A week of channeling other painters

In the end my paintings ended up mostly like me.
Home farm, by Carol L. Douglas
On Monday, I wrote about my WWCD experience, where I tried to channel Colin Page but ended up painting like a Fauve. I continued similar experiments all week, channeling different masters each day. In fact, the ‘What Would So-and-So’ riff was embedded so deeply that I made up one based on Kirk Larson: “WWKD? Never turn down a free bottle of water.”
Yesterday’s painting started off as riff on Paul Gauguin, whose Yellow Christ hangs in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in my hometown of Buffalo. That made it a seminal influence on my young brain.
Swiss Chard and red umbrella, by Carol L. Douglas
I might have started with his color palette, but by the time I finished, the painting was pretty clearly my own. Perhaps that’s because brushwork and spatial design are more deeply embedded than color, which is relatively easy to manipulate. Or, it may be that I was concentrating on color first.
Why did I set out to do this? I had a conversation with Ken DeWaard this summer about trends in painting, particularly about high-key painting and whether an old dog like me can learn new tricks. (Since Ken just took the top prize at Cape Ann Plein Air, he doesn’t need to think about it.) I’ve been teaching about color harmonies, which put it in my mind. Also, it was a way to amp up my energy to finish the season well.
Marshaltown Inn, by Carol L. Douglas
But other than that, I had no great intellectual pretensions; it was a whim and I followed it. That’s one of the joys of being an artist; you don’t have to clear your brainstorm with a committee.
It was a valuable exercise, one that I’m going to subject my students to at the first opportunity. But it takes months for the results of a class or workshop to insinuate themselves into one’s painting style (which is one reason that people who only paint in class seldom make great progress). I won’t be able to tell you how it benefitted me until much later.
The Radnor Hunt, by Carol L.Douglas
Meanwhile, we’re done painting for Plein Air Brandywine Valley, and have a free morning before the opening reception. There are five painters here from Maine, and four of us are heading up to the Navy Shipyard in Philadelphia to paint boats. After that, we’ll get into the serious business of selling, but it’s our reward for working so hard.

Monday Morning Art School: paint like a fauve

When the light is bad, give yourself a jolt of color.
Hardwood, by Carol L. Douglas, 6X8, oil on canvasboard 
Driving from Boston to Philadelphia, the sky was full of light, fleecy cirrus clouds. Bobbi Heathand I watched them happily. We were due to start painting at Plein Air Brandywine Valleyat 3:30 in the afternoon. While I love the wooded, rolling hills of Brandywine country, it’s not my natural subject. But I know that a good sky drives everything, and we seemed set to have a great sky.
Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the clouds had solidified into a solid, grumbling, low mass of grey. The site we were painting on—a sloping, treed lot—wasn’t helped by the lack of sunlight. My go-to answer in impossible situations is to think of how other, greater artists have handled the same situation. (That’s another good reason to know art history.)
It’s hard to get excited about this light.
I could have channeled Andrew Wyeth and romanced a figure into that bleakness, but that would have taken it outside the realm of observational plein air. Plus, we were limited to a 6×8 canvas. And I have no interest in luminismor tonalism, although they may be the right answer for you.
I saw Colin Page briefly at his opening last week. That sparked the question, “What Would Colin Do?” The answer—as well as I can understand another painter—would be to amp the color relationships up, systematically and logically. Of course, Colin does this fluidly and gracefully, because this is the visual space in which he lives.
Salt Marsh, by Carol L. Douglas
Last week, I posted on color harmonies. Two of my students did color harmony paintings last week, both very successfully. I might as well put my own instruction to the test, I thought. I chose a split-complement scheme of gold against green-violet-blue. In truth, the scheme flipped a bit as I went, becoming less systematic, but that was fine too.
Soft Wood, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard. This was a rain soaked day.
This kind of painting is the reverse of adding color to a subject under dull light. Soft Wood, above, was painted in a rollicking rainstorm from a farm porch. It’s a more typical way of adding color to a dull scene, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. In fact, it relies on the same understanding of color harmonies.
Autumn trees in Durand Park, Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard. A similar color sketch from long, long ago.
When I finished yesterday’s painting, I said it looked like a bad Van Gogh. It’s probably more Fauvist. Post-Impressionistfor sure, and that’s not a bad color space for a plein air painter to wallow for a while. Once I’ve started down this rabbit hole, I’m staying here for the nonce. It’s dawning pink and blue here in Delaware, so who knows where the light will go?
Why do I go down these paths, when I already have a style that sells? Why does any artist do that? We’re always striving to get better. Artists are driven to paint because they’re essentially thinkers. When we stop thinking, we stop really painting.

How’d that happen?

Underpainting (incomplete) of river snags, 48X36, by little ol’ me
My friend Sandy Sibley told me that my underpainting of northern lights reminded her of the Canadian painter Emily Carr. That’s quite flattering, but I don’t quite see it myself.
Yesterday’s underpainting went a little bit slower—in part because it’s complicated, in part because I’m working the color organization from my psyche, and in part because working from a chair is giving me terrific upper arm pain. (This too shall pass.)
Cedar Sanctuary, 1942, by Emily Carr
But it struck me as funny and strange that today’s painting reminds me of Emily Carr. It could be the subaquatic coloration of the distant trees, it could be the massive, simplified shapes, or it could be the vague menace of the foreground tree itself.
Born in Victoria, British Columbia, Emily Carr attended San Francisco Art Institute for two years before traveling to London to study at the now-defunct Westminster School of Art. A short-lived teaching gig in Vancouver ended due to Carr’s unladylike behavior—she smoked and swore. Once more she traveled abroad—this time to France, where she came in contact with Fauvism and post-Impressionism.
Blue Sky, 1932, by Emily Carr
Until 1927, Carr labored in obscurity, often quitting painting entirely. At an exhibition of West Coast aboriginal art at the National Gallery in Ottawa, Carr met members of the Group of Seven. “You are one of us,” Lawren Harris told her, and her role as a significant modern Canadian painter was assured.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!