Weekly painting classes in Rockport, Maine

Painting by student Marilyn Feinberg
Color, light, and composition for outdoor painters
Carol L. Douglas
394 Commercial Street, Rockport
Starting April 4, 2017
10-1 AM Tuesdays, six week session
Fee: $200
Last month two friends took me to lunch at the Waterfront restaurant in Camden. As a bitter wind piled clouds high above the islands of Penobscot Bay, they put a question to me. “When will you stop slacking and start teaching weekly classes again?”
They’re right. My trip to Canada had stretched into the holidays, which had then become a trip to the Bahamas. I’ve been working hard, but not teaching.
 They nailed me down to a commitment. Our next cycle of classes starts on Tuesday, April 4. That will be from 10-1 AM, in my studio at 394 Commercial Street, Rockport. If you’re interested, there are more details available on my website, here.
The goal is intensive, one-on-one instruction that you can take back to your studio to apply during the rest of the week. We’ll cover issues like design, composition, and paint handling. We will learn how to mix and paint with clean color, and how to get paint on the canvas with a minimum of fuss.
And, yes, we’ll talk about drawing. If you ever want to paint anything more complicated than marshes, you must know how to draw. As I’ve demonstrated before, any person of normal intelligence can draw; it’s a technique, not a talent. And it’s easy to learn, no matter what you’ve been led to believe.
Painting by student Jennifer Jones
We’ll start in my studio, but on pleasant days, we’ll paint at outdoor locations. Painting outdoors, from life, is the most challenging and instructive exercise in all of art. It teaches you about light, color and composition.
That, of course, limits the media you work in to oils, watercolor, acrylics, or pastel, since they’re what is suitable to outdoor painting.
Years ago, a friend kept asking me to give painting lessons. “I don’t know how to do that,” I’d answer. We went round and round for several years. Eventually, I caved. Three people signed up. I figured I’d teach one session and they’d realize I was clueless. My studio was on the third floor. I was the model and the instructor and I kept hitting my head on the ceiling as I moved around the room.
Turns out, I wasn’t actually that bad. From there I moved into a nicer room above the garage and enlarged my teaching practice. I started teaching workshops and concentrating on plein air instruction, since that’s what I love best. When I left Rochester, I left a large circle of students behind. You can see a small sample of their work here. One of my great joys is that they formed a group, Greater Rochester Plein Air Painters, and continue to paint together.
“You used to teach on Saturdays,” a student recently pointed out. That’s true, I realize. If you want to study with me but work during the week, let me know. If I have three people interested, I’ll offer a weekend class.

The Winnowing Fork

I threw out 90% of my drawings, keeping only those of sentimental value. This could be nobody but my friend, clothing designer Jane Bartlett, posing for a quick sketch.

I recently bought new pads of newsprint , and they tipped me into chaos. I finally faced the truth that there wasn’t a single corner in which to shove one more thing in my studio. It wasn’t a simple question of emptying one drawer to accommodate the newsprint, either. My whole studio had become a tangled skein of art supplies, finished work, and projects under way.

And this, of course is my long-term plein air pal Marilyn Feinberg, being unusually still.
Twelve man-hours later, the winnowing fork has done its duty, and I can think again.
Of sentimental value for a totally different reason. This is the cartoon for a painting I envisioned of my doctor removing my staples after my first cancer surgery. I probably will never paint it, of course, but it would have been more fun than the surgery. Imagine that green florescent hospital lighting of old…
Artists tend to be pack-rats—after all, one never knows when that beaver skull or fake mustache will come in handy. But at a certain point, the clutter overwhelms. I paint best in a spare, very ordered environment, and much of my working day is spent trying to stop myself from trashing that.
The plein air board stash. Neatly reduced (although I suspect there’s another box of them in my frame shop).
Out went the acetate and rubylith left over from the days when designers stripped in pages. Out went stained or marked paper.  Out went damaged prints.
About a decade ago I decided to save all my gesture drawings. I have no idea why; I’ve never looked at any of them since. Out they went, too, netting me a full flat-file drawer for other purposes. I tossed a large stack of mediocre drawings, keeping only a few of sentimental value and a couple of painting cartoons that still amuse me.
I’ve finally realized that rubylith and amberlith and hand-stripping tabloid-size pages are never coming back. OK, I realized that a decade ago, but I still thought I could think of something to do with all that stuff. It’s on the curb now.
About once a year, I toss out several pounds of paintings I no longer like. I slash these canvases and boards, because I never want them returning, zombie-like, to embarrass me in the future. I reserve the right to edit the story of my life, and that includes my work.
What remains is a mixture of unfinished work that is in some way instructive, finished work that’s just “resting” outside frames for a short while, and a whole range of stuff I’m still not sure about.

Next up, my frame shop. That’s a scary thought.

Now that I’m so darn organized, I can start thinking about what’s coming up. There is only one slot open for my July workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME, and August and September are sold out.  Join us in July or October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

Heavy Weather

The scene, on a warmer, brighter day.
“Lemme tell you something,” said Mr. Steptoe. “The moment I’ve got Duff’s dough in my jeans, this joint has seen the last of me. I’m going back to Hollywood; that’s what I’m going to do, and if you’ve a morsel of sense you’ll come with me. What you want wasting your time in this darned place beats me. Nobody but stiffs for miles around. And look what happens today. You give this lawn party, and what do you get? Cloudbursts and thunderstorms. Where’s the sense in sticking around in a climate like this? If you like being rained on come to Hollywood and stand under the shower bath.” 
(From Quick Service, by PG Wodehouse, c. 1940, Doubleday Doran)
As far as I got on an earlier day, painting with my old pal Marilyn. This is a big field painting, 20X24.
I left Maine with a hankering for painting boats. (They’re really one of my favorite things.) As I had to be in Irondequoit anyway, today seemed like a great opportunity to run up to Genesee Yacht Club to finish a painting I started a few years ago.  I don’t like to paint from photos—not because of some arbitrary rules about what constitutes plein air, but because I see better in real space. And this painting has been sitting around since Marilyn Feinberg moved to Florida and quit being my painting buddy.
The forecast was for intermittent light rain. That’s very doable with oil paints, so I packed my stuff and headed north. However, there’s a fine line between light rain and the kind of rain that works your paint into a solid emulsion. What we were getting this afternoon was on the wrong side of that line. We live in a naturally damp city that’s currently stuck in a heavy-rainfall pattern. There isn’t much one can do about it except move on to something else, like cleaning bookshelves.
Notice, however, that I’m not complaining. It may be dark, cool and rainy here too much of the time, but we don’t often have forest fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, or any of the other natural phenomena that plague other parts of the country.  “Just throw your mind back to Hollywood, honey. Think of that old sun. Think of that old surf at Malibu,” said Mr. Steptoe. For my money he can keep it.
There is only one slot open for my July workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME, and August and September are sold out.  Join us in July or October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

Reaching through yourself to the next phase

Students show up at all levels of experience, and the goal is to meet them where they are and usher them to the next phase.

 An inexperienced student is a tabula rasa on which the painting teacher can sketch out an orderly system for painting.  (This is a sweet privilege, and one of the reasons I like teaching teenagers so much.) When working with experienced students, the challenge is to get them to let go of what they know in order to embrace the whole range of what they couldknow.

I was the worst kind of painting student. I’m skeptical, have a strong inner vision, and am an autodidact by nature. When I first started teaching painting, Marilyn Feinberg would tell me “That’s karma; you deserve that,” when I got a student who refused to hear. She was so right.
Most people who take workshops are, in fact, fairly accomplished artists. I know I recently said otherwise, but my primary job isn’t really to know where the bathrooms are. Rather, it’s to help students discern and possess the next step in their painting journey, whatever that may be.
Teaching painting is a great privilege.

The pitfalls are plentiful. Some teachers churn out exact replicas of themselves, so that you can walk into a gallery and immediately know, “That person studied with X.” Others are so fearful of stirring the mixture that they do nothing to advance their students’ skills, providing only vague affirmation. Still others teach systems of rendering—“This is how you paint an eye;” “This is how you paint an apple”—instead of teaching their student to observe and describe with an authentic voice.

That first moment in a new class or workshop can be fraught, especially if you know nobody. Many of us feel a need to excel (or at least I do). That is generally a good thing, but in the creative arts, it can also make us anxious, defensive, and hypersensitive to criticism. My first job is to help the student lay that aside, allowing the best true artist within himself to blossom.  
I asked my friend and fellow artist Sandra Sibley—who also works with therapeutic riding programs—if there was an analogy in training horses. This was her response:
I don’t think there’s an analogy to training horses, as horses pretty much live in the moment and if you keep at it with repetition they learn what’s current.
Riders (and in my case, the volunteers who have horses) are another matter. I think we cling to that which feels comfortable. And with riding, that’s coupled with your brain thinking you are doing something different than what your body is actually doing. I can see that comparison to art, as so many beginners see a tree as green leaves and a brown trunk. Their brain is thinking they have it right, but it comes out wrong on the canvas.
The challenge with teaching riding to beginners is finding the right words/analogy that clicks in their brain to get them to do what you want them to do. IE, move your hips with the motion of the horse…move those hips like you’re salsa dancing. Breathe through your diaphragm… make a Santa belly when you breathe, etc.

Thanks, Sandy. You always do get to the heart of the matter.
I had lunch with a middle-school teacher from Delaware today and broached yesterday’s question. “Some people believe that nobody should have anything nice,” she said. And that, of course is a big part of it. There are many people in our culture who want to elevate the tone, but there are others—a few—who resent beauty or success. I guess the best we can hope for is that the creators outnumber and outwork the destroyers.

August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME… and the other sessions are selling fast.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information. 

The rest of the story

I found this while cleaning my room today, and somehow it seemed appropriate. I’m really big on making my students do self-portraits; maybe it caused Matt to become unhinged.

As I mentioned earlier this week, Matt Menzies used to prattle on about my falling over a cliff at High Tor. For some reason, he committed it to writing this week. It’s so uncommon to read about one’s own death in advance, I felt I should share it with you. (But I take umbrage with his characterization of my beautiful blue Prius. It’s kind of otherworldly and angelic, that car.)
They were enigmatic times for the odd trio… Carol had all but shed her worldly ties, and confined herself to her studio exclusively. The only contact with the outside world she could stand was the occasional visits from her long-time friends, the in and out of her sharp-minded daughters, and of course, the company of Marilyn and me. Marilyn and Carol had worked together a long time, it seemed, and as the youngest and most inexperienced of the trio I feel I have an unbiased view. Some days the debates raged louder than all the pigments in the studio, and on others silence prevailed. It was Marilyn who could keep it the longest. She cultivated a contagious Zen, painting blissful blues and warm greens. Every image purred as a fuzzy cat beneath her hand: she was as a master could be, although she painted within a calm, simple joy, and not in a pursuit of some masterpiece.
But I digress: it was Carol who burned the midnight oil, studying and meditating on the nature of pigment, the subtle neutralizations, and the high chroma incidence. She possessed a perception unlike any other. I took to trying to see like she did. I would study her palette and duplicate it the best I could. When I asked for help, she would wander over to my painting, sometimes commenting on what was good or bad. With a palette knife in one hand and brush in the other, she would push me aside and scrape away my strokes, replacing them with her own without hesitation, as if to show me ‘the way it is to be done.’ I blended into her process well enough, like a lab tech working on a grand experiment.
It was on such a day, at the end of an especially long and tiring season, that we took one of our outdoor plein air trips. Carol was fanatical in her search for the right angle, the right light. We loaded up the Prius (an awful dull light blue vehicle with the oddest angles) and we cruised down to the Southern Tier. The grey highway cut through and around the rolling green hills, and the deeper we went the higher the mountains rose. The day had blossomed into a drizzling overcast, but, we had come this far, and Carol’s foot continued to urge the car onward; Marilyn and I literally went along for the ride. As the Prius hauled up the mountain, I opened the window to breath in what I expected to be moist forest air, but as I leaned out I could feel nothing. The stillness was uncanny, and the raindrops barely tapped my face before evaporating back into the atmosphere. At times the sun seemed to work up the courage to break through, but then faded back into the cloudscape. Blue greens and grey blues permeated the landscape.
As we pulled to the crest overlooking a soggy valley, Carol stopped the car, looked back as if to indicate she had selected her spot, and proceeded to unceremoniously kill the engine. We all sat in silence for a moment, none of us particularly eager to step out into the moistened landscape, but we set to work and made good time in setting up. The painting proceeded for some time in silence, the drizzle dampening all sound and conversation. And as the water rained upon us, the tears rolled down our canvases. I wondered why they wept. My own sadness did not set in until much later in the day when the light began to fade. I concluded my work and I spun around in search of my betters. Marilyn was but a far-off speck on a neighboring hill, lost in a cloud so grey that it twinkled blue, but Carol…
Carol had set up on an adjacent crest, and I recalled looking over an hour or so before and seeing her facing far off into the distance, no doubt juxtaposing some specific tree with another hill line etc. But she was nowhere to be found. Her easel stood as a still as a deer in the fading twilight, an old rag hanging from it, motionless in the heavy air. As I approached I called out to her, with no reply. I looked down and around, and realized what must have happened. As the master stepped back paces to look at her day’s labor, almost complete, she must have backed to the cliff edge, lost her balance, and fell to her doom!
Marilyn had heard my shouts. I quickly ran in an arc but could deduce no other explanation. Dropping to my knees, I approached the cliff edge. I could see nothing but leaves and darkness. Marilyn arrived behind me, and as I peered up at her I knew that she knew what I had just learned. But there was no surprised look in her eye, and no sorrowful tears; only a calm acceptance, and a wise gaze. The grey-blue cloud loomed behind her and her silhouette glowed brown and orange in the fading sunlight. For a moment I thought maybe she had known of this event long before I had come over to investigate, long before this day had even arrived.
Not a word was spoken. We set to work folding the easels, carefully storing the paintings and supplies in the trunk. The gnarled rooted tree on Carol’s painting glistened with a vivid power, coiling upon itself, as if roaring atop the hill, gazing forward upon a valley it could never walk through. We closed the hood, and turned around to face the hilly crests one last time. As Marilyn paused and gazed for a moment too long I beckoned for her to come. “What for?” she called back. “Carol had the keys.”
At that realization the road seemed so much longer, and my way home impossibly far and full of obstacle. I was about to sink to the grass in despair, when Marilyn let out a quiet chuckle, and as I flicked my gaze over to her in confusion it erupted into laughter, and my confusion, my fear of this unknown life, was wiped away, to be replaced by a warm smile, and we began the hike down the mountain taking with us a final lesson from the old master.

Painting in Maine is definitely more interesting than falling off High Tor. If you’re interested in joining us for a fantastic time in mid-Coast Maine this summer, check here for more information. There’s still room in my workshops.

Painting with Friends

Durand-Eastman in early Spring, 11X14, oil on canvasboard. I am not that keen on early Spring colors, which to me often look clichéd, and I didn’t like this when I painted it. I like it a lot more now. It’s brassy—just like me.

Marilyn Feinberg was raised in Irondequoit, so it is no surprise that she was drawn to Durand-Eastman Park. We painted there in every season, but this painting was done on a cold Spring day when we were still in down jackets and crocheted toques. Marilyn’s coat was orange and her hat purple, which is why (I think) a local news photographer spotted and photographed us. (I’ve been photographed painting innumerable times and never when well-dressed. Yes, that begs the question.)

Marilyn and I painted together forever: when we started, we could jog the trails at High Tor on our breaks, tolerate freezing our paints in a vineyard, or nearly be washed away on a bridge in a torrential downpour. By the time she and her husband retired to Florida, we were somewhat more sedate, and marginally more sensible.
Oakland Shores Motel and Cabins, Rockland, ME, 9X12, oil on canvasboard, painted while traveling with Kristin Zimmermann.
Another painting buddy of long standing is Kristin Zimmermann. She is definitely an urban animal. Occasionally I could cajole her to leave Manhattan, but she isn’t that keen on all that green. That’s fine; I New York too. I’m accustomed to using a car to move my painting kit around, and using the subway requires miniaturization. I learned a lot about efficient packing from Kristin, but she never could stop me from tripping over my own feet.
Lake Champlain from on top of a stupid cliff, 11X14, oil on canvasboard
Then there is my young painting buddy, Matthew Menzies, who is at Rhode Island School of Design now. He painted with me while in high school. Matt spun a tale one day in which I died by falling off a cliff at High Tor, after which he and Marilyn discovered that I had the car keys in my pocket.
Last summer, Matt and I met up in Burlington, VT to paint together. Far be it from us to set up someplace sensible: we found our best view from a narrow ridge, hoisting our kits 25 feet up an almost vertical incline. I am happy to report that I am still alive.
If you’re interested in joining us for a fantastic time in mid-Coast Maine this summer, check here for more information. There’s still room in my workshops.

Five plein air sketches by a student and friend

Students do wonderful things. Here are five landscape paintings recently entered by Marilyn Feinberg in the GVPAP show at Barnes & Noble—all five were accepted.
Expressway entrance at South Winton Road, about 12.5X10, oil. (These are not titles, but descriptions, since I don’t know the titles.)
My backyard when the roses were in bloom, about 12X12, oil.

Adirondack swamp, about 8X8, oil.

Marilyn’s backyard, about 8X10, oil.

Our grill, about 8X10, oil.

These paintings will be on display in the community room at Barnes & Noble, 3349 Monroe Avenue, Rochester, through January 27. The reception and awards ceremony will be on Saturday, January 8 from 4 – 6 pm.

Marilyn is certainly talented—no doubt about that. But she brings to mind that famous Thomas Edison quote: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Accordingly, a ‘genius’ is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.”

And on that note, I’m getting to work.

Visiting Paradise with Susie and Marilyn

When my friend Susie arrived at the farm where we’d agreed to meet, she raised her arms and said, “Paradise!” It was a lovely farm alright, but Paradise?

We wandered. We looked at bales of hay in a pole barn and hiked to a rise where we could look down on the dairy barns. (Marilyn and Susie had previously met the farmer.) This was indeed a well-run and beautiful farm, set in a gently sloping valley.

I asked them why they liked this place. Susie said she was enthralled by the colors and the roll of the land. Marilyn said she saw the human figure in the sinuous twists of the hills.

The Bristol Hills aren’t breathtaking but they are gently beautiful. Long ranges of blue hills overlap in the distance. I never respond to these hills in their purely natural state. I need to see that slash of pale gold in a faraway upland field to understand the lavender and indigo and green of the woods.

The Kingdom of Heaven is in some ways a cooperative venture between God and man. So is this landscape. No wonder Susie called it “Paradise.”

I continue to try to paint in the spirit of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson. This isn’t really their kind of scene, but the wide disked field presents some of the paint handling issues they addressed. I chose this view for the difficulties presented by that large neutral foreground.

I was working on a 16X20 canvas, a breath of fresh air after all the small studies I’ve done this month. I started with an underpainting in Gamblin’s Transparent Earth Red. You can read more about their transparent Mars colors here.

Although I’ve been trying to work much dryer, the transition from board to untoned canvas makes that a little more difficult. The shadow above the hills is from erasure and isn’t really part of the value study.

Here is the midpoint of my painting. I have decided to do a potentially ugly thing and include the fringe of green at the bottom. As long as the value of the green and the brown are close, I don’t think it will be too awkward-looking.

I still have to unify the sky (yes, there were clouds; they showed up after I started). I have to figure out a paint-handling technique that works for the disked field and make some drawing adjustments on the hill to the right. But, oops! My easel fell and dumped my painting into the ditch.

There are bits of gravel, seeds, and dirt all over the right side of my canvas. The solution is to stop painting, let the surface harden up, and knock the debris loose with a palette knife. Oh, well. I was ready to quit anyway.

BTW, this is my painting buddy Susie:

And Marilyn:

Ironically, when they aren’t wearing billowing white shirts and off-kilter ball caps (to keep the glare out of their eyes) they are both very elegant women.