A sense of place

Everything that you paint should tell a real story, one that is authentic to you.
Big-boned, by Carol L. Douglas. As soon as I finish my taxes, I’ll be back at the boatyard painting schooners.

There is something about being in our favorite place that transcends detail. We know it by feeling rather than by specifics. As artists we are attempting to recreate that sense of place using only visual cues. That requires specificity and accuracy.

Artists become expert in oddly arcane matters. Marilyn Fairman can identify all the birds that sing in the understory. She told me she learned from one of those silly clocks they used to sell with a different bird call for every hour. And she paints without headphones on, so that she can hear the sounds of nature.
Sandra Hildreth of Saranac Lake is expert on the topography of the High Peaks region. She got that way because she has hiked all over the Adirondacks. Likewise, Bobbi Heath knows lobster boats because she’s spent serious time cruising and painting the waters of Maine.
Winch, by Carol L. Douglas
I can’t say I know any of those things encyclopedically, but I’m pretty strong on trees and rocks. So if you bring me a painting with brown, undefined lumps where the granite of Maine or the red sandstone of the Minas Basin should be, I’m bound to say something.
Isn’t the important thing that you create a pleasing painting? That’s true, but squidging the details is amateurish. What’s the point of painting the Canadian Rockies if they end up looking like New Mexico? Last week, I mentioned Paul Cézanne’s sixty paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire. He experimented in all of them, but the mountain remains recognizable.
Coast Guard Inspection, by Carol L. Douglas
“Sense of place” is a phenomenon that we can’t define, but we all know when we see it. As individuals, families, and a culture, we set aside certain places as being exceptional. It’s why we have World Heritage Sites, National Parks, and National Scenic Byways.
When a place is without character, we sometimes say it is “inauthentic.” Once again, we can’t define that, but we all seem to know them when we see them: shopping malls, fast food restaurants, or new housing tracts. As Gertrude Stein once said, “There is no there there.”
More work than they bargained for, by Carol L. Douglas
How does a scene achieve a “sense of place” in our consciousness? It acquires a story, which is a finely- crafted pastiche of memory, events, and beauty. Our childhoods, in particular, shape our adult response to the physical world. Psychologists call the setting of our childhood our primal landscape. It becomes the bar against which we measure everything we see thereafter.
All of this argues against painting an anodyne landscape. And it argues for landscapes with lodestars. If you’re honest with your feelings, a lighthouse or grain elevator will not end up being clichéd.
Everything that you paint should be something that you’ve experienced. It should tell a real story, one that relates back to you. Your canvas is not just a rectangle that you fill up with generic ‘nature’. It should be a little slice of a place.
Note: my websiteis completely updated. It’s new work and a new, mobile-friendly platform, too. Won’t you take a peek?

Remember summer?

While the north appears motionless under its mantle of cold, its workers are busy preparing for another summer season.

Palm and sand, by Carol L. Douglas
The temperatures have been cycling around zero since before Christmas. A blizzard is winding up its rampage across the northern states and a Nor’easter is climbing up the coast. There are freeze warnings in Houston and in central Florida.
But enough of that. If you look carefully, you can see that winter’s back is already broken, no matter what the thermometer says. The days grow perceptibly longer.
Fish Beach, by Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday I visited the North End Shipyard. The former Isaac Evans is up on the railroad. Under her temporary cover, her new owners are stripping her down and rebuilding her. Captain Doug Lee of Heritage was in the shop, cheerfully smashing glass panes out of window frames, preparing to rebuild and paint them. And Shary was sitting at her desk sorting a big pile of reservations for next summer’s sailings. While the world appear motionless under its mantle of cold, its workers are busy preparing for another summer season.
In the grey summer garden I shall find you  
With day-break and the morning hills behind you.  
There will be rain-wet roses; stir of wings;  
And down the wood a thrush that wakes and sings.  
Not from the past you’ll come, but from that deep
Where beauty murmurs to the soul asleep… (Siegfried Sassoon)
Just reading the poetry fragment, above, makes me feel better. And that is one of the main points of art. It transports you from your current situation and reminds you that better days are ahead. 
Erie Canal, by Carol L. Douglas
Hanging in my studio-gallery is the above painting of my daughter biking along the Erie Canal. She was my model, but as she has grown up and away, the painting has assumed an elegiac sweetness to me. Almost all the paintings I own, either by myself or others, are of summer scenes. They bring me more joy than does ice and cold.
Even for those who can’t collect original paintings, there is art to warm our souls. Consider Claude Monet’s or Vincent Van Gogh’s hot, buzzing countrysides, or the long grassin an Edward Hopperpainting. Or Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin’s fresh strawberries, or Wayne Thiebaud’s San Francisco streets. All of them evoke not just a sense of place, but of season. None of them are farther away than a click of your mouse.
In a sense, I needed to write this as an antidote to yesterday’s post. After it was published, a reader directed me to this video.  It is cynical, but it accurately describes the high-end art market.
But here in the hinterlands, art continues to plug away at its primary job of sparking the human imagination. It can transport us away from our current reality of snow and cold to the warmer climes of memory. I urge you to indulge just a little.

Soggy spring

What should you think about when setting up to paint? Tide, time of day, and the light are key, but there are other factors as well.

Ladona, (unfinished) by Carol L. Douglas

We’ve had so many dark, gloomy days recently that I was startled awake at the first gloaming. By 6 AM the sun was streaming through my bedroom windows, warming the air, promising great things.

My plan was to paint Ladona in drydock. She is the former Nathaniel Bowditch, completely rebuilt for the 2016 season. Her owners also operate the Stephen Taber, which I painted in Pulpit Harbor last summer.
Stephen Taber raising her sails, by Carol L. Douglas
Unlike most of the schooners in mid-coast Maine, Ladona was built as a private yacht, in Boothbay Harbor in 1922. She has the sleek, lean lines of a pleasure boat. After a brief stint as a patrol boat in New York Harbor during World War II, she was used for commercial fishing. In 1971, she was rebuilt as a commercial schooner.
Power-washing made a world of difference.
I know the North End Shipyard well. Yesterday, I thought, would be an excellent opportunity to make a short video talking about where to set up for a plein air painting. On the coast of Maine, we have to consider:
  • ·         Tide
  • ·         Time of day
  • ·         Angle of sun
  • ·         Ergonomics
  • ·         Courtesy
  • ·         Transience.

The Gulf of Maine has the largest tidal range on the planet. In the Bay of Fundy the tidal range is a staggering 50 feet. Here in Maine, the difference is only about half that, but that’s still imposing, considering that the average tide in most places is just a few feet.
I wasn’t the only person painting in the rain.
The best solution is to work from a floating dock, which keeps you on the same plane as your subject. When that’s not possible, you can break up your picture over several days.
If you don’t own a compass, invest in one (or an app on your phone).  You need to know where the sun is headed. That changes with the seasons. In the winter, the sun never makes it to the top of the sky, which means the light stays golden. In the summer, the light is clearer and cooler.
Many of the places we find quaint and picturesque are actually people’s workshops. As a matter of courtesy, never go on private property without asking. Stay out of the way of heavy equipment and trucks. For your own comfort, bring earplugs if there are air compressors or other equipment nearby. And avoid traps for yourself, like a painting location exposed to a brutal wind or the harsh sun.
A smarter person would have gotten this canvas under cover before it got wet. Once this happens, you have to let the painting dry naturally.
A deep understanding of the subject doesn’t just inform your paintings; it sets your schedule. I am concentrating on the boats in the cradle right now, because they’re transient. I can paint the sheds, the lobster boats, or the boats at anchor all summer.
Wooden boats require a lot of wood to keep them healthy, and that material is always stacked around the boatyard in interesting ways. (It’s also heavy, as Captain Noah Barnes noted as he dropped a timber onto a workbench with a resounding clatter.)
I wanted to focus on the foreground detritus of lumber, tools, and equipment. I experimented with a number of cute compositions, but Ladona resolutely refused to be cropped.
The sky grew steadily cloudier as the afternoon progressed. “It’s not going to rain until after 5,” Captain Doug Lee told me. That may be what the National Weather Service said, but the Maine coast is unpredictable. A quick shower around 3 PM washed me out.
Once the canvas has water droplets on it, your best bet is to let the surface dry naturally. Luckily, I live just down the road, so it’s no big deal. I’ll go back this morning and put the rigging in.

Flotsam and Jetsam

As soon as animals stop eating boats, I’ll stop eating animals
Sketch of scaffolding, by Carol L. Douglas

On Monday I wrote about painting despite lack of inspiration. Yesterday I was inspired. It was the first truly lovely day of spring. Bobbi Heath was visiting and we were heading to the North End Shipyard to paint boats. Even though the Willow Bake Shoppe isn’t properly open for the season, I did catch the delivery guy, who gave me two packages of doughnuts for the sailors.

Heritage is up for what you might call the long haul—a week out of the water. She is having her worm shoe replaced. This is a strip of wood that runs along the keel as a sacrificial dinner for shipworms. Shipworms aren’t actually worms, but mollusks. Teredo navalisstarted life in the North Atlantic but has since spread around the world, probably courtesy of sailors. No timber treatment for shipworm damage has been completely successful; the only solution is to periodically replace the submerged wood.
Who knew that a 145′ schooner would have a centerboard? Of course, it’s several times bigger than my car.
Sam Clark works on Heritageduring the fit-out. When I asked him how it was going, he rolled his eyes. He had just wrestled a piece of the keel out. The shipworms had finished off what was on their plate and more.
When a new painter joins me at the shipyard, I like to take him or her on a tour of my favorite vantage points. I asked Captain John Foss if I could paint off the floating dock. “Sure,” he said, “but your angle will change.” That I thought I could compensate for, but I wrenched my back climbing back up. Bobbi, more sensible, set up to paint off the landing, and I went to retrieve my things from the car. That’s when I realized I’d left my field palette at home.
As they say, I’d lost the light.
I’d just returned when Bobbi got a call from Margaret Burdine of Artists Corner & Gallery in West Acton, MA. She was in Camden and wanted to stop and say hello on her way home. We had a lovely chinwag and a lunch of boiled eggs and cake.
By that time, the sun had flipped over to the west side of the boat. I should have known enough to move along with it, but I’d invested time in that sketch, and I was infatuated with the manlift. I foolishly invested the bulk of the afternoon in it. It’s not inaccurate, it’s just not lovely.
Bobbi, meanwhile, had wisely cut her losses early and gone to paint Heritage’s bowsprit from the sun side. I decided to set up nearby and just swirl paint around on a small canvas until she finished. The result, top, was no more than a half-hour of work, but it’s a lot more interesting than my earlier painting was.
Sam Clark fixes what the shipworms hath wrought.
When I left, Sam was cheerfully scarphing a new piece into the keel, Bobbi had a lovely painting, a new crewmember had arrived, and I was happily sunburned. It was less productive than Friday, but far more enjoyable.
I want to introduce you to the real meaning of a phrase we use all the time: “flotsam and jetsam.” Flotsam is the wreckage of a ship or its cargo. Jetsam is cargo that has been jettisoned, or thrown from a ship to lighten its load. 
Sometimes I float like a jellyfish through the currents of life. Sometimes I’m a beachcomber. But in either case, it’s the flotsam and jetsam, not the main chance, which intrigues me.

Checking my drawings

Even the most traditional painter can check his drawings against the photo evidence. It’s a great use for Adobe Photoshop.

Mary Day (unfinished) by Carol L. Douglas

 As I mentioned in an earlier post, tracing from a projection is no guarantee you’ll get the drawing right. It was cold and wet yesterday. Instead of going to the North End Shipyard to finish my painting of the Mary Day, I stayed in my studio and fixed the bowsprit on my painting of the American Eagle.

That got me wondering whether I could check the accuracy of my field drawing. After all, the tools are crude: a pencil or brush, used as both ruler and protractor. The circumstances in which we draw are often difficult, too. The studio has the great advantage of being physically comfortable.
Mary Day in drydock.
I decided to compare my half-finished painting of the Mary Day to a reference photo I took of it. Since I have Adobe Photoshop, I used its ‘poster edges’ filter on the reference photo. I then superimposed it on my painting. (If you don’t have Photoshop, you can superimpose photos using the freeware GIMP.)
Clearly, I’ve taken significant license in raising the angle of the bow in my painting.  Within the structure of the hull itself, the volume relationships are pretty accurate. Of course, that’s easy enough to check on site, by comparing the shapes of all the interstices within the cradle.
Superimposing the photo over my painting shows how far off the masts and booms are.
Where I went off the beam was in the rakeof the masts. The forward one is too vertical for the angle of the hull. Furthermore, multiple masts should tend to ‘toe in’ at the top, which mine definitely don’t do. This problem was then compounded in the booms. Since I set them relative to the horizon line, they ended up too high. That won’t do, and fixing them is now a high priority.
I’m also making a note to myself to make sure I do my measurements from the boat, not the background.
Little Giant (North End Ship Yard), 16X12, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas
Note the pickup truck pulled in alongside the cradle. It was only there for a few minutes, but that’s a subject for a painting of its own. Pickup trucks go with boats like cheese goes with apple pie, and they’re often pretty close to actually being in the water.
I seldom take photos of things I’ve painted. This isn’t a conscious choice; I’m just finished and I move on. But I did find a picture of the Little Giant crane I painted last month. In this case, I’d made a decision to angle the bed of the truck slightly to avoid a strong diagonal pointing toward the corner of my canvas. I’d also raised the hook. But the photo tells me that the space relationships between the crane and the masts of the Heritage are very different in my painting and in the photo.
Superimposing the photo over my painting shows that I exaggerated the distance between the crane and the Heritage.
The camera distorts reality as assuredly as does the human eye, so in no case would I assume that one or the other is objectively more accurate. But, lightly applied, comparing one’s paintings to photographs is a useful exercise.

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.

Rags and bags

She’s a long, lean dash of black in the water, but up in the cradle, the schooner J. & E. Riggin had me foxed.

The J. & E. Riggin raising her sails, by Carol L. Douglas.
For someone who likes to paint to the accompaniment of birdsong, the North End Shipyard in April can be disconcerting. A general mayhem of front-loaders, trucks, hammers, power tools and a nearby radio combine into an industrial musique concrete. I enjoy it, but it’s not to everyone’s taste.
Ed Buonvecchiojoined me at the shipyard yesterday and was an instant fan. “Look at that band saw!” he exclaimed when I took him to the office to meet Shary. “We should paint that.” Well, we should, but not right now. If we get in the way during spring fit-out, they’ll probably feed us through the band saw.
The J. &. E. Riggen in the cradle, by Carol L. Douglas
The J. & E. Riggin is in the cradle right now, and she has foxed me. Her bow is spoon-shaped, and she is very long and low to the water. However, there’s an S-curve to her hull that I didn’t understand. It turns out that she has geriatric back troubles, just like me. “Hogging” is when a wooden boat gets a semi-permanent crimp in its keel.
She doesn’t seem to let it bother her too much. She was launched 90 years ago as an oyster dredger in Delaware Bay, and she’s still mighty spry for her age. She’s one of the few schooners I’ve painted under sail, when she was cavorting around Castine last summer. I don’t know what hogging means in terms of sailing function, but it makes her silhouette a long, lean dash of black. In that way, she’s decidedly not like me.
The winch house and bow of the J. &. E Riggin, by Ed Buonvecchio.
That hogging means her bow sits lower in the cradle than the smaller American Eagle’s, which you can easily see by comparing Ed’s terrific painting of the Riggin with mine of the Eagle.
Yesterday, I was having troubles. I chose a close crop of the stern and then promptly forgot it as I got sucked into the rhythm of the cradle supports. I forgot painting rags and a trash bag. I dropped my coffee into my backpack, and then I dropped my mineral spirits into the gravel. Then I dropped my painting jelly-side-down into the dirt. Mondays. Hah.
Captain Jon Finger stopped to talk to us. He’s a watercolorist. Of course, owning a schooner tends to use up all his spare time. “I do one painting a year and then I paint my boat,” he laughed. There’s such artistry involved in maintaining an elderly boat that it didn’t really surprise me to run into a captain who is also a painter.
The Riggin painted by her captain, Jon Finger.
Ed asked Captain Finger how they set the waterline when they replace large sections of planking. It turns out to be more or less a sophisticated process of estimation. Buoyancy varies based on temperature and salinity. On top of that, they are trying to draw a straight line on a curved and sinuous surface.
But waterlines are among the oldest ideas in human civilization. Systems and laws for regulating overloading of boats go back as far as Crete in 2500 BC. That’s a humbling idea on an airy, light Spring morning, when everything seems so new.

The good, the bad, and the downright ugly

Can objects acquire a vibe from the way they are used and treated? Boats have personality, and it comes from their pasts.

Thaw, by Carol L. Douglas

I woke at 3 AM redrafting the bow of the American Eagle in my sleep. I didn’t start her from a measured drawing, but after an internal fight about composition. The winch shed at the boatyard was trying to take over the painting, as it did last year (below). But the fight sapped my determination to draw methodically. I ended up going directly to paint. The results are, perhaps, less accurate and more expressive than usual, and I was working that out in my sleep.

American Eagle is my favorite boat in local waters, but I feel I’ve never really done her justice in paint. She is very graceful and bears the imprint of many loving hands. Launched in 1930 as the Andrew and Rosalie, she’s been captained since 1984 by John Foss, who is a meticulous craftsman. American Eagle comes out of the water looking better than some boats do going back in. In modern parlance, she has good juju.
Winch (American Eagle), by Carol L. Douglas. What a difference sun makes!
An example of a schooner with bad juju was the Amistad. Its case would go to the US Supreme Court and pit the sitting president against his predecessor.
By 1839, the United States and most other American governments had abolished the slave trade. Since slavery itself remained legal, however, the temptation to smuggling was strong. In the spring of 1839, 53 Sierra Leone captives—49 adults and four children—arrived at the depot of Spanish slave trader Pedro Blanco, who was one seriously bad dude. Most of the captives had been kidnapped, although some were war booty. They were part of a cargo of 500 people sent to Cuba on the purpose-built slaver, Tecora. The individuals in question were purchased as laborers for a sugar plantation near Puerto Principe.
American Eagle is a well-cared-for boat.
On the night of June 28, Amistadleft Havana, intending to run past British patrols. She was not built as a slaver; the captives were chained in its cargo hold. And they were abused. The cook, in particular, delighted in implying that they would all be killed and eaten when they reached their destination.
Led by a farmer named Joseph Cinqué, the captives revolted. Using cane knives they found in the hold, they bludgeoned the cook to death and killed the captain. Two crewmembers escaped by canoe, and the cabin boy absented himself from the melee. Two others were ordered to sail the boat back to Sierra Leone.
Landlubbers, the Africans didn’t notice that the crew were sailing them north instead of east. The boat wasn’t provisioned for a long journey, and dehydration and dysentery took their toll. In all, the Amistad traveled 1400 miles before hauling up on Long Island. The surviving slaves were taken to Connecticut, which was still a slave state, and imprisoned.
From A History of the Amistad Captives, 1840. New Haven, Connecticut: E.L. and J.W. Barber, Hitchcock & Stafford, Printers.
The case was a legal morass. It appeared stacked against the Africans. The naval officers who captured the boat claimed it and the human cargo as salvage. The slavers wanted their property back, falsely testifying that the Africans had been born in Cuba and were not subject to the slave trade prohibition. The Spanish and US governments wanted the Africans returned to Cuba, where they would face death. Anticipating victory, President Van Burensent a Navy ship to hustle the Africans away before abolitionists could file an appeal.
No appeal was necessary. The Hartford court ruled in favor of the African prisoners. Our government pushed the case all the way to the Supreme Court. By then, former President John Quincy Adams had signed on as counsel to the Africans. Adams accused Van Buren of abusing his executive power. In March 1841, the Supreme Court decided in favor of the slaves, and they were free to leave—except that they had no resources. Northern abolitionists raised their fare to go home.
On November 26, 1841, the 35 surviving former slaves, accompanied by five missionaries, boarded a boat bound for Sierra Leone and freedom. The Amistad was purchased by Captain George Hawford of Newport, RI, who returned it to cargo service as the Ion. It passed out of history somewhere in the Caribbean.

Pulled in two directions

If you doubt the adage “time and tide wait for no man,” take up painting boats.

Late Winter at the Shipyard, unfinished, by Carol L. Douglas

Yesterday I was in Home Depot picking up a cabinet when I noticed a bin of ClosetMaidTie and Belt Racks. I ran to my car, got a few painting panels, and fitted them in the hooks. Voila! An easy, fast, and available panel drying system that takes up a fraction of the space of the system I’m currently using. They’re $7.98 each, and my local store had lots of them. One rack holds a dozen paintings. I’m stopping for more today.

Easily available, small, light and cheap. Each one holds a dozen paintings.

I paint everything smaller than 20X24 on canvas panels. They are stable, easy to transport, and less prone to go airborne than stretched canvas. The professional needs to ask whether they are made to archival standards and whether they will warp in extreme conditions. After that, it’s just a question of how much tooth (texture and absorbency) you like.  Any good board costs an arm and a leg. If you’re making work to sell, you should be prepared to pay. Art buyers should ask what substrate work is painted on. Think of it as a warranty question. (I use Raymar, which is just one of several good brands.)

There is no way I could have done my Canada tripusing stretched canvas. The newest paintings were in PanelPak carriers. When they reached the tacky phase, I moved them to pizza boxes. When they were surface-dry, I bound them together with waxed-paper spacers and put them in a plastic tub. In this way, more than forty paintings made it back to Rockport with almost no surface damage.
There are more than 50 paintings in the dry phase in my studio right now. They take up a lot of room.
Here, however, they needed to dry thoroughly, and once dry, get their final matte varnish coating. That means they’ve been taking up a lot of space in my studio. Since my classes start Tuesday, I don’t have time to order a set of drying rails, as nice a product as they are. The tie racks were perfect.
It’s finally dawning clear this morning. That figures, since my day is bookended with meetings.  I need to finish my painting of the Jacob Pike before she floats out on the tide on Friday or Saturday. If you doubt the adage “time and tide wait for no man,” take up painting boats. The tide is an inexorable mistress, as is the fitting out schedule in the boatyard. On the other hand, there’s the equal and opposing need to finish preparing my studio for classes.
Here’s another angle I’d love to paint, but I’d be in the way.
I’ve got the boat pretty accurately limned out. It’s the boatyard that’s not finished. Of course, the star of this painting is the Little Giant crane in the background.  It was moved since I started this painting last week. Captain Doug Lee offered to put it back where it was, but I kind of like the hook dangling over the boat. I asked him to leave it.
I might get to sneak an hour or so over there today. If I don’t, I can finish the background without the boat. These things have a way of working themselves out.

Prairie madness

Little Giant (North End Ship Yard), 16X12, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas

 As I write this, the temperature is 9° F. That’s not exactly balmy, end-of-March weather. The wind blew steadily yesterday and into the night. It was a cutting wind, and it roared and thrummed in the woods behind my house. “It’s driving me nuts,” I told my husband.

“An alarming amount of insanity occurs in the new prairie States among farmers and their wives,” wrote EV Smalley in 1893. He blamed the isolation.
An unexpected snow squall cut visibility in the morning, Photo courtesy of Sarah Wardman.
Novelist Willa Cather blamed the wind. “Insanity and suicide are very common things on the Divide,” she wrote. “They come on like an epidemic in the hot wind season. Those scorching dusty winds that blow up over the bluffs from Kansas seem to dry up the blood in men’s veins as they do the sap in the corn leaves… It causes no great sensation there when a Dane is found swinging to his own windmill tower, and most of the Poles when they have become too careless and discouraged to shave themselves keep their razors to cut their throats with.”
This phenomenon, called “prairie fever” or “prairie madness” lasted throughout the late 19th century. Bitter cold winters combined with short hot summers to make life exceedingly difficult on the northern Plains. Sociologists say prairie madness vanished when settlements became more populous and the barriers of language no longer divided immigrants. But since more than one in ten Americans take anti-depressants, methinks prairie madness just moved indoors.
American writers often used the ocean as a metaphor to describe the prairies. Both are enormous, seemingly empty, and yet bountiful. Having painted both, I see and feel the similarities.
Winch (American Eagle), Carol L. Douglas. Same site, warmer day.
In either place, wind—on a practical level—makes my work difficult. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to paint from the shipyard office. I’ve never done that before; it seems unsporting, somehow, to be warm and comfortable while painting snow.
Schooners attract a kind of romantic, well-read crew, and their patter is unlike most shop talk. It is larded with history and geography, and firmly grounded in sailing.
There were frequent references to The Shipping News, which I first took to mean Annie Proulx’ Pulitzer-winning novel. Soon I realized that they were talking about the literal shipping news: the 1907 lists of boats with their hauls of pineapples, animal hides and other perishable crops, moving up and down the Americas.
Little Giant, on a sunnier day.
An unpredicted snow squall rose, scuppering the captains’ plansto work on the marine railroad. The schooners themselves are still shrouded in their winter framework of plastic and plywood. For the romantic fancier of boats, a crane might seem a strange subject. However, this painting does record a true relationship, that between cranes and boats with masts. At any rate, my two-year-old grandson will think it’s the best thing I’ve ever painted.