The Artist’s Way is to eat and drink

Partly finished palm tree by Carol L. Douglas

We rented our Bahamian cottage from a fellow artist from Spruce Head, Maine—Cali Veilleux. She’s a warm soul and has been very generous in sharing her time and knowledge. “I love seeing artists here,” she told us. (If you’re in the market for a Bahama rental, by the way, her place is comfortable and immaculate.)

When we first arrived, she gave us a tour. “That’s the best KFC in the world,” she announced. We all laughed because, of course, that’s setting the bar very low. We tried it last night. By gum, she was right. It was light, crunchy, and delicious; in short, not just your Colonel’s chicken.
The ice-cream colors of the cottages in our little neighborhood are lovely. We painted here in the morning while waiting for the weather to settle. I made it most of the way through my study of this palm tree and its shadow before it was time to head out to the beach.
Another one that got away. I hope to get back there today.
Alas, it was much too windy to paint on the shore, so we settled for a beachside lunch of grilled shrimp instead. When the wind refused to settle, we scouted inland. 
There aren’t natural harbors on Grand Bahama Island, so people moor their boats in a network of canals and lagoons. For boat people like Bobbi Heath and me, that’s unfortunate, since they don’t show to best advantage. Nevertheless, we were invited by the Sir Charles Hayward Yacht Club to return to watch their under-10s do their sailing class later in the afternoon.
Kitchen at Garden of the Groves, by Carol L. Douglas
In the meantime, we went to the Garden of the Groves to paint foliage. This is a large artificial environment stuffed to the gills with birds and trees. It’s a sort of tropical Garden at Giverny, with innumerable painting moments. I, naturally, gravitated to the bar. This leaned over a small lagoon. I was wrapping it up when I heard a voice drifting over the water.
“We don’t drink and drive. We drink and then drive!” Oh, boy. We’d been told that the Bahamas were relaxed about drunk-driving. That makes me nervous to drive in the evening here.  
There were turtles everywhere in the Garden of the Groves. One kept me company while painting.
The Optimist Pram class was everything you could hope for from a group of wee rascals. They were very good and managed to line up and race twice in the hour of their lesson. Nobody capsized, deliberately or otherwise. When they were done, several children came over to talk to us about our work.
Optimist Pram Class at Sir Charles Hayward Yacht Club, by Carol L. Douglas
“Do you know how old I am?” a boy demanded of Bobbi. “I’m six.” A moment later, he added, “I just peed my pants.”
We made it home with barely enough time to shower and dress for an opening for the Grand Bahamas Artists Association, which included work by Eva Dehmel and Cali. A mere two days on the island and we were invited to swill plonk with the natives.
Grand Bahamas Artists Association opening.
As the designated driver, I stuck to ice water. Even so, I was nearly killed walking across the street to the opening. The car in my lane stopped to let me through. The oncoming car never even slowed down, despite my wearing white and being in a lighted crosswalk. Bobbi and Joelle Feldman screamed a warning. I jumped back just in time. I wonder how drunk that fellow was.
“I would have hated to have to call Doug and tell him you were dead,” Bobbi told me after the shock had worn off. It’s nice to be loved.

Princess of flying thoughts

Princess of flying thoughts II, 2008 Acrylic on palm shaft, Eva Dehmel
As I write this the last echoes of thunder are moving off to the east, ending a night of rain and clamor. “This cold front will move through fast,” a woman named Eva confidently told us in McLean’s Town. That was just after she had fried us some exquisite fresh snapper, followed with slivers of Key Lime Pie that would not have been out of place in any fine restaurant. As compensation for a no-painting day, it was sublime.
We’d optimistically packed our gear and then headed to the farthest western point we could reach by car. Although that was about 45 miles, it took us several hours, between the roads, the scenery, and our general potting around.
Where your dinner-time conch shell goes to die.
Eva and Karl Dehmel live in a mushroom house on the beach near Lucayan National Park. A retired dermatologist, Eva works in clay, acrylics, chalks, and found material. The painting above hangs in her kitchen. The figure represents a Cuban deity, a wood princess, surrounded by her birds. In Eva’s mind, those birds represent thoughts flying away, an idea I found quite charming. More of Eva’s work can be seen here.
Making a pole for a fishing boat.
We stopped at the former East End Missile Base and tromped around for a while at their abandoned quay. Tiny blue buttons drifted on the surf. Porpita porpita looks like a jellyfish but is in fact a colony of hydroids. Its intense blue-green color is a variation of the Caribbean waters.
Cold front moving in on West Grand Bahamas.
McLean’s Town is a popular place for sport bonefishing. The bonefish lives in inshore tropical waters and moves onto shallow mudflats with the incoming tide in search of its dinner. These mudflats are surrounded by mangrove swamps. “What a weird little structure this forest is,” I remarked to Bobbi Heath. Apparently, mangrove swamps are important in protecting low coastal areas from erosion and storm surges. Their massive root systems dissipate wave energy and trap sediment.
If those were 35 mph gusts, I’m glad I wasn’t here for a hurricane..
I announced that I was rested and ready to take the wheel. I haven’t driven on the British side since August, and I wondered whether I retained the muscle memory. No problem, and while Bahamian drivers are erratic and ebullient, they’re also very courteous. We were home and unpacked before the skies truly opened.

The anti-Sanibel Island

Fire in Freeport.
If you’ve ever been downwind of a forest fire, you know they smell more like burning trash than like a nice log fire. There’s one poking in a desultory way around Freeport, the Bahamas, right now. Nobody seems to be doing much about it. 
“I felt a little like Evil Knievel driving right through it,” artist Cali Veilleux told us, but she still went. Things to do, you know. She was worried that the smoke would linger in our cottage, but it was fine.
The fire is burning in a residential neighborhood.
Damage from Hurricane Matthew was less transient. All over Freeport, roofs are knocked apart and large palm trees slumber across fences or buildings. A steady rain today—and there’s one on the forecast—could make for a lot of damp stucco.
Yes, there’s a fire, but a girl’s got to get to school.
Life replays recurrent themes. The unfinished painting on my easel at home is of a wildfire burn near Banff, Alberta. I experienced Hurricane Matthew’s leavings during a memorable up the Great Northern Peninsula in Newfoundland during the same trip. Why this happens, I don’t know, but it does neatly connect my familiar, much-loved Canada with this new place.
I’ve absolutely no experience in the Caribbean. The last time I was in Florida was in 1968. My friends have either visited swank resorts or they have gone on mission trips to Haitian and Dominican orphanages. This neighborhood in Freeport is stubbornly normal, a place where people live, eat, work and shop.
Unfinished wildfire painting in my studio back in Maine. It all seems to work together somehow.
It’s all very modest, even by Maine standards. You disembark straight onto the tarmac when you arrive at the airport. Customs waved us through without questions. We sat on a bench and flexed our joints to release the New England cold from our bones.

A trip to a grocery store elsewhere is always a reminder of how spoiled we Americans are for price and choice. The differences are sometimes inexplicable. Here, Eggland’s Best Organic Eggs are the same price as at my local store, but a large jar of peanut butter is $11 and change. Most peculiarly for an island, there is no seafood department. “You get that at the beach,” Cali explained.
Trees lie around lazily in the sun, blaming Hurricane Matthew for their inactivity.
None of us had the energy to deal with a car last night. This morning we will immerse ourselves in the bracing business of driving in what the Duke of Windsor once referred to as “a third-class British colony.” (That man really was spoiled.) Being only sixty miles off the American coast, only half the cars have right-side steering wheels. That and the exuberant, erratic driving ought to shake off our flying lethargy in a hurry.

How not to pack for a painting trip

I love travel but loathe packing. My clothes take me fifteen minutes or so, as one pair of paint-stained clamdiggers is interchangeable with any other. It’s the tools, paints and supplies that require thought.  I always print out my student supply list as a starting point. (You can find a copy here.)
I had unexpected company on the weekend. That meant I was even less prepared than usual. Still, with list in hand, I was unlikely to forget anything useful.
I’m on my way to Freeport in the Bahamas to paint with Joelle Feldman and Bobbi Heath. I felt good about my packing job until I saw theirs. Bobbi also works from a list, but hers is separated into “checked luggage” and “carry on.” Bobbi’s painting kit was lost en route to Brittany last year and not recovered until long after she got home. She has learned the painful lesson that some things shouldn’t be checked.
Less attention to my pedicure, more to packing would have helped.
Recently, one of my students arrived at the airport with a new 150 ml tube of paint in her carry-on bag. “Everyone knows you can’t do that,” we think. You’d be surprised at the mistakes you can make if you’re rushed or tired. Mercifully, it was just titanium white instead of a more expensive pigment.
Bearing that in mind, I carefully tucked my paints into my checked luggage. My tools and easel I kept in my carry-on. They are the priciest part of my kit and would be the hardest to replace on the road.
Joelle is a pastel painter. Her entire kit and clothing fit into a carry-on bag. That’s partly because she’s very efficient. Her clothes were vacuum-packed. Bobbi and I have the excuse of being oil painters to explain our extra luggage. We’d also been advised to bring toilet paper and paper towels with us, so our bags were fluffier than normal.
You really packed a half-empty bottle of plonk, Carol?
The first intimation that I might have done a bad job packing came last night when I realized I’d tucked my umbrella into my kit. It’s cumbersome and I never bring it on the road if I can help it. There was no going back, so it is heading to the Bahamas with me. This morning I noticed an odd shape sticking out of my suitcase. Investigating, I found a half-finished bottle of wine. It has been in my luggage since I returned from Canada in October.
Bobbi’s suitcase was far more orderly than mine.
Even we couldn’t face stale red wine before 6 AM. So I rinsed my hair with it.
But my real painting advice for the day is to make sure you put your palette knives, scraper and Leatherman tool in your checked luggage, not your carry-on. The alternative—replacing them or paying for another checked bag—are both expensive, as I now know.
Looking for packing advice? You should probably ask Bobbi or Joelle.

Moving on, or moving back

“Under a milky sky (Hare Bay, Newfoundland),” Carol L. Douglas

I’m happy to announce that as of today, Watch Me Paintreturns to Blogspot. I’d like to thank the Bangor Daily News for the past 17 months of hosting. It’s been a great learning experience, and there are many fine blogs on that platform that I read every day.
Astute readers may have noticed that Watch Me Paint has appeared on several platforms for the past five months. This was market research. The modern internet gives us analytic tools simple enough even for an artist to use. I know who visits my website and where they come from. That information supports what the experts say: when all else is equal, host your own blog. It gives you total control of your brand.
My students have heard me speak of group norming in terms of painting. This is when artists who work closely together influence each other’s style. This is the process by which a painting group becomes a ‘school’. It can be a powerful tool for creating new art movements, or it can be repressive.
For painters, it’s important to find working partners interested in the same questions as you are. That doesn’t mean your work will always look the same. For example, even though he was a founding member of the Group of Seven, Lawren Harris ended up being an abstract painter.
Here in Maine, we haven’t been doing much outdoor group painting recently. Meanwhile, my old friends in Rochester have been out every week. They’re having a rare, snowless winter. So I jumped when Bobbi Heath and Joëlle Feldman invited me to join them to paint in the Bahamas next month. Both of them are interested in the same fundamental questions I am: drawing, color relationships and the simplification of landscape. I expect that tropical climate has far different light than I’m used to, and am going to bring a few pigments that I don’t usually use.
I’m committed to finishing my backlog of Canada paintings before we head out. I’m making slow progress, but I’m starting with the least-finished pieces first.
“Grain Elevators, Saskatchewan,” Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday I worked on a painting started in the tiny village of Hare Bay on the northeast coast of Newfoundland. Hurricane Matthew was moving in. There was a milky sky in the deep gloom of fading light. The lighting seemed to fit the mood of this small, poor, isolated town tucked in under an enormous rocky ledge. It wasn’t until I picked it up again in my studio that I felt the oppressive emptiness of the harbor.
The other painting is of a grain elevator in Neelby, Saskatchewan. This was started in a ghost town now owned by rancher Gordon Kish. Again, the light was fading. There is something immensely silent in that hour before twilight, when the shadows are long and every detail is picked out by the searchlight sun. And yet my painting is hardly still. Who knows why?
This morning it’s 12° F in Neelby and 15° F in Hare Bay. While I love field painting more than anything, there’s a time for central heating, too.