Monday Morning Art School: Four masters show us how to use scale

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, Édouard Manet, 1882, courtesy the Courtauld

We don’t know why prehistoric man created the 360 ft.-long prehistoric Uffington White Horse in Britain, but every generation is both amazed and moved by it. Conversely, miniatures dazzle us with their meticulous craftsmanship. In very large or very small works, we’re immediately transported out of the ordinary. That is why The Heart of the Andes by Frederic Edwin Church must be seen in person—the scope is lost in photos.

The scale of the figures within a painting can make its message more powerful. Here, four masters show us how it’s done.

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, Caspar David Friedrich, c. 1817, courtesy Hamburger Kunsthalle

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog is by the great German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. He doesn’t spell out the identity of the model; in fact, the man is turned away from the viewer. He is an Everyman with whom we are meant to identify. He is centered in the canvas (saved from being static by the S-curve of his body) and is larger than the landscape itself. Friedrich wants us to focus on our human responses and not the landscape itself, as symbolic of uncertainty as it is.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884-1886, courtesy Art Institute of Chicago

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat is one of the most famous paintings in art history. It’s the seminal work of Neo-Impressionism. It was birthed with some difficulty, as Seurat labored over it for three years. Observe the scale of the figures. They range from the monumental couple on the right with their weird little monkey to the distant figures in the background. Using figures of various sizes, Seurat deftly created depth without atmospherics or modeling. Compare this painting to its companion piece, Bathers at Asnières, which takes a more conventional approach to creating depth.

The Oxbow: View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm, Thomas Cole, 1836, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

Many Hudson River School paintings are sermons on canvas, and Thomas Cole’s The Oxbow: View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm is no exception. You are meant to see the American landscape as an Arcadia where man and nature live in harmony. There’s also nascent American myth here, celebrating our story of discovery, exploration and settlement just as they began to fade into history. Cole hammers this home with the Hebrew lettering in the logging clearcut. It spells either “Noah” or “Shaddai” (the Almighty) depending on whether you’re reading it right-side-up or from the God’s-eye-view.

Cole painted himself into The Oxbow. He’s so tiny it will take you a moment to find him. Look in the ravine to the left of his kit and umbrella. By making himself so small he drives home the point that we are mere specks in Creation.

Much has been written about the ‘impossibility’ of the reflections in Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (at top). The gentleman at the far right is enigmatic; he’s both transactional and nightmarish. Note the feet of the trapeze artist at the far left and the Bass Pale Ale bottle, which hasn’t changed in 140 years.

The barmaid’s face is life-size, and she is assessing us straight-on. Whether we’re looking at exhaustion, sadness, or resignation is hard to say. By making her life-size, Manet hammers home the power of her straightforward gaze. This painting isn’t just a mirror in a bar; it’s a mirror on our own souls.

Manet was dying of syphilis when he painted this, suffering severe pain and paralysis. Controversy has raged about the identity and character of the model, known only as Suzon. That hardly matters, because what we see in her eyes is a reflection of Manet’s, and by extension, our, thoughts.

If you’ve ever thought about taking one of my workshops aboard schooner American Eagle, here’s a lovely account from writer Georgette Diamandi, who joined us this past September.

Okay, now it’s your turn to be the jury… you pick.

Dome of Light, 9X12, Carol L. Douglas, $869

I have completed eight paintings for this event, seven of which are in this blog post. By 9 AM Sedona-time (noon on the East Coast) I have to narrow it down to three for judges John Caggiano and Susan Lynn to view. We’re essentially pre-filtering; it’s far more difficult for a juror to filter through 300 paintings to determine what he or she likes.

River Light, 11X14, Carol L. Douglas, $1087

This is, for some of us, the hardest part of the event, so I’m turning it over to you. Think in terms of formal criticism, including:

  • Focal point
  • Line
  • Value
  • Color
  • Balance
  • Shape and form
  • Rhythm and movement

Crescent Moon, Dawn, 9X12, Carol L. Douglas, $869

Then ask yourself, “Does this painting move me?”

The photo quality isn’t the greatest; I took these indoors. But there’s enough information there for you to see the fundamental structure.

Let me know your answers in the comments below.

Cypresses and Sunlight, 11X14, Carol L. Douglas, $1087

Persistent clouds along the Upper Wash, 11X14, Carol L. Douglas, $1087

Sunrise, 8X16, Carol L. Douglas, $903

Sunset, 8X16, Carol L. Douglas, $903

Moving in with strangers

River Light, 11X14, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas, $1087, available through Sedona Arts Center.

Host housing is an imperative on the plein air circuit; buying a hotel room for ten days in a town like Sedona would wipe out any profit from the gig (and anyone playing at this level is in it for the money). But it’s difficult to show up at a stranger’s house, drop your paint-stained luggage in their entryway, and ask to be shown their guest room. Amazingly, it seems to work.

Earlier this month at Cape Ann Plein Air, I gamed the system by asking to stay with Rae O’Shea. I’d never met Rae in person, but we have a mutual friend in Jane Chapin and we’ve been Facebook friends for years. We’re both Anglophiles, so with the recent death of Queen Elizabeth we had a lot to talk about. Even with that, it was a little tough to pull into Rae’s driveway and announce, “Honey, I’m home!”

Sunrise, 8X16, oil on linenboard, Carol L. Douglas, $903, available through Sedona Arts Center.

I met Jane Chapin when she was my host for Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta. I think she had six artists staying with her; wisely, her husband was elsewhere that week. As there is no cell service in the Santa Fe wilderness, we were frequently draped over her furniture, using her internet. Amazingly, she not only tolerated me then, we’ve become fast friends. We went to Patagonia together, where we were stranded at the start of COVID. There we developed giardiasis (so-called Beaver Fever). “Friends that suffer unremitting diarrhea together, stay together,” I always say.

Lisa BurgerLentz and I once shared an austere but beautifully-sited summer cottage at an event. It wasn’t being used by the owner, perhaps because it didn’t have potable water. We’d been warned; we were careful; we still managed to catch Beaver Fever. While I like extreme plein air painting, it can be tough on the gut.

Sunset, 8X16, oil on linenboard, Carol L. Douglas, $903, available through Sedona Arts Center.

My all-time favorite billet was a tiny cabin in the deep northern woods by a lake. There was an outhouse and an outdoor shower and I slept in a loft. I could have cooked as there was a propane stove, but as usual I made do with sandwiches.

Like most of us, I’m a creature of habit. I’m early to bed and early to rise; I don’t eat out, and I don’t watch television or movies. After a day interacting with strangers, I want to crawl into a hole to read. Depending on my hosts’ habits that can make me either a fabulous guest or a terrible one.

Cypresses and Sunlight, Carol L. Douglas, 14X18, oil on canvasboard, available through Sedona Arts Center.

This week I’m billeted with a lovely couple named Deb and Lisa at a luxurious home overlooking Sedona. Casey Cheuvront is also staying here, but she’s on another floor entirely. We could—if we chose—meet only by appointment. There’s a heated pool, a hot tub, and a gourmet kitchen. That last is completely wasted on me, but I have taken advantage of the pool.

Usually, our hosts are interested in the arts themselves, either because they’re artists or they volunteer for the organization hosting the event. Lisa is a jeweler herself, so she and Deb understand the nature of our days. And they’re wonderful company. Once more, I’m afraid, strangers have become my friends.

Monday Morning Art School: painting and flying

"Dome of Light," 12X9, available through Sedona Arts Center.

I’m in Sedona, AZ for the 18th annual Sedona Plein Air Festival. My friend Jennifer mocks my packing list as unnecessarily exhaustive. However, it’s meant to be a complete list from which you choose what’s appropriate. For example, I bring foul-weather gear on my schooner workshops, but not dress clothes. This week, I brought a dress but no foul-weather gear. True to form, it rained yesterday.

“That’s all just materials and tools,” I hastened to tell a woman at the airport who watched me struggle with two large suitcases and a carry-on, her lips pursed. “Do I look like a person who owns three suitcases full of clothing?”

"Crescent Moon, Dawn," 9X12, available through Sedona Arts Center.

At home I drive a full-size pickup truck and have more than 500 square feet of studio space. Here, my tools are crammed into a rental car. I don’t have the luxury of bringing everything I might want.

Travel is always a compromise between canvas size and practicality. I like to paint big, but the largest thing I can pack in a suitcase is 16/20 (in a very narrow frame). I’m carrying four sizes here in Sedona (16/20, 11/14, 9/12, and 8/16) and that’s too many. The less variation in size, the easier it is to pack.

Every art material comes with a Safety Data Sheet (SDS), an exhaustive document that is, for the most part, irrelevant to you as an artist. What matters is the flash point, which is in section nine, Physical and Chemical Properties. This tells you what you can and cannot fly with. A flash point at or below 140° F (60° C) indicates it is a flammable liquid and may not be carried in airline baggage.

"Buckboard," 11X14, Carol L. Douglas, available through Sedona Arts Center.

You’ll have to hunt, but all vendors are required to provide SDS for every product.

Not all solvents are created equal. Turpenoid has a flash point of 129° F (54° C), so it can’t fly. Gamsol’s flash point is 144°F (62°C) so it’s safe. I buy a fresh pint and wrap it in its SDS with the flash point highlighted.

My favorite painting medium (Grumbacher Quick Dry) has a flash point of 140° F, meaning it can’t fly. After buying countless bottles of it after the road that were ditched after using only a few drops, I switched to using linseed oil as a medium. That sacrifices dry time for convenience, but it hasn’t been a problem. Again, I wrap the bottle in its SDS with the flash point (500° F) highlighted.

A small tube of oil paint is 37 ml. or 1.25 oz, so is safe for your carry-on. A large tube is 150 ml., or 5 oz. It must be checked or it will be confiscated. I pack this handy label with my oil paints. Watercolor tubes are tiny and harmless, but the only trouble I’ve ever had flying with paints was with watercolors. An inspector at Heathrow dumped them back into my checked luggage without putting them in their plastic container. My clothes were stained on my return home.

A glowering sky yesterday morning.

It’s very easy to forget your brushes in the heat of travel, and dried brushes are unredeemable. If you can do nothing else, rinse them thoroughly in solvent and wipe them down until you can treat them properly.

Most accommodations don’t have utility sinks. I sometimes take my brushes into the shower, where the force of the water clears away all lingering pigments. That’s not practical in places where water is a luxury. There, I use a superfatted soap and clean all residue from the sink when I’m done.

There are a number of portable painting racks, including RayMar’s DryAngle, but when painting in a festival, I simply snap the painting into its frame. If it doesn’t sell, it can travel home like that. Unframed work gets separated with waxed paper, taped together, and packed in my checked luggage. As long as the paint isn’t too thick, it won’t be harmed.

I’m rich!

The Rocks Remain, 16X20, $2029, available through Sedona Arts Center.

Flying west from a tiny town in northern New England lacks charm. You get up at an unearthly hour, drive to a bus depot, and head to Logan. It complicates the already-dismal nature of air travel to have to start at 2 AM.

I live in one of America’s beauty spots. Why I’d spend 21 hours to get to another beauty spot is a mystery of wanderlust and economics, but apparently it works. I do it with frequency.

Rim Light, 16X20, $2029, available through Sedona Arts Center.

The trips themselves can make me grumpy. Yesterday, I was in Phoenix, consoling myself in my friends’ kitchen with chocolate when my phone rang. It was Eric Jacobsen, calling to wish me well at the 18th Annual Sedona Plein Air. That’s what’s brought me to Arizona.

Eric’s a great listener. I’d made an error in my car reservation and it ended up costing me a thousand bucks. My frames were dinged in transit. That sets the break-even hurdle at this event higher than I’m comfortable with.

He reminded me that blessings are not always linear, but they are guaranteed. That was an indirect way of pointing out my true wealth: I’m surrounded by people of great intellect and compassion.

Falling Tide, 11X14, $1087, available through Cape Ann Plein Air.

My old pal Ed Buonvecchio, formerly of Manchester, Maine, has been watching for my paints. They’re traveling here by UPS. As of this morning, they still haven’t arrived, but I have a small reserve in my kit. Ed was my monitor at my 2022 workshop in Sedona and I’m hoping he’ll do next year’s, too. (It’s called Towards Amazing Color, and it sold out last year.)

As I mentioned Monday, frames make me nuts. Ed’s a dab hand at woodworking, and he’s offered to help me mend my damaged frames. That’s a generous offer, since he is also painting in this event. But that’s Ed; he has a heart a mile wide.

Dawn Wind, Twin Lights, 9X12, $869, available through Cape Ann Plein Air.

It seems like I always land in Phoenix at rush hour. That puts me on Interstate 10 just in time to sit in traffic. “I fail to see any beauty in this landscape,” I grumbled. I felt better when I arrived at my friends’ house. I’ve known Jim and Ellen since our salad days. That’s a uniquely comfortable relationship that involves knowing each other’s secrets but electing to not disclose them. I felt even better when we went out for dinner and Jim picked up the check.

After a too-short visit, I was northbound to Sedona on US 17. There’s a point around Black Canyon City where you cross a ridge, the saguaro cactuses giving way to the conifers of higher elevations. “This is the most beautiful place in the world!” I exclaimed.

And thereafter, every ridge I crossed was tinged with loveliness—not simple grandeur, but the ineffable beauty of Creation. My pulse quickened. I’m uniquely blessed, because wherever I am is at that moment the most beautiful place in the world.

True wealth is in being surrounded with good people. It’s also in not coveting anything but simply experiencing it in the moment. I’m happy to be here, as I have been happy to be in all the places it’s been my good fortune to visit. When I get home, I’ll be equally happy to be in my little farmhouse on Richards Hill.

By the way, paintings from Cape Ann Plein Air are up and for sale. There is work available from some of the best plein air artists in America. Buy early; buy often!

Art-vs.-Life is a false dichotomy

High Plains, 8x10, oil on canvas, available unframed, $522

By now, most of us have read about two Just Stop Oil activists who threw tomato soup over Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery in London. They’re part of a growing trend of annoying young people gluing themselves to the frames of great art and gallery walls in protest against petroleum culture.

They ought to be gluing themselves to a gas pump where they’d be addressing their actual enemy; oil paintings are generally made with flax-seed oil. However, they’d doubtless be ignored or worse, as their sit-down protests in roads have mostly just infuriated British drivers. In a gallery, they’re sure to get attention.

Sedona, 8X10, oil on canvas, Carol Douglas, private collection

“What is worth more, art or life?” said one of the lasses, Phoebe Plummer, 21, from London. “Is it worth more than food? More than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?

Mankind has always recognized that there’s a physical world and a non-physical world and that the borders are fuzzy. Descartes wrote “cogito, ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am) to prove to himself that he really existed. Cartesian dualism rests on the idea that there are tangible things, and there are intangible things, and that we humans are a combination of the two. Generations of spotty teenagers, myself included, have pondered Descartes’ question. The idea that reality isn’t real is tailor-made for adolescents.

Apparently, Plummer missed all that. Otherwise, she’d know that art isn’t separate from life any more than food or justice are. It’s part of thinking, and that’s part of life as much as checking the gas meter.

Van Gogh was just 37 years old when he died, either by suicide or murder. The vast majority of his 900 paintings were finished in the last two years of life as he grappled with crippling mental illness. That period of suffering paradoxically gave us a legacy of paintings that’s unparalleled in human history. Through his work, Van Gogh lives on.

The Rocks Remain, 16X20, is one of two pictures going with me to Sedona Arts Center. I'll post a better photo later.

I’m a reader. That takes me to alternate worlds and different viewpoints and realities, all possible through the artistry of the writer. Are those worlds more or less real than my physical one? The answer, I suppose, depends on when you ask me.

Marcel Proust addressed this question in Remembrance of Things Past, that monumental opus that we all talk about but seldom read. “(A)s many original artists as there are, so many worlds are at our disposal, differing more widely from each other than those which roll round the infinite and which, whether their name be Rembrandt or Vermeer, send us their unique rays many centuries after the hearth from which they emanate is extinguished.” The knowledge thus gained, he said, is something different from the “practical ends which we falsely call life.”

Rim Light, 16X20, is one of two paintings going with me to Sedona. I'll post a better image later.

It's an unexamined life that makes us so prone to excess consumption, exacerbating the petroleum problem. By no measures are American adults healthy. More than 37 million of us take antidepressants, more than 40% of us are obese, and 77% of us worry about money. A little more reading, writing, drawing, painting and thinking and a little less shopping would make us all happier.

By the way, the wise old souls at the National Gallery had protected the painting, and only the frame sustained minor damage.

I’m writing this en route to Sedona, AZ, for the 18th annual Sedona Plein Air Festival. It’s the last event of my season, and I’m excited about all the rocks I get to paint this coming week!

Monday Morning Art School: buying frames

This is my painting Stone wall, salt marshes in a Canadian-style frame. They're almost impossible to get in the US.

I woke up one morning in a surfeit of gold, hating gold plein air frames. This is partly my friend Poppy Balser’s fault. “You Americans love those heavy gold frames, but Canadian buyers think they look cheap,” she said. Well, dang.

Frames are my bête noire. I have a garage full of them, and yet, seemingly, never the right one. If you have a painting in black, the buyer wants gold—or vice-versa. And they ding easily. I’ve lost count of the paintings I’ve gotten back from shows with the protective corners missing.

This is my current favorite frame, a simple chop I buy from Omega, on a painting called Drying Sails.

Last week I wrote a guide to buying art supplies online. “What about framing?” a reader asked. I asked several professional artists to chime in. Here are their suggestions.

Don’t dismiss your local option, like Primrose Framing in Rockland. “I have my local frame shop build me simple frames, simply the four pieces of wood mitered together, from their stock,” said Bobbi Heath. “These are comparable in price to the other sources, and convenient.”

I buy frames and chops (lengths of moulding) from Omega Moulding. The quality is excellent and they have an exhaustive catalog, but they require a business account. They’ve recently limited what they’ll send by freight up to my neck of the woods, so sometimes I have to have things drop-shipped to my daughter in New York. That’s not always handy.

I’ve also purchased unfinished framing stock from Vermont Hardwoods and built my own. That’s the most beautiful option, but I don’t have time these days.

A number of my peers recommended JFM. They require a state resale certificate, as do most wholesale vendors. Chrissy Pahucki likes them “especially for panoramic sizes. I like to save their very sturdy boxes for shipping paintings too.”

They’re Lynn Mehta’s go-to as well. “Their price point isn’t too bad. They have a pretty wide selection of ready-made sizes as well as custom.” Natalia Andreeva and Eric Jacobsen also endorse them.

A traditional gold plein air frame from Florida Frames (photo courtesy Bobbi Heath).

“I also really like King of Frame,” Lynn said. “Some of their frames are really beautiful. I’m always looking for low-profile moulding which isn’t too heavy and preferably closed corners. Both companies have a good selection. Also, the customer service at both of these companies is wonderful.” Eric Jacobsen and Ken DeWaard also like King of Frame. “King of Frames has many of the same styles as Omega,” Jane Chapin noted.

Ken suggested San Diego Frame. They also require a resale certificate, but Ken says they’ve provided a good-quality product. “I used to make my own,” he said, “but I’m not ready to go back down that road yet.”

Bobbi Heath and Jane Chapin recommended Florida Frames, although Jane likes them for chops only. Bobbi also likes varnished wood contemporary frames from Frame Destination. And she points out something that’s true of all frame sellers: “Buying multiples in each size lowers the cost and combines the shipping.” That’s one reason professional plein air artists end up working on standard-sized boards. It’s also how I ended up with a garage full of frames.

Don’t dismiss the big-box art supply retailers. “I also use Dick Blick Simplon black frames with a gold liner for more standard sizes because they ship pretty fast,” said Crissy Pahucki.

I just ordered some frames from Jerry’s Artarama Museum Collection on another artist’s recommendation,” said Lynn Mehta. “When you go on the site look for museum quality frames and in particular the artist frames, not the plein air. The big bonus he pointed out is that Jerry’s offers free shipping.

“They look pretty good, in my opinion. Solid frames. Came in their own boxes, like Omega Frames, and wrapped in a bubble-wrap envelop.

“Heavy as can be, though. I'm not a fan of heavy frames. Heavy for me to ship and heavy to haul around. I will buy them again if I need a frame in a hurry. But I don't want to stock up on them.”

Natalia Andreeva buys frames from Jerry’s, too. She also points out that antique and second-hand stores are a great source for frames.

Dealing with criticism

Best Buds, 11x14, $1087, oil on canvasboard, available here.

This week I received another unsolicited critique. No, I’m not going to repeat it to you.

I recently heard about someone who saves hate mail to a designated file; they can be referenced if needed. ‘If needed’ is a chilling commentary on our times. Anyways, I’m not tough enough to keep corrosive cankers on my hard drive. I just complain to whoever’s nearby and delete them.

That hasn’t always been the case. When I received my first negative review, I cried for two days.

Apple Tree with Swing, oil on canvas, $2029 framed, available here.

Once you stick your head over the parapet and become any kind of public figure (and I’m not much of one) you start to get the occasional brickbat thrown your way. It’s going to come in the form of obnoxious messages and comments, bad reviews, or old-fashioned snark.

That’s no reason to not try to excel, but it does give me pause when thinking about the lives of famous people. Mixed in with the adulation is acid. It’s very easy to forget that these are actual people with feelings, rather than mere players in a public spectacle.

More to the point is the complaints that volunteer organizers regularly receive about events. How often do we consider the humanity of the person who arranged for tables, chairs, rain tents, food, jurying, etc. when we start kvetching about the labels and the lights?

In Control (Grace and her Unicorn), 24X30, $3,478, oil on canvas, available here.

The spectacular achievement of putting together a sustainable cultural event has been on my mind this year. Perhaps it’s because I count several such organizers among my friends. I’ve watched how hard they’ve worked.

One of them started her event fifteen years ago and has since handed over the reins. She still gets called regularly for routine tasks and questions. Another started her event this year. She’s small but tough, and that’s a good thing. She must have sent out ten thousand emails and answered a thousand questions by the time she was done. Not all of them were kind.

Beautiful Dream (Rockport Harbor), oil on canvasboard, 12X16 $1,449.00 framed, available here.

My dog is the mildest of creatures. He’s trained to heel, and he’s on a radio collar to remind him if he messes up. Still, I’ll occasionally encounter someone on the trail who hates or fears dogs. The other day, we passed a woman who snatched up her toddler and turned away, a horrible grimace on her face. Perhaps she was actually afraid, but what she was signaling was raw, palpable anger.

For the remaining 45 minutes of our hike, neither Doug nor I was in a good mood. We were waspish with each other and with the dog. That experience reminded me of how easily hostility is passed from person to person.

Constructive criticism is one thing, but snark has more to do with the critic’s internal settings than any real problems. If possible, just hit the delete button and purge it from your internal hard drive. Studies show that forgiveness is not just a religious mandate; it’s good for your health.

Buying art supplies in a shopping desert

Blown off my feet, 16×20, $2029, available through Cape Ann Plein Air

When I was in Cape Ann last week, I broke my brush washing tank. (It retaliated by dousing me with filthy mineral spirits.) Eric Jacobsen took me to a neat little art store in Beverly called Art Supplies Wholesale. Alas, they don’t sell metal tanks. “No matter,” I said, and asked Rae O’Shea for a jam jar. I can replace the tank this week at home.

I live in an area with a great assortment of art stores nearby. There’s Rockport Blueprint in Camden, Fiddlehead in Belfast, Salt Bay in Damariscotta, and Artist & Craftsman in Portland. If you live where there are art stores, for heaven’s sake patronize them. There may come a time when you need something fast, and you’ll be grateful for that shop around the corner. And the price spread between online shopping and your local store is not as large as you think.

The Surf is Cranking Up, 8×16, $903, available through Cape Ann Plein Air

Some of us don’t have that luxury. I got this letter from a painter in Kansas:

“My oils are in dire shape and I would like to order new paint. I would like your advice on where I should order art supplies. My town is a shopping desert, there is only a Walmart here. Basically, we are at the mercy of ordering everything online.

“I drove to a Michaels in another town this past weekend and looked at what they had, but it was very limited. What are some good online resources to restock my oils?”

Those big-box craft stores sometimes surprise me; for example, I needed acrylic paint and brushes in another small town and the big-box craft store carried Golden. That’s my preferred brand. But in general, what craft stores carry in stock (vs. what’s on their website) is insufficient for serious painting. Worse, you have to navigate aisles of silk flowers, stamps and beads to get to it.

Peaceful tidal pool, 9X12, $869
Peaceful tidal pool, 9X12, $869,

Art supplies are a fairly large industry in the US, with $819.0m in sales expected this year. As a category, it’s in decline, whereas its cousin, arts and craft supplies, is growing. That tells you where most people shop.

There are three major art suppliers online: Dick Blick, Jerry’s Artarama, and Cheap Joe’s. All three concentrate on offering an enormous array of options at the lowest possible prices. That makes them great for the person who knows what they’re looking for, but can be a trap for the uninitiated. That’s one reason that teachers should write and maintain a good supply list.

Walnut tree, stone wall, 8X16, $903, available through Cape Ann Plein Air

Dakota Art Pastels specializes in only one line of products-pastels, pastel papers and pastel pencils. Their approach is very different; they share information about pastel hardness and allow you to buy samplers of different brands before you commit to a pricey set. Theirs is one of the few websites I boot around on just for fun.

Then there are specialist stores like Rochester Art Supply, which would be my go-to for encaustics. These stores combine a strong local presence and a good internet sales base.

Stone Wall, Salt Marshes, 14×18, $1594, available through Cape Ann Plein Air

Paradoxically, if you just need one item and have Amazon Prime, it can be your cheapest solution. Again, you need to know exactly what you’re looking for, as they often sell deceptive knock-offs. See my post about how Google drives viewers toward flawed Meeden pochade boxes.

There are some products you must buy directly from the vendors. I use RGH paints, made by Rolf Haerem and his assistant in a little shop in Colonie, NY. Panel Pak wet painting carriers and most pochade boxes are items that come directly from vendors. Some online vendors carry limited supplies of fine products-Raymar art boards and Rosemary and Co. brushes are two examples. However, the full lines can only be accessed directly from the manufacturers themselves.

Monday Morning Art School: stop seeing your peers as competitors

Dawn Wind, Twin Lights, 9X12, Carol L. Douglas, available through Cape Ann Plein Air.

Driving home from Cape Ann Plein Air (CAPA), I listened to an episode of The Side Hustle Show featuring a sobriety podcaster called Gill Tietz. She said, “stop seeing your peers as competitors; see them as marketing partners instead.”

That’s exactly why plein air festivals like CAPA work. Obviously, we’re competitors for prizes and sales. More importantly, we’re working together to create a market for art. Nobody is going to visit the Rockport Golf Club to see five paintings by Carol Douglas. But they will drive there to see 175 paintings by 35 artists from across the US. There’s strength in numbers.

Seafoam, 9x12, Carol L. Douglas, available through Cape Ann Plein Air.

That principle works across business models. Public markets are a great example of small farmers who band together to punch above their individual weight. Yes, the guy selling organic lamb is competing against the guy selling chicken, but together they manage to lighten my wallet by a considerable sum.

Unbalanced competition can undo this model; there is nothing as depressing as a shopping mall with half its stores shuttered. We can’t say exactly why, but none of us like to go there.

The stretch of coastal Maine in which I live is known for its concentration of galleries. Nobody would drive here for just one gallery, but they come in their tens of thousands for the whole scene.

That has an impact beyond just attracting buyers. It attracts other artists to the community. There were four painters at Cape Ann from my own little stretch of seaside—Tom Bucci of Camden, Ken DeWaard of Hope, Eric Jacobsen of Thomaston, and me. None of us are native Mainers; all of us relocated here to live and work.

Falling Tide, 11X14, Carol Douglas, available through Cape Ann Plein Air.

In general, artists do the collegial thing very well. Of course, we all know artists who love to crow about their own work, who make cutting comments, or who slyly bend the rules. Unless they’re undercutting the event, ignore them; they’re working from a position of insecurity.

I like to paint with Eric, Ken and Björn Runquist. It’s always entertaining. Sometimes it’s the push I need to get out the door at all. Painting together can also be a form of peer-mentoring.

We think of mentorship as giving help and advice to a less experienced, younger person, but it also happens between peers. It can be as simple as Kirk Larson showing me a video light he carries to offset bad lighting, or as deep as talking a buddy through a bad patch. My students have a peer-mentoring group on Facebook that gives fantastic support and guidance.

Fishing Shacks, Carol L. Douglas, 11X14, private collection

For this model to work, the green-eyed beast of envy must be stomped down and never allowed to return. “That’s easier said than done,” you might say, but it’s really just a question of controlling your own thinking. When you find yourself feeling jealous of another artist, firmly set those thoughts aside and move on. If they return, do it again. Envy is really just a bad habit that can be broken. It impedes your creative process.

There will always be someone who does a better painting, wins more prizes, or sells more work. If he or she isn’t at this show, they’ll be at the next one. Judging and sales are often style-driven and subjective, so you’ll go nuts trying to assess your own worth based on what someone else is doing.