Come see me on Sunday at Open Studio Day

Gallery, studios, music, ice cream, a beautiful lake—and it’s all free!
Clif Travers works on his great tree for long hours every day. I help him along by constantly asking, “Are you finished?”

 I’ve been at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center at Rolling Acres Farm this month. This Sunday (September 30th) I get to show you what I’ve been doing. You, the public, are invited to Open Studio Day, from noon to 3. Stop and see what we’ve accomplished.

Our resident gardener, Rachel Alexandrou, will offer hourly tours of the Center’s garden. Rachel has odd ideas about what a Maine garden can support. She grew red cotton, cardoon, artichokes, amaranth, and tiny black grape tomatoes in a small riot of color. When Rachel isn’t gardening, drawing, or taking photographs, she’s entertaining us with mournful songs on her ukulele. However, she’s a bubbly person, so they’re frequently interrupted with peals of laughter.
Rachel Alexandrou is outstanding in her field. (Courtesy Maine Farmland Trust)
Clif Travers has made himself an enormous tree of recycled tree products. He’s now painting it in oils, a highly-detailed process. On first read, it’s stained-glass, reminiscent of hours spent in church as a child. But his tree is oddly anthropomorphic, standing protectively over creation. In a nod to Renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, many of its parts are made of vegetables. Certain viewers, however, have insisted they’ve seen a hot dog, lamb chop, and other meat products. It is, as far as I can see, totally gluten-free.
Each morning, I’ve met Heather Lyon creeping out of the house at dawn, heading down through the fields to the lake. There, she’s shot beautiful footage of herself in various interactions with water. Wearing a $6 reflective survival poncho she bought at Renys, she was transformed into a beautiful, otherworldly creature. Heather also chilled herself and a collaborator in the very cold waters off Pemaquid Point for the sake of swift-moving footage with seaweed and a crab or two.
Heather Lyon in her studio. (Courtesy Maine Farmland Trust)
I came here with a high-minded idea of painting the confluence between man, water and the land. In reality, I ended up thrashing around between watercolor on Yupo and oil painting. I alternated media every day, painting each subject first in oils, then in watercolor. After a month of this, I can say with certainty only that my brain hurts.
The Gallery here is showing Nature Observed: The Landscapes of Joseph Fiore, with oil and pastel paintings by the late artist and environmentalist. These paintings have influenced my thinking all month. If you practice or love plein air painting, you should come by just to study them.
Damariscotta Lake, by Carol L. Douglas, watercolor on Yupo.
There will be live music on the lawn by jazz trio The Extension Chords, with Myles Kelley on piano, Katherine Bowen on bass and Owen Markowitz on drums. Coffee, tea and local ice cream will be served.
The Joseph A. Fiore Art Center at Rolling Acres Farm is a program of Maine Farmland Trust. Its mission is to actively connect the creative worlds of farming and art making. The Center’s purpose is to continue and evolve the dialogue between human and environment within the context of our current culture and time.
My own studio is more of a repository than a workspace. As usual, I’m working out of my Prius.
It’s located on Damariscotta Lake at 152 Punk Point Road in Jefferson. Bring a picnic and enjoy the Center’s grounds for the day.
MFT also runs MFT Gallery, at 97 Main Street, Belfast. It is open Monday through Friday from 9 to 4. On Fourth Friday Art Walks, it is open until 8pm.
Maine Farmland Trust is a statewide, member-powered nonprofit working to protect farmland, support farmers, and advance farming. Maine Farmland Trust created its gallery to celebrate agriculture through art, and to inspire and inform the public about farming in Maine.

Rachel’s garden

One of the great virtues of old age is knowing that small problems are transient. So is bad painting.
Rachel’s Garden, by Carol L. Douglas. Watercolor on Yupo, full sheet.
Plein air events require that you churn out paintings despite the weather. The caterers, the hall, the advertising and the auctioneer cannot be easily rescheduled. The wet, whipping show must go on. I’m not doing an event, but my goal for this residency is to paint outdoors despite the weather.
September can be the worst month for this, because it’s hurricane season along the Atlantic coast. We aren’t in as much danger here in Maine, but we often get the sloppy dregs of other people’s storms.
Neither Monday nor Tuesday were good painting days. On Monday, there were cutting winds, compensated in part by a dull pink sky that hung around all morning. Tuesday, it simply poured.
Yesterday (9/11) was a national day of mourning that I was determined to avoid. It’s also the anniversary of my mother’s death four years ago. Here at Rolling Acres Farm, I’m surrounded by young people and creative ferment. I was grateful for that.
Painting with Rachel Alexandrou in the rain. Photo courtesy Rachel Alexandrou and Maine Farmland Trust.
The barn here is built on the standard New England plan: hayloft above and animals below. My parents owned such a barn for fifty years, so I am as familiar with this model as I am with the lines in my own face. Perhaps there was a painting of gentle remembrance in the undercroft’s murky light. No luck; it is filled with the timbers from the original loft.
Rachel Alexandrou is the resident gardener here. Her garden is very different from the ordered rows of my youth. It’s beautiful and productive, but also very unstructured. It would have been easier to paint a slice of it up close, but that wasn’t possible in a pouring rain. Besides, I was in no mood to “keep it simple,” as a sensible painter would.
My childhood home, from History of Niagara County, N.Y.,1878, by Sanford & Company.
The garden is bracketed by a dead sapling and a Black Walnut. This tree is common in America’s heartland; a massive one was already middle-aged in my parents’ lawn when their house was drawn in 1878. It was still there when the house was sold three years ago. While Black Walnuts are valuable timber trees, they’re also allelopathic; meaning they kill any young plants trying to get a footing near them. The one at Rolling Acres Farm is the first I’ve seen in Maine, but I didn’t want to paint it. I find them threatening.
That same black walnut in 2010.
I set up under a porte-cochèrethat connects the house and barn. Rachel has been experimenting with making Black Walnut ink, so she joined me.
The mist and rain came close to defeating us. I was further hampered by not being able to find my palette. The Maine Farmland Trust is dedicated to environmental stewardship, so there are no plastic plates. I used a paper one for a palette, not too successfully.
Rolling Acres Farm (unfinished) by Carol L. Douglas, was painted Monday.
I quit as dusk neared. It was then that I noticed I had a very soft tire. My car just isn’t up to the rocky tracks I’ve been subjecting it to. A slow drive into Damariscotta and an air compressor, and I could head back to Clary Hill to see if I’d dropped my palette there. I scouted along the lane to no avail. Walking back, I realized I have a marker light out in my car.
My temporary palette. Ouch.
One of the great virtues of old age is knowing that small problems are transient. So is bad painting. Today or tomorrow, it will all be fine again.

Dancing in the rain

If I knew what would happen, I wouldn’t bother trying.
The float, by Carol L. Douglas. Same subject as yesterday.
Today is my 38th wedding anniversary; Wednesday was my granddaughter’s third birthday. I knew I’d miss these milestone events when I signed up for this residency, but had convinced myself that in the world of Skype and Snapchat, physical presence didn’t matter. It does.
I’m reminded that my grandmother came to this country expecting to never see her homeland or family again. Despite our national myths of intrepid independence, we are a nation built on homesickness.
Even the umbrella can’t save this painting from the rain.
My intention in this residency is two-fold: to explore the intersection of water, land and mankind, and to do some really big plein air landscapes in oils and watercolor. In the world of art, oil and water definitely do not mix; together they can create an archival disaster. So, being a concrete thinker, I plan to alternate them. Wednesday was an oil-painting day, Thursday was a watercolor day.
Rachel Alexandrou, the gardener-in-residence here, told me it would rain at 12:30. She was accurate to the minute. I hunkered down in my car, my salad on my lap, and watched the storm cross Damariscotta Lake. Excess humidity of any kind is tough on conventional watercolor paper. It turns out that it’s not good for Yupo, either.
A droopy, dreary day from within my car.
Yupo is a synthetic plastic substrate: cool, slick and contemporary. It’s the antithesis of organic. I like the way it takes watercolor, and its luminosity. However, it can be a jerk on a wet day. Water pools on the surface, and the paint is much more inclined to granulate than it does on paper.
Combined with intermittent rain, this made for nasty clumps of dark particles floating on the surface. The culprit appears to be what I thought was quinacridone violet. That’s not possible; that color isn’t granular at all. I have an imposter on my palette. I wonder what it is.
I switched to a quinacridone gold by QoR; it is clearer and brighter than whatever was on my palette.
I expected technical problems this first day, and I got them. My full-sheet drawing board, improvised from a folding presentation board, is too large for my swivel head easel. I don’t have my large brushes; they’re still in England.
There is a subtle change that happens when you finally relax and paint. You stop fussing at your materials and start translating what you see. I did eventually get there, or almost there. I hashed out a painting that’s mediocre in its drawing, rather muddy in its color, but interesting in its scribing. The beauty of Yupo is that it makes watercolor behave like no other paint.
What’s the end goal of this see-saw rotation of materials? If I knew what would happen, I wouldn’t bother trying. In this sense, experimentation with artist’s materials is vastly unscientific. We simply mix things up and watch. One in a hundred times it works, and when that happens, it’s magical.