Magic Carpet Ride

Lacey autumn shadows at Highland Park in Rochester.
I am back in Maine and left you a week’s worth of posts, except that yesterday was too wonderful in Rochester to ignore—about 70° F, still air, lovely sky, and good friends.  So why not share our perfect autumn weather so you can enjoy it vicariously along with us?
Virginia draws Lyn painting the Conservatory.
A tropical bougainvillea sneaks its way out of the Conservatory window. It’ll be pulling that finger back inside soon enough!
Rumor has it that it will continue all week, at least here in Rockland. The Northeast in autumn means cool nights, warm days, clear skies, and leaves that crackle underfoot and powerfully scent the air. We’re at the height of fall foliage, so if you can somehow catch a magic carpet ride to Maine and join us for this week of painting, you will not be disappointed.
Carol Thiel painting in the shade.
It was a gorgeous sunrise, there is a clearing sky, and I am off to organize my car and welcome our guests. Blessings! Peace!
Carol drawing in the shade. The power of modern graphics–she reminds me of the start-up screen on my Kindle.

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

Ten days on the road

Painting John Porter on the porch of the Irondequoit Inn. Normally, you develop a painting all over, in layers, but not if your model has temporarily disconnected his oxygen to pose. (Photo by Carol Thiel)

September and October are New York’s grandest months, when our state throws off its sartorial rectitude and arrays itself in scarlet, purple, and cloth-of-gold. And the last week in September was the best possible time to be at the Irondequoit Inn with 14 of my fellow New York Plein Air Painters (NYPAP). This organization is being wonderfully revived by painter Marilyn Fairman, who organized the event.

A tiny study of trees and reeds, by me.
However, there’s a reason Native Americans considered the Adirondacks their summer home. Its cold is brooding, often accompanied by rain and mist, and the weather is fickle.  Last autumn, the mercury was hitting 80° F, but this year it was pouting in the 40s and 50s, with rain and wind. That often corresponds to the best fall color, but it’s chilling to work in. However, we are all dedicated outdoor painters, so of course we soldiered through.

Painting at Oxbow Inlet
(Photo by Mary Beth Vought)
At one point, I trekked through a drenching downpour to find Janet Yeates turned out like the Gloucester fisherman and Ruth Crotty in knee-high Wellingtons, the hood of her rain slicker pulled tight around her face. Both, of course, were too stubborn to quit. Ruth was tarping down her easel under a pine tree, muttering, “What else could possibly happen?”

“Lightning?” I asked.

Mercifully, I was wrong.

The start of our retreat coincided with the end of a workshop given by National Geographic photographer Ralph Lee Hopkins. The end of it coincided with the start of my painting workshop. The Irondequoit Inn was a whirling parade of the visual arts, running for two weeks straight, and it would be difficult to express just how energizing it was.

Snag at Piseco Outlet, by me.
My trip started with Bruce Bundock’s opening at Locust Grove in Poughkeepsie. The show should have been called Friends in Low Places, because Bruce’s gift is finding the sublime in the pedestrian. This review features one of his finest paintings, but this painting currently is my favorite: a classic composition that might typically be used for a villa on the French Riviera, but which he translated to a raised ranch along the Hudson, with a tanker in the background. Since it’s Bruce’s day in the sun, I might as well add that he was recently profiled for his day job as a preparator at Vassar, here.

Value study by workshop participant Carol Thiel.
For several years, my goal in landscape painting has been to capture the sense of tapestry rather than the sense of distance.  I find that much more difficult than building a global scene comprised of discrete objects like buildings, islands, lakes and hills. I’ve gone past the point of liking or disliking the results; I am simply compelled to paint this way. Nothing was different this week: as my friends and then my students turned out fantastic paintings of the woods, fields and lakes, I continued to slash and burn amongst the trees.

One afternoon we finished up early and took a canoe trip in Piseco Lake and up the mouth of Fall Stream. We each brought small watercolor kits, but no painting was done (although the paper was certainly damp by the time we finished). But we did look at the mists, the black water, and the gold-drenched grasses on their earthen hummocks.

Watercolor of Piseco Outlet by workshop participant Shirley Ernst.

At 94, John Porter is the Piseco Company’s oldest living shareholder. I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with him during the last three autumns. He’s a retired woodsman, and wonderfully knowledgeable about both natural and human history. He’s getting a bit frail these days, and mostly looks at the woods from the front parlor. On the last afternoon of my workshop, we were working on architecture. I had set up a painting of the lovely old green chairs and dinner bell on the Inn’s commodious porch. The rain vanished, the sun came out, and it was suddenly warm. John joined us for a few minutes, so I put him in my painting. I’ll share it with you when it’s done, because to me it’s a wonderful memory of a precious day.

Oh, my! What should I buy?

My basic palette in my pochade box. 

I am happy to share my plein air supply lists with both my own students and others:

·         Watercolor supply list.
·         Oil painting supply list.
·         Pastel supply list.
I have friends who are tremendously efficient plein air packers. I freely admit I’m not up to their standard, but I do paint outdoors a lot, and successfully. Consider these lists not as gospels, but as starting points.
There is no one “best” palette for plein air (or any other kind of) painting. There are so many pigments available today that the artist is faced with—literally—millions of possible combinations. The medium you’re using, your own taste in color , what you want in opacity and drying time all affect your final choices.
And the exact same paints being used for figure painting.
A little knowledge of pigment development is helpful in whittling down selections. The newer the pigment, the more intense and more durable it will be. A palette of earth tones might have a hard time coping with the addition of dioxazine purple or phthalo blue, whereas a vivid 20th century palette will fail to notice a delicate Renaissance lake color.
This is not to say that you should choose only an “Old-Masters” or an “Impressionist” palette—my own palette has paints from every period. But you can avoid a lot of waste by avoiding obvious mismatches.
The earths and earliest synthesized colors:

The oldest pigments are the earth pigments: the ochres, siennas, umbers and carbon blacks. These have been in use more than 15,000 years. They are as solid and everlasting as dirt. Over time artists have been tremendously wily about expanding their narrow range.
The Egyptians created the first chemical pigment, Egyptian Blue, around 5000 years ago. They also pioneered the use of minerals as pigments with malachite, azurite and cinnabar, and devised a method of fixing dyes to solids (“lake making”) which is still in use today. The Chinese created vermilion and the Romans gave us lead white.
Renaissance alchemists must have been more focused on turning lead into gold, because although they made a few refinements to paints, they left the fundamental kit unchanged.
The industrial revolution:

The Industrial Revolution brought us a pigment revolution. Just a few examples are:
Cobalt Blue – 1802
Cerulean Blue – 1805
French Ultramarine – 1828
Zinc White – 1834
Cadmium Yellow – 1846  
Aureolin – 1862
Alizarin Crimson – 1868
Without the explosion of brilliant color in the 19thcentury, there could have been no Impressionism, no modern art.
Modern pigments:

The third tier of pigments are the highest-stain, most durable of colors, developed mainly for industry: “Hansa” yellows, titanium white, synthetic iron oxides (the “Mars” colors) phthalocyanines, quinacridones, perylenes, and pyrrols. Some have replaced 19thcentury colors that have proven to be fugitive (such as quinacridone violet to make “permanent” alizarin crimson). Some have an uneasy place on the palette because of their extremely high stain, such as phthalo blue.
My basic field kit.
References: “Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color,” by Phillip Ball. It is certainly the most fun book about color ever printed.

Gamblin Artist Colors has optional palettes here. (What is true for oils is generally true for acrylics.)
The most comprehensive guide to watercolor pigments I know of is here.
And my favorite resource for pastels is here.

The nature of Nature

“Keuka Lake Vineyard,” oil on canvasboard, 9X12

This year I am teaching plein air painting in two venues. I believe that all aspiring painters should study plein air. Why?
Character: The strength of plein air painting lies in its relationship to reality, but that is also its greatest weakness. Slavish homage to what one sees is a dangerous trap, even more deadly than the same tendency in figure or still-life painting.
Our appreciation of place is not entirely visual: it also encompasses sound and smell and spatial awareness. There are certain experiences in nature—such as standing in the sand on an elliptical shoreline—that are tremendously appealing in real life, but which make for weak paintings. A literal rendering of them is worse than banal: it lies about the character of the place.
The challenge for the plein air painter is to portray the place in a way that gives a sense of the non-visual cues—the warmth of the wind, drumming of the waves, crickets in dry grass. Either the non-representational aspects of painting become more dominant, or you fail. This happens in ways that figure or still-life never force you to consider.
Composition: We know intellectually that paintings built upon a strong, simple schematic project more powerfully than those pieced together from innumerable details. Nature, however, is essentially an infinite layering of innumerable details. With landscape painting, there is no solution but to fall back on the basic tools of composition: thumbnails, value studies, and shape studies. Painting students who rely on their instructors’ model poses or still lives will never learn to compose the way a plein air student—picking and choosing from the environment’s complexities—will learn to compose.
Communication: Painting is pointless if it is devoid of any emotional or intellectual content. Despite that, it is surprisingly easy to “phone it in” at times, especially in the controlled environment of the studio. We’ve all done it. But everyone has an emotional relationship of some kind with nature, and it is impossible to avoid expressing that.
“Piseco Outlet,” oil on canvasboard, 9X12

Upcoming classes

The two venues I’m teaching in are convenient for both the local student who wants to study in Rochester and the out-of-town student who wants to take a single, intensive class:

  1. Weekly classes in the Rochester area, every Wednesday from 5:30-8:30 PM, meeting in some of the loveliest parts of Monroe County, from the pier at Charlotte to High Falls to Genesee Valley and more. The tuition is $100 a month. Email me herefor more information.
  2. “Adirondack Wild,” a plein air painting workshop at the Irondequoit Inn in Piseco from September 30 to October 5, 2012. The Adirondack preserve is the biggest, wildest park in the Lower 48, and at $775 all-inclusive (room and board) for five days and nights, this is the deal of the century. Download a brochure here.

Some Days, You Just Can’t Get Rid of a Bomb

“Loren’s farm,” oil on canvasboard, 12X16

 At our last painting session, Marilyn whipped out her grayscale markers (making me instantly regret that I hadn’t brought mine along). The forest was remarkably dark and moody this week, and the spring foliage far less advanced than down on the lake plains, and I was finding it difficult to find a range of values.

Marilyn Fairman sketching in grayscale markers.
A tonal drawing immediately reveals the strengths and weaknesses of one’s composition—if it doesn’t work in the simplified view, it isn’t going to work after you’ve invested hours painting, either. In fact, the painting I did in that last session ended up mired in a compositional issue that would have been immediately apparent had I done some fundamental drawing before starting, but I was tired and cutting corners. 
“Canoes at Irondequoit Inn,” oil sketch
To me, the difference between an adequate painter and an excellent painter is the amount of time said artist spends drawing. I wrote earlier this week about watercolor sketching, and have written frequently about drawing with a plain, ordinary graphite pencil.
“Breakwater at Irondequoit Bay,” oil sketch
In the field, however, I most often sketch with oils on small canvases. Here is a sketch I did of the canoes at the Irondequoit Inn, and another of the breakwater at Irondequoit Bay.* They took about as long as a graphite or watercolor sketch would have, but their purpose is somewhat different: they are simplified and monumental in the same way as the tonal grayscale marker (which is by far the fastest way of sketching). 

And the painters home from the hill…
I did three other paintings in the Adirondacks. One was a complete bomb (despite having spent a long time drawing and an equally long time painting).  I followed that up by inadvertently discharging the battery of my car outside of cell-phone range, leaving me stranded with a dead car with its keys stuck in the ignition. Marilyn set off on foot to get help while I dug out the battery—not as obvious as you might think, since it’s stowed in the side of the trunk. But a bad painting and a dead battery did nothing to dampen my high good spirits.

I’m struggling with something, which is by no means uncomfortable when you’re not fixated on the results. I have been working for the past few years on patterning my paint-handling in a more abstract way, but in the process I’ve lost some of the depth that a more traditional landscape approach gives. Now that has to be reintroduced.

“Mountain meadow,” oil on canvasboard, 12X16
But my hermitage (which became less hermit-like as the week went on) is over and I’m happy to be back in Rochester, in my studio, surrounded by my family, friends, and students.
*An alert reader will note that the Irondequoit Inn and Irondequoit Bay are about 200 miles apart. I leave that mystery to you to decipher.

Today’s little exercise, a one hour sketch after my class.


West breakwall at Irondequoit Bay, some smallish size or another, oil on canvasboard

Kamillah Ramos was game to paint another hour with me after class so I did a quick study. The problem I’m finding is that the paint hasn’t the gamut for the water color. (It’s rare in WNY to have that insane saturated aquamarine, but we’re having strangely clear skies). On top of that, my camera hasn’t the range to record the color in the painting very accurately, but I’ve given it my best shot. Ahem.

I see this scene as a Maxfield Parrish kind of thing, in unearthly light. I think it’s worth repainting in a more studied format; do you?

Here’s the set-up… again for benefit of my students. Laid down darks first, then midtones, then lights; then refined the shapes.

Painting in Maine

This is my favorite painting from my recent Maine trip. It’s quite small—6X8—and was done during a downpour on a shingle beach in Penobscot Bay. I like the color and the energy. It comes close to my sense of what the ocean is about.

(I plan to teach in Maine next July so if you’re interested, please let me know.)

After painting in Maine, I saw All Things Bright and Beautiful: California Impressionists at the Katonah Museum of Art. What a different world they were painting! It’s an excellent show, and runs until October 5, 2008.

So you want to go to art school?

You wouldn’t consider applying to music school without taking private lessons, so why would you apply to art school that way? Carol L. Douglas is an experienced painting and drawing teacher who can help you create a portfolio tailored to the school you want.

“Ms. Douglas helped me develop my portfolio to meet colleges’ expectations and taught me the fundamentals of painting and pastel. I was offered scholarships to several art programs including RIT and Pratt. She is an excellent teacher for the student willing to work hard to develop potential.”

— Zeyuan Chen, Brighton HS ‘08, Stony Brook University ‘12
“I visited Pratt and realized my portfolio would not get me in. Ms. Douglas worked with me intensively to fill the gaps, and I am now at Pratt with a Presidential Scholarship. I would not have gotten in without her help.”
— Sandy Quang, MCC ‘08, Pratt Art Institute ‘10
Carol L. Douglas Studio
410 Oakdale Drive, Rochester, NY 14618
585-201-1558
email: cdouglas@frontiernet.net
www.watchmepaint.blogspot.com
www.goaway-letmepaint.com

New Classes for Fall

Studio in Art
Wednesday, 10:30 AM-1:30 PM
Saturday, 10 AM-1 PM

(Oil, pastel, acrylic, watercolor)
This class focuses on still life as a fundamental tool for developing drawing and painting technique. It is appropriate for both beginning and advanced students. Instruction emphasizes direct painting, where paint is applied solidly rather than through glazing. For watercolor and acrylic, the emphasis is on alla prima techniques.

Tuition—$100/month

Figure
Saturday, 2-5 PM

(Oil, pastel, acrylic, watercolor, drawing media)
This class focuses on the figure. In addition to working with live models, we study human anatomy, drapery and clothing. The class is suitable for both beginning and advanced students. Students without a background in figure drawing are encouraged to begin in charcoal.

Tuition—$137.50/month

Portfolio Preparation
Saturday, 10-1 PM
(Oil, pastel, acrylic, watercolor, drawing media) High school students who are interested in applying to art school are encouraged to take this class. Emphasis will be on identifying appropriate colleges and developing a portfolio matched to their choices.

Tuition—$137.50/month

Enough about those kids!

One of my adult students, Anne Christner, with her pastel portrait of her daughter Sarah. It’s an excellent likeness, and a real step forward. Brava, Anne!