Inside the blue line

I’ll be teaching in the Adirondacks on August 13-14. Be there or be square.

Spruces and Pines in a Boreal Bog, painted at the Paul Smith’s VIC and long since gone to a private collector.

I cut my teeth teaching workshops in the Adirondack wilderness, so it’s with great pleasure that I’ll be doing that again, August 13-14, at Paul Smiths College in the High Peaks region. (For more information see hereor contact Jane Davis.) 

My Acadiaworkshop is sold out, so this is your only opportunity to study plein airwith me here in the northeast. It’s part of the Adirondack Plein Air Festival, but you do not have to be a participant in the festival to take the workshop. 

Bracken fern, also painted at Paul Smith’s VIC. 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 in a plein air frame.

(Of course, I have other workshops that still have openings—see my websitefor the full listing.)

New Yorkers are justly proud of the Adirondack Park. It covers most of the Adirondack Mountain massif and is the largest park in the Lower 48. Unlike most state parks, about half of the land is privately-owned, with state land wrapped around towns, villages and businesses.

I’ve been visiting the Adirondacks since I was a baby, and have painted, hiked, canoed and driven countless hours within it. But nobody can know the whole park intimately. It’s just too vast.

There are 6.1 million acres with more than 10,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams. There are boreal bogs and old growth forests, mountain peaks and roaring rivers. I’ve visited (and painted in) many wild places, and have found none wilder or more beautiful.

The Dugs, painted in the Adirondacks near Speculator, NY. 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 in a plein air frame.

As parks go, it’s pretty old. In 1885 the state legislature designated lands there and in the Catskills to be forever wild. This would come to be called ‘inside the blue line’. Those land protections were preserved in the state constitution in 1894. In contrast, the National Park System wasn’t formed until 1916.

There are about 130,000 full-time residents within the park and another 7-10 million visitors every year. That puts tremendous pressure on the land, but the relationship between residents, visitors, wilderness and government somehow holds together.

Because the park has so much private land within its borders, there are accommodations for every budget. You can stay at the newly-restored Hotel Saranac, or you can go back-country camping at a state-owned campsite. (The popular camping sites sell out fast, so don’t dither.)

Whiteface makes its own weather, 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 in a plein air frame. Whiteface Mountain is one of the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks.

My workshop will be held at the Visitors Interpretive Center (VIC) at Paul Smith’s College, which is located in the hamlet of Paul Smiths, NY. Town and college are named after Apollos (Paul) Smith, who started as a humble Vermont fishing guide and ended up an entrepreneur.

The VIC is an assortment of Adirondack habitats. There’s a large pond, running streams, a boreal bog, and lots of woodlands. Mountain peaks rise in the distance. Luxurious for a backwoods workshop, there are bathrooms with running water.

This teaching gig comes with the responsibility of being juror of awards for the Adirondack Plein Air Festival. Sandra Hildreth is the grande dame of Adirondack painting and the founder of the festival. She wanted a juror who was plugged into the ethos of wilderness and plein airpainting in general. These are two things I’m passionate about.

But my intimacy with the venue is also a potential downside—I know many of the painters who participate. Could I be objective? After a point, there are just too many of my acquaintances involved for me to favor anyone. I think I’ll be fine.

When trouble cascades

It’s inevitable. How you pull yourself out of it is another matter.
Waiting to play, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard.
I opened my pochade box to do a tiny touch-up on my nocturne of Tuesday night. A slip of the hand and Cora and Ben were face down in the paint. Wincing, I picked the board up and looked. There were bright hillocks of color everywhere.
Because I’d used a lot of quick-dry medium, the paint was easy enough to scrape off without lifting the bottom layers, and it was simple (albeit time-consuming) to recoat the dark parts. Cora’s face, however, was another matter. How could I repaint it sans model, fire and s’mores?
Saranac River, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard
“My resolution is to not let myself get anxious at these events,” Lisa BurgerLentz told me. That’s a good goal, because agitation undermines your ability to perform. Even the most experienced, successful painters feel it at times. There are fifty of us here, and we’re in direct competition for sales and prizes. It can be a very fraught experience if we allow it.
I don’t generally succumb to that, but when things go wrong at a plein air event, they tend to cascade. In re-reading the rules, it seemed to me that one of my best paintings was disqualified by when it was painted. These events being on the honor system, it was up to me to report the infraction myself. Ouch. Then, I started digging in my car for the nocturne’s frame and couldn’t find it. Somewhere in my house or garage is a lonely frame calling for its mate.
Beaver Dam on Quebec Brook, by Carol L. Douglas
I was pretty frazzled. I can’t get out of that state of mind on my own, so I rely on prayer. I called on a few Christian sisters to pray with me.
I am often asked to pray for others, and do so happily. But I also doubt that it’s theologically necessary to ask the community of believers to pray with us. God loves us all, and doesn’t hand out his blessings grudgingly.
The cycle of life, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard
But it’s very difficult to pray sometimes. Perhaps that’s where the community of saints comes in: to carry the burden when you find yourself unable to do so yourself. My problems yesterday were minor compared to the troubles people find themselves in, but it was a good reminder.
Many painters tell me that they don’t do plein airevents precisely because of this pressure. It could be crippling if one didn’t have a way to deal with the anxiety that failure inevitably produces. You need to pack that strategy along with your brushes and paints.
S’mores (Ben and Cora Pahucki), by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard
In the end, I remembered that I’d taken a photo of my nocturne. I copied Cora’s face from it. It’s not as fresh as the original, but it’s there. I confessed my infraction to the organizer, who told me not to worry about it. And Lisa BurgerLentz kindly sold me a frame she was carrying for her own work.
All’s well that ends well, but I’d rather not do that again anytime soon.

Night sky

Apparently, I’ve been doing nocturnes all wrong.
S’mores (Ben and Cora at Rollins Pond), by Carol L. Douglas, 9X12, oil on canvasboard. It’s difficult to photograph a wet nocturne.
Like a good farmer, my bedtime is 7:30. Most of the year, that makes painting nocturnes difficult. They only work in December, when the sun sets at 4 PM at my little snug harbor. Otherwise, I’m tired and fractious when I paint them, and that shows.
This year, there’s a full moon during Adirondack Plein Air. Even I could see the advantages of staying up. Chrissy Pahucki and I had one of those Great Ideas that so often gets me in trouble. She secured a campsite in the state forest. I got the makings for S’Mores. We met at dusk.
The cycle of life (Black Pond), by Carol L. Douglas, 14X18, oil on canvasboard.
It killed me to pay $5 for a bag of spruce logs when I have about ten cords of hardwood behind my shed. However, the ban on moving firewood applies even to artists. I felt a little better buying it from  Paul Smith’s College VIC. I’d like to think I was supporting their athletics program, since the wood is split by their students.
“How about getting hot dogs to roast for dinner?” I suggested. Fifteen-year-old Ben rolled his eyes at me, as if I were an elderly, daft grandmother. I counted on my fingers. Yes, I was old enough, with room to spare. I cackled, since it seemed appropriate.
Beaver dam, by Carol L. Douglas, 14X18, oil on canvasboard. A special thank you to Sandra Hildreth, who took me to this wonderful place.
Cora, 14, has started to look startlingly like her dad, although much prettier. She has a lovely profile and is a good model. I made a mental note to have her pose for a real portrait next year.
We talked about important stuff, such as whether Ben could toast a marshmallow without catching it on fire. Beth Bathe concentrated on the back of Cora’s head, while Lisa BurgerLentz ignored us all and went down to the shore and painted the waning light across Rollins Pond.
The moon rose, magnificent above a Winnebago parked nearby. “Wow, this is beautiful!” exclaimed Chrissy, who’d wandered off and was standing at the shoreline. We trooped down and admired the view, which was, of course, spectacular. The pond was so still that the stars were reflecting in its surface. A light froth of cirrocumulus clouds arced above our heads, and simultaneously, at our feet. The moon, huge and wise, peeked through the needles of an Eastern White Pine.
The view that got away. I stood in the water to take this photo, and now my shoes are wet and cold.
It was, of course, the better scene, one in a million, and we’d let it get away from us. That’s always the way, it seems. I try to be philosophical and tell myself that’s the sign of a great painting location. 
We had the campsite until 11 AM. Could I stay and paint another nocturne? The late hour eventually won out. This morning I feel like I’ve been on a three-day toot, which is why this post is late and barely intelligible. But I learned something important about nocturnes: they’re much more fun if you do them by a fire with friends.

A sense of place

I can’t get a painting out of my mind. That means the artist did an unusually good job.
Lobster dock, by Carol L. Douglas, watercolor on Yupo paper.

In September, our days often start with fog, as the cooler, longer nights of autumn dance with the warm ocean. “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” John Keats called it. It’s exquisitely cool on the skin and a delight to paint. But I was having none of that joy on Sunday. In fact, I was miserable.

As the sky cleared, the day emerged perfect. There is a limpid, golden light from now until March in this latitude. Still, it’s not cold; a warm, gentle breeze floated across Damariscotta Lake. September is the most glorious month in Maine, and the knowledgeable holiday-makers know it.
They were out in force, zipping along the water on their jet skies, in power and pontoon boats. I like boats, and don’t generally begrudge them their fun on the water, but the engine sounds were drilling neat holes in my temples. After six hours, I capitulated to my awful headache and packed up my brushes.
I’m not a crank, I have hay fever. Really.
Yesterday morning I noticed that my eyes were swollen. The penny dropped. I used to have fierce autumn allergies when I lived along the Lake Plains. Here, my bedroom overlooks a hundred-acre hayfield. I have hayfever again.
I’d planned on meeting Bobbi Heath to paint in the pickerelweed above Damariscotta Mills. When I showed her my eyes, she suggested that we go, instead, to the shore, where the ocean breezes could clear my sinuses. That is how we ended up at Round Pond, and it suited me to a T.
Private Island, definitely unfinished, by Carol L. Douglas
I’m having fun with Yupo, and doing some interesting work with it, but the medium is driving my painting, rather than being subservient to any sense of place. That’s shifting, but it’s a slow process.
“Sense of place” is difficult to define. Most geographic places have strong identities, although some (like shopping malls) are interchangeable. But sense of place isn’t merely geographical. It’s also perception, based on history and feelings.
A sense of place needn’t be positive. Charles Dickens opened Great Expectations in a miasma of graveyard, swamp, and convict hulks on the river. Charles Burchfieldhas a tremendous sense of his adopted hometown of Buffalo, and it’s threatening. But in painting, sense of place is generally a positive thing.
In the national imagination, Maine has a strong place identity. That is why gazillions of ceramic lighthouses are flogged here every year. But a sense of place is deeper than simple media coverage and souvenir shopping. Digging to its essence is one of the trickiest jobs in landscape painting.
View from Mount Pisgah, by Deborah Lazar, has a tremendous sense of place. It comes from the brushwork as much as from the forms.
I’ve thought a lot about a painting I saw last month at Adirondack Plein Air that has a stellar sense of place. It was a tiny gem, almost unnoticed in the crush, but it’s resonated with me ever since. I asked its painter, Deborah Lazar, if I could share it with you.
Deborah has captured the Adirondacks’ essential color and form in simple terms. I can practically feel the wind in the looseness of her brushwork. She couldn’t have done that had she focused on style rather than content, because her mark-making would have overridden the movement of the wind. 
Style is often what’s rewarded by jurors. But this painting has stuck with me long after the prize-winners have faded from my memory.

Road warrior living, by the numbers

Do all plein air artists work in this frenzied way? Only if they want to make a living.

Full stop, by Carol L. Douglas (sold).
I received a number of reader responses to my recent post, How long did Van Gogh take to complete a painting? They came by email, because Blogger’s comment feature is a little wonky right now. Some comments are going through, but if you have trouble, just email me here.
“Are these events increasing the market for art?” wrote S, who is a statistician in real life. That’s a question I can’t answer, because it’s too small a market niche for the government to monitor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies only 11,000 people in the category of Individual Fine Artist. (I’m not sure it’s true, since I know at least 11,000 artists personally.)
Headlamps, by Carol L. Douglas (available, and a favorite painting of the artist).
That compares to a global art market in the $60 billion range, depending on whom you ask. This is concentrated in the US, and 70% are paintings, almost all by dead people. Researchers are understandably more interested in that lucrative aftermarket than in the art that is being created now.
I can only note that there are more plein air events every year, which is a sign that they work.
Lobster pound at Tenant’s Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas (available through the Kelpie Gallery).
“You lump all plein air painters into this frenzied bunch,” wrote C. “Perhaps your view is informed by the competitive way you’ve decided to paint. I find it hard to believe that everyone works this way. Or is it only the non-professionals like me who take it slow?”
Professional plein air painters work in this circuit, and I’m typical, I think. None of the other 49 painters at Adirondack Plein Air, for example, had any problems completing a finished, lovely work in the two hours allotted for our Quick-Draw. I’ve observed that artists tend to produce around one-two paintings a day at these events, depending on the size. That puts them square in the 3-5 hour range per painting.
They cost so much because there’s a lot of other work and expense involved, and because the longer the artist’s sales record, the more his or her work is worth. In comparison, nobody ever asks how long their Nike Lebron Xsneakers took to make. It was probably just a few minutes.
Bahama Palm, by Carol L. Douglas (available). So far I haven’t been able to successfully monetize my southern journeys. That would extend the season.
“Do you like being able to do a mix of plein air and studio work?” asked S. “How many months in a year are dedicated to plein air events? Or is this the wrong metric?”
In fact, it’s an important question, one we ask ourselves at the end of every season. What is a sustainable level for plein air events?
Studio painting is the normal place to finish commissions or larger, more involved work. Currently, I’m doing events only from June through September, but I hope to spread them out more across the year. However, the farther I travel, the higher my expenses become.
The answer is highly individual, and it changes over time. In fact, I was planning to have coffee with Stephan Giannini this morning to discuss this exact question, but I forgot I’m supposed to be in Buffalo. We’ll take it up again in October, which is the next time we’ll both be home.

Monday Morning Art School: when to do major surgery

Nothing in a painting is precious because it looks great in and of itself. It must support and add to the painting, or it should be replaced.
Electric Glide, by Carol L. Douglas. 24X36, oil on canvas.
Among my cardinal rules is to never add tchotchkes* at the last minute to try to balance out a bad composition. “It needs something,” is seldom fixed by adding a pine tree or a boat. Rather, you must return to first principles to figure out what’s wrong.
Last week I did the painting, Electric Glide, over several days. I started laying it out on Tuesday, and then spent all day Wednesday dodging electrical storms to get the version I showed you here. Taking a photo and looking at it on my laptop was a real eye-opener; I hated the bottom third of the composition. The water was accurate for the stormy day on which it was painted, but it was turbid, rollicking, and uninviting. It didn’t have the intimate, welcoming quality of an iconic Adirondack lake. Furthermore, the elongated diamond of light I’d invented for the water did absolutely nothing to support the top of the composition.
Before I removed and repainted the water.
If you painted it once, you can paint it again one thousand times. Stop believing your delightful passage is a happy accident; you can and will do great things again and again.  Nothing in a painting is precious because it looks good in and of itself. It has to support and add to the painting, or it should be replaced by something else that pulls its own weight.
The motion in the bottom of the painting did nothing to support or enhance the motion in the top. It justflattened everything out.

When I went back very early on Thursday morning, the surface was glassy and flat. This is a telling characteristic of Adirondack lakes, and I knew it would strengthen the painting.

That meant major surgery, which could only be done with a palette knife and patience. I started at the waterline and worked down. This painting was on a canvas rather than a board. My hand had to be light to avoid stretching the fabric. It took many passes to knock it down.
Had the painting been dry, I’d have had trouble making that change. The changes would have produced pentimenti, which are visible traces of mid-painting changes. That’s why it’s wise to keep impasto down until you’re sure you’ve solved the major composition questions.
I did not use any solvent in this scrape-out. It would have created a soup I couldn’t work over, with a risk of damaging and softening nearby paint. Moreover, the remaining watery grey was a great foil for the reflections. I scumbled them vertically over the grey paint and then worked in the horizontals with a large brush.
I like doing wet-on-wet corrections with a brush held nearly parallel to the surface of the painting.
Scumbling is a technique where a layer of broken or speckled color is laid over another color so that bits of the lower layers show through. There are many ways to do this in both oils and watercolors, but, wet-on-wet, my preferred method is to hold a brush almost parallel with the surface of the painting and drag. This prevents the brush from digging in and disturbing the underlayer.
Value sketch of a different painting.
Changing a section or passage of your original design is one response to “it needs something.” The other is to restate the dark pattern. This is where a separate value sketch, on paper, is so important. If you’ve just done your value study as a grisaille underpainting, you can’t refer back to it. If it’s on paper, you can always compare it to your work in progress. If the pattern of lights and darks is gone, you need to put them back in, regardless of what the shadows and sun are now doing.
The value structure of the initial underpainting slavishly follows my sketch.
Still, adding that electric boat in the last hour broke my own no-tchotchke rule. I didn’t do it to balance the composition. That never works. I added it because I was utterly charmed by it.
How did I get away with it, without ruining an already-balanced composition? I lightened the value of the hull, which was very dark, almost black, and tied it chromatically with the reflection of the land mass on the left. Otherwise it would have stuck out like a sore thumb.
*A tchotchke (CHOTCH-kə ) is a pretty, sentimental bauble that serves no purpose. If Granny loves it but a burglar wouldn’t steal it, it’s a tchotchke.

Best Buds

The carousel at Saranac Lake is a community work of art, and part of the town’s renaissance.
Best Buds, 11X14, Carol L. Douglas. I tried to recapture that kaleidoscope feeling of riding on a carousel as a child.
Serendipity is a beautiful thing. If I hadn’t stopped at Saranac Lake Artworks to collect a 5×7 canvas for the silent auction, I’d have painted from Route 3 looking down on the village. Instead, I decided to stop by and see the carousel, since I was downtown anyway. I’d heard it features local animals. I thought that I might like to bring my grandkids up someday. Instead, I found inspiration for a very happy painting.
The Adirondack Carousel, courtesy of
Saranac Lake is on the upswing these days, with the newly-renovated Hotel Saranac and a $10 million economic development grant from the state. But the carousel is also part of this trend, very popular among locals and visitors. It’s a story of how art helps transform communities.

Local woodcarver Karen Loffler read about a tiny Northwestern children’s carousel fitted with four woodland animals and filed the thought away. During a visit to the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda, it sprang back again, but this time in the form of a classic American carousel from the last century.
Sandra Hildreth has to tell me why my buddy has colored teeth.
“I just thought, why can’t we build one in Saranac Lake?” she toldthe Syracuse Post-Standard. Well, lots of people have such big ideas; few can muster others to get it done.
In 2001, Karen met with a group of local residents, who promptly formed a non-profit board to bring the idea forward. It took twelve years, countless volunteer hours, and $1.3 million in fundraising. In 2006, the Village of Saranac Lake donated land for the carousel’s home at William Morris Park. Ground was broken in 2011, and it officially opened in 2012. It’s a 3600-square foot space that includes the carousel, a gallery, workshop, store and classroom. There’s a playground outside in the park.
Raccoon and skunk are fellow banditos. The animals are often paired in delightful ways.
The result is indistinguishable in craftsmanship from the great carousels once produced in North Tonawanda. Yet it’s distinctly local, and clearly beloved by children. Many of them stopped by to see what I was doing. “Look, Mom! She’s painting John Deer!” they exclaimed.
A very red squirrel, bald eagle, and a bouncing fox.
The pavilion has 24 handcrafted wildlife animals, eighteen of which are on duty at any one time. Do I have a favorite? How could I, when they’re all so perfect? (You can see them here.) I think the black bear, decked out in the colors of the Hudson’s Bay Company point blanket, captured my attention first. Later, I read that it had been painted by my pal Sandra Hildreth. But each animal has its particular charms—except maybe the black fly.
A loon with a lily-pad saddle.
There’s a wheelchair accessible ride in the form of a Chris Craft boat. The overhead scenes of Saranac Lake were painted by local artists, as were the floral medallions. A local blacksmith made the weathervane, and a local carpenter built the ticket counter. The building was painted and stained by volunteers. The result is distinctly local, happy, and very Adirondack.
Bunny is beautiful, but Porcupineoh, my!
The ride never stops in the same place, so I was better off painting it while it turned. I’ve painted a ride in motion once before, a Tilt-a-Whirlat Seabreeze Amusement Park in Rochester, NY. There is a rhythm of looking that works for a constantly-revolving object. Of course, after several hours of this, my head was spinning.
The girl is a complete invention, vaguely reminiscent of a kid I know in Maine named Meredith Lewis. I debated on the title for quite a while, finally settling on Best Buds. Even if my girl is riding the otter, her heart belongs to John Deer.

How long did Van Gogh take to complete a painting?

The modern plein air movement is only about 30 years old. How is it changing art?
Not nearly finished…36X24.

I worked on one painting all day yesterday, carefully, methodically and in a focused manner. The Adirondacks are in an unstable weather phase, so I was forced off my dock three times by electrical storms. Still, I spent a solid six hours on this one painting. I expect it will take that much again to finish—if I get that time without another storm.

This is a new approach for me. I’m working bigger, slower, and more deliberately. Rushing to make many small works sometimes like writing postcards. The difference makes me wonder how plein air events shape the way we work.
Rocky, for Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, took me 2.5 days to finish.
It’s easy to forget how new modern plein air culture is. In 1985, painter Denise Burns formed Plein-Air Painters of America (PAPA). The next year, her group started an annual exhibition on Santa Catalina Island. The discipline has exploded in popularity with both artists and collectors. Plein air painting is accessible and comprehensible. The Art Establishment may look down on it, but the typical punter loves it.
Today there are hundreds of these events nationwide. There are also nomads whose profession is to participate in them. But these events are very different from getting together with your pals at the town park. For example, I never would have forced my work through a line of storm squalls if I were at home. I could return when the light matched my start, rather than struggling to finish in sub-optimal conditions. In fact, I could work an hour a day for a week on one painting, if I wanted to. None of these options are available for the event painter. We must work fast.
Towering Elms, for Castine Plein Air, only took me half a day.
Festival deadlines give rise to a fast landscape style as inexorably as the Internet has given rise to the 500-word blog post. 
According to the Van Gogh Museum, Vincent Van Gogh “put a great deal of preparation into The Potato Eaters, his first large figure study, working on dozens of preparatory studies. The final painting took ‘many days’ to complete, spread over a longer period of time. However, during the last two months of his life in Auvers-sur-Oise, Vincent completed a painting every day.”
Clearly, that kind of pace can drive you nuts.
Dry Wash, for Santa Fe Plein Air, took the better part of a day.
As a youth, John Constable was a dedicated rambler, sketching in the Suffolk and Essex countryside. These scenes, he said, “made me a painter, and I am grateful.” But this was a low-brow form of education for the time, and the art establishment suggested he not give up his day job. Constable always maintained a strict division between his loose field sketches and his finished paintings.
Paul Cézanne, of course, didn’t have a car to dump his gear into and go. Instead, he painted Mont Sainte-Victoire more than eighty times, from various vantage points. Most frequently, he worked from what is now known as the Terrain des Peintres. It was close to his studio. 
Tom Thomson was transformed into a landscape painter through his intimate relationship with Algonquin Park. His patron, Dr. James MacCallum, said that Thomson’s paintings “made me feel that the North had gripped Thomson as it had gripped me since I was eleven when I first sailed and paddled through its silent places.”
The modern plein airpainter doesn’t generally develop that deep relationship with a particular place. On the other hand, we are forced to paint very fast, and that often results in a different kind of energy and verve. And it’s always fresh. We, like our society, are constantly on the move. That’s making a new kind of art.

Reality show

The plein air circuit is full of intrigue and drama, but it’s with Mother Nature, not each other.
Green on green at the VIC, 12X9, Carol L. Douglas. I’m sorry about the terrible lighting in today’s photos.

Chrissy Pahuckithinks there should be a reality show about the plein air circuit. I don’t know that we could gin up enough conflict, although there’s always drama. Sure, John Slivjak is occasionally seen with a beautiful blonde, but everyone knows that’s his wife.

We do our real fighting with Mother Nature. There doesn’t seem to be much energy left for personal conflict. Even though we’re directly competing for prizes and sales, there’s no kneecappingin our sport.
According to contemporary media culture, Lisa BurgerLentz and I should not be friends. She’s liberal and gay, while I’m conservative and evangelical. However, we each have a kid in college, are suffering the same milestone birthday this year, and can’t remember where we put anything. Our inner commonality outweighs our outer differences. I think this is true for most Americans. We may argue on Facebook, but in person, we like each other. The widening gyreis assigned to us by others.
Boreal Life Trail at the VIC, 16X12, Carol L. Douglas.
Lisa and I ran into each other in the parking lot of the Paul Smith’s College VIC. The Adirondack Plein Air Festivalsets aside one day for us to concentrate on painting here, and I’m always eager. The Boreal Life Trail loops through a fen, which is a bog with a stream. It’s lined with tamarack and black spruce. There are orchids, carnivorous plants, and all manner of other strange and wonderful plants. It’s very Arctic in character, which is why it’s one of my favorite places on earth.
We were interviewed there by Todd Moe of North Country Public Radio. He initiated no reality-show skirmishes, concentrating on why we were there instead. The interview airs Friday between 8 and 9 AM, on The Eight O’Clock Hour.
“We should have talked in funny accents,” I lamented later.
“I think you did,” said Lisa. I was born in Buffalo, and you could grind glass with my flattened vowels.
One that got away. I was driving past Lake Clear when I saw this.
I intended to head over to the Wilmington Flume after lunch, but got sidetracked before I even left the fen. This part of the trail is forested, but still on a boardwalk. The earth is still very soggy, as I learned after dropping my glasses into the bog.
“Green on green, heartache on heartache,” I sang. Painting under the forest canopy can be a mess waiting to happen. There is no obvious focal point, no value changes, and no color temperature changes. Everything just glows an unearthly green.
A very unfinished nocturne by little ol’ me.
At my age, a 7:30 PM bedtime seems reasonable. Nocturnes always seem to drag for me. Lisa and I set up on opposite sides of Main Street to paint the glowing Hotel Saranac sign. Rumor around town is that they have the sign wired so they can make it appear to have bulbs out. The result reads “Hot Sara.”
It was midnight before I dragged myself up to bed. In the wee hours, an electrical storm moved across Kiwassa Lake. It was too wonderful to ignore, so I watched it. Another day dawns, and this one is starting to brighten. Keep your powder dry, fellow painters. We still have four more days to go.

No gas in the tank

Four women and a set of jumper cables. Friends helping friends.
Approaching the bridge, 12X16, Carol L. Douglas (unfinished, because I have to knock down the gold in them there trees)

At Parrsboro in June, I met my friend Crista Pisano on the beach. She was tired, in a strange environment, and having a frankly bad day. “I got nothin’,” she lamented to me. It happens to everyone, and all you can do is commiserate. (She went on to do great work, by the way. That feeling is usually fleeting.)

That shouldn’t have happened to me here in Saranac Lake. I’d had a good night’s sleep. I know this area well. And yet I wrong-footed everything yesterday. I drove fruitlessly up and down the highway east of Lake Placid, feeling as if someone had moved everything I loved.
The essence of the Adirondacks is:
  • Water
  • Mountain
  • Atmospherics
  • Boulders
  • Spruces and pines
  • Man’s footprint

My goal this week is to pile as many of them as possible into a single painting, but it certainly didn’t start off well.

I finally settled on a view from Adirondack LojRoad. The parking lot is a great jump-off point if you want to pack up Mount Marcy, but I’d need a mule for all my gear.
I painted looking down at a small bridge that crosses a tributary of the Ausable River. It was lovely but I was twitchy. Crista Pisano stopped by and I showed her the abandoned diagonal in my value sketch. “Put it back in,” she suggested, very reasonably. She pottered off to paint Avalanche Pass and I headed back to town for the Artist Reception at the Hotel Saranac. It’s quietly swank after its recent renovation.
Detouring through Lake Placid, I realized I couldn’t find any of my lovely painting spots because I was on the wrong road. The west branch of the Ausable River is lovely in its own way, but it never hits the high notes of the main stream.
I wasn’t willing to guess which one was hot.
I was chatting with old friends over prosecco and hors d’oeuvres when Crista called. “My battery’s dead,” she said. My Prius couldn’t jump a kid’s electric ride, so Chrissy Pahucki, her daughter Samantha and I headed out on a rescue mission. Chrissy’s nifty hybrid Highlander has all kinds of on-board displays, including a tire-pressure gauge, which told us that tire number two—whichever that was—was getting very low.
Still, first things first. Crista was in the dark in bear country without prosecco.
I know how to attach jumper cables, but was surprised to learn that Samantha, age 17, did as well. “My dad showed me,” she said. That’s a world-class dad.
Samantha and her intrepid mother.
Unfortunately, Christa’s battery didn’t have the poles clearly marked. Reversing the polarity is dangerous for both the cars and the people making the mistake, so, while I had an idea, I don’t like guessing. I called my husband and asked him to search for a diagram on the internet. Meanwhile, Chrissy paged logically through the owner’s manual.
“How to charge a dead battery, page 173,” she read. There was the picture we needed. We were so charged up—ahem—by our success that we stopped in Lake Placid and figured out the slow leak in Chrissy’s tire.
There is nothing so fine as an outdoor shower.
I drove back to my cabin and had a late-night outdoor shower. An unknown creature was baying and the rain hitting the roof lulled me to sleep. Who cares if I’ve forgotten how to paint? This is heaven.