I flub where giants walked

Roundtop from North-South Lake, 8X10, Carol L. Douglas
Located on a flat outcropping of the Catskill Escarpment at an elevation of 2250 feet, North-South Lake was once split by an earthen causeway, now gone. A spit of land projects into the lake at the stub of the old causeway. This was the site of one of the seminal Hudson River School paintings, Thomas Cole’s Lake with Dead Trees (Catskill).
Jamie Grossman wearing painting mittens made by Jeanne Demotses. It’s been awfully cold for the first week of June.
Lake with Dead Trees (Catskill) was one of three Cole landscapes exhibited in 1825 at William Coleman’s frame shop in New York City. Priced at $25 each, they attracted the notice of Colonel John Trumbull, president of the Academy of Fine Arts. He purchased Kaaterskill Upper Fall, Catskill Mountains, which is now lost. He then encouraged  writer William Dunlap to buy Lake with Dead Trees (Catskill) and artist Asher B. Durand to buy View of Fort Putnam, also now lost. All three paintings were exhibited at the New York American Academy of Fine Arts later that year, launching Cole’s career and establishing the Catskills as the center of American landscape painting for a generation.

Beaver detritus can assume some fantastical shapes.
Even without this background, that spit of land is a wonderful microcosm of nature. It is lined with beaver-gnawed trees, marshy on one side and rocky on the other. Last year I watched a turtle laying its eggs here. Moments after I left, two friends photographed a bear swimming where the causeway had been.
Laurel grove, 6X8, Carol L. Douglas. No focal point, no color separation. What a mess.
It’s a pity that my exhaustion and rustiness finally caught up with me in this paradise of paradise, and I painted a truly awful painting (above).

Yesterday dawned damp and cold, despite the NWS’ assurances to the contrary. North-South Lake was completely buried in fog, and I decided to paint a grove of laurels in the mist. Happily—or otherwise—it cleared halfway through. Sometimes it’s a mistake to chase the light, and sometimes it’s a mistake to follow through with an idea that has vanished. I made the latter mistake.

A damp morning has its consolations.
I’m not particularly ashamed of my failures; they’re part of the process. I never wipe them out because they teach me a lot. Including, sometimes, that they aren’t exactly failures, but rather signposts to a new direction.
Meanwhile, most of our fellow painters left, driven away by the biting cold and lack of light. It was down to me and Nancy Woogen.
You can take the retired teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher. Nancy Woogen talking to a visiting fourth grade class.
By mid-afternoon, it had cleared, and I was able to paint the iconic view of Round Top painted by Cole and Jasper Francis Cropsey. This painting built up fast, which was a good thing, because the warmth and sun left equally quickly.
Across North-South Lake, 8X10, Carol L.Douglas
One last try—a stand of trees across the shore. By the time we finished, the biting cold was back, and we were hungry. But one out of three still ain’t bad.

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.


Olana Overlook, 6X8, Carol L. Douglas
Painting at a site for the first time is kind of like dating in middle school—you’re drawn to flash. It takes a while to see the quality in the quieter subjects. This is the third retreat I’ve painted at Olana. I’ve gotten the big vistas out of the way and am starting to be drawn to deeper, more intimate views.
Compared to my mid-Hudson pals, I’m still at a disadvantage. “That’s a lovely little tree,” I said to Jamie Grossman.
“I know,” she answered. “I’ve painted it three times.”
Garden Lane, Olana, 8X10, Carol L. Douglas
In July, I’ll be back at Olana for the Fourth Annual Plein Air Paint Out and Festival. In some ways, yesterday’s painting was reconnaissance.
Since I am tired and rusty, I figured that getting all my gear down to mid-Hudson and actually set up would count as success. Actually painting anything would be a bonus.  I opened the cooler in which I keep my paints—only to find that I’d brought my framing tools instead.
You can improvise a lot in painting, but paints are a necessity.
Coreopsis, 8X10, Carol L. Douglas.
Immediately several people jumped forward to offer me theirs. Turns out I had enough loose paint on my palette for the day. But it’s heartwarming to know I have such good friends.

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.

Oh, happy day!

Overlook at Olana, 9X12, by Carol L. Douglas
There is a limit to the mileage you can get out of caffeine and vitamins, and although I haven’t hit it yet, I sense the end is near. And yet today is one of the maddest, gladdest days of my painting year and it’s dawning spectacularly. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Sketch for south façade of the main house at Olana, Frederic Edwin Church, c. 1870, watercolor, ink and graphite on paper.
Every year, the chapters of New York Plein Air Painters congregate at Olana for a one-day paintout and picnic lunch. Olana is the palatial home of Hudson River School painter Frederic Church. It overlooks the Hudson, with fantastic vistas in every direction.
Olana is not just your typical rich man’s confection of Victorian whimsy. It was designed by architect Calvert Vaux but the influence of the artist is apparent everywhere.
Painting at Olana with Nancy Woogen, right.
In the fall of 1869 Frederic and Isabel Church returned from an 18-month-long trip to Europe and the Middle East. Impressed by the architecture they saw in Beirut, Jerusalem and Damascus, they envisioned a home that would incorporate Moorish elements. 
The facade at Olana.
As many times as I’ve looked at the house, it never fully registered to me that the cornices were not tiled, but stenciled. Church translated the tile work he saw in Islamic mosques into stencil patterns, which he used inside and out. Hundreds of his pencil and oil sketches for them survive.

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.

Sunset at Olana

Clouds over the Hudson, by little ol’ me. $795, framed.

A select group of New York plein air painters—my pals—have been in the Catskills painting this week. On Wednesday, Nancy Woogen and Johanne Morin saw a bear swimming in a lake, a rainbow, and a painted turtle laying eggs. I saw only one of those things (the turtle) and was awed by it; they must have been gobsmacked.

Sunset over the Hudson, by little ol’ me. $795, framed.
Last night, I was leaving the grounds of Frederic Church’s Olana at dusk, having painted the sunset. I was completely alone. I sometimes have an intuition that there is wildlife close by. I slowly coasted the lanes out of the historic site, hoping to glimpse a bear. No dice so I sped up to 55 MPH as I entered the road—only to narrowly miss a bounding doe.
To amuse myself, I attempted to paint just like Jamie Williams Grossman. That really didn’t work so well; we’re too different, but it was a fun experiment and I think I might show my students how to start indirectly like she does.Here are our easels, side by side.
We’ve been surrounded by crazy numbers of tourists as we’ve painted this week. Nothing unusual in that for me, except that it usually happens on the Maine coast, not in an untamed wilderness. Plein air painters have a different relationship with nature than most visitors. Tourists hike up trails, they linger on sunlit rocks, and then they head down to their cars to drive to the next vista. Nothing wrong with that—I love hiking myself. But it is unlikely that you will come face-to-face with nature that way.

Painting at Olana! Oh, my!
Meanwhile, we’re in our corner, struggling with our paint. Most of the time, that’s an introspective thing, and we’re concentrating on the canvas. But because we are essentially still, and we’re there for a long time, the woodland has a tendency to sneak up on us. Still, at the end of the day we get in our cars and drive away, the windshield separating us from the wilderness as it does everyone else.
This week’s painting has been made more difficult by heavy pollen after this cold winter. My asthma, which has been well-controlled for years, is rampaging. Yesterday, I capitulated and called a doctor, and not a moment too soon.  I’m wheezing like an ancient church organ.
Still, I have allies—a group of tremendous friends who helped move my pack today. I couldn’t have done it without them.

There are still a few openings in my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available 


North-South Lake, the Catskills, 9X12, oil on canvasboard, by little ol’ me.
I have been in many spectacular places around the world, but I never realized that one of them is practically in my backyard, and I’ve never seen it before. This is NYS Route 23A in Greene County.
This is most peculiar because I’ve been in Palenville (through which 23A passes) several times to hang with my buddy, painter Jamie Williams Grossman. I guess we just never turned right before.
North-South Lake, the Catskills, 9X12, oil on canvasboard, by little ol’ me (and not quite finished).
Palenville was a center of the Hudson River school. Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, and other notable painters stayed and worked there. (Palenville is also the fictional home of Rip van Winkle, although it’s surprising that he could get any sleep, between the waterfalls, the Great Horned Owls, and the frogs and peepers who sing in the night.)
Rain was on the forecast, but it was a far nicer day than anyone anticipated.
Route 23A passes several of the Catskill High Peaks before dropping into the Hudson Valley via Kaaterskill Clove.  The section I drove today runs along Kaaterskill Creek in the general area made famous by the Hudson River painters. It’s no surprise that they loved it; it’s stupendous: the narrow rock walls vary between green, grey and red, and great boulders are washed in spray as the creek bounces its way down the steep gorge.  
Beavers hard at work everywhere.
We met—a group of sixteen New York Plein Air Painters—at North-South Lake. This was a favorite subject of the Hudson River school, particularly Thomas Cole. For a long time, the prestigious resort hotels in the area made it synonymous with the Catskills.
The park includes the site of the Catskill Mountain House, built in 1823. It was one of the premiere vacation spots of the 19thcentury. Today, all that’s left is the view—miles and miles of the Hudson River at your feet—and the forest paths.
Never one to waste a canvas, Patricia McDermond painted over an unfinished nude, engendering all kinds of comments from bystanders.
Because I’ve never been to this park before, I had to spend some time poking around and looking at things before painting. It was a full day, ending much too soon, and I can’t wait to come back.
Tomorrow we will meet at the trailhead for Kaaterskill Falls, made famous by the Hudson River painters. At 260 feet, it’s impressive, even for someone raised in the shadow of Niagara Falls.

There are still a few openings in my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

Views and Duets

My painting for ABVI’s “Play It Forward.” I know how to defeat this painting for next time I’m asked, BTW.
When last I posted, I had just painted with my fellow NYPAP artists* at Olana, the home of Frederic Edwin Church. This event, spearheaded by Marilyn Fairman, is in honor of NYPAP’s founder, Ted Beardsley, who was the driving force who brought painters from all corners of our state together.
Last year, I left in the late afternoon, since I had to drive back to Rochester. I remember thinking, “It’s nice and I’ll come again, but I am not in love with the views.” (My feelings about grandiose historic homes are generally mildly negative; I mostly thank God I don’t have to maintain them.)

The Catskills are just so beautiful!
 This year, I was near the house as evening approached and I suddenly understood the magic of Olana: it is organized around the evening sky. The colors Church caught in his Cotopaxipaintings are really no more magnificent than those he saw many evenings from his porch. Suddenly, as so often happens, my whole view of Church has undergone a sea change and I find myself studying his pinks and reds and considering them not as fantastical but as totally realistic.
But I—wretched creature that I am—had ignored Jamie Grossman’s warning that I didn’t want to paint though the whole day, and I had nary an ounce of energy to paint that fantastic, fantastic sunset.
This year’s waterfall painting… not a success. Last year’s is here.
The next day, many of us gathered at Jamie’s to paint waterfalls. Breakfast and then a brisk walk with friends, and I climbed down to the catchpool and set up. I was cautiously optimistic about this painting, since I’d painted a similar view last year with great success. Alas, it was not to be. Sometimes the mind is willing but the body is weak. I had a hard time concentrating; it was excessively hot; I was already tired and sore from a long day painting the day before. To cap it off I slipped on wet rocks and took a tumble.
But sometimes we are called away from man’s work to God’s work. I was asked a question I never hear in art circles: what does it mean to be ‘born again’? I did my best to answer, and all the way home to Rochester I second-guessed my answers, until I finally realized I am only here to play a very small part in an eternal duet between God and another soul.
I’m never happier than when teaching…
Back to Rochester: Saturday morning promised another hot day, but we met on the canal at Schoen Place, where there was shade and a breeze. It wasn’t a brilliant painting day for any of us, but I’m never happier than surrounded by students and it was no exception.
My tiny landscape of canal path near Schoen Place. I hate wee brushes; can you tell?
But Saturday evening turned out to be one of the weirder days of my art career. I had agreed to paint live at ABVI’s “Play It Forward” event, not realizing that I was actually going to paint indoors at a cocktail party.  Well, I’m game for anything, but it was a tough challenge. I duly finished the painting and it was sold for a decent price, and we all went home happy. And when I got in, my husband told me I’d missed one of the worst electrical storms he’d ever experienced. Good thing I was indoors!
Once again, thank you so much, Jamie Grossman, for your hospitality this week. It means more than I can express.

*Remember, NYPAP painters: you have a special discount at my Maine workshops… just for being you. 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.

Painting at Olana

Painting at Olana, the estate of Frederic Church, with fellow members of NYPAP, for the 2nd annual Ted Beardsley Memorial Paintout. Again, I’m a little rushed, but here are snapshots of what I did yesterday.

Olana overlook, approaching sunset, 12X16 oil, by little ol’ me.
Bea Gustafson painting the sky.
My first sketch, about 45 minutes. I am not accustomed to the long view, living on the Lake Plains as I do. Pretty cool view, but it wasn’t until evening that I really figured it out.
Second painting, Dame’s Rocket in an old orchard.
It wasn’t until I was totally tapped out that I realized Olana is totally organized to the sunset. As Thomas Cole lives across the river, I wondered: was Thomas Cole a morning person and Frederic Church an evening person? If so, each would be happiest with their own view.
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.

Climbing the Catskills in easy stages

The mist through the early morning trees.
By the time you’re reading this I’ll have painted all day at Olana at the 2nd Annual Ted Beardsley Memorial Paint-Out. Yesterday I drove to Kingston and saw Bruce Bundock’s fantastic show at the Rosendale Café, and then on to Jamie Grossman’s lovely home in the Catskills.

This morning, at the crack of dawn, I set off on an amble through the Catskill countryside. I confess that as much as I’ve wandered the byways of New York, this was the longest hike I’ve ever taken in this area.
Episcopal Church in Palenville was atmospheric as all get out, but when the mist burned off, it was more prosaic.
Outhouses? I have a knack for finding them.
I would love to know the history of this building. It’s a meeting house, with the balcony and rood screen still in place, attached to a house of the same vintage.
The stone wall is a fixture of the northeast, but varies in form  depending on the underlying rocks.
Jamie has six waterfalls on her property. I’ve admired this one many times from the bottom, but this morning I looked at it from the top. It’s calling to me.
Sun tea in the early morning mist!
Oh, no! There’s a branch across this waterfall! Where’s the son-in-law with his chain saw when you need him?

Ten days on the road

Painting John Porter on the porch of the Irondequoit Inn. Normally, you develop a painting all over, in layers, but not if your model has temporarily disconnected his oxygen to pose. (Photo by Carol Thiel)

September and October are New York’s grandest months, when our state throws off its sartorial rectitude and arrays itself in scarlet, purple, and cloth-of-gold. And the last week in September was the best possible time to be at the Irondequoit Inn with 14 of my fellow New York Plein Air Painters (NYPAP). This organization is being wonderfully revived by painter Marilyn Fairman, who organized the event.

A tiny study of trees and reeds, by me.
However, there’s a reason Native Americans considered the Adirondacks their summer home. Its cold is brooding, often accompanied by rain and mist, and the weather is fickle.  Last autumn, the mercury was hitting 80° F, but this year it was pouting in the 40s and 50s, with rain and wind. That often corresponds to the best fall color, but it’s chilling to work in. However, we are all dedicated outdoor painters, so of course we soldiered through.

Painting at Oxbow Inlet
(Photo by Mary Beth Vought)
At one point, I trekked through a drenching downpour to find Janet Yeates turned out like the Gloucester fisherman and Ruth Crotty in knee-high Wellingtons, the hood of her rain slicker pulled tight around her face. Both, of course, were too stubborn to quit. Ruth was tarping down her easel under a pine tree, muttering, “What else could possibly happen?”

“Lightning?” I asked.

Mercifully, I was wrong.

The start of our retreat coincided with the end of a workshop given by National Geographic photographer Ralph Lee Hopkins. The end of it coincided with the start of my painting workshop. The Irondequoit Inn was a whirling parade of the visual arts, running for two weeks straight, and it would be difficult to express just how energizing it was.

Snag at Piseco Outlet, by me.
My trip started with Bruce Bundock’s opening at Locust Grove in Poughkeepsie. The show should have been called Friends in Low Places, because Bruce’s gift is finding the sublime in the pedestrian. This review features one of his finest paintings, but this painting currently is my favorite: a classic composition that might typically be used for a villa on the French Riviera, but which he translated to a raised ranch along the Hudson, with a tanker in the background. Since it’s Bruce’s day in the sun, I might as well add that he was recently profiled for his day job as a preparator at Vassar, here.

Value study by workshop participant Carol Thiel.
For several years, my goal in landscape painting has been to capture the sense of tapestry rather than the sense of distance.  I find that much more difficult than building a global scene comprised of discrete objects like buildings, islands, lakes and hills. I’ve gone past the point of liking or disliking the results; I am simply compelled to paint this way. Nothing was different this week: as my friends and then my students turned out fantastic paintings of the woods, fields and lakes, I continued to slash and burn amongst the trees.

One afternoon we finished up early and took a canoe trip in Piseco Lake and up the mouth of Fall Stream. We each brought small watercolor kits, but no painting was done (although the paper was certainly damp by the time we finished). But we did look at the mists, the black water, and the gold-drenched grasses on their earthen hummocks.

Watercolor of Piseco Outlet by workshop participant Shirley Ernst.

At 94, John Porter is the Piseco Company’s oldest living shareholder. I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with him during the last three autumns. He’s a retired woodsman, and wonderfully knowledgeable about both natural and human history. He’s getting a bit frail these days, and mostly looks at the woods from the front parlor. On the last afternoon of my workshop, we were working on architecture. I had set up a painting of the lovely old green chairs and dinner bell on the Inn’s commodious porch. The rain vanished, the sun came out, and it was suddenly warm. John joined us for a few minutes, so I put him in my painting. I’ll share it with you when it’s done, because to me it’s a wonderful memory of a precious day.