The intensity of color

Travel always reminds me of regional differences in color. 
Reed beds, by Carol L. Douglas, 9×12, oil on canvasboard

There were five Maine painters at Plein Air Brandywine Valley this year. One thing that was obvious was that our work was, overall, higher in chroma than that of the mid-Atlantic painters around us. Generalizations always lie, of course. For example, pastellist Tara Will is from down thataway, and she’s nothing if not eye-popping brilliant.

But a brief survey of well-known painters of the Maine coast—people like Henry Isaacs, Connie Hayes, Colin Page, Jill HoyEric Hopkins, etc.—show a painting culture interested more in color and light than in fidelity to fact. Compare that to the paintings recently completed for the Hudson Valley Plein Air Festival. With the exception of Maine’s own Olena Babek, these painters are from eastern New York and Pennsylvania. Their work is less saturated and generally warmer in tone than the work here in Maine.
Fog over mountain, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard (available)
We Mainers have no hammerlock on high chroma. Go out to Santa Fe and paint with the folks from Plein Air Painters of New Mexico. They’re working in their own palette. It’s as intense as ours, but pushes the reds, ochres and blue-violets.
To a large degree, geography shapes our color choices. The light in Maine and New Mexico is harsher than that of the mid-Atlantic states, where skies often have high, filtered clouds. These create softer light.
A little (8×10) fantasia I finished in my studio on Tuesday (available)
Maine has more artists than you can shake a stick at, and many of us are ‘from away.’ Yesterday I was at a meeting and couldn’t help but notice the Long Island accent of one of my fellow artists. “Where are you from?” I asked. It turned out that all but one of us in the room were expatriated New Yorkers. Some have been here a very long time; others, like me, are recent transplants.
When I first moved to Maine, I was asked whether I’d moved because of the light. That’s certainly part of it. The Great Lakes regions of New York are actually temperate rainforests, they get so much precipitation. That means dark winters and many cloudy days. But that was only part of my decision. Maine art has a culture of color, and it appealed to me.
Midsummer, by Carol L. Douglas, 24×30, oil on canvas, available
Regional schools develop through example and imitation, and that’s a natural, healthy human interaction. But what should you do when you find yourself painting at cross-purposes to the people around you? I did that for a long time, and it was difficult. The misfit artist is under subtle pressure to change his style to match prevailing fashion. He doesn’t get the sales or the gallery space, and he starts to wonder what’s wrong with him.
The answer, of course, is that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with someone following his internal muse. The internet is a wonderful tool for getting out and finding one’s own tribe, but it doesn’t hold a candle to traveling in person. Go, take workshops, make friends in other communities, and validate your vision.

Talent, and other lies we tell our children

What’s the difference between a duffer and a star in any business? Hard work, intelligence and luck, not some ineffable quality of ‘talent’.
Painting of an Airstream trailer by Kathleen Gray Farthing for Plein Air Brandywine Valley.
When Kathleen Gray Farthing was a lass, her parents didn’t want her to major in art in college. You know the arguments; they start with “you can’t make a living as an artist.” Then her engineer father needed a graphic designer on a project. He was astonished at how much this man charged to do art, which he’d always thought of as a hobby.
Kathleen’s father took her drawings to this visiting graphic designer and asked him for a pronouncement. “She’ll never be a Brooks Robinson,” the man opined, “but she can play ball.”
The Cottage, by Kathleen Gray Farthing for Plein Air Brandywine Valley
It was both a cold assessment, and a curse intended to consign her to mediocrity. The equivalent to Brooks Robinson in the art world at the time was perhaps Jamie Wyeth. He was being lauded as the ‘heir of the Brandywine tradition’. There has only ever been one person born with his advantages. To his credit, he’s used them well. But there are many other great painters out there as well. They may not be on the cover of glossy magazines, but they build happy lives painting work that brings joy to many thousands of people.
I was terrible in math in high school. I’d been told all my life that my gifts lay in art and language and not in math or science, so I lived down to that prediction. Then I discovered that math is just a language that describes spatial relationships. I took math to multivariable calculus in college, earning all As. I accidentally escaped the curse of being bad at math by being good at art.
Walking into October, by Kathleen Gray Farthing for Plein Air Brandywine Valley
I’ve taught enough people to know that they blossom and grow in amazing ways. Take Sandy Quang, who is the daughter of non-English-speaking immigrants. She went to community college because that was her only option. Today, she has a BFA from Pratt Institute and an MA from Hunter College.
I had a teenage superstar in my studio back in Rochester. He had all the drive, ambition, and skill to be a very successful painter, and he want to RISD. Today he’s a set painter, working in the theater district, a paid-up member of Local One IATSE. But he’s not painting on canvases anymore, to my great regret.
Two of his classmates also studied with me. One was interested in science and art. Today, she’s a graduate architect, working toward her full licensing, and painting landscape in her spare time. The other went off to Hollywood to try his hand at acting. Today, he’s studying at Gobelins, L’École de L’Image in Paris.
Raining on John Deere, by Kathleen Gray Farthing for Brandywine Plein Air
Perhaps that long-ago critic thought Kathleen was too traditional to be a success in the art world of the late 20th century. Realism, after all, had been buried with full honors, and Kathleen isn’t the type to use her naked body as a printing plate. But it was an error to think the art world would stay in that state forever. Since then, realism has made an amazing comeback.
Like all of us, Kathleen’s had home runs and strikeouts in the decades since. Just last week, she painted a stunner, a miniature with loose brushwork, assured composition, and great mystery in the background. (It’s not online, so I can’t show you.) She’s overcome that curse through sheer hard work, and that’s an excellent lesson for all of us.

Monday Morning Art School: losing your drawing

You do a lovely underpainting and you lose it in the top layers. Why does that happen?
Home Farm, by Carol L. Douglas. Painted at Winterthur in Delaware.

The human mind loves complex, irrational space divisions. The same mind perversely regularizes what it paints and draws. A split-rail fence, where the gaps between posts diminish haphazardly into infinity, attracts us when we see it. However, unless we’re mindful, when we paint it, we regularize the spacing. The same thing happens with trees, flowers and clouds. In nature, they’re artfully erratic. We too often space them in neat lines. Bobbi Heath calls this anti-entropy. It’s a good description of the brain’s powerful impulse to push ideas, images and tones into patterns.

We’re best at drawing when we’re fresh. The challenge is to keep that freshness throughout the finished layers of a painting.
Visan Vineyard underpainting, by Bobbi Heath
Bobbi graciously allowed me to share an example for this post. She painted the underpainting above last year in France and finished the work this month in her own studio. That in itself is a challenge. No matter how good your visual memory is, it diminishes over time. You’ll always be most accurate if you finish work quickly.
Visan Vineyard, by Bobbi Heath
Bobbi made significant changes between the drawing and the final work. The far hill doesn’t rear up as energetically. The ends of the rows are lower on the canvas, and thus less important. More critically, she reduced the contrast, softened the perspective lines, and the ends are less incisive. She also changed the value of the midfield. In my opinion, the painting was weakened by these changes (although it’s still beautiful).
I stress drawing on paper before painting, instead of going straight to the canvas. It’s important to work out the compositional questions before you pick up a brush. It’s just as important to have reference to consult when the light changes or your painting gets distorted. A photo on your phone will just tell you what was there, not how you drew it.
Avoid too much solvent in the bottom layers. In alla prima painting, the bottom layer should have enough OMS in it to move fluidly, but not enough to run. You cannot keep a tight drawing if you’re painting over mush, nor can you keep the colors separated and bright.
Detail from Home Farm, at top.
It’s a fallacy to think that you draw first and paint second. Painting is continuous drawing, and the initial drawing must be restated constantly. I leave important lines showing until I’m certain I have finished the passage, and sometimes (as in the detail above, from the painting at the top) I don’t obliterate them at all. You can’t cover your drawing and expect to reiterate the freshness of the original line. That early drawing will always be your most delightful.
I prefer to work large in general. It’s easier to be accurate and poetic with a large sweeping line. The smaller the canvas, the more jarring small errors of measurement become. For most brushwork, I recommend holding the brush at a point more than halfway back from the ferrule. That gives your brushwork bounce and grace. But for accurate fine drawing, hold it like a pencil.
Kudos to Bobbi for offering to let me critique her painting publicly. “I wish I’d showed it to you earlier so you could have told me to restate the drawing,” she said. That’s a pal.

A week of channeling other painters

In the end my paintings ended up mostly like me.
Home farm, by Carol L. Douglas
On Monday, I wrote about my WWCD experience, where I tried to channel Colin Page but ended up painting like a Fauve. I continued similar experiments all week, channeling different masters each day. In fact, the ‘What Would So-and-So’ riff was embedded so deeply that I made up one based on Kirk Larson: “WWKD? Never turn down a free bottle of water.”
Yesterday’s painting started off as riff on Paul Gauguin, whose Yellow Christ hangs in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in my hometown of Buffalo. That made it a seminal influence on my young brain.
Swiss Chard and red umbrella, by Carol L. Douglas
I might have started with his color palette, but by the time I finished, the painting was pretty clearly my own. Perhaps that’s because brushwork and spatial design are more deeply embedded than color, which is relatively easy to manipulate. Or, it may be that I was concentrating on color first.
Why did I set out to do this? I had a conversation with Ken DeWaard this summer about trends in painting, particularly about high-key painting and whether an old dog like me can learn new tricks. (Since Ken just took the top prize at Cape Ann Plein Air, he doesn’t need to think about it.) I’ve been teaching about color harmonies, which put it in my mind. Also, it was a way to amp up my energy to finish the season well.
Marshaltown Inn, by Carol L. Douglas
But other than that, I had no great intellectual pretensions; it was a whim and I followed it. That’s one of the joys of being an artist; you don’t have to clear your brainstorm with a committee.
It was a valuable exercise, one that I’m going to subject my students to at the first opportunity. But it takes months for the results of a class or workshop to insinuate themselves into one’s painting style (which is one reason that people who only paint in class seldom make great progress). I won’t be able to tell you how it benefitted me until much later.
The Radnor Hunt, by Carol L.Douglas
Meanwhile, we’re done painting for Plein Air Brandywine Valley, and have a free morning before the opening reception. There are five painters here from Maine, and four of us are heading up to the Navy Shipyard in Philadelphia to paint boats. After that, we’ll get into the serious business of selling, but it’s our reward for working so hard.

Should you keep your painting locations secret?

It’s not the location; it’s what you bring to it.
Fallow field, by Carol L. Douglas

I’m at Plein Air Brandywine Valley (PABV) this week. Torrential rain was forecasted starting at midday, so I took the unusual step of leaving to paint before dawn. I intended to blog in the afternoon. Of course, I didn’t get back to my billet until 7 PM, which is why you’re reading this so late.

I had the opportunity to test a favorite hypothesis of mine: that location doesn’t matter as much as subject and style. I know painters who jealously guard their ‘special’ painting locations. I’ve always done the opposite. No two painters look at things the same way, and various paintings of the same site will all come out radically different.
Same subject, by Lisa BurgerLentz. Note the raindrops; we were chased away around noon.
PABV provides us with choices of venues at which to paint every day, but we’re required to do the bulk of our work at one of these assigned venues. That allows us to visit properties we’d otherwise not have access to. Equally important, it lets them bring us lunch every day.
Today, we were spoiled for choice, with five options. Only a few painters joined us at Kirkwood Preserve. It’s a lovely, rugged patch of fallow fields and old trees, but fearing an imminent washout, most of us stayed close to our cars. That meant that four of us chose to paint along the same sightline: Nancy Granda, Lisa BurgerLentz, Bobbi Heath, and me.
Same subject, by Nancy Granda
Nancy, Lisa and Bobbi all agreed to let me share their paintings to demonstrate my point. Four paintings could not be more similar in subject outside a sip-and-paint, and yet they are very different. Even thought they’re all roughly the same composition, they each have their own tonal range, level of abstraction, and brush or knife work.
I was once next to Alison Hill at an auction preview when a client stopped to look at our work. She was conflicted. “I love her style, but I prefer your subject matter,” she told me. I asked her which was more important to her. “Both,” she responded. I think she’s very typical of the knowledgeable art connoisseur, who responds both with the head and the heart.
Same subject, by Bobbi Heath
I’d painted rocks and surf, which are a passion of mine. But she didn’t know exactly where those rocks were, nor did she care. It was the interplay of water and stone that attracted her. I know how to get to Raven’s Nest in Schoodic, a spot that is intentionally somewhat concealed. It isn’t promoted by the National Park Service because it’s dangerous. But I’m happy to tell you, unless I think there’s a chance you’ll slip and kill yourself. Raven’s Nest is stunning, but a painting of it isn’t going to be any better than any other well-composed painting of rocks and surf.
With the exception of Paris, no other site is more closely associated with the birth of impressionism than Argenteuil, wrote art historian Paul Hayes Tucker in Impressionists at Argenteuil. Claude Monet (who lived there for a time) was joined by other avant-garde painters, including Eugene Boudin, Gustave Caillebotte, Edouard Manet, Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley. These painters were working in roughly the same style, painting the same subjects, and overlapping in the same time period. Yet nobody finds their work redundant today.

Dance with the one what brung you

“I’m the worst, I’m totally garbage at scheduling” is not an excuse; it’s just a sign that you were raised by wolves.
Cape Elizabeth Cliffs, by Carol L. Douglas

Tomorrow is the wedding of the season in my former town of Rochester, NY. The sister of the bride is flying in from Scotland; the sisters of the groom from France. The gathering will include my husband, my daughter, and many of my old and treasured friends.

I’ll be thinking of them as I paint at Cape Elizabeth Paint for Preservation. No, I do not think my career is more important than my old friend, but I was accepted to this event before she announced the date.
Back in the last millennium, etiquette mavens taught that the only proper reason to break a prior commitment was an invitation to the White House. I’m liberal enough to include a personal emergency or a date in court, but the principle was that your word, once given, is inviolate.
Painting in Cape Elizabeth Paint for Preservation last June. (Photo courtesy of Karen Lybrand)
It can be difficult to maintain this policy. Last autumn, I’d signed up for Plein Air Brandywine Valley when my daughter invited me to London and Bath. I had no prior relationship with the show and my family was very persuasive. My husband went to England; I painted in Pennsylvania. I liked Children’s Beach House, the sponsoring organization, enough that I’ll be back again this year.
I think it’s no bad thing to be reliable. One of the few things I regret decades later is having flaked on someone who was really counting on me.
Modern culture has a bad reputation for flaking, or not showing up when you say you will. Having given three weddings for my daughters, I’ve experienced this first-hand. The worst offenders, by the way, have not been much-maligned millennials, but people who are old enough to know better.
“Technology makes it so much easier to flake out,” saidclinical psychologist Andrea Bonior. “It’s infinitely easier and less awkward than having to talk to someone by phone or, worse, tell them in person.”
Painting in the cold rain at Brandywine last autumn.
But showing up when you promise is as important to festival organizers as it is to the mother of the bride. Organizers invest a great deal of time and energy on a short list of painters, one they’ve carefully selected through a complex process of invitation or jurying. Your name and work have been assiduously promoted to their lists, and they encourage your fans to come to their event.
Most committees work on their event all year long, and they work indefatigably during the run-up and the week of the event. Much of the work is done by volunteers, working alongside paid staff. The work involved in putting on a successful plein air competition is staggering; it is probably equal to organizing a white tie dinner at Buckingham Palace.
Some events have runners-up to fill last minute gaps. But even these shows will have publicized your presence to their punters. Not showing up leaves them plugging a mystery “Special Guest” in the place of their headliners.
So, if you’re thinking of bailing on an event, don’t. And if you must, make sure you have an awfully good reason—your own death, for example. “I’m the worst, I’m totally garbage at scheduling” is not an excuse; it’s just a sign that you were raised by wolves.

Getting out of a slump

…and the chance to benefit Children’s Beach House with your holiday shopping.

Wreck of the SS Ethie, by Carol L. Douglas

“That looks like so much fun.” It can be genuine, or it can have the hard edge that implies, “unlike my job as a claims adjuster.” Either way, it’s usually, but not always, true. There are days when we approach our easels with exhaustion, trepidation, or stiff hands.

I owe my friend Peter Yesis a great debt in reminding me to do warm-ups when this happens. I have cases of 6X8 warm ups in the corner of my studio. At one time, I painted a tree every day; at another time it was a still life. But this commitment went by the wayside as I got busier and busier, and now I usually blog in the hour I once did these exercises.
Termination Dust, by Carol L. Douglas. The only realism in this painting was the chill in my studio when I started it.
Warm ups are like scales. They’re a requisite to being in good voice when we go out and perform.
Last week I was stuck in a particularly finicky commission painting. I feared all my painterliness was being sucked down the great hole of representation. I pulled out a canvas and did a fantasy landscape. This is a favorite exercise of mine, a landscape only loosely based on reality. One starts with an abstraction and builds a realistic painting upon it.
Glade, by Carol L. Douglas. I was interested in the terrible symmetry of a circle.
The painting at top, of the shipwreck of SS Ethie off the coast of Newfoundland, is an example of such a painting. I recorded the steps of its development here.
Shoreline, by Carol L. Douglas, is based on nothing more than a black shape.
Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World—the painting that put realism back on the map—is just an abstraction that uses three realistic objects to drive us relentlessly through its spare, rigid, Color Fieldconstruction.
Wyeth aside, painting from a wisp or suggestion is a great way to blow the cobwebs out of your brushes. I find myself anxious to put the computer aside and start painting every morning. The fun is back in my brushes.
Want to support a great program?
Home Farm, by Carol L. Douglas, is featured in the 2019 Children’s Beach House calendar.
Last fall I did the 2018 Plein Air Brandywine Valley competition, which benefits Childrens Beach House. I liked the CBH staff so much I’ve been trying to get my son-in-law to move to Delaware and work with them ever since.
My painting Home Farmwon an Honorable Mention. It was done at Winterthur and I hope it captures a sense of the old farms that were assembled to make this great American estate. 
Home Farm is also showcased within the pages of the 2019 Plein Air Brandywine Valley Calendar. 
For each $100 donation to Children’s Beach House, you will receive this incredible one-of-a-kind limited production calendar created by sponsor Dennis M. Wallace of Comprehensive Wealth Management Group. It includes all of the 2018 Plein Air Brandywine Valley painting and photography award winners. You can order directly on-line at www.cbhinc.org. 
100% of your donation goes to support the programs at Children’s Beach House. They provide programs for children with communicative disabilities (speech, hearing, language and other special needs) who are further challenged by living in poverty.  This calendar makes a great holiday gift for family, friends and colleagues.

Hoaxes, frauds, and ancient artifacts?

An ancient Scottish Templar lies in state in eastern Massachusetts.
Who needs to go to Britain to see a knight lying in state on his coffin lid?
Yesterday I stopped to paint in the marshes of Westford, Massachusetts with my pal Bobbi Heath. This is low country with oaks, spruces and pines, and the foliage this week is a perfect blend of russets, golds and cool greens.
My husband was flying to Boston from a week potting around England with two of our kids. I’d skipped the trip for Plein Air Brandywine Valley. I’ve seen enough knights reposing on their coffin lids that I wasn’t concerned.
A rubbing of the Westford boulder. It may be slightly enhanced. Courtesy of the Clan Sinclair Association (USA)
We would paint until dusk and I’d collect Doug at the airport on the way home. Of course, that wasn’t what happened. Bobbi is still hobbling from her Lisfranc fracture. What started as a spattering mist developed into the cold, full-throated pissing of a late autumn rain. That’s pneumonia weather.
So, we did what artists love even better than painting: driving around looking at stuff we might paint sometime. And then Bobbi casually mentioned the Westford Knight. We have a fine St. George battling a dragon here in Maine, and I figured it was something like that.
The best photo I could get of the boulder on a dark and stormy night.
Instead, it was a large hunk of granite under a Plexiglas cover, with something unmistakably carved into its surface. Carbon dating it would be impossible, since that only works with organic material. But granite is hard, and it couldn’t have been carved without tempered steel implements. That makes the rock either a hoax like Piltdown man, or a genuine relic of pre-Columbian exploration in the New World.
The rock was first mentioned in print in 1873. At the time, it was attributed to Native Americans. By the middle of the twentieth century, it had been identified as a medieval knight complete with sword and shield.
A rubbing of the Westford Boat Rock. Courtesy of the Clan Sinclair Association (USA)
This was in part due to the influence of TC Lethbridge, English archaeologist, parapsychologist, explorer, and all-around crank—in short, just the sort of man we should have over to dinner. Lethbridge, while classically trained, came to believe that the archaeological establishment wouldn’t countenance any thinking outside the usual academic platitudes.
Lethbridge was consulted about the Westford carving, and he suggested that it represented a 14th century hand-and-a-half wheel pommel sword.
Enter the Clan Sinclair Association (USA). They believe their ancestor, Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, discovered the New World around the year 1400. Sinclair apparently landed in Nova Scotia and then potted down the coast to Massachusetts, where he wandered inland.
My last evening at Plein Air Brandywine Valley. Courtesy of Bruce McMillan.
They believe that the rock commemorates a fallen member of Sinclair’s party, Sir James Gunn, a Knight Templar. Historians counter that the Order of the Knights Templar had been publicly disbanded ninety years earlier. This presents no particular historical challenge to readers of dime-store fiction. We know that Knights Templar popped up everywhere for hundreds of years after they were banned.
There’s also a matching oval-shaped boulder in Westford’s library. It has a sailing ship and an arrow carved into its surface. “Archaeological evidence indicates this was probably carved at the same time as the Westford Knight carving,” the Sinclairs wrote. There is, of course, no archaeological evidence anywhere, because of that pesky carbon-dating problem.
There are relics all over the northeast that defy categorization, including the Spirit Pond runestones found in Phippsburg, Maine. We have proof that Vikings visited the New World. Are all these old stones fakes, or are some of them real artifacts?

Painting at Winterthur

In the end, we each need only as many chairs as we have friends.
Folly, by Carol L. Douglas. 24X18

Plein Air Brandywine Valley is unusual in that the sales part is three days long. Usually, we paint at these events and then there’s a short auction or sale. Boom, we’re done and go home. This long sale period harks back to my days at art fairs, where we each had a tent and stood around wishing we’d brought our bocce kit.

But at least we don’t have to set our displays up. Tonight at seven we’ll appear at Winterthur, faces washed and the grime cleaned out from under our fingernails, to meet the public.
In case you think I was making things up, here is the Moorish tent folly and summerhouse from my painting. 
Winterthur bills itself as “an American country estate.” It’s a classic, aping the great landed estates of Europe. Primarily distinguished by its size, it has 175 rooms and 1600 acres (in its current, downsized, form). It has some fantastic specimen trees, all grown to luxurious maturity.
Whipping along its lanes in a chauffeured golf cart, I am reminded of an aphorism spuriously credited to one of the Barons Rothschild: “No garden, no matter how small, should have less than a hundred-acre woodlot.”
Home Farm, by Carol L. Douglas. This may not be the real home farm to this estate, but it’s one of many that du Pont collected and preserved to create Winterthur.
Winterthur was the life’s work of Henry Francis Du Pont. His father—also a Henry—graduated first in his class from West Point and served in the Senate. His grandfather—another Henry—was head of the du Pont conglomerate during the Civil War. A steadfast supporter of Lincoln, he held pro-slavery Delaware in the Union and refused to sell gunpowder to the south. His great-grandfather was, of course, the legendary E. I. du Pont.
That family genius seemed to bypass young Henry Francis. He was a horticulturist and collector of early American furniture and decorative arts. “I know that I am stupid,” he wrote his father while at school at Groton. He frequently described himself as “a farmer.” His father encouraged his interest in the breeding of Frisian cattle, thinking it more useful than buying a yacht.
I framed work on Bruce McMillan‘s car, since the Prius hood isn’t designed to set things on and the interior was too messy.
In the absence of commercial zeal, young Henry became an expert on American furnishings and interiors, gradually turning his home into a museum of American art and antiques. Many rooms were rescued from historic structures. The collection spans two centuries, from 1640 to 1840, and also includes a preposterously large library on the subject.
Painting along the Brandywine. Photo courtesy of Bruce McMillan.
I’m always melancholy when visiting these historic homes. They’re where unimaginable wealth meets limited imagination. I’m glad Henry Francis du Pont preserved this collection of farms (especially considering the growth in Delaware in recent decades). I’m happy, too, that he salvaged these historic interiors for future generations. But, in the end, we each need only as many chairs as we have friends.

Taking risks

“Go big or go home.” Maine is too far away, so I decided to paint big.
Reflections, Carol L. Douglas

Yesterday’s painting sites included an early industrial site along the Brandywine River, the Masley Glove Factory in Brandywine Village. I love old mills and raceways, so I headed there.

Although Brandywine Creek looks like a sleepy, tidal river, it drops about 160 feet from its head of navigation to this point. That was enough to create good mill raceways. To the west were the fertile grain fields of Pennsylvania; just downriver are navigable channels out to the ocean. It was a perfect place to help birth the American Industrial Revolution.
Gilpin’s Mill on the Brandywine, c. 1827, attributed to Thomas Doughty. Courtesy Bryn Mawr.
By 1687, there was a grain mill on the Brandywine. In 1735, Quakers settled across the creek from Wilmington proper. By 1796, the village could grind 400,000 bushels of grain per year.
The first paper mill opened in 1787; the first cotton mill in 1795. In 1802, E.I. du Pont bought in and established his now-famous Eleutherian Mills. By 1810, he was the biggest gunpowder manufacturer in the country. E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company would become one of the world’s largest conglomerates. It’s still the largest chemical company in the world, in the form of DowDuPont.
Of course, none of this history is visible. That’s both good news and bad news. The water is clean enough to swim in, something that wouldn’t have been possible a few decades ago. But all the beautiful old mills are gone. In some cases, their footings remain as the foundations for modern condos, which line the river on the Brandywine side.
1905 postcard of the Dupont Gunpowder Mills, courtesy of University of Delaware. 
The loveliest building in our vicinity was the Masley glove factory, but it was around the bend from us, hidden by trees. Otherwise, there were platitudes: bridges and trees and the characteristic muddy bank of a mid-Atlantic river. While there was a pretty early twentieth century plant across the river, it was dwarfed by modern office buildings. I’ve escaped the orbit of urban skylines and won’t willingly return.
So I decided to paint the glove factory’s reflection in Brandywine Creek. There was no way such an absurdity would work on a small canvas, so I went large. The wind came up as I painted, so I didn’t capture exactly what I felt. 
Did it work? I don’t really think so, but it was more fun and more challenging than playing it safe. I’m feeling quite a bit better this morning. I can finish—if not in style, than at least with my self-respect intact.