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.

Women in the wild

Women are the majority of plein air painters, but some are afraid to be outside working alone.
The Alaska Range, by Carol L. Douglas
Louise-Joséphine Sarazin de Belmont was a landscape painter who traveled around Italy painting ‘views’ at a time when nice women were expected to be chaperoned in public. She made a tidy income for herself in the process. She’s one of two female artists represented in the National Gallery’s True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870, which runs until May. 
The other is Rosa Bonheur, who is best known for her animal paintings (including The Horse Fair). Bonheur was a one-off, refusing to be pigeonholed by society. She dressed in men’s clothing and openly lived with women. She didn’t want to be male; instead, she felt that trousers and short hair gave her an advantage when handling large animals.
Clouds over Teslin Lake, the Yukon, by Carol L. Douglas
We have an idea that 19th-century society was extremely repressed, but Bonheur was its most famous woman painter. Among those who admired her work was Queen Victoria. Bonheur, like Sarazin de Belmont, was an astute businesswoman, able to earn enough by age 37 to buy herself the Chateau de By.
Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot are the best-known 19th century painters today; why weren’t they as popular then? In part, they suffered from their restricted subject matter.
Western Ontario forest, by Carol L. Douglas
“Morisot isn’t going out with all of her paint tools, like everybody else, and setting up along the river and painting all day,” said curator Mary Morton in this thoughtful essay by Karen Chernick. “That’s absolutely because of the limitations of her gender and her class. She’s a nice upper middle-class French woman, and it’s just not seemly. In the end, her most accomplished pictures tend to be things she can do indoors.”
It’s something I’ve been thinking about recently, after reading a plaintive letter from a woman afraid to paint alone outdoors. “Can you give me tips for safety?” she asked.
Cobequid Bay Farm, Hants County, Nova Scotia, by Carol L. Douglas
Since the plein air painting scene is predominantly female, many women have made the adjustment to working alone. I’ve camped and painted alone through the Atlantic states and for 10,000 miles through Alaska and Canada with my daughter. I’ve been unnerved by tourists acting idiotically, but I’ve never been bothered by human predators.
But perhaps I’m not harassed because I’m so old, this blogger suggests. I don’t think so; I’ve been doing it for a long time. And I’m not the only woman interested in painting on the road. Deborah Frey McAllister created the International Sisterhood of the Traveling Paints on Facebook. Debby calls herself a ‘free range artist.’
Hermit’s Peak, El Porviner, NM, by Carol L. Douglas
It’s possible to run into trouble anywhere. In my experience, there are stranger people in town parks than in national forests. The worst thing that’s ever happened to me was being warned away from drug deals. But be alert and aware of your surroundings. 
The subject is something I’ll address when I speak to the Knox County Art Society on tips for the traveling painter. That’s Tuesday, March 10, at 7 PM in the Marianne W. Smith Gallery at the Lord Camden Inn, 24 Main Street, Camden. The talk is open to the public; the suggested donation is $5.

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.

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.

Monday Morning Art School: how to hang an art show

You can hang by eye, or measure. The latter will look better, I promise.

Yesterday, we hung a show for the Knox County Art Society, at Boynton-McCayin Camden, ME. Here, Ken Foster demonstrates how not to use a ladder.

You’re bound to be asked to hang work a library, restaurant, beauty shop, or other non-commercial gallery space. These are great opportunities for exposure for the emerging artist, but they’re unlikely to have a commercial hanging system. You can either hang by eye or you can measure. The latter will look better, and it requires no math skills beyond what you learned in 4th grade.
You will need:
Hammer
Tape measure
Yardstick
Leatherman or equivalent all-purpose tool
Pencil
Scrap paper
A calculator
Strap hangers on pictures should be set 1/3 down from the top. Too low and they’ll roll forward; too high and the wire will show. When hanging a group show, you’ll inevitably come across paintings that have been wired too high or too loose. The all-purpose tool is to make those adjustments before you hang.
Lorilei Clayton and I started by laying the work out to see what would look best.
Decide on the order in which the paintings will be hung. In an open room, this is not complicated; just stand them up along the walls and keep rearranging until you’re happy. In a small, cluttered space, you may need to lay small arrangements out on tables, floors, etc. Try to match colors and themes, but don’t be too rigid. A combination of realism and abstraction is pleasing.
Use the areas with the best visibility for large statement pieces. Put the highest-chroma/best graphic design in window spaces. Smaller pieces are better in smaller, more intimate corners.
Start with a basic map of each wall. The blue line is the chalk line, at eye height. The figures above are necessary to give you the centerpoints of each painting, unless you’re very, very lucky and all the work is the same size.
Once you’ve decided on the order in which you want to your pictures, you need to make a basic map. Let us say, for example, that you want five pieces to hang along a wall. None are the same size. Total up the width of all the pieces. Measure the overall wall length. The difference between the wall length and the total width of your pieces is how much room you can leave for gaps. If, for example you have 110” of framed work and a 160” wall, that extra 50” is what you can leave between paintings. There are four spaces between paintings and two on the end, so if you want even gaps, they would be 8.33” each. That’s a stupid number to work with, so leave 9” on each end and 8” between paintings. A little juggling will give you reasonable numbers.
Find the center point of each painting and mark it on your plan. For example, if a work is 28” in its frame, the center is at 14”.  I write all these out on my plan, as on the example above.
Run a horizontal chalk line. This is a two-person job. Snap this line at eye height—say 62” for an average American. This line will be your centerline for all the paintings. (It’s possible to align on the top edges, but I avoid that when possible.)
Now, you’re going to start on the left side and mark all those space divisions on your chalk line. It’s not strictly necessary to mark the edges of the paintings, and you’ll want to use an extra-hard mark at the center points, but it’s awfully easy to make a mistake here. Marking them gives a measure of foolproofness.
The problem with paintings is that the wire is never the same height on two works, even when they come from the same framer. You’ll have to adjust for that. Use a tape measure to figure out how far the wire hits below the edge when it is taut. Let us say it’s a 20” tall frame and the wire comes up to 1.5” from the edge of the frame. I know the midpoint is at 10”, so I subtract the 1.5” from that and place the hook—not the nail—at 8.5” above the midpoint. 
Mercifully, this is all the number-juggling you’ll have to do.
At the end, you’ll level each painting and hold it secure with rubber bumpers or a bit of museum putty.
Try to work from the center out. It’s easier to correct small errors on the edges. And don’t be afraid to pull and rehang a nail if it doesn’t look right to you—holes are easily filled with spackle.
On a vertical arrangement, measure the total height, calculate the gaps, and make a small drawing for guidance.  Figure the center point and drop a chalk line down. Instead of working from the middle, however, work from the top.
When you’ve positioned the paintings properly, level them. I prefer to put clear rubber bumpers on them to stop them from moving, but you can also use museum putty for this.