Three Maud Lewis houses and 17 Guy’s Frenchys

After class, we went touring and saw several Maud Lewis homesteads and a slew of Frenchys.

Ben Loman Harbour, c. 1952, by Maud Lewis

Poppy Balser is doing exactly what she should be doing in this workshop, spending hours putting us through technical exercises with big fat brushes. They’re very informative but not particularly photogenic.
After class, she offered to show us the sights. This is a beautiful area of mists and moors and glowering headlands, so we jumped at the chance. We started our tour at the Point Prim lighthouse. There’s been a light at this location since 1804, but this is a spare, uncompromising iteration built in 1964. Still, it’s very beautiful. It’s located on a wild, rocky headland at the mouth of Digby Gut and is surrounded by weathered, stunted trees and massive basalt and granite shelves.
One of many exercises I painted in yesterday’s class.
Around Digby, the buzz is all about a movie depicting the life and marriage of Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis. It was just released in Canada and is to open in the US in a few days.
Lewis was born in Yarmouth, NS in 1903. She suffered a severe form of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis that caused her to be unusually small and almost chinless. Today, with her physical deformities, she would have been cared for by the state, but that wasn’t so in 1937. She moved to Digby to live with her aunt. In 1938, she married forty-year-old bachelor fish peddler Everett Lewis.
According to her husband, Maud answered an ad he had posted for a “live-in or keep house” housekeeper. They married a few weeks later and moved into his tiny one-room cabin a few miles west of Digby.
Provincial memorial at the site, more or less, of Maud Lewis’ home.
Lewis accompanied her husband on his daily rounds peddling fish, bringing Christmas cards that she had drawn. Emboldened by her success, she started to paint on beaverboard, old cookie sheets and Masonite. Her worsening arthritis meant she was unable to do housework, so Everett did the housework and Maud sold paintings for very small sums of money.
Her original house is now in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. The province has thoughtfully erected a steel memorial model close to its original location. Driving toward Digby Neck on a parallel road, we came across a sign pointing us toward another replica of her house. We squelched down a dirt lane to find it. It was built in 1990 by retired fisherman Murray Ross, and is complete with Everett’s shop and their mailbox.
Murray Ross’ iteration of Maud Lewis’ home.
We’ve been baffled by signs for something called Frenchys. It turns out that a Frenchy is a used clothing store. These were pioneered by Edwin Therialult. In the 1970s, he started imported used clothing from the United States to make cleaning cloths he called “wipers.” Some of the clothes were too good to shred, so he opened an outlet to resell them. Fortunately, he didn’t trademark the name, so a “Frenchy” is now a used clothing store. They’re big business around here. Guy’s Frenchys has seventeen stores and is just one of the chains using that name.
Headlands in the gathering dusk.
According to the cognoscenti, if you buy someone a gift item at a Frenchy, you should tell them it “had tags.”

Nova Scotia is calling me

Heading to Nova Scotia to study watercolors with Poppy Balser, I found a good reference for choosing easels in my email.

Replacing a plank on the Stephen Taber, by Carol L. Douglas

I had time for a quick sketch of the Stephen Taber between returning from Northampton, MA and departing for Digby, Nova Scotia. At the shipyard, Captain John Foss suggested I look up a local specialty called a Digby Chick, which he said is a particularly potent kind of smoked herring. On the boat a Digby native told us there is no such thing. Who to believe? The Captain, of course.

We were queuing for the ferry, which crosses the Bay of Fundy to the Digby Gut and from there to the Annapolis Basin. I was driving Bobbi Heath’s new SUV, which has Massachusetts plates. That gave me carte blanche to drive very, very fast (or so I said). The open road, my paint kit, and new places along the hard, cold North Atlantic surf—this is an idyll.

The ferry dock at Digby, Nova Scotia

We’re in Digby to take a workshop from the superlative Canadian watercolorist Poppy Balser. From there, we’ll head north and around the Bay via Truro and Parrsboro. I haven’t been in this neck of the woods since my trans-Canada trip last October. It’s warmer now, and I’m rested. This area has the highest tides in the world, and I have the time and energy to paint them in each phase.

I am moderately competent at watercolor, but Poppy has a loose, lyrical style that I admire and want to understand. This is, of course, the end result of a highly accomplished technique. There are lots of things I want to learn from her, including how she paints her lively, moving water.

Angelique at the Dock, 2016, Poppy Balser. She did the sketch for this at Castine, on the day we shared a Scotch Egg on the landing. I left, and she bagged the boat. 

From the instructor side, I try to discourage buying stuff just for my class. I don’t like making people spend money. It’s been fun experiencing this from the student side, however. The impulse to have something new for the first day of school is strong.

So I invested in some beautiful, new, elegant Rosemary & Co. brushes. I justify this by telling myself that, unlike oil brushes, it’s hard to destroy watercolor brushes. Beyond that, my watercolor kit was pretty good, actually.
Everything I own for watercolor fits in a plastic laundry basket, in contrast to my oil painting supplies, which spill out of my studio into every corner of my house. At plein airevents, I envy the watercolorists their efficiency. When it comes time to frame, however, they get their comeuppance, as they have to fiddle with glass, mats and tape.
We had time to race around St. John’slovely old streets to seek out the commercial harbor. Our goal of finding a greasy takeout for the ferry, however, was foiled. “Opening maybe May 16,” the sign read.  Just like home.

As soon as Bobbi saw the commercial fleet at Digby she started wondering about property prices. It’s beautiful.

We’re carrying four easels with us. One is a predecessor of the Mabef M32, and one is a Guerrilla Painter Flex Easel mounted on a Slik tripod. These are for our watercolors, because they have heads that can be set horizontal. If space had been a problem, we could have used either of them for oils as well. It was easier to just toss our regular kits in the car. In Bobbi’s case, that is an Open Box M; in mine it’s a pochade box I made.

I was contacted by a reader of my blog, Olivier Jennes, founder of WonderStreet. He asked me to look at an article they’d just published about easels. They’re in no way connected with the brands involved; they’re just passionate about art and design.
I’ve read their review, and think it’s worth passing along. If you’re thinking about buying a new easel, you can find the link here.

Taking up painting after retirement

Yesterday I wrote about painters who continued working into their dotage. Today, I give you an example of one who didn’t even start until after most of her peers were dead.

Hoosick Falls, New York, In Winter, 1944, Grandma Moses
“The examples you gave yesterday are of people who have painted their whole lives,” a reader wrote. “I won’t have time to learn to paint until I retire. Do you think that is also true for people who take up painting at a later age?”
Leaving aside the idea that other work makes painting impossible (it doesn’t), we have a great example in Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses. She was born in 1860 in Greenwich, New York. She died in 1961 in Hoosick Falls, which is about twenty miles south. She had given birth to ten children, five of whom survived. She and her husband subsisted as small farmers, making much of what they had and doing without. From our 21stcentury viewpoint, her life was hard and limited in scope.
Wash Day, 1945, Grandma Moses
Still, that band of land from Greenwich to Hoosick Falls is arguably New York’s most sublime landscape, a region of soft rolling hills, fertile fields and pretty, old farmhouses. The other place where she lived for two decades, Staunton, Virginia, is in the Shenandoah Valley. It could be described exactly the same way. Both are places where rich urbanites come to vacation and appreciate the beauties of nature, but where the locals struggle to keep the house painted.

Grandma Moses did not take up painting until she was 78, but she showed an inclination toward art for her whole life. She had rudimentary art lessons in the one-room schoolhouse she attended (now the Bennington Museum in Vermont), and access to art supplies from the family who hired her as a farm hand at the age of twelve.
Mt. Nebo On The Hill, crewel embroidery, 1940, Grandma Moses
She produced quilts, dolls, and much crewel embroidery. Her unique painting style resonates with the values of her needlework, which in turn was influenced by the Currier & Ives lithographs of her childhood. Long before she was a painter, she was embroidering landscape paintings of her own design. In fact, she only took up painting when arthritis made holding a needle too difficult.  
Moses was discovered by art collector Louis Caldor, who saw her work in the window of Thomas’ Drug Store in Hoosick Falls. Three of the paintings he bought were then included in the Contemporary Unknown American Painters exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1939. Two one-woman New York shows immediately followed. This began Moses’s meteoric rise in the art world. By 1943, there was an overwhelming demand for her paintings. 
Photo is labelled on reverse: “Mrs. Thomas and Grandma Moses her paintings were displayed in Mrs. Thomas drug store Hoosick Falls, N.Y. that’s how she was discovered A man came by bought all paintings at $1.00 each.” c. 1940 (Courtesy Hoosick Falls Past and Present Facebook page)
Her homespun viewpoint contrasted sharply with the abstract-expressionist Zeitgeist of post-war intellectual America. She was popular for all the same reasons her friend Norman Rockwell was popular. By the middle of the 20th century, there was a noticeable split between the cognoscenti and the middle classes in terms of values and mores. It has only become wider and deeper today.
Most of Grandma Moses’s paintings were done on cardboard and are relatively small. She painted her scenes first, and then inserted figures going about the daily work of farm life. She didn’t draw from life or photographs, but from her own fertile imagination. Because of this, her paintings are reminiscent of the Labours of the Seasons from medieval Books of Hours.
Country Fair, 1950, Grandma Moses
She belongs in the pantheon of naïve painters because she was self-taught, but to say that she was in any way primitive is risible, considering what has followed in the art world.

She’s Not There (yet)

Extreme old age seems liberating for many artists, who are finally able to take risks they couldn’t contemplate when they were younger.

Drunkenness of Noah, 1515, Giovanni Bellini (then 85)
The Duke of Edinburgh recently announced that he will be retiring soon after his 96th birthday. Either he has remarkable genes or his expectations are radically different from the gaffers I know. Most people are anxious to quit working as soon as they can. 
On the other hand, artists, like royalty, are bound by noblesse oblige. In other words, we must act in a way that conforms to our position and reputation. But how long can we keep it up?
Last night I toddled over to Northampton, MA to see the final show of the 1960s British rock band, the Zombies. They played their 1968 album Odessey and Oracle from start to finish one last time, after which they’re all moving on to something else.
Toward Another Light, 1985, Marc Chagall (then 97)
This was not a PBS special reunion band, where they prop up one aging member of a long-gone band and pad him with a backing orchestra. All four surviving players were present. Of these, Rod Argent, Hugh Grundy and Colin Blunstone turn 72 this year. Chris White is 74. Jim Rodford, who plays with them now, is 76.
They continue to play to the highest standard of musicianship, a standard that most young artists will never achieve, let alone maintain.
On the day before he died at the age of 97, Marc Chagall produced his last work, a lithograph entitled Toward Another Light. A portrait of his younger self with his late wife Bella is handing him a bouquet, while the Angel of Death waits to receive him. That’s what you might call a strong finish.
Cover of Jazz, 1947, by Henri Matisse, 1947. Matisse was bedridden after abdominal cancer at age 72. He turned to cutting colored paper. Jazz was completed when he was 74.
A striking number of artists have been highly productive late into old age, including Giovanni Bellini (who died at 86), Michelangelo (89), Titian (86 or 88), Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, (86), Claude Monet(86), Henri Matisse (84), Joan Miró (90), Pablo Picasso (91), and Georgia O’Keeffe (98).
Faith Ringgold, who is now 86, drew the connection between visual arts and musicianship in an ArtNews interviewin 2013. “You’ve got to do just like the musicians do, you’ve got to practice every day,” she said. “I plan to do that for the rest of my life, practice every day.”
Google’s 12th Birthday, 2010 Wayne Thiebaud (then 89)
Wayne Thiebaud, who will be an eye-watering 97 this year, pointed out the relationship between physical well-being and creative control.  “The plumb line in the body gives us a sense of things like grace or awkwardness or tension.”
Extreme old age seems liberating for many artists, who are finally able to take risks they couldn’t contemplate when they were younger.
“Working becomes your own little Eden,” Thiebaud said. “You make this little spot for yourself. You don’t have to succeed. You don’t have to be famous. You don’t have to be obligated to anything except that development of the self.”

What a difference a day makes!

The first glorious plein air painting day was our last class of the spring session.  It was grand.
Camden and Mt. Battie, by Carol L. Douglas
Nobody understands spring like a Northerner. We long for that giddy day when the temperature first climbs above 50° F., the rain stops, and the sky clears. Our joints cease their muttering, our backs straighten, and our steps grow firmer and quick. It is a privilege to watch ice and snow roll back from the tomb of winter.
I used to teach every week. I travel too much for that now, so I break my classes into six-week sessions. This one has been shut indoors too much of the time by frankly lousy weather. It’s frustrated me. I think of myself as an apostle of plein airpainting. How am I going to spread the good word, caged in my studio like that? Yesterday was expected to be cool with possible showers. It ended up being wonderful.
Great clouds and a rolling river.
The Megunticook is still raging down its chute into Camden harbor. A sky of sublime beauty sailed around us. Cumulus clouds formed above Mt. Battie and to the east over Penobscot Bay. Cirrus clouds striped the high altitudes. The wooden boats for which Camden is justly famous rocked gently at their moorings, their owners hard at work preparing for the season. The deep blue of the sky reflected midnight in the harbor waters. There were great paintings everywhere, and we were present.
I like most of my students, but this group has been special. Two absolute beginners drove in every week from near Jay. That may be only a distance of sixty miles or so, but, for you flatlanders, it takes the better part of two hours. That’s commitment.
Dinghy, Camden Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas
Only one student has been with me before. The other three are pretty advanced painters. All of them have great potential.
“That froth is not white,” I pontificated. Then I suggested they use pale tints of lavender and yellow ochre to model it.
“I believe you, but I don’t see it,” Jennifer answered. That comes with time, I told her.
A spectacular pileup of clouds to the east.
They may be done with this session, but still I gave them one last homework assignment: to look at Joaquin Sorolla’shandling of white. They are a myriad of tints, but I’ve noticed no absolute white anywhere.
I think commercially-bottled water is a lousy deal, environmentally and personally. Still, my house (like yours) always seems to collect the darn stuff. I’ve been toying with a bottle in my studio recently. It’s multifaceted and infinitely reflective. That led to my students’ second assignment: to draw a water bottle, in all its whirling complexity. If the drawing conveys meaning or mood, that’s even better. These students have until the end of the month to finish. You, dear reader, can email yoursto me any time you want.
Your homework assignment, should you choose to accept it. Draw this, but do it from life, not from a photo.
Alas, the morning sped by, and we parted. By teatime, Mt. Battie and Camden were again shrouded in rain. We’d had a brief window of perfect weather and we had gloried in it.

Our new session starts Tuesday, May 30 and runs for six classes, skipping merrily over Independence Day. I’ll give you more information soon, but you can read about it or register here

The greatest painter of rain

The greatest landscape artist of the 19th century wasn’t a Frenchman. He was Hiroshige, or so his western contemporaries thought.

Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge At Atake, 1856, Hiroshige.
As I was walking to the post office yesterday, a miniscule rain shower spattered in the woods next to me.  It lasted no more than a second. Being modern, I didn’t recognize it as an omen. Despite the forecast, by midafternoon it was misting heavily enough that no outdoor painting was possible.
We’ve had a lot of rain this spring in the northeast. The St. Lawrence River is full, so they’re holding water back in Lake Ontario, which is in turn flooding parts of Toronto and Rochester. Here in Maine the creeks and rivers patter loudly and joyfully down to the sea. And still it continues to rain; it’s on the forecast for the rest of this week.
Night Rain On Karasaki, Hiroshige
The 19th century Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige often used mist and rain as motifs in his compositions. He worked in a genre called ukiyo-e, which translates as “pictures of the floating world.” After Commodore Perry forced Japan opento Westerners in 1854, ukiyo-e was exported to the west. It had a profound influence on Western painting.
Hiroshige was the last master of ukiyo-e. Born in 1797 in Edo (Tokyo), he was left orphaned at the age of 12. His father was the samurai fire fighter of Edo Castle, and this responsibility passed to the son. Although he went on to study and work full time as an artist,he never shirked his duty, eventually passing it along through his family.
Two Men On A Sloping Road In The Rain, Hiroshige
Shortly after his parents’ deaths, he began studying art with the master Utagawa Toyohiroof the Utagawa school. This exposed him to western ideas of perspective, which had been imported in books carried to Japan by Dutch traders. The Utagawa school pioneered landscape painting as an independent genre.
Hiroshage worked with a sketchbook, traveling to other locations to assemble ideas and motifs for his woodcuts. Although he was prolific and famous, he was never wealthy; at one point his wife had to sell clothing and ornamental combs to support his work.
White Rain, Shono, 1833-34, Hiroshige
Hiroshage worked within the narrow genre of meisho-e, or “pictures of famous places.” In a sense, these were the predecessors of picture postcards.
Japonisme took the 19th century world by storm after the International Exposition of 1867 in Paris. Oriental bric-a-brac poured into western Europe. James Whistler reportedly discovered Japanese prints in a tea room near London Bridge. Claude Monet saw them used as wrapping paper. James Tissot and Edgar Degas collected ukiyo-e. Mary Cassatt was an open and avid admirer and imitator of the style. Vincent van Gogh famously copied two of the One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, which were among his collection of ukiyo-e prints.
And it wasn’t just the visual arts. Gilbert and Sullivan produced their comic masterpiece, The Mikado, in 1885. Japanese gardens became the rage. By the end of the century, Hiroshige was being referred to as the greatest painter of landscapes of the 19th century.
Evening Shower At Nihonbashi Bridge, 1832, Hiroshige
Hiroshige died at the age of 62 during a cholera epidemic in Edo. Just before his death, he wrote:
I leave my brush in the East
And set forth on my journey.
I shall see the famous places in the Western Land.

Sadly, the same cultural exchange that sparked so much artistic development in Europe also spelled the end of ukiyo-e. The rapid Westernization following the Meiji Restoration found photography vying with traditional woodblock printing. By the 1890s the tradition was, more or less, dead.

Blast from the past

Graphic design in the Fifties and Sixties was the playbill version of Googie: exuberant, absurd, energetic, Atomic Age America.
A tab at the top or bottom was left blank so local information could be added. That’s why the type looks different.

I was looking for Howard Gallagher, owner of Camden Falls Gallery. Coincidently, he was looking for me. Curiously, we were both thinking about music, not painting.

In our youth, my husband was a bass player with Buffalobluesman, Shakin’ Smith. We drew straws to see who had to get a real job, and he lost. He still plays, and he’d like to play more. The trouble is that his contacts are few up here in midcoast Maine. There doesn’t seem to be as much of a live music scene here as in Buffalo. That’s odd, considering this is a tourist destination.
Buffalo’s last bar call was at 4 AM. This created a world of its own for musicians, who generally had to wait until the last drunk stumbled out before the owner would unfist his cash. Often, musicians wouldn’t even start playing until 11 PM. One fine summer morning, Doug and I returned home after a gig to find his father up painting the garage door. He seemed inexpressibly old, but he was younger then than we are now.
This schedule was a remnant of an era when the mills roared 24-7. Bars stayed open to accommodate shiftworkers. That world is documented in Verlyn Klinkenborg’s elegiac The Last Fine Time.
Neither of us want to stay up all night drinking in seedy dives, but Doug does want to play. Howard likes music, so I called to see if he had any ideas.
No, but he needed a poster designed for a series of swing shows he’s organizing in Northport this summer. Back when Doug was playing the bass, I was doing graphic design using paper, an X-Acto knife, waxer, rapidograph pens, and other obsolete tools of the trade. I quit long after the transition to computers—almost exactly twenty years ago, in fact—but I still remember the basics.
Most of those mid-century type treatments were hand-drawn with pen and ink. Nobody was particularly fettered by so-called good taste or rules about the number and kinds of display fonts that were tossed together. Graphic design was the playbill version of Googie: exuberant, absurd, energetic, Atomic Age America.
I didn’t have enough time to hand-letter a poster. I made a passable imitation using Adobe Illustrator. It was great nostalgic fun, but no, I don’t want to design your logo. I’m way too busy painting. (If you need a designer, contact Victoria Brzustowicz.)
Meanwhile, I’m off to see The Zombies in Northhampton, Massachusetts this week. Colin Blunstone is approximately at the age my father was when he died after a long, pottering retirement. Blunstone’s on tour. Even old people aren’t what they used to be. 

Mysterious stone balls

Math, engineering and art are never very far apart. They’re all creative processes.

Stone balls in the Terraba Plain, the Boruca region, Costa Rica. Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology, 1948. (Courtesy Doris Stone) *
A petrosphereis a round stone artifact shaped by human hands. Since no practical purpose has ever been assigned to them, they should properly be considered art.
Among known examples are the stone spheres of Costa Ricapainted pebbles from Scotland, plain sandstone balls from Traprain Law in Scotland, and the Carved Stone Balls of Scotland.

There’s definitely a Scottish bias in the distribution. Clearly, our Caledonian ancestors had a thing for stone balls.

Roman dodecahedron.*
Petrospheres shouldn’t be confused with Roman dodecahedra. These have no known purpose or meaning either. They are small, hollow bronze devices with twelve flat faces and knobs at the corners.  They are beautiful artifacts, but compared to carving a stone sphere from igneous rock, casting a brass shape was easy.
There are roughly 300 known stone spheres in Costa Rica. They range from pebble-size up to two meters in diameter. They were carved from granodiorite, which is a common, coarse-grained, hard, igneous rock. Since most of them have been removed from their original locations, scientists are guessing about their age. (It’s impossible to radiocarbon-date a rock.) But they’re generally thought to be “pre-Columbian,” which means they were there when Europeans arrived.
Pre-Columbian stone balls at Palmar Sur, Costa Rica.*
There’s no easy way to measure the rotundity of a large object, especially when it’s partly sunk into the ground. Photographs tell us that the Costa Rican stones are very spherical. The mystery to me isn’t why, but how. There was metallurgy in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, but it would have been useless for carving rocks. All they had for tools were other, harder rocks. Even with that limited technology, they carved shapes that rival those we can make today. And, of course, they are pure abstractions.
Six-knob Scottish stone ball, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow.*
The Scottish Carved Stone Balls are less abstract. They are usually knobby and sized to be comfortably carried in the hand. Many of them have six concentric circles incised on them. They are mostly made of igneous greenstone, but there are sandstone versions as well. There are almost 400 known examples. Their distribution suggests that they originated in Aberdeenshire, in the northeast corner of Scotland.
They are much older than the Costa Rican spheres, being generally ascribed to Neolithicor Bronze Age people. Their decorative, incised surfaces hint at meaning and purpose, but these hints vanish under hard scrutiny. Were they fishing weights? Ball bearings to move stones for Neolithic stone circles? The Scots are, after all, famous engineers. Weapons? Or, that last refuge of an unimaginative archaeologist, religious symbols? There isn’t enough context for us to know.
Six-knob Scottish stone ball, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow.*
But what there is in both the Costa Rican and Scottish examples is a kind of mathematical perfection. We make modern stone spheres with machines; they did them with eye and hand, and they’ve lasted for thousands of years. They are a reminder that math, engineering and art are very closely intertwined.

Soggy spring

What should you think about when setting up to paint? Tide, time of day, and the light are key, but there are other factors as well.

Ladona, (unfinished) by Carol L. Douglas

We’ve had so many dark, gloomy days recently that I was startled awake at the first gloaming. By 6 AM the sun was streaming through my bedroom windows, warming the air, promising great things.

My plan was to paint Ladona in drydock. She is the former Nathaniel Bowditch, completely rebuilt for the 2016 season. Her owners also operate the Stephen Taber, which I painted in Pulpit Harbor last summer.
Stephen Taber raising her sails, by Carol L. Douglas
Unlike most of the schooners in mid-coast Maine, Ladona was built as a private yacht, in Boothbay Harbor in 1922. She has the sleek, lean lines of a pleasure boat. After a brief stint as a patrol boat in New York Harbor during World War II, she was used for commercial fishing. In 1971, she was rebuilt as a commercial schooner.
Power-washing made a world of difference.
I know the North End Shipyard well. Yesterday, I thought, would be an excellent opportunity to make a short video talking about where to set up for a plein air painting. On the coast of Maine, we have to consider:
  • ·         Tide
  • ·         Time of day
  • ·         Angle of sun
  • ·         Ergonomics
  • ·         Courtesy
  • ·         Transience.

The Gulf of Maine has the largest tidal range on the planet. In the Bay of Fundy the tidal range is a staggering 50 feet. Here in Maine, the difference is only about half that, but that’s still imposing, considering that the average tide in most places is just a few feet.
I wasn’t the only person painting in the rain.
The best solution is to work from a floating dock, which keeps you on the same plane as your subject. When that’s not possible, you can break up your picture over several days.
If you don’t own a compass, invest in one (or an app on your phone).  You need to know where the sun is headed. That changes with the seasons. In the winter, the sun never makes it to the top of the sky, which means the light stays golden. In the summer, the light is clearer and cooler.
Many of the places we find quaint and picturesque are actually people’s workshops. As a matter of courtesy, never go on private property without asking. Stay out of the way of heavy equipment and trucks. For your own comfort, bring earplugs if there are air compressors or other equipment nearby. And avoid traps for yourself, like a painting location exposed to a brutal wind or the harsh sun.
A smarter person would have gotten this canvas under cover before it got wet. Once this happens, you have to let the painting dry naturally.
A deep understanding of the subject doesn’t just inform your paintings; it sets your schedule. I am concentrating on the boats in the cradle right now, because they’re transient. I can paint the sheds, the lobster boats, or the boats at anchor all summer.
Wooden boats require a lot of wood to keep them healthy, and that material is always stacked around the boatyard in interesting ways. (It’s also heavy, as Captain Noah Barnes noted as he dropped a timber onto a workbench with a resounding clatter.)
I wanted to focus on the foreground detritus of lumber, tools, and equipment. I experimented with a number of cute compositions, but Ladona resolutely refused to be cropped.
The sky grew steadily cloudier as the afternoon progressed. “It’s not going to rain until after 5,” Captain Doug Lee told me. That may be what the National Weather Service said, but the Maine coast is unpredictable. A quick shower around 3 PM washed me out.
Once the canvas has water droplets on it, your best bet is to let the surface dry naturally. Luckily, I live just down the road, so it’s no big deal. I’ll go back this morning and put the rigging in.

How to write a successful blog (about art or anything else)

Be brief, be consistent, know your stuff, and manage your own content.

Bicycles on Water Street, by Carol L. Douglas

That little logo to the right of this post that reads “Top 75 Painting Blog” is not based on someone’s opinion. It’s based on social metrics, and I’m very flattered to be number seven on the list.
I’m frequently asked how to blog; after all, I’ve been doing it, on and off, for more than a decade. However, until a few years ago, I wasn’t getting much traction. My friend Brad VanAuken was taking my painting class. I asked him for advice. Brad is successful author, consultant and blogger, and an expert in his field, which is brand strategy.
Brad told me that random and irregular efforts are ignored in the blogosphere; I had to post on a regular schedule if I expected anyone to pay attention. Since then I have written five days a week. I keep this schedule up whether I’m in my studio or above the Arctic Circle.
That’s the same advice I give about painting. Inspiration is less important than consistent work habits. The more you practice any discipline, the better and easier it gets.
They say “write what you know.” I know painting, and not a lot else. Photo courtesy of Margaret Burdine.
The internet reacts to pot-stirring. The more you post, the more attention you get. That’s why Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media sites matter. The good news is, you really can do them all and still have time to paint. The secret is to develop a posting protocol and follow it.
Only you can determine what social media sites works for your following. That comes from trial and error. But give them a fair shake. I regularly post on Tumblr, even though it is not my target audience. Someday, those kids will grow up.
The process takes me 90 minutes each day. If it took longer, I wouldn’t do it, because it would cut into my painting time too much.
The craft of telling a story in 400-600 words is a very specific one. It doesn’t allow for much research or for fully-realized concepts. But within it, one can convey a lot of information.
I also got excellent advice from Bob Bahr of Outdoor Painter. He said that, all other things being equal, it was best to host my own blog. That would give me control of my brand. Until then, I hadn’t realized how constrained I was writing under the flag of a daily newspaper. Since I left, my readership has risen markedly and I’m much happier.
These are the top affinity categories for my readers. I don’t tailor my writing to them.
Art is a niche market. I write about art-specific topics, so it surprises me that visual arts and design aren’t even in the top ten affinity categories for my readers. I have never been able to predict what blog posts will capture my readers’ fancy. I generally just write about what interests me.
If you only write once a month, and your writing is strictly limited to your paintings, then perhaps it is best to send newsletters directly to your client base rather than trying to maintain a blog. Instead, use online-selling websites like Fine Art America or Saatchi Art to find new buyers.
I do not send my blog to my email marketing list. Most people read it through social media. I think the email subscription list is going the same way as the postcard. Use it, but rely more on social media.