For the past four years, the third Wednesday in July has been the longest day in my calendar year. This year was no exception. It started at 6 AM, when I started writing for this blog. At 8 AM, I’d breakfasted and was in the field painting for the last day of Ocean Park’s Art in the Park. I finished at 1 PM, arranged my display and then set up my tools for Castine Plein Air(which starts this morning). From there, I returned to my host’s home, where I showered and dressed in respectable clothes. Then I packed my car. The reception ended at 7:30; at 7:42 I was pulling out of my parking spot. I did not even stop to eat.
I’ve driven into Castine when it lay enchanting under a full moon, and through dense coastal fog. Last night, a crescent moon hung low in the sky. “Midnight blue” is not advertising jargon; it’s the real color of the sky when there’s no ambient light and the stars seem to quiver in the night sky. It was beautiful but also very, very late when my friend Harry welcomed me back to his home.
Laundry, by Christine Tullson Matthieu
Recently a reader asked, “How do you stay awake for those long drives?” I find that singing is the best cure for sleepiness, so I do it loudly and enthusiastically. In fact, I sing so much that I’ve decided to form a NeedtoBreathe cover band, as I may be the only person in the world who can decipher their lyrics.
Several people have asked, “How long does a painting that size take?” It’s a difficult question to answer. An 8X10 might take me three or four hours of actual painting time. That doesn’t include the time I spend setting up my palette, or dragging my gear across a beach, or the hours I spend driving or priming canvases and making frames.
Yesterday, Russ Whitten was trying to remember where he’d left a stack of watercolor paper. He spent precious time tracking it down, which cost him a final painting. That kind of thing happens because we’re tired, we’re hot, and we’re stressed. It has to be factored in to our schedule, as do equipment failures.
Some days it rains, by Carol L. Douglas
Two people asked me, “Of the five paintings you did for this show, which is your favorite?” It made me think about the values I was aiming for. In the end, I chose my rain painting. It was technically difficult and I think it captures the energy of that storm.
Based on that, I asked each of the other artists to choose their favorite painting to share with you. Meanwhile, I’m off to paint; our boards were stamped starting at 6 AM this morning.
What would they think of modern painting in Maine?
Some days it rains, by Carol L. Douglas.
Last week, I wrote about Maine’s Art Museum Trail. A reader commented, “Standing in front of Rembrandt’s Saint Matthew and the Angelat the Louvre, or Van Gogh’s The White Orchard in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam are sure to change one forever.” He’s right, of course, but were these two masters somehow superior to, say, Rockwell Kent?
I wonder what either artist would think of the contemporary work being done in landscape painting today. Both would have delighted in the wealth of pigments and materials at our disposal. That’s especially true of Rembrandt, who did so much with such a limited palette. Van Gogh was an admirer of the Primitivist Paul Gauguin; he would have understood that our contemporary painting style reflects the pace and shape of our lives. Both artists were misfits in their times and cultures. It is only retrospectively that they—and their styles—are lauded as brilliant.
Mostly, I think they’d like what they saw simply because mature artists tend to be very interested in other artists’ technique, approach and worldviews.
Ed Buonvecchio painted me painting the rain in the doorway of Ocean Park’s temple. We oil painters have it a little easier in a deluge than watercolorists. Russ Whitten’s solution was to run home and grab a hair dryer.
Russel Whitten and Christine Tullson Mathieu are having an especially tough time with the fog and rain at this year’s Art in the Park. It buckles watercolor paper and the paint never dries. This makes for extremely soft passages. Commiserating with Russ, I showed him the John Singer Sargentwatercolor from Monday’s post, with its great amorphous, wet blob of darkness. In response, Russ told me that Andrew Wyeth, after seeing a Sargent show, came out and told the waiting critics, “I want to kill myself.”
It’s comforting to imagine a painter of his skill and stature reacting like that. We’ve all said something similar along the way.
Sea Mist, by Carol L. Douglas.
Why don’t artists see their own brilliance, but are keen to recognize brilliance in others? We know our own work too intimately to be impressed with it. The more one paints, the truer that becomes. Running down other artists is the province of amateurs.
“People strengthen each other when they work together, and an entity is formed without personality having to be blotted out by the collaboration,” Van Gogh wrote to Anthon van Rappard. That’s exactly what’s happened to this group at Ocean Park. This is our fourth year painting in a small ensemble. We’re secure enough in our friendship to help each other.
It was inconvenient for painters and vacationers, but we needed that rain.
Meanwhile, the rain ended at midnight, and the last droplets are splattering down from the ancient trees overhead right now. That gives us a few hours before we have to pack our supplies, shower and deliver our work. Our show opens at 5 this evening at 50 Temple Avenue, Old Orchard Beach. If you’re in southern Maine today, come out to see us!
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.
Three opportunities to watch well known plein air painters at work on Maine’s rugged coast.
Rachel Carson Sunset, Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard, was painted at Ocean Park.
I had so much fun with Bobbi Heath’s Gloucester easel in Cape Elizabeth that I dragged my old one out of the garage. (It’s such junk compared to hers!) I won’t go as big as I did last week, but I do plan on doing some larger works over the next two weeks.
I’m also packing my super-lightweight pochade box because I’ll be painting on the beach as well. I can’t haul that Gloucester easel over sand. We’re entering the gladdest, maddest weeks of summer and it’s good to be prepared.
Anthony, Russ and Ed painting on the beach at Ocean Park.
As relaxed as Art in the Park is, I’ve painted some very good things there, because Ocean Park has sand, rocks, marshes, architecture and, above all, ice cream. There are lots of hotels, motels and B&Bs in the area, so if you’ve ever wanted to come see a plein air event in action, this would be a good one to catch.
Jonathan submarining, Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard, was painted at Castine Plein Air. This remains one of my all-time favorite paintings.
Anthony and I then drive straight to Castine for the sixth annual Castine Plein Air Festival. It opens on the village green on Thursday at the absurd hour of 6 AM. I’ve done this event since its inception, and it’s attracting top-flight artists. This year my old pal Laura Martinez-Bianco of New York and my new pal Alison Menke of Maryland will be there for the first time. Alison just earned first place/artist choice at Telluride, so she’s definitely a force to reckon with. And, of course, I’ll see many of my old friends there as well.
Castine is the home of Maine Maritime Academy, which is why the Arctic schooner Bowdoin hangs out in its harbor. It’s out on a neck on the far side of Penobscot Bay, making it a kind of Brigadoon, forgotten by time. Main Street slopes down towards the sea, with just enough shops and restaurants to make it fun to visit, but not so many as to distract from its white-picket-fence charm.
The plein airfestival wraps up with an open reception on Saturday July 21, from 4 to 6 pm. Wandering around and watching the artists is a great way to get to know this postcard-perfect town. If you can’t get a room in the village, Bucksport is not far away.
Before the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta, Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard, was painted at Camden harbor.
Since I live just down the road and love to paint wooden boats, I’ve blocked out my schedule from Wednesday, July 26 through the weekend. Boat lovers are welcome to walk out on the floating docks to see the boats in harbor, but if I’m lucky, I’ll have found someone to take me out to a float.
Teressa studying painting in Rochester, many moons ago.
Yesterday, I got two registrations in the mail for my Rochester workshop. Kamillah started painting with me when she was a junior in high school, working at a local diner so she could afford art lessons. Now she’s a graduate architect, studying for her boards. Her sister Teressa is in nursing school. It’s a joy to see these kids embrace adulthood with such grace.
Kamillah once painted with me on a late spring weekend in the Adirondacks. We were at an inn that hadn’t opened yet for the season. It was blowing and snowing, as the higher elevations tend to do this time of year. Kamillah is tiny, and I was concerned she’d be blown off the mountain and right into half-thawed Piseco Lake. Summer eventually showed up that year, as it will this year—at some point.
I get to teach in some mighty gorgeous places!
After I got their registrations, I opened my Little Book of Workshops. As of today, I have:
That puts me about exactly where I am every year at this time. Suddenly, when it warms up enough for people to think about painting, those slots fill up.
Will I have a chance to paint in the surf this season? Who knows? Photo by Ed Buonvecchio.
Meanwhile, I—like every other plein air painter—anxiously await jurying results. Most are not in yet, but what I have promises an interesting summer ahead. On the 27th, I fly to Santa Fe, NM for Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta.
Nova Scotia is one of the world’s great beauty spots. It’s a privilege to paint there.
I’ll be at Ocean Park’s Art in the Park in July. That’s really six old friends doing an ensemble act together, as we’ve done for several years. At Cape Elizabeth I’ll run into Janet Sutherland for the second time this summer. She’s a crackerjack painter and a regular at Castine, but we seldom get time to say more than a few words to each other. If only I could slow the tape down!
Except for one other thing, which is perhaps the biggest thing of all: in September I’ll be an artist-in-residence at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center. I was raised on a farm, and I’ve got a deep affection for agriculture. This will be the first time in several years where I’ve isolated myself to paint reflectively, rather than tearing around in a car painting fast. I’m terrifically chuffed.
It’s August: blueberries, lobster rolls, shimmering seas, lighthouses, ocean breezes and the rock-ribbed coast.
Breaking Storm, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Camden Falls Gallery.
Yesterday I drove south to deliver twenty paintings to Brunswick’s Local Market. Suddenly, it’s wild blueberry season in Maine. Little stands dot the shoulder of Route 1.
This show will be up for next week’s Artwalk, and remain up through September. It’s an opportunity to show something in addition to landscape. I brought several still lives, including my all-time favorite, my tin-foil hat. I suddenly realized it needed a new name, so Conspiracy Theory it is.
Conspiracy Theory, by Carol L. Douglas
I didn’t paint this as a political statement, but an experiment in reflective surfaces. Still, I work with social media daily. I’m not oblivious to its faults. Whenever I feel a blast of the inanities, I don that painting as a profile picture. Perhaps someone needs the real thing in their office.
Local Market is at 150 Maine Street in Brunswick. If you stop to look at the art, you can also get lunch or a gift while you’re there. It’s that kind of place.
Two Islands in the Rain, by Carol L. Douglas, is at Wyler’s through the end of September.
Farther south, there are a few of my paintings at Jakeman Hallin Ocean Park. The association holds unsold work from Art in the Park through Christmas. It’s not a hardship to visit Ocean Park; it has a long sand beach so you can combine your visit with sunbathing.
Last time I was in Camden, my painting, Breaking Storm (top) was in the window at Camden Falls Gallery. This large canvas features the schooner American Eagle passing Owl’s Head in a purely imaginary tempest. I like the wind and the water and, of course, the boat is a peach.
Fort Point Historic Site, by Carol L. Douglas, was last year’s Juror’s Choice Award winner at Wet Paint on the ‘Weskeag.
I didn’t schedule my workshop to coincide with blueberry season, but it always seems to work out that way.
Meanwhile, the line at Red’s Eats snakes along the sidewalk, the blueberries are pie-ready, the fog curls its little fingers around the rocky points. I’m not sure why I’m leaving. I’m not sure how anyone can resist coming here.
The professional painter ought to set some commercial goals. What form should they take?
Michelle reading, by Carol L. Douglas. While I love painting and teaching figure, there’s no room for it in my imaginary business plan.
One of the best things about my Ocean-Park-to-Castine week is that I get to spend it with Mary Byrom. We are good buddies but she lives in North Berwick, ME and I live in Rockport. They’re just far enough apart to make casual get-togethers impossible.
There isn’t much time for idle conversation during these plein air events but we do snatch moments. You might think we’d talk about technique or lofty ideals of art. Mostly, we talk business: are you going to [this place]? How were sales at [that place]?
Recently, Mary has been larding her conversation with the phrase “my business plan,” as in, “I’m not sure how that fits in my business plan.”
More work than they bargained for, by Carol L. Douglas. Do boatyard pictures still fit in my business plan?
After Castine, Mary, her husband, and I were enjoying some cold water in my kitchen (a delicious luxury after a week in the sun). Mary mentioned her business plan again. “Mary,” I objected, “Who has a business plan? My business plan is, um, ‘paint something.’” We guffawed, because we all know that artists are notorious for our bad planning skills.
As usual, Mary is several steps ahead of me. I mulled over what she said all afternoon. It makes sense to have a forward agenda. My problem is that I have absolutely no business experience. The whole notion of a business plan is alien to me.
Under the Queensboro Bridge, by Carol L. Douglas. I didn’t stop painting urban scenes because of a business plan; I just like painting rocks better.
The distinction between an amateur and a professional is whether one does one’s work for love or money. But it goes deeper than that: it’s about the discipline of working every day, on a schedule. It means treating painting as a real job and not something one does when the mood strikes. Even with this, however, I know artists who work extremely hard and don’t make much money.
That, I think, is because being a painter is so personal. Just as modesty precludes the polite person from telling the world how great he is, it precludes the personally-invested artist from selling his own work. For all of us, a business plan is a fence we could erect to prevent our feelings from hindering our careers.
Butter, by Carol L. Douglas. Still lives were never part of my business plan; they’re like practicing scales.
I looked up business plans for artists on the internet. Frankly, they’re gobbledygook to me. I don’t know, for example, how setting a five-year goal of making $200,000 a year in sales can possibly help me attain even a dollar more in sales today. If someone out there is knowledgeable about this and wants to help me understand, I’d love to hear more.
Meanwhile, I do have three simple goals for this year:
Add events in the South or Midwest to extend my season. The Northeast jams all our festivals in a four-month period from July to October. This is reasonable considering our climate, but it puts too much pressure on us to be seasonal workers.
Diversify my gallery representation into other geographical areas.
The joys of a beach vacation: drying towels and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.
Drying towels, by Carol L. Douglas
Cheney Cottage, built in 1881, is now owned by the Ocean Park Association. It includes the Prophet’s Chamber, where the guest preacher stays. A shuffleboard court graces the side lawn; it’s run by a fifth generation Ocean Parker. The rambling old cottage itself is holiday housing.
Accompanied by early-morning birdsong, I strolled down Temple Avenue. I was looking for a streetscape that would capture the leafy greens, genteel architecture and relaxed summer feel of Ocean Park. Bright drying towels on the rail at Cheney Cottage caught my eye. They reminded me of summer trips to Maine when my kids were young.
As always, I did a value sketch before I started. From there I transferred my drawing to a 9X12 canvasboard. I frowned; it was too small. I decided to scale it up to 11X14.
I must have needed more coffee or something, because when I was done, the house was the same size as on the 9X12, but with more foreground showing.
The temptation in this situation is to add an object to the foreground to fix the bad design. I experimented with a figure, but it didn’t work. Adding objects as an afterthought usually makes things worse, drawing the eye away from the primary subject.
No matter; the house sits under great mature spruces, so the lawn was dappled with light and shadow. Having more foreground turned out to be no problem at all.
One of the great joys of plein air painting is the people you meet along the way. Cheney Cottage is currently occupied by an extended family who vacation together every year. Many of them stopped to see what I was doing. I spoke with an aunt who now stays across the street. As the family grows, there’s no longer room for them all in the old place.
The composition that was not to be.
I’m staying in the “new” part of the park, where cottages date from the 1920s and 1930s. In some ways, the character of Ocean Park—like everywhere—is inexorably changing. A long-term resident lamented the new builds in town. “Someday, all the old places will be gone,” she said. But not any time soon, thank goodness.
In the afternoon, I revisited a subject I’ve painted twice before: the Ocean Park Ice Cream Parlor. Here in southern Maine, the land is low, level and sandy. That makes wandering around with one’s gear easier, but it makes sight lines more challenging.
It helps to know perspective drawing, even when you’re feeling expressive.
No matter what angle I choose, the foundation of the ice cream parlor remains resolutely parallel to my picture plane. I’d explored the possibilities of that on Sunday with my surf painting, I didn’t want to do it again. I set up about three different paintings and wiped them out. Then a couple stopped to read the outside menu board. Idly, I sketched them on my canvas. I liked them, and built the rest of the painting to support them.
Over the afternoon, my figures morphed into a father and a child, and another person materialized. By 4 PM, both the painting and I were done.
What’s for lunch? by Carol L. Douglas
In the evening we had a lively reception for the artists. I went home to nap, intending to go out with Russel Whitten to do a nocturne. But when I awoke at 8:15, my eyes were nearly as red as my shirt. I went back to sleep.
This morning, the fog is not limited to my head. Fog makes for good painting, so I’m heading out in a few minutes. If you’re in southern Maine this morning, stop to see me. You can get directions at Jakeman Hall, at 14 Temple Avenue.
The aurora borealis didn’t show up, but my friends did. Our plein air event at Ocean Park is off to a great start.
The new sandbar, 10X8, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
I arrived in Ocean Park in a flurry of excitement. The sun has been kicking up an electro-magnetic storm and it was possible the Aurora Borealis would be visible as far south as Boston. While Ocean Park is two hours south of my house, I thought there was a good chance we might get a glimpse of them.
I’ve seen the Northern Lights many times, but never with paints in hand. I’ve painted them in my studio but I long to paint them en plein air.
Goosefare Brook oxbow, 8X6, painted last year. It’s gone now.
To that end, Frank Gwalthney and I drove down to Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. This 50-mile-long Federal preserve touches Ocean Park. In addition to sheltering sea birds, it also provides an oasis of dark sky in Vacationland. But, alas, there was no shimmering green light, merely beautiful stars.
The Heavens Declare, 48X36, oil on linen, by Carol L. Douglas. Once again, I miss the chance to paint Aurora Borealis in the wild.
We’d heard that the tides had scoured out a new channel for the brook, but I was unmoved. Goosefare Brook wiggles around in its basin annually. My skepticism was misplaced. The oxbow is entirely gone. Its hundreds of tons of sand now sit out in the ocean as a new sandbar off the creek’s mouth. This has created a tidal pool of still water, suitable for young kids and anyone else who doesn’t want to fight breakers.
We understand that the ocean is unfathomably powerful, but that tangible proof is more convincing than any number of warnings.
Straight-on breakers, 10X8, by Carol L. Douglas
Despite our slow start and happy chatter, we all managed to turn out credible first paintings. In a few minutes, I’m heading downtown to start my first painting of the day. I think it will be a streetscape. If you’re in southern Maine this morning, stop to see me. You can get directions at Jakeman Hall, at 14 Temple Avenue. (If you’re new to Ocean Park, you may need to set your GPS for Old Orchard Beach.)
We’ve all had the experience of loving an abstracted landscape painting, only to finally visit the site on which it was painted and realize it was much more realistic than we’d thought. Visiting Ghost Ranch with Georgia O’Keeffe in mind is an excellent example. There are iconic views that make sense no matter who paints them, like Motif Number One in Rockport, MA. On the flip side, there are things that wouldn’t be believable even in the most realistic of styles.
This was the case with the coal seam I painted along the Red Deer River in Canada’s badlands. It’s small, it’s odd, and I like it, even though I’m still not sure I’m finished.
This is what my camera saw of the coal seam. It’s an excellent argument for plein air painting.
I didn’t finish the painting on-site because the vibrations from the high winds were making my easel unusable. I was shocked to look at my reference painting and see how bleached the place looks in a photo. Those seams of rock were a beautiful cross-play of color in real life.
“Goosefare Reflection,” by Carol L. Douglas
This summer I painted Goosefare Creek in Ocean Park, ME, which ended up being a similar abstraction. The Goosefare’s mouth changes course with every nor’easter that blows through. That means you can take any artistic liberty you want. I was interested in the sand and its reflection in the wide arc of the stream.
“Sunset off Stonington,” by Carol L. Douglas
Sunrises and sunsets sometimes seem artificial to me. The one above was painted from the deck of the American Eagle off Stonington, ME. I threw it down in disgust after touching up the colors last week, complaining that I had ruined it.
“What do you do with the ones you don’t like?” a friend asked.
“Swear and get back to work on them,” I answered.
In fact, after a few days not looking at it, I think the light and color are really quite accurate.
“Rain squall on Lake Huron,” by Carol L. Douglas
I had about fifteen minutes to limb out this storm on Lake Huron before the blowing rain emulsified my paint. Finishing it was just a matter of adding some final coverage. I wouldn’t do more with it, because even though it’s just a few brushstrokes, it tells the viewer everything he needs to know.
There’s something to be said for not jumping in too fast to ‘fix’ a plein air piece. You can easily destroy what’s quirky and wonderful about it because to your tired eyes it looks just wrong.
The painting Russ bought at an antique shop in Southern Maine,
Today I present a mystery. I wish I could solve it myself, but it’s out of my area of expertise. I hope that one of you knows someone who knows someone who can speak definitively on the subject.
Russel Whitten is a talented young watercolor painter. In the short time I’ve known him, he’s become one of my favorite artists in the Maine plein air scene. At this year’s Art in the Park, we took a break together outside the Ocean Park Soda Fountain. He showed me a photo of a picture he acquired at an antique shop several years ago.
Russ believes it’s an Edward Hopper watercolor. He has studied Hopper’s watercolors extensively and is convinced he’s right. Since Russ is a watercolorist himself, he thinks deeply about painting technique and style within his own medium.
“Trawlers,” Edward Hopper (Gloucester, MA)
Although he was best known as an oil painter, Hopper first achieved success as a watercolorist, a medium he never abandoned. He produced many, many watercolor paintings, including studies of working boats such as trawlers, freighters and tugboats.
“Rocks and House,” Edward Hopper, undated
When art historians determine who painted something, it’s called “attribution,” and it’s by no means an exact science. How certain they can be depends on style, documentary evidence and scientific experimentation.
I did a quick perusal of Hopper’s Gloucester and Maine watercolors. Sometimes he signed them; sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes his drawing was exceptionally accurate; at other times it was whimsical. (Hopper had a great capacity for narrative and whimsy.) I’m not an art historian, and the image Russ sent me is very low resolution, but the color palette and the brushwork seem appropriate for the time, and possible for the artist.
“Back Street, Gloucester,” Edward Hopper, 1928.
I’m writing this from the airport at Toronto, Ontario. In this noise and chaos, it’s almost impossible to research anything intelligently, so I’m leaving it up to you.
So while I’m hiking around Iona tomorrow, you can scratch your head over this. If you know anyone whose specialty is Hopper, forward this to them and see what they say. Even better, look up some Hoppers yourself and try to make an informed guess. After all, art history is for everyone.