Sleepless in Buenos Aires

Coronavirus has the traveling public aware, alert, and concerned… but nobody’s panicking.
Athabasca Glacier, by Carol L. Douglas. This is a Canadian glacier, but I’m looking for its Southern Hemisphere mates.
As of this moment, I have been traveling for 28 hours and am still eight hours short of tonight’s destination. It took me about the same amount of time to get around the world to Australia, but that was just two flights. I’m enjoying the airport hopping, since each one has its own character. But at the end of this, I have to get into a car and drive. Here’s praying for a short nap during my next flight.
The Aerolíneas Argentinas (AA) and Virgin Airlines (VA) counters were side-by-side at Miami. “Try not to mention the war,” my husband whispered. It’s been 38 years since the Falklands conflict, and Fawlty Towers jokes have a scarce and shrinking audience. While my sympathies were with Margaret Thatcher in 1982, they were with the Argentines yesterday. Above their ticket counter, VA advertised an upscale business-class called Upper Class, which offended my inner prole.
Meanwhile, AA did everything right, including a free upgrade to an exit row and two real meals in Turista class. Dinner—served with an Argentinian Malbec—was quite good. Meanwhile, on American carriers, the norm is now seven pretzels and a small glass of soda.
So far, the pandemic precautions have been sensible both in the US and here. At Logan, they were dousing surfaces with isopropyl alcohol. The only point at which I was concerned was in the people-mover at Miami; it was as crowded as a Manhattan subway at rush hour. Both American Airlines and AA had large cleaning crews waiting at the gate. The Argentines collected a health dossier and itinerary for each passenger while we were still in the air. They staged us through customs so we weren’t mixed with planes from Madrid and Rome. Some passengers were pulled aside for extra surveillance. And of course everyone, employees and travelers alike, is dousing themselves with hand sanitizer.
The Argentinians are concerned but calm. I asked an agent whether she was worried. “Yes,” she answered with resignation, “but what can I do?”
The Argentinian soldiers patrolling the terminal are wearing white polo shirts, black trousers and a rakishly-angled beret, cut to flatter. I mentioned to Jane Chapin that they look quite dashing compared to American soldiers. “They don’t get paid anything so they have to look good,” she answered.
Beaver Dam at Quebec Brook, by Carol L. Douglas. You won’t be seeing this painting at an opening on April 2, because of the pandemic. Consider it just another tiny data point in the immense scope of our current disruption.
I’d intended to use this post to announce a show opening in Portland on April 2. Yesterday I received an apologetic note saying the revelry would be delayed due to the pandemic. I’m flattered; Maine Farmland Trust must have expected a large crowd. However, the work is up and ready for viewing at 509 Ocean Avenue in Portland. But in this brave new world, I suggest you call before you go. The number is 207-338-6575.
People keep telling me they’re registering for Ann Trainor Domingue’s June 6 workshop, Uncovering Your Mark. If you’re one of them, I suggest you do it soon, because more people have expressed interest than there are seats remaining. Although the flyer says you can mail a check to me, I suggest you pay Ann directly. If you have questions, you can email Ann hereor me here, although I don’t know when I’ll be in cell-service range. The workshop is strictly limited to twelve, and there will be no exceptions; there’s no more room in my studio.
Before the first juried show KCAS will have an instructor’s show at Studio 9, formerly known as the Art Loft.
Consider applying to Spring Renewal, April 30-June 1. This is the first juried show of the Knox County Arts Society (of which I am the treasurer). You must be a member, but if you summer or live full-time in mid-coast Maine, you should join anyway. Your membership entitles you to a host of benefits including discounted classes, juried show invitations, lectures, get-togethers, and more. Plus, you’re helping to revitalize Rockland’s Art Loft, now known as Studio 9. Contact Karin Strong, membership coordinator, or David Blanchard, president, for more information.
Then go right to the prospectus for Spring Renewal, here, and enter. It’s in the Art Loft, which means you’ll be showing on Main Street in Rockland, one of the hottest art markets in New England. What are you waiting for?

Travel in the age of coronavirus

We live in an age of instant global connection, without filters. That means we’re about to experience pandemic differently than ever before.
Athabasca Glacier, by Carol L. Douglas

Turpenoid, made by Weber, and Gamsol, made by Gamblin, are both odorless mineral spirits (OMS), modern substitutes for turpentine in the oil-painter’s kit. A chance conversation with Kevin Beers last night made me realize that Turpenoid has a flash point of 110-130° F. while Gamsol has a flash point of 144° F. That small difference makes Gamsol safe to fly with, but Turpenoid not.

I received a message from Jane Chapin last night that read, “The office in El Calafate says that our solvent has not arrived, but they will help us. Bring Gamsol.” We and a few other intrepid artists are heading to Argentina tomorrow to paint in Patagoniaand Tierra del Fuegoand a few other places heavy on glaciers, light on trees.
Light snow above the Arctic Circle, by Carol L. Douglas.
Travel always comes with last minute snafus. First among these now is coronavirus. I’ll be through four airports in the next 24 hours. I can’t find hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes anywhere in mid-coast Maine. Luckily, my friend and monitor, Jennifer Johnson, just flew home from Australia. She gave me her stash. It will suffice through to Miami, when Jane can augment my supplies.
Coronavirus is unlikely to be in Tierra del Fuego, but it’s still making me edgy. Will my son be sent home to finish his last college semester through online classes? If so, how will he get here? Will I be locked out of the country or quarantined on my return? The scope of the problem was borne home to me last weekend, when my niece rescheduled her May wedding to September. She’s marrying a Canadian of Asian descent and nobody knows what international travel will look like in two months.
Me, talking to KCAS members, in case you’ve forgotten what I look like. Photo courtesy Jennifer Johnson.
Pandemic is as old as the human race, but today we have decentralized news and powerful social media. As I write this, the death toll from coronavirus in the US is 31—or about 40% as many as have been murdered to date this year in Chicago. But we are intimately aware of each of COVID-19’s victims, because we’ve read about them all. That changes our perception of our own risk.
Still, you can’t live in the fear zone. Human beings are wired to experience negative results more keenly than positive ones, to stop us from doing stupid things that will kill us. This is called our negativity bias, and it results in our thinking that things will go wrong more than they’ll go right. The fewer risks we take, the stronger that belief is. We can become immobilized by the fear of change. The intrepid artist has to work to overcome that, by substituting a positivity bias. I have a simple one: faith in God.
Last night, I spoke to the Knox County Art Society (KCAS) about how negativity bias makes some of us fear outdoor painting excessively. But if I—at age 61—can still go outside and paint in the wild, so can you. “If it doesn’t kill you, get back up and do it again,” I said.
KCAS is the brainchild of David Blanchard of Camden, and it’s grown to eighty members in a year. It’s offering classes, speakers, exhibitions and more. If you’re an artist in Knox County, Maine, you should be a member.
In addition to being the home of one of America’s newest art societies, Maine is home to America’s oldest continuous art society, the Bangor Art Society. It’s time to apply for their 145th anniversary juried show, which will open on May 1. It’s a fun show with a fun reception. Register here.

Why do so many New York artists move to Maine?

It’s a cultural thing, not an economic thing.

Nunda (NY) Farm, pastel, Carol L. Douglas, available.

The President has discovered something that many artists already know: New York is a great place to be from. Last week I was at a meeting of painters in Camden. Turned out that all but one of us are from New York. On Wednesday I went to a potluck supper and ended up chatting with two very recent settlers from Staten Island. You can’t swing a paintbrush here without hitting an expatriate New Yorker.

Here in Rockport, winter temperatures are the same as in my home town of Buffalo. People from New York City and Long Island move three agricultural zones colder when they relocate to the warmest parts of Maine. Inland, Maine hits colds seen in the Adirondack Mountains, a place so inhospitable that native people never wintered there.

Bracken fern, 12×9, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas, available.

This is not a low-tax state, although it’s better than New York. There are many lower-tax states in the Union, and a lot of them are warmer. A tax-refugee or snowbird isn’t likely to put Maine at the top of the list.

Of course, Maine is beautiful. But so is New York.
I blame the culture. Maine is—in my opinion—the only western state in the northeast. It’s not densely-populated, meaning it avoids many stresses of modern life. There are few large employers here, and the idea of self-employment (and self-determination) isn’t scary to kids who grew up with self-employed parents. Many of the young people in my church go into trades, where they can expect to make a good living without a load of college debt.

Nunda (NY) Farm, pastel, Carol L. Douglas, available.

Altogether, that creates an attractive can-do spirit. When I moved here, I was surprised by how many people live off the grid in fairly central communities. They’re content to be in the middle of civilization without engaging with its systems. A friend and her husband have been rebuilding a collapsed farmhouse for several years; suddenly, it’s looking not just habitable but darn smart. Most older homes here have at least a kitchen stove. And people are genuinely thrifty; ask someone on the coast where to buy clothes, and you’re as likely to hear “Goodwill” as the name of a retail store.

New York City is the art-purchasing capitol of the world, but Maine excels in the production of the stuff. Nobody here apologizes for being an artist; there are so many of us that it’s not remarkable.

Beaver Dam, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas, available.

A case in point: about six months ago, the Knox County Art Society was formed around the nucleus of a few members. Today it has fifty members, has mounted several shows, has an ambitious roster of speakers and has spun off special-interest small groups. It’s in the process of incorporating, but until that is finished, it’s being run by Dave Blanchard and an ad hoc group of advisors. Last week, Dave announced that he’ll be the executive director of the Art Loft in Rockland as well, with the idea that the two groups, already running along parallel tracks, will eventually merge.

Dave’s approach has been to start with the big idea (the programming) and see what shakes out, rather than to build the formal, legal structure and then start doing things. That’s a cultural difference, that’s hard for this lifelong New Yorker to grasp. But our goals aren’t getting bogged down in the minutiae of legalism. For me, it’s a great learning experience.

It’s too soon to wipe that painting out!

We’re our own worst critics. A little time and you might realize that painting has flashes of brilliance.

Adirondack Spring, 11×14 in a cherry frame, will be available through a fundraiser for the Gerhardt Neighborhood Outreach Center on October 17. This is a mission that provides medical care, job training, after school care and more to the residents of North Rochester, and one I’m delighted to support. If you’re interested in my work and in supporting a great city mission, contact Annie Canon.
As I set down my brush after a long painting session, I have one of two reactions. It’s either, “meh,” or “that’s pretty bad.” All I can see at that moment are the ways in which the painting has fallen short of my inner vision. I don’t see the things that are going right, like audacious composition, new ideas, or bravura brushwork.
I’ve been at this long enough to ignore that reaction. I no longer question whether the work is good or bad. I just ask myself if it’s finished.
Yesterday, Ken DeWaardspoke to the Knox County Art Society (KCAS). He said that he takes plein airwork back to his studio and leans it face-in against the wall for a few days. Only after the struggle has faded from memory does he turn it back around. Then he can dispassionately analyze what it needs.
Fog Bank, by Carol L. Douglas.
The worst self-doubt happens when you’re in a plein airevent and your work is overlooked by buyers and judges. It’s very easy to think you’re painting terribly. This happened to me this year with Fog Bank. I was unimpressed with it, since it’s largely atmosphere and no composition. Three months later, I like the painting more than anything else I did at that event. My goal was to show the movement of a North Atlantic fog, and I think it worked. That nobody else was thrilled by it is immaterial.
I had a similar reaction to another painting in 2017, They wrest their living from the sea. At the time, I thought the whole thing was too fussy and overworked. But set against my intention, the painting is a success. I wanted to contrast the tiny houses of Advocate Harbour with the vast landscape in which its people fish and farm. There are times when skies arefussy and detailed. Sometimes we have to square up to that and paint them realistically, instead of stylizing.
They wrest their living from the sea, by Carol L. Douglas
My old friend Marilyn often wiped out paintings she didn’t like. “Another board saved!” she would say. I don’t do that. Even failed paintings tell me something about my process.
Sometimes a painting is uncomfortable to look at because it’s pointing the way forward. It can seem like an awkward outlier when you do it. Five years later, you realize it was a bellwether and the best thing you painted that year. You’ll blunt your development if you wipe out everything that makes you uncomfortable.
In students, this discomfort with change can result in paralysis. They fuss and get nothing done in class. If that’s you, try falling back on strict exercises that force you to stop thinking in terms of results and start thinking in terms of process. (I’ll get into these on Friday.)
Grand Bahama Palms, by Carol L. Douglas
The last painting in this post is one I did on Grand Bahama in 2017. There is never any guarantee that a moment of beauty will be there when you return. This young palm is in one of the hardest-hit parts of the island, and I imagine it was drowned and broken. If the painting survived, I hope it reminds the owners of the former glory of their patch of land, and is a promise that beauty will return soon.

Super Easel

My Mabef tripod easel is older than my Prius, which is why I recommend it so often.

Two demos require two easels. Still in the value-study phase here. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Johnson.
I sometimes demo in watercolor and oils simultaneously, since I always have students in both media. I started as a way to kill time between watercolor layers. We all know how exciting it is to watch paint dry.
But it has another value, too, and that is to play up the intricate ways in which watercolor and oils are similar. We tend to focus on the differences, but we’re still working toward the same end in both media. That’s a composition that impels and compels the viewer.
There are challenges. Foremost is keeping the materials separated. I put the watercolor tools in one place (my chair) and the oil painting tools in another (my wagon) in the hope that I will not swish a watercolor brush through my Turpenoid or vice-versa. So far, it’s worked.
Whoops! That’s the first time I’ve ever done that!
My students tend to watch these demos from chairs, not standing. That requires that I keep my watercolor paper on the vertical. It’s hard to get dark washes to stay where you put them, and sometimes I have to double-coat my darks. That creates an opportunity to talk up test marks.
Mentally, it’s a question of switching off one protocol and switching on the other. It looks reasonably seamless to the student, but I find that, halfway through my three-hour class, I’m pretty tired.
Dave Blanchard calls this a “hat trick,” and pointed out that in fact I’d done a triple demo yesterday, since I’d drawn the original scene in charcoal on newsprint. That was so my ‘thumbnail’ was big enough to be seen by the group. I don’t do that when working on my own.
This hat trick is just a way to expedite demos so as not to waste my students’ time. Out of context, it would just be a stupid party trick. But it had an unexpected consequence yesterday. That was my Mabef easel falling into the water.
David Blanchard rescued my easel while I Instagrammed the experience. I’m useful like that.
I’ve never lost an easel in the ocean before, although I’ve tested the limits—on the deck of a moving boat, for example, or standing in the water in a rising tide.
I stood there looking at it while it floated below me, thankful that it wasn’t my oil-painting easel, which would have sunk like a rock. Fran Scannell ran to check if any dinghy owners had left their oars shipped, while Jennifer Johnson went for my hiking poles. Dennis Pollock found one of those mysterious plastic pipes that are always on fishing piers, and he handed it to Dave, who’d gone down the closest ladder. A moment later, my easel was back on land drying off. As you can see, I’m good in a crisis… for absolutely nothing.
And the easel went right back to work as if nothing had happened, while its dumb chum, my oil setup, stood around. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Johnson.
This easel is about twenty years old. It’s seen a lot of hard use and travel. It’s cracked in several places and held together with duct tape. The carriage bolt no longer catches, making it hard to set up. But after its salt-water bath, it swelled up and was Supereasel again. It carried us right through the demo, and when I finished, it exhaled and fell over, limp.
“It’s dried out again,” someone noted.
I always recommend Mabef tripod easels as great value for money. They’re lightweight and versatile, able to lie flat for watercolor or stand up for oils. They now come with optional arms, which are a great feature. And now I know that they float patiently by the dock when you inadvertently drop them into the sea.

A new arts group starts with flair

If you’re an artist in Knox County, ME, you may want to join the Knox County Art Society.

Portland #1, by Bob Richardson, at Boynton-McKay in Camden right now.
The Bangor Art Society is the oldest continuously-operated art society in the US; nearby Knox County Art Society (KCAS) may be the youngest. It holds its first meeting on June 15. The last I heard, it had 23 members, which is a great start. (The whole county’s population is less than 40,000.)
David Blanchard, its founder, is a friend and student of mine. He’s doing everything right. What better way to gin up interest than by having a show? Yesterday I mentioned that I helped hang one for KCAS at Boynton-McCay. That’s an old-fashioned storefront eatery at 30 Main Street in Camden.
This show will be up for the summer months, meaning it will get lots of foot traffic. Dave requested enough work that he can change the inventory monthly, and the labeling and signage are extremely professional.
Resting, Carol L. Douglas, done at Camden Life Drawing earlier this year.
KCAS grew out of Camden Life Drawing. This group gets together at the Lions Club every Wednesday evening to draw from a model. I go when I can, but most of the time it’s sold out, subscription only, on a first-come, first-serve basis. This month, however, sign-ups are light, so if you want to brush up on your figure-drawing skills, it would be a good time to start. No, there are no membership requirements and no secret codes. Just email Dave and give him your information. As always, the earliest bird gets the worm.
Bob Richardsonwill be teaching Introduction to Life Drawing for KCAS on June 15, at 9:30 AM. Bob has a BFA from Tufts and the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and a MAE from Hartford Art School. He was department head at Berkshire School, Phillips Exeter Academy, Simon’s Rock College, Ethel Walker School, and Kingswood Oxford School.
This garden is available to KCAS members to paint on Saturdays. Not too shabby.
He will cover gesture drawing, volume, foreshortening, and perspective. There will be a critique at the end. The fee is $29 for KCAS members registering in advance. Non-members are $36, space permitting.

On Saturdays, KCAS Members gather to paint in the Blanchard garden on Pearl Street in Camden. This double-lot garden features mature perennials and shrubs and is bounded by a woods and weathered-shingle buildings. It’s pleasant and cool.
That’s an awfully good start for a group that—as yet—has no officers, no calendar, and hasn’t had an official meeting yet. I gave Dave my $60 membership fee, along with my best wishes for much success. If you live and work (or summer) in Knox County, Maine, you might want to, too.

Maine art fans, I need your help

Our leaders need to hear how much we support art… and how art supports us.

Ocean Park Beach Erosion, by Carol L. Douglas
On Monday morning, I will drag David Blanchard out at 6:30 AM to ride with me to Augusta. Dave is the organizer of the new Knox County Art Society and one of nine regional coordinators for Plein Air Painters of Maine (PAPME). He’s coming with me to the first Arts + Culture Day to show our legislators just how much the arts mean to our state.
You don’t have to get up that early, but I’d like it if you’d join us. The event runs from 9 AM to 11:30 AM at the Maine State House Hall of Flags. It’s free and open to the public, and there’s lots of free parking in the area.
This is a new legislature and a new administration, and we want them to know how seriously we support art, and how art supports us. It’s an opportunity to strengthen relationships between arts leaders and public officials and to discuss cultural policy here in our state. Your voice and your face, are needed.
Clary Hill Blueberry Barrens, by Carol L. Douglas
But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. There will be performances and presentations through the program, and many cultural organizations from across the state will be represented.

I’ll be there representing plein air painting. PAPME has about 600 members, about three-quarters of whom are Maine residents. The majority show and sell their work in commercial galleries, festivals and plein air events.
Members meet weekly in different locations around the state to paint. There are no dues and no activity requirements. Currently, there are nine chapters statewide. More are always welcome.
There are around 150 commercial art galleries in the state of Maine. The painters dotting the landscape and the galleries that represent them are key attractions to visitors to our state.
Sea Fog, by Carol L. Douglas
Arts and culture are a recognized regional development driver, one that Maine has exploited successfully.  Rockland is a great success story, but it’s not the only one. Too often, public officials think of art as a luxury, but it’s serious business. The arts in America contribute more than $800 billion a year to our economy. That’s around 4% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
There is a myth that artists congregate in big cities. These may have the highest density of artists, but many artists are attracted to rural living, especially in Maine. Artists like affordable housing, vibrant art scenes, educated communities, and access to markets for their art. 
Because art is handmade, it is tied to the place it’s created. That means art can’t be outsourced. An artist is unlikely to leave for another state because the Economic Development people offer him a better deal.
If you’re an artist, a fan of art, or someone interested in economic development, your presence on Monday is vital.
Snow at higher elevations, by Carol L. Douglas
The State House is located on the corners of Capitol and State Streets in Augusta. The west entrance, facing the Cross Office Building, is open to the public.
To get there from I-95 get off at exit 109 and travel east on route 202 (Western Avenue). Continue to the first rotary where you take the first possible right turn onto State Street. Proceed to the traffic light where you will see the State House in front of you on the right. Turn right at the light onto Capitol Street for access to parking behind the Cross Office Building or in the Sewall Street garage.  Parking may also be available south of the State House, behind the State Library, Archives and Museum building.