Inside the blue line

I’ll be teaching in the Adirondacks on August 13-14. Be there or be square.

Spruces and Pines in a Boreal Bog, painted at the Paul Smith’s VIC and long since gone to a private collector.

I cut my teeth teaching workshops in the Adirondack wilderness, so it’s with great pleasure that I’ll be doing that again, August 13-14, at Paul Smiths College in the High Peaks region. (For more information see hereor contact Jane Davis.) 

My Acadiaworkshop is sold out, so this is your only opportunity to study plein airwith me here in the northeast. It’s part of the Adirondack Plein Air Festival, but you do not have to be a participant in the festival to take the workshop. 

Bracken fern, also painted at Paul Smith’s VIC. 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 in a plein air frame.

(Of course, I have other workshops that still have openings—see my websitefor the full listing.)

New Yorkers are justly proud of the Adirondack Park. It covers most of the Adirondack Mountain massif and is the largest park in the Lower 48. Unlike most state parks, about half of the land is privately-owned, with state land wrapped around towns, villages and businesses.

I’ve been visiting the Adirondacks since I was a baby, and have painted, hiked, canoed and driven countless hours within it. But nobody can know the whole park intimately. It’s just too vast.

There are 6.1 million acres with more than 10,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams. There are boreal bogs and old growth forests, mountain peaks and roaring rivers. I’ve visited (and painted in) many wild places, and have found none wilder or more beautiful.

The Dugs, painted in the Adirondacks near Speculator, NY. 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 in a plein air frame.

As parks go, it’s pretty old. In 1885 the state legislature designated lands there and in the Catskills to be forever wild. This would come to be called ‘inside the blue line’. Those land protections were preserved in the state constitution in 1894. In contrast, the National Park System wasn’t formed until 1916.

There are about 130,000 full-time residents within the park and another 7-10 million visitors every year. That puts tremendous pressure on the land, but the relationship between residents, visitors, wilderness and government somehow holds together.

Because the park has so much private land within its borders, there are accommodations for every budget. You can stay at the newly-restored Hotel Saranac, or you can go back-country camping at a state-owned campsite. (The popular camping sites sell out fast, so don’t dither.)

Whiteface makes its own weather, 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 in a plein air frame. Whiteface Mountain is one of the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks.

My workshop will be held at the Visitors Interpretive Center (VIC) at Paul Smith’s College, which is located in the hamlet of Paul Smiths, NY. Town and college are named after Apollos (Paul) Smith, who started as a humble Vermont fishing guide and ended up an entrepreneur.

The VIC is an assortment of Adirondack habitats. There’s a large pond, running streams, a boreal bog, and lots of woodlands. Mountain peaks rise in the distance. Luxurious for a backwoods workshop, there are bathrooms with running water.

This teaching gig comes with the responsibility of being juror of awards for the Adirondack Plein Air Festival. Sandra Hildreth is the grande dame of Adirondack painting and the founder of the festival. She wanted a juror who was plugged into the ethos of wilderness and plein airpainting in general. These are two things I’m passionate about.

But my intimacy with the venue is also a potential downside—I know many of the painters who participate. Could I be objective? After a point, there are just too many of my acquaintances involved for me to favor anyone. I think I’ll be fine.

Night sky

Apparently, I’ve been doing nocturnes all wrong.
S’mores (Ben and Cora at Rollins Pond), by Carol L. Douglas, 9X12, oil on canvasboard. It’s difficult to photograph a wet nocturne.
Like a good farmer, my bedtime is 7:30. Most of the year, that makes painting nocturnes difficult. They only work in December, when the sun sets at 4 PM at my little snug harbor. Otherwise, I’m tired and fractious when I paint them, and that shows.
This year, there’s a full moon during Adirondack Plein Air. Even I could see the advantages of staying up. Chrissy Pahucki and I had one of those Great Ideas that so often gets me in trouble. She secured a campsite in the state forest. I got the makings for S’Mores. We met at dusk.
The cycle of life (Black Pond), by Carol L. Douglas, 14X18, oil on canvasboard.
It killed me to pay $5 for a bag of spruce logs when I have about ten cords of hardwood behind my shed. However, the ban on moving firewood applies even to artists. I felt a little better buying it from  Paul Smith’s College VIC. I’d like to think I was supporting their athletics program, since the wood is split by their students.
“How about getting hot dogs to roast for dinner?” I suggested. Fifteen-year-old Ben rolled his eyes at me, as if I were an elderly, daft grandmother. I counted on my fingers. Yes, I was old enough, with room to spare. I cackled, since it seemed appropriate.
Beaver dam, by Carol L. Douglas, 14X18, oil on canvasboard. A special thank you to Sandra Hildreth, who took me to this wonderful place.
Cora, 14, has started to look startlingly like her dad, although much prettier. She has a lovely profile and is a good model. I made a mental note to have her pose for a real portrait next year.
We talked about important stuff, such as whether Ben could toast a marshmallow without catching it on fire. Beth Bathe concentrated on the back of Cora’s head, while Lisa BurgerLentz ignored us all and went down to the shore and painted the waning light across Rollins Pond.
The moon rose, magnificent above a Winnebago parked nearby. “Wow, this is beautiful!” exclaimed Chrissy, who’d wandered off and was standing at the shoreline. We trooped down and admired the view, which was, of course, spectacular. The pond was so still that the stars were reflecting in its surface. A light froth of cirrocumulus clouds arced above our heads, and simultaneously, at our feet. The moon, huge and wise, peeked through the needles of an Eastern White Pine.
The view that got away. I stood in the water to take this photo, and now my shoes are wet and cold.
It was, of course, the better scene, one in a million, and we’d let it get away from us. That’s always the way, it seems. I try to be philosophical and tell myself that’s the sign of a great painting location. 
We had the campsite until 11 AM. Could I stay and paint another nocturne? The late hour eventually won out. This morning I feel like I’ve been on a three-day toot, which is why this post is late and barely intelligible. But I learned something important about nocturnes: they’re much more fun if you do them by a fire with friends.

Reality show

The plein air circuit is full of intrigue and drama, but it’s with Mother Nature, not each other.
Green on green at the VIC, 12X9, Carol L. Douglas. I’m sorry about the terrible lighting in today’s photos.

Chrissy Pahuckithinks there should be a reality show about the plein air circuit. I don’t know that we could gin up enough conflict, although there’s always drama. Sure, John Slivjak is occasionally seen with a beautiful blonde, but everyone knows that’s his wife.

We do our real fighting with Mother Nature. There doesn’t seem to be much energy left for personal conflict. Even though we’re directly competing for prizes and sales, there’s no kneecappingin our sport.
According to contemporary media culture, Lisa BurgerLentz and I should not be friends. She’s liberal and gay, while I’m conservative and evangelical. However, we each have a kid in college, are suffering the same milestone birthday this year, and can’t remember where we put anything. Our inner commonality outweighs our outer differences. I think this is true for most Americans. We may argue on Facebook, but in person, we like each other. The widening gyreis assigned to us by others.
Boreal Life Trail at the VIC, 16X12, Carol L. Douglas.
Lisa and I ran into each other in the parking lot of the Paul Smith’s College VIC. The Adirondack Plein Air Festivalsets aside one day for us to concentrate on painting here, and I’m always eager. The Boreal Life Trail loops through a fen, which is a bog with a stream. It’s lined with tamarack and black spruce. There are orchids, carnivorous plants, and all manner of other strange and wonderful plants. It’s very Arctic in character, which is why it’s one of my favorite places on earth.
  
We were interviewed there by Todd Moe of North Country Public Radio. He initiated no reality-show skirmishes, concentrating on why we were there instead. The interview airs Friday between 8 and 9 AM, on The Eight O’Clock Hour.
“We should have talked in funny accents,” I lamented later.
“I think you did,” said Lisa. I was born in Buffalo, and you could grind glass with my flattened vowels.
One that got away. I was driving past Lake Clear when I saw this.
I intended to head over to the Wilmington Flume after lunch, but got sidetracked before I even left the fen. This part of the trail is forested, but still on a boardwalk. The earth is still very soggy, as I learned after dropping my glasses into the bog.
“Green on green, heartache on heartache,” I sang. Painting under the forest canopy can be a mess waiting to happen. There is no obvious focal point, no value changes, and no color temperature changes. Everything just glows an unearthly green.
A very unfinished nocturne by little ol’ me.
At my age, a 7:30 PM bedtime seems reasonable. Nocturnes always seem to drag for me. Lisa and I set up on opposite sides of Main Street to paint the glowing Hotel Saranac sign. Rumor around town is that they have the sign wired so they can make it appear to have bulbs out. The result reads “Hot Sara.”
It was midnight before I dragged myself up to bed. In the wee hours, an electrical storm moved across Kiwassa Lake. It was too wonderful to ignore, so I watched it. Another day dawns, and this one is starting to brighten. Keep your powder dry, fellow painters. We still have four more days to go.

It’s a wrap

Weather Moving In At Barnum Bog, 12X9, oil on canvasboard.
I’m home, finally, after a very tiring five and a half weeks on the road. Much of the time, I was working so many hours that blogging was an afterthought. That is why I posted only a few of the paintings I did last week. Today I thought I’d share the rest from Saranac Lake with you.
Whiteface Makes Its Own Weather, 16X12, oil on canvasboard.
I painted nine works in three days. (Three of which I’ve already posted.) That’s unusually prolific for me, and I blame it in part on my housemates, who worked so diligently that I constantly felt like a piker.

The Au Sable River at Jay, 12X9, oil on canvasboard.
Not only was I prolific, however, but I felt that I was painting very well. I’ve been in a style shift over the last year, and this work reflects where I’m going more than where I’ve been. To me, that’s important, because in some ways the Adirondacks are closely tied to my past, so that I’m able to paint them without intimations of the past is a healthy sign for future progress.

Whiteface and Marsh, 16X12, oil on canvasboard.
If I am ever complacent in my painting, just take me out and shoot me. Painting is exploration. It should always be a challenge, a personal battle, a jousting match.
Town Hall, Saranac Lake, 10X8, oil on canvasboard.
Message me if you want information about next year’s workshops. Information about this year’s programs is available here.

Special Trout Fishing Area, 12X9, oil on canvasboard.

The night before exams

Sunset over Saranac Lake, by little ol’ me.

This week I’ve lived with a group of women painters in a house overlooking Lake Flower in Saranac Lake. I’ve known two of them for a long time, but the rest were strangers to me before the week began. We are strangers no more; there’s intimacy in living in an all-girls’ dorm, which is probably lost in a world which no longer segregates college students by gender.

Crista Pisano touching up her work the night before the show.
Not that we were living in the others’ pockets: we crept off silently in the early morning to paint where and when we wanted, meeting up for dinner. Occasionally we painted together, but most of the time we went our own ways.

My roomies, from left: Mira Fink, Crista Pisano, me, Marlene Wiedenbaum, Laura Bianco, Kari Ganoung Ruiz, Tarryl Gabel.
The sun wasn’t in evidence much last week, so when it made its appearance on Saturday we all made the most of it. When it finally dropped, we reluctantly set down our brushes and went back inside for the serious work of framing, signing  and titling work. This included a group critique session, targeted toward culling the work for jurying. Crista Pisano offered a great insight: work for a jury ought to be consistent, so we worked to make our groupings-of-three coherent small shows in their own right.

I painted with other pals as well. Here with Sandra Hildreth, left, and Carol Thiel, right.
Inevitably, someone made the suggestion that a work would look better in a different frame. The business of swapping framing materials began. It was like being in school again, except that we were swapping art supplies rather than makeup.

Among my favorite places to paint was the bog at Paul Smiths College Visitor Interpretive Center, where Pitcher Plants were much in evidence.

Our house made a strong showing: Crista Pisano took Best in Show (for the second time in three years) and Tarryl Gabel took the Saranac Lake Cover Art Award.

And then this morning we demonstrated that seven women can clean a house in no time flat.

Message me if you want information about next year’s Maine workshops. Information about this year’s programs is available here.


Buckling down to do some work

Mountain Farm in Evening, 8X6, oil on canvas
Yesterday, I spent several hours hiking at the 3,000-acre Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC). We’re expected to paint there tomorrow, and I’ve never been there. Toting up the various trails I followed, I figure I hiked about five miles, which is my normal daily walk at home. Hiking trails, however, are different from paved urban sidewalks, particularly in a mountainous area.
Mira Fink working on her watercolor at the VIC.
There is an iconic view of a rock outcropping in the VIC’s Heron Marsh which is lovely, but it is perhaps too perfect for my taste. Brian McDonnell, VIC facilities manager, warned me that it would be swarming with artists on Friday. A lovely view on the far end of the marsh caught my eye, but it’s a mile and a half from the parking lot. There is a spruce swamp that is simply magical, but I’m not sure how I’ll convert that to something intelligible. I won’t choose now; I think it would be better to let the views percolate in my mind’s eye before committing them to canvas.
Approaching the spruce swamp at the VIC.
I also went back to two sites that I visited on Tuesday, because I wasn’t certain they would make good compositions. I did greyscale drawings to satisfy myself that painting them would work.
A panoramic view of the High Peaks can only work if there’s foreground interest. I’ll tidy up the trees and I think it will work.
At about 5 PM, I went to town to have my boards stamped. From there, Crista Pisano, Laura Bianco and I went to Gabriels, NY to paint farms in the waning evening light. It was the first time I’ve actually flexed my brush hand in a week, and it felt good.
I’m still not convinced about these river rocks at Jay, but painting should be all about taking risks, right?
Message me if you want information about next year’s Maine workshops. Information about this year’s programs is available here.