Why travel to paint?

Sometimes it takes different light, and different objects, to shake us into really seeing.

The artistically-mature Vincent van Gogh: View of Arles, Flowering Orchards, 1889. Courtesy Neue Pinakothek

It’s possible to achieve mastery as an artist while never leaving your little village. That’s especially true today, with museum and learning resources so widely available. Yet few great artists ever stayed put. The ones who did—like Frans Hals—lived in places like Haarlem, which were so cosmopolitan that they brought the world to the artist.

Artistic itchy feet are nothing new. In medieval Northern Europe, painters (and other craftsmen) were expected to complete the wanderjahre. For a minimum of three years after their apprenticeship, they traveled around Europe learning their craft from different masters. This is where the English word (and custom) ‘journeyman’ originated.

Van Gogh developing his color sense in Paris: Fritillaries in a Copper Vase, 1887. Courtesy Musée d’Orsay

The most intrepid, of course, traveled the farthest. Albrecht Dürer was on the road for four years after his apprenticeship ended, including two trips to Italy. (An unhappy arranged marriage might have contributed to his wanderlust.) Pieter Bruegel the Elder went to France and Italy. Not only did the wanderjahreallow craftsmen to study with the best practitioners of their age, it had a tremendous effect on culture itself. The ideas and practices of the Renaissance were transmitted across Europe by these working journeymen.

Vincent van Gogh invented himself as a painter with his move to Paris in 1886. There he met the avant-garde and dropped the somber color palette and subjects of his northern painting. It was not until he went to the south of France in 1888, however, that his style became fully realized.

Van Gogh newly arrived in Paris: Le Moulin de Blute-Fin, 1886. Courtesy Bridgestone Museum of Art

Van Gogh found a place that fitted his sensibilities, and his painting expanded to embrace the place. That’s something that happens to many artists, and is perhaps why so many of them are so darn footloose (myself included). But isn’t this just self-indulgence? Can’t you achieve the same thing at home?

A few years ago, I assigned a student to draw a fishing boat in Rockport harbor. Becca & Meagan was iconic; she’s red and was a popular subject for artists and photographers. Sheryl would draw a line; I would correct it. We went back and forth until she finally stopped me and made me really look. The boat she was drawing wasn’t Becca & Meagan at all; the owner had hauled her and replaced her with a different red boat. I was so familiar with the scene that what I ‘knew’ had overwritten what I saw.

Van Gogh in the Netherlands: his first major work, The Potato Eaters, 1885. Courtesy Van Gogh Museum

I had an epiphany while watching a student painting an horno in New Mexico last week. These bake ovens are traditional conical structures, deceptively simple in form. Linda, who’s from New England, couldn’t rely on what she thought she knew. She had to hunker down with the essentials of measurement and line to get it right. Because she did, she drew (and then painted) the hornoaccurately.

When we’re painting what we’re familiar with, we can fall into relying on a few sketchy lines to suggest what we already know. That leads to ambiguous, waffling painting. Sometimes it takes different light, and different objects, to shake us into really seeing.

I’m doing a FREE Zoom workshop on Friday, October 2 at 5 PM. Consider it Happy Hour, and join me with a glass of wine, a spritzer, or whatever else. We’re going to talk about studying painting. What should students expect to get from a workshop or class? What should teachers offer? Have you always wanted to try painting but been afraid of classes? Are you taking classes but want to get more out of them? Join us for a free-ranging discussion.

While this is in advance of my Find your Authentic Voice in Plein Air workshop in November in Tallahassee, everyone is welcome. There’s absolutely no charge or obligation. Signups are already brisk, so register soon!

Monday Morning Art School: overcoming barriers to learning

“I wish I could paint, but…” What’s standing in your way?

Breaking Storm, by Carol L. Douglas, available through Folly Cove Fine Art.

Yesterday, our pastor listed these five common barriers to adult learning:

  • Lack of time
  • Lack of balance (juggling commitments)
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Lack of a supportive community

Lack of time is especially true of young parents and people starting in their careers. Having once been there myself, I empathize. But before you give up, consider how much time you spend on sports, social media, television, or shopping.

The Dooryard, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

We all start with exactly the same number of hours, but we choose to use them in different ways. If you are passionate about art, you can draw even when it’s impossible to get out the easel and paint. If you can’t commit to a class, buy a book. If you want to sing, spend ten minutes a day practicing scales, or sing while you drive. At the end of a year, you’ll still be one year older, but you’ll have something to show for it.

That segues neatly into the question of balance. In my thirties and forties, I was an overly-avid volunteer. Looking back on it, I would have been more helpful to society if I’d just concentrated on painting. There are other people who are just as out of whack about their careers or their kids’ sports.

The ability to waste time is a healthy trait of the young, and it is closely tied to mental flexibility. We have to practice it, or we lose it. If you can’t stand change, ask yourself why—and then do something about it. Your ability as a lifelong learner depends on it.

Sunset sail, by Carol L. Douglas, available through Folly Cove Fine Art.

You might think motivation is never an issue for artists, but inspiration ebbs and flows there as in everything else. Counterintuitively, creativity and flexibility work best if they’re on a stable framework. I keep a routine and schedule so that my body and mind are ready to start work at the same time every day. The details of my studio time are less important than that I was there. Decide on how much time you can commit to learning your new skill, and then stick to that, even if it’s only ten minutes a day.

Community is underrated in our atomized modern society. It provides mutual support, new ideas and happiness. Kids naturally have this (when they’re in school). But adult learners need community as well. One of the things I love about plein air painting is the community of fellow artists.

Bend in the Road, by Carol L. Douglas, available. And, yes, the theme of all these paintings is aloneness.

I am a synthetic learner—I never have new ideas; I just recast what I hear and see in different ways. Other people are my primary resource. Having taught for many years, I think this is quite common. It’s very rare for humans to achieve greatness in isolation.

I’m doing a FREE Zoom workshop on Friday, October 2 at 5 PM. Consider it Happy Hour, and join me with a glass of wine, a spritzer, or whatever else. We’re going to talk about studying painting. What should students expect to get from a workshop or class? What should teachers offer? Have you always wanted to try painting but been afraid of classes? Are you taking classes but want to get more out of them? Join us for a free-ranging discussion.

While this is in advance of my Find your Authentic Voice in Plein Air workshop in November in Tallahassee, everyone is welcome. There’s absolutely no charge or obligation. Signups are already brisk, so register soon!

What comes after art classes?

Painting is a lifelong exercise in self-guided learning.

Clary Hill Blueberry Barrens, watercolor on Yupo, available through Maine Farmland Trust Gallery, by Carol L. Douglas

A student asked me why I teach all levels in my classes. Indeed, adding a brand-new painter to the group can sometimes be difficult, as I need to spend a little more time with that person at the start. I’ve found, however, that almost everyone needs the same lessons repeatedly. Painters make the same errors at almost every level—of value, color-mixing, contrast, line, and focal points. It takes a surprisingly amount of time to convince students of the value of process, including value sketches and drawing.

My own experience in taking master classes hasn’t been good; they’ve been less about mastery and more about marketing. That’s not to indict all painting teachers, but unless the teacher knows you in advance, they know very little about your painting level before you start the class, even with portfolio review.

Clary Hill Blueberry Barrens, oil on canvas, available through Maine Farmland Trust Gallery, by Carol L. Douglas

With twelve or fewer students in a class, I have time to meet each person where they are and encourage them a little farther along the road. This is very intensive, and I blow it more than I like. Yesterday I had a painter whom I should have pushed harder on establishing a focal point, but I didn’t realize that until dinnertime.

I still occasionally take classes myself, although it’s not common. It happens when I run across a painter who’s doing something I want to master. I took Poppy Balser’s watercolor workshop a few years ago, because Poppy can make a line of dark spruces shimmer against the sea. I wanted to know how she made that value jump in watercolor.

There are other painters I would like to learn from. Dick Sneary and Dave Dewey are both consummate watercolorists, and I admire their drafting and composition skills tremendously. Likewise, I admire Lois Dodd’s ability to drive to the emotional nut of a scene by removing all extraneous matter. And I often return to Clyfford Stillto think about composition.

Part of my class on Clary Hill, photo courtesy of Jennifer Johnson.

An old and reliable way to learn is to copy master works. I recently started drawing frames from Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko comic books. This led to copying images from the first great cartoonist, Peter Paul Rubens.

But, in general, I’m done studying with others. “How do you know when that happens?” my student asked me. In my case, I realized that the time I was spending traveling to the Art Students League of New York from Rochester would be better spent in my own studio working.

“What comes after I’m done studying with you?” she asked. Go out and paint (which students should be doing anyway). If you like the social side of classes, find a painting buddy or join a painting group. We make the most progress when we’re picking up our brushes several times a week.

Jean Cole’s painting on Clary Hill. She just came back from my Pecos workshop. The goal ought never to be to make ‘mini-me’ painters, but to develop each person’s own style.

I’m doing a FREE Zoom workshop on Friday, October 2 at 5 PM. Consider it Happy Hour, and join me with a glass of wine, a spritzer, or whatever else. We’re going to talk about studying painting. What should students expect to get from a workshop or class? What should teachers offer? Have you always wanted to try painting but been afraid of classes? Are you taking classes but want to get more out of them? Join us for a free-ranging discussion.

While this is in advance of my Find your Authentic Voice in Plein Air workshop in November in Tallahassee, everyone is welcome. There’s absolutely no charge or obligation. Signups are already brisk, so register soon!

Lonely children, beautiful art

A day painting a mural with kids reminds me of how precious friendship is.

Joe Anna Arnett painting with two girls in Pecos, NM.

Jane Chapin bought a beautiful but worn adobe building in Pecos last winter. Her goal is to create a new Art Center for the town. This will be a place where kids can get more art education than they do in school. The art center will also be a base for adult painting workshops.

Regular readers may remember Jane as the organizer of our trip to Argentina in March. She’d planned to paint a mural with schoolkids in Buenos Aires at the end of that trip. They would work from artwork done by the Pecos kids. In return, she’d bring back artwork from Argentina that would become a mural in Pecos. This cross-cultural effort collapsed with the world shutdown from COVID-19.

My students pitched in too. Here’s Jeannie Cole working with a young lady named Mariah. (Photo courtesy of Linda DeLorey.)

Normally, art centers take a percentage of tuition as their fee from instructors. As Jane sketched it out, the new art center would work differently. We teachers would teach our workshop and then do a project with the local kids as our contribution. I don’t often teach kids, but I like them just fine. I was looking forward to working with them.

Then COVID-19 hit, and the whole world ground to a halt. The county dragged out the process of issuing permits. Building renovations are still only half finished.

New Mexico imposed draconian limitations on visitors, so that hotels and B&Bs were essentially closed. My workshop only happened by the grace of God and the graciousness of Jane and her husband, who moved the whole operation to their home in the mountains above town.

Jane and a few of her minions.

As of last week, the Pecos school district was doing remote learning only. This is absurd: to date, all of San Miguel County has had 103 cases and no deaths from COVID. This is a remote, rural, poor community, with some 30,000 people spread out over 4700 square miles of mountainous terrain. That means lousy or non-existent internet and cell-phone service. And it means extended isolation for these kids, who haven’t been in school since the end of March.

Jane gamely changed the mural project so she could salvage something for these kids. Instead of an exchange with Buenos Aires, she would have the Pecos kids paint their own images on the walls of the Pecos Art Center. She transcribed the drawings to the walls, and worried that nobody would show up.

But they did, and both kids and parents were enthusiastic. There were enough volunteers, including artists Joe Anna Arnett, Lisa Flynn, Gail Ewing, and two of my students, Jeannie Cole and Linda DeLorey. We were able to work very closely with the kids, and most of the mural got painted. It’s lovely, a sign of promise and hope.

Not finished, but most of the way there.

But the greatest joy of that day turned out to be the simplest thing. We watched these youngsters play together, chatter, run around and simply have fun. Their happiness was palpable. They’ve been lonely. One mother admitted to me that she’d allowed her daughter’s best friend a socially-unsanctioned sleepover, because the girls have been so sad. I lived in the country. I know that kids who ride the bus do most of their socializing in school.

I left shaking my head at the utter stupidity of adults. Kids don’t die from COVID. While they could bring it home to their families, the chances are pretty remote in a place like this. Yes, children are resilient, but it’s creating completely unnecessary hardships for them.

I’m sorry for skipping Monday’s post. I got in at 2 AM, and there was nothing left in my tank.

Let down your defenses

I understand and empathize with defensiveness very well, but I also know that it is paralyzing.

Annett Sauve lets me demonstrate on her canvas. (Photo courtesy of Jane Chapin)

Thomas Edison is credited with saying that “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” He ought to have added persistence in that equation. It’s a kind of intelligence, one that isn’t measured on tests and used as a predictor of success—but it ought to be.

Of the six students in this workshop, two are returning students. They share that trait of persistence. For both of them, the process of painting has really clicked on this trip. I refine my teaching method with every class, which I think makes it clearer, but the difference is mostly in them.

Mary Whitney’s painting in paradise.

Painting is not simple. Learning it takes time, and is a two-way dialogue. The student must be open to what’s being taught in order to make any real progress. Likewise, the teacher must be listening constantly for cues from the student.

For a long time, I was a very defensive painting (and everything else) student. I knew what I thought I knew and wasn’t willing to let others change that, even as I understood I needed help. It was a pity, because it blunted any possibility of becoming a better painter.

What were the symptoms of this self-defeating viewpoint? Whenever a teacher suggested I try something a different way, I responded with a rationalization. “I know, but…” saved me from having to try and fail. I was unnecessarily critical of others’ work, and there was a very limited range of paintings I understood enough to love.

Karla King and me, working at Pecos National Historic Park. (Photo courtesy of Jane Chapin)

What cured that? My broken self-image was repaired. To explain how I was broken would require delving into a maelstrom, so I will skip it. But the cure was a combination of my developing faith (I was made in God’s image, so I can’t be fatally flawed) and the slow development of real competence. This was not just as a painter, but as a parent, a spouse, and a functioning adult.

I understand and empathize with defensiveness very well, but I also know that it is paralyzing. I can’t fix it by simply saying, “let down your defenses.” That insecurity is the very nut the student is trying so hard to protect.

Instead, I sidestep the whole question by insisting that, for one week, workshop students try it my way. It’s not arrogance on my part, but rather the desire that students get value for the money they’re shelling out.

Historic New Mexico.

Of course, the process I use is not the only way to paint alla prima, nor is it in any way my own invention. Painting—like most other human endeavors—has been developed incrementally by thousands of practitioners. Our best practices are a synthesis of their ideas. Before a student rejects the basic rules of painting, he or she should not only understand why they are used, but have thoroughly mastered them.

I’m thinking about this because I’m going to do a free cocktail-hour webinar on October 2, where I’ll talk about objectives in studying painting. Everyone is welcome, and I hope you bring lots of questions.

“The first time I felt normal in a long time.”

If you’re depressed or anxious right now, for heaven’s sake, turn off your laptop and TV.

Jane Chapin with my new dog, Guillo (short for Guillermo and pronounced Gee-zho).

There’s a small hamlet here that’s a New Mexican Brigadoon, a tiny community that time forgot. It’s otherworldly, like a set from a movie. Modest adobe houses are set on a bluff overlooking a verdant valley. The dogs and the people are generous and friendly.

This is one of my favorite places, where I could paint the rest of my life in contentment. That’s a fairly high bar, since I’ve painted in many of the world’s beauty spots.

Yesterday I shared this place with the six students in my Pecos workshop. It’s a well-earned reward, because I’m working them harder than I’ve ever worked students before. On Monday, we did a day-long joint project where I demoed step-by-step in watercolor and oils. They followed along, duplicating my processes exactly. On Tuesday, we threw color theory into that mix. All six of them draw well, so they’re able to keep up.

Mary Silver working on values. It’s all about that base.

Yesterday, they were spread out along a dusty track running from the road back to the morada, which is the meeting house of New Mexican penitentes. As is my usual technique, I spent much of the day going from person to person, working one-on-one. This creates the opportunity for intimate conversation (and is why so many of my students have become lifelong friends).

“This is the first time I’ve felt normal in a long time,” two of them told me independently of each other. Those within earshot heartily agreed with them. We’re in a place that’s anything but normal. Our group is disparate, with students from students from Texas, Missouri, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Maine. I had to ask them what made them feel normal.

Jean Cole with our ride. And here I thought I had overdone it by getting a full-size truck.

It’s being in a group and not wearing masks, they thought. I suspect they’re right. Human beings are primarily social animals. We read each other through body language and facial expressions as much—or more—than with our words. Here we can talk and laugh, and we needn’t worry overmuch about whether we’re maintaining a proper two-meter separation (as if there was any science behind that rather arbitrary number).

But there’s more to it than that. We’re also in a media blackout. One thing I like about painting here (and in Acadia, and Alaska and Patagonia and other remote places) is that I don’t have cell-phone reception. I’m not seeing the news or looking at Facebook. Here I can’t even take a phone call. If you want me, text me and I may see your message by the end of the day.

Linda DeLorey and Jean Cole painting in Paradise.

That means we haven’t talked or thought about COVID-19 all week. And there’s a lesson in that—if you’re depressed or anxious right now, for heaven’s sake, turn off your laptop and TV. Go for a walk in this crystalline September air. Play with a puppy. Do anything that involves your real community and doesn’t involve the whole generalized human condition. It’s what’s around you that’s real, not what the talking heads keep telling you.

A student asked me whether we are going to have safe-distancing accommodations at Sea & Sky this year. The answer is yes. For this year only, everyone gets their own apartment. However, if you’re coming from Massachusetts or any other supposedly high-risk state, you will need a negative COVID test to stay at Schoodic Institute. (Of course, that too may change by October.)

Last but certainly not least, I’m going to do a free cocktail-hour webinar on October 2, where I’ll talk about objectives in studying painting. Everyone is welcome, and I hope you bring lots of questions.

Monday Morning Art School: mastering value

The essence of alla prima painting is to nail the color on the first pass.

The top of this canvas is a simple grisaille; the bottom is a single layer of paint applied right over that. This is the gist of alla prima painting. 

You cannot overstate the importance of valuein painting. Even when artists represent value with hue(a technique pioneered by the Impressionists) the dark shapes in a painting have a form. That form drives our perception and guides us through the painting. There are various ways to get this right, but the most common is a quick value sketch. I ask watercolor students to then make a value study in paint before they start their finished project. I have oil and acrylic students do their paint study in the form of a rough grisaille on their canvases. It has to be thin, and it has to be worked fairly dry, or you can’t paint over it.

Where early oil painters sometimes trip up is in making that bottom layer too dark, thick, or soupy. Then, they hope they can somehow lighten it up by adding white back in. Indirect painting works almost like this, so they may have seen something similar on a video. In indirect painting, the artist works into this dark layer; in modern direct painting, or alla prima, it’s there as a roadmap, so it’s applied more lightly.

Close-value mixing is the heart of painting, and the hardest mixing to do.

Direct painting requires great skill in color mixing, because the goal is au premier coup, or to nail it on the first strike. That goes not just the for darks, but every color in the picture. Even a painting with wonderful shadows and lights will have many middle tones, often closely related in value. These are actually the most difficult colors to mix accurately. If you have a painting that isn’t working, ask yourself if it has a full tonal range, or is it simply hitting the highs and lows. When people get in trouble painting texture, it’s usually because they’re overstating the contrast.

Plate IV-4 from Joseph Albers’ Interaction of Color, demonstrating how all color is relative. The inner violet colors are the same exact value, but what surrounds them influences how we perceive them.

All color is relative, and that’s particularly true when it comes to value. Above see a plate from Joseph Albers’ groundbreaking Interaction of Color. The inner violets are the exact same value. But the framing color influences how we see those values, so one looks much lighter than the other. This is why oil painters should tone canvases, by the way.

I made the oil-painting sample at the top of this page for my students. The top is the value study; the bottom is a finished painting. I keep it around to demonstrate that when we say “darks to lights” we don’t mean a thick mask of dark paint; we mean that we think through our values in that order. (In watercolor, we do the same thing, but the application is reversed to go from light to dark.)

Copy and print me.

To mix paint accurately you must become absolutely conversant with the colors on your own palette. You can download this pigment test chart and print it on watercolor paper (trimmed to size) on your laser printer. Or, just grid off a canvas or paper to match. (Don’t try doing this in watercolor on plain copy paper. It isn’t sized, and your pigment will just sink.)

Use the pigments you usually have on your palette (if there’s more than eleven, we may need to talk).

What is the natural value of your paint, straight out of the tube? Compare it to that scale above.


The first step is to identify the natural value of your paint, straight out of the tube. For oil painters, this is easy. For watercolorists, it’s a bit of work to figure out what that really darkest point is, because it’s never the same as it appears on your palette. The colors wetted are a better guide, but you’ll need a test paper handy to experiment.
Your finished exercise should look something like this.

When you figure out the darkest natural position of that pigment, paint it in the appropriate position on your scale. Then make lighter steps to match the greyscale strip you’ve printed from the sample above. For watercolorists, that means dilution. For oil and acrylic painters, that means cutting with white.

There are three things to remember:

  1. These judgments are subjective. There’s no reliable way to measure the value of a color. The camera is as subjective as the human eye.  
  2. You can’t get a color to go darker than its ‘natural’ value without distorting the hue or chroma. Thus, there is no natural dark version of cadmium yellow, so the shadows in a yellow object require a workaround.
  3. All pigments can make about the same number of discrete steps. While the yellows have a shorter range, the steps are more noticeable. Blues can mix from almost-white to almost-black, but the middle points are very similar. 

Practical painting

Art theory is great, but workshops and classes should give you a clear process by which you can design and produce a better painting.

Blueberry Barrens, Carol L. Douglas, available through Maine Farmland Trust Gallery.

Natalia Andreeva is organizing my Find Your Authentic Voice in Plein Air workshop in Tallahassee in November. She asked me for objectives. That was great timing on her part.  I leave for the Pecos National Wilderness Saturday night and then head to Acadia National Park in two weeks.

The list (which follows) is short, but it took me more than a day to write. That, in turn, led me to redesign my workshop process. I already had a good reputation as a teacher, but this year has radically sharpened my focus. For that I can thank lockdown.

Ocean Park Beach Erosion, available through Ocean Park Association.

The biggest problem in plein air painting is what my buddy Brad Marshall once memorably referred to as “flailing around.” It’s easy to get stuck in the tall grass. In my opinion, the only classes worth taking are ones that give you a clear process by which you can design and produce a better painting. I love art theory and history, and I share them with my students. However, they have little to do with the mechanics of making a good picture.

Nor am I very interested in ‘style.’ To me that’s very personal—it’s what’s left when we’ve pushed our technique to the highest limit. When people try to teach it, they just create a small army of copyists.

Dawn, available through the artist
Parrsboro Dawn, available through the artist.

I’ve always focused on practical painting, but Natalia’s question got me thinking about the how and why. These are the objectives I came up with:

Finish a painting in three hours or less

Working fast (and well) in the field requires a clear, easily-understood process. We’ll go through the steps, explain why they’re important, and practice each one.

Better composition

A good painting has a structure of lights and darks with clear focal points. We talk about how to improve the structure of your painting, both with rules and by breaking rules.

Accurate, fast color mixing

Mixing right the first time is the key to beautiful, clear color. Theory is important, but how do you apply it with the paints on your palette?

Sea Fog, available through Folly Cove Fine Art.

Landscape perspective and pictorial distance

A sense of space sets off the best paintings. Learn to create that using drawn and aerial perspective.

You don’t need to record everything you see

What you leave out is as important as what you include. Learn to lose edges and direct the viewer’s eyes where you want them.

Let your own voice shine through

Process-based painting is all about technique, not style. That allows your own inner voice to emerge.

Packing to fly

We don’t have to give up our joy be safe in the Age of Coronavirus.

Fallow field, by Carol L. Douglas. Oil on canvasboard, available.

This weekend I will take my first flight since I came home from Argentina. I’m off to Pecos, NM, to teach a workshop that, mirabile dictu, has six people enrolled.

No, I’m not worried. I’m booked on a good carrier, and modern planes have HEPA filters. I’ll carry hand sanitizer, wear a mask, and enjoy myself. Flights are dirt cheap right now, as American carriers try to entice us back into the air.

When I’m preparing a workshop, I send supply lists to students, along with this packing list. These are general, and they don’t account for every circumstance. The weather in Pecos is going to be stellar this week; I won’t bring rain gear.

The biggest disconnect is between what oil painters need and what they’re allowed to fly with. Solvent is banned, except for very small bottles of Gamsol, which has a slightly lower flash point than Turpenoid. I avoid carrying either. Far better to buy it when I land.

Autumn farm, by Carol L. Douglas. Oil on canvasboard, available.

Nor should oil painters carry most painting medium; its flash-point is too low. That’s a big reason why I’ve switched to straight-up linseed oil for field painting.

I can fit a pochade box, tripod, two weeks’ worth of boards, my paints and everything else I need into a single checked bag that weighs less than 50 pounds. I put my clothes, toiletries, etc., in my other bag. Southwest has a two-bag limit, so there’s no additional charge for bringing my painting gear.

I have wet panel carriers that I love. However, I’d need half a dozen for a week of painting. Instead, only the wettest paintings travel in them. I lay out my paintings to start drying as soon as they’re finished. On the last day, I separate them with waxed paper and tape the package together. I write in sharpie, “Wet paintings—be careful opening!” I’ve been doing this for years and have only ever messed up one painting.

Print me and fly.

If you’re checking your oil paints, you can bring any size tube you normally carry. If you put your paints in carry-on luggage, they can only be the smaller tubes, or they will be confiscated. A lot of us paint with a 150 ml tube of white paint. It’s easy to forget. (It’s the nominal size that matters, not how much is actually in the tube.) I also print out the label, above, made by Gamblin for artists. I stick it in my paint container. I do notempty and clean my palette before flying. There is nothing hazardous in loose paint.

I carry a sketch pad and a travel watercolor kit in my backpack along with my laptop, phone charger, meds and a day’s clothing. I haven’t had luggage lost by an airline in a decade, but it’s always a possibility, and I’d hate to be bored.

I never actually bring dress clothes or makeup when I travel, but with social distancing, I no longer feel guilty about that.

Shadows, by Carol L. Douglas. Oil on canvasboard, available.

When I come back, I’ll be heading to Acadia for my annual Sea & Sky workshop. There are still openings, as there are in my Tallahassee workshop in November. Meanwhile, watch this space. I plan to be a good example to you, proving that we don’t have to give up our joy in order to be safe in the Age of Coronavirus.

Note: Cape Elizabeth Paint for Preservation auction is open for viewing. All thirty paintings can be seen here. Bidding opens Saturday, September 12 at 8 AM and closes at 9 PM the following day—bookmark this link for the live auction. Last month, I wrote about my paintings for CELT’s Mystery Boxes. These will be on sale Saturday and Sunday as well, here. You pay a flat $250 and what artist you get is a crapshoot—but with the caliber of artists in this event, you’re guaranteed to get something wonderful.

Meet your oppressor

It’s horrible to watch a city you love overdosing on hate and violence.

High Falls of the Genesee, by Carol L. Douglas.

I’d like you to meet my friend Ha. He’s a portly gentleman in his seventies, with a thick thatch of white hair and an irrepressible smile. His wife, Khanh, is a tiny, self-contained woman. Ha’s sister, Nu, is tall and rangy with an outsize personality to match. They run a small restaurant on lower Monroe Avenue in Rochester, NY. This is a part the city that has been described as “up and coming” for the past twenty years.

Ha’s family is from mainland China, and their trade was food service. Like many petit-bourgeoisie, they fled when it was clear that the communists had won the Chinese Civil War. The skill to roast a pig is international currency, and they resettled in Saigon. There has always been a large and successful Chinese population in South Vietnam. But by the late 1970s, ethnic Chinese were being violently suppressed, especially the capitalist ones. I once asked Nu how they managed to escape. She rubbed fingers and thumb together in the international symbol for payola.

North Rochester, by Carol L. Douglas. This is where my old church is.

They were on the move again, this time by boat to an international refugee camp in Malaysia. One brother died before they landed. They have a worn photo of that landing; they are carrying what they can through the surf from a rickety cruiser.

From there, some went to Canada. Ha and his sisters came here. He met Khanh in a match arranged by her brother. They lost a child, they had another. Nu and her husband had a daughter. Two sisters died. They set up shop on Monroe Avenue, and all of them worked like navvies to establish the restaurant. They’re there from late morning until late at night, every day of the week. The first time I ever saw them take a day off was for their daughter’s college graduation.

Last year, Khanh and Nu were assaulted by a drunk. They were both seriously injured; Khanh suffered a broken hip. While they recovered, the restaurant was closed; there is no other staff. They don’t speak English so you didn’t see them on the evening news. Besides, inner-city violence is a tiresome fact of life, hardly newsworthy.

Canal, by Carol L. Douglas. Rochester has its idyllic moments.

They’d like to retire, but their assets are tied up in the restaurant. They had buyers in mind, a Vietnamese couple with a small jewelry store around the corner. These young people want to put their feet on the first rung of the American ladder themselves.

Fast forward to last month, when riots rocked Rochester. My friends got off lightly; their building was tagged, not torched. But buildings on either side of them burned, and their prospective buyers’ Hispanic neighbor was severely beaten trying to protect their shop for them. 

This weekend another round of rioting closed down Rochester again. I have the greatest sympathy for Daniel Prude’s family. Anyone who’s lived with a mentally-ill loved one has to be thinking, “there but for the grace of God go I.” The circumstances of his death should be investigated—but not by a mob.

My friends are not oppressors; rather, they’ve fled two oppressive regimes in their lifetimes. They’ve been stoic about the current round of violence. They’ve seen worse.

This weekend, the damage was centered a few blocks north of their restaurant, in a much ‘nicer’ area. For twenty years, the city has marketed this neighborhood to middle-class professionals. Perhaps you think that’s okay, that somehow these people are the oppressors. Instead, they’re the people who’ve propped up the tax base in a moribund city.

The net result of Rochester’s 1964 riots was the flight of capital and brains from the city—“white flight,” they called it then. I have no idea what they’ll call it this time, but it’s horrible to watch a city you love convulsing in another overdose of hate and violence. Apparently, it has learned nothing whatsoever from its own history.