Showing Alison the ropes

And in Camden harbor, there are ropes everywhere.
Pea Soup, by Carol L. Douglas

This week is the Camden Classics Cup, which draws all sorts of lovely boats to Camden, Maine (as if the place had any shortage on its own). Howard Gallagher asked artists from Camden Falls Gallery to scamper down to the harbor to paint the beautiful beasties, which I’ll be doing while dodging raindrops. It’s nice to do an event close to home, although it doesn’t happen often.

Alison Menke was up at Castine Plein Airlast week. We’d met in June, when we did the Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival in Nova Scotia. She went from there to take first place at Telluride Plein Air, and then bounced back up to Maine. I’m a fan of her bravura brushwork, but she’s also a lovely person. When I realized she was hanging around the Maine coast, I invited her to join me in Camden.
Alison and me, in the murk of a foggy day.
I’ve grown accustomed to the wealth of schooners in the harbor. It was enlightening to see them through fresh eyes. We set up on a floating dock to paint the bow of the Mistress, with Mercantile in the background. Mistress’ dinghy, Tricky Mary, hangs half-suspended from her bow. It’s a nice, odd angle. She’s neither floating nor swinging.
The first time I ever painted in Camden, I was shy about setting up on a floating dock. Still, it’s the only place to paint in places where tides run high. Otherwise, you’ll inevitably get a twist in the hull as the angle changes. Steve Pixley, Camden’s harbormaster, reassured me that it was alright, and I’ve been painting on the docks ever since. This is one of the many ways in which Maine is not like other places.
Our paintings before the little yawl pulled in.
Alison was overly impressed by my knowledge of the schooners’ habits. It’s really just a question of asking the crews endless questions, something that’s going to result in my being pitched in the water one of these days. The most important of these is always, “When are you going back out?”
I love the cluster of day-trippers on the wall—Appledore, Olad, and Surprise—but it’s difficult to paint them live, since they’re never in one place long enough. However, in such heavy fog, they make fewer trips.
A FitzHugh Lane Day at Camden, Carol L. Douglas. There are boats you can only catchon foggy days.
“It’s a real pea-souper,” said a couple coming in from Isleboro to do their weekly shopping. With so many visitors and exotic yachts, it’s easy to forget that for many people, Camden is a working harbor.
By midafternoon, we both needed coffee and lunch. We downed brushes and walked up to town. In retrospect, I feel badly about my choice of dining establishments. Alison has been enjoying such Maine delicacies as Nutella crepes, blueberries and lobster rolls, and I directed her to a boring old chicken salad and a Tootsie Roll. I should have taken her to Harbor Dogs instead. That’s fine coastal dining.
It draws visitors from around the world, so Camden harbor is never boring.

We sat on a bench enjoying the sea mist and our lunches when we noticed a little yawl coming in. She tied up right next to our easels and blocked our view. Pretty enough, but at that moment, I hated her. Alison decided she was finished and packed up to head to Port Clyde. I reworked the bottom of my canvas, ruthlessly excising the mizzen mast.

“I’ll see you around someplace,” Alison said. Well, actually, she’ll see me in three weeks at Adirondack Plein Air. I’m looking forward to it.
I’ve got one more workshop available this summer. Join me for Sea and Sky at Schoodic, August 5-10. We’re strictly limited to twelve, but there are still seats open.

You call this working?

For me, serious illness was a  corrective to the impulse to tiptoe around my calling. It reminded me that time is precious and fleeting. 

As I tried to figure out how my carefully-planned day went so haywire, a friend pointed out, “you hate packing and you love boats.” That is the only explanation for giving up what I absolutely had to do in order to join Howard Gallagher and Ken DeWaard on the Dirty Dory.
Camden is full of beautiful boats. It’s easy enough to find opportunities to paint them at rest. It’s much more difficult to see them under sail. I have a few photos from last year’s trip on American Eagle. Two years ago, Howard took the late Lee Boynton and me out to see the start of the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta. We shot pictures of modern boats. But opportunities to shoot the massive old schooners under way are limited, and I should grab them when I can.
Mercantile raising her sails.
It takes a skilled navigator to get in position while not annoying the schooner crew, and Howard is that. Here’s the video he shot while we were out:
One of the boats we followed out was the ketch Angelique. She is distinctive for her brown-rose tan-barked sails. In 2016, Poppy Balser and I sketched her as she stood off Castine in a harbor that already hosted Bowdoinand J&E Riggin. It was a magical morning but eventually I finished and left. Poppy stayed; Angelique docked; Poppy scored. Timing, as they say, is everything.
Angelique at the Dock, watercolor, by Poppy Balser.
The same was true yesterday. I returned to my studio to frame and photograph paintings and clean and pack my car. Ed Buonvecchio called; we chatted about the recent Finger Lakes Plein Air Festival. Kari Ganoung Ruiz, who won Best in Show, is a friend and a fellow member of Greater Rochester Plein Air Painters. She was my monitor for my 2015 Sea and Sky workshop. Kudos to a fine, fine painter.
Ed and I are heading to Nova Scotia this afternoon to paint in the Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival. I was there earlier this year with Bobbi Heath. The landscape is spectacular and I’m expecting great things to happen.
Angelique leaving Camden harbor.
This three-day event is full of meet-and-greet events, more than this old recluse is accustomed to. The culmination is a Collector’s Gala on Saturday night. I’m a little anxious at its posh description. Oh, well. One bright side to owning only one dress is that one doesn’t need to dither about what to wear. No, I’m not packed, but in the end, will anyone remember what I wore?
My husband says that after my first bout with cancer, I quit doing things I didn’t want to do. That’s not entirely true; every life is full of mundane and humdrum chores like packing. What has changed is that I try to not let obligation stand in the way of opportunity. Serious illness is a great corrective to the human impulse to tiptoe around our true calling. It reminds us that time is precious and fleeting.

The weighing of souls

In which I paint the schooner Mercantile and am reminded that in God’s eyes, all men are equal.

Schooner Mercantile in drydock, by Carol L. Douglas

I awoke this morning laughing heartily at a chemistry joke. It evaporated as soon as I remembered that what chemistry I know would fit in my wash cup. People who assume I am well-educated ought to have known me in school, is all I can say.

That’s why I don’t quite understand what they’ve been doing to the masts of Heritage this week. It comes under the broad heading of “refinishing.” Each step involved being hoisted up and down the mast in a wooden basket, and there’s lots of scraping and buffing and brushing involved. If you want to feel particularly dumb, watch craftsmen at work in a discipline you don’t know.
Working on a mast of Heritage.
Meanwhile, Captains Doug Lee and John Foss are using the Little Giant crane to drop floating docks in the water. The crew of Mercantilehas busy caulking and painting, because it’s her turn up in the cradle.
Mercantile was launched from Little Deer Isle, Maine in 1916. Until 1943, she was in the coasting trade, after which she briefly went into mackerel fishing. She is one of the earlier boats adapted to the tourist trade. She’s called a “bald-headed schooner” because she carries no topsails.
That’s Mercantile at the back of The Three Graces, by Carol L. Douglas
I’ve painted Mercantilemany times, mostly at Camden harbor. “I didn’t know she was so pretty,” exclaimed a hand after he looked at my painting. Actually, she’s beautiful, especially when her green undercoat is replaced with its glossy black topcoat.
I’m always at a loss about how to treat the flotsam that accumulates on the shipyard ground. It’s part of the scene but it can be distracting. The crew had made themselves a long trestle table with sawhorses and planks. I put it in in various places, dissatisfied each time. I moved it again this morning because it was cutting off the bottom of my composition.
Mercantile, 2016, by Carol L. Douglas
It was so warm in the morning that I wore clamdiggers instead of long pants. I always forget that the open water at Rockland makes it cooler and windier than at my house. I was glad that I had to be back at Rockport in the early afternoon, because by the time I quit painting, my teeth were chattering. 
I was meeting a young man to finish burying the power line to my commercial sign. “She tells me I’m dumb,” he said of one of his employers. I’ve heard several variations on this theme recently. As a person who was never much good at school, I find it irritating.
There are many ways in which “judge not, lest ye be judged” can be applied. If you have the good fortune to be particularly smart or talented, bear in mind that these are gifts for which you paid nothing. And remember that there are many kinds of intelligences and talents out there. You may mock that humble man today, but in a hurricane his ability to tie knots may save your life.
In God’s economy, all men truly are equal. They are not measured by their looks, talents, race, or achievements, but by the weight of their souls, as mystics from the Egyptians onward have poetically observed. Once you start seeing the world through that lens, you will be kinder to yourself and others. Today is Good Friday, the historic date of the assassination of Jesus Christ. If you take nothing else from Christian faith, remember that in God’s eyes we are all equal.
Have a blessed Easter.

When does it stop being plein air painting?

"The Three Graces," Carol L. Douglas

“The Three Graces,” Carol L. Douglas
I have never been much for the debate over what constitutes plein air painting. What percentage needs to be done on location? Does painting from your car count? These questions mostly just annoy me. At every plein air event I’ve done, painters continue to work at night after they leave their location. Years of painting give you excellent visual memory. Letting your eyes rest after a day of working in bright light is an important step.
Since the only requirement is that the work be finished within a certain period, it’s up to us to interpret what “painted en plein air” actually means. And the vast majority of artists, I find, are very strict about the rules they establish.
"The Three Graces" as it looked when I took down my easel.

“The Three Graces” as it looked when I took down my easel.
In most cases, I can tell at a distance whether a work was done on location or not. The energy of plein air painting is not easily faked, although the lighting and brushwork may be indistinguishable from studio painting. In plein air painting, the whole scene is constantly subject to change. That lends a frisson of nerves to the process.
“My clients don’t care whether it was painted on location or not,” Brad Marshall once said during one of these interminable discussions. “They’re just interested in whether it’s a good painting.”
"Mercantile's anchor," Carol L. Douglas

“Mercantile’s anchor,” Carol L. Douglas

That’s true, but it becomes an issue for painters when they’re selecting paintings to apply for upcoming plein air events. At what point do after-the-fact edits disqualify a work from consideration?
I did the two paintings in this post during the same week. There was gorgeous weather and I painted almost non-stop on the floating docks at Camden. Of course there were interruptions, since wherever I go, that’s where the party’s at.
Had I gone back to my studio and made the same changes I made yesterday, I’d have had no hesitation in calling them en plein air paintings. However, my husband flew home from Norway, and I didn’t get back to them until yesterday.
"Mercantile's anchor" as it looked when I took down my easel.

“Mercantile’s anchor” as it looked when I took down my easel. Because I’d painted this boat in dry-dock, I know its black hull is underpainted in green.
I made no structural changes to either painting, because I’m trying to make a point. (Otherwise, I’d have moved that boom out of directly behind the anchor.) In neither case was a photo necessary to finish. But in both cases, the surface has been overpainted almost completely, and I had the luxury of time in which to finish them.
So, for the purpose of jurying, is this plein air painting? I don’t have a ready answer, and I’m interested in your opinion.