This afternoon, I’ll show Poppy Balser around my few miles of Maine coastline. It’s the best fun two artists can have.
Belfast lies at the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River. It is a city only in the organizational sense—it has about 6700 people this time of year. Its boom was in the early 19th century, and its mansions and brick-fronted commercial streets reflect that.
Belfast’s real charm to the painter lies in its exceptional harbor access via Harborwalk, which runs along a working boatyard out to the Armistice footbridge. From there, you can see its iconic red tugboats and look back on the harbor from the water side (courtesy of the footbridge).
Just south of Belfast is Bayside, founded as the Northport Wesleyan Grove Camp Meeting in 1848. At one time, it drew thousands of the faithful to its 30 acres of oceanfront. Today, it’s a sleepy hamlet of historic beachfront cottages, most built between 1870 and 1920. There are no services, no stores, and no stoplights.
Lincolnvilleis low to the ground, a beach fronting its main street, so it has the whiff of more southerly climes. My favorite place to paint here is the mouth of the Ducktrap River, which snakes into Penobscot Bay around a gravel bar.
Poppy will have seen Camden, one of the great summer colonies along the coast. It’s famous for its schooners and pleasure boats. Many of these will be wrapped for the season. But there’s always something to paint in this harbor.
Rockport Autumn Day, by Carol L. Douglas (private collection)
I don’t even need to go that far. Rockport’s fishing fleet is clustered in the mouth of our harbor, bounded by beautiful old buildings and a working boatyard. It’s one of the prettiest villages on the Maine coast.
The St. George Peninsula, however, is my favorite place to paint in this area. We can start at Owls Head, with its lighthouse and beautiful waterscapes in every direction. There’s a good angle on its fishing fleet from Lighthouse Road. Down the road is South Thomaston. The Weskeag River passes through it, changing character with the tide. From Spruce Head to Port Clyde, this peninsula has some of the best rocky shoreline south of Acadia. We might slip down to Clark Island, or over to Long Cove.
That represents slightly more than 40 miles of driving, but it’s enough to keep a painter busy for a lifetime. Consider, then, that the Maine coast is about 5000 miles long. All the landscape painters in America could come here and we’d never fully capture its infinite variety.
My plein air events for 2017 are all done. It’s time to consider how to improve things in 2018.
Full Stop, by Carol L. Douglas. Part of my self-analysis is to consider what paintings gave me the most joy to paint this summer. This is a small sample.
Mary Byrom asked me why I moved to Maine just to spend so much of my time on the road. It’s a good question, and one I take seriously as I plan for 2018.
Boston is a cork blocking Maine’s access to the rest of the country. I’ve been driving on I-90 for the better part of 40 years. This summer, traffic in eastern Massachusetts seemed particularly bad. Keeping that in mind, we timed our departure from Pittsfield to avoid the worst traffic on I-495. Instead, we sat for nearly an hour on the Masspike outside Worcester. It was a perfect bookend to our trip south eleven days earlier, when we rode the brakes all the way down I-84 to New York City.
Two Islands in the rain, by Carol L. Douglas
It felt wonderful to pull into our driveway. When I got out of my car in the far reaches of the night, there was the Milky Way, hanging directly over my head. It seemed as if I could have reached out a hand and scooped up diamonds.
I’ve spent the last month fighting a wicked bout of asthmatic bronchitis. That’s a dead giveaway that I need to cool my jets.
In the belly of the whale, by Carol L. Douglas. I got to spend a day looking at the guts of a scalloper. What could be better?
Years ago, the organizers of an invitational event told me that they did a three-year running average of sales for each artist. Each year, the bottom 25% of performers were cut from their roster. Friendship and sentiment were never considered. The lowest-performing artists were replaced with new people. By giving painters a pass for the first two years, the event gave new painters a chance to gain a foothold in the community
I’m thinking of doing a similar analysis on my own calendar. I want to spread my work out across a longer season. That means, sadly, cutting some mid-summer events.
Along Kiwassa Lake, by Carol L. Douglas. Is there anything more lake-camp than a clothesline strung along the shore?
However, I must consider distance, convenience, and opportunity costs. An event in New Jersey needs to yield a better return than one in Maine. If it provides housing for its artists, it is better than an event where I need a hotel. And any time I’m painting elsewhere, I’m not on the docks in Camden, which might well have a better return.
I’m not sure I can design a matrix that’s as brutally, beautifully simple as my friends at the art center’s, but I can still think this through objectively.
Penobscot Early Morning, by Carol L. Douglas. Painted from a friend’s deck while drinking coffee.
Another thing I’m considering for 2018 is creating a limited-liability corporation. I’ve never actually lost a painting student yet, and I’m insured, but why expose my family to the financial risk?
I am revisiting the question of online painting sales. I’ve pondered this repeatedly over the last five years. The recurring nature of the question tells me that online marketing isn’t going away. It’s not a question of if, but when. The changeover isn’t going to be easy; it means enabling e-commerce on my website, changing my marketing strategy, and—most importantly—changing the way I think about selling paintings. But it’s our current reality.
That high-level thinking will all wait, though. Today, I’m going to just read the mail and water my tomatoes. I’ll go collect my car from the garage and stop at the post office and the library. Perhaps I’ll walk down to the harbor and see what beautiful boats have floated in. It’s a glorious time of year in the Northeast and I aim to enjoy it.
This reclusive artist never showed his work during his lifetime. It’s worth seeing now.
Untitled, by Erik Lundin. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.
On my way out of town last week, I stopped at the Kelpie Gallery in South Thomaston to see a retrospective exhibition of the works of Erik Lundin. For 45 years, Lundin shuffled between Rockland, Maine and Madrid, Spain. His work has never been shown before.
Lundin received an MA in English Literature from Ohio University and taught English Literature for ten years at Lake Superior State College in Michigan. Eventually, he relocated, spending half the year in Madrid and half in Thomaston, Maine. Lundin then spent the next 45 years painting geodynamic landscapes of Maine, the clay cliffs of Guadalaraja, the Seven Peaks of Cercedilla and the Ontigona Sea of Aranjuez. In 2000, Dr. Antonio Dominguez Rey reproduced a waxing by the artist in his magazine of poetry and poetics, Serta (volume 5). Lundin was also an accomplished pianist.
Untitled, by Erik Lundin. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.
“Lundin surrounded himself with creative and academic friends while living in Spain, yet kept very much to himself while in Maine,” said the Kelpie Gallery’s Susan Lewis Baines. “A true academic and artist, his work is both cerebral and esthetically pleasing. Many of his paintings successfully show the struggle of being two persons in one, the socialite and the recluse.”
Untitled, by Erik Lundin. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.
The paintings on display at The Kelpie Gallery span Lundin’s entire creative life. How he could be an extrovert in Madrid and a loner in Rockport, and why he felt the need to alternate between both existences, is a mystery now shrouded in time. But his social bifurcation is not the only dichotomy in his work.
Untitled (balistraria), by Erik Lundin. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.
His paintings were strongly influenced by Spanish Cubism and Spanish subjects, including the balistraria (arrow slits) of medieval fortresses. Meanwhile, his other self was deeply engaged in painting the granite coast of Maine, particularly the rocks at Pemaquid. While most of his work studies the architecture of natural forms, the collection also includes some traditionally-rendered, sensitive portraits of friends and a lover.
Untitled, by Erik Lundin. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.
Because he wasn’t interested in showing and selling his work, Lundin had the latitude to explore ideas. He did so extensively. For example, the collection includes several composite boards with postcard-sized sketches. Each board explores a single theme.
Lundin’s color sense was particularly strong. He used strong chromatic contrasts in lieu of the neutrals we typically associate with the granite coast.
Untitled, by Erik Lundin. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.
Sales of Lundin’s paintings will benefit end-of-life care at the Sussman House, a seven-bed hospice in Rockport. The Sussman House provides seven-day-a-week/24-hours-a-day compassionate care, pain management, and skilled nursing for patients whose symptoms cannot be managed at home. While the show has officially closed, the works can be viewed by appointment at the Kelpie Gallery.
Color, light, and composition for outdoor painters
Carol L. Douglas
394 Commercial Street, Rockport
Starting April 4, 2017
10-1 AM Tuesdays, six week session
Last month two friends took me to lunch at the Waterfront restaurant in Camden. As a bitter wind piled clouds high above the islands of Penobscot Bay, they put a question to me. “When will you stop slacking and start teaching weekly classes again?”
They’re right. My trip to Canada had stretched into the holidays, which had then become a trip to the Bahamas. I’ve been working hard, but not teaching.
They nailed me down to a commitment. Our next cycle of classes starts on Tuesday, April 4. That will be from 10-1 AM, in my studio at 394 Commercial Street, Rockport. If you’re interested, there are more details available on my website, here.
The goal is intensive, one-on-one instruction that you can take back to your studio to apply during the rest of the week. We’ll cover issues like design, composition, and paint handling. We will learn how to mix and paint with clean color, and how to get paint on the canvas with a minimum of fuss.
And, yes, we’ll talk about drawing. If you ever want to paint anything more complicated than marshes, you must know how to draw. As I’ve demonstrated before, any person of normal intelligence can draw; it’s a technique, not a talent. And it’s easy to learn, no matter what you’ve been led to believe.
Painting by student Jennifer Jones
We’ll start in my studio, but on pleasant days, we’ll paint at outdoor locations. Painting outdoors, from life, is the most challenging and instructive exercise in all of art. It teaches you about light, color and composition.
That, of course, limits the media you work in to oils, watercolor, acrylics, or pastel, since they’re what is suitable to outdoor painting.
Years ago, a friend kept asking me to give painting lessons. “I don’t know how to do that,” I’d answer. We went round and round for several years. Eventually, I caved. Three people signed up. I figured I’d teach one session and they’d realize I was clueless. My studio was on the third floor. I was the model and the instructor and I kept hitting my head on the ceiling as I moved around the room.
Turns out, I wasn’t actually that bad. From there I moved into a nicer room above the garage and enlarged my teaching practice. I started teaching workshops and concentrating on plein air instruction, since that’s what I love best. When I left Rochester, I left a large circle of students behind. You can see a small sample of their work here. One of my great joys is that they formed a group, Greater Rochester Plein Air Painters, and continue to paint together.
“You used to teach on Saturdays,” a student recently pointed out. That’s true, I realize. If you want to study with me but work during the week, let me know. If I have three people interested, I’ll offer a weekend class.
My students, painting the beautiful view from Camden Hills State Park.
You never know what you’re going to learn at the grocery store. Sunday, we ran into a neighbor at Shaw’s. He not only pointed out a coupon we’d missed, but he also told us that his fireplace and chimney were built by Hans O. Heistad, who was the landscape architect who built Beech Nut on top of Beech Hill in Rockport. It’s one of my favorite day walks, but I’d never spared a thought about its history.
Beech Hill is a blueberry barren owned and maintained by the Coastal Mountains Land Trust. At its top, 500 feet above sea level sits a peculiar, lovely stone structure called Beech Nut. It was designed and built in 1917 by Heistad as a picnic hut for a local estate. It affords a fantastic view of Penobscot Bay and the Camden Hills.
Beech Nut at dusk.
A long carriage drive curves up the hilltop. It is designed to slowly reveal the scenic panorama as you climb. At the top, Beech Nut stands a little behind the path. A squat and sturdy stone building, it hints at Heistad’s Norwegian heritage with its sod roof and deep porch.
Heistad also designed the interior furnishings, none of which have survived. The site was rehabilitated and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
Hans Heistad was born in Brevik, Norway. He studied landscape gardening and horticulture there and in Denmark and worked in Germany before immigrating to the United States in 1905. Employed by the Olmsted Brothers, he came to Maine to work at Chatwold, the Pulitzer estate in Bar Harbor.
Heistad worked on numerous private estates in Camden and Rockport . When the Depression caused private money to dry up, he began working in the public sector. He worked as staff landscape architect to develop Camden Hills State Park as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project.
Camden Hills was a fortuitous meshing of Heistad’s own style and the prevailing ethos of park developers. Heistad liked working with native plants and local stone. At the same time, park services were instructing their employees to respect their sites’ natural character and use local materials and construction techniques. Heistad was primarily responsible for developing the fifty acres along the oceanfront to be accessible to the public. To this end, his CCC workers cleared brush and built roads and structures.
The next time I take someone for a walk up Beech Hill, I’ll know a little more about its history.
I met Brad Marshall years ago, when I was active in New York Plein Air Painters. We tried to hold a meet-and-greet in a Czech beer garden in Astoria, but we were washed out by a crashing thunderstorm. In those days, I lived in Rochester, had a crash-pad on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, and spent too much time breaking traffic laws between those two places.
Brad and his wife, Kathy, are here to paint this week. Although they are both thoroughly-assimilated New Yorkers, Kathy actually comes from good French-Canadian Aroostook County stock. I know her as a woman who can sniff out a designer bargain in seconds, but she really does know this country well.
“Boats in Rockport Harbor,” by Brad Marshall.
People from New York City and people from Maine are both intrepid, but in different ways. It takes nerve and knowledge to throw oneself across the platform into an overloaded subway car, or to suss out the best routes on the Manhattan Transit Authority’s 660 miles of track. It takes equal nerve to hike down a granite cliff or take your small boat out into that vast ocean. Each place has its own specialized footwear, however.
Yesterday I took Brad and Kathy to two favorite painting spots: Beauchamp Pointand Rockport Harbor. I paint or linger in both places frequently. It was interesting to see them through the eyes of visitors.
Brad and I painted while Kathy read and watched birds through her field glasses.
People always talk to me when I’m painting. Yesterday, a number of them asked us how-to questions. Brad and I answered differently, because we do many things differently: sketching and composition, canvas toning, palette, solvent, brush care. There are fundamental rules to each medium, but how they’re followed can take many different forms. This is why, as a teacher, I try to explainwhy I do what I do. Understand the question, and you have a full range of possible answers.
We ate lunch at the harbor. It took a long time in arriving, something I no longer even notice. Yes, things move more slowly in Maine than in New York. This is, after all, Vacationland. What’s the hurry?
It was a perfect day to paint. (Photo courtesy of Brad Marshall)
“Why would you want to be in the City when you can be here?” I asked Brad and Kathy, with all the enthusiasm of the recent convert.
“Pizza, the theatre, galleries, shopping, medical care, convenience…” they started.
“No granite canyons, no panhandlers on the subway, no smell of car exhaust or garbage, and no rats scampering along the streets in the early morning light,” I countered. There are many things I don’t miss about urban life.
I used to call New York “the center of the known world.” I no longer feel that way, but it’s nice to know it chugs along unchanged, and that my friends are still there whenever I want to go back to visit.
My demo painting. Not inspired or finished, but by the time we were done, everyone had done all the steps.
I hate whole-class demonstrations, mostly because I hate watching them myself. Nevertheless, some processes require step-by-step instruction, and I try to sneak them in where possible.
With oil paint, you can set your easel up like a lectern in front of a group. With watercolor, particularly used as a field sketching medium, it’s not that simple. The work needs to be angled nearly flat, which makes watching the process more difficult.
Even in Vacationland painting classes fade away in August. People have things to do. Yesterday I was down to two students. Both are in the early stages. It was the perfect time to go over the basics of watercolor.
My idea was similar to those paint and sip events that are so popular right now. Being mid-morning, there was no wine. (Of course, there is no real relationship between drinking and art, any more so than there is between drinking and engineering.) Furthermore, I didn’t give them a canned subject; we would choose a general area in which to work and they could frame it as they wanted.
Come to Maine to paint. The conditions are strenuous, but you will learn a lot.
We did each step in unison. First we chose subjects, then we did a value study, then we cropped our studies. We transferred our drawing to paper, did washes, built in darks.
At no time did we proceed to the next step before all three of us had finished with the prior one. That has a curious way of messing with your concentration.
For a while, a school of mackerel swirled in the water at our feet, snapping at something on the surface. A large gull dove into it, coming up empty-beaked. Come to Maine to learn to paint; it’s never boring.
My polarized sunglasses let me watch this column of fish swirling in the water, but my camera could only photograph the surface.
We ran out of time long before we were finished, but we’d reviewed all the principles, including that a good painting takes a long time. Whatever the medium is, that’s universally true.
Our subject was simple and pedestrian, and eventually was obliterated by the arrival of lobster boats back from their morning’s work. None of us painted anything brilliant. But we established the order of operations for watercolor, which is so radically different from painting with oil. We were able to discuss brushes and technique in detail.
After class, I walked to the post office to get my mail. I remarked to my husband that teaching two students always requires more concentration than teaching six. I think all three of us learned a lot.
My studio. Clifford doesn’t stay here but I have to remove some doors before he can be moved. Wish you were here.
Since Friday, I’ve loaded half my earthly belongings on a 16’ rental truck, hooked my Prius up to it on a trailer, driven a gazillion miles, unloaded the truck and trailer and returned it to a rental center in Waterville, ME. It’s no surprise I’m moving slowly this morning.
The only way to live like a vagabond is to organize the hell out of your life, and that’s what I usually do. When you’re 25 and moving into your first home, you have a strong back and lots of young friends. When you’re my age, you have a weak back and you realize, sadly, that your friends are all in the same boat.
My business life, still shrink-wrapped.
But I have a husband and children, and they have friends, and the combination got that truck loaded and out of Rochester. The problem was on the Maine side, where it was down to me and a crusty old codger who busted up his back as a stone mason. It took us five hours of brutal hard work to get the heavy stuff off the truck and into either the studio or the garage.
That’s my modem and router. I decided I needed coffee before I got it working, which is why this is late. Coffee, food, internet: McDonald’s.
When I suggested he ride to Waterville with me to turn in the truck, he told me he was going home and taking a nap instead. “You can’t get they-ah from he-ah,” he told me in his broadest Maine accent.
This, my friends, is about a thousand pounds of paper and steel. Unloaded by the crusty old codger and me. Youth and talent are no match for old age and treachery.
I can’t back the Prius off the trailer without a spotter. It was a Sunday, the rental place was locked up tight, and the only people around were hanging out the windows of the bar across the street.
“Just gun it and pray like mad,” my friend had suggested as he drove away.
I sloshed around in the mud, disconnected my car, pulled out the ramps, checked to make sure everything was neat. As I was about to take a deep breath and follow his advice, an old beater driven by a young gearhead pulled into the lot.
It’s a darn good thing I pulled out my stuff for Olana before I left Rochester.
“You work here?” I asked him. Well, he didn’t, not exactly, but he guided me off the ramp anyway.
‘Lean less on your own understanding and more on God’s provision’ is something I give lip service to, but am not very good at. But, boy, it’s nice when it works.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.
The next home of my studio is a classic Maine farmhouse.
Yesterday I wrote about Maine’s prettiest villages. I’ve worked in many of them, but the bulk of my perambulations have been centered in Camden (#1), Rockport, (#6), Damariscotta (#3) and the villages and hamlets between them. This stretch of coast has open ocean breaking on rocky outcroppings, graceful harbors, and bucolic pastoral moments, all within a few miles of the amenities on US 1.
I love painting in Camden because I love the passing parade. (Photo courtesy of Howard Gallagher of Camden Falls Gallery.)
The problem has been in finding a central location from which to work and teach. Yesterday I solved that problem by buying a building in Rockport.
Sails drying in the sun, by Carol L. Douglas.
This being Maine, we are only the third owner of this 115-year-old Maine farmhouse. We bought it for its large, light painting studio. But we also like its cozy, classic informality. It reminds me of the tourist cabins of the Maine of my youth. The prior owners have taken meticulous care of it, and I am grateful for the chance to be its next guardian.
This sunroom is going to be my Maine teaching studio.
Camden harbor is my favorite place to paint. I enjoy the passing parade as much as I like the boats. Last summer I tried every day to make it to the public dock in time for sunrise. I was staying in a snug little cabin in Waldoboro and I have to admit, I seldom succeeded. My new studio is about a mile down the road. I bet I’ll even have time for a second cup of coffee.
Main Street, Camden, by Carol L. Douglas.
Starting on June 1, I’ll be hanging out my shingle at 394 Commercial Street, Rockport (well, as soon as I design a shingle, that is). However, my 2015 workshop will be at Acadia’s Schoodic Institute, which is a whole different kind of beautiful—wild landscapes, bigger seas, and definitely ‘the one less traveled by.’ There are just three openings left, so if you’re interested, you should probably register sooner than later. Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.
Can’t quite cope with that diagonal bisecting the picture, but I’ll try again.
When I do a drawing like this, I try to remind myself that even failures are not a waste of time, because one needs to pass through the problem to arrive at the solution.
How I managed to convert the lovely diagonal arrow in my sketch into the overwhelming bisecting diagonal in my drawing, I don’t know. But this is the most difficult of the sketches on my list, and I will repeat it tomorrow and wrestle it into submission.
It worked so much better in the sketch.
Midcoast Maine is full of limestone deposits, probably laid down as seashells. When limestone is burned, the carbon-dioxide burns off and quicklime is left. This is an enormously useful material, used to make plaster, paper, mortar, concrete, fertilizer, leather, glue, paint, and glass.
By 1828, there were 60 lime kilns in Midcoast Maine. By the Civil War, the region was producing more than a million casks of lime a year. It helped that Midcoast Maine is heavily forested, fueling the kilns and building the casks used to move the lime to market.
Quicklime had one big problem for the age of wooden ships: if it gets wet it catches on fire.
The master needed a keen sense of smell. The odor of lime being slaked by water was an ominous danger signal… Every crack and crevice through which air might get into the hold and the doors, ports, and smokestack were quickly sealed with plaster made from the lime. Then the craft was headed for the nearest harbor and anchored some distance from the shore and away from other vessels. For at any time she might burst into flames. The schooner was stripped of all movables and the captain and crew sat down to await developments. Sometimes three months would go by before their patience was rewarded and the vessel saved. If, however, the fire could not be smothered, the vessel was towed to some secluded place and scuttled.(W.H. Rowe, The Maritime History of Maine)
Lime tailings on the Goose River at Rockport, ME
A devastating fire in 1907 put the final spoke in Rockport’s lime industry, but the ruined lime kilns are still there. More than a hundred years later, great piles of lime tailings are still visible along the banks of the Goose River. Nature slowly attempts to cover this wound, but it is a slow process.
Uninterested as I was in wading across the Goose River or trespassing on private property, I was unable to photograph the lime tailings at an easy angle for drawing. But I think adjusting that diagonal will suffice to fix compositional problem, and the painting will work just fine.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!