Yankee stories

In the midst of crisis, new traditions are created.

Soft September Morning, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas, was a painting commission.

This week, I drove south to deliver a painting. The client is a redoubtable Yankee lady: straight, strong and smart. Her home is a classic Yankee house. It started as a tiny Victorian cottage and grew pell-mell over the generations.

We got talking—as women do—about the holidays. She had ordered a 28-pound turkey for Thanksgiving. Her family is close, and she normally sets a magnificent table using her grandmother’s linens and her best flatware and dishes.

Fallow field, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas, is available for investment.

Then COVID got worse and our restrictions grew tighter. A 28-pound turkey between two older people is as close to eternity as one wants to get, and she barely outweighs that bird. However, she was obliged. So, she cooked her traditional Thanksgiving feast anyway, and carefully boxed it up. “I had a chart telling me which package went with what so that everyone had enough for dinner and for leftovers,” she said. At the appointed time, her family drove in and collected their Thanksgiving dinners. “The kids were so happy to see their cousins,” she said, “even out in the driveway.”

And—bam—in the midst of crisis, a new tradition is created. “Remember the year we had Drive-Thru Thanksgiving?” those kids will recall as they themselves morph into redoubtable old Yankees. And they’ll remember their resourceful, optimistic, loving grandmother.

Tête-à-tête, by Carol L. Douglas, was a commissioned painting.

From there I went to another client. She had to move in a hurry and bought her new house in a sellers’ market. There were a lot of expensive repairs. The painting I delivered is of her old home, and it will have pride of place because she misses it. But she believes God has placed her there ‘for a reason and a season,’ as we evangelicals are wont to say. She sent me along with a jar of homemade applesauce.

My little dog occasionally needs a stop, so we found a dog park along the way. There was one other human there. She told me she’s planning on buying a van and hitting the road when her only child starts college next fall.

“I haven’t been anywhere for 18 years,” she said. She must have been a very young mother, because she barely looked much over 18 herself. I suggested her son might want a room to come home to, but she’d already thought of that. “His grandparents live here, and they have a room for him, and for me,” she said.

Midsummer, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas, is available, and it’s a statement piece; it’s large.

Why not? If not now, when? I’ve traveled and camped alone and I recommend it. The bears are unlikely to bother you and the human predators prefer easier pickings. The message she’ll send her son is powerful—you can chart your own course in this world.

I don’t often talk about paintings as investments, but this year has got me thinking about diversification. Like many Americans, my husband and I don’t have pensions. Our retirement savings are invested in mutual funds. The stock market has had a great run, but now I’m thinking about diversifying my own portfolio.

Art is a very illiquid asset. You’re not going to sell it quickly to make a buck, and you should only invest in it if you know something about art to start with. Having said that, the global art boom is here to stay. Worldwide art sales surpassed $67 billion last year. That’s an objective measure of value.

The great beauty of art is that you get to enjoy it while it appreciates (which is not true of my IRA). That means you don’t have to feel self-indulgent if you buy a painting; it may be the best thing you ever did for your heirs.

Lonely children, beautiful art

A day painting a mural with kids reminds me of how precious friendship is.

Joe Anna Arnett painting with two girls in Pecos, NM.

Jane Chapin bought a beautiful but worn adobe building in Pecos last winter. Her goal is to create a new Art Center for the town. This will be a place where kids can get more art education than they do in school. The art center will also be a base for adult painting workshops.

Regular readers may remember Jane as the organizer of our trip to Argentina in March. She’d planned to paint a mural with schoolkids in Buenos Aires at the end of that trip. They would work from artwork done by the Pecos kids. In return, she’d bring back artwork from Argentina that would become a mural in Pecos. This cross-cultural effort collapsed with the world shutdown from COVID-19.

My students pitched in too. Here’s Jeannie Cole working with a young lady named Mariah. (Photo courtesy of Linda DeLorey.)

Normally, art centers take a percentage of tuition as their fee from instructors. As Jane sketched it out, the new art center would work differently. We teachers would teach our workshop and then do a project with the local kids as our contribution. I don’t often teach kids, but I like them just fine. I was looking forward to working with them.

Then COVID-19 hit, and the whole world ground to a halt. The county dragged out the process of issuing permits. Building renovations are still only half finished.

New Mexico imposed draconian limitations on visitors, so that hotels and B&Bs were essentially closed. My workshop only happened by the grace of God and the graciousness of Jane and her husband, who moved the whole operation to their home in the mountains above town.

Jane and a few of her minions.

As of last week, the Pecos school district was doing remote learning only. This is absurd: to date, all of San Miguel County has had 103 cases and no deaths from COVID. This is a remote, rural, poor community, with some 30,000 people spread out over 4700 square miles of mountainous terrain. That means lousy or non-existent internet and cell-phone service. And it means extended isolation for these kids, who haven’t been in school since the end of March.

Jane gamely changed the mural project so she could salvage something for these kids. Instead of an exchange with Buenos Aires, she would have the Pecos kids paint their own images on the walls of the Pecos Art Center. She transcribed the drawings to the walls, and worried that nobody would show up.

But they did, and both kids and parents were enthusiastic. There were enough volunteers, including artists Joe Anna Arnett, Lisa Flynn, Gail Ewing, and two of my students, Jeannie Cole and Linda DeLorey. We were able to work very closely with the kids, and most of the mural got painted. It’s lovely, a sign of promise and hope.

Not finished, but most of the way there.

But the greatest joy of that day turned out to be the simplest thing. We watched these youngsters play together, chatter, run around and simply have fun. Their happiness was palpable. They’ve been lonely. One mother admitted to me that she’d allowed her daughter’s best friend a socially-unsanctioned sleepover, because the girls have been so sad. I lived in the country. I know that kids who ride the bus do most of their socializing in school.

I left shaking my head at the utter stupidity of adults. Kids don’t die from COVID. While they could bring it home to their families, the chances are pretty remote in a place like this. Yes, children are resilient, but it’s creating completely unnecessary hardships for them.

I’m sorry for skipping Monday’s post. I got in at 2 AM, and there was nothing left in my tank.

“The first time I felt normal in a long time.”

If you’re depressed or anxious right now, for heaven’s sake, turn off your laptop and TV.

Jane Chapin with my new dog, Guillo (short for Guillermo and pronounced Gee-zho).

There’s a small hamlet here that’s a New Mexican Brigadoon, a tiny community that time forgot. It’s otherworldly, like a set from a movie. Modest adobe houses are set on a bluff overlooking a verdant valley. The dogs and the people are generous and friendly.

This is one of my favorite places, where I could paint the rest of my life in contentment. That’s a fairly high bar, since I’ve painted in many of the world’s beauty spots.

Yesterday I shared this place with the six students in my Pecos workshop. It’s a well-earned reward, because I’m working them harder than I’ve ever worked students before. On Monday, we did a day-long joint project where I demoed step-by-step in watercolor and oils. They followed along, duplicating my processes exactly. On Tuesday, we threw color theory into that mix. All six of them draw well, so they’re able to keep up.

Mary Silver working on values. It’s all about that base.

Yesterday, they were spread out along a dusty track running from the road back to the morada, which is the meeting house of New Mexican penitentes. As is my usual technique, I spent much of the day going from person to person, working one-on-one. This creates the opportunity for intimate conversation (and is why so many of my students have become lifelong friends).

“This is the first time I’ve felt normal in a long time,” two of them told me independently of each other. Those within earshot heartily agreed with them. We’re in a place that’s anything but normal. Our group is disparate, with students from students from Texas, Missouri, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Maine. I had to ask them what made them feel normal.

Jean Cole with our ride. And here I thought I had overdone it by getting a full-size truck.

It’s being in a group and not wearing masks, they thought. I suspect they’re right. Human beings are primarily social animals. We read each other through body language and facial expressions as much—or more—than with our words. Here we can talk and laugh, and we needn’t worry overmuch about whether we’re maintaining a proper two-meter separation (as if there was any science behind that rather arbitrary number).

But there’s more to it than that. We’re also in a media blackout. One thing I like about painting here (and in Acadia, and Alaska and Patagonia and other remote places) is that I don’t have cell-phone reception. I’m not seeing the news or looking at Facebook. Here I can’t even take a phone call. If you want me, text me and I may see your message by the end of the day.

Linda DeLorey and Jean Cole painting in Paradise.

That means we haven’t talked or thought about COVID-19 all week. And there’s a lesson in that—if you’re depressed or anxious right now, for heaven’s sake, turn off your laptop and TV. Go for a walk in this crystalline September air. Play with a puppy. Do anything that involves your real community and doesn’t involve the whole generalized human condition. It’s what’s around you that’s real, not what the talking heads keep telling you.

A student asked me whether we are going to have safe-distancing accommodations at Sea & Sky this year. The answer is yes. For this year only, everyone gets their own apartment. However, if you’re coming from Massachusetts or any other supposedly high-risk state, you will need a negative COVID test to stay at Schoodic Institute. (Of course, that too may change by October.)

Last but certainly not least, I’m going to do a free cocktail-hour webinar on October 2, where I’ll talk about objectives in studying painting. Everyone is welcome, and I hope you bring lots of questions.

Loss and love

We think of it as a political problem but every single coronavirus death in America is, first and foremost, a personal tragedy.

My late Aunt Mary, painted a long time ago by me.

I’m in Buffalo for a memorial service. My uncle was in fine fettle when I was in Argentina in March, texting me about my trip. A few days later, he was dead. Yes, I’m aware that he had lived a rich, full life, but that is small consolation for the sudden loss of someone I loved very much.

My cousins endured their father’s death in the worst parts of the epidemic, separated and unable to comfort him or each other. They’re no strangers to loss; their mother (my aunt Mary) died the day before her sixtieth birthday. I am comforted by the idea that my aunt and uncle are reunited now, along with the infant son they lost so many years ago.

Like my whole extended family, my uncle was a committed Catholic Democrat. I’m sure he was puzzled when I ended up a born-again Reagan Republican. But that was never a factor in our relationship. It puzzles me when people use politics or religion as an excuse to fight with their families.

Grain Elevators, Buffalo, by Carol L. Douglas. The waterfront in my hometown looks so much better than when I painted this. I really should teach a workshop there sometime soon.

A friend sends me videos every day criticizing our government’s response to coronavirus. I delete them without responding. The last emperor to be criticized for his response to plague was Pharaoh, and that was by his escaped Hebrew slaves; his subjects certainly didn’t mention it. Was the Emperor Justinian castigated for allowing bubonic plague into Europe, or Edward III deposed because he didn’t prevent the Black Death?

Mankind’s historic understanding has been that there are only two possible tools against plagues: prayer and science. The Ghost Map is an excellent read about the origins of epidemiology. In 1854, people were more interested in containing cholera than blaming their political opponents for its rise.

First ward, Buffalo, oil with cold-wax medium on gessoed paper, by Carol L. Douglas

Still, there are questions that require communal response. What we do with kids in a few weeks’ time, when they’re supposed to return to their classrooms? How do we protect our elderly? Perhaps both of these questions really point up that we have gotten a little too reliant on large institutions.

None of my kids were born in Buffalo, but they are all traveling back to pay their respects to a man I loved. I’m very touched by this. Last night I went for a walk with my oldest grandchild. He may be only five, but he has insights into complex concepts. If he never spends another day in a classroom, he’ll be fine. Both parents are engineers and quite able to teach him all the way up through multivariable calculus.

When my mother started kindergarten, she did not speak English. Her own mother was illiterate. Public school was a lifeline and the way out of poverty for my mother and her siblings. The same is true of my goddaughter, whose parents are Chinese-speaking former refugees. We have record-high levels of immigrants in the US today. They need public school. The same is true of native-born kids whose parents didn’t have good educations. We must find ways to teach them.

I’ve watched many small businesses close this year. Many of them were already struggling. Lockdown was the coup de grace that brought them down. This is economic pruning. It may yet prove to be a healthy thing for our economy, just as the Black Death ultimately resulted in the end of serfdom in Europe. I remind myself of that every day. Crisis is opportunity. Either we adapt, or we retire from the field.

But all of that is political. Every single coronavirus death in America is, first and foremost, a personal tragedy. This weekend, I’ll be thinking of my uncle and what a fine man he was, and how immeasurable a loss his death is to me, and to a whole community.

Necessity is the mother of invention

You might think artists have little to offer when people are concerned about building deep pantries. But the need for comfort, inspiration, and beauty are always there.

Inelegant? Of course. Effective? We’ll see. It’s better than sitting around wringing my hands.

Last winter I made the decision to stay home in Maine and run a gallery out of my studio in Rockport. I bought a full-page ad in the Maine Gallery Guide, devised a schedule of revolving shows, and put up picture hanging rails. Then American retail collapsed.

There’s no foot trade here or anywhere else. On the other hand, all the plein air events I would have done have been canceled or gone virtual. There’s no point in second-guessing my decision. All I can do is keep asking myself what I can do to make viewing art easier for my clients.

Visitors to Maine are now subject to a 14-day quarantine. Retail establishments are just starting to open now, with very stringent rules. Even if that weren’t the case, I don’t want people in my studio-gallery. It’s attached to my home.

It’s a work in progress. Today’s task is reworking the ladder sign so it’s more readable.

I never thought I’d be grateful for the years I spent hawking paintings at art festivals, but the experience has sure come in handy. Setting up an outdoor display has been trial-and-error and it isn’t perfect. The awning over our driveway is shorter than my walls, and there’s no way to angle them.

I learned this the hard way. The wind on the coast is ever-present.  Yesterday was very breezy. I set up the walls to see how they’d fare before I put paintings on them. They did just fine—until the art was added. It created a sail. That was an expensive mistake.

Oops.

Today will be another test, because I can’t tell if it’s going to rain or not. With 5000 miles of inlets and coves on the Maine coast, it’s impossible to predict what will happen when moisture-laden clouds cross from land to sea. My tear-down last night took just seven minutes. That’s far faster than I ever managed on the road, because I can just wheel the walls into the garage.

If this works, I might just replace my old festival tent, which I gave away last year.

The Wall Street Journal recently wrote about Wegmans’ response to COVID-19. Wegmans is my hometown grocery store, now gone superstar.  As a privately-held business, they can react creatively and quickly without having to answer to shareholders. Their response boils down to common sense. They figured out that their customers’ biggest concerns were safety and security. They changed their merchandise to meet those needs. Gone were the gourmet sauces and food tastings; in were ten-pound bags of pasta.

Eventually I realized that the weights on festival tents are to prevent them from going airborne; the problem here is stopping the walls from twisting. Hooking them to the garage solved that.

You might think artists have little to offer in a world where people are concerned about building deep pantries. But the need for comfort, inspiration, and beauty are always there, perhaps never more so than when times are difficult. Our challenge is to figure out those needs and how we can best answer them.

How can we make viewing art a pleasant experience when people can’t get to our galleries? The internet will help, certainly, but we are all hungering for continued personal contact without risk. I’m groping through this just as you are; your ideas and thoughts are, as always, appreciated.

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.

Let the good times roll

If you don’t rejoice in the good times, you’ll have no resilience when the bad times come.
Breaking Storm, by Carol L. Douglas. I missed painting American Eagle’s fitout this year because I’m quarantined.
People ask me how I know when a painting is done. “When I’m sick of working on it,” I answer. All creative work is a compromise between our vision and capabilities. This means not just skill but environmental factors. If you doubt that, try singing through a headache.
Our current crisis involves more compromise than usual. Our supply chain is broken in odd ways; that includes some scarcity of art supplies. Carol at Salt Bay Art Supply in Damariscotta told me she runs low on white and black paint first. The white I understand; black, however, is a mystery to me.
Hammond Lumber has been great about accommodating my quarantine, but they can’t send me what they don’t have. That includes color charts. Each time I climb on a ladder to work on my current project, I wince at the state of the crown moulding. It needs paint, but I can’t match the other white in the room without a color chart. It’s difficult, but I’m deferring the trim to some future time.
Cadet, by Carol L. Douglas
I commiserated with two well-known artist friends yesterday. “This has me working twice as hard to look for ways to continue to make a living,” said one. The other has taken a night job to feed his family. “I can still paint during the day,” he said. They both have school-age kids and are making compromises to survive.
We live in a pandemic mindset. In some ways, that’s liberating. There has been blessed silence about some of our previously-consuming passions. Food allergies, the upcoming elections and gender identity are three things I’m happily not hearing about right now.
The bleak, short days of winter seems halcyon in retrospect, even if I didn’t have the Christmas I thought I wanted. It’s a pity that we so often ruin the present with our anxieties. Seizing the day is not just a recipe for overall happiness; it gives us the strength to roll through the bad times when they (inevitably) come.
Flood tide, by Carol L. Douglas
When a mother takes a newborn home from the hospital, she is overwhelmed with physical and mental fatigue. Years later, that isn’t what we remember first; we remember our joy. I’m not sure why the human mind is wired this way, but it’s something we have to work to overcome.
The Black Death was the most devastating pandemic in human history. It killed a third of Europe’s population and around 20% of people worldwide. If you lived through it, it was an unmitigated horror. Yet it ultimately broke the caste economy of the Middle Ages. Serfs could leave the manor and find work, which freed most people from a life no better than slavery. Land prices dropped. Meat consumption rose, because you can raise cattle with fewer hands than you can raise corn. In fact, the plague set the conditions that eventually led to the creation of the middle class.
All of which is to say that not every disaster is an unmitigated disaster. Sometimes, trouble is a way for society to kick off its stays and try something new. What if these turn out to be our Good Old Days?

Be careful what you wish for

One in five houses in Maine is someone’s vacation home. The potential implications of COVID-19 are terrible.

Four Ducks, Cape Elizabeth Paint for Preservation, by Carol L. Douglas

One thing I’ve dreaded doing was striking out upcoming events on my website. As I’ve written before, I think the plein air festival has lost its punch. Because of this, I deleted all but a few key events in 2020. The ones I kept had strong revenues or provided unusual opportunities for painting. Then cancellations started flooding in from organizers rightly worried about promoting events they can’t deliver. Now I’m left with what I’d thought I wanted: a summer where I can concentrate on painting here at home, and where I can run my studio-gallery without interruption.

Of course, I don’t know whether anyone will be able to come. Like everyone else, I have no idea what shape the summer will take. The state of Maine is on lockdown. That’s not irrational: one in five houses in this state is someone’s vacation home, the highest percentage in the nation. That makes us very vulnerable to visiting pathogens.
Ottawa House, Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival, by Carol L. Douglas
But tourism is one of our top economic drivers. In 2018, over 37 million people visited Maine, spending $6.2 billion and supporting 110,000 jobs. The cost of this lockdown, if it continues through the summer months, is incalculable. The cultural costs are being felt already. Our bicentennial was March 15, but the state had to postpone a host of celebrations that have been years in the making.
In the near future, I’ll be teaching painting via Zoom. Teaching via the internet is going to be radically different from teaching in person. I need to figure out new ways to prepare, since we won’t all be looking at the same scene, carefully curated to address a specific issue in painting. The issue isn’t technology; it’s creating projects that are doable in students’ homes.
Ocean Park Beach, Art in the Park, by Carol L. Douglas
I’m kicking myself for not paying more attention to Katie Dobson Cundiff while we were in Argentina. She teaches at Ringling College of Art and Design. Her students were all sent home while they were on spring break. While the rest of us were larking around the glaciers, she was creating a template for remote teaching.
The only analogy in my lifetime was the economic collapse of 2008. My income fell by 2/3 in one horrible year. Both painting sales and classes were way down. My strategy was to stop showing and selling until the market had time to recover. Even my teaching practice was reduced. Instead, I used that time to focus on my own development.
I don’t think the current crisis will have the same shape as the 2008 crash, but I’ll probably do something similar. I’m retracting, watching, and trying to be nimble. And I’m really curious about your ideas.

But first I have to feel better. I’m entering week four of being ill. This morning, I’m breaking my quarantine to drive to my PCP’s office for further testing. If I get arrested, you can send me a file in a cake.

Painting through the dark places

Art has allowed me to look at pain, grief and dislocation obliquely, instead of confronting them head-on.
Carrying the cross, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Rochester, NY.
You may have noticed that I haven’t done much this week. I finally collapsed from the ailment we dragged back from South America. Despite a slew of tests, no pathogen has yet been identified. However, our nurse-practitioner treated the symptoms. I’m almost back in fighting form, albeit very tired. Hopefully, my fellow travelers will recover as quickly.
Yesterday I attended a virtual meeting. One of my fellows, normally a very cheerful woman, was awash with anxiety. “I can’t paint!” she confessed. “I go in my studio and start, and then I go back and turn on CNN.” Later, I asked her if there was anything I could do to help. She elaborated. Her daughter has had COVID-19; she knows a young person currently on a vent and has lost another friend from it. She—like me—is from New York, the epicenter of this disease. That’s where our kids, friends and family are, and there’s nothing we can do to help them.
My heart goes out to her. It’s an awful thing to feel helpless in the face of disaster.
The Curtain of the Temple was Rent, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Rochester, NY.
When we were waiting out our confinement in Buenos Aires, I was thoroughly disinterested in the non-existent landscape. It was not until the end that I decided to start painting what I felt instead of what I saw. That’s not necessarily easy for a realist to do directly (although we’re all doing it indirectly). That’s why I started with the idea of home, and then moved to Blake’s Jerusalemfor inspiration. I could look at my feelings of griefand dislocation obliquely, instead of confronting them head-on.
Twenty years ago, I was asked to do a set of Stations of the Cross for St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Rochester, NY. The request was made in the summer; by September I’d been diagnosed with a colon cancer that had perfed the bowel wall and spread to nearby lymph nodes. I had four kids, ages 11 to 3. My primary goal was to stay alive long enough to see them raised.
Finishing an art project seemed almost frivolous in the circumstances. I was especially disinterested in one that dealt with the horrific events leading up to the Crucifixion. That year was a late Easter, too, so by the time Holy Week arrived, I had a rough version finished, which I delivered in book form. (In some ways, I prefer it to the final Stations, for its very rawness.)
Veronica, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Rochester, NY. And before you correct me, I’m perfectly aware that Veronica is medieval fan-fic, but I think it points to a very human need to ameliorate suffering.
I drew in my hospital bed, from my couch, during the hours of chemotherapy. I wouldn’t have told you I was engaged or enthused in the least. When I was well enough, I arranged a massive photoshoot and took reference photos. The final drawings were finished the following year. They weren’t my best work, I thought, but at least they were done.
And yet, and yet… they’ve been in use for two decades since. And every Holy Week, I get a note from a parishioner telling me how much they appreciate them. I’ve certainly gotten more meaningful mail about them than about any other work of art I’ve ever done.
This year, St. Thomas’—like the rest of Christendom—is shuttered, its people observing the rites from afar. I’m not sure how I’m going to approach Good Friday in a season already penitential in the extreme, but there’s something to be said for routine, ritual, habit and movement. That goes for painting as much as for faith. 
May God bless you this weekend with a radical new way of seeing things, in Jesus’ name, amen.