The passing parade

"A Little Bit of Everything," by Carol L. Douglas (sold).

“A Little Bit of Everything,” by Carol L. Douglas (sold).
Mary Byrom is doing something she calls chunking, which is concentrating on a single problem every day in small studies, which take her about 20 minutes. “It could be color temperature, or composition, or line, or whatever you are working on and thinking about,” she explained to me. Since the human brain takes in information best in small units, her idea makes sense to me.
I think I do something similar when I do short value studies. To me, composition—form—is the overriding question, so I’m always drawing little thumbnails to try to get better. I don’t really worry if they look like anything; they’re only to sort out the problem of dividing the canvas in an interesting way.
"End of Day," by Carol L. Douglas (sold).

“End of Day,” by Carol L. Douglas (sold).
When I arrived at Ogunquit on Saturday, I did not walk the Marginal Way with a camera or mechanical viewfinder. In fact, I only took one photo all weekend, and it was of sunbathers curled up with their Kindles.
Instead, I carried my wee little Sketch-N-Can. When a location called to me, I stopped for a moment to absorb it through my pores, and then did a value sketch or two.
It didn’t matter that I ended up using none of these sketches for my final paintings. I understood Ogunquit’s particular rock formations a lot better than when I’d arrived.
"The Path," by Carol L. Douglas (available).

“The Path,” by Carol L. Douglas (available).
This event had just five painters. These small events are my particular favorites because they allow the artists a chance to really talk to each other. (In addition to Mary Byrom, there were Kathy MorrisseyJohn Caggiano, and Frank Costantino.)
I enjoy the snippets of conversation I hear when painting, and the Marginal Way is perfect for that. There is always speculation on how much houses cost, or how people could escape their workaday lives and move to Maine. On the other hand, many people talk about work. Others talk about their kids. In a family destination, there’s always a lot of real-time child-rearing going on as well.
"Bell Buoy in the Distance (Morning Light)," by Carol L. Douglas (sold).

“Bell Buoy in the Distance (Morning Light),” by Carol L. Douglas (sold).
These young parents reminded me all too poignantly of the years when I walked the Marginal Way with my own kids, telling them to stay off the rocks, to hold my hand, to say thank you to the nice lady. At first I was uncomfortable with the depth of feeling it evoked. Eventually, it was just sweet to hear echoes of my own parenting days. In some ways, the Marginal Way is a metaphor for life: a cavalcade, a passing parade, in which our own appearance is terribly brief. Best to use it well.
And then there was the hung-over voice behind me that told his pal, “I really didn’t have an affair with her, you know.” It was a perfect short story in ten words, and I don’t need to know how it ended.

This wonderful life

Corea, ME pine, by Lynne Vokatis.

Corea, ME pine, by Lynne Vokatis.
In the week of a workshop, I form intense bonds with new people and see old friends again. I have learned to not take the future for granted. We will never have this exact experience again. The mix of people, the experience, the weather and our goals will be different next year. It will be beautiful, yes, but it won’t be the same.
Hence, I always cry when I say goodbye.
Looking back on the week, there were three important lessons:
  1. There is an order of operations for painting. Learn that, and you will make life infinitely easier on yourself. (More on that tomorrow.)
  2. To paint boldly, you need to stop mixing with your brush. That is what your palette knife is for.
  3. Eventually everyone needs to pee in the woods.
There is no extra charge for learning to pee in the woods.

The woods.
That last item is usually a shock for city dwellers, but most of America’s beauty spots don’t have Starbucks on the corner. And it really isn’t that hard to miss your shoes.
All last week I pondered whether I wanted to bring my workshop back to Schoodic Institute for an unprecedented third year. In the end I realized a simple fact: I love to teach there, my students love to paint there, and their families love to go there with them.
A fogbow over Frenchman Bay

A fogbow over Frenchman Bay
Schoodic has some of the best vistas in all of Maine, which is saying a mouthful. Unlike the Mt. Desert part of Acadia National Park, there are no crowds. There are fishing, biking, hiking, and innumerable touristy things to entertain the non-painting fellow travelers.
In 1935, the Navy opened a radio listening post at Schoodic Point to replace the old Otter Cliffs station. Acadia was the best spot along the Atlantic for this because of its isolation and its unobstructed ocean path from Europe. Those same factors make for brilliant painting. Long, long breakers roll in from the open sea and crash on high rock bluffs.
Since the station was closed in 2002, the US government has transformed the site into a research and training center for the National Park Service. You can’t just drop by and stay the night. The only people who can stay there are participants in an educational program and their traveling parties.
They provide our meals so we don’t have to worry about preparing food when we’d rather be painting. At $1600 a week including room, board, access to the park and instruction, it’s a great deal.
Schoodic Institute waits among the pines and spruces for us to return next year.

Schoodic Institute waits among the pines and spruces for us to return next year.
So I finally wised up and did the contract part of my 2017 workshop before I left on Friday. It’s scheduled for August 6-11, 2017. Why should you care now? Because you’ll get an early bird discount of $100 if you sign up before January 1 (or a $50 returning-student discount if you’ve taken another of my workshops).  That means you can ask for the workshop for Christmas.
Fog at Birch Harbor. The weather was generally fantastic all week.

Fog at Birch Harbor. The weather was generally fantastic all week.
Now the boilerplate: the 5-day workshop is just $1600, including your private room with shared bath, meals, snacks, and instruction. Accommodations for non-painting partners and guests are also available. Your deposit of $900 holds your space.  Refunds are available up to 60 days prior to start, less a $50 administration fee.
Email me to let me know you’re interested, or for more information. I look forward to seeing you!

Chores are good for kids

You can't do this if you have no experience doing the routine stuff.

You can’t do this if you have no experience with routine repairs.
I’m always getting paint on my laptop screen trying to adjust the angle. To solve this, I have a new monitor and rolling stand for my studio. I hope to get it assembled before it’s obsolete.
To that end, my youngest kid helped me for a while yesterday. He was attaching the confabulator to the thingamajig when I stopped him. “Just hand-tighten that until you have all the screws on that joint in place,” I told him. “Then you can drive them home.”
“How do you know that?” he asked.
Assembling my monitor stand.

My son assembling my monitor stand.
Until the modern era, kids had to hold things for their fathers while they worked. (Kids are not cheaper than clamps, but they’re far more likely to be underfoot.) Today, you could look some of this stuff up on the internet, but that’s an imperfect education.
Don’t believe for a minute that fathers are expendable. Nobody is going to teach you the art of swearing like they can.
I had three tasks on my schedule yesterday. One of them—the easy one, where I filled out some papers and signed my name—is done. The other two never got finished. We had visitors all day. The stopping-by never stopped and although I am feeling very pressured, I was also very glad to see them.
This is how I ended up cooking dinner for 15 people. It was a real loaves-and-fishes kind of affair, cobbled together from leftovers, things from the freezer, and things my daughter picked up at Hannaford on her way home.
Kid, sewing.

Kid, sewing.
I often tell people I can’t cook, and in the usual way, I can’t. However, this was a combination of dishes I have been making since childhood (risotto, fried fish, and fried chicken) and the recipe for scallops that my friends Berna and Harry shared with me last year.
I was on familiar turf. As a kid, I was my mother’s sous chef for many such impromptu dinners. Size up the crowd and assess the refrigerator, the pantry, and the freezer. Quietly send a kid to the store for the missing pieces. Accept any help that’s offered, gratefully.
One of the nicest things parents can do for their children is conscript them to do unpaid, hard labor. That’s how I learned to use a chainsaw, drive a truck, clean windows and even cook for a crowd. Like most of us, I wanted my kids to work less hard than I did, but I’m cheap. No cleaning or lawn services for us. Saturday mornings were a forced march through our house.
The forced march, in 2010.

The forced march, in 2010.
When I collected my son from college in May, his suite was a disaster. His roommates clearly had no idea how to do simple household chores. Given a little guidance, however, they did a great job, and we parted as friends.
Civilization is only in part about great literature, art and architecture. It’s also about things like fixing dripping faucets. I’ve known a lot of kids who could do calculus but not wash pots and pans. If you teach the former and neglect the latter, you’re doing your kids a great disservice. They’ll end up being the ones who have to look up how to clean a toilet on YouTube.

Tide? What tide?

Tide? What tide? Poppy Balser and I painted boats together.

Tide? What tide? Poppy Balser and I painted boats together.
Poppy Balser is a noted watercolorist from Digby, Nova Scotia. In addition to being a full-time artist, she’s a part-time pharmacist and a wife and mother of two kids. I admire her painting tremendously and looked forward to seeing her at Castine Plein Air again this year.
Yesterday we painted together and she told me a story. She dropped her kids at their grandparents’ house in St. Andrews, NB, and crossed the border at Calais, Maine. This crossing is routine for her.
Her interview with U.S. Customs and Border Protection started in the ordinary way. She told the inspector that she was coming into the US for a few days to paint in a plein air event and see friends. A second agent joined the first one and her car was searched. They found—unsurprisingly—art supplies and frames.
“How much money do you anticipate making?” they asked. The answer, not surprisingly, was in the very low thousands, not the six figures a Canadian performing artist might expect to earn on tour. Nevertheless, they shut her down.
Poppy's offending brushes in the sand.

Poppy’s offending brushes.
She was allowed to proceed with a serious warning. Yes, she can paint at Castine, but she cannot sell her artwork. Her passport has been flagged. If she sells here, either alone or through the non-profit organization, she will forfeit her ability to return to the United States.
I don’t think it was just Poppy’s earnest honesty that got her into hot water, because artists travel outside their home countries to paint, teach and study all the time. The biggest questions we normally face are about our materials, not our intentions. We understand that finished artwork is a commodity subject to tariff laws.
I painted in Canada last year and plan to do it again this fall. I hate the idea that I might be subject to the same hassles crossing our shared border.
Poppy’s newly-flagged passport is no small matter. It means that she will be routinely stopped by Border Control any time she crosses between Calais and St. Stephen and subjected to further interviews or denied access to the US altogether.
Earlier in the day, we discovered we'd both painted the lovely J. & E. Riggin as she left Castine. That's the Bowdoin in the background.

Earlier in the day, we discovered we’d both painted the lovely J. & E. Riggin as she left Castine. That’s the Bowdoin in the background.
For those readers who did not grow up along the Canadian-American border, it’s always been porous. My husband and I used to walk across the Peace Bridge into Ft. Erie, Ontario, on summer evenings. Canadians would, with equal casualness, cross the river to party or shop in Buffalo.
We didn’t need passports. Nobody was repeatedly harassed because they had a common name or had irritated an inspector at a different checkpoint.
If Poppy’s inspector was right and Canadians need work visas or special clearance to cross the border to paint, it’s a closely-held international secret. I could name several who are here in the US painting right now.
Purely for research purposes, I shared Poppy's Scotch Egg. It's my new favorite junk food.

Purely for research purposes, I shared Poppy’s Scotch Egg. It’s my new favorite junk food.
I suppose the government’s rationale is that they’re protecting American jobs. Yet millions of migrant workers have crossed our southern border to work illegally in this country. We lack either the will or the ability to stop them. But we somehow have the resources to prevent a mild-mannered pharmacist from bringing her brushes across from Canada.
Get a grip, Customs and Immigration. Protect us from Nickleback and Celine Dion, not the Poppy Balsers of this world.

Augmented reality

Rachel Carson sunset, 10X8, oil on canvas

Rachel Carson sunset, 10X8, oil on canvas
Pokémon Go has taken my family by storm. It has its critics, but I love the way it blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. They call this “augmented reality,” and I’m all for it. After all, augmented reality is what we artists are supposed to be all about.
I left home yesterday to start seven days of augmenting reality the old-fashioned way: with a brush. Until Wednesday, I’ll be in Ocean Park, ME’s Art in the Park.  On Wednesday I decamp to Castine Plein Air.
That's one full car.

That’s one full car.
While I’m only likely to paint ten paintings over the week, I can’t say for sure what sizes they’ll be, or in what colors, or even what subjects I’ll choose. I have a larger-than-usual assortment of frames and boards with me, plus clothes, paints and tools. My little Prius seems packed for any eventuality, but I still managed to spill ketchup on my one good shirt yesterday.
Ocean Park was founded in 1881 as a Free Will Baptist Chautauqua. It still functions as a Chautaqua Assembly 135 years later. Its grounds are graced with a series of lovely meeting spaces in the classic Camp Meeting style of the last century.
A duck family wandered through my scene.

A duck family wandered through my scene.
I arrived at Porter Hall just a few minutes past the arrival time, and was actually the last expected artist to check in. My hosts are Ocean Park’s Education Committee Chairman Frank Gwalthney and his wife Helen. Although I’ve known them only for a year, they seem like old friends.
We sat and chatted until the sun started dropping. I went to Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge’s Goosefare Brook trail to paint while Helen went to the Temple to see PORTopera present Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium. That’s the Chautauqua experience in a nutshell: a whole lot of culture packed into a place of profound tranquility.
Fog moving in.

The fog dropped like a curtain across our view.
Ed Buonvecchio joined me at the mudflats. We worked fast against the sunset. Because I was looking directly west, I painted with my sunglasses on until the sun dropped below the trees. Then I put them on top of my head, only to accidentally shake them off over the bridge embankment.
Yesterday’s lesson was that climbing over guardrails and down concrete ledges was much easier 20 years ago. Nevertheless, I need those glasses. I managed to retrieve them without landing in Goosefare Brook, and decided that henceforth I’ll stash them in their case, not on my head.
The end of the road for painting last night.

The end of the road for painting last night.
A few minutes later, a thick fog started so swirl around us. It came up so fast and thick that I could do nothing but pack up and grope my way back to my car. Redolent of the sea, it was beautiful, soft and cool. And it’s here this morning, so my ideas for today’s first painting have changed just a little.

Frog weather

I have decided to repost my BDN blog here so that my non-Maine friends who object to the survey can see it.

Class at Schoodic Point.

Class at Schoodic Point.
My pal is a righteous church-going grandmother from Allegheny County, PA. Yesterday, she was offered $50 to perform an immoral act. We were both a little confused about the economics. If that’s the going rate, prostitution really doesn’t pay well.
In reality, she’s a residential advisor at a center for adults with developmental disabilities. This is empowering and important work. I teach painting, which isn’t as immediately beneficial to society, but is probably equally important in the bigger picture.
A happy student

A happy student
I’ve been painting since many of you were in short pants, and teaching since you were angst-ridden teenagers. You could read my long and boring CV here, or you can cut to the main point: lots of people have become better artists by studying with me.
I understand from my pals that it’s hotter than blue blazes in my birth state of New York. I was dismayed to see photos from last weekend’s Battle of Fort Niagara reenactment in Youngstown, NY. The parade grounds appear as parched, brown and dusty as the ancient walls of the fort itself. It’s been hot, humid and hazy downstate, too, where there’s been an air quality advisory for metropolitan New York. In fact, that’s the way it’s been going for much of America so far this summer.

Here in Rockport, Maine, it is hitting the 70s, but there is a cool breeze. In Acadia, it might even be a few degrees cooler. That’s one reason you should consider joining me in Acadia’s Schoodic Institute for this year’s Sea & Sky workshop from August 7 to 12.
The Schoodic Institute isn’t open to the public. To stay there, you need to be part of an educational program. That makes it quiet and secluded. I’ve watched its transition from a former navy base to its current incarnation as an educational institution. Someday we will all brag about having been there.
Me, demoing.

Me, demoing.
Some of the best painting on the East Coast is there. High granite cliffs drop down to the misty green depths of Frenchmen’s Bay. Atlantic surf roars onto Schoodic point in the clear light of Maine, which is like no other light in the northeast.
If you’re a history buff, you know that this is Acadia’s centennial year. That makes our workshop part of an amazing run of history.
Our lobster bake.

Our lobster bake.
The cost for this whole shindig including instruction, meals, accommodation, and a lobster feast is just $1600. Compare that to other workshops and you’ll realize it’s a great deal.
Yes, I have a few openings left. I believe that the people who go are those who are meant to go. Perhaps that’s you. If so, email me soon so you can snag one of these last spots.

The Fine Art of Packing

Texting and falling into a fountain, 6X8, Carol L. Douglas. Artists can justify keeping anything as still life props.
Sometimes God likes to remind me that I’m not superhuman. Like this week, when my work has been limited by asthma. The combination of pollen, dust and exertion has pretty much done me in by early afternoon, and I’m about 20 boxes behind in my packing.
Every American family should pack once a decade. That way we would relentlessly cull our stuff. It would be nicer for our children when we die, for one thing.
Yes, all the weird stuff has to come with me. And much of it requires special handling in packing.
Every studio is full of odd and useful things. In my case, several plaster heads, one blue glass head, a Vaseline glass figurine, several compotes, and a glass bowl full of rocks from Maine. That last one has me baffled; I use those rocks for still lives, but I can’t really see moving them back to Maine.
Paintings and frames are a hassle to pack.
The fine art of packing consists entirely in tossing stuff out until your current house is empty and you fall in love with it again. I’m not a hoarder. I can be relentless with books, with clothes and with furnishings. But there’s still an awful lot of stuff here to go through, and time is slipping through my fingers.
Where there was once order, there are now… boxes.
Meanwhile, I remember what it’s like to paint. Really, I do.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Utopia among the carnivorous plants

Floating sedges at the Irondequoit Inn, 20X16, oil on canvasboard.
I love boreal bogs. There’s a terrific one at Quoddy Head in Lubec and there’s Corea Heath which we’ll be visiting in August. New York’s Adirondacks are chock-full of them, including Barnum Bog at Paul Smith’s VIC.
A bog is a nutrient-poor acidic wetland dominated by sphagnum mosses, sedges, and shrubs and evergreen trees rooted in deep peat. This is in contrast to a marsh, which is dominated by grasses, rushes or reeds, and often sits at the edge of open water. Swamps are forested wetlands containing slow-moving to stagnant waters; they too are usually attached to open water.
Weather Moving In At Barnum Bog, 12X9, oil on canvasboard.
All of these have their attractions, but none is as lovely as a bog. It is a feast of color even when the rest of the landscape is uniformly green.
Bogs are built on a base of sphagnum, which is a genus of about 120 different plants commonly lumped together as peat moss. Sphagnum and sedges sometimes make floating  mats along the edges of open water; I’ve painted these mats in Piseco many times. It’s tricky to gauge their color, which runs from purple at the base to green and orange in the foliage.
The Dugs in Autumn, 11X14, oil on canvasboard.
Sundews and pitcher plants are hardy, long-lived perennial plants that have found a niche chowing down insects. They rise straight above the sphagnum with flower heads in snappy red, green and purple. Dwarf cranberry and Labrador tea shrubs form low mounds. Poking out through this mess are stunted evergreens attempting to get a foothold on the peat cushion. And usually there’s a vast semicircle of pines framing the scene, and perhaps a mountain rising in the distance. Bogs are a painter’s paradise, often ignored for flashier scenes.
Autumn Sedges, 6X8, oil on canvasboard.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Beautiful Winter Harbor

Part of Winter Harbor Yacht Club’s fleet.(Credit unknown.)
Yesterday I saw this photo essay of Winter Harbor, ME in Yankee Magazine. I hope you click through and enjoy the pictures.
This is the closest town to Schoodic Institute in Acadia National Park, where my workshop will be held August 9-14, 2015. (There are just a few openings in the workshop, so if you’re interested, I hope you let me know soon.)
Winter Harbor itself is a quaint little fishing community of 500 people with a general store, a gas station, and a great little Main Street.  It includes a summer colony called Grindstone Neck. This colony was formed in 1889, modeled along the lines of Bar Harbor. As usual, I stumbled across it in my perambulations while looking for a painting site.
This group has its own yacht club, which in turn has its own yacht. The Winter Harbor 21 (or Winter Harbor Knockabout) is a 31′ racing sloop designed and built by Burgess & Packard, of Marblehead, Massachusetts, specifically for the club.
Cloverly, the first boat to be rescued and restored. (Credit unknown.)
In 1906, club members Fredrick O. Spedden and George Dallas Dixon Jr. commissioned  Burgess & Packard to build seven boats to a specific design. These were launched in 1907. Two more were added in the 1920s.
By mid-century the small fleet had been dispersed until only two remained active. In 1976, the club’s then-commodore, Alan Goldstein, decided that he wanted to find and buy one back. After two years, he found Cloverly rotting in a barn. His enthusiasm was catching and by the mid-80s, all nine boats were restored and  back in Winter Harbor.
Near Winter Harbor, ME. I promise you that Yankee Magazine‘s photos, here, are much better than mine.
The Winter Harbor 21s are the oldest intact one-design racing sailboat fleet in the United States.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

New beginnings

The next home of my studio is a classic Maine farmhouse.
Yesterday I wrote about Maine’s prettiest villages. I’ve worked in many of them, but the bulk of my perambulations have been centered in Camden (#1), Rockport, (#6), Damariscotta (#3) and the villages and hamlets between them. This stretch of coast has open ocean breaking on rocky outcroppings, graceful harbors, and bucolic pastoral moments, all within a few miles of the amenities on US 1.
I love painting in Camden because I love the passing parade. (Photo courtesy of Howard Gallagher of Camden Falls Gallery.)
The problem has been in finding a central location from which to work and teach. Yesterday I solved that problem by buying a building in Rockport.
Sails drying in the sun, by Carol L. Douglas.
This being Maine, we are only the third owner of this 115-year-old Maine farmhouse. We bought it for its large, light painting studio. But we also like its cozy, classic informality. It reminds me of the tourist cabins of the Maine of my youth. The prior owners have taken meticulous care of it, and I am grateful for the chance to be its next guardian.
This sunroom is going to be my Maine teaching studio.
Camden harbor is my favorite place to paint. I enjoy the passing parade as much as I like the boats.  Last summer I tried every day to make it to the public dock in time for sunrise. I was staying in a snug little cabin in Waldoboro and I have to admit, I seldom succeeded. My new studio is about a mile down the road. I bet I’ll even have time for a second cup of coffee.
Main Street, Camden, by Carol L. Douglas.
Starting on June 1, I’ll be hanging out my shingle at 394 Commercial Street, Rockport (well, as soon as I design a shingle, that is). However, my 2015 workshop will be at Acadia’s Schoodic Institute, which is a whole different kind of beautiful—wild landscapes, bigger seas, and definitely ‘the one less traveled by.’ There are just three openings left, so if you’re interested, you should probably register sooner than later.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.