Fantastic Places and Magical Realms

I chose the title and theme long before I chose the paintings. Looking at them together in my studio, I thought, they’re oddly autobiographical.

The Camden Public Library will present “Fantastic Places and Magical Realms” on Saturday, December 11, from 1 to 3 PM. The public is invited.

When Julia Pierce asked me to hold my show over through December at the Camden Public Library, I thought, “what’s the fun in that? We might as well switch it up.” Four weeks is short notice to put together a show, but I have a secret stash of quirky paintings. They’re things I painted to amuse myself, or to think through an idea that was on my mind.

Many people commented that Welcome Back to Real Life—which I’m taking down tomorrow—was grounded in mid-coast Maine. They were easily-recognized scenes, with a sense of place. “It’s the Maine I grew up with,” said one visitor.

The Late Bus, oil on canvasboard, $435 framed. 

For this show, I wanted to get as far as possible from that reality. I was looking for themes that are common to all of us, no matter where we live. Some started as plein air paintings that went haywire along the way. Some are real places that could be anywhere. Some are the product of my own imagination.

I could have titled this show, “A look into the recesses of the cluttered cabinet I call my mind.” It’s less polished and more visceral than the work I showed last month.

My classes are focused on narrative painting right now—painting that tells a story that’s greater than mere pictorial prettiness. I tried to select work for this show that operates within that idea, although few of them actually contain figures.

Best Buds, oil on canvasboard, $1087 framed.

Don’t expect Disney here. I’m probably the least-whimsical person in the world. Asked to do a series on Holy Week for children twenty years ago, I produced a set of Stations of the Cross that are black-and-white, gritty, blood and gore.

I’m more influenced by Renaissance genre painting. It depicts everyday life and ordinary people. But they’re never real places or real people, just stories played out in paint. They often tell a folk tale or relate a moral precept.

Thus, a shipwreck, to me, is more than just a bunch of rusty stuff strewn along a beach. It’s a fable about the inevitable end of all earthly endeavor, including my own.

Red buds and red osier, 12X16, oil on canvasboard, $1449 framed.

But striving is built into our human character, and we have to respect that, too.

Boats often stand in for people in my painting. They’re a metaphor for our existence. They remind me of our human journey through life. They sail through all sorts of weather; they are sleek and beautiful, or stout and utilitarian. They can move effortlessly, or they can founder.

Fantastic Places and Magical Realms will open on Saturday, December 11, from 1 to 3 PM. I will be catering with candy again, and I ask—for the sake of my diet—that you eat a little more of it this time.

Pretty little boat

In the last year, I’ve dragged home a tractor, a dog, a pickup truck and a boat. My poor husband doesn’t know what hit him.

Not much to it, in terms of working parts.

A year ago, Jane Chapin, Kellee Mayfield and I were gassing up our cars, getting ready to make a midnight run across Patagonia to catch a plane for Buenos Aires and eventually home. It took a while for us to realize that we were all bringing the microscopic parasite Giardia duodenalis with us.

I’ve dragged home a number of other things since then—a tractor, a dog, a pickup truck and a boat. My poor husband doesn’t know what hit him.

“People are going to take you for a native,” a friend teased. Hey, junk in the side yard is the heritage of my people, too. I’m from Buffalo.

I picked up the little boat at our family farm last weekend. It’s a 1946 Penn Yan Swift. My father shoved it in the back of the hayloft around 1965. He then ignored it.

After all, he had a beautiful, deep-keeled wooden sailboat that he far preferred. She was old but fast and graceful. The head was strictly for show; being the only female onboard, I did not appreciate the need to pee over the side. There was a tiny icebox, but that didn’t matter. My father couldn’t cook.

Then my older brother and sister died in their teens. My mother fought back from her grief; my father never recovered. Thereafter our trips were only short-term, on rented boats, or with friends. For me, that was another blow, because there is nothing I have ever liked more than being out on the water.

Note to self: outboards weigh a lot more than you expect. I’m still in pain.

The Penn Yan belonged to an earlier time in my father’s life, before he’d had a wife and six kids and a working farm. Prior to pulling it into the yard here on Sunday, I’d never seen it with its cover off. But something had to be done with it.

My first surprise was seeing our old dinghy balanced on top. When we were very small and useless as deckhands, Dad would tow us in it. It was probably the only way he had any peace and quiet. A good dinghy is useful and I’m glad to have it.

Everything is shipshape and Bristol fashion, as if he’d intended to take her out again the next weekend. Even the red rubber floor mats were there, although they’ve decayed into dust. A spare steering spool was carefully labeled in my father’s distinctive handwriting.

It was touching to see his things put away with such care. After John and Ann died, despair rendered him chaotic. He’d lay tools down and lose them and go buy more. His workshop was a mess. But in a prior time—before life ripped him apart—he was a meticulous and methodical craftsman.

I think about his last years a lot. I keenly remember the Slough of Despond and I never want to go back there.

At its new home in Maine.

“What do you plan to do with her?” people have asked, just as they asked me what I’ll do with the 1941 Ford 9N parked next to the garage. I understand the boat better than I do the tractor, but in both cases, I expect I’ll buff them up, use them a few times, and then spend the rest of my life tripping over them. Both have been around longer than me. If I have any say, they’ll both outlast me. 

Why we love boats

People see boats as symbols of the human experience, which is why they’re so potent in art.

Skylarking, 24X36, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas. Available here.

I recently got a floor-cleaning robot. I find myself talking to it, usually cooing as I do to the dog. But this week it’s been avoiding a spot near the kitchen door, and I lectured it. “Mom, are you getting mad at your Bissell spin-wave?” my son asked.

Anthropomorphism means our inclination to assign human characteristics and personalities to non-humans. The word was first used by Xenophanes, which tells us that the urge to anthropomorphize our stuff goes back to earliest man. It’s one thing to talk to your dog (who may or may not answer) and it’s another to talk to your floor-cleaning robot, or to converse with Alexa.

American Eagle in Drydock (the winch), Carol L. Douglas, 12X16, oil on canvasboard, available here.

I’m hardly alone. Humans are hard-wired to understand and interact with other humans from birth. When we come across something non-human, our impulse is to interact in the human terms with which we’re most familiar.

Complex machines are relatively modern. It’s interesting that we overwhelmingly characterize them as female. That is, perhaps, a way of expressing trust in them (which is why it’s so important for car manufacturers to build ‘cute’ cars). Or, it’s possibly because they do our grunt work for us. Thanks, Mom.

Boats, on the other hand, are almost as old as humankind itself. We traditionally call them ‘she’, even when they’re named after a crusty old Admiral. The roots of this tradition are lost in the mists of time. It may come from the idea that a goddess protects and guides a particular ship (as in a figurehead). Or, it might be an artifact of a precursor language, where nouns had gender.

Breaking Storm, Carol L. Douglas, available here.

But people see boats as symbols of the human experience, which is why they’re so potent in art. They sail through calm waters and storms. They narrowly escape destruction, or they are, in fact, wrecked on the shoals of misfortune. They are elegant and lean, floating on the breeze, or they’re stout little working boats like me.

Most of us spend far more time in cars and planes than we do in boats, but paintings of boats predominate in art. All three modes of transportation are elegant. All three have their romance. So why do people love boat paintings so much?

It’s, in part, tradition, but it’s also the confluence of wind, water and sky. Even without a vessel, the ocean is a pretty magical place.

Sunset sail, Carol L. Douglas, available here.

A friend recently painted her first boat, and told me the experience left her flat. I laughed and said they were my favorite subject. She thought that she perhaps ought to take my boat workshop to understand why. That’s as good a lead-in as any to the idea of painting aboard the schooner American Eagle. I teach two workshops aboard her—in June and in September.

But Ann might be disappointed, because we don’t focus on sails and rigging. Rather, it’s a sort of traveling-sketchbook experience, where we capture quicksilver impressions of the ever-changing, watery world of Penobscot Bay. It’s all about the light, and the light never changes more quickly than it does on the ocean.

Some days I hate learning experiences

Painting boats is a great metaphor for life. The wind in your sails is the easy part. It’s the rigging that’s ticklish.

Breaking storm, 48X30, oil on canvas, available through Folly Cove Fine Art.

There are 47,000 photos on this laptop, another 41,000 on our server, and thousands more on my phone. (There is, of course, significant overlap). They’re in folders titled by seasons or events—except for images of paintings, which I store by the year they were completed. The problem is that I’m more likely to remember the curve of a taffrail than where or when I saw it.

Last autumn I did a watercolor sketch for a boat painting. I got as far as laying it out on canvas and then got derailed. I just got back to it this week and I had no recollection of what reference photo (if any) I’d used. There’s a low-res collage called Boats on my thumb drive. That’s a terrible name, since I have almost 400 other pictures with similar names. I looked at them all. No luck.

Sunset Sail, oil on canvas, available through Folly Cove Fine Art.

The shore in my sketch looks like the Camden Hills. Did I use a photo from the Camden Classics Cup regatta? Howard Gallagherand the late Lee Boynton and I once watched the start from Howard’s boat, but if I have any photos I no longer know where they are.

Let this be a lesson to me and everyone else—when you decide to paint from a photo, put it somewhere you can find it later.

I searched online and found a delightful Cornish sloop and a couple of beautiful Camden Class daysailors. I roughed them in and sat back to look. I’d just realized the scale was all wrong when Ann Trainor Domingue stopped by.

“Does it matter?” she asked. If you know Annie’s work (which is terrific) you’ll understand why she questioned that. But to me it mattered.

I can paint the sails of most fore-and-aft rigged vessels in my sleep. They feel as natural as the wind to me. But when it comes to attaching them to a hull, I must be careful. Placing the cabins, the masts, and the sheets properly is ticklish.

It’s a great metaphor for life. The wind is the easy part.

The trouble with combining reference photos of boats is that the wind, the light, the angle and the scale all must be roughly the same. For my painting to work, the different boats’ sails can’t exactly mimic each other. However, boats running in the same wind tend to be trimmed the same way. I debated how much license I wanted to take.

I ran this past my pal Bobbi Heath, who not only paints boats, but also sails. She, in turn, ran it past her husband. He thought my gaff-rigged cutter might plausibly be jibing at the same time as the sloop was running downwind.

“We may be overthinking this,” Bobbi added. I wasn’t worried; Bobbi and I do some of our best work while overthinking things. Still, I was unhappy. My painting had developed a patina of historical drama, and that wasn’t what I wanted at all. I was trying to paint sheer larkiness.

Rising Tide at Wadsworth Cove, 12×16, oil on canvasboard by Carol L. Douglas. Stimulus sale price, $675 (regularly $895 unframed)

Last February, Ann Domingue and I planned a workshop called Uncovering Your Mark, which was a guided exercise to help artists get to the heart of their own work. She planned to teach it in my studio here in Maine in June. With the pandemic, she offered it online as a Zoom class.

I had expected to learn something about how I might change my work. Instead, I realized I was painting exactly what I’m supposed to be painting right now. She couldn’t have given me a greater gift.

Stormy Weather, 16X20, oil on canvas by Carol L. Douglas. Stimulus sale price $1000 (regularly $1400 unframed)

The brilliant thing about art is that neither Ann’s approach nor mine is ‘right’. We’re each saying different things in our paintings, speaking to different audiences. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thinking about that, something clicked and I remembered where the photo that inspired my sketch was filed—under Eggemoggin Reach Regatta. The human mind is inscrutable, isn’t it?

If I don’t have the exact boats, I certainly have the right wind. Today I can scrape out my flailings and paint it properly. At times, art can be a cruel taskmaster, but if you’re patient you will get there.

A roadmap to my party

This was sent to me by children’s book author and artist Bruce McMillan, who noted that my December 7 Open House and Studio Party celebrates painter Stuart Davis’ 125th birthday (December 7, 1894).
If going to the Open House make sure to gas up for the trip. The ghost of Stuart Davis may be going with you.
Gas Station, also known as Garage No. 1, Stuart Davis, 1917, courtesy Hirshhorn Museum
Make sure you drive to Rockport ME and not Rockport MA. Oh ME, Oh MA!
Report from Rockport, Stuart Davis, 1940, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
Go past the yellow house; there has to be a yellow house somewhere along the drive. [Editor’s note: it’s next door.]
Private Way, Stuart Davis, c. 1916, courtesy Christie’s Auction House

“Davis and his family first went to Gloucester in the summer of 1915, attracted by John Sloan’s enthusiasm. Eventually, his parents acquired a house on Mount Pleasant Avenue, where both Davis and his sculptor mother kept studios; over the next twenty years Davis would spend extended periods on Cape Ann. Gloucester imagery would permeate almost all of the work of this avowedly-urban painter for years to come, but if the accoutrements of the working harbor held a lifelong fascination for him, the particulars of Gloucester space and geography were crucial to his early evolution.” (Stuart Davis: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, New Haven, Connecticut, 2007, p. 55)

Hope it doesn’t snow on Stuart’s 125th birthday, that the driving will be clear and dry.
City Snow Scene, Stuart Davis, 1911, courtesy Christie’s Auction House
Davis combined the principles of Henri’s teaching with the technique and palette of his contemporary and close friend, John Sloan. Davis succeeds in rendering a dreary winter’s day in lower Manhattan. With a generous application of whites, Davis works up the surfaces to portray the texture of the snow which is juxtaposed with the more carefully applied reds to develop the architecture in the background. Broad, heavily applied strokes of black are the only device Davis employs to represent the pedestrians with the exception of a few simple touches of orange that delineate the faces of the primary figures in the foreground. Vigorous dashes of greyish-white provide a sense of the blustery, swirling snow, the drama of which is underscored in the foreground figures who are bracing themselves against the elements. Davis employs strong linear perspective to capture the broad avenue and achieves spatial effect by placing two figures in the foreground marking the entry point into the composition. To carefully define the space, Davis uses planar structures along the left side and staggered vertical lampposts and industrial smokestacks to establish depth. Figures are also used to demarcate space intervals in the scene as they are integrated at varying points in the composition.

Don’t stop to gawk at or sketch any boats along the way; you’ll see boats in Carol’s art once you get there.

Sketchbook 19-7: Rosemarie, Boston, Stuart Davis, ink on paper, 1938, courtesy Cape Ann Museum
Hey, skip the boats—really—and head up to heights above the harbor on Route 1.
Boats, Stuart Davis, 1930, courtesy the Phillips Collection
At last you’ll be at the artist’s studio… Carol’s, not Stuart’s.
Studio Interior, Stuart Davis, 1917, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
There will be crowds and crowds, though no servant girls, sorry; it’s self-service. What do you think this is? A restaurant?
Servant Girls, Stuart Davis, 1913, watercolor and pencil on paper, exhibited at the Armory Show. Courtesy Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute
The Association of American Painters and Sculptors originally planned to exhibit only the work of members and those they invited. However, in response to a growing chorus of queries, they asked interested artists to submit works to the Domestic Art Committee for selection. Davis’s work was chosen, and at twenty-one years old, he was one of the youngest artists represented in the Armory Show. In later years, Davis described the 1913 exhibition as a turning point in his artistic development. He called it “the greatest single influence I have experienced in my work,” which prompted him “to become a ‘modern artist.’”

And as the sign says: You Are Here. While everyone wonders, how does Stuart know?

Want to read more of Bruce’s writing? Sign up for his daily postings here. And, my Hidden Holiday Sale has gone public!

Don’t suck

Brad Marshall gives me some trenchant painting advice.
On the wall at Camden harbor, watercolor sketch, Carol L. Douglas.

I paint with my pal Brad Marshall about once a year—generally at Rye Art Center’s Painters on Location, and occasionally here in Maine. He’s retired from his day job as a sign-painter in New York City, and his paid gig these days is teaching watercolor on cruise ships. That’s influenced his practice. Instead of hauling his big field kit up to Maine in a minivan, he brought a small shoulder bag full of watercolor supplies in a Honda Civic.

This spring, the organizers at Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival gave each participant a hot-press watercolor block from Winsor & Newton. At 7X10, it’s the perfect size to slip into a backpack with my sketchbook, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it.*
The big dark hull conundrum. I still don’t like the solution. It wasn’t until after I made the fatal brushstroke in the far water that I remembered this was hot-press paper. It, urm, doesn’t scumble well.
Since I don’t sell my watercolors, I give them less attention than they deserve. Still, I do a lot of them over the course of the year—as value sketches for bigger oil paintings, to work out composition issues, or when I just don’t have the steam to set up my full oil-painting regalia. Watercolor is a great medium for experimentation.
We painted in Camden, on a dinghy dock. All floating docks drop with the tide, but this dock is accessible by ladder instead of a ramp. It limited my time. Once it was at the point where I could no longer toss my stuff up and over onto solid ground, I was going to have a harder time climbing back up. It would be ignominious in the extreme to have to ask the harbormaster to rescue me.
But it’s all just an excuse to stick our feet in the water anyway. Photo courtesy of Kathy Jalbert.
In a tight harbor like Camden you’ll usually see big visiting boats on the nearest docks. These are too close for a good composition (unless you’re doing a boat portrait) and obscure the boats on moorings. Still, that overlapping jumble of hulls is the nature of the scene. I’ve been experimenting recently on using parts of boats, cropped tight, to suggest that jumble.
Dark hulls, close up, are not an inherently attractive composition. They make for a boring dull strip across the lower half of the paper. If there’s to be any background at all, all that darkness lands on one side and unbalances the painting. Still, it’s such a common situation, and I’d like to devise ways to deal with it.
I’m a mutterer when I paint, I’m sorry to admit. I wrestle through my ideas and problems out loud. Finally, Brad looked over at me and said, “Just don’t suck.” It seemed as good as any other advice, so I took it.
*I think this W/N sample block could convert me to hot press paper, if I can figure out the scumbling question. It’s a nice, flat sheet, easy to handle, and it tolerated the sea mist better than my usual Arches cold press does.

Monday Morning Art School: perspective of boats

Don’t fall into the trap of drawing what you know instead of what you see.
The Bridge at Argenteuil, 1874, Claude Monet. All three waterlines are parallel to the horizon.
I prefer painting from a floating dock, where I’m at eye-level with the boats regardless of the tide. However, on Friday, I found myself up on the wall looking across Camden Harbor. That creates a different perspective.
The horizon line in a drawing is the viewer’s eye level, regardless of where the viewer is standing. At the top of Mount Rainier, your horizon line is around 14,410 feet above sea level, and everything is below you. If you’re swimming in the Caribbean, your horizon line is about three inches above sea level and everything but the sharks are above you.
I explained basic perspective in this post about drawing clouds; the exact same rules apply to boats, except that everything is flipped over. We can see down into objects that are at our feet, but not into objects at the same level that are far away. The farther away the object is, the more horizontal our gaze is as we look at it. Our measly 5 or 6 feet in height is nothing compared to the distance across. 
When a boat is a few hundred feet away in the water, it’s for all intents and purposes at eye level. Its waterline is almost absolutely flat, regardless of whether you’re looking at its side, transom, or bow.
The Seine at Argenteuil, 1872, Alfred Sisley. Although it’s also from towpath height, Sisley included more foreground, creating the sense that we are looking down into the Seine.
During the 1870s and 1880s Argenteuil, northwest of Paris on the Seine, became an important painting location for the Impressionists. They immortalized its bridges and boats from every conceivable angle.
We can infer Monet’s point of view in the top painting as being about equal to the house across the river. In other words, he was standing on a towpath. That allows us to see into the boat slightly, as we’re at mast height to it and it’s close to the near bank. We cannot see into the far boats at all. Note that the far bank and the waterlines of the far boats are parallel to the horizon. The bridge, which reaches across the river to us, is not.
Alfred Sisley’s painting is from the same height, but he’s given us more foreground, and therefore the sense of looking down into the water. But while the tree in the river is definitely below us, the boats are not. Again, their waterlines are parallel to the horizon. The river bends, and the land curves away, but the curve is very gradual.
Boating, 1874, Édouard Manet. Here we’re looking straight down into the boat from impossibly close quarters.
We are definitely looking down into Édouard Manet’s pleasure boat in his 1872 painting done on the same river. Manet has us practically standing on the rail looking down into the well of the boat. The horizon isn’t even visible. It would be yards above the boaters’ heads.
An example of incorrectly drawn boats.
Ignoring these rules results in the most common error I see in painting boats. This is from an example I picked up on the internet. The boats are close to the horizon but we still seem to be looking down into them. In fact, the closest boat is at about the angle of Manet’s Boating. This is an impossibility, as the three masterpieces from Argenteuil have demonstrated.
This happens frequently with painters unaccustomed to boats. I think it is a case of painting what we think we know vs. what we see. We know that boats have form, therefore they must have perspective, too. Well, they do, but it’s very subtle from the distance we usually see them.

Monday Morning Art School: draw six different boats

Drawing six similar objects will teach you to observe details.
Reliant rigged as a sloop.

I once got a commission to paint Lazy Jack II in Camden Harbor. I was pretty happy with the results. As I finished, two deckhands from another boat stopped to look at it. Their eyes met. “You’ve got the…” one started. “It’s not important,” said the other, and they quickly walked away. I’ve never figured out what’s wrong in that painting, but I did realize that you can only fudge the details so far. The experts will find you out.

In the normal course of things, you’re not going to see many square-rigged vessels here in mid-coast Maine (although you could see USS Constitution if you drive down to Boston). You’ll see fore-and-aft rigs, where the sails run above the keel rather than perpendicular to it.
A Bermuda-rigged sloop. This is the most common silhouette you’ll see wherever pleasure boats congregate. 
A boat’s sails all suspend from a vertical spar called the mast. This transmits all the power of the wind pushing the boat through the water. It’s really a marvel of engineering, especially since the kinks were worked out before the age of composite materials. There are some other spars whose names will be useful to know: booms, which run along the bottom of the sails, and gaffs, which get raised up in the air. Not every sailboat has gaffs, but they all have at least one mast and boom to hold the sails taut.
A gaff-rigged catboat.
A catboat is small and has a single sail on a single mast set well forward in the bow, or front of the boat. (I think this would be the perfect painter’s boat, especially if I could find one towable with my Prius.)
A sloop also has one mast, with only one sail in front of the mast. If that head-sail multiplies, your boat has morphed into a cutter. Reliance, the 1903 America’s Cup defender, could be rigged as either a sloop or cutter. I drew Reliance to illustrate that single-masted boats can be gaff-rigged as well as Bermuda-rigged. She was a peculiar thing, built only to win America’s Cup and then sold for scrap. Like all transitory things, she was, oh, so pretty.
A ketch. Angelique is far prettier.
Ketches and yawls have two masts, with the back (mizzen) sail smaller than the front sail. The difference is that in a ketch (like Angelique) the aft mast is meant to push. It’s pretty big. A yawl’s mizzen sail is very wee, almost vestigial, and is way to the back of the boat. It’s basically an air rudder, used to keep things in balance.
A yawl (or y’all, for those of you from the south).
Schooners started out having two masts, but three-masted schooners were introduced around 1800, and the spars proliferated from there. The only seven-masted schooner, the steel-hulled Thomas W. Lawson, was built in 1902. It was 395 ft. long.
While you might run across Victory Chimes, a three-masted schooner out of Rockland, the rest of the Maine windjammer fleet have two masts. A schooner’s forward mast is shorter than its mainmast, giving it an appearance of eagerness. Schooners come in all kinds of sail configurations.
A schooner’s foremast is shorter than its mainmast.
Your assignment is to find a photo of each of these sailing vessels and sketch them out as I did, paying particular attention to where the sails attach to the masts, the angles at which the gaffs are running, and the height of the masts in relationship to the length of the hull. This is not about sailing, it’s about attention to the details that matter.
If you aren’t interested in boats, you can do the same exercise with cars, motorcycles, or varieties of apples; I don’t care what they are, just that you have six objects from the same class of objects. 
The point of this exercise is not to create six beautiful boat drawings. It is to show you how much you learn by sketching. At the end of it, you should have a clear sense of why sketching in the field is a far better preparation for painting than taking photos is.
Remember, those of you who love boats: we’ll be sailing with Captain John Foss on the most beautiful of all windjammers—American Eagle—in June, studying watercolor painting on the move. For more information, see here.
My little assistants. I drew the boats and they colored.

Seeing the wrong boat

I missed the obvious, but my student was more observant.
Becca & Meagan iced in at Rockport Harbor in 2015.

My class was drawing at Rockport Harbor yesterday. A red lobster boat was pulled up along the dock near Rockport Marine. There’s been a red lobster boat in Rockport harbor for as long as I can remember. I paid it little mind, even when a student said she didn’t like the red hull paired with a green waterline, which is not how I remember it being painted.

Since that boat has a mooring in the harbor, I figured it was only at the dock for a few moments. I cautioned my students not choose it as their subject, but, instead, to focus on the dinghies at their feet.
Of course, the dinghy they chose left not half an hour after they started drawing. The red lobster boat stayed in place all morning. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that it isn’t the boat I assumed. That was the Becca & Meagan. This is its replacement, the Hemingway, and it was built by Rockport fisherman Kenny Dodge. If you like boats, you should read this wonderful piece from the PenBay Pilot. It’s Dodge’s own design, built of wood from his home and blending features from Nova Scotia and Maine lobster boats. It’s a behemoth: 47 feet long, almost 15 feet in the beam.
Hemingway at the dock.
Which is why I should have looked closer when my student was having trouble drawing it. She had already pointed out the waterline was different, and she was telling me it was like nothing she’d seen before. I was looking right at it, and still I didn’t notice that it wasn’t, in fact, Becca & Meagan.
This is her second summer with me and she’s made good, resolute progress. Yesterday, something clicked with her.
Carefully measured drawing by my student.
Boats, in general, are hard to draw, which is why so many artists avoid them. You can’t get away with a general swirl of activity, as you can with a farm field or a marsh. You must measure, measure, measure, and when you’re done, you end up adjusting all those measurements another time.
Yesterday, S. measured like a pro, and observed better than a pro. She corrected herself and me repeatedly. By doing that, she got a good representation of the dinghy at her feet and of the lobster boat in the distance. They’re not refined, nuanced, shaded drawings, but they have the most important principle down: the parts line up according to their real-world counterparts. A lot of experienced painters can’t seem to do that.
Carefully measured drawing by my student.
Becca & Meaganis a beautiful boat of traditional Maine design. I’ve seen it so often I’ve stopped really looking. Shame on me. I missed the obvious, but my student was more observant.

Let that be a lesson to me

I'm going to look at this in the studio later and see if I can regain the sense of the Mercantile looking. Shadows, perhaps.

I’m going to look at this in the studio later and see if I can regain the sense of the Mercantile looming. Shadows, perhaps.
My flagging energy has been at war with the calendar. Two weeks from tomorrow I fly to Scotland for a wedding. That pretty much marks the end of my working summer, although I do have one event after that. That doesn’t mean I stop painting or that the crowds mysteriously evaporate, but the crush of people lets up a bit after Labor Day.
I stopped by to see a friend on my way home on Saturday. “I’m tired, hot and cranky,” I told her.
“Like you’ve been the last three times I saw you,” she replied.
The nicest thing I started this weekend was a small study of the Mercantile's anchor.

The nicest thing I started this weekend was a small study of the Mercantile’s anchor.
I can see it in my work. I painted three things over the weekend in Camden. The best of these, a little study of an anchor, didn’t get finished. The one with the greatest promise—a tiny tender sheltering under the bow of the Mercantile—didn’t work. I should have known when I sketched it five times without a good composition that I was on the wrong track. Instead, I tried to force it to happen on the canvas. Without the Mercantile looming over it, it was just another dinghy.
Can I fix that in the studio? Possibly; I’ll try today. In fact, I need some serious time to finish up all the half-done work that’s waiting for me.
Sometimes I'm too dumb to stop. (Photo courtesy of Susan Renee Lammers)

Sometimes I’m too dumb to stop. (Photo courtesy of Susan Renee Lammers)
Most of us work long days during painting events. I also blog about them, which usually adds an hour or two to my working day. There are some dead giveaways that I need a rest:
  1. The bottom of my backpack starts looking like the bottom of my purse, a collection of flotsam and jetsam that has escaped its proper places;
  2. My ‘filter’ gets jarred loose and I say things I usually keep to myself;
  3. I gain weight;
  4. My composition is uninspired;
  5. I fight a dehydration headache and am too dumb to fix it with water;
  6. My house and car get ratty.
I’ve said many times that people should take at least a day off every week. Rest is a great gift. “The Sabbath was made for mankind, and not mankind for the Sabbath,” Jesus said. Do I follow that advice? Only fitfully, I’m afraid. Today I have a sore throat and headache, and I think it’s just my body telling me to drop the pace down a notch.
The Angelique has been following me everywhere. Here she is curled up in Camden harbor.

The Angelique has been following me everywhere. Here she is curled up in Camden harbor.
I’m not the only person getting tired. I can hear it in the slow but steady increase in beeping horns as I walk to the Rockport post office at midday. Our tolerance for others is fraying, ever so slightly.
People ask me why I blog when it adds more work to my day. The nicest part of the weekend was a visit by reader Fay Terry of Pinehurst, NC. On Friday, she joined Renee Lammers and me on the docks to paint. Yes, social media has its downside, but its ability to connect like-minded people is invaluable.