Art vs. Craft

“The Progress of a Soul: The Entrance,” Silk and gold thread embroidered on linen, Phoebe Anna Traquair, 1895 (Courtesy National Galleries of Scotland)

“The Progress of a Soul: The Entrance,” Silk and gold thread embroidered on linen, Phoebe Anna Traquair, 1895 (Courtesy National Galleries of Scotland)
Among the silliest distinctions in the world of art is that between so-called ‘fine art’ and ‘fine craft.’ Prior to the Age of Enlightenment, artists were craftsmen. It was only with the Romantic notion of the Cult of Genius that artists developed the slight stink of intellectualism. Somehow, that separated us from our craftwork brethren.
The Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century ought to have ended that. Based on the writing of art critic John Ruskin, this movement held that mass production created “servile labour.” Our subsequent history of importing cheap goods from the Third World seems to have proved his point.
“The Progress of a Soul: The Stress,” Silk and gold thread embroidered on linen, Phoebe Anna Traquair, 1897 (Courtesy National Galleries of Scotland)

“The Progress of a Soul: The Stress,” Silk and gold thread embroidered on linen, Phoebe Anna Traquair, 1897 (Courtesy National Galleries of Scotland)
The gap between fine art and fine craft was bridged by brilliant artists likeWilliam MorrisCharles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald, and theRoycroft Movement. Sadly, their influence has largely been aesthetic, not practical. The dichotomy between fine art’s intellectual fussiness and craft’s plain usefulness has grown wider.
This is why plein air painting gets so little respect, by the way. It rejects the idea that fine art is primarily an intellectual activity. Instead of making great statements, it seeks to transmit a lowly and practical view of the world. It makes people happy.
I pondered these matters as I wandered the British Museum’s monumental show, The Celts, currently in Edinburgh. What material culture is left of ancient Europe is largely what we categorize as ‘fine craft’—beaten gold torques, shield bosses, or pottery. (While we moderns reject purpose in contemporary art, we are always quick to ascribe it to the things we can’t understand among ancient artifacts. Apparently, no ancient person ever carved anything for the joy of carving: all incomprehensible art is now classified as some kind of religious totem.)
“The Progress of a Soul: Despair,” Silk and gold thread embroidered on linen, Phoebe Anna Traquair, 1899 (Courtesy National Galleries of Scotland)

“The Progress of a Soul: Despair,” Silk and gold thread embroidered on linen, Phoebe Anna Traquair, 1899 (Courtesy National Galleries of Scotland)
There was also a textile history that went along with the metal and stone history, but almost all of it is lost to the ages. Textiles are so ephemeral that they occupy a smaller niche in art history.
Phoebe Anna Traquair is one of the few women artists who achieved international recognition as a craftswoman, largely because she worked within the international Arts and Crafts movement. Traquair was what we might ironically call a Renaissance man, a virtuoso in many media: murals, painting, jewelry, illustration, illumination and embroidery. She was the first woman elected to the Scottish Royal Academy.
“The Progress of a Soul: Victory,” Silk and gold thread embroidered on linen, Phoebe Anna Traquair, 1902 (Courtesy National Galleries of Scotland)

“The Progress of a Soul: Victory,” Silk and gold thread embroidered on linen, Phoebe Anna Traquair, 1902 (Courtesy National Galleries of Scotland)
Traquair’s first commission was to do a series of murals for the Mortuary Chapel of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh. This was hardly prestigious; the room itself was a former coalhouse where bodies were kept prior to burial. She went on to do murals in several more prominent locations around Edinburgh: at St. Mary’s Cathedral, the Thistle Chapel at St. Giles Cathedral, and the Catholic Apostolic Church.
Four of Traquair’s tapestries are on display at the National Galleries. The Progress of the Soul is exuberant, luxurious, and exquisitely composed, borrowing heavily from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Traquair uses an idealized, beautiful young man dressed in an animal skin to represent the human soul. As young Denys moves from joy to despair, the natural world also changes from joyous to ‘red in tooth and claw.’ In the last panel a seraph breathes life back into him. Death is vanquished.
And all of this was done with a needle, by a mere woman who was also a wife and mother. Imagine.

Finding your style

Maple Tree, week 1, by Victoria Brzustowicz.
We all know very competent painters whose best students end up painting exactly like their teachers. This is not what any of us set out to do. It happens because the teacher focuses on technique, not process.
I occasionally talk to my students about mark-making, but only in a cautionary way. “Don’t dab dots of paint,” or “You can draw that line with more authority.” A person’s mark-making is their handwriting. It’s highly individual, and should be left alone as much as possible.
Maple Tree, week 12, by Victoria Brzustowicz.
Most students see their early mark-making as very raw, which it is. They immediately try to cover their insecurities by copying someone else—often their teacher.  This is a mistake. Style is a very slow thing in coming, and it requires its own space to evolve. Decide too soon that your style is blocky brushwork or heavy outlines or impressionism and you’ve consigned yourself to a box you can’t get out of.
Even experienced painters can fall into this trap. When artists start copying themselves, they stop growing.
Maple Tree, week 24, by Victoria Brzustowicz.
Most successful painters don’t really think about style much. The real question is what we’re trying to master at the moment: line, form, color, composition, atmospherics or any of the other millions of things that bedevil our work. True style is just the artifact of personality that gets in the way of perfectly executing our interior vision.
Victoria Brzustowicz is a well-known printmaker and designer with a degree in studio art from Wells. I was flattered when she signed up for my class two years ago.
Victoria needed absolutely no aesthetic guidance. Her goal was to learn to apply paint to a canvas as efficiently as possible, so the process didn’t get in the way of her own ideas. She heard my caution against jumping to conclusions about her style and took it to heart.
Maple Tree, week 33, by Victoria Brzustowicz.
In January, Victoria decided to paint a tree in her own garden once a week for a year. As she has proceeded, her brush has gotten out of her way, and her own internal mark-making is coming to the fore. It’s worth looking at the whole seriesto see the evolution.
“Knowing that I will be painting the tree over and over has made me freer to start with an open mind,” she told me. “I know there is always another painting in which I can explore some other aspect of the composition, the drawing, my palette, or my brush selection. I’ve been able to try what I’ve seen other artists do (or to do what they’ve recommended), and see what works or doesn’t work for me.”
By not locking herself into an artificial style from the beginning, she has managed to get to her authentic voice much faster. She has sidestepped a trap that even experienced painters fall into.

The passing parade

"A Little Bit of Everything," by Carol L. Douglas (sold).

“A Little Bit of Everything,” by Carol L. Douglas (sold).
Mary Byrom is doing something she calls chunking, which is concentrating on a single problem every day in small studies, which take her about 20 minutes. “It could be color temperature, or composition, or line, or whatever you are working on and thinking about,” she explained to me. Since the human brain takes in information best in small units, her idea makes sense to me.
I think I do something similar when I do short value studies. To me, composition—form—is the overriding question, so I’m always drawing little thumbnails to try to get better. I don’t really worry if they look like anything; they’re only to sort out the problem of dividing the canvas in an interesting way.
"End of Day," by Carol L. Douglas (sold).

“End of Day,” by Carol L. Douglas (sold).
When I arrived at Ogunquit on Saturday, I did not walk the Marginal Way with a camera or mechanical viewfinder. In fact, I only took one photo all weekend, and it was of sunbathers curled up with their Kindles.
Instead, I carried my wee little Sketch-N-Can. When a location called to me, I stopped for a moment to absorb it through my pores, and then did a value sketch or two.
It didn’t matter that I ended up using none of these sketches for my final paintings. I understood Ogunquit’s particular rock formations a lot better than when I’d arrived.
"The Path," by Carol L. Douglas (available).

“The Path,” by Carol L. Douglas (available).
This event had just five painters. These small events are my particular favorites because they allow the artists a chance to really talk to each other. (In addition to Mary Byrom, there were Kathy MorrisseyJohn Caggiano, and Frank Costantino.)
I enjoy the snippets of conversation I hear when painting, and the Marginal Way is perfect for that. There is always speculation on how much houses cost, or how people could escape their workaday lives and move to Maine. On the other hand, many people talk about work. Others talk about their kids. In a family destination, there’s always a lot of real-time child-rearing going on as well.
"Bell Buoy in the Distance (Morning Light)," by Carol L. Douglas (sold).

“Bell Buoy in the Distance (Morning Light),” by Carol L. Douglas (sold).
These young parents reminded me all too poignantly of the years when I walked the Marginal Way with my own kids, telling them to stay off the rocks, to hold my hand, to say thank you to the nice lady. At first I was uncomfortable with the depth of feeling it evoked. Eventually, it was just sweet to hear echoes of my own parenting days. In some ways, the Marginal Way is a metaphor for life: a cavalcade, a passing parade, in which our own appearance is terribly brief. Best to use it well.
And then there was the hung-over voice behind me that told his pal, “I really didn’t have an affair with her, you know.” It was a perfect short story in ten words, and I don’t need to know how it ended.

Painting along the Marginal Way

Workers built a retaining wall to stabilize a seriously damaged section of the Marginal Way after the Patriots Day Storm of 2007. Private donors contributed $100,000. Photo courtesy Marginal Way Preservation Fund.

Photo courtesy Marginal Way Preservation Fund.
When my kids were small, we would alternate vacations between the western National Parks one year and Ogunquit, ME, the following. I have many lovely memories of frolicking on the beach with them, ice cream, those peculiar red hot dogs, sandy bedtimes at my friend Jan’s cottage, and treks along the Marginal Way.
The Marginal Way was the brain-child of conservationist Josiah Chase (1840-1928). On his retirement, he moved to York, ME and bought a 20-acre strip of land extending from Perkins Cove to Israel Head. In 1925, he ceded the land for the Marginal Way to the town. Since then, other landowners have donated parcels that extended the Way.
Photo courtesy Marginal Way Preservation Fund.

Photo courtesy Marginal Way Preservation Fund.
In Scotland, I had the luxury of rambling where I wanted without worrying about trespassing. That was also the case in much of Australia. But in the United States we are often blocked from access to these places because our notion of property rights is different.

The men and women like Josiah Chase who gave land into the public trust during the last century were great visionaries. They recognized that the coast would eventually be built up. The common man would need access to it. But the process of preservation is on-going. The same properties need maintenance, particularly where they get heavy use by the public.
Workers built a retaining wall to stabilize a seriously damaged section of the Marginal Way after the Patriots Day Storm of 2007. Private donors contributed $100,000. Photo courtesy Marginal Way Preservation Fund.

Workers built a retaining wall to stabilize a seriously damaged section of the Marginal Way after the Patriots Day Storm of 2007. Private donors contributed $100,000. Photo courtesy Marginal Way Preservation Fund.
I think of the Marginal Way as perfectly groomed, but it has taken some beatings over the years. Fierce storms in 1991 and 2007 destroyed large sections. In 2010, a group of concerned citizens formed an endowment fund to protect and preserve the coastal path. This is the Marginal Way Preservation Fund.
The Marginal Way has two focal points: the ocean breaking against its great granite bowl, and the lovely homes and gardens behind it. I have the same curiosity you do about these gardens, and I’m finally able to satisfy it.
Photo courtesy Marginal Way Preservation Fund.

Photo courtesy Marginal Way Preservation Fund.
This weekend I will be joining Mary ByromFrank Costantino and other invited artists at By the Sea, By the Sea, a plein air paint-out and private garden tour. We start painting on Saturday at noon. The reception and sale will be Sunday, August 28, under a tent at the Beachmere Inn. Click here for more information.

The art of political domination

Mary, Queen of Scots by Jacob de Wet II, from the Great Gallery at Holyrood Palace.

Mary, Queen of Scots by Jacob de Wet II, from the Great Gallery at Holyrood Palace.
Edinburgh’s Palace of Holyroodhouse is apparently where the Queen stores the motley family geegaws that don’t fit in her other palaces. There is one room that should be of interest to art aficionados, however—the Great Gallery, which originally served as the Palace’s privy gallery and is still used for state occasions. Its decorating scheme revolves around a monumental series of portraits of the Scottish monarchs, beginning with the legendary Fergus I (who is said to have ruled Scotland from 330 BC) and ending with Charles II.
This series of paintings was intended to endorse the ancient, venerable and divinely-appointed line of the Stuarts. It told the viewer that their rule would ensure peace and prosperity for Scotland. It was done as part of Charles’ extensive restoration of the Palace after it was burned by Cromwell’s soldiers in 1650.
The portraits were done by Dutch Golden Age painter Jacob de Wet II in an act of unrivalled hard work. There is nothing incisive or unique about them, nor could there be: he churned 110 of them out at the rate of one every two weeks, working non-stop on the project from 1684 to 1686.
The Scottish king Dorna Dilla, by Jacob de Wet II, from the Great Gallery at Holyrood Palace.

The Scottish king Dorna Dilla, by Jacob de Wet II, from the Great Gallery at Holyrood Palace.
Charles II was de Wet’s principal patron. The king never saw the work; after his Scottish coronation in 1651, His Royal Highness hightailed it south and stayed there. De Wet’s portrait of Charles II was done from other likenesses. In fact, Holyrood Palace never commissioned a state portrait from any of the great painters of the day, and certainly not from either of the two great  Principle Painters in Ordinary to the KingSir Peter Lely and Sir Godfrey Kneller. That tells us exactly where Holyrood and Edinburgh ranked in the politics of the day.
Back to humble Jacob de Wet, then. He was first hired in 1673 by Sir William Bruce, the King’s Surveyor and Master of Works in Scotland. De Wet produced a series of classical history paintings for the newly-rebuilt state apartments at Holyrood. Many of these paintings remain. After this, he remained in Scotland, doing commercial work for the great and mighty.
The Royal Collection carefully controls images of Holyrood Palace, but here are Jacob de Wet's paintings in situ, courtesy of Susan Abernethy.

Most of Jacob de Wet’s paintings in situ, courtesy of Susan Abernethy.
In 1684 de Wet returned to Holyrood. His contract with the Royal Cashkeeper reads: “The said James de Witte binds and obleidges him to compleately draw, finish, and perfyte The Pictures of the haill Kings who have Reigned over this Kingdome of Scotland, from King Fergus the first King, TO KING CHARLES THE SECOND, OUR GRACIOUS SOVERAIGNE who now Reignes Inclusive, being all in number One hundred and ten.”
Today 97 of the final 111 portraits are on display in the Great Gallery.  They were loosely based on a series of 109 Scottish kings painted by George Jamesone in honor of Charles I’s Scottish coronation in 1633. Such of Jameson’s work as survived civil war were sent to Holyrood for de Wet to copy. De Wet relied on these, on George Buchanan’s list of Scottish kings, and on other source material. If he used any models at all, they were completely interchangeable, for there is nothing characteristic about those ancient faces.
The scale of de Wet’s achievement is unique. While he may never be remembered for his delicacy of brushwork or incisive understanding of character, he deserves recognition for having finished at all.
On leaving Holyrood, I remarked that, were I forced to live there, I’d abdicate. The weight of those ancient stones is not romantic to me; it’s oppressive. Apparently, I’m not the only person who sees historic privilege as a burden, as this sad obituary states.
I intended to post regularly from Scotland, but the internet defeated me. My mobile’s problem I sort of get; it’s elderly (all of two years). My laptop generally travels well. Its refusal to acknowledge wifi at our destinations was baffling.
Nonetheless, I’m home and working this morning after that new tradition of modern air travel: the short hop that becomes a 24-hour dance contest.
We flew with a Canadian carrier just to avoid this, and they were, in all things, far kinder than their American cousins in similar circumstances. A delay in Edinburgh caused a missed connection in Toronto that in turn revealed our luggage to have strayed, resulting in an additional delay in Montreal for Customs declarations. This meant we left the airport at rush hour, which in turn meant a climb over Grafton Notch at night when the wee sleekit moose were in motion. We left our flat in Edinburgh at 6 AM GMT and arrived at home at 1 AM EST, meaning 24 hours of travel. If I don’t make sense, that’s why.

White Sands of Iona

 “Iona Croft,” by Francis. Cadell, 1920

“Iona Croft,” by Francis. Cadell, 1920
Standing on the small track that passes for Main Street in Baile Mòr on Iona, a local man named Davy gave me a brief precis of local art history. (The similarities of his inflection to that of Canada meant I was able to easily follow him.)
Iona is associated with two Scottish Colourist painters, Francis Cadell and Samuel Peploe. “They liked to paint from Traigh Ban Nam Monach, or the White Strand of the Monks,” Davy told me. Peploe and Cadell first painted on Iona in 1920, returning there most summers.
“Iona Landscape: Rocks,” by Samuel Peploe. Both of these were painted from Traigh Ban Nam Monach.

“Iona Landscape: Rocks,” by Samuel Peploe, was painted from Traigh Ban Nam Monach.
I have only a vague knowledge of Scottish art history—the Glasgow Boys and the “first Scottish Impressionist,” William McTaggart. However I do recognize their position within the world movement toward plein air landscape painting that included Impressionism, the Heidelberg School in Australia, the RussianPeredvizhniki, and, of course, the Canadian Group of Seven.
“Iona, Looking North,” by Francis Cadell, was painted from Traigh Ban Nam Monach.

“Iona, Looking North,” by Francis Cadell, was painted from Traigh Ban Nam Monach looking back toward Mull.
I also felt the pull of the magically flat, cool light of Iona. However, I was booked to go to Staffa in a wooden tour boat. This unlovely but fast thing was custom-built for the tourist trade in 1990 using no plans, and it’s tight and sea-worthy.
Scotland is sometimes described as a nanny state, but in many ways it’s content to let people make their own choices in ways that we Americans have lost. For example, I stood along the forward deck of the ship, instead of packed in the hold with the other visitors. There was no mandatory lifejacket lecture and no particular safety devices on Staffa itself. This was a pattern we were to see over and over. Your safety is your responsibility, an attitude we litigious Americans seem to have lost to our great disadvantage.
Young seals off Mull.

Young seals off Mull.
On the boat trip back to Fionnphort, we were all rather pensive. Very seldom do I feel a strong urge to return to a place, and usually that isn’t shared by my fellow passengers, but the pull of Iona is very strong.  Each of us plotted, in our own way, a plan to return. For me, that means a trip with my painting kit.

A mystery

The painting Russ bought at an antique shop in Southern Maine,

The painting Russ bought at an antique shop in Southern Maine,
Today I present a mystery. I wish I could solve it myself, but it’s out of my area of expertise. I hope that one of you knows someone who knows someone who can speak definitively on the subject.
Russel Whitten is a talented young watercolor painter. In the short time I’ve known him, he’s become one of my favorite artists in the Maine plein air scene. At this year’s Art in the Park, we took a break together outside the Ocean Park Soda Fountain. He showed me a photo of a picture he acquired at an antique shop several years ago.
Russ believes it’s an Edward Hopper watercolor. He has studied Hopper’s watercolors extensively and is convinced he’s right. Since Russ is a watercolorist himself, he thinks deeply about painting technique and style within his own medium.
“Trawlers,” Edward Hopper (Gloucester, MA)

“Trawlers,” Edward Hopper (Gloucester, MA)
Although he was best known as an oil painter, Hopper first achieved success as a watercolorist, a medium he never abandoned. He produced many, many watercolor paintings, including studies of working boats such as trawlers, freighters and tugboats.
“Rocks and House,” Edward Hopper, undated

“Rocks and House,” Edward Hopper, undated
When art historians determine who painted something, it’s called “attribution,” and it’s by no means an exact science. How certain they can be depends on style, documentary evidence and scientific experimentation.
I did a quick perusal of Hopper’s Gloucester and Maine watercolors. Sometimes he signed them; sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes his drawing was exceptionally accurate; at other times it was whimsical. (Hopper had a great capacity for narrative and whimsy.) I’m not an art historian, and the image Russ sent me is very low resolution, but the color palette and the brushwork seem appropriate for the time, and possible for the artist.
“Back Street, Gloucester,” Edward Hopper, 1928.

“Back Street, Gloucester,” Edward Hopper, 1928.
I’m writing this from the airport at Toronto, Ontario. In this noise and chaos, it’s almost impossible to research anything intelligently, so I’m leaving it up to you.
So while I’m hiking around Iona tomorrow, you can scratch your head over this. If you know anyone whose specialty is Hopper, forward this to them and see what they say. Even better, look up some Hoppers yourself and try to make an informed guess. After all, art history is for everyone.

How to paint, in five easy steps

"Historic Fort George," by Carol L. Douglas

“Historic Fort Point,” by Carol L. Douglas
While it was fresh in my workshop students’ minds, I shot pictures showing the step-by-step progression of a painting. I took these while participating in the Third Annual Wet Paint on the Weskeag this past weekend.
The site I chose was the ruins of Fort St. George, overlooking Thomaston. Not much remains but a raised berm, but it is peaceful, pretty, and shadowed by oaks. I parked by Wiley’s Corner Spring and eyeballed the stream. It looked perfectly wonderful, but I have been fooled by drinking-water sources before. Putting caution before curiosity, I resisted and turned to hike the half-mile to the fort site. It was an easy trail, but I was glad I had my super-light pochade box.
I settled down on a rock outcropping, bracing my tripod below me on the uneven boulders.
My sketch. The problem with rocky outcroppings is that they can create an unbalanced composition. On a grey day, it's hard to use the sky to fix that.

My sketch.
The problem with rocky outcroppings along water is that they can create unbalanced compositions. All the weight is on the land side. On a grey day, there’s little sky action to counterbalance that.
I never use viewfinders of any kind. To me the most exciting part of painting is figuring out how to transfer all that grandeur into an arresting composition. The rest is just details.
After I had a composition,  I transferred it to my canvas. I copied my sketch rather than drawing from the view.

First draft of a drawing.
After I had a composition I liked, I transferred it to my canvas. I generally copy my sketch rather than drawing again from the view. After I have the major pieces in place, I go back and redraw to conform to reality.
My palette. I always mix my greens and tints before I start painting. It keeps the color clean.

My palette.
I always mix my green matrix and tints of my pigments before I start painting. It keeps my color clean. And, yes, I use a palette knife.
For more information on how I chose this palette, see the pigment and color theory posts here.
Next, I map in the colors.

Next, I map in the colors.
I’m mostly concerned with drawing accuracy and color when I do my underpainting. This is a color map made with thin layers of paint and a minimal amount of solvent. I want it as dry as is possible when I do the next layer. Odorless mineral spirits or turpentine dry faster than linseed, walnut or poppy oil.
If anyone suggests using medium or oil at this phase of your painting, back away slowly. One of the first mantras of painting is “fat over lean.” That means applying oily paint over less-oily paint to create a stable, elastic paint film that doesn’t oxidize. Paintings made this way last for centuries.
I am familiar with some teachers who encourage their students to coat the surface with medium and paint into it to create a sort of faux luminism. These paintings are drowning in oil and varnish, which will darken and crack over time. It’s terrible technique and should not be encouraged.
This is more or less the point at which I start using larger quantities of paint and medium. I used a filbert on this, about a size eight.

This is more or less the point at which I start using larger amounts of paint and add medium.
Start adding medium when you start adding paint volume. Go light on the stuff. It can makes an unmanageable soup very quickly. I use a larger brush than you would expect. In the painting above I used a #8 filbert throughout, only pulling out a larger flat to smooth down some surfaces.
As I headed back to the Kelpie Gallery to turn in my finished painting, I took one more long look at Wiley’s Corner Spring. Oh, heck, I thought. Why not live dangerously? The water was smooth and sweet, and created no aftershocks.
Surprise, surprise! The finished piece won the "Juror's Choice" award, which is the top prize.

The finished piece won the Juror’s Choice award. If I’d expected that, I’d have pressed my blouse.
That was important, because by the time you read this, I should be most of the way to Montreal, from whence I am flying to Edinburgh. I plan to do some simple watercolor sketches along the way, but until I return, keep on painting… and go light on the medium, for heaven’s sake!

This wonderful life

Corea, ME pine, by Lynne Vokatis.

Corea, ME pine, by Lynne Vokatis.
In the week of a workshop, I form intense bonds with new people and see old friends again. I have learned to not take the future for granted. We will never have this exact experience again. The mix of people, the experience, the weather and our goals will be different next year. It will be beautiful, yes, but it won’t be the same.
Hence, I always cry when I say goodbye.
Looking back on the week, there were three important lessons:
  1. There is an order of operations for painting. Learn that, and you will make life infinitely easier on yourself. (More on that tomorrow.)
  2. To paint boldly, you need to stop mixing with your brush. That is what your palette knife is for.
  3. Eventually everyone needs to pee in the woods.
There is no extra charge for learning to pee in the woods.

The woods.
That last item is usually a shock for city dwellers, but most of America’s beauty spots don’t have Starbucks on the corner. And it really isn’t that hard to miss your shoes.
All last week I pondered whether I wanted to bring my workshop back to Schoodic Institute for an unprecedented third year. In the end I realized a simple fact: I love to teach there, my students love to paint there, and their families love to go there with them.
A fogbow over Frenchman Bay

A fogbow over Frenchman Bay
Schoodic has some of the best vistas in all of Maine, which is saying a mouthful. Unlike the Mt. Desert part of Acadia National Park, there are no crowds. There are fishing, biking, hiking, and innumerable touristy things to entertain the non-painting fellow travelers.
In 1935, the Navy opened a radio listening post at Schoodic Point to replace the old Otter Cliffs station. Acadia was the best spot along the Atlantic for this because of its isolation and its unobstructed ocean path from Europe. Those same factors make for brilliant painting. Long, long breakers roll in from the open sea and crash on high rock bluffs.
Since the station was closed in 2002, the US government has transformed the site into a research and training center for the National Park Service. You can’t just drop by and stay the night. The only people who can stay there are participants in an educational program and their traveling parties.
They provide our meals so we don’t have to worry about preparing food when we’d rather be painting. At $1600 a week including room, board, access to the park and instruction, it’s a great deal.
Schoodic Institute waits among the pines and spruces for us to return next year.

Schoodic Institute waits among the pines and spruces for us to return next year.
So I finally wised up and did the contract part of my 2017 workshop before I left on Friday. It’s scheduled for August 6-11, 2017. Why should you care now? Because you’ll get an early bird discount of $100 if you sign up before January 1 (or a $50 returning-student discount if you’ve taken another of my workshops).  That means you can ask for the workshop for Christmas.
Fog at Birch Harbor. The weather was generally fantastic all week.

Fog at Birch Harbor. The weather was generally fantastic all week.
Now the boilerplate: the 5-day workshop is just $1600, including your private room with shared bath, meals, snacks, and instruction. Accommodations for non-painting partners and guests are also available. Your deposit of $900 holds your space.  Refunds are available up to 60 days prior to start, less a $50 administration fee.
Email me to let me know you’re interested, or for more information. I look forward to seeing you!

Old love

Pines in fog by Cecilia Chang.

Pines in fog, by Cecilia Chang.
Perched on the back of her painting kit, feet propped on a pine snag, Cecilia Chang sat eating a sandwich. “I bet I’m the oldest student you’ve ever had,” she said.
I thought about it. “I bet you’re probably right,” I answered.
Cecilia is 72. Her husband, Tamin, is also with us. He is 75. Both are retired research scientists from Rochester, NY. Whether exercising your brain makes you age more slowly, I cannot say, but they are both exceptionally strong and limber. It has been impossible for me to stop them from climbing up and down the steep rocks on the Schoodic Peninsula. I’ve been worried.
Mark Island Overlook, by Lynne Vokatis.

Mark Island Overlook, by Lynne Vokatis.
Finally, I resorted to out-and-out lying. “I don’t mean to insult you, Grandfather,” I told Tamin, “but you cannot go down on those rocks in open-toed sandals. They are very dangerous. You will fall between the rocks and drown and I will never be allowed to teach in a National Park again.”
“We must respect Teacher and do as she says,” said Cecilia, equally straight-faced. Tamin, being a very courtly gentleman, acquiesced.
Pines in fog, by Corinne Kelly Avery.

Pines in fog, by Corinne Kelly Avery.
I’ve been contemplating the miracle of long marriages recently. Occasionally I’ll see an older couple together, walking with obvious solicitude toward each other. That devotion and mutual support seems to me to be as precious as a newborn baby. Young love is, in a way, simple. It’s out of our control. Old love is a different kind of simple. The raw edges have been scraped away, leaving only the essence of affection. It’s a pity that so few people these days make it that far.
Cecilia took up painting when she retired. “I walk every day,” she told me. “Maybe if I painted every day, I’d be a better artist. But exercise is the reason I look 27 instead of 72.”
Winter Harbor lighthouse on Mark Island, by Lynne Vokatis.

Winter Harbor lighthouse on Mark Island, by Lynne Vokatis.
Some years I have more enrollees than I can handle. This year we have a very small group. I take a long view about these things. Instead of struggling to fix the problem, I wait to see why it happened. (That’s one of the joys of self-employment.) One of the reasons, I now know, is that I’ve gotten to know the participants this year in a way that’s not usually possible.
The amazingly youthful Cecilia Chang attributes her good looks to daily exercise. That's Corinne Kelly Avery at the right.

The amazingly youthful Cecilia Chang attributes her good looks to daily exercise. That’s Corinne Kelly Avery at the right.
As we took our break, Cecilia started talking about her childhood in Taiwan. She told us how she visited a cathedral and felt a great sense of peace. The Holy Spirit drew her back, over and over, even when her father forbade her to be baptized.
There was someone in our group who needed to hear that powerful testimony, and some of us who were meant to be witnesses to the event. From the time I put together this year’s workshop last fall, heavenly wheels have turned within wheels. They brought this particular group of people together for a few galvanizing minutes on the rocks above Frenchman Bay.
My wee little rock demo took on a life of its own.

My wee little rock demo took on a life of its own.
Dinner was on the deck of the Schoodic Institute Commons. I was fidgeting because I needed another 2000 steps to stay on track to defeat my son-in-law in this week’s Fitbit challenge. The youngsters in our group wanted to check messages or go shower. Only Cecilia and Tamin were willing to walk with me. We set off down a trail that dropped back down to Frenchman Bay. A pale peach sun hung low in a milky sky above the gentle lapping of the waves.
Now, seriously, how can you not be in awe of this life?