Bamboozled by lobster traps

Detail from my current unfinished painting.
When I go silent about my own work, that means I’m involved in a big mess. My process, as it were, is that I show up in my studio every day at the same time expecting a miracle. More often than not, they happen. But at times nothing works. My painting looks and feels mechanical and rusty. 
This is not to say that I don’t know what I’m doing—I haven’t forgotten how to paint. But between the technical and the transcendent, there is slippage that nobody can define. That’s not unique to painting; it’s true of music and (I suspect) a host of other creative endeavors. We sometimes call these things ‘happy accidents,’ but they are more than that. They’re as if the whole universe suddenly slides into place, right there in that tiny rectangle in front of you.
Occasionally, the opposite happens. Nothing comes together. I tap, tap, tap on the frozen parts while nothing moves and I get more aggravated. Those are the weeks I wish I’d taken up something fun, like dentistry.
Monhegan lobster traps, waiting to trip up the unwary painter.
What’s got me flummoxed this week is an old nemesis: the lobster trap.  A modern lobster trap looks like a plastic-coated Havahart (®) trap, for you inland dwellers. It operates on the same principle: a lobster unthinkingly (because that’s how lobsters do) crawls up a funnel and gets stuck in the main room. I know how big lobster traps are, what colors they come in, what’s inside them, and how they reflect light. But I don’t seem to be able to paint them convincingly. What’s heartening is that I don’t much like how anyone else paints them, either.
If only Maine lobstermen would use creel-style pots like they do in Scotland! These are rounded, more solid and poetical. But I’m an American, and my paintings ought to be grounded in what is real for my time and place. Darn it.
I never finished this sketch of lobster traps at Port Clyde, but it’s on my schedule.
When I’m stuck on something, I revert to first principles. Get closer, look more carefully, and draw, draw, draw. I’ve asked for the loan of a trap, and I’m going to set it up in my studio and study it. (I’d rather not do that in the blowing snow, thanks.) I hope that I have some sort of epiphany that informs my work going into next summer.
This is the lad who really owned that lobster boat, but I never took a photo of him while I was painting him.
I’m finishing a painting I started years ago, of Eastport’s lobster fleet. I worked on this for days on the public landing, but it wasn’t finished before I had to leave. The tooth on the canvas is much rougher than I use today. It’s kind of nice, but the adjustment is hard.
Because I took very few photos, I’m forced to make a lot of stuff up. Part of me is certain that a someone will look at this painting and say, “that boat would never have that standing shelter!”
Sadly, I had to lose the figure of the young man who owned the closest boat. He was just too large in my plein air rendering. Since I had no photos of him on his boat, he’s been replaced by a Gloucester fisherman. I’m not sure if that should even be legal.

Meanwhile, I’ll be back tomorrow to tap, tap, tap some more. Eventually it will all fall together. It always does.

The meaning of blue: color temperature on a snowy day

"Lewis R. French raising her sails," by Carol L. Douglas

“Lewis R. French raising her sails,” by Carol L. Douglas
I’m busy finishing plein air work from last season. Some of this needs nothing more than a few brush-strokes and a signature, some of it returned home as nothing more than color notes that need to be fleshed out into a painting.
That was the case with this small painting of the Lewis R. French raising her sails at Pulpit Harbor. I started this in the early morning, knowing I had only a few minutes to finish before the American Eagle sailed out. I probably did fewer than twenty brush strokes on site, but Sue Baines of the Kelpie Gallery saw something in it and urged me to finish it.
Normally, I trust my plein air sketches for color notes. In this case what I’d recorded didn’t match my emotional memory of the day, which told me that this had happened just after sunrise. So I heated up the lighting structure and it much more closely resembles the mood of that early morning in Pulpit Harbor.
"Doe drinking in the woods," by Carol L. Douglas

“Doe drinking in the woods,” by Carol L. Douglas
Blue shadows on evening snow. (Carol L. Douglas)
I painted Doe drinking in the Woods years ago. It was a demonstration to my students on how the color of light works in practice. The setting and lighting were imaginary.
The photograph of footprints in the ice on a winter evening, above, clearly shows blue shadows across the snow. I think it also gives a sense of my frustration about the condition of the sidewalks.
The exception to the color-of-light rule happens in indirect light. There are many places where an ambient cloudy milkiness is the dominant weather condition. In it, both color temperature and contrast are muted.
Snow shovelers in a snow squall. (Carol L. Douglas)

Snow shovelers in a snow squall. (Carol L. Douglas)
A snowstorm is an exaggeration of indirect light. There are no shadows; there are merely objects in space. A snowstorm exaggerates atmospheric perspective, too, rendering even middle-distance objects indistinct and neutral.
Artists constantly check themselves against a construct called “color temperature.” There are warm and cool colors, and warm and cool variations within each color. A warm color gives us a sense of warmth and energy and tends to draw our eye, like the life preserver on my painting of the Cadet. A cool color recedes from the eye and gives us a sense of static coldness, like the underside of Rockwell Kent’s iceberg from yesterday.
I’ve written before about the color of light, and it’s one of the most important concepts in painting. The earth’s atmosphere bends light just like a prism does, so what you see is always tinted. Either the light is warm and its shadows cool, or the light is cool and its shadows warm. Which that is depends on the time of day and the season of the year.
In the wintertime, the sun barely crests the treetops here in the North. The ground is often covered with neutral white snow. That gives us textbook conditions to see light temperature in action, for the sun on the horizon always gives us warm light and cool shadows.
Blue shadows on evening snow. (Carol L. Douglas)

Found on Facebook

“Halo of Autumn,” Christina Perry Davis‎

“Halo of Autumn,” Christina Perry Davis‎
According to legend, when George Will signed up to become a syndicated columnist in the 1970s, he asked his friend William F. Buckley, Jr. — the founder of National Review and a columnist himself — “How will I ever write two columns a week?” Buckley responded (I’m paraphrasing), “Oh it will be easy. At least two things a week will annoy you, and you’ll write about them.” (Jonah Goldberg)
I’m often asked how I can write five days a week. I keep a list of topics, but I seldom get to them. Usually, something else catches my attention first.
“Pine Point, Scarborough,” Christina Perry Davis

“Pine Point, Scarborough,” Christina Perry Davis
Such is the case with Christina Perry Davis. Her work appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. She doesn’t have a website, so what I know of her I’ve learned from her profile. She’s 51 years old; she was raised in Westbrook, ME; she now lives in Scarborough, ME; and she’s married.
“I am a painter of landscapes mostly and am always drawn to the way color and light mingle but I look for the movement of grasses, clouds or light that surrounds what I see. I feel it’s necessary to capture this feeling because it is dramatic and freeing to tell the story of something that only last for such a short amount of time,” she told me.
In other words, her subject is turbulence.
“Prince Edward Island,” Christina Perry Davis

“Prince Edward Island,” Christina Perry Davis
“I have learned basic painting skills from my early days at Portland School of Art but recently have taken a class in pastel from Jacob Aguiar, which has opened a wonderful world of painting with pastel.”
“I love drawing,” Davis said. That shows in the perspective of her clouds and the way her buildings are seated in a receding landscape. Pastel, she says, allows her the opportunity to give drawing and painting equal emphasis in her work. That can be true of oil painting, of course, but it takes longer to get there.
Pastel is different, of course, because you can bore into it with hand pressure. Davis’ chromatic intensity and ferocious mark-making create a world of upheaval. I’m interested in where she goes with this subject.
Tuesday 3
You can reach Davis by email, here.

A deadly inheritance

"Annunciation," by Carol L. Douglas. That phone call is like a nuclear bomb, only worse.

“Annunciation,” by Carol L. Douglas. That phone call is like a nuclear bomb, only worse.
The work I’d planned for today and tomorrow is off my slate. Instead, I’m driving back to Buffalo for a funeral. Our oldest friend’s youngest child died of a drug overdose on Tuesday night.
I’m not going to speculate on what happened. For one thing, I don’t know. But it’s a tragically common story in our age.
Parents like to believe they can protect their kids from making bad choices. To a degree that’s true, but it’s not totally true. I don’t know a single kid who never did anything monumentally stupid, including mine.
I’ve known three generations of this family. None of the usual bromides apply. When I say that the boy had “every advantage,” I’m not talking about just education or money; I’m talking about love, stability, heritage, and a sense of his place in the world.
"Female," (detail), by Carol L. Douglas. Drug addiction is like a death grip on your head, man.

“Female,” (detail), by Carol L. Douglas.
If you’re my age, you probably think of recreational drugs as pretty harmless. Back in the 1970s, many of us experimented with them. True, most of us aging hippies have—more or less—our faculties intact, but we’ve left a big mess behind.
We are fools when we look back on our youthful foibles through John Lennon-framed rose-colored glasses. Drugs are a curse on our children’s and grandchildren’s generations. Deaths from opioids and their synthetic analogues have skyrocketed, according to the DEA. Heroin deaths increased 248% from 2010 to 2014. Heroin is more potent and less expensive than ever. Even pot is no longer the mild, friendly drug we once knew.
In the 1970s, the annual drug overdose death rate was fewer than 2 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2014, it was 15 deaths per hundred thousand people. As a cause of accidental death, it is now second only to car crashes.
And that’s just the user side of the problem. On the other side is the violent drug war in our cities that disproportionately claim young black men.
When the Bible talks about “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation,” it isn’t talking about transferring punishment (Scripture says that can’t happen). This boy’s parents never touched drugs themselves. They were so focused on their studies that they sat out the Swinging Seventies, making them a little puzzling to have at parties.
That verse says that sin itself, unless repudiated, will keep on reappearing. Our generation’s casual attitude toward drugs has morphed into a scourge ravaging our young people. Both the middle-class kids who overdose and the ghetto kids caught up drug violence are its victims.
When I argue for a closed border, it’s not to keep undocumented migrants out of the US; it’s to seal off the major heroin routes into the US. But even that won’t work as long as there’s demand.
"Chris in Pink," by Carol L. Douglas.

“Chris in Pink,” by Carol L. Douglas.
Since my own misspent youth, my generation has cheerfully torn away at the underpinnings of our culture. Marriage, work, faith and family have all been tossed into the great maw. They’ve been replaced by self-actualization and sensualism. Is it possible that this leaves our descendants feeling unnecessary, marginalized and devoid of purpose?
To a degree, parents can counter those messages, but the larger culture has a profound influence on our kids. That’s why there are so many upright old ladies in urban churches mourning the loss of their sons and grandsons in the drug war.
For now, kiss your children and tell them you love them. One never knows what one’s tomorrow will bring. And pray. Pray like crazy.
As for me, in the words of my former gangbanger friend, I feel like punching them drug-dealing m—rf—rs in the throat. Nobody expects a left hook from a little old lady.

Bucksport Cyber Gallery

“Rattlesnake Falls (version 2),” John Killmaster

“Rattlesnake Falls (version 2),” John Killmaster
One of the nicest things about social media is how much art I see. In particular, I love a feature in my Facebook newsfeed: Keith Linwood Stover’s The Cyber Art Show.
Stover is from Bucksport, ME. He started The Cyber Art Show as a Facebook page; today it’s a freestanding website with a few thousand Facebook followers.
“Snows above Lucky Peak,” John Killmaster

“Snows above Lucky Peak,” John Killmaster
he Cyber Art Show features landscape painting by mid-market artists. Its painters are usually still in the striving-and-discovery mode. They’re exploratory rather than polished. That makes The Cyber Art Show’s online gallery much more interesting than those that just trot out the masters.
This week The Cyber Art Show featured a painter who astonished me: retired art professor John Killmaster of Boise (ID) State University. Killmaster combines a Group of Seven sensibility with uproarious energy and a remarkable flair for composition. The result is kind of like rolling down Mt. Battie’s cliff side wrapped in a picnic blanket.
“Early Spring, Just North of Boise, Idaho,” John Killmaster

“Early Spring, Just North of Boise, Idaho,” John Killmaster
“My interest as an artist is to be witness to the gifts of life and vision; to capture not only that which my eye confronts, but to record my interaction both visually and emotionally, with the world around me,” Killmaster wrote. He certainly succeeds in that.
Killmaster holds an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. He began teaching at Boise State in 1970. Now retired, he is a member of Boise Open Studios and teaches in his studio in Middleton, ID. In addition to painting, he is known as a large-scale mural enamellist.
“Below the Glaciers,” John Killmaster

“Below the Glaciers,” John Killmaster
I regret I never had Killmaster as a teacher, but I can spend some time this weekend studying his compositions and the way he uses color to push the viewer through the chaos. For all the criticism of the internet as a purveyor of fact, it has freed up access to art. I would never have known about John Killmaster had it not been for The Cyber Art Show. I particularly like the idea that Keith Linwood Stover reached out from Bucksport to Boise to teach a Rockport artist something new.

Learn to paint in beautiful Acadia

Now is the time to buy an artist you love—possibly even yourself—a special gift for Christmas. Spend a week painting with Carol L. Douglas in one of the most beautiful venues in America—inspirational, mystical Schoodic in Maine’s Acadia National Park. And if you reserve before January 1, you can save $100!
Far from the hustle and bustle of Bar Harbor, Schoodic has dramatic rock formations, pounding surf, and stunning mountain views that draw visitors from around the world.

At 440 feet above sea level, Schoodic Head offers a panoramic view of crashing surf, windblown pines and enormous granite outcroppings laced with black basalt. Across Frenchman’s Bay, Cadillac Mountain towers over the headlands of Mt. Desert Island.
You might look up from your easel to see dolphins, humpback whales or seals cavorting in the waves. Herring gulls will 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.
Your instructor, nationally known painter and teacher Carol L. Douglas, has taught in Maine, New York, New Mexico and elsewhere, and regularly returns to Acadia.
Concentrate on painting 
Meals and accommodations at the beautiful Schoodic Institute are included in your fee. This former navy base is located right at Schoodic Head. It gives workshop students unrivalled access to the park.

All skill levels and media are welcome
Carol Douglas has more than fifteen years’ experience teaching students of all levels in watercolor, oils, acrylics and pastels. Her Acadia workshops are very popular. “This was the best painting instruction I have ever had. Carol’s advice in color mixing was particularly eye-opening. Her explanations are clear and easy to understand. She is very approachable and supportive. I would take this course again in a heartbeat.” (Carol T.)
Lynne hard at work
Easily accessible
It’s easy to get to painting locations on the Schoodic Peninsula. A ring road with frequent pull-offs means you never walk more than a few hundred feet to your painting destination. And Schoodic itself is only 90 minutes from Bangor International Airport.
To register
The one-week workshop is just $1600, including five days’ accommodation in a private room with shared bath, meals, snacks, and instruction. Accommodations for non-painting partners and guests are also available. Your deposit of $300 holds your space, and if you reserve before January 1, you can save $100 off the price.
At Owl's Head
You can download a registration form here or a brochure here. Complete registration forms should be returned by mail to Carol L. Douglas, PO Box 414, Rockport, ME 04856-0414 with your $300 deposit. Or email the form here and make a credit card payment by phone to 585-201-1558.
Refunds are available up to 60 days prior to start, less a $50 administration fee. Final payment is due 60 days prior to the start of the workshop.

A neighbor tells me about Beech Hill

My students, painting the beautiful view from Camden Hills State Park.

My students, painting the beautiful view from Camden Hills State Park.
You never know what you’re going to learn at the grocery store. Sunday, we ran into a neighbor at Shaw’s. He not only pointed out a coupon we’d missed, but he also told us that his fireplace and chimney were built by Hans O. Heistad, who was the landscape architect who built Beech Nut on top of Beech Hill in Rockport. It’s one of my favorite day walks, but I’d never spared a thought about its history.
Beech Hill is a blueberry barren owned and maintained by the Coastal Mountains Land Trust. At its top, 500 feet above sea level sits a peculiar, lovely stone structure called Beech Nut. It was designed and built in 1917 by Heistad as a picnic hut for a local estate. It affords a fantastic view of Penobscot Bay and the Camden Hills.
Beech Nut at dusk.

Beech Nut at dusk.
A long carriage drive curves up the hilltop. It is designed to slowly reveal the scenic panorama as you climb. At the top, Beech Nut stands a little behind the path. A squat and sturdy stone building, it hints at Heistad’s Norwegian heritage with its sod roof and deep porch.
Heistad also designed the interior furnishings, none of which have survived. The site was rehabilitated and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
Hans Heistad was born in Brevik, Norway. He studied landscape gardening and horticulture there and in Denmark and worked in Germany before immigrating to the United States in 1905. Employed by the Olmsted Brothers, he came to Maine to work at Chatwold, the Pulitzer estate in Bar Harbor.
Heistad worked on numerous private estates in Camden and Rockport . When the Depression caused private money to dry up, he began working in the public sector. He worked as staff landscape architect to develop Camden Hills State Park as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project.
Camden Hills was a fortuitous meshing of Heistad’s own style and the prevailing ethos of park developers. Heistad liked working with native plants and local stone. At the same time, park services were instructing their employees to respect their sites’ natural character and use local materials and construction techniques. Heistad was primarily responsible for developing the fifty acres along the oceanfront to be accessible to the public. To this end, his CCC workers cleared brush and built roads and structures.
The next time I take someone for a walk up Beech Hill, I’ll know a little more about its history.

Actually, it’s not just the light

"Bloomfield Farm," by Carol L. Douglas. The soft rolling hills, hazy light and deep, gravelly soil are typical of the western part of New York.

“Bloomfield Farm,” by Carol L. Douglas. The soft rolling hills, hazy light and deep, gravelly soil are typical of the western part of New York.
This has been a week of retrenchment, the backroom work that has to happen so that one can go back to the rough-and-tumble brush duel. Among other things, I met with a gallery owner. We talked about the differences between my New York and Maine paintings. Earlier this week I said it was the light, but it’s also the land.
I have been thinking about the spodosols that underlie the boggy boreal forest here. These are found in Maine, eastern Canada, Scotland, and Scandinavia, and they’re partly why these North Atlantic regions tend to have a similar feel. They provide romance and color for artists and an uphill battle for farmers.
"Mountain Lake, Spring," by Carol L. Douglas. In some ways the Adirondacks can stand in for Maine because they have the same soil type.

“Mountain Lake, Spring,” by Carol L. Douglas. In some ways the Adirondacks can double for Maine because they have the same soil type.
Spodosols are also found in the Adirondacks, which may explain why Winslow Homer had such an affinity for both places. I watched a friend garden in the lower Adirondacks for a few years. While he was able to amend the shallow soil, the short growing season ultimately did him in.
"Catskills Farm," pastel, by Carol L. Douglas.

“Catskills Farm,” pastel, by Carol L. Douglas.
My working life has been mostly spent in upstate, central and western New York. There, the soil is very deep and well drained, often running to clay. It is also essentially basic, meaning there are no broadleaf evergreens in the forest understory. If untended, it quickly reverts to forest, which tends strongly to maples, ashes, tulip trees and other hardwoods.
"Kaaterskill Falls," by Carol L. Douglas. This is the shale of Southern Tier and Catskill Mountains.

“Kaaterskill Falls,” by Carol L. Douglas. This is the shale of Southern Tier and Catskill Mountains.
It can be extremely stony from glaciation, but it is never rocky in the way of Maine. The exception is where rivers cut gorges through its bedrock limestone and shale. Western New York is oddly flat compared to the rest of the Northeast. The hills are low, worn, humpy things, remnants of glacial formations that are much flashier in other parts of the continent. That is why people think of it as Midwestern, rather than Mid-Atlantic.
"Corn Hill Methodist Church," by Carol L. Douglas. This ruin is of Medina Sandstone, which is a cool red color.

“Corn Hill Methodist Church,” by Carol L. Douglas. This ruin is of Medina Sandstone, which is a cool red color.
Medina sandstone, which underlies the Lake Plains, is reddish in color. That gives its dirt a cool red undertone. The color is echoed in the Victorian Gothic architecture of its cities and towns. A great percentage of the land is under production, since this is very fine farming soil, both for truck farming and for grapes.
"Middle Falls of the Genesee River," oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas.

“Middle Falls of the Genesee River,” oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas.
A landscape painter is in some ways a journalist. We notice and communicate facts about our world. We frequently tell people that painting is in the seeing, not the paint application. Nowhere does that play out more than in plein air work. The more observant we are, the more we tell the story of the place.

It’s not me, it’s the light

"Dyce Head Light," by Carol L. Douglas

“Dyce Head Light,” by Carol L. Douglas
In the past year, many people have talked to me about how my paintings have changed. This week I have a visitor from near Ithaca, NY. She’s a painter, so she’s visually observant. She talked about her impressions driving up the coast.
“While the leaves are gorgeous in New York right now, the light and clouds are different here,” she mused. “And the colors are different. We don’t get the clarity of light in New York. There is too much haze.” She went on to describe the light spilling through the clouds as the sun set, the warm golds of the reeds and marshes set against the blue-purples in the shadows and the slate gray of the clouds. It was a lovely word-sketch and it got me thinking.
"Nunda Autumn Day," by Carol L. Douglas

“Nunda Autumn Day” (pastel), was painted before I moved to Maine.
There is nothing wrong with the filtered light of the mid-Atlantic region; it’s why my skin is so flawless going into old age. But there is less contrast in the landscape. Consider the work of Cornelia Foss, with whom I studied and greatly respect as a painter. She is the person who has had the greatest influence on me in terms of thinking about color. Her landscapes are absolutely accurate for Long Island, but they would be flat here in Maine.
"Behind the schoolhouse" was painted as a storm moved in on Monhegan, but the light is still stronger than it would have been in New York (painting by Carol L. Douglas)

“Behind the schoolhouse” was painted as a storm moved in on Monhegan, but the light is still stronger than it would have been in New York (painting by Carol L. Douglas)
I’ve been vaguely aware that I’m focusing more on value in my paintings these days, but I haven’t thought much about why that is. While talking to my guest, I realized it’s just a response to the high-key light of Maine.
"Keuka Lake" is an example of a lovely milky New York sky.

“Keuka Lake” is an example of a lovely milky New York sky.
I’m not really doing anything differently; I’m painting something different. It would be a sign of failure if my Maine looked like my New York, wouldn’t it?

Fifty shades of red

"Blueberries," Carol L. Douglas

“Blueberries,” Carol L. Douglas
A patch of blueberries is an amazing confection of red tones, turning the summer-green-foliage question on its head. It’s fascinating to mix those colors. Of course it is easier with a palette knife. I’d pulled mine out of my kit to see if I could do a better fix than I’d done along the road in Canada. Alas, I forgot to return it.
It is very difficult to paint without a palette knife; until yesterday, I’d have said it was darn near impossible. Mixing with a brush is inaccurate and is hard on your brushes. But there were no sticks handy to carve into a mixing knife. I used my brushes.
For those of you who don't live near them, blueberries in their native clime are a very short shrub, similar to heather in stature.

For those of you who don’t live near them, blueberries in their native clime are short, similar to heather in stature.
While they’ve developed highbush cultivars of the blueberry that grow in warmer places, the native blueberry species mostly grow in boreal and tundra areas. Yes, one can get blueberries from New Jersey, but they bear about as much resemblance to the Maine blueberry as plasticulture strawberries do to the ones that grow in my lawn.
I’d intended to spend an hour painting those fantastic reds, but the light was exquisite and the day was warmer than forecast. I was there closer to three. With a start, I realized I needed to be on the road to make Pittsfield before my grandchildren’s bedtime.
By the time I was done, a mackerel sky was building and the light was gone.

By the time I was done, a mackerel sky was building and the light was going fast.
The MassPike is replacing its toll/cash system with overhead gantries on October 28. This system was in place in Australia when I visited in 2008, and it’s a lot faster than toll booths. However, it does mean a higher toll and a bill in the mail for anyone without an EZ Pass.
It’s amazing how fast a drive of five hours seems after traveling across Canada. I blasted the stereo and sang along. A car of young men saw me bouncing and whirled around my car to check me out. I chortled as they realized I was old enough to be their mother.