Goodbye, Old Paint

Sometimes sentiment overrides practicality. That’s not always a bad thing.
Arctic Mud in happier (and cleaner) days.

I believe that I’m the best person I know for picking out a good used car. I’m not talking about the late-model beauty that comes with a warranty, but the clunker your teenager buys with the money from his first job. I come by it honestly. I don’t think I ever paid more than $50 for a car before I married my husband with his big-city ways. In fact, the first time he came to call at my parents’ house, I was changing a tie-rod end.

Arctic Mud was a 2000 Suzuki Grand Vitara. It was my daughter Mary’s first car. I’d helped her sisters and her brother-in-law choose cars, but I wasn’t around to help her. Frankly, the thing was a wreck from day one. Still, she loved it.
Her dad and I helped her drive it to Alaska for college. On arrival, our first order of business was a new track bar. Most calls home started, “Mom, my car’s making this noise,” which would then be followed by another trip to a garage. When she decided to come back east, I strongly advised she sell it there. But she loved that old reprobate of an SUV, and I love her.
That car spent a disproportionate amount of its life being hauled. Thank goodness for AAA.
I cooked up a scheme. We’d fly back to Anchorage and fetch it and drive it back across the continent. Not the California to New York trip everyone takes, but Alaska to Newfoundland. It would be cold, and we’d be sleeping in the car, but we had warm blankets. Most of my luggage was for painting supplies. A nice pastor’s wife, Heidi Godfrey, took one look at the jacket I’d brought and gave me one more suitable for a late Alaska autumn.
It was Canada’s sesquicentennial. I’ve always loved the Great White North. What better way to honor it than to head down the Trans-Canada Highway and paint a little bit of the whole country?
We almost didn’t make it out of Anchorage. The car coughed, rattled, and died on the Glenn Highway. Pastor Godfrey and his wife rescued us again.

The catalytic converter was completely clogged. The replacement cost was irrelevant; no such part was to be had in Anchorage for a vehicle that old. That led to a miraculous intervention. A kindly stranger took the beast into his shop on his day off, opened the converter, cleaned it out and welded it back together. Catalytic converters are not supposed to be serviceable.

I did a lot of painting with my easel lashed to the bumper for stability.
It was a few days later and late afternoon, but we were finally on our way. North of Wasilla, AK, the muffler fell off. We picked it up off the road and looked for a shop. That led to our second miraculous mechanic. He welded and bolted and sent us on our way with a bill for $40 and several jars of salmon his wife had canned.
Arctic Mud behaved all the way north through the Brooks Range and back down again, where a breakdown would have been catastrophic. In fact, I had no more trouble until I tried to jump a ditch while bouncing out of a fire break. I snapped the tailpipe. But that was my fault, not the car’s.
The alternator went somewhere in the Great Plains, in a spot where we actually had cell phone reception. We were riding back to the closest town with the tow truck driver, when the airport on our right seemed to explode in flames. “Oh, it’s just firefighting practice,” he said. That was a pricey fix but the last of our repairs.
Much of our journey was on very dicey roads.
In Newfoundland, we drove north through Hurricane Matthew, which had morphed into a Thanksgiving Day blizzard. It seemed fitting that our trip was bookended by snowstorms, one in Alaska and one in Newfoundland. In all, we traveled 9,998 miles, a lot of it on rutted gravel roads.
Alaska has no state inspections, so our first order of business was to have Arctic Mud re-inspected back in Maine. Of course it failed. After all that driving, our neighborhood mechanic said it wasn’t worth fixing. Just Right Auto in Warren didn’t agree, and managed to do it without bankrupting us.
It’s up for inspection again and this time it isn’t going to pass without a lot more money. The hood latch rusted away and came loose on the Masspike last month. Mary fixed it well enough to drive with a ratchet tie-down. The 4WD is making ominous sounds and it has a persistent check-engine light. So Arctic Mud, my boon companion, is off to the bone yard. It was, in many ways, the worst of cars, but it had a redoubtable spirit.
Goodbye, Old Paint. We’ll miss you.

Getting out of a slump

…and the chance to benefit Children’s Beach House with your holiday shopping.

Wreck of the SS Ethie, by Carol L. Douglas

“That looks like so much fun.” It can be genuine, or it can have the hard edge that implies, “unlike my job as a claims adjuster.” Either way, it’s usually, but not always, true. There are days when we approach our easels with exhaustion, trepidation, or stiff hands.

I owe my friend Peter Yesis a great debt in reminding me to do warm-ups when this happens. I have cases of 6X8 warm ups in the corner of my studio. At one time, I painted a tree every day; at another time it was a still life. But this commitment went by the wayside as I got busier and busier, and now I usually blog in the hour I once did these exercises.
Termination Dust, by Carol L. Douglas. The only realism in this painting was the chill in my studio when I started it.
Warm ups are like scales. They’re a requisite to being in good voice when we go out and perform.
Last week I was stuck in a particularly finicky commission painting. I feared all my painterliness was being sucked down the great hole of representation. I pulled out a canvas and did a fantasy landscape. This is a favorite exercise of mine, a landscape only loosely based on reality. One starts with an abstraction and builds a realistic painting upon it.
Glade, by Carol L. Douglas. I was interested in the terrible symmetry of a circle.
The painting at top, of the shipwreck of SS Ethie off the coast of Newfoundland, is an example of such a painting. I recorded the steps of its development here.
Shoreline, by Carol L. Douglas, is based on nothing more than a black shape.
Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World—the painting that put realism back on the map—is just an abstraction that uses three realistic objects to drive us relentlessly through its spare, rigid, Color Fieldconstruction.
Wyeth aside, painting from a wisp or suggestion is a great way to blow the cobwebs out of your brushes. I find myself anxious to put the computer aside and start painting every morning. The fun is back in my brushes.
Want to support a great program?
Home Farm, by Carol L. Douglas, is featured in the 2019 Children’s Beach House calendar.
Last fall I did the 2018 Plein Air Brandywine Valley competition, which benefits Childrens Beach House. I liked the CBH staff so much I’ve been trying to get my son-in-law to move to Delaware and work with them ever since.
My painting Home Farmwon an Honorable Mention. It was done at Winterthur and I hope it captures a sense of the old farms that were assembled to make this great American estate. 
Home Farm is also showcased within the pages of the 2019 Plein Air Brandywine Valley Calendar. 
For each $100 donation to Children’s Beach House, you will receive this incredible one-of-a-kind limited production calendar created by sponsor Dennis M. Wallace of Comprehensive Wealth Management Group. It includes all of the 2018 Plein Air Brandywine Valley painting and photography award winners. You can order directly on-line at www.cbhinc.org. 
100% of your donation goes to support the programs at Children’s Beach House. They provide programs for children with communicative disabilities (speech, hearing, language and other special needs) who are further challenged by living in poverty.  This calendar makes a great holiday gift for family, friends and colleagues.

Pigment and race

We all know race is an artificial construct, yet we persist in using it anyway. It’s not even skin deep. It doesn’t exist at all.
Figure Commission, by Carol L. Douglas, private collection.
Yesterday I pulled out a chart that demonstrates how to mix a full range of skin tones. (There are darker and lighter people, of course; to catch their color, just adjust the amount of white you use.) This chart is ratty and worn, so I remade it for my students and now I’m sharing it with you.
There are cool tints in the left column and warm colors across the top. Mix them together in rows, and you get a wonderful array of skin tones. The solid warms are always the base; whether you use grey or violet or blue to modulate the colors depends on the underlying tones in your model.
Painting this chart is a great exercise in mixing colors.

Natural light hitting the human skin is far more variable than we see indoors. We live (and paint) under artificial light. That narrows the color range, which is why I hate painting figure under spotlights.

There are greens, purples, and yellows in every person’s skin. The ears, face, fingers and toes all tend to pink; there’s blood closer to the surface. Some of us have visible traceries of blue veins. There are lovely greens and mauves in shadows. In fact, the only difference between my landscape palette and my studio palette is that red always makes an appearance inside.
My studio copy is pretty worn.
The colors on my chart are likenesses, of course. Our actual skin color is based on just one pigment, melanin. Lighter people just have more blue-white connective tissue and hemoglobin showing through.
We moderns talk of Asians as having ‘yellow’ skin. That’s a modern lie. In the 13th century Travels of Marco Polo, the people of China are described as white. Eighteenth century missionaries also called Japanese and other East Asians white.
The ‘yellow’ label can be laid squarely at the feet of science. The father of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, first used the label fuscus (dark) to describe the skin color of Asians. Later, he began calling them luridus instead. That translates to ‘pale yellow’, ‘wan’, ‘sallow’, ‘lurid’—with a dash of ‘horrifying’ attached.
The father of comparative anatomy, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, used the word gilvus, which translates to ‘yellow’. (He’s also the guy who started calling Asians ‘Mongolians’.) By the nineteenth century, westerners were completely sold on the idea that Asians were yellow. Thanks, Science.
The Servant, by Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday’s class included half-Japanese and Chinese students. Both of them are as pink as I am. The student with the yellowest skin was a blue-eyed Northern European with an addiction to carrots. He has stained himself a terrific saffron color.
The farther down the Italian boot you go, the more you find genetic mixtures with Greeks, North Africans and Middle Easterners. That’s no surprise; the Mediterranean was the original melting pot. Southern Italians and Greeks are often very dark in color. 
It’s no surprise that neither were considered quite white in 19th century America (although they had that designation for naturalization purposes). In fact the largest mass lynching in American history was of Italian-Americans. What’s more peculiar is that some people didn’t consider Irish-Americans white, either.
We all know race is an artificial construct, yet we persist in using it anyway. Paint-mixing shows us that the similarity in our coloration is far greater than the differences. Race isn’t skin-deep; it doesn’t exist at all.

What is plein air painting?

I came of age during the heyday of abstract-expressionism. I’m still half-apologizing for liking realism. That colors every brushstroke I make.
Keulka vineyard, by Carol L. Douglas. That’s the studio version. Courtesy the Kelpie Gallery.
John Morrarecently wrote an excellent essay examining the nature of plein air painting. I’m assigning it to all my students; it’s that good.
Most of us have been in a competitive plein air event and seen something passed off as outdoor painting that was clearly not painted from life. How do we know this? Because we were there. The atmospherics were wrong, that person was never in that spot, or—mirabile dictu—the oil paint has already set up.
But mostly, we know because there’s a sort of static perfection to a studio painting that is never there in plein air. A painting done on site is never as balanced or stately as a studio landscape. The plein air painting expresses a longing for the natural world that just isn’t there in the studio.
Keuka Vineyard, by Carol L. Douglas. That’s the plein air version. (Private collection.)
Morra makes the point that we tend to over-edit in plein air painting. We’ve had two hundred years of being told that objective observation is not painterly. Until I read this, I hadn’t considered how much I’ve been programmed to think non-objectively. I came of age during the heyday of abstract-expressionism. I’m still half-apologizing for liking realism. That colors every brushstroke I make.
Still, I constantly emphasize editing in my classes and workshops. Composition is one of the hardest skills in painting. The rules of reading a composition are the same whether the piece is done in studio or in the field. We edit because we’re working around environmental distractions.
Queensboro Bridge Approach, by Carol L. Douglas (plein air). The built environment is part of our landscape too.
But that kind of editing can easily go overboard. Consider the lowly car. Many of us delete them—frankly, because they’re hard to paint. But today’s Toyota Corolla is really no different from Childe Hassam’s hansom cabs were in 1890. His paintings would be far weaker without them.
In fact, a lot of modern plein air is excessively planed down to a conceptual idea. We can call that style or schtick, depending on how charitable we’re feeling. Either way, too much style gets in the way of the scene. The first time I see a painter employing crepuscular rays or the silhouettes of birches or a monochrome passage in a composition, I’m dazzled. The fifth time, I realize the artist is using them for a crutch. It’s no more impressive than Thomas Kinkade’s flaming cottages.
“A plein air painting should be painted quickly,” Morra stated. This is the only point on which I disagree. Fast, expressive brushwork is the trope of our age, but it’s by no means the only way to paint. Consider the great Rackstraw Downes, for example. He paints meticulous, beautifully-drafted scenes of industrial America, and he does it observationally, working outdoors. His work is no less plein air than a fast scribble is.
Another modern painter who works meticulously is Patrick McPhee. He paints in great detail without losing luminosity or freshness. He bases his style on the first American plein air painters, the Hudson River School painters. They didn’t slap it down either.

Float, by Carol L. Douglas. If you can’t draw, you’re going to have a hard time painting en plein air.
In fact, modern plein air painting is often so fast it sacrifices drawing. A badly drawn house or person is a rookie mistake. My own preference is for fast painting paired with meticulous drawing. Want a great contemporary example? Check out Marc Grand Bois.

Monday Morning Art School: accurate lines in oils

It may seem like a fine brush is better, but that’s not always true in wet-on-wet painting.
Sea Fog on Main Street, by Carol L. Douglas. When painting plein air, you don’t have time to wait for the painting to dry to draw lines.

I’m working on a commission that has a lot of architectural detail. I don’t want the end result to be fussy. I’m not a clean renderer like Frank Costantino. He can drop a fine line with a rigger and it falls into the painting, cool and elegant.

Watercolor loves fine lines. Alla prima oil painting doesn’t. It tends to be looser and rougher. A fine line added with a rigger can lie on the surface looking silly, or it can melt into the bottom layers and look like mush.
Working backwards allows you to make clean edges without being overly fussy.
My solution is to paint edges and lines in reverse. I lay down the line and then back the color up to meet it.
Lines should be happening on an already-wet surface, because they aren’t important in the big-shape phase. That means you need a technique for removing excess paint before you draw. For large erasures, I take off excess paint with a palette knife. For lines, I use a wipe-out tool. I had a very old one made by Loew-Cornell that I lost this summer. I replaced it with a terrible one I picked up on the road. But Bobbi Heath assures me this is the best one currently available.
Start by getting rid of excess paint.
Getting rid of that schmearof excess paint is an important first step. You can’t draw into soup.
Lay the line in before the surrounding background. With architecture, this often means a line of light-colored paint before its dark surround. Don’t worry that you’ve broken the dark-to-light rule. Lines are usually added toward the middle or end of a painting, so you should be past that point anyway.
In oils, the side of a flat brush always works better than a tiny round for straight lines. Flats are more stable and tends to track in the right direction. Go ahead and use a ruler if you want.
The line going on with a bright.
This line should be made of fairly thin paint, with just enough medium to carry it smoothly. Too much oil and it will blend into its surround.
It’s easier to paint a line with a flat on its side than with a small round.
Next paint the surrounding area, pushing up against the line with the background color. Use enough paint and be bold. It’s best to do this edging in a single stroke, but that takes practice. However, as a general rule, the more you touch the surface, the muddier the edges will get.
Then push the background color right up against the line.
In my examples, I use two different brushes. The fine flat, made by Rosemary & Co., was a gift this summer. It is very precise, but as with all synthetic fibers, it doesn’t carry much paint. The bright is old and clunkier, but it carries enough paint for a good, finished line. It may seem like finer is better, but that’s actually not true. What’s most important is getting enough paint on the canvas, evenly, so that your line doesn’t look anemic. I find that with alla prima painting, hog bristles are almost always better.
After two flags, a chair, and a lot of white trim, I was so cramped up by precision that I had to do this fast surf exercise to wash out my mind (and loosen up my hand).
I enjoyed painting with the Rosemary & Co. flat, but it was no good for surface work. Eventually, I realized I didn’t like my painting at all. I set it aside and did a fast exercise with big brushes that got rid of the stiffness that had crept into my painting from using the wrong brush.

Euthanizing a work of art

Governments seem inept at commissioning public art. They’re apparently just as bad at selling it.
Zero and One’s best side is from inside the Federal Building. Courtesy Stan Dolega.
I was once commissioned to paint a panel I knew would be buried. This made the painting more performance than permanent, since anything that goes underground rapidly returns to dust. I did it on copper flashing and hoped for the best. But I was resigned to its ultimate destruction; that was understood from the beginning.
I’m reconciled to running across my work in the resale market. I hope my clients don’t send it to the library bric-a-brac sale, but one never knows. I once bought a house with a print lying in the debris on the attic floor. It was by an important 20th century lithographer. If I’d just swept as I intended, the world would have lost that print and I wouldn’t have made a few thousand dollars.
Maquette for Zero and One, Stan Dolega,  wood, painted paperboard and plastic, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum. The piece has already been cut off from its setting by the addition of a fence.
What’s in our museums and collections is only a small fraction of the artwork that’s been produced over centuries. Even among the works considered masterpieces at their creation, there’s been terrific attrition. The great Ghent Altarpiece has narrowly escaped destruction several times. Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and the Bildersturm stripped away the greatest altarpieces of northern Europe. In fact, iconoclasm is art’s worst enemy.
Enter the Federal government. When it began its ambitious public art programs in the 1970s, it stipulated that, if you remove artwork from one part of a Federal building, you need to replace it somewhere else. Apparently, that’s not really what they meant. The art goes with the building into perpetuity, and future owners can’t destroy it, even if it gets in the way of the parking lot they need to build.
Zero and One in situ. Another question is why a multimillion-dollar post office building was obsolete after only 45 years. 
Artist Stan Dolega was paid $19,000 in 1981 to create Zero and One for the Federal Building in Wenatchee, Washington. (That’s $55,000 in 2018 money.) It’s an earthwork in contemporary form. Yes, it looks a little dated 37 years later, but that’s part of the life-cycle of all art.
The building was eventually auctioned off and then sold to the city, which wants to raze the artwork. It’s difficult to mow, and it’s now fenced off so kids don’t wear it down skateboarding. On the other hand, it’s small enough that it’s only going to net a few parking spots at most.
Jonathan Turley was really very funny on the subject. But Dolega inevitably heard about Turley’s piece, was hurt by its tone and the scathing comments that followed.
“To my way of thinking (the article) was amazingly hostile to the piece itself and, of course, indirectly that means to me because I made it,” Dolega said. There’s a lesson in that about the power of words in the Electronic Age.
A closer streetside view, before the fence went up. Courtesy Stan Dolega.
There’s an unbridgeable gap here: Hizzoner wants the space for something else, but there’s no way to move the work.
Which leaves us in the very uncomfortable position of deciding whether to euthanize a work of public art. Unlike tyrants, democratic governments seem uniquely inept at commissioning public art. They’re apparently just as bad at unloading it.

What not to say at an opening

Yesterday I taught you words that will make you sound arty. Here are phrases you should avoid if you don’t want to sound like a rube.
Best Buds, by Carol L. Douglas

You can use the phrase, “that piece,” but only if it’s in the context of choosing between two or three items in the show. Never direct it at the gallerist, who is a human being with feelings, and also the person who bought the wine you’re swilling.

Piece is a loaded word; use it with care. “I’m looking for a piece of art” is about as discriminating as being on the hunt for a piece of a–.
“How much time did that take?” marks you as an art rube. Jonas Kaufmann doesn’t get paid by the note and artists don’t get paid by the brushstroke. That piece is the culmination of a lifetime’s practice. It may have taken six hours or six years. It’s not a negotiating point, sorry.
Dawn, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy the Kelpie Gallery.
“That looks just like a photograph” grieves me terribly, since I wanted it to look like a painting. When you’re at a loss for something nice to say, go with “I love the use of color!” Everyone believes they’re a colorist.
“What is it?” With modern painting, less is more. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.
“That’s a nice frame.” Actually, artists say this a lot to each other. It is always followed by, “Where’d you get it?” and “How much?” But the rest of you are supposed to be interested in the art.
Bracken Fern, by Carol L. Douglas
“What’s your absolute bottom line price?” Well, it’s on this little tag right here. The gallerist might do a little something for you if you buy several pieces, but you have to take it up with him or her. And it’s usually on the order of 5-10%.
“Don’t give up the day job!” That’s not even funny, since this is my day job.
“You’ve given it your best shot.” That was from my mother after a bad show twenty years ago. If she could see me now…
“In my day, we didn’t have time for self-actualizing.” Another bon mot from my mother. Believe it or not, she was worried I’d starve to death. If she could see me now, dieting through Christmas…
Beach, by Carol L. Douglas
“Is that tie-dye?” This is something Shibori artists hear a lot. I suppose in its broadest definition it’s true—if tie-dye was done with threads and stitching and compression and incredible skill. “Tell me about your process” is going to elicit the same information and not make you look silly.
“I have a really nice painting at home, by this guy named Thomas Kinkade.” De mortuis nihil nisi bonum and all that, but that’s not a marker of good taste.
“The wine is terrible but at least it’s free.” Can’t help you there.

Coming to terms

It’s the season when we’re trapped at parties by slightly squiffy people pontificating about art. Here’s a handy glossary of terms to help you hold your own.

The Waterseller of Seville, 1618, was Diego Velázquez’s masterpiece, meaning the painting that gave him the rights and privileges of a master under the guild system. It established him in the canon of western art. Courtesy the Uffizi Gallery.
Bravura means a spirited, florid passage of music requiring great skill from the performer. The word came to English in the eighteenth century from the spirited, florid Italians. There’s a sense of dash and brilliance in there, too. Today, we talk about the performer as much as the piece.
How to use this in a sentence: “After years of using a roller, I was inspired by his bravura brushwork.”
Canon originally meant a rule or decree of the Church, the books of the Bible that were accepted as legitimate, and the list of proven saints.
From this, canon came to mean the masters, masterworks, rules, and principles in any field of study, including art. Canonized artworks are the ones we venerate like saints, but canon also includes the people who made them and the theories that drove them.
How to use this in a sentence: “But of course, darling, the canon is absolutely dripping with Dead White Males.”
The Scream, 1893, Edvard Munch, courtesy of the National Gallery of Norway
Expressionism was all the rage in the first half of the twentieth century, when there really was something to scream about. It is subjective, distorting reality for emotional effect.
How to use this in a sentence: “Expressionism was a reaction to the bleak outlook of the time. For some reason I always think of it at these openings.”
Figurative doesn’t mean artwork with human figures in it. It just means the painting includes something you can actually recognize. This isn’t limited to realism, since there are plenty of people drawing recognizable things out of their own heads.
How to use this in a sentence: “My move to figurative painting was a purely mercenary decision.”
Untitled, c. 1943-44, screen print, Jackson Pollack. His work is all gesture. Courtesy MoMA
Gestural artwork includes dynamic, sweeping marks. It’s informal, spontaneous, and abandoned. In the twentieth century, it meant Action Painting. This was a branch of Abstract-Expressionism centered on the subconscious and the act of creation itself.
How to use this in a sentence: “I wish he’d kept his gestural work on the canvas. This stuff will never come out.”
Masterpiece originally meant the piece that a journeyman submitted to his guild to become a master of his craft. Today there’s no guild system, and the word is now invested with all kinds of fawning and awe. It really needs to be cut down to size.
How to use this in a sentence: Look suitably stunned and exclaim, “A masterpiece!” Repeat indefinitely.
Modeling is the rendering that defines the volume of the subject. Modeling takes a back seat to brushwork in much modern painting, but it was a prized skill before the Impressionists.
How to use this in a sentence: “The tender, delicate modeling focuses our attention on the truck bumper.”
A Motif is a theme or image in a painting or icon. It is often repeated, but may stand alone. It’s identifiable and has meaning within the piece. It comes from the Latin motivus, which means “moving, impelling.” That tells us a lot about the role of motifs in painting.
How to use this in a sentence: “That motif makes him look like a third-rate Chagall.”
The Red Vineyard, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh, epitomizes painterliness. Courtesy Pushkin Museum.
Painterly: This means a surface where the brushstrokes aren’t hidden and blended. It’s less-controlled, unpolished, and fiery. Since it’s all the rage in actual painting, surprise people and apply it to another medium.
How to use this in a sentence: “He’s the most painterly of bartenders, with his playful focus and texture.”
Participatory:That’s interactive art where you, the viewer, get suckered into playing. In the worst examples, the artist will expound on your sensory experiences and responses in a most embarrassing way.
How to use this in a sentence: “No way.”
Perspective: This is the drawing system where an artist tricks you, the viewer, into seeing a scene or object receding in space. It can take the form of graphical perspective, where things get smaller as they go back, or atmospheric perspective, where the light and clarity change over distance. It’s still in use today, at least by people who can draw.
How to use this in a sentence: “His experiments with perspective are always a bit wonky.”
Virtuoso: Since the eighteenth century, this has meant a person with great skill, a master of his art form. The real question is how virtuosityderived from the same root word as virtuousdid.
How to use this in a sentence: “She’s a virtuoso with her brush cleaner.”

Schooner or Schoodic?

If you register before Christmas, you’ll get a $50 discount for the schooner workshop or $100 off the price of the Schoodic workshop.
A coastal Maine sunset, courtesy of Claudia Schellenberg.
My daughter Mary once said that what I really wanted for my birthday was for someone to come here and throw things out. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I’m not a collector.
The one thing I can always be suckered into is cooking gadgets. This is odd, because I’m a bad cook.
                                                                                                                                                      
We fall into the gadget trap when we’re frustrated by our incompetence. A kitchen of beautiful equipment hasn’t made me a cook, and a studio full of lovely brushes won’t make someone a painter, either. A workshop is much better value for money, and it doesn’t take up space.
A schooner gam by dawn in Penobscot Bay. You don’t see that everywhere.

The Age of Sail

June 9-13, 2019 

This was so much fun, we’re reprising it for as long as Captain John Foss puts up with us. We sail with him on the historic schooner American Eagle out of Rockland harbor. This is a leisurely cruise along the Maine coast, sailing where the wind blows and recording our impressions in watercolor journals.
Who knows what you’ll see? I’ve done this trip four times and each one was completely different. The light, the wildlife, and the water are all constantly changing. And I’m going to teach you to catch that in your sketchbooks.
Your materials are all provided, including paints, papers, and the use of brushes. All you do is show up. Non-painting guests are welcome too. The Captain will put them to work, if they want.
Extremely al fresco lobster boil.
The trip lasts four days and includes an evening “gam,” a raft-up of the great schooner fleet of the mid-coast region. That’s an opportunity to see these beasties up close and personal.
American Eagle is a true relic of the great days of sail power, but it’s been updated so you have a comfortable berth, fresh linens, modern heads and a fresh-water shower.
Our meals are cooked up on the original woodstove by the cook and his mate. They’re fantastic. They include a lobster bake, which might be at sea or on an empty island, depending on where we end up.
There’s no place to paint like the coast of Maine. Photo courtesy of Ellen Joyce Trayer
August 4-9, 2019

This is my sixth year teaching from Schoodic Institute. It’s situated right at Schoodic Point, in one of the finest locations in all of Acadia National Park—quiet, unspoiled and dramatic. The Institute was built on the site of an old naval base, so it commands the point. It’s laced with hiking paths. Its use is restricted to educational programs, so there’s none of the hustle and bustle you find elsewhere in the park. And the whole area is wild and undeveloped.
Meals, snacks, and accommodations are included in your fee. This includes a lobster boil by a local fisherman. We do morning and afternoon sessions, I demo during lunch, and then we return to the Institute for quiet camaraderie at night. There’s a critique at the end.
All media welcome. Photo courtesy of Claudia Schellenberg.

If your partner wants to come along, he or she will find ample opportunity to hike, bike, fish, or tour in the immediate area. It’s an outdoorsman’s paradise.

Email me here for more information. If you register before Christmas, you’ll get a $50 discount for the schooner workshop or $100 off the price of the Schoodic one.

Monday Morning Art School: Stayin’ Alive

It’s the most dangerous time of the year.

Take a boat. They’re objectively safer. Tricky Mary in a pea-soup fog, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Camden Falls Gallery.

According to the people who measure these things, the most dangerous form of transportation is your family car. There are two seasons when highway accidents jump—summertime and the holidays. Surprisingly, Massholes and New Yorkers are better drivers than Mainers.

Why am I harping on this? I opened the holiday season with a car accident. This weekend I came too close to being sideswiped by an aggressive driver. You can’t take my workshops if I’m dead, so listen up.
The empty road, in Yukon Territory or eastern Alaska. The risk changes from distracted drivers to enormous animals.
Pay attention
You will be more distracted during the holidays. That seems obvious, but is it objectively true? Yes, and there’s an app for that. It’s from a company called TrueMotion.
They say we’re 33% more likely to drive distracted in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And that means we’re:
  • 12.2 times more likely to crash from dialing a phone.
  • 6.1 times more likely to crash from texting.
  • 2.2 times more likely to crash while talking on the phone.

The adjustor who looked at my car added another distraction: fiddling with the radio or heat. The controls in new cars are too big and complicated to adjust at a glance.
Set it and forget it
Like most of you, I used my phone to navigate, so it’s not practical to throw it in the backseat. But I’ve trained myself to ignore it. If I’m alone, I location-shareto the person waiting for me. That way I don’t need to tell them how late I’m running. (They can buy that golden pineapple at TJ Maxx without my opinion.)
Driving while drowsy
I think it’s absurd to tell American adults to get more sleep. Most can’t. But the devilish thing about micro-sleeps—which is what happens when you’re wrung out—is that we don’t even know they’re happening until we’ve lost control and crashed. I have many years of experience managing long drives. I drink coffee in moderation, drink as much water as I can stand, and I sing. Listening to music is soporific, but singing wakes up your whole body. And I’m not averse to stopping and napping or even sleeping in my car rather than pushing through.
Life in the breakdown lane.
Don’t drive drunk or high
Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But people still do it; in fact, drunk driving is what caused Maine drivers to fail so dismally in the rankings above.
I drink and drive, but never at the same time.
A University of California at San Diego study found a driver with a blood-alcohol level of only 0.01 is 46% more likely to be found at fault for a car accident than a sober driver involved in a crash. There’s no such thing as a safe level of alcohol consumption before driving a car. Although we haven’t devised ways of measuring, I’m pretty sure that’s true for pot, too.
Stop being so self-centered
You’ve got no business climbing up my tailpipe. Frankly, I resent it. Yes, you might be able to intimidate timid drivers into speeding up, but not me, Bucko.
Meanwhile, there’s some damn fool potting along in the left lane at exactly 66 mph. He steadfastly ignores the line of traffic behind and the angry drivers swerving around him. He owns that left lane and has no plans to vacate.
Wait! Are we really using two-ton battering rams to vent our personal problems? Can’t we all save that for Christmas dinner?