Monday Morning Art School: gifts at every price point

As ever, these are arm’s length recommendations; I don’t receive a spiff.

Mary Whitney with a Strada micro easel.

Easels: beginners often buy French easels, but please don’t do that. They’re heavy and tough to set up. Instead, choose a smaller, lighter, more efficient easel—the Mabef field painting easel M27. The pivot head makes it useful for both oils and watercolor. It comes with extension arms on which you can set a palette. I’ve had an earlier version of this for two decades. It’s my number one choice for watercolor, and I’m constantly loaning it to new painters.

More advanced painters would love a good pochade box. There are many fine ones on the market, including Open Box M, EASyL, and Strada. If your painter has a nice pochade box but complains about the weight of his kit, consider getting him a carbon-fiber tripod. They’ll need a pivot head and quick-release plate.

A Beauport easel can handle a big canvas. This is 40X40.

Occasionally, one needs a larger easel for the field. The Beauport is a variation of the traditional Gloucester easel. One of my tasks this morning will be to order a replacement, because I finally snapped mine in the wind at Cape Elizabeth this season. But don’t let that mislead you; it’s had decades of hard use. 

Stanrite #500 studio easel is the teaching easel I use in my studio. Aluminum is light, easy to move, and easy to stow. Want a larger version? Try its big brother, the Stanrite #700. These easels get daily use and never need maintenance.

Dorothy Shearn demonstrates the proper use of a sketchbook. The grapefruit tree was a completely gratuitious extra.


Alla prima oil painters use hog bristle brushes; indirect painters use softer brushes. Over the years, Princeton has provided great value for money. In watercolor, their Neptuneline remains my go-to demo brush, even though I have a lot of pricier brushes in my kit. They’ve rebranded their old-reliables as SNAP but the quality remains. Series 9700 is a natural bristle brush made for oil-painting. Series 9800 is a synthetic for oils. Series 9650 is made for watercolor and acrylic.

If you really want to surprise someone with your inside knowledge and impeccable taste, choose Rosemary & Co. brushes for watercolor or oil, or New York Central for oil painting brushes.

Nancy Holland and Gwen Mottice demonstrating proper kit for oil painters at Goodwood Plantation in Tallahassee.

Pigments and paints: QoR watercolor kit: QoR (allegedly pronounced “core”) is a product of Golden Artist Colors, so they’re high-quality paints. I use QoR myself, and for my workshops aboard schooner American Eagle. You can easily buy ready-made sets of 6-12 pigments from any large paint dealer online. For acrylics, I recommend a Golden starter set . For oils, buy Robert Gamblin, Gamblin 1980 (student grade), Winsor & Newton, or Winton (student grade).  It’s harder to make a one-size-fits-all recommendation for pastels, but anything sold by Dakota Art Pastels is a good product.

If your artist has all the paints he thinks he needs, why not surprise him with some gouache? Turner, M. GrahamWinsor & Newton and Holbeinare all good brands.

In every case, less is more. The artist typically needs no more than a dozen colors, and it’s better to get a better brand with fewer pigments than a large assortment of cheap paint.

Sketchbooks: I buy Strathmore 300 series Visual Journals and consume them like candy. They’re available for cheap at my local odd lots store, so don’t overpay at an office supply store. For fast outdoor sketching, I like the Strathmore 400 watercolor series. They’re so affordable, I have no worries about wasting paper.

Miscellany: A Quiller wheel is an indispensable tool for any beginner painter. It tells you where real-world pigments fall on the traditional color wheel. Every oil painter needs a stainless steel airtight brush washer. If your painter is interested in plein air, make sure it’s small and can hang. Brush soapis always useful.

The Aqua Toteis a collapsible water tank/brush holder for water media. Or surprise your painter with a Cotman Compact watercolor set; it can slide into a purse and travel anywhere. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: See Bruce McMillen’s comment, below; I agree with his comment about Cotman. What was I thinking?]

Busman’s holiday

What does a gallerist do on a snow-day? Hang my show, of course.
Dancing Santa, by Carol L. Douglas
Maine Gallery Guide ran this feature about my upcoming studio Open House yesterday. If you like the Maine scene (especially if you live away), you really should subscribe to their newsletter. It’s the single best resource for our state’s art scene. Here’s a link to the sign-up page.
Meanwhile, my husband is fretting about the boxes and bags of stuff littering our house. “You’ve bought at least three times what you need,” he frets. Parties are where my inner Italian, usually tamped firmly down, comes into play. What’s worth doing, is worth doing to excess, I tell myself—and I buy more.
Part of the mess in my dining room.
No shindig is complete without the last-minute household disaster, and ours came in the form of a cracked chimney tile. This created the opportunity to move our woodstove from the kitchen to the dining room, where it has some chance of actually heating the house. We got the bad news two weeks ago and worked fast. Our mason opened the dining room wall last Monday, only to find a copper water line. All work stopped while we looked for a heating specialist to move the pipe.
Luckily, a young friend is coming to do the job on Sunday. Meanwhile, we have a hole in the dining room wall, and the rest of the room is a shambles. Whatever you do, don’t use our back stairs. The contents of our china cabinet are lined up on its treads. That staircase’s primary function is as a laundry chute, so we’re on pins and needles. If we forget, we’ll shatter a lifetime of useless collecting in a single moment.
And more mess. I bought the wine totally for its name.
Yesterday the storm that’s plagued the northeast this week finally showed up in mid-coast Maine. With so few people out, Sandy Quang left work early and stopped here to collect her mail. The poor young gallerist was about to enjoy a busman’s holiday. She spent the afternoon and evening helping me hang my work. She’s much better at it than me, and she has the additional advantage of a fresh eye. By the time we finished, the snow had stopped. It was a beautiful night, the moon shining dimly through the clearing clouds.
Even though the studio is a mess, I took a video of it for Bobbi Heath. “Are you posting that on Instagram?” she asked. No; it’s a mess, and I’m not very good at video. “People love to see the sausage being made,” she countered. She’s right; the two small videos I posted are being watched. Here’s a link and a link if you are also an avid sausage viewer.
Happy New Year! by Carol L. Douglas

Which brings me to my two resolutions for the new year. First, I’m going to learn to take a decent video. Second, I’m going to master my email list. But I’m always conflicted about email.

Yesterday I timed how many emails I was deleting. It was about 15 an hour, all asking me to donate money or to shop. That didn’t include the ones that ended up in my spam folder, which I watch carefully—Bruce McMillan’s very fine Postcard of the Daywas landing there for a while.
You can meet the original of my 4-H Christmas Angel on Saturday. She’s presiding over my tree, as she does every year.
That overload makes me hate the medium. But it’s a necessary evil, I’m afraid, at least until something better comes along.
Meanwhile, I hope to see you—in person—at my studio on Saturday. Here are the details, as if you could possibly forget them:
Carol L. Douglas Studio Open House
Saturday, December 7, 2019
Noon to Five
394 Commercial Street, Rockport

Welcome, you Bright Young Things!

I’m having a studio party on December 7, but there’s a hidden surprise.

Before I moved to Maine, I did studio open houses annually. The house was already cleaned for Thanksgiving and I’d recruit my reluctant kids to help schlep paintings. I’ve since moved from a county with a million people to one with under 40,000. If I throw a party, will anyone come?
I’m sure the answer is a resounding yes, so I’m opening my studio for a good old Jazz Age shindig on December 7 from noon to five. There will be cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and because it’s the holiday season, sweets. And you—my faithful reader and friend—are invited.
Here are the details:
Carol L. Douglas Studio Open House
Saturday, December 7, 2019
Noon to Five
394 Commercial Street, Rockport
If you’re from away, you can get excellent rates at local motels this time of year. (I’d have you all stay over, but my house isn’t that big.) Maine is beautiful every day, so why not experience it on a winter weekend?
Midnight Sail from Camden Harbor, 24X30, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas.

Now, for the secret. 

Have you wanted to get someone (or yourself) one of my paintings but never quite been able to afford one?  I’m offering a few paintings starting this week at steep discounts. These are on a hidden page, which only my readers have access to.

Here’s the link: Hidden Holiday Sale
I’ll be adding discounted paintings four per day from November 8 to November 15 (28 in all). These are discounted 30, 40, 50, even 60% off their list prices. Not only that, but postage to the US and Canada is included.
Hillside farm (The Logging Truck), oil on linen, 16X20, by Carol L. Douglas
Stop back daily, because I’ll be updating them every morning. I won’t start marketing them generally until after November 15. If you want to see them up close, send me an emailand I’ll send you a full-size version of the image.
Why am I doing this? That’s going to be another surprise announcement, but here’s a hint: big changes are in store for 2020 and I need the space. 😉

Schooner or Schoodic?

If you register before Christmas, you’ll get a $50 discount for the schooner workshop or $100 off the price of the Schoodic workshop.
A coastal Maine sunset, courtesy of Claudia Schellenberg.
My daughter Mary once said that what I really wanted for my birthday was for someone to come here and throw things out. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I’m not a collector.
The one thing I can always be suckered into is cooking gadgets. This is odd, because I’m a bad cook.
We fall into the gadget trap when we’re frustrated by our incompetence. A kitchen of beautiful equipment hasn’t made me a cook, and a studio full of lovely brushes won’t make someone a painter, either. A workshop is much better value for money, and it doesn’t take up space.
A schooner gam by dawn in Penobscot Bay. You don’t see that everywhere.

The Age of Sail

June 9-13, 2019 

This was so much fun, we’re reprising it for as long as Captain John Foss puts up with us. We sail with him on the historic schooner American Eagle out of Rockland harbor. This is a leisurely cruise along the Maine coast, sailing where the wind blows and recording our impressions in watercolor journals.
Who knows what you’ll see? I’ve done this trip four times and each one was completely different. The light, the wildlife, and the water are all constantly changing. And I’m going to teach you to catch that in your sketchbooks.
Your materials are all provided, including paints, papers, and the use of brushes. All you do is show up. Non-painting guests are welcome too. The Captain will put them to work, if they want.
Extremely al fresco lobster boil.
The trip lasts four days and includes an evening “gam,” a raft-up of the great schooner fleet of the mid-coast region. That’s an opportunity to see these beasties up close and personal.
American Eagle is a true relic of the great days of sail power, but it’s been updated so you have a comfortable berth, fresh linens, modern heads and a fresh-water shower.
Our meals are cooked up on the original woodstove by the cook and his mate. They’re fantastic. They include a lobster bake, which might be at sea or on an empty island, depending on where we end up.
There’s no place to paint like the coast of Maine. Photo courtesy of Ellen Joyce Trayer
August 4-9, 2019

This is my sixth year teaching from Schoodic Institute. It’s situated right at Schoodic Point, in one of the finest locations in all of Acadia National Park—quiet, unspoiled and dramatic. The Institute was built on the site of an old naval base, so it commands the point. It’s laced with hiking paths. Its use is restricted to educational programs, so there’s none of the hustle and bustle you find elsewhere in the park. And the whole area is wild and undeveloped.
Meals, snacks, and accommodations are included in your fee. This includes a lobster boil by a local fisherman. We do morning and afternoon sessions, I demo during lunch, and then we return to the Institute for quiet camaraderie at night. There’s a critique at the end.
All media welcome. Photo courtesy of Claudia Schellenberg.

If your partner wants to come along, he or she will find ample opportunity to hike, bike, fish, or tour in the immediate area. It’s an outdoorsman’s paradise.

Email me here for more information. If you register before Christmas, you’ll get a $50 discount for the schooner workshop or $100 off the price of the Schoodic one.

Christmas gifts for the artists on your list

Some things I think are invaluable, and a few that I don’t.

Do you have a beginner artist on your list? A good place to start is with a gouache kit and a spiral-bound field sketchbook. This is an inexpensive way to start learning about painting.

Every year, a million knock-off French box easels appear nestled under aspiring artists’ Christmas trees. Don’t buy one if you really love the recipient: they’re heavy, cumbersome, and discouraging. I’d rather see a painter start with a $15 tripod easel and a folding table than with a box easel. I did.
For the watercolor plein air artist, something with a swivel head is the best option. Poppy Balser paints with a Soltek easel; I use a Mabef field easel. En Plein Air also makes a very lightweight sketch easel.
A compass is a good stocking stuffer for the field artist.
For oil painters, a pochade box and tripod is a better option. Guerrilla Painter boxes have flooded the market. If you buy one, keep it small; my large one is too heavy for serious field work. Open M boxes are beautifully-made and very expensive. Good with your hands? Here’s a pochade box I built for under $50; it serves me well and it can be paired with a less-expensive tripod.
If what your artist really needs is a studio easel, I think aluminum mast easels provide good value for money. I use Testrite aluminum mast easels in my teaching studio. If your artist likes to work big, go with their hinged professional model. I’ve had one for decades, and it takes work up to 60” square without complaining. It’s been more reliable than wooden easels in the same price range.
These Panel-Raks are a devilishly clever idea. I should get some for myself and stop using Bobbi’s.
Every field artist can use a few extra wet-panel carriers. I like PanelPak wet canvas carriers and Ray-Mar’s Wet Painting Carriers, which are made of corrugated plastic. An inexpensive but invaluable product for the traveling artist is a wet-drying rack. I find myself using Bobbi Heath’s when we travel together.
An invaluable accessory for oil painters is a stainless steel brush tank with a leak-proof lid. Yes, artists can use glass jars with tightly-screwed lids, but they make a mess in the field. Get a small one for the plein air painter. Cared for properly, it will last a lifetime.
A painter might appreciate the parts to make his or her own watercolor field kit. See below.
Artists never have enough brushes. Watercolor painters would love new brushes by Rosemary & Co. Although a British-based company, they ship fast and reasonably in the United States. I normally buy Robert Simmons Signet Chungking bristle brushes for oils.
If your pastel artist is still juggling loose boxes of pastels, why not splurge and get him a traveling box? I have an earlier version of the Dakota Traveler, which I love. The Roz Box has its fans as well. Silicone Colour Shapers out-perform tortillons and stumps for blending.
In our house, Santa doesn’t bring presents, but he does fill stockings. He always remembers sketch books. I like Strathmore’s Visual Journals with smooth Bristol paper and #2 mechanical pencils, but you can scale that up or down as your budget requires. You might add micron pens if your list includes teenagers.
Artists love to experiment. How about a set of sumi-e brushes and some ink?
I have a Winsor Newton Cotman watercolor pan set for when I’m traveling pared-down. Dedicated watercolorists love to create their own pan sets. Anyone would be thrilled to get this Schmincke empty palette set, but if your painter is young and hip, get him just the empty half-pans, some double-sided tape and a few tins of Altoids. Pair this with a watercolor field book, and he will entertain himself for the rest of the year. If you want to include pigments, here’s my guide to watercolor paints.
navigational compass and a cheap (because it will get dirty) business card holder are both useful field tools.
Artists are always trying to figure out new techniques for mark-making. Why not get your artist some sumi-e ink, brushesor bamboo pens to really mix it up?
Art lessons are always good. Here I’m demoing a few years ago in beautiful Belfast, ME.
And, of course, art lessons are always good. Check at your local art center or museum. Or, send your loved one on my Age of Sailworkshop aboard the schooner American Eagle in June, or my Sea & Sky workshop at Acadia National Park in August. 

Beat the winter blues with a shot of color

“Spring,” by Carol L. Douglas

“Spring,” by Carol L. Douglas
Wind is whipping around the corner of the house this morning. Our bedroom is unheated, so until one of us runs downstairs and stirs up the woodstove, we’re huddling here under a warm woolen blanket.
I’m going to do some on-line shopping until then. Paintings are a popular Christmas gift. On winter days when the sun barely rises and the wind is shrilling outside, it’s easy to see why. Here are a few painters whose work is broad and graphical and who work in bright, warm palettes. All of them have work in every price point, and they’ve made shopping easy by having good, clear websites.
“York River, Maine,” by Mary Byrom

“York River, Maine,” by Mary Byrom
Mary Byrom lives in North Berwick, Maine, and mostly paints the southern Maine coast. She is a great simplifier of complex scenes. That’s possible because she’s outside braving the weather at every possible moment. Her available work is marked on her website. There’s a contact form here if you see something you like.
“Monhegan Memories,” by Renee Lammers

“Monhegan Memories,” by Renee Lammers
Renee Lammers lives in Bucksport, Maine, and her work is centered in Stonington, Acadia, and the northern end of Penobscot Bay. She works on copper. Her work is priced on her website, which is set up for online sales.
“Sparkle,” by Bobbi Heath

“Sparkle,” by Bobbi Heath
Bobbi Heath splits her time between Yarmouth, Maine and Westford, Massachusetts. Right now, she’s donating a percentage of her sale proceeds to the American Cancer Society, so you can not only score a good painting, but do a good deed at the same time. Her website is set up for online sales.
“Point Look-out Barn,” by Elissa Gore

“Point Look-out Barn,” by Elissa Gore
Elissa Gore lives in New York City but often paints in the lower Hudson Valley. Her work is simple and exuberant. Her website is exhaustive, and you can contact her for information about a painting that interests you.
“Sidelot off Pike Street,” by Kari Ganoung Ruiz

“Sidelot off Pike Street,” by Kari Ganoung Ruiz
Kari Ganoung Ruiz was my monitor for my 2014 workshop at Schoodic in Acadia National Park. She lives and works in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, and her color palette is the softer, warmer tones of that area. She is passionate about painting old cars and other vehicles. Her website has prices, and you can contact her about buying work.
And, of course, there’s me. My website isn’t set up for e-commerce, but if you see something you like, let me know, and I’ll put you in contact with the gallery currently showing it. And of course, you can always get yourself or someone else my summer workshop for Christmas. Do so before the first of the year, and you can have $100 off.