Reflecting on water

At 5 PM today I’ll be participating in an artist’s talk on A Reflection on Water for Maine Farmland Trust Gallery. (It’s online, so feel free to sign up and heckle).

Beaver Dam, by Carol L. Douglas. Available through Maine Farmland Trust Gallery.

People who don’t know me well are sometimes surprised to realize just how ‘green’ I am. I was raised along the Great Lakes in their worst years, when we couldn’t eat the fish or even swim in some places. I’m aware of just how much we humans are capable of fouling our own nests (or in the case of moving manufacturing offshore, fouling the nests of others). I’d prefer that we all consume less, and my family will tell you that I’m quite capable of hectoring on the subject.

I don’t paint didactically, however. I hope my work speaks to my awe at and respect for God’s Creation, but I’m not called to lecture with paint.

Fog Bank, by Carol L. Douglas. by Carol L. Douglas. Available through Maine Farmland Trust Gallery

Water is a loaded and contradictory image. It is both the wellspring of life and its destroyer. Without it, life as we know it can’t exist. Christians are baptized with it; Jesus walked on it and turned it into wine. But on the flip side, water has great destructive potential. I only need to walk down to the harbor to see the power of the North Atlantic against seemingly-immutable granite. When God wanted to destroy civilization, he did so with a flood.

Why is water painted so frequently? Obviously, it’s beautiful and difficult to render in all its complexity. But it’s also a powerful metaphor for life. We humans are fragile vessels navigating seas that are sometimes serene, often tempestuous. In the end, no matter how many people we surround ourselves with, we sail alone.

Home Farm, by Carol L. Douglas. Available through Maine Farmland Trust Gallery

Only one of the three paintings I have in this show is about the sea. In Fog Bank, water obscures our vision. That can be very dangerous here where the ocean and land intersect. In Home Farm, water has been tamed and collected for agricultural use by a prosperous farmer. In Beaver Dam, the watercourse has been altered not by man, but by wild beasts.

Last Saturday I potted around the Steinhatchee River in a pontoon boat with Natalia Andreevaand Mary O. Smith. It’s a short, pristine and very southern river. A large oak was down in the channel ahead of us; we were forced to backtrack and choose a different route. My hydrologist friend Ken Avery told me something interesting about these big snags in waterways: if someone doesn’t remove them, they will ultimately change the course of the river. That’s clear from looking at beaver dams, which are collections of fragile sticks that nonetheless alter streams forever.

Deadwood, 30X40, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

It’s also a great life lesson and what I was trying to say in my painting Deadwood (which is too big for this show). Remove the detritus from your life or it will change the course of your existence.

I’ve been working so hard that my house is filthy, so I’m going to take the day off and use water—in a bucket, with a little Murphy’s Oil Soap—to do some fall cleaning. But at 5 PM sharp, I’ll be participating in an artist’s talk on A Reflection on Water for Maine Farmland Trust Gallery. (It’s online, so feel free to sign up and heckle). See you then.

Intimations of mortality

You can have it all. You’d just better be prepared to work very hard.

Clouds over Teslin Lake, Yukon Territory, by Carol L. Douglas. We did some icy camping here.

I recently was rejected from a residency I really wanted, in Gates of the Arctic National Park. (Rejection is how these things roll, so don’t worry about my feelings.) I’ve spent three months doing intensive training to ensure I could backpack my gear in the mountains. While I don’t think they discriminated on the basis of age, I will always wonder if it was a factor. Sixty-year-olds, in conventional wisdom, are not fit enough to climb mountains north of the Arctic Circle.

My physical therapist saw no reason I couldn’t meet the demands of the residency, as long as I worked hard, which I have. Not being chosen changes nothing in my fitness routine. Two of the other residencies I’ve applied to are also remote and arduous. And I have plans to paint in Scotland in May and in Patagonia next March. I don’t want my body to be a barrier to success.
This is the northernmost place I’ve ever painted, just a few miles from Gates of the Arctic National Park.
Meanwhile, I watch with some stupefaction as some of my peers move to senior living, take early retirement, or capitulate to the crippling disorders of a sedentary lifestyle. I feel good and I’m not bored. Why would I not want to keep rolling?
There have been at least four times in my life when I’ve been closer to death than I am today. (If I’m wrong about that, enjoy a hearty laugh at my expense.) The first was as a teen, when I did something so monumentally stupid that I could have killed both myself and my horse. The second was when I had an undiagnosed cancer that metastasized. The third and fourth times were when I hemorrhaged after surgery.
Another friend is 52. She’s stuck working because she’s an indispensable cog in the family business. When I said I had no interest in retirement, she was gobsmacked. “But why?” she asked. “You only have two more years!” (Actually, I have almost seven more years until I can take so-called “full retirement,” but that’s irrelevant.)
Blueberry barrens, Clary Hill, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas. This is at Maine Farmland Trust Gallery until May 24.
It turns out that she doesn’t really want to retire; she wants to write books instead of keeping them. That’s a career change, and it’s something I heartily endorse.

Young readers, you’ll reach not one but many forks in the road. At each juncture, you can choose between security and risk. If you’re not courageous enough to take risks at 20, 30, or 40, when are you going to develop courage?

Choices don’t end when you enter the work force. I know many fine artists and musicians who combine their work with careers and/or child-rearing. Sometimes, however, people can only make drastic changes after their pension kicks in.

I have a student right now who is a retired Army officer. She went to art school in her youth but chose a military nursing career. Since retiring, she pours her energies into being the best painter she can be. Because she’s dedicated, she’s succeeding. And I bet it keeps her young long after her peers have subsided into their final rest.

Blueberry barrens, Clary Hill, watercolor, by Carol L. Douglas. This is at Maine Farmland Trust Gallery until May 24.
I have two paintings in the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center Residents Exhibit at Maine Farmland Trust Gallery, 97 Main Street, Belfast, ME. The show runs until May 24, with artist talks on Friday, May 24 at 5 PM. I hope you have a chance to stop and see this work.

The most expensive lesson I never learned

Sometimes it’s cheaper to let the pros do it.
Clary Hill, watercolor, by Carol L. Douglas
If you ever work in watercolor or pastel, you know the framing cost for those media is much higher than for oils. That’s because they’re fussy and difficult to frame properly. I occasionally use both in the field but not for events; I can’t deal with glazing and spacers in the high-tension moments at the end of a show. The worst injury I’ve ever sustained as a painter happened when I was levering a large sheet of glass into a frame. It snapped under its own weight and sliced my hand. That kind of thing makes you cautious.
Last autumn I did a residency at the Joseph Fiore Art Center. The result was eight oils and eight watercolors, all 24X36. One of each will be on display at the Maine Farmland Trust Gallery starting next week; later this year the whole set will go to the Jackson Memorial Library. It’s difficult to find a frame that works well with both oils and watercolor, but after much searching I found it in a deep, shadow-box moulding from Omega. I ordered enough material for sixteen frames. It has been sitting in the corner of my studio for a month, waiting for me to find the time to start.
Clary Hill, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
If you’ve done a lot of framing you should be wincing by now at the cost of this venture. The moulding was $800 for the stock alone. I went out yesterday to find the proper glazing material for the watercolors. (It’s easier to find a picture framer than a chain clothing store in my neck of the woods, and that’s how life should be.) The glazing would be between $90 and $140 per picture, depending on what I chose. Each watercolor would also need foam core, mat-board and spacers.
But being professionals, they wanted the frame in hand before they started cutting into their expensive materials. I’d have to return with it this morning.
Glade, watercolor, by Carol L. Douglas
“Then what,” I asked, “would the cost be to assemble the whole thing right here?” The price they gave me was only marginally higher than the materials cost. Bam! I’m dropping off the test picture this morning and they can do the fiddly bits. If it looks as good as I expect it will, they can do all eight of the watercolors.
I can usually copy most things I’ve seen built, and I take pride in craftsmanship, but I’m always working with home tools. I don’t, for example, have a power stapler; I join corners with careful gluing and brackets. Their joiners and staplers don’t just make things faster; they result in tighter, neater work. And while making things is fun, it’s hardly what you want to do when pressed, as I am right now.
Float, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
I’m in a point in my life where my scarcest asset is time, rather than money. But it’s never occurred to me to hire out work I can do myself. Still, maybe there are times it’s better to let the pros do it.
“I need an admin,” I whined to my upcoming portrait client yesterday afternoon.
“Virtual assistants are the thing. And usually at an attractive fee, too,” she responded. How that works, I don’t know, but perhaps it’s time to find out.