Don’t look at the hill

My asthma is teaching me life lessons that are applicable to painting and any other heroic endeavor.

Clary Hill Blueberry Barrens, full sheet watercolor, available.

My asthma, which is usually quiet, has been kicking up since I had COVID. I find myself stopping to suck air as I climb Beech Hill in the morning.

Beech Hill is no great shakes as hills go, since its summit is only a few hundred feet higher than my house. I climb it every morning, which gives me a good base level of cardiovascular fitness (and around 6000 steps to start my day). I figure that a little cardio work each morning will give better long-term results than killing myself a few times a week at the gym.

Early Spring on Beech Hill, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas, 12X16, $1449 framed.

Painting is like that, too. In their Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, David Bayles and Ted Orland make the point that the best art is made by people who do it over and over. A half-hour drawing every morning will yield quiet, positive results that no painting marathon can.

We’ve had a cold winter here in New England. Yesterday, it was -2°F. as we set out. Sensible people don’t go rambling in those temperatures, but rambling is a habit, and habit forces me out the door. In my professional life, I’m in a phase where I’ve spent most days ‘putting out fires’ rather than working on new material. There will always be challenges, but habit alone forces me back into my studio.

Mountain Path, 11X14, oil on canvasboard, available.

I’ve started repeating a mantra as my chest tightens: “Don’t look at the hill.” If I look at the distance I still have to climb, the tightness doubles and I have to stop. I know I’m psyching myself out, but I can’t seem to stop it. So, in the steepest parts of my climb, I concentrate assiduously on my footing. It’s better not to contemplate the enormity of what lies before me.

A few weeks ago, a student asked me how long it takes to learn to paint. Because he’s tough, I answered honestly: it takes years. But to focus on that is like looking up at the hill; it makes every step harder.

That dissuades many people from even trying. But time elapses whether or not we’re doing anything useful. It’s easy to fritter away, as all those people who were going to learn second languages during lockdown have learned to their dismay.

Christmas Eve, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, available.

I’m planning on walking the length of Hadrian’s Wall in Britain in May. It’s the wall’s 1900th anniversary and Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee. Walking across an entire country sounds absurd to an American, but it’s a shorter distance (84 miles) than from my house to the New Hampshire border. However, it will be a series of long days in the company of friends who are all younger than me. And northern England is hilly.

I should be seriously training right now, and instead I’m unable to keep up my usual four-mile-a-day pace. I’ll regret ruining this trip for my companions, so I occasionally wonder if I should just bow out now.

However, I’m old enough to realize the truth in the adage, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Worrying about tomorrow is a great way to stop myself from doing anything today. That’s true of painting or any other heroic endeavor. Instead of panicking, I’ll just challenge myself again this morning. And, lest you worry, I have an appointment with my nurse-practitioner on Friday.

Laid low

Asthma. My body has just told me to spend a little time on self-care. I think that means a pedicure.
Painting at the American Yacht Club with Brad Marshall. (Courtesy Rye Arts Center)

I spent the weekend dealing with asthmatic bronchitis, and yesterday at the ER having it calmed down. This happens. Providing it’s managed, it’s not going to kill me. But it is a sign of fatigue, and it means that I won’t be teaching my regularly scheduled class this morning.

Asthmatic bronchitis is not contagious, but it can be rude. There’s no reason to douse my students with spittle. That’s a pity, because I had a nefariously challenging idea and just the students to rise to the challenge.
One year I shared my painting location at Rye with this fisherman. He explained surf casting in great detail, none of which I remember.
Speaking of this class, there are a few openings. It meets locally in Rockport, ME—outdoors when the weather is fine, and in my studio when it’s not.
Visitors may go home at Labor Day, but we know that the weather in the northeast is at its most beautiful in September and October. It’s cool and crisp. The trees turn in a brilliant panoply of color that contrasts with the lakes and ocean.
The tuition for a six-week session is $200. You can contact me here if you’re interested.
Meanwhile, I’ve cancelled today’s class and I feel badly about it. I have an assignment for my students which I’ll share with you. I will ask them to clip off a bud from an Eastern White Pine and a Black Spruce and render each, in detail, in watercolor, before our next class. If you don’t have watercolor, do it in pencil. This is an exercise in observation, not in artistic sensibility. Assuming I can get out to collect samples, I’ll be doing the same thing.
I must feel better soon because it’s nearly time for Rye’s Painters on Location, September 15-16, in Rye, NY. This show was launched in 2001, making it a granddaddy among plein air events. It certainly has been a major fixture in my calendar. I love going back and seeing old friends in the community and among the artists.
My favorite thing I ever painted at Rye was this painting of the bridge at Mamaroneck. This, alas, is the only photo I have of it.
We set up our easels on Friday and Saturday, September 15-16. For the first time, the Rye Arts Center will post our locations on a Google Map so we can be more easily found. This, I suppose, requires some planning on my part.
I usually paint with my pal Brad Marshall, but he will be in Britain at that time. That leaves me on my own to choose a site. I’m still dazzled by the choices, despite the better part of two decades’ experience: beautiful architecture, a historic amusement park, lots of boats and Long Island Sound itself.
Spring at the boatyard, 14X18, is my silent auction piece. You can bid on it by contacting the Rye Art Center.
Two years ago, Brad and I prepared to paint into a hurricane, but it fizzled. I’m watching the weather reports now, since we seem to be in another season of high activity.
Yesterday I got a note from a reader who lives on St. Martin in the Caribbean, thanking me for publishing Lauren R. Lewis’ information about rescuing water-damaged artwork. The eastern Caribbean islands are, according to the National Weather Service, just now being mauled by this Category 4 hurricane. This isn’t an abstraction. I know people along that string of islands. I pray for their safety. 

Why sell your work?

Selling is not selling out. If nothing else, you can use the money to buy more paint.

Keuka Lake, by Carol L. Douglas. All that vert is beautiful, but tough on allergies.

There is a myth that the word Genesee is Seneca for “Pleasant Valley.” In fact, it means “miasma,” from the humid air that hangs over the Genesee Valley. The Seneca were the most numerous of the Haudenosaunee people. Many moved west along the Niagara River and south into Pennsylvania. This was largely to escape the heavy air in their heartland.

The Adirondacks were never permanently settled by the Iroquois and Algonquin. They hunted there and brawled with each other. The winters are too cold, the summers are rainy, and the soil is thin.
I haven’t had an asthma attack since I left New York. Rochester is a city of lovely gardens, which means heavy pollen. I loved to garden; I hated my allergies. In Maine, nobody fusses with rare plants, and the offshore breezes keep the pollen down. I replace my rescue inhaler annually but never need it.
Letchworth Middle and Upper Falls, by Carol L. Douglas.
Last week in the Adirondacks I was having twinges of breathing trouble. It was nothing that I couldn’t control by sitting quietly. When I arrived at Long Beach Island, NJ, my asthma bloomed with terrific ferocity.

“Welcome to New Jersey,” my New Jersey pal Toby texted me when I complained. I blamed the cedars and retreated to air conditioning.

With temperatures in the mid-eighties and no shade, both Bobbi Heath and I were wilting. A few passers-by expressed amazement that we were painting here instead of at home in cool, breezy Maine. Why would we do that, they asked. We’re here to sell paintings.
Bridle path, by Carol L. Douglas
Sometimes I meet people at plein air events who say they do these events just to have fun. I’m not sure if I believe them. These festivals are organized around the all-important show and sale at the end. The energy is infectious.
Selling your work is important. When people pay money for your work, they’re telling you that it’s good enough to shell out for. That’s far better validation than your grandmother’s praise.
Selling is communication, a dialogue between you and the buyer. Putting your work out with a price tag forces you to see it as transactional, as a reciprocal exchange of ideas. That, in turn, requires that you clarify your ideas enough for them to make sense to the viewer. Some people call that ‘selling out,’ but I’m not talking about producing dreck. I’m talking about the difference between omphaloskepsis and conversation.
Eastern Manitoba forest, by Carol L. Douglas. I love trees but they don’t always like me.
Selling your work grows your fan base, because it puts your work out there for public consideration. And therein lies the rub. When you first start out, the work you labored over will probably be met with cruel indifference. You just need to work through that.
I first started selling paintings because the finished ones were taking up too much room. And, of course, most of us also need the money, if only to buy more paint.
According to Toby, today is going to be cooler. We’ve got paintings to make and a schedule to keep. I sure hope she’s right.