
Mary Byrom, painting at Wadsworth Cove. Life’s a beach. (Courtesy of Castine Arts Association) 
No town with that kind of reach was going to be allowed to sit unmolested, and at some point, the French, Dutch, English and Americans all had their hands in.
I mention this because the town is absolutely full of historic sites. The town itself is graciously old New England, with clapboard houses skirting down to the water, the Maine Maritime Academy, the Dyce Head Light, and beautiful waterfront views everywhere. There’s even a little beach.
I did this painting of a reenactor’s tent at the Castine Historical Society last year.
Very few people wander across Castine by accident. It is unspoiled, but the downside of that is that accommodations are limited. So if this paint-out in an unspoiled landscape appeals to you, you should make reservationsnow.

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.

A disciplined talent

Along the Na Pali Coast, oil on canvas, 48X72, by Brad Marshall.
I met Brad Marshall on an overpass in Queens many years ago, on the way to a party at the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden in Astoria. The shindig was drowned by torrential rains but we’ve been pals ever since.
Besides being a skilled landscape painter, Brad works in a niche industry unique to New York—he paints those billboards insanely high above the city’s heads. This resulted in his shoes being featured in the New York Times.
Porta Maggiore, Rome, oil on canvas, 42X60, by Brad Marshall.
Perhaps this regular aerial painting gig is what gives him such discipline as a painter. He seldom seems to get bogged down in self-destructive self-criticism. His studio work, which is represented by Fischbach Gallery in Chelsea, is consistent and assured.
Brad also paints en plein air. He once memorably called the total loss of focus that happens to all of us from time to time “flailing around.” Since it’s the bête noire of every plein air painter, it’s a relief to know it can happen even to him.
Isola dei Pescatori, Lago Maggiore, oil on canvas 24×36, by Brad Marshall.
“I want people to enjoy my paintings. When I was younger and saw some incredible painting at a museum by Bierstadt or Church or Sargent or Rembrandt, it gave me an incredible sense of euphoria and transcendence (yes, like a religious experience),” he told me. “I would love to think that one of my paintings could give someone that feeling. 
“But that’s not why I paint, I paint for selfish reasons. I paint because the process is so enriching, absorbing and fun. I don’t paint just because I want a finished painting (though I do want to see the final result). I paint because I love the act of painting.”
I asked Brad to pick out his favorite three paintings. This, Baroque Arch, Rome, 54X36, oil on canvas, is probably mine. The drafting is superlative, the lighting drives a wonderfully measured composition.
To see more of Brads work, visit his website, here.

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.

Last class in Rochester

Nina Koski and Cece Tassone painting in my garden. (Yes, I’m partial to the jungle aesthetic.)
There is no lovelier place than the Genesee Valley. From the six spectacular falls in the Genesee River to the Lake Ontario shore to the old neighborhoods of Rochester to our parks and arboretums, our area shines in May. So where did I decide to teach my last class? In my front garden, of course, coming full circle around to the place where I first declared myself a teacher.
Me, Nina and Carol Thiel painting in my front garden.
When my friend Catherine suggested that I hold painting classes, I was skeptical. I’m not credentialed in education, and my teaching experience was limited to Sunday school. But I rapidly realized that I could, in fact, teach.
What teaching teaches you is that your method can be divided and described as a process. I really didn’t realize how much I knew about painting until I taught it, year in and year out.
Brad Van Auken and Aaron Boucher painting in my front garden while Carol takes a break in the shade.
Still, a lot of people can paint well and even describe their process. However, not all of them care whether others reach their full potential. That’s the basic difference between someone who should be teaching and someone who shouldn’t.
Victoria Brzustowicz and Teressa Ramos listening to my blather.
My husband plays with an Eastman-trained musician, Pastor Debra Parris. He once said to me, “she’s got all the talent in the world, but she spends so much time encouraging others to make music.” That’s a fine legacy and something to aspire to.
The solar queen attended and waved regally at us.
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.

Time like the tide

Pointe du Hoc, Lee Haber, 11×14, oil.
Baby Boomers’ youth was shaped by two galvanizing events that were also polar extremes. We were the children of men and women molded by the last heroic war, World War II. Yet we came of age during the deeply cynical and anti-heroic years of Vietnam.
Last Friday was the 70th anniversary of VE-Day, which marked the end of World War II in Europe. Most of its soldiers have joined the long grey line marching silently into history. Their wives and sweethearts wait out their days in nursing homes.
Omaha Beach #2, Lee Haber, 11×14, oil.
For those of us whose fathers served in the war, this is a stunning realization. We remember our fathers as young men, reminiscing about their wartime experiences. To realize that the better part of a century has elapsed is astonishing.
Remnants, Omaha Beach, Lee Haber, 16×20, oil.
Earlier this year, painter Lee Haber visited France, including the beaches where Allied troops mounted the vast D-Day assault on the German Atlantic Wall defenses. Casualties were heavy on both sides: of 156,000 Allied troops, there were at least 10,000 casualties.
“I grew up during the war and realize the actions that very young men—boys, really—were compelled to do,” he told me. “I consider myself a bit of a World War II historian, and can hardly imagine the horror, the pain, the hurt.”
Omaha Beach, Normandy, Lee Haber, 12×16, oil.
I’m glad that Lee is painting what is there now, rather than trying to reconstruct the assault itself. Instead, the energy in his paintings is suppressed, lying within the sea and sky. In this work, time, like the tides, eventually washes away all human endeavors, worries, and losses.
You can visit Lee’s website here.
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.

Rescuing failure

Ellwanger-Berry Garden, 12X16, oils. This almost got scraped out; it’s ended up being one of my favorite paintings.
There’s a view outside my house that has defeated me. It is a sycamore set against a curving street. It’s elegant, architectural, and should be easy enough to paint. But I’ve yet to realize it in a plein air painting.
If you fail at something, hooray! That means you’re pushing past what you know. You’re on your way to your next discovery. You’re breaking limits. Each failed painting, ironically, puts you one step closer to success.
Safe Harbor, 16X20, oil on canvasboard. Sometimes you have to paint something repeatedly before you get it right.
It’s a good thing that failure is such a positive thing, since I do it so frequently.
Occasionally, when a painting is past salvaging, I scrape it out and accept my failure. But if it’s not completely terrible, I save it, set it aside, and go back and look at it later. Sometimes I have found that some good paintings completely eluded me at the time I did them. But regardless, when it starts to go wrong, I’ve learned to stop throwing more time, energy, or paint at it.
Failure sucks, but the only way to defeat it is to try again. That doesn’t mean going back to that sycamore and beating it up with a pencil; it means painting again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day after that.
Moorings, 14X18, oil on canvasboard. I didn’t like this when I painted it. Marilyn Feinberg, who was with me, liked it. I’ve come to agree with her. Another set of eyes is always helpful.
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.

Don’t believe half of what you read

The tail end of the anti-Bill demonstration at the bus headquarters.

Yesterday I was driving downtown when I passed a demonstration at the bus headquarters. Union members were protesting the decision to stop busing 9,000 Rochester City School District students on the RTS because troublemakers won’t stop fighting. The move will cost 144 jobs. I get their frustration but I was a little offended by the signs that read, “Fire Bill,” particularly as the graphics alluded to the “Kill Bill” movies.

See, I know Bill. He’s not an abstraction but a real, live human being. I thought for a moment about stopping and telling the protesters what a nice guy he is, but I didn’t think it would change their minds. Anyways, I was headed downtown for the National Day of Prayer, and I was running late.
Listening to prayers on the steps of City Hall.
On Wednesday a teenager was shot while playing basketball at a little park on Fourth Street. That’s right by the Public Market, and I know that park pretty well. My car was once totaled by a stolen vehicle alongside the jungle-gym. It’s absurd that a kid could be shot in a park full of children in broad daylight. If that happened in tony Loudoun County, VA, where our government muckety-mucks raise their families, the uproar would be appalling. But this is urban Rochester and it warranted three sentences on the news.
The closer you are to the city, the more aware you are that it is in trouble and that politics doesn’t seem able to fix much. It’s no surprise that the impulse to pray was led overwhelmingly by the inner-city churches. After all, if you live in Henrietta or Webster, the problems of crime and education are a pity, but a vague one.
Hands stretching in prayer from City Hall to the County Building.
The National Day of Prayer event started with politicians and formal prayers. But the real action happened when citizens formed a human chain reaching from City Hall to the County Building and prayed like mad for the welfare of our community.
At one point I caught myself thinking, “750,000 people in this county, and only several hundred of us came out. What difference can we possibly make?” But in fact we can. Prayer is not the work of our hands, but a plea for a miraculous intervention. The results, basically, have nothing to do with us.
This handsome shofar player is Eugene Henn from Brighton. It was a beautiful thing to hear the shofar ringing off that Medina sandstone.
I ran into Bill’s wife downtown. As we were leaving, I suggested that she take a different route home so she didn’t have to see the protesters. “Maybe I should bring them water bottles,” she mused. The answer to the end of urban violence is to bless the ones who curse you, to stop keeping score, but it’s so hard to do. Anyway, they had folded up shop when I drove past a few minutes later. The prayers had outlasted the demonstrators.
A crime map for my fair city for the first four months of 2015. For an up-to-date version, see here.
Meanwhile, while both events were taking place, a woman’s body was found on Hudson Avenue. Just another day in Rochester.

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 Fine Art of Packing

Texting and falling into a fountain, 6X8, Carol L. Douglas. Artists can justify keeping anything as still life props.
Sometimes God likes to remind me that I’m not superhuman. Like this week, when my work has been limited by asthma. The combination of pollen, dust and exertion has pretty much done me in by early afternoon, and I’m about 20 boxes behind in my packing.
Every American family should pack once a decade. That way we would relentlessly cull our stuff. It would be nicer for our children when we die, for one thing.
Yes, all the weird stuff has to come with me. And much of it requires special handling in packing.
Every studio is full of odd and useful things. In my case, several plaster heads, one blue glass head, a Vaseline glass figurine, several compotes, and a glass bowl full of rocks from Maine. That last one has me baffled; I use those rocks for still lives, but I can’t really see moving them back to Maine.
Paintings and frames are a hassle to pack.
The fine art of packing consists entirely in tossing stuff out until your current house is empty and you fall in love with it again. I’m not a hoarder. I can be relentless with books, with clothes and with furnishings. But there’s still an awful lot of stuff here to go through, and time is slipping through my fingers.
Where there was once order, there are now… boxes.
Meanwhile, I remember what it’s like to paint. Really, I do.

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.

Get your hands off our trashy landmark

You call that a highway? We call it a theme park. (Photo by Jim Henderson)
The Obama Administration has told the City of New York that Times Square is in violation of the 1965 Federal Highway Beautification Act. Its iconic signage has to come down or the city will forfeit some $90 million a year in Federal highway funds.

It is probably not a coincidence that this is happening during the funeral of 25-year-old NYPD officer Brian Moore. His death undermines the cop-brutality narrative, and the powers-that-be probably want us thinking about other things. Among the flash at Times Square is the iconic neon police station, beloved of tourists. I suppose that, too, is in violation of Lady Bird’s Bill.

The NYPD are having a rough week. Let’s not let the kerfuffle over Times Square distract us from that.
Reaction in New York has, predictably, ranged from mockery to ridicule.
“It’s about time!” my own husband exclaimed. “Every time I’m pulling the Airstream through Times Square behind my ’65 Buick Roadmaster, I complain that I can’t see the trees and cows because of those darn signs!”
Times Square in 1898. As tacky as non-electric signs could make it.
“I could plotz,” another friend texted, ramping up her New York accent for the occasion.

Someone else said (as someone always will) that she liked it better before it was cleaned up. Well, I hated it then and I hate it now. I’m an equal-opportunity hater.

I’m not unusual in that. It’s there for visitors. But like all theme parks, its economic impact is huge—greater than the $90 million penalty the Feds are threatening.
Times Square on V-J Day.
For a hundred years, Times Square has been one of America’s most-recognized landmarks. Oddly enough, in another way, it’s completely anodyne—all the same stores as, for example, Piccadilly Circus in London. But as trashy, tacky and predictable as it is, it’s our trashy, tacky landmark. The Feds can just go annoy some other highway.

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.

Some basic color theory

Tilt-a-Whirl, 12X9, Carol L. Douglas. This was a plein air painting. Really.

Yesterday I showed you a PDF of a palette chart I like my students to follow. Today I’m going to talk about the basic color theory underlying it.

The three primary colors we learned in primary school are red, yellow and blue. Forget about any other color space you’ve learned about; they’re not relevant to painting.

Above are the three primary colors in subtractive color. This is the color space in which painters work. These three colors are the foundational building blocks on which all other colors are made.

Mix the primary colors in the first illustration with their neighbors and you end up with the secondary colors. A secondary color is always across the color wheel from a primary color.
If you mix the primary colors with those adjacent to them, you get the secondary colors: green (blue and yellow), orange (yellow and red)and purple (red and blue). A secondary color is always across the color wheel from a primary color. If you want to neutralize a color in a hurry, a fast way to do it is to mix it with whatever’s across the color wheel.

This is the theory on which all limited palettes are based. Unfortunately, there are no pure paint pigments. They’re either too warm or too cool, or they have overtones that muddy them up in certain mixes. So all real-world limited palettes have holes in them, places you just can’t get to with the available pigments.
This is why I use paired primaries on my palette. I have a warm and cool blue, warm and cool red, and warm and cool yellow. This allows me to go almost anywhere on the color wheel without sacrificing chroma.

The colors on my palette are a riff on the primary colors. It’s the same principle, but there’s a warm and cool version of each of them.
Why, then, do I have four more tones: yellow ochre, raw sienna and burnt sienna, and black? These are all iron-oxide pigments. They’re cheap and they make great modulators in places where white is inappropriate.

This allows you to go anywhere you want on the color wheel without sacrificing chroma (intensity).
All the colors on my color wheel are modern synthetic pigments (with the exception of the cadmium orange, which is a 19th century organic pigment). The iron-oxide pigments are the most ancient known to man. For some reason, using the modern pigments to create hyper-saturated colors and using the ancient pigments to modulate them works.

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.

How to mix any color

Plastic wrap, by Carol L. Douglas. Red—although a primary color—is largely superfluous on the palette, unless you’re using it to modulate greens. You can get to almost every naturally-occurring red with quinacridone magenta and orange.
The last thing I want is to create a school of mini-me painters with a slavish fidelity to my style. But there are ways to make painting easier, and people wouldn’t take my classes and workshops if they didn’t want to learn that.
Victoria Brzustowicz made this color chart based on my workshop palette. Here is a printable PDF.I crossed out the red on the chart because in most cases, it’s unnecessary.

On the other hand, I’m emphatic about how the beginner’s palette is set up. One of my students made the nifty little paint chart above and gave me permission to share it.
Why do I ask my painters to set up like this?
  • It’s efficient;
  • It allows you to mix without thinking;
  • It prevents the beginner’s error of modulating with white or black;
  • It teaches how to mix greens.

The color tints are there as a substitute for straight-up white. If the light is cool use a cool tint; if the light is warm, use a warm tint. (I make an added puddle of lavender to modulate my greens; often that is the most appropriate cool modulator for our northern forest of mixed greens.)
I crossed out the red on the chart because in most cases, it’s unnecessary.
Admittedly, it’s a bit scruffy, but I’ve got all my landscape greens and all my figure skin hues built on the same system.
Is this the only palette organization that works? Of course not! I recently had a funny conversation with a fellow teacher who swears by phthalo green, a paint that I think should be banned by international convention. We each have our rationale, but the pigments we each use are part of our own coherent systems, not purchased higgledy–piggledy. In time, you will branch out in your paint buying, but it makes sense to start with a proven system.
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.