Welcome back to real life

Sailing is a great disperser of cares.

Practicing painting aboard American Eagle. What a fabulous group of students I had this trip!

I’m back from teaching watercolor aboard the schooner American Eagle—a little tanned, a little heavier (thanks, Matthew) and a whole lot more content.

Sailing is a great disperser of cares. You’re at one with the boat; you have to be, as ignoring her swings and rolls will cause you to fall down. That puts you totally in the moment, watching the sails, the waves, the shifts in air, and the amazing complexity of 19th century transport technology. Sail power is the original renewable energy resource. American Eagle has been ‘leave no trace’ since long before the slogan was thought up.

We all start at the beginning–how to mix color, how to see color, how to lay it down on the paper.

The gam—the annual raft-up of the windjammer fleet—was modified this year, as COVID made it unwise to scramble over each other’s boats. Instead, the windjammers dropped anchor near one another off Vinelhaven. A dinghy zipped around with grog. The captains devised a scavenger hunt over the water.

I have a crush on every boat, but I especially have a crush on American Eagle. She’s terrifically elegant and clean-limbed for a boat that started life as a fishing vessel.

Captain John Foss returning from the co-op with fresh lobster for our supper. 

I was rather surprised to see her little sister joining us. That was the Agnes & Dell, proudly flying the flag of Newfoundland and Labrador. She’s a smaller version of American Eagle, with the same proud curved prow and lovely rounded transom. At around 50 feet, she was being sailed by a crew of just two. That’s a manageable dream, I thought. My affections wavered just a tiny bit. But, no, as long as I get to sail twice a year on American Eagle, I don’t need a boat of my own.

Agnes & Dell was also built as a fishing schooner. She’s almost as lovely as American Eagle.

At any rate, I was out there to teach watercolor, not moon over boats. It’s always a great time, and I’m blessed to be able to do it twice a year, in June and September. None of us knew how we were going to return from COVID, but this was a heartening start to a new season.

I had eight enthusiastic students. With a few exceptions, they’re all at the beginning of their artistic journey. It was a special privilege to help them with that. We painted, ate, and laughed—a lot. If you’re interested in the September trip, or any of my other workshops, check my website here. There are still openings.

Dorothy hard at work next to the memorial to quarry workers at Stonington. Even the toughest painters get shore leave. 

On the subject of returning to reality, post-COVID, I’m having an opening at my outdoor gallery on Saturday. Somewhere in the middle of winter I started painting regularly with Ken DeWaardEric Jacobsen, and Bjὂrn Runquist. Inevitably, that’s influenced the way I think about and approach my work.

I’m looking forward to sitting down and have a glass of wine with you and talking about the past year. It’s been a sea change for us all, and I want to hear about it from your side, as much as I want to show you it from my side.

Welcome Back to Real Life opens from 2-6 PM, Saturday, June 19 at Carol L. Douglas Studio at 394 Commercial Street in Rockport, ME. The gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 6. Or email me if you want to make an appointment.

Gone sailing

I treasure these few days when I can’t blog, answer texts, or pay bills.

Aboard schooner American Eagle.

There is no cell phone signal over the water on Penobscot Bay. It’s not a complete blackout; you might pick up something from the mainland, but it’s very spotty.

My husband is an electrical engineer who works with radios. Like most people in his profession, he’s an inveterate fixer. When he first realized I was going to be out of contact on the water, he launched into a technical soliloquy involving buoys and repeaters. “That would be an easy problem to fix,” he mused.

I looked at him in horror. “Don’t even think about it!” I remonstrated. I treasure these few days when I can’t blog, answer texts, or pay bills.

Yes, my blog is going dark for the next week. I’ll be cutting around Penobscot Bay teaching watercolor to an avid group of new students. Many of these people have waited patiently for a year for this workshop, as their long-planned trip was canceled due to COVID.

The Gam is the season-opening raft-up of the Maine windjammer fleet. It didn’t happen in 2020, thanks to COVID.

I love being on the water, and teaching on American Eagle gives me the opportunity to sail without the effort and expense involved in keeping up a 90-ft. long historic boat. That’s Captain John Foss’s problem. This is the part of windjamming the public never sees: the sheer hard graft to keep these boats in perfect nick.

I have a knack for choosing back-of-beyond places for painting workshops—places where the signal is spotty and nature is stupendous. This is what’s left on my schedule this year:

AGE OF SAIL

Our second trip is September 19-23, 2021.

As with this trip, you’ll learn watercolor on the fly on the magical waters of Maine’s Penobscot Bay, aboard the historic schooner American Eagle. In September, the bay is still warm from summer and autumn colors are just starting on the islands. All materials, berth, meals and instruction included.

Jack Pine, 8×10, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas. Available through my open-air gallery, $522 unframed.

SEA & SKY AT ACADIA NATIONAL PARK

AUGUST 8-13, 2021

This trip has three openings left. It’s a perennial favorite: five days of intensive plein air in America’s oldest national park. Lodging and meals included at Schoodic Institute. All levels and media welcome.

Yes, there are places in America where buffalo still roam. This one’s near Cody, WY.

AUTHENTIC WEST: CODY, WYOMING

SEPTEMBER 5-10, 2021

Study in an authentic western ranch setting just minutes from the restaurants, museums, and resorts of Cody. We’re based on a ranch above the south fork of the Shoshone River, surrounded by mountains. Five days of intensive plein air, all levels, all media welcome.

Linda DeLorey painting an old adobe building near Pecos, NM.

GATEWAY TO PECOS WILDERNESS

SEPTEMBER 12-16, 2021

This is another favorite, and is about half-filled right now. It’s high plains and mountain wilderness above Santa Fe in historic, enchanting New Mexico. Five days of intensive plein air instruction, all media and all levels welcome.

RED ROCKS OF SEDONA, ARIZONA

SEPTEMBER 26-OCTOBER 1, 2021

This is a new offering, in conjunction with the Sedona Arts Center. Sedona is a geological wonderland, with world-class restaurants, galleries, and accommodations. Five days of intensive plein air instruction, all media and all levels welcome.

MOSS-DRAPED OAKS IN TALLAHASSEE, FL

JANUARY 17-21-2022

I’ll be returning to gracious Tallahassee for another great session of painting through Natalia Andreeva Studio. This is a great opportunity to get away to the warmth and sun of Florida during the worst of our northern winter! Five days of intensive plein air instruction, all media and all levels welcome.

The trouble with Paradise

Choosing a subject can be difficult when you live in the most beautiful place in the world.

American Eagle in Drydock, 12X16, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

This winter I’ve been painting with Ken DeWaard, Eric Jacobsen, and Björn Runquist. None of us were born in Maine; we all choose to live here: for the fabulous light, unspoiled little villages, boats, and the rockbound coast. We all love to paint outdoors. So how does a typical morning conversation go?

“Got any ideas?”

“I dunno… don’t have a plan. How windy is it, anyway?”

“Miserable. My dog blew over.”

“Well, how about the creek?”

“Snow’s too deep. Next week. Is that where you’re headed?”

“I was thinking about it. Unless you can think of someplace better.”

Coast Guard Inspection, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

This can go on for a silly amount of time. The problem is, we’re spoiled for choice. If we lived somewhere else, we’d head out to that place’s one beauty spot and be happy.

Nevertheless, we did manage to agree on a spot in Spruce Head. It was crisp and brilliant, and there are enough subjects in that one small curve of coast to last us for a whole painting season. Of course, that doesn’t mean we won’t have the same loopy conversation next week.

Changing Tides, 16X12, oil on canvas, by Lori Capron Galan.

On Wednesday I wrote about an exercise in my class, where I asked my students to start with abstraction. Lori Capron Galan did it wrong, but it turned out weird and wonderful: she turned her canvas and reference 90° and painted the whole thing sideways.

That took her to the same place I was trying to get my students—to divorce themselves from slavish fidelity to reality, and to start thinking about shapes, colors and movement instead of simple pictorial representation.

The resulting painting, above, is so inspiring that I intend to try it myself soon.

Breaking Storm, by Carol L. Douglas, 24X36, available from Folly Cove Fine Art.

This Tuesday, Captain John Foss of schooner American Eagle will appear on Captains’ Quarters, a Zoom presentation of the Sail Power and Steam Museum. The captain is a witty and smart fellow, and sailing with him is always a lark. (That’s the boat on which I teach my twice-a-year watercolor workshops.)

I wanted to email people who might want to tune in—those who’ve sailed with him, ought to sail with him, love wooden boats, etc. Then I realized it was most of the people I know.

That’s Tuesday, March 23, 2021, from 6:30 to 7:30. More information is here. To go directly to the registration, click here.

Launched in June of 1930 in Gloucester, MA, American Eagle was originally named Andrew and Rosalie and was the last of the Gloucester fishing schooners.  Renamed American Eagle by a new owner in 1941, she fished until 1983, when she was purchased by her current owner and captain, John Foss.  She arrived in Rockland in 1984 where Foss led her multi-year restoration at the North End Shipyard.  She was relaunched in 1986 and began her new career, carrying passengers along the coast of Maine.

It’s all about the food

Painting is great, but sometimes I’m really focused on where my next meal is coming from.

It has to be fresh and healthy and delicious, or I won’t waste my calories on it.

My husband revealed a secret stash of Italian pastries the other day. I’m a healthy eater, but I’m not one to look a gift Torta Novecento in the mouth.

My mother worked hard to avoid raising picky eaters, but I’m afraid she failed with me. There’s no point in using up calories if they’re not buying food made with the freshest, purest ingredients. I’d rather not eat than eat badly, which is why I pack my own lunches when flying (as I’m doing today).

Fresh bread aboard schooner American Eagle, all done by hand. 

But what constitutes good food? Our taste is both a product of our biology and learned behavior. That’s why my Chinese goddaughter loves pickled ginger and I prefer gingersnaps. What we like to eat is the result of all our senses interacting together, not just the sense of taste. That’s then overlaid with memory and emotion. That’s why our food taste is so unique and unpredictable, and why we have such strong feelings on the subject.

How food tastes is based on much more than our tastebuds.

Last week I picnicked on a bridge abutment while painting with Ken DeWaard and Björn Runquist. We had the simplest hastily-assembled sandwiches. We all remarked that they were unusually delicious. The combination of crisp air, warm sunlight, ice and snow, and cheerful banter made our sandwiches so much better than they would have been if eaten in our cars or our kitchens.

That’s also what happens in my painting workshops aboard the schooner American Eagle. Usually, we dine al fresco on deck. The salt air, dazzling light, and company combine to sharpen the palette.

The gam at sunset.

Captain John Foss told me in passing that Matthew Weeks signed on for another season as cook on American Eagle. I personally think Matthew is a genius; he cooks everything exactly the way I like it. Would messmate Sarah Collins also be back, I asked. Not for the whole season, John thought, but possibly for the gam. That’s a raft-up of all the windjammers in the fleet, and it happens in June. It’s an amazing sight.

The gam is also a party.

It’s also our first watercolor workshop trip of the year, so I think I’d better lay off the tortas and save room for Sarah’s baking. It’s incredible.

Schooner cooks add an extra level of difficulty to cooking for crowds: they’re working on a woodstove in a hot galley, below decks in the heart of a pitching, rolling ship. When the mate loudly calls out a change in tack, she’s not doing it for our amusement; it’s so Matthew and Sarah can stop dessert from flying.

And they do without electricity. That means meringues are beaten by hand, and bread is kneaded by hand.

We have access to fresh seafood around Maine.

Their stove is an early 20th century Atlantic Fisherman Although it’s the proper vintage, it’s not original to the boat. “The stove that was in the galley completely disintegrated when we tried to move it, so the Atlantic Fisherman stove came from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Along with the steering wheel, bell, steering gear, all the rigging blocks, and a bunch of other gear,” Captain John told me. I believe that makes Eagle a dual citizen.

It would grace any historic kitchen with elegance, but it’s a hard worker. In addition to providing coffee and meals, it heats all the hot water for our ablutions. If you’re an extremely early riser, you can hear Matthew softly padding down to the galley in the wee hours. He’s firing up the woodstove. That requires a lot of firewood. It’s stacked and stored between trips and then fed into that stove, piece by piece, throughout the sail. I’m a hard worker, and I couldn’t do what those sailors do every summer.

Sadly, we had to cancel both watercolor workshops in 2020. Most of my students rebooked for 2021, but there are a few openings for both the June and September trips. However, they’re always subject to the boat’s other bookings, so if you’re interested you should contact Shary to reserve a berth. I hope you’ll join us. The painting is great; have I mentioned the food?

Let the good times roll

If you don’t rejoice in the good times, you’ll have no resilience when the bad times come.
Breaking Storm, by Carol L. Douglas. I missed painting American Eagle’s fitout this year because I’m quarantined.
People ask me how I know when a painting is done. “When I’m sick of working on it,” I answer. All creative work is a compromise between our vision and capabilities. This means not just skill but environmental factors. If you doubt that, try singing through a headache.
Our current crisis involves more compromise than usual. Our supply chain is broken in odd ways; that includes some scarcity of art supplies. Carol at Salt Bay Art Supply in Damariscotta told me she runs low on white and black paint first. The white I understand; black, however, is a mystery to me.
Hammond Lumber has been great about accommodating my quarantine, but they can’t send me what they don’t have. That includes color charts. Each time I climb on a ladder to work on my current project, I wince at the state of the crown moulding. It needs paint, but I can’t match the other white in the room without a color chart. It’s difficult, but I’m deferring the trim to some future time.
Cadet, by Carol L. Douglas
I commiserated with two well-known artist friends yesterday. “This has me working twice as hard to look for ways to continue to make a living,” said one. The other has taken a night job to feed his family. “I can still paint during the day,” he said. They both have school-age kids and are making compromises to survive.
We live in a pandemic mindset. In some ways, that’s liberating. There has been blessed silence about some of our previously-consuming passions. Food allergies, the upcoming elections and gender identity are three things I’m happily not hearing about right now.
The bleak, short days of winter seems halcyon in retrospect, even if I didn’t have the Christmas I thought I wanted. It’s a pity that we so often ruin the present with our anxieties. Seizing the day is not just a recipe for overall happiness; it gives us the strength to roll through the bad times when they (inevitably) come.
Flood tide, by Carol L. Douglas
When a mother takes a newborn home from the hospital, she is overwhelmed with physical and mental fatigue. Years later, that isn’t what we remember first; we remember our joy. I’m not sure why the human mind is wired this way, but it’s something we have to work to overcome.
The Black Death was the most devastating pandemic in human history. It killed a third of Europe’s population and around 20% of people worldwide. If you lived through it, it was an unmitigated horror. Yet it ultimately broke the caste economy of the Middle Ages. Serfs could leave the manor and find work, which freed most people from a life no better than slavery. Land prices dropped. Meat consumption rose, because you can raise cattle with fewer hands than you can raise corn. In fact, the plague set the conditions that eventually led to the creation of the middle class.
All of which is to say that not every disaster is an unmitigated disaster. Sometimes, trouble is a way for society to kick off its stays and try something new. What if these turn out to be our Good Old Days?

Locking it in

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!

 Watercoloring at Schoodic Point with Rebecca Bense.
Sometimes, the people who struggle in painting class are the ones you’d least expect to have trouble. They’re accomplished in their professional life, and they’ve demonstrated the capacity to master complex subjects quickly.
That proficiency can be their undoing. When they don’t immediately understand the process, they’re flummoxed. Understand ideas helps, but it’s not everything. They have to learn another way of learninggrasping an idea from the hands, not the head.
The critic may understand all the elements that make a good painting, but it’s unlikely that he or she can paint or draw anything. The working artist may understand none of those things, but is still able to make enchanting paintings. It’s all about where they’ve concentrated their effort.
It’s not all about what the teacher says; it’s mostly about what you do with that information.
You’ll do better in a workshop or class if you aim to enjoy the process, rather than focus on the end result. You can’t expect perfection in a week. The more time you spend working on art, the better you’ll be.
In my classes, I concentrate on one aspect of painting each session. I’m limiting the scope of the project. Painting involves so many complex skills and techniques that if they were all thrown at us at once, we’d be overwhelmed. If you’re teaching yourself, you need to find ways to limit scope on your own. Choose one or two things that you want to improve—such as your color handling or mark-making—and concentrate on just those until you’ve made them better. Then move on to the next thing.
Painting buddies on Penobscot Bay.
A painting buddy is a great asset, as a coach, a sounding board, and for moral support. I love the interactions in my classes, because they’re uniformly positive. In most cases, people really do wish their friends the best.
Gaye Adamshas some shrewd advice about practice: “It is important to lock in the learning. Recognize that workshops shorten the learning curve, which is awesome, but they are not a substitute for easel time.”
It’s difficult to paint for a short time every day, because of the set up and clean up. However, you can always carry a sketchbook and draw. Drawing is the single best thing you can do to improve your painting, and it’s fun. Save the painting for those periods when you have a few hours of uninterrupted time.
Painting aboard American Eagle last summer.
Sometimes we need more support than can be offered by practice alone. In that case, a teacher is very helpful. Check out their class size, the work being done by their students, and—above all—if they’re painting in a style that pleases you.
My own August workshop at Schoodic Institute in Acadia National Park is sold out. However, there are still a few openings in my sketch-watercolor workshop aboard the schooner American Eagle, June 9-13, 2019. This is a class to learn how to catch landscape quickly and expressively in watercolor, pen and pencil. Materials are provided. For more information, see here, or email me for more information.

Monday Morning Art School: How to paint a really bad watercolor

Painting horrible watercolors isn’t just my special skill; it’s something anyone can do!

A lot of artists don’t like Winsor & Newton field kits, but they’re still my go-to for extreme backwoods drawing and painting.
Don’t test your colors
Beginning watercolorists usually put down washed-out, delicate colors. These have too much water in the mix. Or, they’ll use too little water, and their unloaded brush will scumble instead of flow. Sometimes they’ll miss the proper color entirely and spend the rest of the painting trying to fix their bad mix.
The answer is to make informal swatches on a scrap piece of paper. Just make sure you use the same paper and brush you plan to use for the final assault.
Pay attention to where excess water might be entering your process. Are you unconsciously washing your brush after every stroke, or not mixing enough paint and trying to stretch it out?
Fiddling
Putting layers and layers of light color down makes great mud. So does putting paint down and then endlessly fussing with it. See above, make the proper color, and lay it down in a few strong strokes.
Do a value study, unless your watercolor is a value study. Then do it anyway.
Too small a brush

Small brushes give you less control, not more. They’re harder to hold still and they run out of paint just when you need it most. Worse, artists get diddly with them. Practice with larger brushes and a lighter hand.
Bloom is almost unavoidable when painting off the deck of an ocean-going boat, but it’s still annoying.
Bloom

More properly known as backflow, this happens because the paper is still wet, even though the surface looks dry. Bloom can be used as a watercolor effect, but it more typically happens because the artist isn’t patient, or because environmental conditions are such that your paper will never dry. Or, in my case, because I’ve spattered water all over everything.
Use bad materials
Good watercolor paper contains sizing to keep paint from sinking into the paper. That allows colors to sparkle, and stops the paper from buckling. Cheap papers aren’t properly sized.
Brushes are more important in watercolor than they are in oils. It’s not necessary to have only expensive brushes, however; my go-to rounds are Princeton Neptunes.
As in all painting, cheap paints are a false economy. Better paints contain more pigment.
Watercolor can capture the passing scene better than any other medium. This was painted off the deck of American Eagle. The speckling in the sky was caused by salt spray. What a life!
Don’t bother with a preparatory value sketch
Value sketches are critically important in all media, but especially in watercolor. You should start with a plan, and your plain is laid out in lights and darks.
Unlike oils and pastels, you have few options to correct a bad drawing once you start it. It behooves you to work out all the kinks before you lift a brush.
Don’t mix your colors in advance
Time is a critical factor in watercolor, and if you have to stop and mix in the middle of a passage, you’re going to make a muddy, blotchy mess. Instead, mix the colors you think you need for that step and test them on your scrap paper.
Let your paper breathe!
Don’t leave white space
Watercolor is all about paper showing through, so why not let that happen?
Use all the colors
Watercolorists tend to carry far more pigments than oil painters. Want to keep it fresh? Pare down your palette and keep mixes down to three or fewer pigments per pass. And avoid hues and convenience mixes; they’re already mixtures and will further muddy the waters.
Get fussy, fast
Start by thinking out the big shapes first. Too much detail too fast throws the volume relationships off in a painting or drawing.
Watercolorists who fixate on detail at the beginning tend to delineate everything, everywhere. They haven’t given their minds time to sort out what’s important. Detail belongs in the focal point(s) of a painting.

Not the Kardashians, but working on it

Parrsboro, NS, is working its way into being a regional arts center.

Breaking Dawn, by Carol L. Douglas. Second runner up at Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival.
This weekend there were lots of well-known faces at the Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival. Organizers snagged Richard Sneary to judge, and there were high-profile painters in the mix. It was a festival of luminaries, and the painting was first-rate. I’m hoping that translates into Parrsboro becoming an arts destination for tourists and city-slickers.
It’s not an impossible dream. Five miles down the road from my home is Rockland, ME. It started as a shipbuilding and fishing town, expanding to include canneries, grain mills, foundries, lumber mills, cooperies, tanneries, quarries, and other miscellany of coastal living. By the mid-twentieth century, its historic industries were moribund.
The Age of Sail workshop aboard American Eagle was scheduled to coincide with a gam, a rafting up of the historic vessels on Penobscot Bay.
Enter the Farnsworth Art Museum, established by Lucy Farnsworth in 1948. It’s now the nucleus of a gallery scene that now rivals any art scene anywhere, both in volume and in quality.  Roughly 36.7 million tourists visited Maine in 2017, and we’re on track to break 40 million this year or next. Art is a big part of that tourism, and an important part of Maine’s image. I wish that for Parrsboro. If anyone can do it, the folks at Parrsboro Creative can. They’re smart, focused people.
One of the nicest things about traveling is meeting new people who tell me, “I read your blog.” This weekend, many added that they subscribe to two art things, my blog and Poppy Balser’s newsletter. We’re both daughters of the Great White North and we both love boats. Poppy is a terrifically nice person, so I don’t mind at all being lumped in with her.
Hard at work about American Eagle, photo courtesy Ellen Trayer.
My blog is an example of that old maxim about genius being 99% perspiration. It works because I get up early every morning to write it, Monday to Friday. Other than holidays, the only time I don’t write is when I’m out of network range, which was the case during last week’s Age of Sailworkshop.
It’s such a pity that I couldn’t share it with you because it was downright magical. American Eagle should really be called the Kindness, because the crew is so good-hearted. Any doubts as to whether a painting workshop on a boat could work were laid to rest. All participants enthusiastically said they’d do it again next year.
Ellen demonstrates a paint-throwing technique to Lynn. We waited until we were off the boat before we did this.
Michael Fuller isn’t a plein air artist but he gamely tried the Quick Draw at Parrsboro anyway. “It makes you notice the transient things,” he told me. I think that’s what the boat workshop did as well. In a sketchbook done on the move, one takes away impressions, not finished pieces. The discipline will make you put away your cell phone and change how you work.
The discipline of getting up early is equally hard to break. I found myself restively trying to ‘sleep in’ on Saturday, so at 4:30 AM (Atlantic time) I quietly dressed and headed from my host billet near Fox River to the beach below Ottawa House. I stopped for coffee and a bagel at Tim Hortons and figured I was too late for the sunrise. I was wrong; the subtle pyrotechnics went on for some time.
This piece was the second runner-up, or third prize winner. I figured Richard Sneary gave it to me as a reward for being the only person nuts enough to get up that early.
Neither Parrsboro Creative nor American Eagle have set their calendar for next year, but I have every intention of doing both again. It was a wonderful week. I’m just sorry that you couldn’t be there with me.

Monday Morning Art School: what is color?

Understanding color space is the most important thing an artist can do.

A little bit of everything, by Carol L. Douglas. That’s the incredibly cool light of a midsummer day.

Color is a word with radically different definitions depending on its use. In optics, it refers to

the unique way in which the cone cells in the human eye are stimulated by electromagnetic radiation. How an object reflects or emits light gives it its unique color.
In common parlance, we think of red, green or blue as colors. In art, however, those aren’t colors. Colors have three attributes, all of which you must understand in order to navigate color space successfully:
Value – How light or dark is the pigment?
Hue – Where does the color sit on the color wheel? All colors fall into one of the following hue families: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. Within those families, however, are many subdivisions.
Chroma – How much intensity, or “punch” does the color have?
Doe drinking in the woods, by Carol L. Douglas, has warm light and cool shadows.
Since color has three attributes, it exists in a three-dimensional color space. However, we’re used to looking at it in two dimensions, in the form of a color wheel. I think the Quiller watercolor wheel is the best color wheel, since it shows you where neutral pigments fall inside the hue families.
Still, the conventional color wheel doesn’t take value into consideration. Every pigment has its own natural darkness or lightness. Dioxazine purple, for example, is very dark coming out of the tube. Lemon yellow is very light coming out of the tube. That does not mean that dark colors are cool and light colors are warm, however. Consider burnt umber. It’s very dark, and it’s also very warm.
Winch (American Eagle),by Carol L. Douglas. There was definitely some warm light that winter day.
There’s a misunderstanding that mixing across the color wheel darkens pigments. Only with certain greens and reds does this work. Mixing across the color wheel gives you neutrals: grays and browns.
We call the hue families of green, blue and violet “cool” and the hue families of yellow, orange and red “warm.” Within each hue family, there are warm and cool variations. Gamblin has this nifty chart of warm and cool pigments so you can see where your paints fall.
White, black, and grey are chromatic neutrals. Raw umber is fairly neutral. Naphthol red and phthalo blue are very high-chroma colors. In general, modern pigments are much more intense than the mineral pigments of the Renaissance.
Cobequid Bay Farm, by Carol L. Douglas. Warm evening light translates to cool evening shadows.
It works to sort colors this way. I use a system of paired primaries which gives me a great, high-key mixing range. However, the whole idea of warm-vs.-cool is a painterly convention. It’s best to not have this discussion with a physicist, who will tell you that you have it backwards. He may be right, but that doesn’t mean he can paint.
I’ve written about the color temperature of light here, but there’s a simple rule that helps. The predominant shadows will always be the opposite (across the color wheel) from the color of the light. On a sunny day, the light will be cool and the shadows will be warm. At dusk the light will be golden and the shadows violet. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but it’s a good place to start.
Breaking storm, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Camden Falls Gallery. I’m potting around on this boat this week, teaching watercolor. Wish you were here!
I strongly recommend this video from Gamblin, which organizes color space in three dimensions. It’s also full of information about the history of color.
There’s no internet (and darn little cell phone service) out in Penobscot Bay. After this post, my blog is going dark for the week. Don’t be alarmed! Assuming there are no pirates, I’ll be back next Monday.

Cloudy with a chance of rain

A reader asks for advice teaching his first workshop.

Janith Mason at a Sea & Sky workshop. One of my all-time favorite photos of a student.

It looks like the rain predicted for Monday has moved up to Sunday, but I’m prepared; I rented a shelter for this workshopmonths ago. It can be a fly tarp, a tent, a shelter, your studio, or a porch, but you must have a place for students to keep working when the weather goes bad. Rain is inevitable.

Your first and most important step, however, is to get consent from the places you’ll take your class. The rules change when you’re not alone. For example, if you bring a group to Acadia or another national park, you need a permit and proof that you’re carrying insurance (which you should have anyway). Many state and local parks have similar requirements. Historic sites often also charge a fee.
Rain is inevitable. Here we are getting soaked on the Monhegan ferry.
If you’re painting a view along a street or road, remember to ask the property owner first. Stay on the sidewalks, the shoulder of the road, or in a pocket park if you’re in a public place.
You’re morally and legally responsible for the safety of your students. That’s why I don’t teach at Raven’s Nest in Schoodic, even though it’s a fantastic view. It’s not safe for big groups. Keep your people back from the road, and away from drop-offs and heavy equipment.
Know your own process and be able to break it down into discrete steps. Can you explain why you’re doing what you’re doing each step of the way? If not, go back and run through a painting in your studio and note each step. If you don’t have a consistent protocol, you’re probably not ready to teach.
You can’t demo convincingly unless you understand how and why you do each step in your process.
In a similar vein, if you’re not a natural-born encourager and coach, teaching might not be the best option for you. Teaching painting is far more than just technical advice. Your own personality is the biggest indicator of your potential as a teacher.
Write supply lists and disseminate them freely. Mine are in this blog post. (No, I don’t mind if you use them as templates.)
Every workshop should have a focus. This weekend’s is the composition questions raised by the gently rolling landscape of the Genesee Valley. In The Age of Sail, it will be watercolor sketching on the fly. Sea & Sky at Schoodic is longer, so we work more intensively on essentials of painting rocks, water, trees and skies.
Students need time to work alone, but they also need your attention.
Don’t take too many students. For me, twelve is about the maximum. Bigger classes end up with the teacher spending too much time demoing, and a video is cheaper and better for that. They’ve paid for your individual attention and problem-solving, and they should get them.
I do ask students to not spread out too far apart, or I spend all my time walking from person to person. When possible, I carry a bicycle with me to get from painter to painter faster.
The bottom line for a good workshop is one-on-one attention. Oh, and sunscreen.
Any time I have more than six students, I engage a classroom monitor. This person is responsible for setting up my supplies, logistics and answering simple questions (but not for teaching).
Lastly, I carry a teaching bag containing extra boards, rain slickers, palette knife, and bug spray. People inevitably forget something, and we want them to have a good time.
Addendum: I forgot to mention restroom access here. In the deep wilds you can use a porta-potty or nature itself, but in more civilized place, find a site with public restrooms.