So you want to paint in Maine

Tell me what you want to paint and I’ll tell you where to go.
Cliff below Owls Head, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy The Kelpie Gallery.
This afternoon, I’ll show Poppy Balser around my few miles of Maine coastline. It’s the best fun two artists can have.
Belfast lies at the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River. It is a city only in the organizational sense—it has about 6700 people this time of year. Its boom was in the early 19th century, and its mansions and brick-fronted commercial streets reflect that.
Belfast’s real charm to the painter lies in its exceptional harbor access via Harborwalk, which runs along a working boatyard out to the Armistice footbridge. From there, you can see its iconic red tugboats and look back on the harbor from the water side (courtesy of the footbridge).
The Three Graces, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Camden Falls Gallery.
Just south of Belfast is Bayside, founded as the Northport Wesleyan Grove Camp Meeting in 1848. At one time, it drew thousands of the faithful to its 30 acres of oceanfront. Today, it’s a sleepy hamlet of historic beachfront cottages, most built between 1870 and 1920. There are no services, no stores, and no stoplights.
Lincolnvilleis low to the ground, a beach fronting its main street, so it has the whiff of more southerly climes. My favorite place to paint here is the mouth of the Ducktrap River, which snakes into Penobscot Bay around a gravel bar.
Poppy will have seen Camden, one of the great summer colonies along the coast. It’s famous for its schooners and pleasure boats. Many of these will be wrapped for the season. But there’s always something to paint in this harbor.
Rockport Autumn Day, by Carol L. Douglas (private collection)
I don’t even need to go that far. Rockport’s fishing fleet is clustered in the mouth of our harbor, bounded by beautiful old buildings and a working boatyard. It’s one of the prettiest villages on the Maine coast.
But if Poppy wants to paint trawlers, she’ll have to go south to Rockland’s Municipal Fish Pier. We could paint at the North End Shipyard or the city’s famous lighthouse. Below the Apprentice Shop, there’s a great view of the working harbor. It’s a city famous for its art, from the Farnsworth Art Museumand Center for Maine Contemporary Art to its innumerable commercial galleries. Like Belfast, it has a beautiful downtown.
American Eagle in Drydock, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Camden Falls Gallery.
The St. George Peninsula, however, is my favorite place to paint in this area. We can start at Owls Head, with its lighthouse and beautiful waterscapes in every direction. There’s a good angle on its fishing fleet from Lighthouse Road. Down the road is South Thomaston. The Weskeag River passes through it, changing character with the tide. From Spruce Head to Port Clyde, this peninsula has some of the best rocky shoreline south of Acadia. We might slip down to Clark Island, or over to Long Cove. 
Tenant’s Harbor is a place I haven’t painted enough. It has a lobster pound, a fishing fleet, an inlet and beautiful architecture. Mosquito Harboris lined with low marshes. Then there’s Drift Inn beach, and the Marshall Point Lighthousebefore we get to Port Clyde. This is another famous beauty spot, with a great fishing harbor visible from many angles. It’s also where we catch the ferry to Monhegan.
Lobster Pound at Tenants Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy The Kelpie Gallery.
That represents slightly more than 40 miles of driving, but it’s enough to keep a painter busy for a lifetime. Consider, then, that the Maine coast is about 5000 miles long. All the landscape painters in America could come here and we’d never fully capture its infinite variety.

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.

What a difference a day makes!

The first glorious plein air painting day was our last class of the spring session.  It was grand.
Camden and Mt. Battie, by Carol L. Douglas
Nobody understands spring like a Northerner. We long for that giddy day when the temperature first climbs above 50° F., the rain stops, and the sky clears. Our joints cease their muttering, our backs straighten, and our steps grow firmer and quick. It is a privilege to watch ice and snow roll back from the tomb of winter.
I used to teach every week. I travel too much for that now, so I break my classes into six-week sessions. This one has been shut indoors too much of the time by frankly lousy weather. It’s frustrated me. I think of myself as an apostle of plein airpainting. How am I going to spread the good word, caged in my studio like that? Yesterday was expected to be cool with possible showers. It ended up being wonderful.
Great clouds and a rolling river.
The Megunticook is still raging down its chute into Camden harbor. A sky of sublime beauty sailed around us. Cumulus clouds formed above Mt. Battie and to the east over Penobscot Bay. Cirrus clouds striped the high altitudes. The wooden boats for which Camden is justly famous rocked gently at their moorings, their owners hard at work preparing for the season. The deep blue of the sky reflected midnight in the harbor waters. There were great paintings everywhere, and we were present.
I like most of my students, but this group has been special. Two absolute beginners drove in every week from near Jay. That may be only a distance of sixty miles or so, but, for you flatlanders, it takes the better part of two hours. That’s commitment.
Dinghy, Camden Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas
Only one student has been with me before. The other three are pretty advanced painters. All of them have great potential.
“That froth is not white,” I pontificated. Then I suggested they use pale tints of lavender and yellow ochre to model it.
“I believe you, but I don’t see it,” Jennifer answered. That comes with time, I told her.
A spectacular pileup of clouds to the east.
They may be done with this session, but still I gave them one last homework assignment: to look at Joaquin Sorolla’shandling of white. They are a myriad of tints, but I’ve noticed no absolute white anywhere.
I think commercially-bottled water is a lousy deal, environmentally and personally. Still, my house (like yours) always seems to collect the darn stuff. I’ve been toying with a bottle in my studio recently. It’s multifaceted and infinitely reflective. That led to my students’ second assignment: to draw a water bottle, in all its whirling complexity. If the drawing conveys meaning or mood, that’s even better. These students have until the end of the month to finish. You, dear reader, can email yoursto me any time you want.
Your homework assignment, should you choose to accept it. Draw this, but do it from life, not from a photo.
Alas, the morning sped by, and we parted. By teatime, Mt. Battie and Camden were again shrouded in rain. We’d had a brief window of perfect weather and we had gloried in it.

Our new session starts Tuesday, May 30 and runs for six classes, skipping merrily over Independence Day. I’ll give you more information soon, but you can read about it or register here

When does it stop being plein air painting?

"The Three Graces," Carol L. Douglas

“The Three Graces,” Carol L. Douglas
I have never been much for the debate over what constitutes plein air painting. What percentage needs to be done on location? Does painting from your car count? These questions mostly just annoy me. At every plein air event I’ve done, painters continue to work at night after they leave their location. Years of painting give you excellent visual memory. Letting your eyes rest after a day of working in bright light is an important step.
Since the only requirement is that the work be finished within a certain period, it’s up to us to interpret what “painted en plein air” actually means. And the vast majority of artists, I find, are very strict about the rules they establish.
"The Three Graces" as it looked when I took down my easel.

“The Three Graces” as it looked when I took down my easel.
In most cases, I can tell at a distance whether a work was done on location or not. The energy of plein air painting is not easily faked, although the lighting and brushwork may be indistinguishable from studio painting. In plein air painting, the whole scene is constantly subject to change. That lends a frisson of nerves to the process.
“My clients don’t care whether it was painted on location or not,” Brad Marshall once said during one of these interminable discussions. “They’re just interested in whether it’s a good painting.”
"Mercantile's anchor," Carol L. Douglas

“Mercantile’s anchor,” Carol L. Douglas

That’s true, but it becomes an issue for painters when they’re selecting paintings to apply for upcoming plein air events. At what point do after-the-fact edits disqualify a work from consideration?
I did the two paintings in this post during the same week. There was gorgeous weather and I painted almost non-stop on the floating docks at Camden. Of course there were interruptions, since wherever I go, that’s where the party’s at.
Had I gone back to my studio and made the same changes I made yesterday, I’d have had no hesitation in calling them en plein air paintings. However, my husband flew home from Norway, and I didn’t get back to them until yesterday.
"Mercantile's anchor" as it looked when I took down my easel.

“Mercantile’s anchor” as it looked when I took down my easel. Because I’d painted this boat in dry-dock, I know its black hull is underpainted in green.
I made no structural changes to either painting, because I’m trying to make a point. (Otherwise, I’d have moved that boom out of directly behind the anchor.) In neither case was a photo necessary to finish. But in both cases, the surface has been overpainted almost completely, and I had the luxury of time in which to finish them.
So, for the purpose of jurying, is this plein air painting? I don’t have a ready answer, and I’m interested in your opinion.

Massacre in Aleppo

“Diaspora,” by Hope M. Ricciardi, remembers the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923.

“Diaspora,” by Hope M. Ricciardi, remembers the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923.
The UN believes around 50,000 civilians are still trapped inside rebel-held East Aleppo, Syria. They were to be evacuated this morning but latest reports are that the buses sent to carry them out remain idle and shelling has resumed.
This is certainly the worst holocaust of the new millennium. The trapped include a large number of children, who have been the most vulnerable victims of the bombings all along. At least 82 civilians, including women and children, were shot on Monday, according to a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. One imagines it will get worse.
Now comes the inevitable hand-wringing. As Julie Lenarz writes in a heartbreaking essay in the Telegraph, we’re once again reduced to saying, “never again” when it’s already too late.
“The Third of May 1808,” 1814, Francisco Goya

“The Third of May 1808,” 1814, Francisco Goya
Aleppo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Located at one end of the Silk Road, it was a cosmopolitan mix of the world’s people. In the 20th century, after the Suez Canal had bypassed it as a trading center, it became a refuge for Armenian Christians fleeing genocide (some of whose descendants are now trapped).
Modern Aleppo was home to more than 2 million people, some of whom have escaped and many of whom have been killed. We had the opportunity to intervene when the costs were lower; we inexplicably sat on our hands. Today a consortium of Russia, a genocidal dictator (Assad) and the world’s leading state sponsor of Islamic terrorism (Iran) control most of the city. And there’s no hope anymore of moderate rebellion: what’s left are jihadists. It’s a terrible indictment of our role as the world’s superpower, and it also points out that ignoring festering problems never works.

“Die Gefangenen,” (The Prisoners), 1908, Käthe Kollwitz

“Die Gefangenen,” (The Prisoners), 1908, Käthe Kollwitz
Last week I saw a headline that called our Japanese internment camps “concentration camps.” There’s a line of thinking that says our government is as flawed as Nazi Germany’s. It’s a kind of reverse Holocaust denial, promoting the idea that we have no right to intervene in other governments’ dirty business, since we’re just as bad.
There will always be historical revisionists. And that’s where art comes in. Through history, artists have used their skill to create indelible records of the horrors inflicted upon the weak by the strong. Often, it took great courage for them to record their impressions. I pray that none of us are ever called to witness such events. But if we are, may we have the courage to use our pencils to tell the truth.
“The Great Nanjing Massacre,” 1992, Zi Jian Li

“The Great Nanjing Massacre,” 1992, Zi Jian Li
It’s almost Christmas, of course, and my thoughts inevitably turned to practical matters. I stopped at Renys for more wrapping paper. As I checked out, I heard a clerk making a phone call. “Your layaway was paid by a generous customer,” she told the person on the line. “You can come and pick it up now.”
That can’t erase the atrocities in Aleppo, but it does remind me that mankind is also capable of kindness. Evil may seem to have us by the short hairs, but it is countered by quiet virtue. As long as that’s true, there’s hope for us all. Pray for peace, remember war’s victims, and be grateful for the light that shines in your own backyard.

New beginnings

The next home of my studio is a classic Maine farmhouse.
Yesterday I wrote about Maine’s prettiest villages. I’ve worked in many of them, but the bulk of my perambulations have been centered in Camden (#1), Rockport, (#6), Damariscotta (#3) and the villages and hamlets between them. This stretch of coast has open ocean breaking on rocky outcroppings, graceful harbors, and bucolic pastoral moments, all within a few miles of the amenities on US 1.
I love painting in Camden because I love the passing parade. (Photo courtesy of Howard Gallagher of Camden Falls Gallery.)
The problem has been in finding a central location from which to work and teach. Yesterday I solved that problem by buying a building in Rockport.
Sails drying in the sun, by Carol L. Douglas.
This being Maine, we are only the third owner of this 115-year-old Maine farmhouse. We bought it for its large, light painting studio. But we also like its cozy, classic informality. It reminds me of the tourist cabins of the Maine of my youth. The prior owners have taken meticulous care of it, and I am grateful for the chance to be its next guardian.
This sunroom is going to be my Maine teaching studio.
Camden harbor is my favorite place to paint. I enjoy the passing parade as much as I like the boats.  Last summer I tried every day to make it to the public dock in time for sunrise. I was staying in a snug little cabin in Waldoboro and I have to admit, I seldom succeeded. My new studio is about a mile down the road. I bet I’ll even have time for a second cup of coffee.
Main Street, Camden, by Carol L. Douglas.
Starting on June 1, I’ll be hanging out my shingle at 394 Commercial Street, Rockport (well, as soon as I design a shingle, that is). However, my 2015 workshop will be at Acadia’s Schoodic Institute, which is a whole different kind of beautiful—wild landscapes, bigger seas, and definitely ‘the one less traveled by.’ There are just three openings left, so if you’re interested, you should probably register sooner than later.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Just boats

Drydock at Genesee Yacht Club, 12X16, oil on canvasboard.
I’m sorry about the lack of a post yesterday; the collywobbles-sans-merci blew through my household this weekend. Sometimes when the limbs are still, the mind does its best work.
Last summer Howard Gallagher of Camden Falls Gallery took Lee Boynton and me out to see the start of the Camden feeder of the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta. It’s the first time I’ve ever filled my entire 16-GB memory card and my cell phone with pictures. (I think Lee took about as many.) That day was one of the highlights of my summer.
Howe Point dinghy, 6X8, oil on canvasboard.
I love painting boats, and could spend my whole summer on the dock with them. You can’t paint them under sail en plein air, except as slashes of white against the sky; they move too fast for that. And I don’t generally paint from photos, so I shot pictures of them and contented myself with that. Anyway, my habit for the last decade or so has been to spend the summer painting en plein air and the winter doing figurative work in my studio. Usually that figurative work has an overlay of social commentary to it; I just can’t seem to help myself.
At Camden Harbor, 6X8, oil on canvasboard.
I returned to Rochester in September with a show penciled in for next March and a great concept. Nothing about this has worked out right. The gallery and I haven’t been able to reach terms. I haven’t been able to get the models on board. The model I started with suddenly developed cold feet (perhaps he needs warmer socks). My stretchers were backordered. Yada, yada.
Tide running out, 12X16, oil on canvasboard.
About a dozen times over the past few weeks I’ve muttered to myself, “I’d really rather be painting boats.” And then this weekend, twisting around in the damp embrace of my sheets, I asked myself, “Why aren’t you just painting boats? They make you happy, they make other people happy.” And I realized I have utterly no enthusiasm for this project that has proven so difficult.
At Camden, 12X16, oil on canvasboard.
So I’ve cancelled my spring show in Rochester, and I’m going to paint boats. Not social commentary, just sailboats.

Remember, you’ve got until December 31 to get an early-bird discount for next year’s Acadia workshop. Read all about it here, or download a brochure here

The best laid plans

Double rainbow over the schooner Appledore, returning to Camden Harbor.

I like to lead painters in a convoy to our painting sites, since they are usually places rather than addresses. On Friday, my parade managed to get ahead of me. No problem, I thought, because we are heading for one of Maine’s best-known sites: the Mount Battie Auto Road in Camden Hills State Park. The view from this 800-foot peak is assumed to be the place that inspired Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Renascence, composed when she was a teenager living in Camden, and first recited to guests at the Whitehall Inn.

Marjean and Nancy painting the vista.
All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked another way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I’d started from;
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.

Janith’s fifth day of painting ever, and she turned out this very credible painting of the view.
Camden is one of my favorite painting venues in Maine. However, the problem with Camden as a teachingvenue is that the traffic is atrocious. Suffice it to say that with the miracle of modern GPS, I managed to lose everyone, and we started late. No matter, though; the view was wonderful. And nobody fell off the summit of Mount Battie.
Clouds you could eat with a spoon.
Some travelers took off for Pemaquid, some for Portland, and the remainder went down to Camden to have fun. Although the forecast was for it to be clear, a small spit of rain moved in. It didn’t soak us, but it did make an amazing double rainbow over the windjammer fleet at Camden Harbor. “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth,” said God, and who can look at a rainbow without a sense of awe? It was a fitting end to a fantastic week, and a promise of more good things to come.
Nancy loaned me her hiking poles (mine were buried in my trunk) to climb over the rocks from painter to painter. I reciprocated by using them as pointers.

Message me if you want information about next year’s programs. Information is available here.

I love the constant action at Camden Harbor. Here, a class has a sailboat race.

A family affair

Cecilia and her granddaughter. (Photo courtesy of Janith Mason)
Several workshop participants are traveling with their spouses, their children, grandchildren, and a niece. Yesterday, one of my students was watching the cavorting of some of these kids and remarked, “It’s so nice to see these kids here.”
Three sprites on a rock. The Maine coast is perfect for doing nothing. (Photo courtesy of Sandy Quang)
I agree. I’m not teaching them, but I’m enjoying having them with us. Some of them are drawing or painting along with their adults, too.
Look beyond the lighthouses and rocks and sea, and there are other parts of the landscape that are uniquely Maine. There is the light, which veers between sharp clarity and misty fog. There are the modest Maine capes of the early 19th century, with their steep roofs and gables. And there are the trees, shaped by the offshore breezes.
We started the day painting under a shelter, because it was cool and rainy. (Photo courtesy of Sandy Quang)
Yesterday dawned cool and misty, so we started painting in Belfast City Park, which has a shelter. One would never know that there was an opposite shore on the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River, with all the mist. What a great opportunity to work on painting the traps in trees in the style of the Canadian Group of Seven painters.
By mid-day we were able to move out from beneath cover. (Photo courtesy of Brad VanAuken)
Several workshop participants have asked me to post Loren’s color wheel on my blog. Loren made this as a way to teach himself how to mix the paints on his own palette. The outer ring is comprised of either the straight-out-of-the-tube paints themselves or mixes of two straight pigments. The next wheel is made of tints of the outer-wheel colors with white. Next are shades of the outer-wheel colors mixed with black. The center is the color mixed with its complement.
Loren made this color wheel to help himself better understand the pigments on his palette. I like the idea so much I suggested it to everyone as homework.
Today we are off to Mount Battie and Camden Harbor—a lovely end to a week that has just flown by.
My recommended palette–here in acrylics: white, cadmium or Hansa yellow, Indian yellow (transparent), cadmium orange, yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, naphthol red, quinacridone magenta, ultramarine blue, Prussian blue, black.
Message me if you want information about next year’s programs. Information is available here.