Making hay while the sun shines

This, friends, is why I’m not getting everything done!

Beautiful Dream (Rockport Harbor), 12X16, oil on canvasboard, $1449 framed.

I’m a one-man band, which means that in addition to painting, I do all my own accounting, advertising, and vacuuming. Sometimes things slip under the rug—and I’m not talking about just the dog’s duck toy. This time it was advertising my upcoming classes in a timely manner. It didn’t occur to me until yesterday, and my next session of plein air starts tomorrow.

That’s why people will sometimes tell me, “I didn’t know you teach,” or something similar. These pieces are such a big part of my life that it boggles my mind that it didn’t even penetrate their consciousness. That is the price we pay for our divided modern existence—half on-line, half in the real world. One half doesn’t really know what the other is doing.

Balletic sway, 9X12, oil on canvasboard, $696 unframed.

Let me run through my activities this summer and fall:

Plein air class

There are three openings left in this class. It meets on Thursdays from 10-1 AM in the Camden-Rockport-Rockland area. The dates are:

July 15, 22, 29
August 5, 19, 26

The fee for the six-week session is $210.

These classes are strictly limited to 12 people. As always, we’ll be focusing on the water, shoreline, boats, architecture, and outstanding natural beauty of this place we’re blessed to call home.

Early spring, 8X10, oil on canvasboard, $522 unframed.

Zoom Monday evening classes

You don’t need to be in Maine to take these classes. We have students from Texas, Indiana, New York and elsewhere joining us. These are limited to 14 people per session. I can’t remember who’s told me they’re coming back, but I expect that I’ll have 3-4 openings.

We meet on Mondays from 6 to 9 PM EST, on the following dates:

July 26, August 2
August 16, 23, 30

The fee for the five-week session is $175.

Friendship, 9X12, oil on canvasboard, $696 unframed.

Sea & Sky at Schoodic, August 8-13
This workshop is sold out (but you can emailme if you want to be wait-listed).

Age of Sail aboard schooner American Eagle, September 19-23
This workshop is also sold out (but you can email me if you want to be wait-listed).

Authentic West at Cody, Wyoming, September 5-10

Cody’s a small airport, so this workshop has run up against the national car-rental shortage. If you’re interested, contact me and we’ll try to work out a transportation solution.

Gateway to Pecos Wilderness, September 12-16

This workshop has five openings. It’s a place I especially love to teach, with all the grandeur and warmth of the west.

Red Rocks of Sedona, September 26-October 1

For this workshop, you contact the art center directly, here.

Moss-draped oaks in Tallahassee Florida

This is being organized by my friend Natalia Andreeva, so you contact her directly here.

Naturally air-conditioned!

Open air gallery at 394 Commercial Street, Rockport, ME

Meanwhile, I’m running my open-air gallery outside my home five days a week. That’s Tuesday-Saturday, noon-6, at 394 Commercial Street, Rockport, ME

And that, friends, is why I’m not getting everything done!

Train like a Roman

Currently, the average American can expect to spend 20 years in retirement. That’s long enough to make significant contributions to art.

Apple Blossom Time, 9×12, oil on canvasboard, $696 unframed.

To become a Roman legionary, one needed to be male, between the ages of 17 and 45, and a citizen. One also needed to be extremely fit. Legionaries marched at grueling speeds while maintaining perfect alignment with their fellows. Ordinary pace was twenty Roman miles in five hours, and fast pace was 24 Roman miles in the same time. They did this while wearing 70-lb packs on their backs.

A legionary signed up for a 25-year tour of duty, which meant the youngest they could hypothetically retire was at age 42.

Men signed up because the Roman Legions were one of the few paths of upward mobility in the Roman world. The army was an honorable profession with steady pay and great retirement benefits. Make it to the end of your 25 years, and you’d get a land grant equal in value to twelve years’ wages.

Roman historians were not concerned with the lifestyles of the poor and irrelevant, but Roman skeletons in Britain offer tantalizing glimpses. Of the Roman skeletons unearthed at Cirencester, about half were arthritic.

Spring Greens, 8X10, oil on canvasboard, $522 unframed.

Old Romans—like us—suffered from a panoply of illnesses including nerve damage, injuries that failed to heal properly, and intractable diseases like cancer. Their doctors were savvy about pain management. Ice packs and frigid water decreased swelling. Hot baths decreased muscle spasms. Doctors recommended exercise and weight loss. They prescribed good food, including protein, dairy, fruits, vegetables and grains. When things got bad, they had herbal remedies, up to and including opium.

But opium was for the end-stage sufferer. How did the typical legionary deal with the aches and pains of encroaching old age? Willow bark (aspirin’s precursor) and turmeric helped, but mostly they just worked through it.

I remember reading, long ago, about a legionary cure for joint stiffness: go out for a run. Exercise warms up the muscles, which in turn takes the stress of the joints. That sounds a lot like what one does at the beginning of a modern physical therapy session. In fact, Galen’s emphasis on diet, fitness, hygiene and preventive medicine sounds a lot like modern alternative medicine. (The bloodletting and vivisection, not so much.)

Spring Break, 10X10, oil on canvasboard, $645 unframed.

An old (2010) study showed that Americans averaged about 5100 steps a day, or just 2.5 miles of walking. That probably overstates our movement, since wearing pedometers tends to motivate us. We’re a nation of couch-potatoes, and we’re also a nation that pops pills. 55% of us take prescription medications, and we average four prescriptions apiece.

What does this have to do with painting? In our culture, painting has become the province of retirees. With the exception of undergraduate art programs, painting ateliers are populated by grey-hairs.

Friendship spring day, 9×12, oil on canvasboard, $696 unframed.

The good news is, we tend to live a lot longer. The bad news is, many of us live those last years badly.

For the Roman legionary, retirement didn’t mean a rest; it meant finally being able to take up farming. Roman soldiers worked their bodies hard into extreme old age.

Currently, the average American can expect to spend 20 years in retirement. That’s long enough to master painting, to make significant contributions to art. But to do that, you need to maintain your fitness. I’m not suggesting that you strap a 70-lb pack on your back, but keep moving, for art’s sake.Watch Me Paint is moving. It will be hosted by my website. No, I haven’t figured out how to automate anything, but I’m working on it. If you’re one of the thousands of subscribers who’ve been getting my blog through Feedburner, I’m trying to port your email address to a new service. It’s the end of Feedburner that has forced me to make this change.

Losing yourself in paint

The time you spend painting is not deducted from your lifespan.

One of my Monday night students told me her father lived to 107. He said, “the time you spend sailing is not deducted from your lifespan.”

He also believed that oatmeal every morning and a wee dram before supper would extend your life. I’ve got that part half right. Unfortunately, it’s the oatmeal; I eat it every morning.

I told my other class this and we speculated on what other activities might qualify. “Cocktail hour,” one suggested. I’m afraid that’s probably situational; some cocktail hours are fraught.

I think there’s something to Carol’s dad’s theory. There are activities that are so deeply satisfying that they flush the cares of the day right out. I’m not saying they’re easy; they are, as my friend Martha said of sewing, both mindful and mindless at the same time. Time doesn’t stand still; it vanishes. We each have our own list. For many, that includes painting. Like sailing and sewing, it rests on a firm technical foundation. It engages the mind and yet lets it roam.

Numerous studies have shown that engaging with the arts increases lifespan,  soothes chronic pain, staves off symptoms of dementia and accelerates brain development in kids.

My next session of classes is starting soon, and the exciting news is that we’ll be painting en plein air in the Rockport—Rockland—Camden area again. These classes will be Thursdays from 10-1 AM. The dates are:

  • May 27
  • June 3, 10, 24 (skips 17th for Age of Sail workshop)
  • July 1, 8

The fee for the six-week session is $210.

If you’re in the midcoast area and want to sign up, please contact me soon. As of last night I had four openings left. These classes are strictly limited to 12 people, because my legs can carry me only so fast. As always, we’ll be focusing on the water, shoreline, boats, architecture, and outstanding natural beauty of this place we’re blessed to call home.

If you’re not in midcoast Maine, you can sign up for another session of weekly classes by Zoom. Since some of my local students will be moving to the plein air group, there should be a few seats in each online class. These are limited to 14 people per session.

ZOOM morning Session

We meet on Tuesdays from 10 AM to 1 PM EST, on the following dates:

  • May 25
  • June 1, 8, 22, 29 (skips 15th for Age of Sail workshop)
  • July 6

The fee for the six-week session is $210.

ZOOM evening Session

We meet on Mondays from 6 to 9 PM EST, on the following dates:

  • May 24, 31
  • June 7, 21, 28 (skips 14th for Age of Sail workshop)
  • July 5

The fee for the six-week session is $210.

You don’t need to be in Maine to take these classes. We have students from Texas, Indiana, New York and elsewhere joining us.

As always, registration priority will be given to current students; if you’re interested, contact me to be put on a waitlist.

About these classes:

We cover the same subjects indoors and outdoors:

  • Color theory
  • Accurate drawing
  • Mixing colors
  • Finding your own voice
  • Authentic brushwork

We stress painting protocols to get you to good results with the least amount of wasted time. That means drawing, brushwork and color. I’m not interested in creating carbon copies of my style; I’m going to nurture yours, instead. However, you will learn to paint boldly, using fresh, clean color. You’ll learn to build commanding compositions, and to use hue, value and line to draw the eye through your paintings.

Watercolor, oils, pastels, acrylics and—yes, even egg tempera—are all welcome. Because they are small groups, I can work with painters of all levels.

All my classes are strictly limited to 14 people.

Email me for more information and supply lists.

Monday Morning Art School: how to succeed in painting

The essential principle for learning is to keep on doing it until the light clicks on.

Samantha East just started painting this year. So far, so awesome.

I try to link my Monday Morning Art School blog posts to what my students will be studying in the coming week. This week, we’re working on color mixing. Everything I want to say about the subject is here. Since I wrote that just six months ago, I want my students to reread it. Meanwhile, I will address a more important question: how to succeed in painting.

There are many reasons people quit art classes, including overload in other areas of their lives. Most commonly, however, they either need time to integrate what they’ve already learned, or they realize that their interest in painting isn’t a passion.

It’s all about process. Samantha’s thumbnail, about which she writes, “loving this tool, it’s already saved me from myself several times.”

My classes have been full all year (and yes, that opening in the night class was snapped up). That has caused a kind of winnowing effect—the people who stay are very focused. That in turn raises the rate at which we’re learning, which in turn increases the pressure. It’s exhilarating.

The amount of time students can invest in painting varies, of course. Some are working and some are retired. But all of them are highly motivated.

And, yeah, I make them work through the subject in monochrome first.

That means they often solicit my opinion after class is done. I’m happy to comment, although sometimes my responses may seem terse. (I’m not that good at typing on my phone.) Often, the student knows the answer before they hit ‘send’ but it helps to have me verify it.

Ask questions. Lots of them.

Nobody writes more frequently or extensively than Samantha. We met aboard the good ship American Eagle during one of my Age of Sail watercolor workshops. She was not in the class, but she buzzed me with questions. I’ve since learned this is her modus operandi, and it’s key to her success in life.

We had very little contact again for more than a year, when she signed up for a Zoom class and then my workshop in Tallahassee. Samantha has since thrown herself into painting. Most weeks, she sends me a precisof her work. That’s in lieu of posting in our class group on Facebook, because she doesn’t do social media. Which leads me to tip #2:

Seek and accept criticism.

My students have a closed FB group. It’s where they share their finished work. That requires that they trust others to be kind but honest. That’s relationship, and it doesn’t come from social media.

Samantha’s watercolor, which she didn’t like but I did.

The students who will stumble are the ones who take correction with, “yes, but…” I wince when I hear it, because I have a very strong streak of that in myself. It impeded me for many years.

Play your scales

Samantha was recently unhappy with her trees and shrubs. She sat down with Google and YouTube to methodically investigate what others say about painting trees. Then she practiced them, over and over.

“Dern useful, I must say,” she concluded.  “I feel like my chances of producing an aesthetically-pleasing and reasonably-accurate tree are now a lot better.”

If your trees are poor, then study trees.

Revel in your own successes

“I’m pretty happy with this painting,” Samantha told me recently. Then she told me that she didn’t like her watercolor version at all. I strongly disagreed, because I felt the second painting had compelling atmosphere and cohesion. Part of learning is being able to see through someone else’s eyes.

It’s fun to do something well. Too much humility can suck the joy out of anything.

Rinse and repeat

“I remain grimly undaunted,” Samantha told me. “I figure if I keep plugging away at it I’ll eventually get it.” I’m amused by the ‘grimly’ in a woman who’s so full of joy, but she just stated the essential principle for learning: keep on doing it until the light clicks on.

My students make me proud

Lemme show you some pictures…

Linda DeLorey, from a class assignment on painting snow.

I’m turning into one of those old ladies who carries photos around in her phone and shows them to total strangers. However, they’re not pictures of my kids or grandkids (or even the dog). Instead, they’re my students’ paintings. I’m very proud of them.

Amy Thomsen, from a class assignment on painting trees.

People are embracing distance learning, even in the evening after a long day of work. I don’t know if that’s because of the continuing reach of COVID, because it’s winter, or because the limits of geography are lifted.

David Broerman, from a class assignment on painting snow.

It’s turning out to be as much a group of friends as my summer plein air classes. On Monday night, talk turned to baking, a long digression that ended with Mark going to his refrigerator for his sourdough starter. My Tuesday class includes sisters who live across the country from each other. It’s all far warmer and personal than I ever imagined.

Mark Gale, from a class assignment on color substitution.
Lorraine Nichols, from a class assignment on color substitution.

I’ve written extensively about learning how to teach with Zoom. If there’s been a gift from 2020, it’s getting me over the hurdle of video. I used to loathe being on camera; now I don’t even notice it. There’s been lots of trial and error and I’ve upgraded my cameras and monitor. That was worthwhile. With the proper equipment the video barrier seems to evaporate.

Lori Capron Galan, from a class assignment on reflections.

I have Mary Byrom to thank; she’s the one who coached and cajoled me past my resistance. That’s why I pay the favor forward to other teachers when I can.

Carol Durkee, from a class assignment on color substitution.

Beth Carr, from a class assignment on color substitution.

Zoom has made me a better teacher. Instead of teaching reactively, I’ve been forced to be far more proactive in designing lessons. Teaching without geographical boundaries means I’m getting serious students. They’re working extremely hard, and every one of them is improving.

Sharyn Brusie, from a class assignment on reflections.

That’s resulted in a long syllabus that will be the basis of a book, should I ever sit long enough to get some writing done (my New Year resolution.) 

Janice Vierke, from a class assignment on reflections.

We have a Facebook group where my students share recent paintings. I’ve nabbed some for you; I think they speak for themselves. There isn’t enough room in this blog to feature all of them, so I’ll catch up with the rest of them later. In return, I promise to not corner you at the grocery store and show you pictures of my grandkids, cute as they are.

Carrie O’Brien, from a class assignment on reflections.

Patty Mabie, from a class assignment.
Kathy Mannix has sold two paintings since starting my classes earlier this year. Amazing.

Mary Silver lives in the Texas hill country, where snow is generally just a happy dream.

Monday Morning Art School: different strokes

The best way to learn about your brushes is to experiment.Your brushwork contributes immeasurably to the quality of your painting. Don’t dab or be diffident; plan your strategy and then execute it with boldness.

A spalter or mottler is a most useful watercolor brush.

On Friday, I gave you a guide to buying brushes. What are you going to do with these brushes now?


In the following illustrations, I’ve tried to keep the amount of solvent the same (except with the fan brush).

Above is a sable flat brush by Rosemary & Company. It can put down a very smooth surface and offers a lot of control, but it doesn’t carry the quantity of paint that an equivalent bristle brush will. I save sable for glazing or blending.

This is a hog bristle flat brush. The paint it lays down is both rougher and more impasto than the sable.

Flat brushes make an immediate, energetic mark. They’re excellent for fast, powerful surface work, long sweeping strokes, and blocking in shapes.

Used on their sides, they also make great lines, far more evenly than a small round can do.

Two rounds of very different sizes. A round is a more lyrical brush than a flat, and is a classic tool for painterly surface marks. It can be used to make lines that vary from thin to thick. A pointed round is used for fine detail. Bristle rounds tend to lose their points very quickly, however.

The great advantage of a filbert is the variety of brushstrokes you can get from one brush. This is great for single strokes that taper, such as in water reflections. Its rounded edges are good for blending. Set on its side, it makes nearly as good a line as a flat.

A bright is a less-flexible version of a flat. It’s great for short, powerful strokes or situations where you want a lot of control.

A fan brush probably has no place in a plein air kit, but I carry one anyway. I use it for blending, as on the left, although some people like using it to make whacked out marks as on the right. The problem is, it can carry very little paint, so its marks tend to be either gooey, as above, or very abrupt.

In my studio, I just use a clapped out soft-haired brush to blend.

Many plein air painters also carry liners and riggers, which are useful in paintings that are built up smoothly. I don’t paint that way, so I seldom use them. Another brush that is good for detailed work is an angled brush. I don’t have one of them, either. You can do almost any work you can envision with just the brushes I’ve shown you above.


Watercolor brushes are softer than oil-painting brushes. The most expensive are natural bristles, and the difference is usually worth paying for. Natural bristles combine strength with suppleness and hold more paint than synthetics. Unlike oil-painting brushes, your watercolor brushes should last a lifetime, so buy the best you can afford.

In general, watercolor brushes drop more pigment the more vertically they’re held. You can use this to move from a filled area to a broken one in one brush stroke. In all the following examples except for the mop, I’ve held the brush both ways. A good general rule is to carry the vertical brush slowly and in a controlled manner; pull a horizontal brush more rapidly to get the least amount of paint contact with the paper.

Made with the spalter brush at the very top of the page.

The brush I used for the photo montage at the top of the page is a 2″ flat synthetic mottler or spalter brush. I like this shape for both oils and watercolor. It’s a relatively inexpensive brush that gives a beautiful wash. It’s useful for covering large areas quickly, but with precise edges.

A flat gives you good even washes. Used on its side, it can give you a controlled line.
A bright is a shorter version of a flat. More punch with less pigment.

Flats and brights give you nice flat washes, but can be used to make expressive lines as well. Brights have more control and carry less paint, just as they do in oil painting. Turn them on their sides to make a controlled line. Twisting the brush while painting gives an infinite variety of shapes. So too does varying the ratio of paint and water.

You can’t do either of these things in any other medium.

Because of the way watercolor bleeds, its brushes can be used in ways not possible in any other medium–a long blend of different pigments, or by painting a shape in clear water and then dropping pigment into it.

Round brushes give more lyrical lines than flats do.

I don’t normally carry riggers with me in either watercolor or oils. (They’re meant to paint perfect lines, and my world-view apparently doesn’t have many perfect lines in it.) Most of my line work is done with rounds. They do not give as much control on long lines, but they are very expressive.

A mop brush gives a perfect wash, but it does so much more as well.

Squirrel mops are the most uniform wash brush you can use. It’s virtually impossible to make them skip, so use them where a lovely flat wash is a goal. But a good mop can also point, hold vast amounts of paint and sweep across the paper in style.

I think Guillo the dog ate my sea sponge.

Natural sea sponges are multi-purpose painting brushes. Use them to apply or remove paint. They can be as subtle or bold as you wish.

Why don’t I teach private lessons?

You only hear what you are ready to hear. That takes time.

Bracken Fern, oil on canvas, available through Maine Farmland Trust Gallery.

I get frequent requests for private instruction. After all, if group lessons are helpful, wouldn’t private lessons be even better? Absolutely not.

I’ve taken harpsichord, voice and piano lessons. There are many similarities between studying music and painting. In either discipline, instruction time actually plays a small part in the student’s development. Most learning happens during practice, as the student masters what he or she has been shown.

On the other hand, there are significant differences. Painting class is not nearly as noisy, for one thing, so we teachers don’t have to try to sort out each player from the cacophony. We don’t demonstrate the minutiae of fingering or sound production, or concentrate on every note, phrase and fingering. There are aspects of music-making that are intensely detailed and physical. Painting in general avoids that.

Blueberry barrens, Clary Hill, oil on canvas, available through Maine Farmland Trust Gallery.

Instead, a good painting class is an ensemble of well-matched peers. They build on each other’s questions, suggestions, successes and failures. They ask questions that are pertinent to everyone. They borrow ideas from each other. My students often have insights that elude me, and I trust them enough to occasionally say, “I don’t know the answer.” I’ve frequently said I learn as much from my students as they do from me.

I have students who drift in and out of my classes and workshops over years. That’s a good thing; it means they’ve taken ownership of their own learning process. Last summer, one of them asked, “Where do I go when I’m done studying with you?”

The truth, to be brutally honest, is: nowhere. And everywhere.

Blueberry barrens, Clary Hill, watercolor, available through Maine Farmland Trust Gallery.

There are people who flit from teacher to teacher, workshop to workshop. They’re looking for a silver bullet that will circumvent the learning process for them. What they don’t realize is that most painting teachers are saying—more or less—exactly the same thing. The ones who aren’t, are selling a gimmick.

Nothing about painting is particularly revolutionary. The basic process is thousands of years old. Yes, it’s been refined, and a good teacher ought to be able to elucidate how it’s changed and why. But paint still gets attached to paper and canvas in a specific way.

Sea Fog, oil on canvas, available through Folly Cove Fine Art.

There are degrees of competence in painting teachers. If your teacher can’t articulate his process or doesn’t know color theory or art history, consider finding someone else. But beyond that, what we’re teaching is pretty similar. It ought to be.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy, or that you can take lessons for a year and nail it. For most of us, learning to paint at a high level of competence takes years. The lessons are deceptively simple. The teacher lays out the same information over and over, but the student is only capable of hearing what he’s ready to hear.

Good teachers repeat things—often—and watch and listen to see who’s getting it and who isn’t. Suddenly, there’s an insight somewhere in the room. When that moment happens, it’s an epiphany for everyone in the class. Everyone leaps forward; everyone benefits. No individual lesson can give you that.

Monday Morning Art School: shiny baubles

When drawing bling, start with the mechanical measurements and work your way down to the details.

Happy New Year! by Carol L. Douglas

Student Samantha East noticed that I sometimes repeat blog posts. This is one of those times. As I jokingly said to Bruce McMillan in Friday’s comments, the lessons in painting are simple. It’s a question of when we’re ready to receive them. But to keep it interesting, I’m more interested in the reflections than the round shapes this year, although both are important.

I like shiny baubles, so I’ve asked my students to paint Christmas decorations this week. This post will give them a heads up on the lesson.

The ornaments we chose: a simple sphere for me and a globe-spider for Sandy.

By now, Christmas decorating is in full swing. We’ve at least located the boxes and asked our families to help carry them down from the attic. (Good luck with that, by the way.) Find a simple, round, reflective ornament. That’s your subject for today.

Those of you who don’t believe in Santa Claus or haven’t found the ornaments can find a reflective spherical object to substitute. The back of a metal soup spoon will work just fine. In my example above, I used a plastic toy horn.

Noting the axes.

Sandy Quang was my painting student in Rochester. She went on to get a BFA from Pratt and an MA from Hunter and now works at Camden Falls Gallery. She’s working on her MBA from University of Maine.

I asked her if she wanted to draw with me. Of course, she had her sketchbook tucked in her backpack. “Which one do you want?” I asked her. She chose the spider ornament.

We both added details. Mine were the ellipses on the collar of the ornament; Sandy’s were the beaded legs of the spider and her first markings for reflections.

wrote about drawing a glass dish, which is a series of ellipses on a central axis. A circle is easier to draw than an ellipse; it’s an ellipse that is symmetrical on all sides. A sphere appears to be a circle when it’s viewed in two dimensions. This is an unbreakable rule.

Both of us started with the axis of our drawing. For me, that was the vertical axis; for Sandy it was the axis holding her circles together. I mention this because when people say “I can’t draw!” they seldom realize how much of drawing is mechanical, simple measurement. It’s best to learn this from life, since the measurement has already been done for you when you work from a photo. You can easily work back from life drawing to working with pictures, but it’s harder to go the other way.

Marking out the outlines of our reflected shapes.

Next, we both put the appendages on our spheres. For me, that meant measuring the ellipses in the collar. For Sandy, it was the beaded spider legs. Sandy was starting to note the overall areas of reflection in her spheres.

We both worked on shading next. I finished my shading with an eraser, Sandy couldn’t do that because her paper was too rough.

Sandy and I chose different approaches in the next step, dictated by the paper we were working on. Because I had a smooth Bristol, I was able to blend my pencil line into smooth darks with my finger. Sandy could only work light-to-dark on the rougher paper she was carrying. That gives you the chance to see two different approaches to shading.

Our finished drawings: mine on the left, Sandy’s on the right. From there, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to painting them.

Sandy has a shadow under her final drawing because the ornament was sitting directly on my coffee table. I put the reflection of myself in my ornament. Those final details were the fun and easy part of the drawing exercise.

All drawing rests on accurate observation and measurement. Get them right and the shading and mark-making is simple.

This post originally ran in 2017 and 2019. It’s been edited.

Have yourself a very educational Christmas

Four options for advancing your skills in 2021.

Painting aboard schooner American Eagle.

A workshop or a class is a great gift for someone who’s working toward better painting skills. If you register for any of these workshops or classes prior to January 1, you’ll get an early-bird discount.

All my workshops and classes are strictly limited to 12 participants. Partners are welcome; these locations are fantastic destinations in their own right. And, of course, you can register after January 1, but it will cost you more.

I’m assuming that COVID will be just a bad memory by 2021, but if not, all workshops are refundable for COVID cancellations.

All supplies are included in the schooner workshops. Also a healthy dose of color theory.


We’re offering Age of Sail aboard schooner American Eagle twice in 2021. It’s an all-inclusive (including materials) rollicking sail-and-paint class aboard the finest windjammer on the Maine coast.

The June sail coincides with the Gam, a rendezvous of all the boats in the Maine windjammer fleet. There’s live music and visiting between boats. The lobster fleet is hard at work, and we’ll see lupines in bloom as we poke around Penobscot’s quaint harbors.

On the other hand, September is a delightful time to sail on the Maine coast. The ocean is still warm, and the colors are spectacular.

All the information you need about both trips can be found here.

Painting at breathtaking Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park.


My Sea & Sky workshop is a perennial favorite and one of the high points of my year. We paint in the splendor of America’s first national park, but far from the madding crowds.

Schoodic Peninsula has dramatic rock formations, windblown pines, pounding surf and stunning mountain views that draw visitors from around the world. You might see dolphins, humpback whales or seals cavorting in the waves. Herring gulls visit while eiders and cormorants splash about.

A day trip to the harbor at Corea, ME is included. Far off the beaten path, Corea, ME is a village of small frame houses, fishing piers and lobster traps. Its working fleet bustles in and out of the harbor.

 Again, it’s designed to be all-inclusive so that you don’t have to stop and figure out meals or drive in from your hotel. (They’re in short supply in the high season here in Maine.)

Information about this trip can be found here.

Painting in an historic settlement near Pecos, NM.


A fast-moving river, high mountain vistas, hoodoos, dry washes, tiny settlements and the colorful skies of New Mexico all beckon us to this very special place.

The village of Pecos, NM lies below the Santa Fe National Forest. Nearby, Pecos National Historical Park, Glorieta Pass, and Pecos Benedictine Monastery provide superb mountain views. Ranches and small adobe settlements dot the landscape. This is a landscape of pine wildernesses, horses, and pickup trucks. Yet it’s within commuting distance of Santa Fe, so accommodations, necessities and world-class galleries are just a short drive away.

Information about this workshop can be found here.

We have almost as much fun on Zoom as we do in real life, except nobody falls in the water.


Zoom classes are offered Monday nights and Tuesday mornings. They resume the second week of December. The six-week session stresses all the elements of painting we cover in workshops and plein air classes, but you can access them from anywhere in the world. Returning students have priority, so seats are limited. If you’re interested, contact me soon.


First, read the links on my website. Registration is fast and easy and can be done by mail or phone. Of course you can always email me with specific questions. And happy holidays, my friend!

Cheap paint is a false economy

Don’t skimp on paint quality, or you’ll defeat yourself from the outset.

Ogunquit, by Carol L. Douglas. If the pigment isn’t in the paint to start with, you can’t magically enhance it. 

When I send supply lists, I suggest brands. These are Golden for acrylics, QoR for watercolor, and RGH or Gamblin for oils. In pastels, there is too much variation in hardness for a blanket recommendation, but I like Unison myself. Of course, nobody’s paying me for these endorsements; they’re just my preferences.

That doesn’t mean these are the only good art supplies out there. They have a combination of pigment load and handling characteristics that I like. There are many excellent makers of paint out there. They come in a variety of price points, but price is not the sole indicator of quality.

Late October, Beauchamp Point, by Carol L. Douglas

There are an equal number of horrible paints on the market. You might think you’ve saved a few bucks, but they’re an expensive mistake, one that will cost you time in learning. Don’t skimp on paint quality, or you’ll defeat yourself from the outset. Instead, cut down on the number of colors you buy.

All paints (and pastels) consist of pigment and a binder. There are differences in the quality of binders, in the amount of pigment the manufacturer uses, and how the pigments are stabilized. There may be filler added, or drying agents.

Most major paint brands in the US subscribe to voluntary associations of quality control. (RGH is an exception; that’s too bad, because their paint is excellent.) The most well-known is Colour Index International (CII), a database dating back to 1925. It contains over 27,000 individual products sold under 13,000 different product names. This standard classification system gives you the facts about the pigments in your tube.

Autumn Farm, by Carol L. Douglas

Just as Benjamin Moore uses names like Yukon Sky to peddle grey paint, art paints are often marketed with evocative names. These names appeal to our sense of tradition, even when the old paint has no relationship to its namesake. If you buy Naples Yellow thinking you’re buying an historic pigment, think again: the modern paint is a convenience mix replacing the historic (and toxic) lead antimonate.

Expect to find, at minimum, the following information on the label of your paint tube:

  • Manufacturer’s name or common name for the color.
  • The CII number and, sometimes, the name of the pigment(s).
  • The manufacturer’s lightfastness or permanence rating.

The CII code consists of two letters and some numbers. Most paints start with a “P” which means it’s a pigment, not a dye. The next letter is the color family:  PR is red, PY is yellow, etc. The number is the specific pigment included in the tube.

Save this link somewhere accessible from your phone:

You’ll need it when you shop. This pigment guide was built for watercolors but is generally true across all media. (Watercolor is the canary in the coalmine of pigments). All painters should understand lightfastness, transparency, and color shift. Granulation, bloom and diffusion, however, are watercolor-specific issues. 

Winch, by Carol L. Douglas

When you compare paints with the same names, check their CIIs. Are they the same or different pigments? A “hue,” is made of a blend of less-expensive pigments. There is nothing inherently wrong with hues, but they don’t behave the same as the pigments they’re named after. For example, “cadmium yellow hue” may look like cadmium yellow coming out of the tube, but it makes insipid greens.

There’s little to be gained by buying a hue mimicking a more expensive pigment. If you are comfortable painting with a hue, then learn what’s in it and mix it yourself. You always have the greatest flexibility by working with pure pigments (rather than mixes) out of the tube.

Most manufacturers include their own lightfastness ratings on the tube. This is a measure of how quickly the color fades. If it’s not listed, look it up.

The series number tells you the price. Are pricier pigments better? Not by a long shot. Twentieth-century manufacturing gave us a new world of inexpensive pigments, which tend to be less toxic, higher in chroma and lightfast.

I’m thinking about supply lists because it’s time to send them out for Find Your Authentic Voice in Plein Air in Tallahassee, Florida, in early November. There are enough students to go, but there are still openings, so I’d be excited if you signed up. s

From there on in, it’s all Zoom, Zoom, Zoom until the snow stops flying. The Tuesday morning class is sold out; there are still openings for Monday night Zoom classes.