How to teach on Zoom (quick and dirty)

Hopefully we won’t need this long, but if we do, we can all learn together.

Me on Zoom, captured by Chrissy Pahucki.

Mary Byrom started teaching by Zoom a few weeks before me and she kindly helped me set up a protocol that works. Yesterday, Mira Fink asked for tips. I was answering on my cell phone so couldn’t be as specific as I’d like. Mira, this post is for you and anyone else trying to navigate the shoals of teaching in the age of coronavirus. It’s a quick-and-dirty way to get started teaching online; hopefully we won’t need this long, but if we do, we can all learn together.

I’m using the pro version of Zoom, which sells for $14.99 a month. I chose it for the following features:

  • No time limit, which allows for a three-hour class without interruption;
  • Full interactivity; we won’t have to have discussions via “chat” only;
  • “Share screen” function, which allows me to lecture with slides. If you want to do a prerecorded demo, it’s possible;
  • “Pin screen” function, which lets students keep me on the main screen while others are talking;
  • “Mute/unmute” which cuts down on the ambient noise.
My physical set up, after the laptop and phone have been removed. I can swivel the pochade box so my phone camera can shift between the easel and still life.
Physical setup

My laptop is on a small table below a large monitor. This is my painting monitor, doing double duty. Perched on the monitor is a small USB webcam. My phone is in a flexible gooseneck phone holder attached to my pochade box. This is easily adjusted, yet strong and stable. I have a power bank taped to the top of the box. This powers my phone through the entire three-hour class.

Yesterday I learned that double sign-in also prevents the meeting from disconnecting if one of your host devices freezes.

The webcam is aimed at my face. The phone is shooting over my shoulder at my easel. Be sure to mute and turn the sound off on one device or you’ll get a nasty ringing feedback.

Because I’m teaching in both watercolors and oils, I have each setup on a separate small folding table beside me. I have a small rolling task chair. Unfortunately, the Zoom platform really discourages teaching from a standing position, since the camera area is so small.

I have two diffuse photo lights I set up as fill lights. One is aimed at my face, and one at my still life.

Prep for a class about combining reference photos. Normally, my photos would be on my monitor, but for demonstration purposes, they’re on a board.

Class prep

Mary Byrom encouraged me to create a written class outline and a syllabus, because online teaching is less interactive and responsive than live teaching. This was great advice. I have a six-week syllabus and an outline of what I want to cover in advance. Of course, I am constantly tweaking this based on the needs of my students.

We are almost never going to paint from photos in my class, even if we’re trapped inside. That means my students also have set-up to do. Each weekend, I send them:

  • A link to the upcoming class;
  • A description of what I want them to set up for their still life.
An composition exercise from a Zoom class.
Meanwhile, I prepare lecture notes and create a slide show. This is generally about twenty slides long, and covers a specific topic. It can include exhibits specifically made for this class or masterworks by others. Despite my writing experience, I’m finding this tricky. It’s way too easy to overload students with information.

I demo specific points about painting, but I generally don’t demo every week. If that’s all we offer, students are better off buying an instructional video than taking a class.

I don’t like to do long demoes, but I do demonstrate specific points and skills as we go along.

Class structure

In a live class, people usually show me their homework when they arrive. It’s been an uphill battle to remember to ask for it. After we’ve reviewed last week’s assignments, I go through my planned lecture.

I teach a specific painting protocol, so most of the class is watching people execute that protocol while incorporating that week’s lesson. I go round-robin through the class, just as I’d walk around my studio. I look at each person’s work, make suggestions, and then move on to the next person. The downside to Zoom is not having the time to stand there thinking. The upside is that others in the class can look and comment on what’s being shown. Often, my students are more insightful critics than me.

Class size

I generally limit my classes to twelve people in real life, so I’ve done that with these Zoom classes as well. It seems a natural limit that works well for me.

How do you teach effectively with Zoom?

What techniques have you devised to make online learning more effective?
Sometimes it rains, by Carol L. Douglas

Yesterday, I taught my second class by Zoom. I found a format which I thought would work better than my usual one-on-one teaching model. This was a variation on the paint-and-sip model (minus the wine; it was morning) where the teacher leads the class through a painting and everyone ends up with more or less the same result.

I’m no fan of paint-and-sip, it’s entertainment, not painting class. (Here’s a tale of what happens when you let a real artist loose at one.) I didn’t ask my students to use the same reference photo. Instead, my instructions were relaxed—everyone had to paint evergreens of some sort.
Bunker Hill Overlook, watercolor on Yupo, by Carol L. Douglas
I completed each step of a painting and my students followed. Then I looked, round-robin, at their work, to see if they’d completed that step satisfactorily. In terms of class dynamics, it was fine; technically, it had shortcomings.
The first is that I had to choose one medium or the other. Without a cameraman, I couldn’t easily flip between watercolor and oil setups. That’s not great in an all-media class.
The Dugs in Autumn, by Carol L. Douglas
The biggest issue we faced is the size of the screen. If people have iPads or laptops handy, I think they’ll work better than their phones. I’m using my phone because it can be mounted on a tripod. But that means that most paintings I’m looking at are only a few inches across. We can talk about issues like composition at that scale, but not about brushwork, marrying edges, or paint application. The lighting is bad in most home studios. That means I can’t see color accurately.
I felt like I was touching on only about half the subjects I normally do. Color theory and composition are important parts of painting, but they aren’t the whole picture.
Rising Tide at Wadsworth Cove, by Carol L. Douglas
I’ll tinker this week to figure out if I can monitor the Zoom session from my laptop while broadcasting from my phone. Or if I can feed the video from a separate camera. Luckily, my son has finally made it home from his long exodus back from university. At that age, technology is in their sinews.
I have figured out that bigger props are better. I replaced my sketchbook with charcoal and newsprint for the composition phase. I painted a 12X16 demo; that’s a huge 3-hour painting but it wasn’t large enough. Next week, I’ll drag in a 24X30 canvas. That will help students see better. And I’ve learned that any props I need must be assembled in advance.
And here was my demo painting. I was most surprised when a Maine painter friend immediately identified it as Barnum Brook Trail at Paul Smith’s College Visitor Information Center. She then showed me a painting she’d done of it!
Having students mute their mikes when not speaking turns out to be a two-edged sword. It keeps the screen focused on the speaker. At the same time, it quells the commentary and criticism that’s so important in a small painting class. I think my students usually learn as much from each other as from me, and I’m sorry to see our interchanges become so formal.
One advantage of this online class was that I was able to invite two teacher-painter friends to join us: David Broerman from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Chrissy Spoor Pahucki, from Goshen, NY. Usually, at this time of year they’re cracking the whip on teenagers with spring fever. It was a special treat to have them with us. That’s something to build on.
I’m interested in how you’re teaching and learning long-distance. That goes not only for workshop teachers and students, but for public school teachers, university professors, students, and those of you taking frequent online meetings. What techniques have you devised or mastered to make this easier or more effective?

Winnowing time

A visit to a virtual middle-school classroom is the perfect antidote to latent depression.

Hiking boots and toilet paper, by Carol L. Douglas. This still life could be my current self-portrait.
After a Zoom conversation that mentioned birding, my Facebook feed was filled with birding suggestions. Several people insisted that I was experiencing confirmation bias, the tendency we all have to interpret situations in a way that confirms our own beliefs, experiences, and ideas. In other words, I was just noticing ads that had been there all the time.
One area in which we all suffer confirmation bias is the area of stress and grief. A recently-bereaved person feels other, smaller shocks acutely. A depressed person is hypersensitive to the ‘heartache, and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to.
Tin foil hat, by Carol L. Douglas. Or perhaps this is my current self-portrait.
Right now, western culture is in a state of heightened stress and grief. Much has been lost, even by those who have not directly experienced illness or death in the current pandemic. Our jobs, our activities, and our economic and social freedom are curtailed. We’re all keenly feeling the ‘slings and arrow of outrageous fortune.’ Is this just confirmation bias, or are there in fact a lot of things going wrong right now?
As a natural introvert, I’m not finding the isolation difficult. Instead, I’m cycling through my own problem: the as-yet-undiagnosed gastric ailment I brought home from Argentina. It incapacitates me for periods of about 48 hours and then disappears for several days. When I’m in its grip, I’m reminded of the black dog that lurks just outside my tent. My father and his mother both died of depression, and my mother attempted suicide at the end of her life. I escape depression, in part, by keeping myself frenetically busy.
This is a real self-portrait, drawn twenty years ago when I was in the midst of my cancer treatment.
That’s learned behavior. Hard work was how my parents kept depression at bay until they were too old to outrun it. However, we all get tired eventually, and I’ll be no exception. Addressing this question has been on my to-do list for a number of years, but it’s only when illness knocks me down that I remember it. The problem is, of course, that there’s no easy answer. Nor does faith provide insulation against pain and decline. As Hebrews 9:27 cheerfully notes, we’re all appointed once to die.
Meanwhile and more immediately, there’s the question of how to revitalize my current business practice. Yesterday I taught my first Zoom class. My usual practice is to move from student to student, contemplate each painting, talk with the artist about what he’s doing, and then make suggestions. This is difficult on video, because people can either look at their phones or have them pointed at their canvases, but not both.
Buffalo Grain Mills, by Carol L. Douglas. Like my home town, I’m worn.
On the other hand, in the classroom, the dialogue is mainly between me and each individual student. Because my Zoom students had to turn their work to the screen to show it to me, it made class more of a streaming critique session. That was surprisingly more helpful than a ten-minute critique at the end of each class. It gives me something to build on for next week.
I made a guest appearance in Chrissy Pahucki’s virtual middle school art class at Goshen Central School in New York. Initially, I had trouble finding my way around Google Meet, but kids are not only naturally adept at technology, they’re courteous in guiding adults.
But kids can always make me smile. Photo courtesy of Chrissy Spoor Pahucki.
Chrissy expected they would ask questions for twenty minutes. It went on for twice that long, and I’m not sure they were finished when we finally pulled the plug. Pre-teens and teenagers are among my favorite people on the planet: they’re cheerful, innocent, inquisitive—the perfect antidote to creeping nihilism.

Night sky

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

The maddest, gladdest event of my year

Partying cuts into my painting time, but I’m willing to make the sacrifice.
It’s going to be called Little Toot, if I can find enough time to finish painting the boat in at the top left.
Castine Plein Air is always fun. I see my friends who live here, and many painter friends. Among them is Ben Pahucki, the son of painter Chrissy Pahucki. For years, Chrissy has been bringing her kids to events. This year, Ben took first place in his age group at Easton Plein Air. That’s a stellar accomplishment.
Of course, those of us who’ve watched him grow up are very interested in where he’ll end up. It may be gossip, but we’re talking about him when he’s not around.
Like most young people, he’ll be under strong social pressure to do something other than art—not from his parents, but from educators and his peers. There’s a pernicious lie in our culture that artists can’t make a living. I hear it often when I’m outside working. I just smile and say, “you’d be surprised.”
Laura Martinez Biancotold me a wonderful story from her teaching days. Her principal challenged her about encouraging kids to go to art school. “You were a science teacher, right?” she asked. “Tonight, we’ll each go home and draw up a list—you of people you know making a living in science, me of people I know making a living in art. We’ll see whose list is longer.” The next day, he forfeited. Even though we (properly) emphasize the STEM curriculum, very few people make a living in pure science.
Water Street, by Carol L. Douglas
Last year, I was painting on Battle Avenue when Laura stopped to talk. Her phone had been ringing incessantly while she was trying to work. Finally, she gave in and answered it. It was a call to tell her that she was going to be a grandmother. We both cried. This year, I got to see photos of her grandson, now six months old. I teared up again.
I’ve had dinner with Kirk Larsen and Kirk McBride two nights in a row. That’s because our hosts have taken it in turn to feed us. Since both hosts are good friends of mine, I’ve enjoyed myself immensely.
“Do you guys all know each other?” I was asked. In fact, that’s much true. The plein air circuit is a bit like professional rodeo. There are lots of people doing one or two events, but the core group see each other over and over every season. I’ve known some of these painters for twenty years.
My host and I were unsure whether this was the event’s sixth or seventh year. Since it marks the start of our friendship, I was keen to know. I asked organizer Don Tenney as he stamped artists’ boards on the Common on Thursday morning.
“Seven,” he answered. “You can tell how long it’s been by how much Ben Pahucki has shot up in height,” he said.
Kirk Larson, who was in line in front of me, smiled wryly. “We’ve known that kid since…” and he made a rocking motion with his arms. It’s a slight exaggeration, but most of us have watched all three Pahucki kids grow up.
All this partying cuts into my painting time, of course, but I’m sanguine about it. I don’t get to see my Castine friends that often, and one painting more or less isn’t going to break my career. In the end, friendship is infinitely more precious.

Sorry this post was late, but I had no internet this morning and had to get painting.

The working artist survives through cooperation

Perhaps a little less plumage and a little more truth might build more cooperation in the workplace. You first.
Parrsboro marshes, by Carol L. Douglas
I wish I could get the timing right on Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival. Last year, I was a day late because I was teaching watercolor aboard American Eagle. This year I’m not quite so behind, but my husband has a medical procedure this morning. I’ll miss the opening reception where they stamp our boards.
I asked painter Stephan Giannini if he’d bring my boards up to Nova Scotia with him. He’ll hand them off to Poppy Balser, who’ll take them to the cottage we’re staying in. Neither Poppy nor Stephan hesitated when asked. “I’m going right by your house anyway,” said Stephan. I left my studio open so he could collect them while I was teaching elsewhere.
Parrsboro low tide, by Carol L. Douglas
I find myself asking for or offering help all the time. Bobbi Heath and I have shared driving, and I’ll be staying with her at Cape Elizabeth’s Paint for Preservation next week. Poppy will stay at my house while I’m at my residency in July. Meanwhile, she finished a birch panel for me to use this week. Then there was the memorable and fun night Chrissy Pahuckiand I headed out into the mountains to rescue Crista Pisano, and then ended up with an almost-flat tire ourselves.
Cooperation among artists is born of necessity. Most circuit-riding plein air painters operate on very slim margins. The amenities found in other industries—hotels, travel upgrades, couriers, etc.—would eat away at our profitability. We’ve learned to travel austerely and rely on each other when we can.
Parrsboro below Ottawa House, by Carol L. Douglas
I’m always impressed that the same artists who are in direct competition with each other for prizes and sales can remain so collegial. Kvetching about the judging is a time-honored sport, but the artists who win prizes are usually people you know and like.
I see cooperation in my classes, too. Yesterday, I had my students paint lupines, which range from white to pink to blue-violet. I’d decided against bringing dioxazine purple to amp up their mixes. As I walked from easel to easel, I noticed that pigment appearing on more and more palettes. Those who had it were sharing it around, just as they shared different insect repellants in a vain attempt to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
Yesterday’s painting class on Beauchamp Point.
Long-term cooperation is not possible without trust. Trust is fragile, and to be “trusting” and “trustworthy” are not the same thing at all. As most parents eventually figure out, the best way to get others to be trustworthy is to trust them in the first place. We have a deeply-engrained need to reciprocate good for good and bad for bad—in short, to act like friends.
But we live in a society that is—frankly—wealthy enough to dispense with trust. We’re socialized into being great liars, hiding behind images of beauty, affluence, success, and invincibility. We have been told that this is what sells our product and, indeed, our very selves.
The working artist doesn’t have that luxury, at least not on the road. We’ve all seen each other in our old, paint-spattered cars, wearing our paint-spattered jeans. (“We’re taking up a collection to buy you some new clothes,” Captain John Foss told me last week.)
Perhaps a little less plumage and a little more truth might build more cooperation in the workplace. You first.

Reality show

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

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

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

No gas in the tank

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

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

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

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

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

This has not been one of my better days

It only takes a moment to change your frame of reference.
Down the Reach, by Carol L. Douglas
My father said, “This has not been one of my better days” nearly every day. When I’m having a difficult time, I tell myself that. Then I laugh, remembering that all discomfort is relative. That invariably restores my good humor.
I was hot on the trail of a painting and refused to stop for anything. My pal Berna brought me scones and coffee in the morning. Chrissy Spoor Pahucki and her son Ben brought me cake in the afternoon. Still, I should have taken a break. I stumbled around in the wind and sun breaking things. I tore the end off my tube of ultramarine blue. I broke my framing gun for the second time. I was a filthy mess myself and got blue paint all over a frame. In trying to clean it off, I scoured the frame corners raw. As I fumbled, the wind blew my umbrella into my painting. Yes, it was one of those days.
I’m usually pretty mellow about problems, but I was incandescent, ready to take easel, paints and brushes to the cove and dump them in. A car pulled up. It was an old friend with whom I’ve painted and shared digs at Adirondack Plein Air.
“This has not been one of my better days.” I told her, but this time saying it didn’t help.
Tom Sawyer’s fence, by Carol L. Douglas.

“I was painting something really good,” she responded. “But my phone kept going off. Finally, I checked and the calls were from my new daughter-in-law. They’ve only been married a month.”

We love our families, but we don’t necessarily want to talk to them when we’re working. It’s hard to answer the phone when you’re covered in goop. They generally don’t call unless it’s an emergency, so I completely understood her worry as she looked at her screen.
“She wanted to tell me she’s pregnant,” she explained. I had to laugh, because I fully appreciated what was going through my friend’s head.
“That’s wonderful,” she was thinking, along with, “Now hang up and let me finish this blasted painting.” Well, the painting didn’t happen; instead she burst into tears. Mazel tov, Grandma!
Jonathan Submarining, by Carol L. Douglas. The kids raced around in their 420s while Poppy Balser and I stood in the surf painting. It was a magical day.
That completely restored my good humor. I went home and had dinner with two teenage boys and their grandmothers. One of them modeled in the best painting I ever did at Castine, Jonathan Submarining. That day, he was a little kid bouncing around on heavy seas. Just a blink of an eye, and he’s now a young adult, teaching in the same sailing school.
“You’ve gotten so old,” Berna exclaimed.
“It’s a good thing they don’t say that to us,” I laughed. Castine may be Brigadoon in many ways, but even here, time doesn’t stand still. It’s a reminder that the work will keep; treasure the ones you love.

Online holiday marketing for artists

What’s shifting in 2017 holiday marketing? A lot, especially with email.

Off Marshall Point, by Carol L. Douglas. This is for sale in Chrissy Pahucki’s new venture, pleinair.store.

If you sell paintings, you’re in retailing. And if you’re in retailing, you’ve probably learned by now that holiday sales are an important part of your business. While all retailing sees a jump during the holiday selling spree, the jewelry sector posts more than a quarter of its annual sales during the holidays. That’s important because jewelry sales and painting sales have much in common. They’re both luxury items, and their value is primarily aesthetic.

For a decade, seasonal spending outpaced the US economy, meaning we were concentrating our money more in that one-month period. Then, in 2016, something changed. Seasonal sales were down, except for automobiles and gasoline.
One year does not a trendline make, but I’ve noticed a few things this year. The absurd deals that created Black Friday culture weren’t in my Thanksgiving newspaper (which cost $4, by the way). Retailing is in a major meltdown right now, with bricks-and-mortar stores closing in the face of new consumer trends.
Tilt-a-Whirl, by Carol L. Douglas. This is for sale in Chrissy Pahucki’s new venture, pleinair.store.
But the thing that really hit home was the abuse of my in-box over the past week. I’ve been deleting a few hundred email ads a day without even opening them. I receive multiple, similar offers from the same vendors. They’re all companies I like and have purchased from, but they’ve created a wall between me and the emails I need to see. In other words, they’ve tipped email into a black hole as a marketing strategy.
How does an artist make his or her voice heard in that cacophony? The short answer is, we can’t. I’m only looking at mail from my close friends and business associates right now, so if you sent me a seasonal special offer, it was deleted without opening.
Glen Cove Surf, by Carol L. Douglas. This is for sale in Chrissy Pahucki’s new venture, pleinair.store.
Artists must watch retailing trends carefully. It’s not enough to understand what others are doing now, we have to understand what others plan to do. I watched a webinar recently about creating an email marketing funnel. This is an advertising concept that converts brand awareness to sales. Like every other one-person shop, I could be a lot better at it.
The presenter taught us how to collect email addresses and then qualify and refine information about the buyer. That was fine, but it ignores a basic reality: people sent and received 269 billion emails per day in 2017. With all that chatter—and it’s so much cheaper than snail mail—it’s almost impossible for your message to stand out with any clarity.
Marginal Way, by Carol L. Douglas. This is for sale in Chrissy Pahucki’s new venture, pleinair.store.
In the end, on-line sales will have created new and different problems from the ones they seemed to fix. As always, the muscle will lie with the big marketers that have the time and talent to tinker with new strategies, not with sole proprietors like us.
What’s a poor artist to do? First, realize we’re not alone in this. Every small retailer faces the same problem. From my vantage point, we do the same things we’ve always done: reach out to regular customers, create opportunities to buy, and carefully analyze the competition’s marketing strategy. Above all, we have to be open to new ideas, which is why I’m trying out Chrissy Pahucki’s new venture, pleinair.store.
And somehow, we need to find time to paint.