If you say grace tomorrow, you could do worse than thanking God for the four freedoms enumerated by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Freedom from Want, 1943, Norman Rockwell
I had a painting teacher who hated Norman Rockwell. She was in agreement with the art establishment of her time, which derided him as ‘just an illustrator.’ They also rebelled against his view of America, but that wasn’t what she said. “He has no sense of perspective,” she told me. “He just layers objects to give the illusion of depth.”
For some of his cover art that was true. Consider The Runaway (below), painted for the September 20, 1958 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. It’s just three figures square to the picture plane, surrounded by the horizontal lines and miscellany of the soda shop counter. If that was the only Rockwell painting you ever saw, you could be forgiven for thinking as she did.
Compare that with Shiner (also below), from the May 23, 1953 cover of the same magazine. The little girl is again square to the picture plane, but there is a second focal point at the top right. They’re tied together by the linoleum. We’re seeing the subject from a kid-height viewpoint. Rockwell understood perspective quite well, thank you.
The Runaway, 1958, Norman Rockwell
Freedom from Want was painted during World War II as part of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series. The series was meant to illustrate a passage from President Franklin Roosevelt’s State of the Union address of January 6, 1941, when Nazi Germany occupied most of Western Europe. The paintings were so idiosyncratically American, however, that they instead have come to represent American values. Freedom from Want is now irrevocably entwined with the American holiday season, which kicks off tomorrow.
The foil for the whole painting is the white-on-white table, surrounded by a wreath of faces. If you’ve ever wondered about Rockwell as a painter, study that table. He’s as brilliant with the whites as Joaquín Sorolla, albeit in a much more American way.
Shiner, 1953, Norman Rockwell
The table is significantly foreshortened and the centerpiece—a fruit bowl—is at the very bottom of the picture. That and the truncated faces at the bottom make you wonder how much longer the table actually is.
This clever cropping make you think you’re looking at a snapshot of someone’s dinner. Of course, you’re not. He painted the figures from life, using his friends and neighbors as models. About the turkey, Rockwell said, “Our cook cooked it, I painted it and we ate it. That was one of the few times I’ve ever eaten the model.”
Note that there’s almost no other food on the table. Such is the magic of his realism that Rockwell makes you believe it’s an overloaded table. In fact, that was the criticism of it at the time, that it depicted indulgence while Europe was starving.
Of course, Thanksgiving is a meal of excess. (I myself plan to make seven pies today.) But if you say grace tomorrow—and I hope you do—you could do worse than thanking God for the four freedoms enumerated by President Roosevelt all those years ago:
Freedom of Speech
Freedom from Want
Freedom from Fear
Freedom of Worship
This was originally published in 2017. Have a very blessed holiday!
Gifts at every price point for the artist in your life (even if that’s you).
Mabef field painting easel M27: Non-artists often buy painters French easels, but please don’t do that. They’re heavy and tough to set up. Instead, choose a smaller, lighter, more efficient easel—the Mabef field painting easel M27. The pivot head makes it useful for both oils and watercolor. It comes with extension arms on which you can set a palette. I’ve had an earlier version of this for two decades. It’s my number one choice for watercolor, and I’m constantly loaning it to new painters. But a word of caution—the cheaper knock-offs of this easel don’t work well. Mabef has been making easels since 1948, and the quality is good.
Want a larger easel? Jerry’s sells a version of a Gloucester easel called the Beauport. Ken DeWaard uses one, as do I. It’s the best easel for large canvases in a stiff wind.
Testrite #500 studio easel: This is the teaching easel I use in my studio. Aluminum is light, easy to move, and easy to stow. Want a larger version? Try its big brother, the Testrite #700. I’ve had one for twenty years without trouble.
Princeton brushes:Over the years, Princeton has provided great value for money, but many professional painters eventually gravitate to something else.Sadly, I can no longer recommend Robert Simmons, because my last two orders have contained defective brushes. I’ve been given so many Princeton SNAP! in goodie bags this year that inevitably one made it into my painting kit. I was pleasantly surprised. Series 9700 is a natural bristle brush made for oil-painting. Series 9800 is a synthetic for oils. Series 9650 is made for watercolor and acrylic.
Despite having a quiver full of upscale watercolor brushes, I’m just as likely to grab my Princeton Neptunes when working in watercolor.
If you really want to surprise someone with your inside knowledge and impeccable taste, choose Rosemary & Co. brushes for watercolor or oil, or New York Central for oil painting brushes.
QoR watercolor kit:QoR (pronounced “core”) is a product of Golden Artist Colors of New Berlin, NY, so you can be assured that they’re a quality product. Golden has created a new binder for a higher-pigment paint that can rival oils and acrylics for vibrance. I use QoR myself, and for my workshops aboard schooner American Eagle, but you can easily buy ready-made sets of 6-12 pigments from any large paint dealer online. For acrylics, I’d recommend a Golden starter set hands down. For oils, buy Robert Gamblin or Winsor & Newton. It’s harder to make a one-size-fits-all recommendation for pastels, but anything sold by Dakota Art Pastelsis a good product.
If your artist has all the paints he thinks he needs, why not surprise him with some gouache? I have some Turner Design Gouache that I trot out whenever I’m thinking through ideas, but there are many fine brands.
In every case, less is more. The artist typically needs no more than a dozen colors, and it’s better to get a better brand with fewer pigments than a large assortment of bad paint.
Palamino Blackwing Pencil: I use mechanical pencils myself, but this was recommended to me by writer Tim Wendel. I’m dying to know what makes a pencil worth slightly more than $2, so I’m asking for it for Christmas.
A workshop: I can’t finish this without a plug for my own workshops. They allow the artist the chance to work with a group of like-minded people, without distractions, in settings of unparalleled beauty.
All of which, not coincidentally, have paintings by me in them.
Lilybells by Katharine Cartwright is one of the many wonderful works at the Kelpie Gallery this holiday season.
Women in the Arts Holiday Pop-Up
Featuring works by Anne Bailey, Susan Lewis Baines, Katharine Cartwright, Sandra Mason Dickson, Carol Douglas, Lauren Gill, Kris Johnson, Ann Sklar, Holly Smith, Jill Valliere, Sandy Weisman, and Carmella Yager
Opens Nov. 29 – Dec. 24 at:
The Kelpie Gallery
81 Elm Street in the ‘Weskeag Village of South Thomaston, ME
Open 10 – 4, closed Sunday and Wednesday.
For more information, email here or call 207-691-0392.
Sea Fog, by Carol L. Douglas, will be at Ocean House Gallery.
2019 Ocean House Gallery Holiday Show
This is a small-works show with all works at a set price of $250, making them perfect for gift-giving. Artists from around Maine participate.
Opening Reception: Saturday, Dec. 7 from 1 to 4 pm. Show runs through January 10th at:
Ocean House Gallery & Frame
299 Ocean House Road Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107
Open Wednesday – Friday 10 – 5, Saturday 10 – 4 and by appointment.
For more information, email here or call 207-956-7422.
Blueberry Barrens, Clary Hill, will be at Camden Falls Gallery
Camden Falls Holiday Show, Christmas by the Sea
Opening: Thursday, Dec. 5 through Sunday Dec. 8, at
Camden Falls Gallery 5 Public Landing Camden, ME 04843
For more information, email here or call (207) 470-7027
Tricky Mary in a Pea-Soup Fog will be at Carol L. Douglas Studio.
Carol L. Douglas Studio Open House and Holiday Sale
Opening: Saturday, Dec. 7, from noon to 5, at
Carol L. Douglas Studio 394 Commercial Street Rockport, ME 04856
This was sent to me by children’s book author and artist Bruce McMillan, who noted that my December 7 Open House and Studio Party celebrates painter Stuart Davis’ 125th birthday (December 7, 1894).
If going to the Open House make sure to gas up for the trip. The ghost of Stuart Davis may be going with you.
Gas Station, also known as Garage No. 1, Stuart Davis, 1917, courtesy Hirshhorn Museum
Make sure you drive to Rockport ME and not Rockport MA. Oh ME, Oh MA!
Report from Rockport, Stuart Davis, 1940, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
Go past the yellow house; there has to be a yellow house somewhere along the drive. [Editor’s note: it’s next door.]
Private Way, Stuart Davis, c. 1916, courtesy Christie’s Auction House
“Davis and his family first went to Gloucester in the summer of 1915, attracted by John Sloan’s enthusiasm. Eventually, his parents acquired a house on Mount Pleasant Avenue, where both Davis and his sculptor mother kept studios; over the next twenty years Davis would spend extended periods on Cape Ann. Gloucester imagery would permeate almost all of the work of this avowedly-urban painter for years to come, but if the accoutrements of the working harbor held a lifelong fascination for him, the particulars of Gloucester space and geography were crucial to his early evolution.” (Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, p. 55)
Hope it doesn’t snow on Stuart’s 125th birthday, that the driving will be clear and dry.
City Snow Scene, Stuart Davis, 1911, courtesy Christie’s Auction House
Davis combined the principles of Henri’s teaching with the technique and palette of his contemporary and close friend, John Sloan. Davis succeeds in rendering a dreary winter’s day in lower Manhattan. With a generous application of whites, Davis works up the surfaces to portray the texture of the snow which is juxtaposed with the more carefully applied reds to develop the architecture in the background. Broad, heavily applied strokes of black are the only device Davis employs to represent the pedestrians with the exception of a few simple touches of orange that delineate the faces of the primary figures in the foreground. Vigorous dashes of greyish-white provide a sense of the blustery, swirling snow, the drama of which is underscored in the foreground figures who are bracing themselves against the elements. Davis employs strong linear perspective to capture the broad avenue and achieves spatial effect by placing two figures in the foreground marking the entry point into the composition. To carefully define the space, Davis uses planar structures along the left side and staggered vertical lampposts and industrial smokestacks to establish depth. Figures are also used to demarcate space intervals in the scene as they are integrated at varying points in the composition.
Don’t stop to gawk at or sketch any boats along the way; you’ll see boats in Carol’s art once you get there.
Sketchbook 19-7: Rosemarie, Boston, Stuart Davis, ink on paper, 1938, courtesy Cape Ann Museum
Hey, skip the boats—really—and head up to heights above the harbor on Route 1.
Boats, Stuart Davis, 1930, courtesy the Phillips Collection
At last you’ll be at the artist’s studio… Carol’s, not Stuart’s.
Studio Interior, Stuart Davis, 1917, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
There will be crowds and crowds, though no servant girls, sorry; it’s self-service. What do you think this is? A restaurant?
Servant Girls, Stuart Davis, 1913, watercolor and pencil on paper, exhibited at the Armory Show. Courtesy Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute
The Association of American Painters and Sculptors originally planned to exhibit only the work of members and those they invited. However, in response to a growing chorus of queries, they asked interested artists to submit works to the Domestic Art Committee for selection. Davis’s work was chosen, and at twenty-one years old, he was one of the youngest artists represented in the Armory Show. In later years, Davis described the 1913 exhibition as a turning point in his artistic development. He called it “the greatest single influence I have experienced in my work,” which prompted him “to become a ‘modern artist.’”
And as the sign says: You Are Here. While everyone wonders, how does Stuart know?
Want to read more of Bruce’s writing? Sign up for his daily postings here. And, my Hidden Holiday Sale has gone public!
By the time you’re done with these exercises, you’ll have lots more experience in mixing color.
Our basic classroom still-life for these exercises.
Above is the still life I created for these exercises. Make your own, or work from a photograph. You can use the same subject for all four exercises. Keep it simple; it doesn’t pay to get lost in the details when you’re supposed to be thinking about color.
Mimicking the masters
The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, 1889, courtesy MoMA
What’s your favorite painting? Look carefully and mix the basic colors in it. One student referenced The Starry Night, above, for her painting, below.
Jennifer’s painting based on The Starry Night.
The goal is to use those colors in various positions in your own painting. That means substituting Van Gogh’s blue for the blue in your painting, etc. You don’t need to use the same proportion of colors as Van Gogh used; just use them in your painting. If a color in your painting doesn’t appear in the picture you are mimicking, work around that. Don’t mix to approximate what you see.
Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background, Vincent van Gogh, 1889, courtesy MoMA
Van Gogh painted a series of olive trees in 1889. One of these, Olive Trees in a Mountainous Landscape, (above) was a complement to The Starry Night. You can see how he manipulated the palette (and linework and composition) to relate the olive trees to the night sky.
For this exercise, I refer you back to this blog post on color harmonies. Re-read the section on triads, because you’re going to use either an equilateral triad or a harmonic triad to build a painting.
Mary’s color triad painting.
The easiest triad to use is a primary triad. The still life at top was set up to include primary triads and secondary triads, depending on which objects students emphasized. They started by choosing a dominant color and then from that, subservient ones. For example, one might base the painting on the cobalt of the blue vase, with the yellow bowl and red apples subservient to the blue.
Harmonic triads are not balanced, but are counted 3-4-5 in either direction on the color wheel (as in the section on triads). Again, mix a dominant tone, and then its subservient tones. Your goal is not to match the real colors in your subject; your goal is to substitute the color palette for what you see.
This, plus white, is a limited palette.
In theory, you can get to any color using just red, blue, yellow and white paint. But the chroma and clarity of those mixes depends on the pigments you start with. For example, cadmium red mixes brilliantly on the orange side, but muddily on the blue side.
Limited-palette paintings tend to be more unified than broader-palette paintings, precisely because you can’t hit all the points in the color wheel.
My limited-palette demo using the paints above.
The classic color pigments are cadmium yellow, cadmium red and ultramarine blue. You’ll need white as well. Don’t buy extra paints for this exercise; use what you have that’s closest to these colors.
Hardwood, by Carol L. Douglas. This is a color substitution painting.
The painting above is a kind of substitution painting, but we’re going to use a narrower interpretation of the idea. We’re going to substitute each main color for its complement on the color wheel.
Olive Orchard with a Man and a Woman Picking Fruit, Vincent van Gogh, 1889, courtesy Kröller-Müller Museum
In Van Gogh’s olive tree painting, above, he’s substituted a warm gold for a blue sky. We’re going to do the same thing, except we’ll do it everywhere on the canvas. Keep the value and chroma the same as the original color, but substitute the complementary position on the color wheel. It sounds simple, but it’s devilishly difficult. Have fun!
Buffalo Grain Elevators, Ralston Crawford, 1937, oil on canvas, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
“We saw a beautiful painting by Ralston Crawford in an exhibition at the Ashmolean (American ‘Cool’ Modernism). It said he was a Buffalo painter, but I’d never heard of him. I’m picky about abstract art, but I really loved that painting!” wrote an expatriate reader.
I’m from Buffalo, and I hadn’t heard of him, either. I certainly never saw his paintings at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo—because they own none. They do, however, own prints of some of his photos.
Buffalo (2 grain elevator cylinders), Ralston Crawford, 1942, gelatin silver print, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
Crawford was born in St. Catharines, Ontario (across the Niagara River from Buffalo) in 1906. He spent his childhood in Buffalo, where he shipped aboard Great Lakes Freighters with his father. At the age of twenty, he pushed out of Buffalo harbor for good, crewing on tramp steamers plying the coast of North and Central America. That landed him in California, where he enrolled in California’s newly-minted Otis Art Institute. After a stint working at Walt Disney’s studio, he headed back east to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1934, he had his first one-man show, at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
He was associated with a 1930s group from Bucks County, PA, called the Independents. They—rather predictably, by this time—were in rebellion against the Pennsylvania Impressionists then in vogue. But Crawford suffered from bouts of wanderlust all his life, so he didn’t stay in Philly, either. He painted and took photos all around the world. He was invited to witness the first public test of an atomic bomb in the Marshall Islands in 1946. What he saw ended up as the basis of a series of paintings of the “devastating character” of the nuclear bomb. He’s buried in New Orleans, in a cemetery that—in life—he loved to paint.
1961–Number 3, Ralston Crawford, 1961, oil on canvas, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
“Why are Mainers so worried about mistletoe?” asked a summer visitor. “Isn’t it supposed to be festive?”
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant. I don’t know why it ever became a symbol of fertility, because it’s toxic and destructive. At least the English version is decorative. The species that grows in Maine—Eastern Dwarf Mistletoe—is too small to see from the ground. Instead, it stimulates its host to produce large twiggy growths called brooms. Its preferred hosts, unfortunately, are our majestic native spruces, usually on headlands along the open ocean, although it will colonize on pine, balsam, and larch, too. Farther away from the water, it’s less common for the infestation to be as heavy, and such trees may carry their parasites for many years.
However, those on the coast will die over time, especially those with serious infections. The only ‘cure’ is to chop down mature infested trees and hope that reforested babies avoid infection. But the ancient spruce overhanging the sea is a Maine icon, so mistletoe is definitely unwelcome here.
Lafayette Street, Ralston Crawford, 1954, lithograph, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
Last weekend for first dibs on my holiday sale.
Have you wanted to get someone (or yourself) one of my paintings but never quite been able to afford one? I’m offering a few paintings starting this week at steep discounts. These are on a hidden page, which only my readers have access to.
“Got any air purifier recommendations?” my correspondent wrote. “My new studio windows don’t open.” She’s an oil painter who uses Gamsol as a solvent. She has only two entrances, both of which open to interior spaces.
Oil paint is pigment suspended in a binder, usually linseed oil. The oil is neither toxic nor flammable. The pigments can’t get airborne, so they’re not an air pollutant.
It’s the Gamsol that’s raising a stink. Not all odorless mineral spirits (OMS) are created the same. Different brands use different additives to speed up drying time. Gamsol contains naphtha. Gamsol is mildly flammable but, more importantly, a known aspiration toxin.
Beauchamp Point, 12×16, oil on Archival cotton panel, unframed; see Hidden Holiday Sale for price.
The best solution is to use an exhaust fan and provide adequate cross-ventilation. Needless to say, OMS should never be used near an open flame. Containers (including trash bins for used paper towels or rags) should be kept closed when not in use. Dump the trash daily.
My correspondent uses paper towels, not rags. That increases her ventilation problem, because OMS evaporates faster from thin paper towels than from thick rags.
She’s located on the Gulf Coast, where heating is not an issue. Working windows would solve her issue. However, those of us in the north face the same question. The recommended turnover for studio air is ten times an hour, something that’s nearly impossible in a cold climate. There are air exchange systems available, but they’re expensive.
There are two kinds of indoor pollution: particle and gaseous. Particle pollution includes airborne drops of liquid and solids like pastel dust. These particles can be incredibly small, but they can still be trapped in a HEPA filter.
Paint solvents emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These gasses are made up of chemical molecules bonded together and vaporized into the air. The molecules are vastly smaller than even the tiniest particle, and a HEPA filter won’t touch them.
Luckily for artists, there’s been a lot of attention paid recently to “gassing off” by interior home finishes like carpets, paint, vinyl, etc. That means we have air cleaners available to remove VOC molecules from the air. These are based on activated carbon, a substance that adsorbs VOCs effectively.
However, carbon filters are useless for particles. If you’re filtering the air, you might as well take the dust out too. For that purpose, they make combination air cleaners as well. It turns out that both of my old HEPA air cleaners also have charcoal filters in them—I checked.
Today, you have a choice of activated charcoal, HEPA, or combination filters, all starting at a few hundred bucks and going up from there. But I found an even cheaper solution, one that will take less room than an air cleaner—a simple bag of activated charcoal that I can set near my painting station.
My correspondent would be wise to get those windows unstuck for other reasons—fire being the first thing that comes to mind. But failing that, she can still get cleaner air using activated charcoal.
My Hidden Holiday Sale for readers of this blog is on its sixth day—check here to see all the additions! On Friday, the sale goes public with advertising, so your chance for first dibs is limited.
“When should I enter calls-for-entry?” a reader asks. “There is a plethora suddenly in Colorado. I have pieces headed to a library for their show this winter (no entry fee, but I have to mail or deliver the paintings 200 miles away). Others are going to a museum ($35 entry fee; they keep 25% commission) and possibly a gallery ($35 for three paintings, $50 for 6; they keep 50% commission).
“When is it worth it for the exposure, and some lines on my resume? How can one tell whether artwork actually sells at these shows? When do you stop entering them? Is it all just a vanity thing for amateurs? If one is, like me, wildly experimenting in all directions, does one pick a particular ‘body of work’ to enter, or send a smattering of everything?”
This is a different business model from the one where gallerists assumed all the risk in exchange for 50% of the sales. The art market is changing rapidly, and I no longer think all pay-to-play galleries are inherently bad; in fact, I’m gingerly putting a foot forward in one for next summer.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the models you describe, although I do think 50% on top of $50 is a bit steep. They’re not necessarily just for amateurs, although some are banking on people desperate to get their foot in the door. Many reputable shows charge an entry fee.
As an artist, you must figure out what return you’ll get for your investment. That’s easiest with local opportunities—just go and investigate the gallery space on your own. Is it a good-looking storefront in a good area, staffed by knowledgeable, competent gallerists?
Not all of us live near a thriving art market. Farther away, the research gets more difficult. If you have a buddy in that area, ask him or her for an opinion. Read the organization’s website carefully, and check the show terms with an eagle eye. If you can’t get there in person, use Google Maps to inspect the street where the gallery’s located. Is it a place you’d go to buy art?
Early spring at North End Shipyard, 14X18, oil on archival cotton panel; see Hidden Holiday Sale for price.
Many of these shows are offered under the imprimatur of established organizations. How long have they been doing the event? Do they have a proven track-record of shows? Google the show itself, something along the lines of “Charming Gallery Annual Landscape Show Artists” and see if you know anyone who’s participated. Contact them and ask about results.
However, you can stand this whole process on its head. This is how I did it: I looked at the resumes of artists I admired and had work sympathetic to mine. (It’s easier today, since everyone has websites.) I noted what shows they’d done and who represented them. Then I researched those shows and galleries.
That didn’t mean that I expected to get into their current galleries. I’d scroll to the bottom and see where they entered the art market. This required a lot of research across many artists, because galleries and shows come and go. But it taught me a lot.
As for what to send if you’re still ‘wildly experimenting,’ just send in the work you like the best. Acceptance and rejection is in itself feedback.
My Hidden Holiday Sale for readers of this blog is on its fourth day—check here to see all the additions over the weekend! On Friday, the sale goes public with advertising, so your chance for first dibs is limited.
I’m having a studio party on December 7, but there’s a hidden surprise.
Before I moved to Maine, I did studio open houses annually. The house was already cleaned for Thanksgiving and I’d recruit my reluctant kids to help schlep paintings. I’ve since moved from a county with a million people to one with under 40,000. If I throw a party, will anyone come?
I’m sure the answer is a resounding yes, so I’m opening my studio for a good old Jazz Age shindig on December 7 from noon to five. There will be cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and because it’s the holiday season, sweets. And you—my faithful reader and friend—are invited.
Here are the details:
Carol L. Douglas Studio Open House Saturday, December 7, 2019 Noon to Five 394 Commercial Street, Rockport
If you’re from away, you can get excellent rates at local motels this time of year. (I’d have you all stay over, but my house isn’t that big.) Maine is beautiful every day, so why not experience it on a winter weekend?
Midnight Sail from Camden Harbor, 24X30, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas.
Now, for the secret.
Have you wanted to get someone (or yourself) one of my paintings but never quite been able to afford one? I’m offering a few paintings starting this week at steep discounts. These are on a hidden page, which only my readers have access to.
I’ll be adding discounted paintings four per day from November 8 to November 15 (28 in all). These are discounted 30, 40, 50, even 60% off their list prices. Not only that, but postage to the US and Canada is included.
Hillside farm (The Logging Truck), oil on linen, 16X20, by Carol L. Douglas
Stop back daily, because I’ll be updating them every morning. I won’t start marketing them generally until after November 15. If you want to see them up close, send me an emailand I’ll send you a full-size version of the image.
Why am I doing this? That’s going to be another surprise announcement, but here’s a hint: big changes are in store for 2020 and I need the space. 😉
There’s more to truth than observable facts, and it’s your job to talk about that.
Last day of golden light, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard
On Monday, Ken DeWaardand I went out to catch the last of the autumn gold before yesterday’s drenching rain. We met at a beautiful old farm in Hope, owned by an elderly lady who gave us some hollyhock seeds in the bargain.
There were two structures that interested me—a fine old Maine cape, and a white frame building glowing violet with a young maple blazing yellow in front of it. “You choose first,” we told each other. This is often the hardest—and always the most important—part of field painting. In the end, I chose the farmhouse and he chose the maple, and I proceeded to complain for the rest of the morning.
The scene I painted.
I know that narrative is very old-fashioned, but it has its place in grounding plein air paintings. The farmyard’s story was obvious. But with the building and tree, either the tractor would need to be included to explain the log pile, or some major narrative fudging would need to happen. That was out; the scene was inherently too delicately-balanced to muck with.
I believe in truth in painting as well as in life. But what does that mean? To a scientist, truth is what can be established through the scientific method. That viewpoint (itself not objective) has permeated our culture. It is, however, a very narrow definition. It leaves out aesthetics, ethics and the associative thinking that the human brain is so good at.
Snow on the forecast, by Carol L. Douglas
Today, we all know that Galileo was right, but by the scientifically-known facts of his time, he was wrong. In fact, part of what Cardinal Bellarmineargued was that heliocentrism shouldn’t be taught unless it could be proved. What infuriates us moderns is the idea that the Inquisition could muzzle science, and we’re right to feel that way. But that’s based on an unprovable ethical argument: the idea that science should operate independently of church or state.
If you were to walk to the post office with me this morning, you probably wouldn’t notice the power lines. You’d see the elegant houses, grand old trees, and raking light across the harbor. That’s because we see with our hearts, and we focus on some things to the exclusion of others. When we’re very young and first investigating realism, we think we should include every detail. As we get older, we’re more attracted by that emotional truth, which has little to do with the objective truth.
The scene I was riffing off.
Yesterday, I managed to sneak in a tiny painting of the building that Ken originally painted. I was demonstrating limited palette. That’s another subject where truth is too complex to be boiled down to easy inanities. In theory, you can get to any color using just red, blue, yellow and white paint. But the chroma and clarity of those mixes depends on the pigments you use and the medium you’re working in.
It’s not that the paints transmogrify, it’s that each different pigment and base has different undertones. These mix well in some directions, but cancel each other out in other mixes. If you doubt me, try to make a classic chromatic black (cadmium yellow, cadmium red, ultramarine blue) with acrylics. You’ll get something that looks like you picked it up on your shoe.