From the archives: Extreme painting

My guest expert (my daughter) wrote this post in 2018, because I was indisposed due to medical tests. I’m having tests again today (one of life’s eternal verities) and was reminded of this classic.
The Road to Seward, Alaska, by Carol L. Douglas

Dear Carol,

Last week, you mentioned the wild turkeys near your residency. I am, unfortunately, afflicted with both hoplophobia and meleagrisphobia – fears of guns and those creatures most fowl. When is it appropriate to pepper spray a turkey?
Yours, Allie N., New Mexico
I have good news and I have bad news. As of 1992, the EPA was still looking for data on the effectiveness of capsaicin (the active spicy spice that makes spices spicy) against birds.1They accepted that it was probably effective against birds, in addition to other animals. Obviously, it has been several years since then. Two scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, discovered in 2002 that, while birds have the vanilloid receptors that taste capsaicin for us, theirs are immune to capsaicin.2 In conclusion, you could probably pepper spray a turkey and it would irritate and startle him. However, you’d get the same effect by shrieking and flapping your arms wildly. In my opinion, the perfect time to pepper spray a turkey is directly before he goes into the oven.
Mary Helen
The Alaska Range, by Carol L. Douglas
Greetings Carol,
It’s my favorite time of year here in Success, Saskatchewan – the air is crisp and clear, the leaves are changing, and it’s finally moose season. I can’t wait to make all my favorite moose recipes once my wife comes back from hunting. Moose chili, moose enchiladas, moose tartare, coleslaw with moose meatballs, moose bulgogi – you name it, I’ll eat it! I love going with my wife on her hunting trips all around the wilderness of Saskatchewan. You’ve been there. You know how it is! It’s a great time to do some plein airpainting while enjoying some quality time with the missus. How can I best keep myself from getting mistaken for a moose? You know, we share so many of the same features.
Bill Winkleman, Saskatchewan
Moose season in Saskatchewan this year is from October to December. Soon it will be too cold to do much painting en plein air. However, here’s good advice on how to avoid being mistaken for a large ungulate:
  • Wear brightly-colored clothing when out in the woods. I recommend a large, heavily starched tie-dye wizard’s hat.
  • Try to sing as loudly as possible at all times. It’s common knowledge that moose are fans of jazz and Scandinavian black metal, so stick to old pop standards and famous Canadian sea shanties.
You may find that when you’re painting en plein air, you may find moose walking around en trails. Worse than that, you may find that some enterprising hunter has left moose entrails en trails and you have to walk gingerly. I recommend wellies.
Mary Helen
Confluence, by Carol L. Douglas
Carol –
My Oma and I are planning a cycling trip up the Alaska Highway next summer. We’ve already begun shopping for a truly inspiring collection of very tight, padded shorts and we’ve got our cameras ready to see all the wildlife. How do you get your best photos of bears?
It’s GREAT to hear from you again! My advice for taking photos of bears from your bicycle from the shoulder of the Alaska highway is, uh, DON’T!
Black bears can run between 25 and 30 miles an hour and brown bears can run even faster. A ridiculously lost polar bear can run even faster than that! For comparison, your 97-year old grandmother can probably only manage about ten miles an hour. Just put something to make noise in the spokes of your bike and leave the bears alone. Instead of stopping to photograph them as they forage on the roadside, why not take a quick snapshot of the other tourists taking their picture as you zoom by to safety?
Laird Hot Springs, by Carol L. Douglas. This was the site of a fatal bear attack in 1997.
In July 2018, conservation officers in British Columbia responded to 25 calls about grizzlies and 179 calls about black bears.3,4The Yukon Government reported that at least 63 bears were killed in Yukon,5a five-year high. Human interaction with bears is not only dangerous for the humans, but dangerous for the bear. Remember – a fed bear is a dead bear.
Mary Helen
  1. R.E.D. Facts – Capsaicin. (1992, June). Environmental Protection Agency.
  2. Jordt, S., & Julius, D. (2002, February 8). Molecular basis for species-specific sensitivity to “hot” peppers. Cell, 108(3), 421-430.
  3. Predator statistics: black bear. (2018, September). Conservation Officer Service of British Columbia.
  4. Predator statistics: grizzly bear. (2018, September). Conservation Officer Service of British Columbia.
  5. 63 bears destroyed in Yukon this year because of human conflict. (2017, November 29). CBC News.

Monday Morning Art School: pochade boxes for every budget

I hate to see people waste money on a cheap pochade box that won’t work.

My current system is an Open M box on a carbon-fiber tripod. It’s lightweight and puts up with a lot of abuse.

Last week I discussed how Google drove me toward inexpensive and fatally-flawed Meeden pochade boxes. I do not generally tell people what boxes to buy, as there’s a tremendous range of excellent options. But I don’t want to see students waste money on a cheap box that won’t work.

We’re a month out from the start of plein air season here in the northeast, so it’s time to research and order a box if you need one. Some manufacturers are on their seasonal hiatus, but if they make the box you want, it’s worth waiting for.

My super-light pochade box when it was new (and clean).

Unfortunately, most pochade boxes are sold on the internet, so you can’t twiddle the dials in person. You must rely on word-of-mouth. The good news is that there are some excellent products out there.

Many people have been given some version of a French box easel by loving friends or relatives. If you’ve got one, by all means use it, but don’t voluntarily inflict one on yourself. They’re heavy, difficult to set up, and you can’t slide the paint out and store it in the freezer. Pochade boxes are lighter and nimbler.

If money is an issue, make your own. I have instructions here for making a lightweight aluminum box. This was my primary box for several years and I still use it for backpacking, as it’s the lightest box I own.

Jennifer Johnson’s variation on that theme.

My student Jennifer Johnson decided to make a box like mine, but her husband ordered the wrong binder. It was a fortuitous accident, because her box is smaller and stronger. It pairs up perfectly with her Mabef M-27 field easel without any drilling or special machining. She’s used two of them—one for acrylics, one for oils—for four years now without any problems.

Or, you can use Victoria Brzustowicz’ ingenious, cheap and simple solution. She hinged two aluminum baking sheets from the Dollar Store together with a strip of duct tape. Open, it’s a paint box; closed, it goes in a plastic bag in the freezer. She also uses it with a Mabef field easel.

Victoria Brustowicz’ variation on the theme cost her all of $2.

That Mabef field easel can also be used with a plastic Masterson sta-wet palette box and disposable palette paper for another lightweight and inexpensive combination.

In all cases, you’ll have to tinker with bungee cords and clamps to secure the box to the easel, but it does work.

A few of my students have the Leder easel. At $119 (not including the tripod), it’s reasonably priced, stable, and extremely compact. You must buy your own tripod and paint box, but that, again, means you can use a sta-wet palette box. It’s also a useful system for pastels, because it allows you to use your existing pastel box.

New Wave u go pochade box belonging to Ann Clowe.

I’ve also seen several New Wave u.go pochade boxes over the past year. They’re birch and use magnets instead of clasps. They seem solidly built and have a lift-out palette.

My current everyday box is an Easy L box by Artwork Essentials. (I also use their umbrella, because it stays where I put it.) The box is durable, basic, and you can set it up so it hangs with the palette at the same angle as your canvas. That’s useful for demoing but I never do it in real life.

Another lovely box in a similar style is Open M’s panel/palette holder. It’s also well made of Baltic birch. The major difference is in the style of hardware.

Terrie Perrine using the Leder system with her own pastel box.

Guerrilla Painteris a well-known brand of extremely-robust pochade boxes. I have a 12X16 Guerrilla box that is so tough I could drive over it with my truck and then use it. That comes at a price, however; the box is too darn heavy for anything other than park-and-paint plein air.

Strada makes the only aluminum pochade boxes that I know of. That’s a pity, because aluminum is stronger and less prone to moisture damage than wood. It doesn’t result in much weight savings, however; the 11X12 Strada box weighs only an ounce less than the 10X12 Open M box.

En Plein Air Pro now has a system for oil and acrylic painters with a greyscale mixing tray. They also have a portable pastel easel. I worked briefly with the oil-palette at my Sedona workshoplast month, and it seemed quite solid and practical. I have had one of their tripod trays for years, however. It’s rigid and durable.

All opinions on these products are my own. A handful of them use affiliate links; if you click and make a purchase, I may receive a commission. 

Monday Morning Art School: Creativity loves constraints

Two things I learned teaching my workshop last week.

Kamillah Ramos at the Grand Canyon.

I start each class and workshop by handing my students protocols for painting in oils and watercolor. “If you follow these steps,” I tell them, “you will understand how to paint.” These instructions are not unique; they’re how most successful artists work through drawing, composition, and paint application.

Just try it for the length of the class, I tell them. If it doesn’t improve your painting, go back to what you were doing before. But I’m confident that following this traditional approach works. Anyways, most people take painting classes because they recognize that something in their system isn’t working. 

A set of step-by-steps is oddly liberating. Working out the problems in advance leads to looser and more lyrical brushwork.

Student Becca Wilson responded by telling me that there’s a phrase for this: “creativity loves constraints.” Bam.

The idea that limits can lead to extraordinary creative output seems counterintuitive. After all, the creative pursuits (and particularly the visual arts) are often thought to be about feelings and thus limit- and rule-free. In reality, they’re quite the opposite. Every creative pursuit has its own established practice, and painting is no exception.

Constraints set up processes within which problems can be solved. Separating painting into discrete steps—value study, color mixing and then, finally, brushwork—helps cut it down into manageable pieces. Only when you can do the steps automatically will you find your authentic, unique artistic voice.

Kamillah Ramos and I were painting on Mather Point at 5:30 AM yesterday morning. This is a busy time at the Grand Canyon. The weather is good and schools are on spring break. Hundreds of people came by in the 4.5 hours we were painting, and many of them stopped to ask us questions or comment on our work.

“There’s nothing like plein air painting for changing the vibe of a place,” Kamillah said. She’s so right.

Our workshop painted in six separate locations in Sedona, which was also jam-packed with tourists. People might have found our presence irritating, but instead they were interested and enthusiastic. In fact, in decades of painting outside, I’ve had universally-positive reactions from passers-by.

Artists are very much a cultural and economic asset, and that’s worth remembering.

(Sorry this is brief but I’m about to board a red-eye to Portland.)

Best new toy ever!

Even though this truck and I have only been shacking up for a few months, it feels like we’ve known each other forever. We’re soul mates.

Painting from the bed of my truck yesterday. Note the dog in the back window. (Photo courtesy Eric Jacobsen)

I’m a little under 5’6”, which is two inches taller than the average American woman (whoever she is). That makes me, objectively, not short. But I married a tall man. Predictably, all my kids are tall. I’m always craning my neck to natter at them, and bustling along when we walk. It’s given me a complex.

It doesn’t help to paint with Ken DeWaard and Eric Jacobsen. Ken’s nearly a foot taller than me, and Eric’s just a smidge less lofty. For me to paint the view they see, I need to stand on a box. That’s inconvenient. Last week, Ken and I painted a pile of glorious orange lobster buoys. His angle was perfect, but mine was obscured by a kid’s slide.

Three Chimneys, oil on canvasboard, 11X14, $869 unframed, was painted from the bed of my pickup truck this week.

My trip to Wyoming in January was two-fold. I explored a ranch in Cody that I’ll be using as a base for a workshop this September. And I collected a 2010 Toyota Tundra that previously belonged to my pal Jane Chapin.

This truck and I had a history. Jane and I once nearly drove it off a cliff-edge. We then backed out through a thicket of piñons. It’s only fitting that they’re my scratches now.

I also painted Hermit Peak from its bed. Jane was too cool to paint from a lawn-chair in a pickup truck so she stood in a snowdrift and froze. That day was when I realized that I desperately wanted a pickup truck. It was pure chance that it ended up being the same truck.

Maple, oil on canvasboard, 12X16, $1159 unframed, was painted from next to my truck. I did get stuck in the mud and had to use 4WD to get out.

Maine has eco-warriors in their hybrids and sensible Subarus, but get out of the bigger towns and pickup trucks abound. I drove a Prius for 278,000 miles and my son now has it. But the pickup truck provides protective coloration when I’m loitering around docks and country roads. Think of me as a toad blending in with the forest floor.

Plus, it makes me feel really, really tall.

All I need is a cooler and an awning. (Photo courtesy of Eric Jacobsen)

Eric—coincidentally—has the same make and model truck. His has a cap, which is convenient because he never has to put anything away; he just tosses wet paintings inside and they’re there weeks or months later when he feels like finishing them. But the cap means Eric can’t stand in the bed of his truck and paint. That’s a major disadvantage.

Still, they’re awfully cute parked next to each other. We painted at Owls Head this week—me in the bed of my truck, he with his easel set up nearby (making us almost exactly the same height, dammit). It occurred to me that our trucks looked just like cruisers in their little slips in Wilson Harbor. In the evening, yachters would set up their deck chairs, pop beers, and chit-chat across the docks. As a teenager, I sneered. Today, I love the idea.

Fishing shacks at Owls Head, not yet finished.

“All I need is a cooler and an awning,” I told Eric. A bimini top? It would be cute but expensive. A party tent? A ladder rack with a fabric awning attached with Velcro? Extra points if I can find Sunbrella™ in camo.

But wait, there’s more! The jump seat in the back folds up, and the space it leaves is just the right size for a primitive porta-potty. It might not be quite the thing for downtown Portland, but it works just fine in rural Maine.

A bucket with a toilet seat… and tinted windows.

Sigh. Even though this truck and I have only been shacking up for a few months, it feels like we’ve known each other forever. We’re soul mates.

Spring finally comes to Maine

This point, where charcoal meets paper, is where a painting’s future lies.

Spring on Beech Hill, 8×10, available. Dark skies may not give you great shadows, but they deepen color saturation.

Yesterday was the first truly lovely day of the year, with soft still air, limpid light, and a hint of color in the bare trees. I had already chained myself to the mast of updating my website so I met Ken DeWaard at Spruce Head in late afternoon. As if ordered up by some great old Hollywood director, golden light poured over the fishing shacks. It was so composed and serene that even a novice could have painted a great painting.

I, therefore, made a hash of the whole process.

My struggling composition. Ouch.

I’ve been teaching an intensive series on composition. I swear it’s scrambled my brain, since this is the third painting in a row where my composition has been utter dreck. I tell my students that my first rule is “don’t be boring,” and then I keep breaking that rule myself.

I swear, the next time I’m having one of these brain cramps, I’m going to just copy off Ken’s panel. It’d be easier on him. When Carol isn’t happy with her painting, Carol whines. After listening to me for what felt like an hour, he asked a salient and obvious question: what was my painting about?

That stopped me cold.

“Well,” I hesitated, “I think what interests me is that collection of blue bins on the dock.” That’s where I should have stopped and redrawn the whole thing, cropping in much closer, but I didn’t. I was still seduced by the grandeur all around me.

Boatyard, 12X16, oil on canvasboard, available. This painting is growing on me.

This point, where charcoal meets paper, is where a painting’s future lies. All the seagulls I could tack in there later, all the beautiful brushwork I could slather over the canvas, can’t save a teetering composition.

Everyone has a mistake they make repeatedly. Mine is always trying to cram more than one painting onto a canvas. “Respect the picture plane,” I tell my students, and then proceed to not do so myself.

Then there’s this painting of fishing shacks that I haven’t finished yet, but I think has promise.

In this case, I was trying to shove an entire world of manmade and heavenly beauty into one small rectangle. But I can tell you in words that it was sublime: ducks quacking in the distance, the tide beginning to trickle in from the far channels, the perfect still reflections in the water, even the pungent smell of saltwater soil awakening from spring. It was all dancing deliriously in front of me, and I couldn’t push it all onto canvas fast enough.

The beauty of the artist’s life is the number of redos we get. I have to go to New York today, but Spruce Head will still be there when I come home. I can take a deep breath and try again, and maybe, just maybe, I won’t be overwhelmed by the perfection of it all.

You might think I find all this failure depressing, but actually I see it as a hopeful sign. When I suddenly start regressing, it means I’m subconsciously incorporating something new in my painting. I can’t wait to see where I go.

Monday Morning Art School: Baby, it’s Cold Outside!

Winter’s lack of light might deter the painter, but normal winter temperatures ought not.

Snowstorm at 12 Corners, by Carol L. Douglas. Long since gone to its permanent home.

My nurse-practitioner mother always insisted that one couldn’t get a cold from being cold—after all, it’s a virus. How, then, can I account for my dripping nose and general malaise, when I haven’t been in contact with strangers of my own species in weeks? I have been outdoors for extended periods, and it’s been nippy.

Occasionally, people will tell me, “there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.” I’m from Buffalo, so I know that’s malarkey. But proper gear does help. Winter’s lack of light might deter the painter, but normal winter weather ought not.

Winter storm, 6X8, by Carol L. Douglas. That’s generally as big as I work in bad weather.

The most important part of your body to insulate is your feet. Painting is the only outdoor activity I know where you stand in one place in the snow for long periods. That’s far chillier than walking or skiing. A piece of old carpeting or cardboard on the ground will help. Always wear insulated boots and wool socks. Yes, you’ll waddle, but agility isn’t the issue here; insulation is.

I wear nitrile-palm fishing gloves to paint. They’re warm enough for all but the worst days, when I add a chemical hand warmer on the backs of my hands. Dress in layers, as you would for any winter activity. Ladies, that should include long johns (call them Cuddl Duds if it makes you feel better). This year, you can also wear a balaclava (a ski mask to the uninitiated) without shame, even to the bank.

Haybales in winter, by Carol L. Douglas. See those chunks? That’s what happens when you paint below 0° F in oils.

You might think the sun is a summer problem, but it can be blinding in the dead of winter. It never bothers to get over the yardarm in December in Maine, which means it’s often thwacking me right in the eyes. A painting umbrella helps now, more than it ever does in summer. If you have any skin showing, use sunscreen.

I regularly store my palettes outdoors in wintertime. Assuming I can find them, I can pull them out of the snowdrift and start painting immediately. In the summer, I move my palettes to a freezer. Most home freezers are set at about 0° F, so the paint is very chilled but not actually frozen. The cold temperatures slow down oxidation, which makes the paint stay open longer.

Winter, pastel, Carol L. Douglas. If you stick with pastel, you won’t have material-handling issues in winter, except that chalks are tough to handle with bulky gloves.

Oil paints in linseed oil binder won’t freeze until they reach -4° F (or -20° C). They will thicken slightly as you approach their freezing point; just increase the amount of solvent and they’ll move again. If it gets much colder than that, however, you’ll end up with chunky paint.

At that point, only an insane person or someone trying to prove a point would stay outside and squidge paint around. You’re more likely to snap your easel in extreme cold than you are to come up with anything good. I’m speaking from experience here.

If you use watercolor, you can add grain-alcohol, vodka or gin as antifreeze. A good rule of thumb is that you can add up to 20% booze to your paints before they get tipsy. But not all pigments can handle their liquor. Be prepared for excess paper staining, or different precipitation rates than you’re used to with plain water.

With any medium, you’re unlikely to have precise control of your brushes when you’re bundled up and your hands are in gloves. Work loose and don’t sweat the details.

Monday Morning Art School: know your trees

To paint trees, you need to understand them. That doesn’t mean you need to memorize species, but you do need to be able to spot the differences.

Palm, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

When I first posted this back in 2018, I wrote, “There is a major division in the forest world between conifers (the trees with needles) and broadleaf trees.” I should have added a third class of trees—the palms, since there are 2,600 known species, generally in the tropics and sub-tropics.

Palms are distinguished by their large, compound, evergreen leaves, called fronds, which are arranged at the top of an unbranched stem. Most (but not all) conifers are evergreens; the biggest exception being the larches, which turn a delicious yellow-gold in autumn. Broadleaf trees are always deciduous in the north, but not in the south. Every landscape has a combination of deciduous and conifer trees, but palms grow only in the tropics and subtropics and conifers dominate in the far north. Which are dominant in your landscape? In the Pine Tree State, the distribution of conifers to deciduous trees is about 50/50.

That matters even if the trees in your painting are not much more than silhouettes, because different types of trees have different shapes and traps (sky-holes).

Old Bones, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

For broadleaf trees, the most important distinguishing characteristic is the branching pattern, which defines the shape of its canopy. Silver maples are large trees with open, vase-like canopies. Oaks have large spreading crowns; beeches have similar crowns that appear to have melted. Most broadleaf trees branch alternately but maple, ash, dogwood and horse chestnut branch in opposite pairs. Here’s a tip: whatever pattern the twigs have, the major branches will also have.

Watercolor study of the branching pattern of a live oak, which can seem pretty inscrutable to a Northerner.

Pines have fewer branches than spruces or firs, and their branches grow in circular whorls on the trunk. As they age, they develop an open, jagged canopy. Spruce branches grow in an upturned direction; as youngsters, they look the most like ‘Christmas trees’. In their dotage, they turn a fine, weathered figure to the wind. Firs have wide lower branches and a downcast mien. Notably, their cones point upward.

The beginning artist usually errs in drawing trees in two dimensions, as if they only branched on two sides. In fact, there will be branches coming straight at you and straight away. Perspective is muddied by the diminishing size of branches as they arc toward you. The only solution is to draw carefuly and check angles.

Conifers are most easily identified by their needles. Pine needles grow in clusters of two, (red pines), three (yellow pines), or five (white pines), held onto the stem with a tiny papery wrapper. Spruce needles are short, stiff and grow individually from twigs. Fir needles are soft and flat. Cedars have flat, scale-like leaves and stringy bark. Junipers (including, confusingly, the Eastern Red Cedar) have berrylike, bluish cones on the tips of their shoots.

Many people can identify the common broadleaf trees by their leaves, and I’ve included a chart to help you. It’s more important to see and understand the differences in color. Silver maples have a lovely grey-silver color. Sycamores are garbed in military-fatigue green. Black spruces are dark while Eastern White Pines are fair and soft in their coloring. This is why I discourage my students from using tube greens and encourage them, instead, to mix a matrix of green colors.

The sycamore is a successful urban tree because it’s pollution-resistant. It has peeling, multicolored bark. Maples are grey and deeply grooved in maturity. Oak bark is dark. Cherry has a lovely red, shiny bark in its youth, but becomes furrowed and grey with age, like most of the rest of us. Only beeches maintain their smooth skin into great old age.

Spruces and pines on the Barnum Brook Trail, by Carol L. Douglas

Too often, we painters ignore young trees. Young trees often look radically different from their aged ancestors, but they have a beauty of their own.

To be a convincing painter, you don’t need to memorize tree species, but you do need to learn to distinguish between them. Any plausible landscape will contain a variety of them, with different bark, branch structures, and leaf colors.

Happy Friday the 13th!

We’re painting at Goodwood Plantation today. It has more than enough history, mystery and tragedy for any creepy holiday.

Goodwood Plantation, by Natalia Andreeva

In 1837, Hardy B. Croom, his wife, three children and maternal aunt perished on a steamship in a hurricane on the Outer Banks. Croom left no will; that created a legal mess that took twenty years to untangle. Croom’s business partner was his brother, Bryan Croom. Bryan assumed that, as the closest male heir to his brother, he automatically netted the spoils. 

His former sister-in-law, however, had left behind a mother and other relatives. Contrary to modern belief, 19th century women did have some property rights, at least in North Carolina, which the courts determined was the Hardy Croom family’s legal residence. At first, Mrs. Smith meekly asked Bryan Croom for some compensation. Croom refused. She went to court; twenty years later, she prevailed. Much of the estate reverted to her.

Awful wreck of the Steam Packet Home: on her passage from New York to Charleston, hand-colored lithograph, showing the wreck in October 1837 during the Racer’s hurricane. The entire Croom family perished.

The property was by then known as Goodwood Plantation. Hardy Croom had started a modest frame house on the site, but it was primarily a working cotton plantation. Bryan Croom had built a 10,000 square foot antebellum mansion. Mrs. Smith, having no interest in moving to the Florida panhandle, sold the whole kit-and-caboodle. It was purchased by a transplanted New Yorker, Arvah Hopkins. He and his wife paid an eye-watering $52,862 for the estate, 1576 acres of land and 41 slaves.

Hopkins had settled in Tallahassee as a young man. He must have done well at a young age, because he married the daughter of Florida’s last territorial governor and took his place among Tallahassee’s elite. The Hopkins family brought Goodwood to its peak as a slave-holding estate. Ultimately the Hopkins family farmed 8,000 acres of non-contiguous land on the backs of 200 slaves. Sadly, almost nothing of their history was recorded.

The Civil War changed the labels and little else. Former slaves were now known as tenant farmers or sharecroppers. Goodwood carried on.

Mrs. Tiers’ watertower and other outbuildings.

In 1885, the estate was sold to Fannie Tiers. Although she spent only a few months a year in the Deep South, Mrs. Tiers remodeled and renovated the house and outbuildings to her own New Jersey taste. It became less antebellum and more Mount Vernon. She added a water tower, an amusement hall, guest cottages, servant quarters, a heated swimming pool, tennis courts and a carriage house. All of these cluster around the elegant old main house like importunate chicks around a hen.

The plantation that once supported Goodwood is long-gone; it’s surrounded now by the very modern campus of Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Still, it is elegant, quiet and graceful under its canopy of ancient live oaks.

I added the shack to give some structure to yesterday’s demo painting, but I suppose the long-lost sharecroppers’ cottages probably looked more or less like this.

We’re painting there today, in our last class of my Find Your Authentic Voice in Plein Air workshop. It’s Friday the 13th, which somehow seems fitting. Goodwood has more than enough history, mystery and tragedy for any creepy date.

Incidentally, the only other Friday the 13th in 2020 was in March. That was the start of our ill-fated trip to Argentina, which was, coincidentally, where I met Natalia Andreeva. It’s a good thing I’m not superstitious.

Natalia, by the way, has continued to make videos of our workshop. I’ve put the most recent above; the rest can be seen here.

Monday Morning Art School: overcoming barriers to learning

“I wish I could paint, but…” What’s standing in your way?

Breaking Storm, by Carol L. Douglas, available through Folly Cove Fine Art.

Yesterday, our pastor listed these five common barriers to adult learning:

  • Lack of time
  • Lack of balance (juggling commitments)
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Lack of a supportive community

Lack of time is especially true of young parents and people starting in their careers. Having once been there myself, I empathize. But before you give up, consider how much time you spend on sports, social media, television, or shopping.

The Dooryard, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

We all start with exactly the same number of hours, but we choose to use them in different ways. If you are passionate about art, you can draw even when it’s impossible to get out the easel and paint. If you can’t commit to a class, buy a book. If you want to sing, spend ten minutes a day practicing scales, or sing while you drive. At the end of a year, you’ll still be one year older, but you’ll have something to show for it.

That segues neatly into the question of balance. In my thirties and forties, I was an overly-avid volunteer. Looking back on it, I would have been more helpful to society if I’d just concentrated on painting. There are other people who are just as out of whack about their careers or their kids’ sports.

The ability to waste time is a healthy trait of the young, and it is closely tied to mental flexibility. We have to practice it, or we lose it. If you can’t stand change, ask yourself why—and then do something about it. Your ability as a lifelong learner depends on it.

Sunset sail, by Carol L. Douglas, available through Folly Cove Fine Art.

You might think motivation is never an issue for artists, but inspiration ebbs and flows there as in everything else. Counterintuitively, creativity and flexibility work best if they’re on a stable framework. I keep a routine and schedule so that my body and mind are ready to start work at the same time every day. The details of my studio time are less important than that I was there. Decide on how much time you can commit to learning your new skill, and then stick to that, even if it’s only ten minutes a day.

Community is underrated in our atomized modern society. It provides mutual support, new ideas and happiness. Kids naturally have this (when they’re in school). But adult learners need community as well. One of the things I love about plein air painting is the community of fellow artists.

Bend in the Road, by Carol L. Douglas, available. And, yes, the theme of all these paintings is aloneness.

I am a synthetic learner—I never have new ideas; I just recast what I hear and see in different ways. Other people are my primary resource. Having taught for many years, I think this is quite common. It’s very rare for humans to achieve greatness in isolation.

I’m doing a FREE Zoom workshop on Friday, October 2 at 5 PM. Consider it Happy Hour, and join me with a glass of wine, a spritzer, or whatever else. We’re going to talk about studying painting. What should students expect to get from a workshop or class? What should teachers offer? Have you always wanted to try painting but been afraid of classes? Are you taking classes but want to get more out of them? Join us for a free-ranging discussion.

While this is in advance of my Find your Authentic Voice in Plein Air workshop in November in Tallahassee, everyone is welcome. There’s absolutely no charge or obligation. Signups are already brisk, so register soon!

Big Rollers

I’ve been checking the weather all week, trying to decide whether my super-large canvas will go airborne.

Heavy weather, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvas, available.

I’m in a Big Roller mood this week. No, I’m not talking about straightening my hair, but about the long, slow waves that come in from the open ocean. Their stateliness, power, and rhythm are compelling painting subjects, and I plan to tackle them at Cape Elizabeth Paint for Preservation starting Friday.

Before that, I’m teaching my weekly plein air class. We’ll be painting rollers at the iconic Marshall Point light at Port Clyde. I’ve asked my students to study the Maine paintings of Winslow Homer beforehand. He uses strong diagonals to draw us in to his tempestuous seas. I want them to concentrate on design, nor just on the froth on the rocks.

I’ll head south to Portland after class, so I’m packing today.

Cape Elizabeth Cliffs, by Carol L. Douglas

I’ve been nervously checking my phone all week, although weather forecasts are notoriously unreliable here on the coast. Will it be clear enough for me to bring the massive 48” square canvas I made, or should I downsize to 36X40? I’m watching the wind dancing through the trees, as if I have a clue what that means. I do know that these gusts will send a large canvas airborne, even on the sturdiest of easels.

Bobbi Heath points out that days are two hours shorter this week than they are in July, when this event is normally scheduled. It’s a good point, because I’ll need every minute of daylight to finish.

This week’s unsettled weather brought much-needed rain, but it’s also meant thunderstorms and wind. If the forecast for Saturday is right, I’m going to need a rain shelter. I’m stopping in Boothbay Harbor to borrow a pop-up tent from my Sea & Sky workshop monitor Jennifer Johnson. I’ll need large rocks to hold it down. Luckily, they have an almost infinite supply in Cape Elizabeth, so I don’t have to pack my own.

Four Ducks, by Carol L. Douglas

The weather will influence my composition. I like to paint rocks and surf from a high vantage point, but that’s also the most exposed place. If I need shelter, I’ll be down on the shingle, where the tent can be anchored.

Bobbi is graciously providing me with a bed. That’s been the sticking point for most plein air events this year, and why so many have been cancelled. Normally, communities provide housing for artists, but nobody wants strangers in their homes right now. I usually stay with Bobbi anyway, so this hasn’t affected me, but other artists have scrambled.

Le Pipi Rustique is a gender-biased activity if there ever was one. Women can’t pee discreetly behind a boulder as our male counterparts do. I’ve tried not drinking much water, but that’s dangerous. Leaving our setup to drive to a restroom is risky, especially in heavy weather.

Often a neighbor will offer us the use of a powder room, but I doubt that will happen this year. My health-care provider has refused to catheterize me. So, I’m packing my porta-potty and its little tent.

Add to that a cooler and lunches, and the oversize brushes and easel I need, and I’ve got more stuff than my poor little Prius will hold. So, if you’re looking for me, I’ll be driving a black RAV4 instead. I’ll be at Zeb Cove, along with Marsha Donahue. Just set your GPS for Zeb Cove Road, Cape Elizabeth, ME.