Born in blood

Landscape tells us about our existence, our relationships with each other, and ultimately our relationship with God.

Deadwood, 36X48, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas

Carol L. Douglas Studio
394 Commercial Street
Rockport, ME 04856
Saturday, February 29, 2020
2 to 5 PM

Painting is a solitary business, which gives you plenty of time to think. At the same time, it’s a form of communication, so it ought to attract people with something to say. That creates a constant pull between seeing and saying, making and showing.
I do as much of my painting as I can outdoors. That inevitably gives me time to think about what the view in front of me means. Landscape tells us about our existence, our relationships with each other, and ultimately our relationship with God. This visible record is subtle, but once you start to notice it, you realize it’s everywhere.
The work in this display was made for an invitational show at the Davison Gallery at Roberts Wesleyan College. It was conceived as a faith statement. This isn’t too much of a reach. God is obviously there in every tree, cloud and sunset. Man is nearly as ubiquitous.
All flesh is as grass, 36X48, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas
This was just before I moved to Maine for good. I was working summers here teaching and painting. In mid-October, I went home to Rochester to paint the work for this show. What wasn’t on my schedule was a second cancer diagnosis.
I made my canvases during the four-week recovery period between surgeries. As always, I drenched the canvases with Naphthol Red. This is an excellent undertone for landscape, and my students will recognize it as standard practice for my plein air painting. However, the effect of all that red on those looming large canvases was making me slightly queasy.
Something wasn’t quite right. I was bleeding internally, and in early February I hemorrhaged. This same thing had happened during my cancer treatment in 2000; in both cases, blood loss laid me low in a way my treatment never did.
I ultimately realized there was a connection between this health crisis and the paintings, which were proceeding by starts and fits. Over the summer, I had sketched each canvas out in smaller form. It was supposed to be a simple matter of gridding them up and painting big, but I was having trouble getting them done in the allotted time. In the end, I let the canvas show through, because they were literally born in blood.
Beauty instead of ashes, 36X48, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas
Included in this show are several scenes familiar to midcoast Maine viewers, including northern lights over Owls Head and the lime tailings at Rockport.
By the Civil War, midcoast Maine was producing more than a million casks of lime a year. The evidence of this industry is still all over our communities, including in the lime tailings along the Goose River. Although this lime is benign, it is a symbol of greater damage elsewhere. Environmental damage is not just a metaphor for sin; it’s a form of sin itself. The damage take a long time to heal.
The opening is on Saturday, February 29, from 4 to 6 PM, at my studio, 394 Commercial Street, Rockport. The public is invited.

So you want to paint in Maine

Tell me what you want to paint and I’ll tell you where to go.
Cliff below Owls Head, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy The Kelpie Gallery.
This afternoon, I’ll show Poppy Balser around my few miles of Maine coastline. It’s the best fun two artists can have.
Belfast lies at the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River. It is a city only in the organizational sense—it has about 6700 people this time of year. Its boom was in the early 19th century, and its mansions and brick-fronted commercial streets reflect that.
Belfast’s real charm to the painter lies in its exceptional harbor access via Harborwalk, which runs along a working boatyard out to the Armistice footbridge. From there, you can see its iconic red tugboats and look back on the harbor from the water side (courtesy of the footbridge).
The Three Graces, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Camden Falls Gallery.
Just south of Belfast is Bayside, founded as the Northport Wesleyan Grove Camp Meeting in 1848. At one time, it drew thousands of the faithful to its 30 acres of oceanfront. Today, it’s a sleepy hamlet of historic beachfront cottages, most built between 1870 and 1920. There are no services, no stores, and no stoplights.
Lincolnvilleis low to the ground, a beach fronting its main street, so it has the whiff of more southerly climes. My favorite place to paint here is the mouth of the Ducktrap River, which snakes into Penobscot Bay around a gravel bar.
Poppy will have seen Camden, one of the great summer colonies along the coast. It’s famous for its schooners and pleasure boats. Many of these will be wrapped for the season. But there’s always something to paint in this harbor.
Rockport Autumn Day, by Carol L. Douglas (private collection)
I don’t even need to go that far. Rockport’s fishing fleet is clustered in the mouth of our harbor, bounded by beautiful old buildings and a working boatyard. It’s one of the prettiest villages on the Maine coast.
But if Poppy wants to paint trawlers, she’ll have to go south to Rockland’s Municipal Fish Pier. We could paint at the North End Shipyard or the city’s famous lighthouse. Below the Apprentice Shop, there’s a great view of the working harbor. It’s a city famous for its art, from the Farnsworth Art Museumand Center for Maine Contemporary Art to its innumerable commercial galleries. Like Belfast, it has a beautiful downtown.
American Eagle in Drydock, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Camden Falls Gallery.
The St. George Peninsula, however, is my favorite place to paint in this area. We can start at Owls Head, with its lighthouse and beautiful waterscapes in every direction. There’s a good angle on its fishing fleet from Lighthouse Road. Down the road is South Thomaston. The Weskeag River passes through it, changing character with the tide. From Spruce Head to Port Clyde, this peninsula has some of the best rocky shoreline south of Acadia. We might slip down to Clark Island, or over to Long Cove. 
Tenant’s Harbor is a place I haven’t painted enough. It has a lobster pound, a fishing fleet, an inlet and beautiful architecture. Mosquito Harboris lined with low marshes. Then there’s Drift Inn beach, and the Marshall Point Lighthousebefore we get to Port Clyde. This is another famous beauty spot, with a great fishing harbor visible from many angles. It’s also where we catch the ferry to Monhegan.
Lobster Pound at Tenants Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy The Kelpie Gallery.
That represents slightly more than 40 miles of driving, but it’s enough to keep a painter busy for a lifetime. Consider, then, that the Maine coast is about 5000 miles long. All the landscape painters in America could come here and we’d never fully capture its infinite variety.

Old subject, new technology

Yesterday I went all digital on a schooner. Allowing for the learning curve, this has potential.

Underpainting of American Eagle passing Owl’s Head, by Carol L Douglas
I’ve toyed for a while with the idea of doing a large, Fitz Henry Lane-influenced scene of the American Eagle under sail. A large canvas of a boat in motion is not something you do en plein air, but the studies I’ve done in harbor certainly influence it.
A student recently asked me if I like painting ‘just water.’ I do, indeed, because to me there’s no such thing as ‘just water.’ There’s light, reflection, movement, the skipping of the wind, clouds, and promise. I showed him the wave study I did while cruising on the American Eagle last spring. That is the closest I get to a purely personal painting, one that has meaning for me and nobody else.
This field study of waves from last summer was the genesis of the painting above.
It was also the genesis of this larger idea. What better landform to use as a background than Owl’s Head, which sits just outside Rockland harbor, and where I paint many times every season?
When enlarging a sketch to a final composition, I generally use gridding, which I’ve explained here.  It’s laborious and time consuming. It’s also extremely accurate and allows you to execute a pretty decent grisaille on the fly, depending on how much time you want to spend.
The horizon has to be straight on a nautical painting, or else the oceans will run dry.
My daughter gave us a cast-off video projector last year. Yesterday I decided to experiment with it. I haven’t used projection to enlarge a sketch since the demise of 35mm slides. 
These projectors are designed to shoot an image high on a wall, so they are set up to correct for the keystone effect, which is the distortion you get when you project an image at an angle. Once I managed to undo that correction, squaring the image was relatively easy. Making it exactly the size of my canvas was harder.
Level and square relentlessly.
I started with relentless leveling and squaring. The easel was perpendicular to the floor, the canvas leveled, the two lower corners the exact same distance to the projector. Even with all those preparations, the image was slightly canted. Fixing that took a lot of fussing.
From there, it was just a question of tracing the lines in the original sketch. However, my ability to see differences in value was vastly reduced.
I couldn’t see values but it was a neat optical effect.
Lest you think tracing is the answer to all your drawing problems, it’s still possible to make drafting errors. Note the slight sag in the bowsprit. I’ll fix that in the next iteration.
With all my fussing, I was able to finish underpainting this 30X48 canvas in a single day. There’s promise there.
It’s anemic compared to my usual gridding, but I still think it has potential.
I tell my students to use a combination of ultramarine and burnt sienna for their initial drawing, but in practice I generally use leftover paint for this step. The exact color isn’t nearly as important as the value. Yesterday, I chose an old tube of Williamsburg Brown Pink. I don’t use this brand because I find the pigment load in the blues to be too low for my style. 
That wasn’t true with this color. This morning my whole studio is swimming in a butternut-colored haze. There is brown stain everywhere—creeping along the canvas, in my brushes, on my hands, possibly in my hair.