Let that be a lesson to you

If I’d waited and painted on the second day, I’d have flubbed the whole event.
Playland Boat House, by Carol L. Douglas. A bad photo of a good painting.

I’m bothered by procrastination. I’m not happy unless I’ve finished my work in ample time to meet my deadline. There are good reasons why Rye’s Painters on Location gives us two days to finish one painting. Still, it makes sense to me to get it done early.

I haven’t painted Playlandin several years. This lovely Art-Deco amusement park is entering its 90thyear. It’s carefully maintained, and no major revisions have ever been made to its buildings or grounds. It was also closed, so I was alone as I drew on my canvas. The first glaze of gold was settling on the trees, and a soft onshore breeze cooled my shady corner.
Rye Playland from an angle I could never paint, public domain.
At lunchtime, Tarryl Gabelstopped by. Her timing was fortuitous. I’d just realized I was out of painting medium. Tarryl had some with her that she’d gotten from Jamie Williams Grossman. Jamie is a natural-born fixer, always coming up with solutions for other people’s problems. Here she was fixing something for me from miles away.
Tarryl and I are very dissimilar painters. She’s atmospheric, detailed and ethereal. I’m from the slash-and-burn school. When she handed me that tube of gel medium, she also handed me a lesson in how materials matter. Gel medium is perfect for her style of painting, but it dissolves edges. That was most apparent in the water, where I couldn’t keep the color crisply separated.
Somewhere near the halfway point.
I handed my work in and headed back to Queens. On the way, my car developed a dragging rear brake. In the stop-and-go traffic of rush hour, it rapidly overheated. By the time I arrived at Rego Park, it was screaming. (This car passed its inspection three days earlier.)
I tried unsuccessfully to rustle up a mechanic in Queens. The next morning, I decamped early and headed back to Westchester to try my luck there. On the way, I stopped at Playland. I couldn’t have painted there on Saturday; the park was open and ready for business.
And then my left rear brake pad fell out. I’ve been driving for more than forty years, and I’ve never seen that happen. It’s very bad, since it exposes the caliper—and thus the brake lines—to heat and stress. I wended my way slowly up the Boston Post Road, looking for a mechanic on duty.
The brake pad in question.
The first one I found, on the Boston Post Road in Port Chester, was both knowledgeable and kind. He said he didn’t like to leave travelers stranded, and he did the repair immediately and at a good price. Meanwhile, Tarryl had just arrived in Port Chester. We went to the art store and made our opening with time to spare.
There are several lessons here: don’t procrastinate, check your kit before you leave, use materials you know, be flexible. But more importantly for me, it was a reminder that the vast majority of people in this world are kind, and I don’t need to sweat the small stuff. God’s got my back.

A love affair that’s ended

New York City is no longer the center of the known world for me. How did that happen?
Queensboro Bridge Approach, by Carol L. Douglas

My dream job, when I was young, was to be a cabbie in New York. That had nothing to do with going fast, and everything to do with being aggressive, and in being able to squeeze myself and my car through knot-holes.

I told this to Cornelia Foss one time, as we were scooting north along Madison Avenue. She shuddered. Now I realize that’s because she was older and wiser. (I wish I could take another class from her. At 86, she continues to break new ground as a painter.)
Today I live in a state where the locals, by and large, drive the speed limit and are polite. You’ll never get anywhere here in Maine by driving aggressively. Jump the queue and there will just be another slow-moving vehicle ahead.
Under the Queensboro Bridge, by Carol L. Douglas
This was a strange concept in driving, but I learned to embrace it. Now I roll down my windows and enter that quiet state of pokiness that drives the visitors crazy.
Last time I drove to Queens to meet my pal Brad Marshall, I found myself really irritated with New York drivers. That same exuberance that once goaded me to pass on the right, to joyously sound my horn for no reason, to budge into the box at intersections—it all just annoyed me. We had somewhere to go, and Brad offered to drive. Rare for me, I happily agreed.
In my youth, I said that I would stop going to New York if the vista crossing the George Washington Bridge failed to move me. I saw it a lot in my younger days. I commuted from Rochester to take classes at the Art Students League. I had a crash pad with my friend Peter, on the Upper West Side. We would take classes all day and then I would drive home to Rochester. Rinse and repeat. If I die young, it will be with the consolation that I lived my life very fast.
Underpass, by Carol L. Douglas
I voided that test by moving east. I no longer use the GW to get into the city. Instead, I come down through Massachusetts and Connecticut. There’s no astonishment along that route.
The first sign I was growing cynical about New York came a few years ago, when I met a Southerner for a weekend. She remarked, in passing, at how filthy the city is. That’s one of those things, like your aunt’s fascinating chin hair, that everyone sees but doesn’t mention. But once she commented on it, I began to see detritus everywhere.
I used to love to paint in the city. Now I understand that was the granite calling to me. Much of New York, Washington and Chicago are built of Maine granite. Somehow, I enjoy it more in its natural state.
Staples Street, by Carol L. Douglas
This morning I’m heading back down to Westchester County for Rye’s Painters on Location. Brad’s floating around in the North Atlantic somewhere, but he loaned me his flat. I’m on my own for both painting and driving. Luckily, Painters on Location is always a blast, and I’ll see lots of other friends there.
I still admire New York City, but I’ve met other art scenes that match my personality better. I’ll visit for a blockbuster show, or to see friends. But, as for it being the center of the known world, those days are, sadly, gone for me.

Laid low

Asthma. My body has just told me to spend a little time on self-care. I think that means a pedicure.
Painting at the American Yacht Club with Brad Marshall. (Courtesy Rye Arts Center)

I spent the weekend dealing with asthmatic bronchitis, and yesterday at the ER having it calmed down. This happens. Providing it’s managed, it’s not going to kill me. But it is a sign of fatigue, and it means that I won’t be teaching my regularly scheduled class this morning.

Asthmatic bronchitis is not contagious, but it can be rude. There’s no reason to douse my students with spittle. That’s a pity, because I had a nefariously challenging idea and just the students to rise to the challenge.
One year I shared my painting location at Rye with this fisherman. He explained surf casting in great detail, none of which I remember.
Speaking of this class, there are a few openings. It meets locally in Rockport, ME—outdoors when the weather is fine, and in my studio when it’s not.
Visitors may go home at Labor Day, but we know that the weather in the northeast is at its most beautiful in September and October. It’s cool and crisp. The trees turn in a brilliant panoply of color that contrasts with the lakes and ocean.
The tuition for a six-week session is $200. You can contact me here if you’re interested.
Meanwhile, I’ve cancelled today’s class and I feel badly about it. I have an assignment for my students which I’ll share with you. I will ask them to clip off a bud from an Eastern White Pine and a Black Spruce and render each, in detail, in watercolor, before our next class. If you don’t have watercolor, do it in pencil. This is an exercise in observation, not in artistic sensibility. Assuming I can get out to collect samples, I’ll be doing the same thing.
I must feel better soon because it’s nearly time for Rye’s Painters on Location, September 15-16, in Rye, NY. This show was launched in 2001, making it a granddaddy among plein air events. It certainly has been a major fixture in my calendar. I love going back and seeing old friends in the community and among the artists.
My favorite thing I ever painted at Rye was this painting of the bridge at Mamaroneck. This, alas, is the only photo I have of it.
We set up our easels on Friday and Saturday, September 15-16. For the first time, the Rye Arts Center will post our locations on a Google Map so we can be more easily found. This, I suppose, requires some planning on my part.
I usually paint with my pal Brad Marshall, but he will be in Britain at that time. That leaves me on my own to choose a site. I’m still dazzled by the choices, despite the better part of two decades’ experience: beautiful architecture, a historic amusement park, lots of boats and Long Island Sound itself.
Spring at the boatyard, 14X18, is my silent auction piece. You can bid on it by contacting the Rye Art Center.
Two years ago, Brad and I prepared to paint into a hurricane, but it fizzled. I’m watching the weather reports now, since we seem to be in another season of high activity.
Yesterday I got a note from a reader who lives on St. Martin in the Caribbean, thanking me for publishing Lauren R. Lewis’ information about rescuing water-damaged artwork. The eastern Caribbean islands are, according to the National Weather Service, just now being mauled by this Category 4 hurricane. This isn’t an abstraction. I know people along that string of islands. I pray for their safety. 

Requiescat in pace

Playland Beach View, Seth Nadel (done at Rye Painters on Location)
Yesterday my pal Crista Pisano texted me that a mutual acquaintance died suddenly. He is Seth Nadel, a landscape painter from Highlands, New York. He died doing something he loved—playing tennis—but that doesn’t negate the fact that a fine painter and caring teacher has been taken from the Hudson Valley art scene.

Times Square, Seth Nadel
I did not know Seth well, but we had a passing acquaintence: we did the Rye Art Center’s Painters on Location together for years. Seth had a BFA from Cooper Union and studied at the Art Students League. He taught painting at the Barrett Art Center in Poughkeepsie.
While I’m celebrating Christmas this afternoon, I will be remembering not only my loved ones who have passed away this year, but my friends who have sustained similar losses.

Hudson Valley View, Seth Nadel (done for Rye Painters on Location)
The peace of God be with you today and always. Happy Christmas.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Give it to me, baby… for free!

Rye’s Painters on Location is a well-run art fundraiser, one which I’m honored to participate in.
Recently, Tim Kreider wrote a screedin the New York Times about a problem every artist experiences: the endless requests for donations of work to non-profits.
Having a bit of the Blue-Haired Church Lady in my makeup, I’m pretty free and easy about this, even though I know that paintings often sell at fundraising auctions for a fraction of their value. The ones where they ask for a painting are, frankly, the easiest—I just pick something from my inventory, send it, and forget about it. The ones where I’m asked to do something are a bit harder, since time is always in short supply. At one point last summer I was juggling three such requests. It was, frankly, a bit much, especially as I looked around a crowded banquet hall and realized the caterer, the band, and the staff were all being paid, while I was doing my thing for free.
Marilyn Fairman, Brad Marshall, and yours truly painting at Rye’s Painters on Location.
These events are often pitched to artists as “career-enhancing” but in truth they are usually the exact opposite. Our work sells for a fraction of what it commands in the private market, depressing our overall sales record. Often, it’s the wrong audience anyway. I’ve seen PGA tickets go for several times their value while paintings languish at their opening bid. That’s really no surprise when the crowd at the event is a golf-watching rather than an art-buying one.
Another well-organized fundraising event: Camden Plein Air.
Despite this, there are in fact some excellent fundraising art sales out there. These treat artists like professionals and pay them a legitimate price for their work. Rye’s Painters on Location and Camden Plein Air are two such events. (It should come as no surprise that both are organized by arts professionals.)
Ask yourself:
  • Does it raise money for something I really care about? I forgive a lot when the cause is near and dear to my heart. Likewise, I bend rules like crazy for my friends;
  • Is it an art-specific auction? You can’t expect a general auction to bring out many art-lovers, so paintings never sell well at these events;
  • Are they giving a percentage of the proceeds back to the artist? It costs money to participate. If the staffer organizing the event is being paid, you should be paid too;
  • Is it juried? You want your work showcased with other work that is as good as or better than yours.

And remember: you, the artist, cannot deduct the fair-market value of that painting you donated. (I’m not an accountant; I just speak from the bitter experience of an IRS audit.)

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Rye Painters on Location, 2013

Regatta off Milton Point, 24X20, oil on canvasboard. A terrible photo of a decent painting.
Rye Arts Center’s Painters on Location is back and in fine form. I love this event—I get to see good friends, paint serious plein air, and then attend a swank little reception and auction. In general, Rye Arts Center does as much as is humanly possible to take care of its artists, and we appreciate it.

Brad chatting with another artist.
This year I painted with my pal Brad Marshall. It made for a great time and for better paintings from both of us—I think—since we coached each other over the rough patches. I saw Linda Richichi, Marilyn Fairman, and Kathy Buist, and met some new friends. (If I have any twinges of regret, it’s that Bruce Bundock sat this year out; he’s buried prepping for a portrait show at Vassar.)

Painting with Marilyn Fairman and Brad Marshall. Marilyn was blessed by a seagull shortly after this photo was taken; mercifully, it missed her canvas.
This year, I had an anonymous telephone bidder putting in bids for my auction piece. I can’t say that’s ever happened before, and it lent a fun twist to the evening. Since painters have collectors, I thought I’d guessed who the anonymous bidder was, but it turns out my guess was wrong. Now I’m just baffled. But if you know, don’t tell me; I enjoy the mystery.

Painting with Brad on a luminous autumn day. Perfect!
One more workshop left this year! Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

My painting in its frame.
The bidding public. Rye supports its arts center.

Seeking beauty in the built environment

Northbound on 10th, 16×22, acrylic, by Patti Mollica
A lot of painters focus on either the natural or the man-made environment; I truly love painting both. In the built environment, I see both the best and worst of mankind. In the landscape I see God’s hand-print. I love the intersection of these two elemental forces.
I recently asked my pals who are doing Rye Art Center’s Painters on Location with me to let me post their silent auction pieces on my blog. Today’s contribution is by Patti Mollica. She captures the excitement of New York’s streets as well as anyone I know.  

Interested in my Where the Sea Meets the Sky Workshops? October 2013—the last session with openings in 2013—is selling out fast. Or, let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information, or email Lakewatch Manor!

It’s almost time for Rye Painters on Location again!

My piece for Rye POL’s Silent Auction: Gold Mountain Air, oil on canvasboard, 11X14.
Some of my Best Painting Buds (BPBs) are people I met at Rye Painters on Location: Bruce Bundock and Marilyn Fairman, for example. Another of my other BPBs—Brad Marshall—is someone I recommended to the organizers (as did Lee Haber). There are also painters I like so much but never see except at POL—Kathy Buist, Patti Mollica, Linda Richichi, Tarryl Gabyl, and others. It’s always been my favorite event, so the last few years when they tinkered with it, I was kind of bummed.
Brad Marshall’s piece for the Silent Auction: Watermelon and Cherries, oil on canvasboard, 11X14.

Linda Richichi’s piece for the Silent Auction:Wetland Pink, pastel, 9X12.
But it’s back in its old format: silent auction of prepared pieces, live auction of wet canvases. And it’s coming up soon: September 28. I will be in Maine that prior week, and plan to race down to Rye to meet Brad Marshall for some fun times “flailing around.” After that, we’ll wash our faces, have a few glasses of wine with our friends, and sit back to watch the auction.
Having done this for a lot of years, I feel like I’ve painted an awful lot of the Long Island Sound scenery. I suggested that Brad should choose our painting location and I’ll just come along to fall into the ocean and generally make a mess. He was amenable, and last week he drove up to drop off his silent auction piece and scout locations. I now know where we’ll be painting; you’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you?
If you haven’t registered for my workshops but want to, know that October 2013—last session with openings in 2013—is selling out fast. Or, let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

I’m honored to have been selected to participate in the 2013 Castine Plein Air Festival

The first year I did Rye’s Painters on Location, I painted a lovely, long, low sailboat from a spot overlooking Mamaroneck Harbor. Living as I do in the Great Lakes basin, I’ve drawn and painted boats frequently enough. What I had overlooked was the tide, which confused me with constant angle changes.
My last painting for Rye’s Painters on Location. Mamaroneck Harbor, 18X24, oil on canvas. 
Mercifully, the boat’s owner was among the bidders that night and I escaped with my pride intact. The last few years I painted in that event, I worked in the same harbor, but from floating docks. This was much easier from a drafting standpoint but tough on the legs after two days.
Penobscot view, February 2013. Not Castine proper but close enough. How much more beautiful this will be come summer!
Such are the vicissitudes of painting in a plein air event. You can think you understand the subject, but still be confused at the point when your brush hits the canvas.
Last February, I took my family on an odd little pilgrimage up Castine way, looking for the West Brooksville childhood home of one of my chums. It was unutterably beautiful in February; imagine how lovely it will be in July!
Off-roading in Holbrook Island Sanctuary State Park, in my little Prius. Take that, you 4-wheel-drive vehicles!
Every inch of the coast of Maine is simply beautiful. One would be hard-pressed to come up with a favorite stretch of rock-bound coastline. And even within particular regions, there are so many choices! What will I paint? My pal recommended Our Lady of Holy Hope on Perkins Street, or sunrise at the Tidal Pool, or the Main Square. Any other suggestions?
At any rate, come watch me paint in Castine on July 27, and be sure to say hi when you see me. Or take my Maine painting workshops in the Rockland area—once a month through the summer months (check herefor more info, or email me). 

The truth is, I have no friggin’ idea what I’m doing.

Spring in Glen Park, 10X12, oil on canvas, by little ol’ me.

I once watched Lee Haber finish a lovely painting at Rye Painters on Location in less time than it took me to fall over my easel. I really admire plein air painters who never seem to “flail around” (as my pal Brad Marshall once memorably called it). I imagine they have a protocol by which they approach their painting; it allows them to work fast and focus on what they’re seeing rather than the mess they’re making.

I have a protocol too, but it’s unfortunately dynamic. I’m a restless soul; if I master an idea, I need to move on to the next idea. It’s why I never end up with highly-finished paintings; when the conclusion is obvious, I move on. That means on some level I’m constantly flailing. (This is not a trait I admire in myself, by the way; I think it would be nice to just luxuriate in the paint once in a while.)
My masterpiece: that’s my 20-year-old daughter, studying for her physics final.
This is not to say that nothing stays the same: in oil painting there are some fairly inviolable rules that only a masochist or a neophyte would break. But there many things that you can mash up, and it seems like I’m constantly running through my bag of tricks to find some exciting way of fleshing out a thorny passage. Sometimes it works and sometimes it makes a terrific mess.
Two parrots stopped to watch me paint. “I love that,”
said the one on the left. It’s because of the green, I think.
 This only matters when I have an audience, since in the privacy of my own studio I dump all my sketches in a towering heap and ignore them. Generally when I paint in public, I am very conscious of the people around me, and I end up spending lots of my time talking with them. This is one of my Favorite Things, but I also unconsciously tend to paint “prettier” when painting for an audience.
Today I visited lovely Glen Park in Williamsville. Since it is a busy suburban park, I even combed my hair in expectation of chance encounters with strangers. But those crazy Buffalonians were excessively respectful of my privacy.
My fantastic paint box, and my fantastic ball cap hair.
Good thing, because I was rapidly down another rabbit hole—my favorite place to be, of course.  I never know if a field painting is “good” when I’m working on it, or even immediately after finishing it. (And I think most other painters don’t know either; they just know if the painting they’ve done matches their idea of how they’ve painted so far.) I simply see a series of problems to be solved. In this case, there was a triad of trees whose branches paired with the little creek to enfold the bridge into an ellipse. Had I had a little more time, I would have worked more carefully on the structure of lights and darks in the unfurling leaves. But who ever has enough time?
There are still spots open in our mid-coast Maine plein air workshops! Check here for more information.