Nothing lasts forever

Wildfire is threatening an area I know and love. It’s a reminder that nothing lasts forever, even the trees and hills.

Hermit’s Peak from El Porvenir, Carol L. Douglas, oil on archival canvasboard, available.

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time recently watching the wildfire at Hermit’s Peak in New Mexico. “Much of the fire’s growth is in thick, heavy timber and steep, rugged terrain,” writes officialdom. That is, if anything, an understatement. I’ve painted in El Porvenir with my buddy Jane Chapin. The area is desolate.

As sad as the current fire destruction is, it’s where the fire is heading that concerns me. It’s been burning slowly toward the villages of Upper and Lower Colonias and county road B44A. The Pecos River basin is just a few miles from the fire’s edge.

Upper Reaches of the Pecos River, Carol L. Douglas, oil on archival canvasboard, available.

This is where my Gateway to the Pecos Wilderness workshop is centered, and I’ve come to know and love this tiny slice of Creation. It’s deeply wooded, high, fresh and mountainous.

Of course, I’m worried about Jane, who is in the evacuation ‘set’ zone. However, Jane’s the person who extracted us all from Patagonia after lockdown. There’s nobody I’d rather be in a crisis with.

Old farmhouse in Pecos, NM, Carol L. Douglas, oil on archival canvasboard, available. This is one of the historic structures in the evacuation ‘set’ area.

The fire started as a prescribed burn lit on a windy April day. It’s now burned out of control for five weeks and shows no sign of imminent containment.

The terrain is extremely inaccessible. “It has more roads on the east side of the ridge but the Pecos Wilderness side is forest roads. They’re often a challenge even for a 4-wheel-drive truck,” Jane told me. “They are steep, full of big rocks, tight switchbacks and big drop-offs, and there’s no turning around.” 

Dry Wash, Carol L. Douglas, oil on archival canvasboard, available.

It was the area beyond Lower Colonias where Jane and I scratched the tar out of her truck trying to back away from a steep drop. There’s no need to go off-roading for adventure; the roads themselves are terrifying.

“We now have over 1900 firefighters on this fire, most of whom are unfamiliar with the area and are sleeping on the ground in tents in fire camps,” Jane said. That’s hard work, complicated by the natural fauna of the area: bears, bobcats and mountain lions will be on the move, along with whatever horses, dogs and cattle may be caught within the fire line. Lest you think that’s an exaggerated risk, a soldier was killed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, AK on Tuesday by a grizzly sow protecting her cubs. Where civilization and nature collide, stressed animals sometimes behave erratically.

Snow at Higher Elevations (downdraft), Carol L. Douglas, oil on archival canvasboard, available.

This week, we’re reading about mansions burning in Southern California, but those people have the resources to rebuild. In contrast, San Miguel County, NM, is poor. A quarter of the population live below the poverty line. That makes them voiceless in modern society. They’re unlikely to be able to challenge the Forest Service about the wisdom of ‘controlled’ burns, and this is the second time in seven years where a prescribed burn has gotten loose in this area.

Log barns, Carol L. Douglas, oil on archival canvasboard, available. This historic farmyard is in the evacuation ‘set’ area.

But that’s all politics. What saddens me, deeply, is the potential destruction of a place I love. As Jane said, it seems somehow wrong to pray that the wind shifts and takes the fire to the east. If her home is saved, someone else’s will be destroyed. Instead, I pray for rain.

Nothing lasts forever, even the seemingly immortal forests and hills. That makes it even more imperative to get out and look at them—and paint them if you will—while you can.

Best new toy ever!

Even though this truck and I have only been shacking up for a few months, it feels like we’ve known each other forever. We’re soul mates.

Painting from the bed of my truck yesterday. Note the dog in the back window. (Photo courtesy Eric Jacobsen)

I’m a little under 5’6”, which is two inches taller than the average American woman (whoever she is). That makes me, objectively, not short. But I married a tall man. Predictably, all my kids are tall. I’m always craning my neck to natter at them, and bustling along when we walk. It’s given me a complex.

It doesn’t help to paint with Ken DeWaard and Eric Jacobsen. Ken’s nearly a foot taller than me, and Eric’s just a smidge less lofty. For me to paint the view they see, I need to stand on a box. That’s inconvenient. Last week, Ken and I painted a pile of glorious orange lobster buoys. His angle was perfect, but mine was obscured by a kid’s slide.

Three Chimneys, oil on canvasboard, 11X14, $869 unframed, was painted from the bed of my pickup truck this week.

My trip to Wyoming in January was two-fold. I explored a ranch in Cody that I’ll be using as a base for a workshop this September. And I collected a 2010 Toyota Tundra that previously belonged to my pal Jane Chapin.

This truck and I had a history. Jane and I once nearly drove it off a cliff-edge. We then backed out through a thicket of piñons. It’s only fitting that they’re my scratches now.

I also painted Hermit Peak from its bed. Jane was too cool to paint from a lawn-chair in a pickup truck so she stood in a snowdrift and froze. That day was when I realized that I desperately wanted a pickup truck. It was pure chance that it ended up being the same truck.

Maple, oil on canvasboard, 12X16, $1159 unframed, was painted from next to my truck. I did get stuck in the mud and had to use 4WD to get out.

Maine has eco-warriors in their hybrids and sensible Subarus, but get out of the bigger towns and pickup trucks abound. I drove a Prius for 278,000 miles and my son now has it. But the pickup truck provides protective coloration when I’m loitering around docks and country roads. Think of me as a toad blending in with the forest floor.

Plus, it makes me feel really, really tall.

All I need is a cooler and an awning. (Photo courtesy of Eric Jacobsen)

Eric—coincidentally—has the same make and model truck. His has a cap, which is convenient because he never has to put anything away; he just tosses wet paintings inside and they’re there weeks or months later when he feels like finishing them. But the cap means Eric can’t stand in the bed of his truck and paint. That’s a major disadvantage.

Still, they’re awfully cute parked next to each other. We painted at Owls Head this week—me in the bed of my truck, he with his easel set up nearby (making us almost exactly the same height, dammit). It occurred to me that our trucks looked just like cruisers in their little slips in Wilson Harbor. In the evening, yachters would set up their deck chairs, pop beers, and chit-chat across the docks. As a teenager, I sneered. Today, I love the idea.

Fishing shacks at Owls Head, not yet finished.

“All I need is a cooler and an awning,” I told Eric. A bimini top? It would be cute but expensive. A party tent? A ladder rack with a fabric awning attached with Velcro? Extra points if I can find Sunbrella™ in camo.

But wait, there’s more! The jump seat in the back folds up, and the space it leaves is just the right size for a primitive porta-potty. It might not be quite the thing for downtown Portland, but it works just fine in rural Maine.

A bucket with a toilet seat… and tinted windows.

Sigh. Even though this truck and I have only been shacking up for a few months, it feels like we’ve known each other forever. We’re soul mates.

Pretty little boat

In the last year, I’ve dragged home a tractor, a dog, a pickup truck and a boat. My poor husband doesn’t know what hit him.

Not much to it, in terms of working parts.

A year ago, Jane Chapin, Kellee Mayfield and I were gassing up our cars, getting ready to make a midnight run across Patagonia to catch a plane for Buenos Aires and eventually home. It took a while for us to realize that we were all bringing the microscopic parasite Giardia duodenalis with us.

I’ve dragged home a number of other things since then—a tractor, a dog, a pickup truck and a boat. My poor husband doesn’t know what hit him.

“People are going to take you for a native,” a friend teased. Hey, junk in the side yard is the heritage of my people, too. I’m from Buffalo.

I picked up the little boat at our family farm last weekend. It’s a 1946 Penn Yan Swift. My father shoved it in the back of the hayloft around 1965. He then ignored it.

After all, he had a beautiful, deep-keeled wooden sailboat that he far preferred. She was old but fast and graceful. The head was strictly for show; being the only female onboard, I did not appreciate the need to pee over the side. There was a tiny icebox, but that didn’t matter. My father couldn’t cook.

Then my older brother and sister died in their teens. My mother fought back from her grief; my father never recovered. Thereafter our trips were only short-term, on rented boats, or with friends. For me, that was another blow, because there is nothing I have ever liked more than being out on the water.

Note to self: outboards weigh a lot more than you expect. I’m still in pain.

The Penn Yan belonged to an earlier time in my father’s life, before he’d had a wife and six kids and a working farm. Prior to pulling it into the yard here on Sunday, I’d never seen it with its cover off. But something had to be done with it.

My first surprise was seeing our old dinghy balanced on top. When we were very small and useless as deckhands, Dad would tow us in it. It was probably the only way he had any peace and quiet. A good dinghy is useful and I’m glad to have it.

Everything is shipshape and Bristol fashion, as if he’d intended to take her out again the next weekend. Even the red rubber floor mats were there, although they’ve decayed into dust. A spare steering spool was carefully labeled in my father’s distinctive handwriting.

It was touching to see his things put away with such care. After John and Ann died, despair rendered him chaotic. He’d lay tools down and lose them and go buy more. His workshop was a mess. But in a prior time—before life ripped him apart—he was a meticulous and methodical craftsman.

I think about his last years a lot. I keenly remember the Slough of Despond and I never want to go back there.

At its new home in Maine.

“What do you plan to do with her?” people have asked, just as they asked me what I’ll do with the 1941 Ford 9N parked next to the garage. I understand the boat better than I do the tractor, but in both cases, I expect I’ll buff them up, use them a few times, and then spend the rest of my life tripping over them. Both have been around longer than me. If I have any say, they’ll both outlast me. 

Back of beyond

I went to Cody to collect a new painting truck—and to scope out a new workshop.

My new painting truck, photo courtesy Jane Chapin.

“Why did you go all the way to Wyoming to buy a pickup truck,” a reader asked. Well, it was a good deal and a known quantity, but even more than that, why not?

Wyoming is one of my favorite states, but I’d never made it to Cody. It’s home to 9700 people, which makes it the 11th largest community in a fabulously-empty state. Park County is an area of outstanding natural beauty, close to Yellowstone. It’s no surprise that its major industry is tourism.

High Pasture, oil on canvasboard, 8×10, by Carol L. Douglas

I immediately put my new truck through its paces, driving it as far up into National Forest lands as I could get. I painted two small studies from its bed, and I think it will suit me just fine. I’ve climbed off-road through snow and it hasn’t hesitated. Nor was it troubled by the 80 MPH speed limits in Wyoming, or climbing to 9666 feet on the Powder River Pass.

One of my first off-road adventures was to the abandoned homestead of Bull Creek Ranch.

I was itching to paint and do nothing else, but Jane Chapin prevailed on me to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This unusual museum includes Plains Indian ethnography, Buffalo Bill hagiography, natural history, art and firearms under one roof. Each of the collections is superlative.

The art includes delicate, sensitive plein air works by Albert Bierstadtand Frederic Remington. There are fabulous animal paintings by Carl Rungius, but my favorite was by an archetypal easterner, N.C. Wyeth. At the tender age of 22, he went west to learn about the life of the cowboy. “The life is wonderful, strange—the fascination of it clutches me like some unseen animal—it seems to whisper, ‘Come back, you belong here, this is your real home,'” he wrote in a letter home.

Hunters with Bear, 1911, by N.C. Wyeth for Winchester.

This is grizzly country as much as its cowboy country. Bull Creek, which tumbles down through the ranch, has bears, along with quail, mule deer and a ferruginous hawk who sits on top of a pivot irrigator scanning for prey. There are herds of horses and cattle in the bottom lands.

North Fork of Shoshone River, oil on canvasboard, 11×14, by Carol L. Douglas

All of which are highly paintable. My second reason for visiting Cody was to assess the practicality of a workshop there. It’s got an airport and the accommodations and vistas all lend themselves to a great painting experience. I’ll be announcing dates soon.

Razorback ridge on Bull Creek Ranch, photo courtesy of Jane Chapin.

In every trip comes that sad moment when one has to turn around and head home. I stopped at Thermopolis. Soaking in a hot spring in a winter snowstorm has long been my ambition, but sadly, the weather didn’t cooperate—it was much too mild. Still, the hot springs were fine, it was an appealing little town, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes traveling back roads.

Tomorrow’s plan is to paint in the Badlands, but I’m keeping an eye on a storm sweeping in from the west.

High Plains Pisseur

Coronavirus has closed McDonalds all over America. That’s tough on the long-distance driver.

Wind River Canyon, by Dwight Perot.

I thought I knew all there was to learn about the pipi sauvage, the business of peeing in open spaces. I’ve managed it on four continents. It’s less of an issue for men, whose clothing is designed for it. Women have to get creative about finding a place to crouch, but it can be done, even on the high plains without so much as a scrub pine in sight.

It’s not that Wyoming doesn’t have beautiful rest stops; they do. But once you leave the interstate, you leave the conveniences behind.  For both genders it’s gotten worse with the advent of COVID. McDonalds, that defender of long-distance drivers’ bladder health, has closed its lobbies in many states. It’s the tumbleweed or adult diapers in the age of Coronavirus.

The upthrust east of the Rockies, called High Plains, is beautiful, desolate and windy. Photo by Dwight Perot.

 The pipi problem was just the last in a line of small inconveniences. I never seem to be able to get on a plane and land three hours later, unruffled, at my destination. Perhaps that’s in part because I live 90 

minutes from the closest real airport, or that I prefer out-of-the-way end points.

Since I left Colorado in the early 80s, Stapleton Airport has been replaced by Denver International Airport. Like everything else on the Front Range, it’s bloated beyond function. It took way too long to cut loose with our bags and rental car. I was exhausted, but I soldiered on through dinner with family, and gratefully went to bed almost 24 hours after I’d risen.

Anticlines make for beautiful painting. Photo by Dwight Perot.

At 2 AM, I was awakened by a ringing doorbell. I peered out through the window slats and decided it was prudent to ignore. The doorbell rang again, this time accompanied by a maglight. It was a cop. He’d noticed a car door open; had we been burgled? The hoarfrost inside my rental car told the story; I’d just been too tired to close it. They say that exhausted drivers are as impaired as drunk ones, and that’s a warning I should heed.

The development that blights Colorado’s Front Range mercifully ends north of Fort Collins. I found a porta-potty in a city park in Cheyenne and struck northwest towards Cody. That route takes you east of the mountains, but the payoff is a fabulous climb through the Wind River Canyon, surely one of the great beauty spots in America. High plains drifting is not as dramatic as the mountain peaks of Colorado, but just as beautiful. My geologist son and I traced geological strata as we drove. Artists love anticlines because they produce wonderful angles; geologists love them for their oil deposits.

The beautiful Wind River. Photo by Dwight Perot.

We easterners must hydrate when we get to the Rockies. That unfortunately makes the pipi rustique problem an urgent one. North of Casper, I met my bête noire in the form of gale-force winds. Privacy wasn’t the issue; but peeing in a crouching position was darn near impossible. Men can just aim downwind; as for me, I’ll be doing laundry later today.

Approaching Cody. Photo by Dwight Perot.

I dumped the rental car in Cody and met up with Jane Chapin, who’d driven down from the ranch to collect us. There’s an amazing 360° mountain view from the ranch-house, and I can’t wait to paint. But first I must slap my plates on the truck I’ve driven out to collect, still scratched from the time we decided it was more prudent to back up through piñon than drive over a cliff. “That’ll buff out,” Jane had said. I’m still laughing about it two years later, and now it’s my truck, not hers. Yes!

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.

Let down your defenses

I understand and empathize with defensiveness very well, but I also know that it is paralyzing.

Annett Sauve lets me demonstrate on her canvas. (Photo courtesy of Jane Chapin)

Thomas Edison is credited with saying that “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” He ought to have added persistence in that equation. It’s a kind of intelligence, one that isn’t measured on tests and used as a predictor of success—but it ought to be.

Of the six students in this workshop, two are returning students. They share that trait of persistence. For both of them, the process of painting has really clicked on this trip. I refine my teaching method with every class, which I think makes it clearer, but the difference is mostly in them.

Mary Whitney’s painting in paradise.

Painting is not simple. Learning it takes time, and is a two-way dialogue. The student must be open to what’s being taught in order to make any real progress. Likewise, the teacher must be listening constantly for cues from the student.

For a long time, I was a very defensive painting (and everything else) student. I knew what I thought I knew and wasn’t willing to let others change that, even as I understood I needed help. It was a pity, because it blunted any possibility of becoming a better painter.

What were the symptoms of this self-defeating viewpoint? Whenever a teacher suggested I try something a different way, I responded with a rationalization. “I know, but…” saved me from having to try and fail. I was unnecessarily critical of others’ work, and there was a very limited range of paintings I understood enough to love.

Karla King and me, working at Pecos National Historic Park. (Photo courtesy of Jane Chapin)

What cured that? My broken self-image was repaired. To explain how I was broken would require delving into a maelstrom, so I will skip it. But the cure was a combination of my developing faith (I was made in God’s image, so I can’t be fatally flawed) and the slow development of real competence. This was not just as a painter, but as a parent, a spouse, and a functioning adult.

I understand and empathize with defensiveness very well, but I also know that it is paralyzing. I can’t fix it by simply saying, “let down your defenses.” That insecurity is the very nut the student is trying so hard to protect.

Instead, I sidestep the whole question by insisting that, for one week, workshop students try it my way. It’s not arrogance on my part, but rather the desire that students get value for the money they’re shelling out.

Historic New Mexico.

Of course, the process I use is not the only way to paint alla prima, nor is it in any way my own invention. Painting—like most other human endeavors—has been developed incrementally by thousands of practitioners. Our best practices are a synthesis of their ideas. Before a student rejects the basic rules of painting, he or she should not only understand why they are used, but have thoroughly mastered them.

I’m thinking about this because 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.

Are you bored?

I can’t tell you the last time I was bored.

Sometimes it rains, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard, available through Ocean Park Association.

Bobbi Heathblogged about boredomearlier this week. I didn’t read it until this morning because I’ve been so busy. Apparently, boredom is a big problem for people stuck at home during the pandemic. I have certainly noticed a lassitude among some of my friends that could be a symptom of either boredom or depression from the long isolation.

Personally, I don’t understand boredom. In part, this is protective. As kids, if we whined “I’m bored!” our mother would just give us more chores. That’s a parenting technique I grew to admire, and I’ve passed it on to my children.

Channel Marker, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

Mainers have perfected the art of making hay while the sun shines—working like banshees for 120 days a year so that the larder is full for the winter. Plein air painters do a variation on the same dance, of course. This year has set that on its head, as I’m reminded when I see our beautiful old wooden schooners in their winter coverings in August.

However, I’m working harder than ever. I believe in the Sabbath—rest is a gift, after all. But it gets harder and harder to find the time as I dive deeper into this busy season.

I’m writing this in Yarmouth, where I’m staying for Cape Elizabeth Land Trust’s Paint for Preservation. This ought to be the easiest of events, because we have three days to do one painting, but they want us to paint big.

Fog Bank, oil on linen, by Carol L. Douglas. This is one of those paintings that I didn’t know what to make of when I did it, but that’s growing on me.

On Wednesday I wrotethat I was debating whether to bring the oil-primed 48X48 canvas I built for this event. The winds only got worse, and when I attempted to lift the canvas onto my roof rack, it slammed back down to earth. On the way down, it put a nasty scratch in the rear panel of the car, reminding me of Jane Chapin mangling the side of her pickup and insisting “that’ll buff out.”

It did buff out, more or less, but it was a sign that I shouldn’t try to paint that large in unsettled weather. Bobbi ran to Artist & Craftsman in Portland and got me a 40X40. I’m now carrying that, a 40X30, and three ‘smaller’ canvases.

They wrest their living from the sea, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

I told this to Ken DeWaard, who’s also in this event. He called me crazy, and then told me he’s packed a 30X40 and several smaller canvases in his car. He drives a Honda Fit—and he’s 6’5”.

Why do we bring so many canvases? We can guess, but we can’t predict what the best size and shape will be for the scene that presents itself. Even when we know the location (and I don’t, this year), the light and atmospherics are constantly changing.

I’d intended to take Wednesday off, but all that packing and planning ran right through my day of rest. That doesn’t include the work I never got to, like writing my Zoom lessons for next week. Listening to someone else’s to-do list is boring, I know, but I’m just demonstrating why I’m never bored.

Bobbi’s husband took exception to the idea that one could go through life never getting bored. “What about boring tasks?” he asked. We all have them, of course, but these days we just listen to music or a podcast. And I have a secret weapon: a sketchbook I deploy in meetings or anywhere else I’m expected to sit quietly for long periods.

Monday Morning Art School: using angles for measurement

Measurement and angles are the basis of drawing. Learn how to use them, and you can draw anything.
Geraniums, by Carol L. Douglas, pastel. Available, but has to be collected in person as it’s glazed in non-reflective glass.

Last week’s lesson on the pencil and thumb method was easy to teach in person, but difficult to write out in steps. Today’s lesson, on using angles, is easier to write, but will be a little trickier to master.

This has to do with how our brains are wired, not how ‘talented’ you may or may not be—that’s mostly, as Mr. Edison pointed out, a matter of persistence anyway. But the human mind simply doesn’t ‘read’ angles and negative space when it’s not focusing on them. This is why we use our pencil as a visual aid. It forces our brains to pay attention.

The good news is that you can rapidly teach your brain to notice angles and negative space.

Two pieces of silverware and a coffee cup: a surprisingly tricky thing to draw. But when you’re done, you’ll have the basic tools to draw anything.

Once again, close one eye and focus on the pencil, not the object you’re measuring. Hold the pencil along an imaginary plate glass window in front of you, and tilt it to match the angle you’re measuring. Then reproduce the line on your paper.

If at first you screw up, it’s probably that you’ve canted one end of the pencil away from you. Straighten it up and try again.

Once you’ve mastered measuring with the pencil and thumb method and learned to see and copy angles on to your paper, you can draw anything from portraits to animals to landscapes to figure.

Start by measuring the basic shapes using the pencil and thumb method we learned last week. Mark off the  heights and widths of all the basic shapes.

 

Use your pencil to determine the angles at which the silverware, the sides of the cup, and the handle are traveling. Draw them in as straight lines. This takes a little practice, so be patient and take your time looking at each one.

 

Use your measuring and angle hash marks to block in the major shapes.

 

Often, you can see distortions, objects that are too close together, etc. more easily in the negative space than you can in your drawing of the positive objects. It’s best to check this before you go on to finish your drawing.

You can use angles to check your work. Here I checked the angle from the right tine of the fork to the handle of the cup, and the angle across the top of the two pieces of silverware.

Note: last week I wrote about the difficulty of decision-making in the age of coronavirus. My workshop in Pecos is now on, thanks to the Herculean efforts of Jane Chapin. The statewide 14-day-quarantine is expected to be lifted on September 1, but that doesn’t do travelers or hoteliers much good for trips immediately after that, which must be booked now. Jane figured out a great solution. We won’t be breaking quarantine, and we will be able to paint out in the field.

Jane cleaned her studio so we have a backup location in case of rain. Isn’t that gorgeous?
San Miguel County, where the workshop will be held, remains one of the safest places in America, with zero deaths from coronavirus. We’re going, using all the safety methods we can employ—masks and hand sanitizer in the airport, frequent handwashing, etc. And we expect to have a lovely, lovely time, paint in some gorgeous spots, and learn lots.

Ironically, airfares are so low right now that the total cost of the workshop has plummeted, at least for me, coming from the northeast.

At this point, the limiting factor isn’t the number of people I can teach, but the number of beds I can rustle up. Jane still has a few up her sleeve. So if you’re bold* and love the western landscape, you’re welcome to join us. Email me to initiate a conversation.

On the road again. I can barely contain my excitement!

*Jane and I have a history, and it always seems to include adventure… and lots of laughter.

Fear of Failure

People do not become brave in a vacuum—they get that way by taking risks.

Along the Pecos River in Winter, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

The newest diversion for small businessmen in America is to sit up nights and think about what they should cancel. I had my most recent conversation about this with Jane Chapinon Saturday, as we try to figure out whether my New Mexico workshop is on or not. The problem in New Mexico is the same one we faced here in Maine earlier in the year: the same advisories that are appropriate for places like Albuquerque are overkill for small mountain towns. Even though painters will be safe in Pecos, we still must abide by state law.

It may seem like tempting fate, but I don’t worry overmuch about coronavirus. It’s wise to be cautious about it, just as it’s wise to be prudent when camping in bear country. But I’m in good health for my age, and my chances of recovery are vastly greater (better than a hundred to one) than dying if I contract the disease. I’d like to live to a great old age, but, as Lucy Angkatell chirpily notes in Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, we’re all going to die of something anyway.

Downdraft snow, by Carol L. Douglas

The Hollow was written in 1946, and Lady Angkatell’s attitude toward death is as obsolete as the novel’s melodrama. Modern society is constructed around a fierce desire to minimize risk. We worry about lawsuits; we worry about perceived threats that may have little basis in reality. We’ve been conditioning ourselves out of risk-taking for most of my adult life.

When I was a kid, we routinely walked to school without adult supervision, played games without adult supervision, rode horses without adult supervision, and used tools and equipment with only the loosest adult supervision. Today, kids are barred from doing these things, yet the child mortality rate has never been lower in America (largely because of vaccines).

New Mexico Farmstead, by Carol L. Douglas.

When my kids were babies, the bogeyman in the room was child abduction, which kept a whole generation under the watchful eyes of their mothers. It turned out to be largely illusory, but it effectively ended childhood freedom.

Yesterday I was talking with a Zoom student from Tennessee. He mentioned that he learned to drive a tractor at age 8. Today, he’s a pilot. I was about the same age when I learned to drive our Ford 9N. By age 14, I was moving hay from fields in one town to our home farm in the next. Had I been injured in a farm accident then, it would have been a tragedy. Today, it would be a reason to pass a new set of laws barring kids from farm work.

Pecos hillside, by Carol L. Douglas. No, our workshop isn’t scheduled for snow season; I just have a perverse liking for winter.

But being raised as ‘free range’ children was formative to creating intrepid adults. A child who learns how to manage risk will grow into a confident adult. That’s key, as I wrote recently, to success in the arts. People do not become brave in a vacuum—they get that way by taking risks and accepting defeat.

I occasionally have a super-achiever in painting class, a person who has always been the best at whatever he or she attempts. That’s a terrible handicap in art. The inability to accept failure means they can’t accept the risk that is inherent in all art-making. Their fear of failure consigns them to fail.

Art, after all, could be defined as a series of failures on the way to an impossible objective. For that, risk-taking is a great teacher.

By the way, if you wonder why comments must be moderated on this blog, it’s because of mornings like this, where I start my day by deleting dozens of bot-spam comments before I can actually write anything.