For the past four years, the third Wednesday in July has been the longest day in my calendar year. This year was no exception. It started at 6 AM, when I started writing for this blog. At 8 AM, I’d breakfasted and was in the field painting for the last day of Ocean Park’s Art in the Park. I finished at 1 PM, arranged my display and then set up my tools for Castine Plein Air(which starts this morning). From there, I returned to my host’s home, where I showered and dressed in respectable clothes. Then I packed my car. The reception ended at 7:30; at 7:42 I was pulling out of my parking spot. I did not even stop to eat.
I’ve driven into Castine when it lay enchanting under a full moon, and through dense coastal fog. Last night, a crescent moon hung low in the sky. “Midnight blue” is not advertising jargon; it’s the real color of the sky when there’s no ambient light and the stars seem to quiver in the night sky. It was beautiful but also very, very late when my friend Harry welcomed me back to his home.
Laundry, by Christine Tullson Matthieu
Recently a reader asked, “How do you stay awake for those long drives?” I find that singing is the best cure for sleepiness, so I do it loudly and enthusiastically. In fact, I sing so much that I’ve decided to form a NeedtoBreathe cover band, as I may be the only person in the world who can decipher their lyrics.
Several people have asked, “How long does a painting that size take?” It’s a difficult question to answer. An 8X10 might take me three or four hours of actual painting time. That doesn’t include the time I spend setting up my palette, or dragging my gear across a beach, or the hours I spend driving or priming canvases and making frames.
Yesterday, Russ Whitten was trying to remember where he’d left a stack of watercolor paper. He spent precious time tracking it down, which cost him a final painting. That kind of thing happens because we’re tired, we’re hot, and we’re stressed. It has to be factored in to our schedule, as do equipment failures.
Some days it rains, by Carol L. Douglas
Two people asked me, “Of the five paintings you did for this show, which is your favorite?” It made me think about the values I was aiming for. In the end, I chose my rain painting. It was technically difficult and I think it captures the energy of that storm.
Based on that, I asked each of the other artists to choose their favorite painting to share with you. Meanwhile, I’m off to paint; our boards were stamped starting at 6 AM this morning.
What would they think of modern painting in Maine?
Some days it rains, by Carol L. Douglas.
Last week, I wrote about Maine’s Art Museum Trail. A reader commented, “Standing in front of Rembrandt’s Saint Matthew and the Angelat the Louvre, or Van Gogh’s The White Orchard in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam are sure to change one forever.” He’s right, of course, but were these two masters somehow superior to, say, Rockwell Kent?
I wonder what either artist would think of the contemporary work being done in landscape painting today. Both would have delighted in the wealth of pigments and materials at our disposal. That’s especially true of Rembrandt, who did so much with such a limited palette. Van Gogh was an admirer of the Primitivist Paul Gauguin; he would have understood that our contemporary painting style reflects the pace and shape of our lives. Both artists were misfits in their times and cultures. It is only retrospectively that they—and their styles—are lauded as brilliant.
Mostly, I think they’d like what they saw simply because mature artists tend to be very interested in other artists’ technique, approach and worldviews.
Ed Buonvecchio painted me painting the rain in the doorway of Ocean Park’s temple. We oil painters have it a little easier in a deluge than watercolorists. Russ Whitten’s solution was to run home and grab a hair dryer.
Russel Whitten and Christine Tullson Mathieu are having an especially tough time with the fog and rain at this year’s Art in the Park. It buckles watercolor paper and the paint never dries. This makes for extremely soft passages. Commiserating with Russ, I showed him the John Singer Sargentwatercolor from Monday’s post, with its great amorphous, wet blob of darkness. In response, Russ told me that Andrew Wyeth, after seeing a Sargent show, came out and told the waiting critics, “I want to kill myself.”
It’s comforting to imagine a painter of his skill and stature reacting like that. We’ve all said something similar along the way.
Sea Mist, by Carol L. Douglas.
Why don’t artists see their own brilliance, but are keen to recognize brilliance in others? We know our own work too intimately to be impressed with it. The more one paints, the truer that becomes. Running down other artists is the province of amateurs.
“People strengthen each other when they work together, and an entity is formed without personality having to be blotted out by the collaboration,” Van Gogh wrote to Anthon van Rappard. That’s exactly what’s happened to this group at Ocean Park. This is our fourth year painting in a small ensemble. We’re secure enough in our friendship to help each other.
It was inconvenient for painters and vacationers, but we needed that rain.
Meanwhile, the rain ended at midnight, and the last droplets are splattering down from the ancient trees overhead right now. That gives us a few hours before we have to pack our supplies, shower and deliver our work. Our show opens at 5 this evening at 50 Temple Avenue, Old Orchard Beach. If you’re in southern Maine today, come out to see us!
I’ve got one more workshop available this summer. Join me for Sea and Sky at Schoodic, August 5-10. We’re strictly limited to twelve, but there are still seats open.
Route 3 from Augusta to Belfast is my least-favorite nighttime road. I love my Prius but it’s a small car. I’ve avoided any deer in its quarter of a million miles; I do not want to hit a moose. But inland and over is the quickest route from Ocean Park to Castine, ME. I struggled to see as the road wound and dipped around lakes and hills. As I approached Belfast, I saw a skunk doing his little shuffle on the shoulder of the road. He was small and it was late. Had I hit him, both of us would have been grieved.
Russel Whitten took a short break to give a painting lesson on his way into the show and sale.
I finished framing yesterday with enough time to paint the small study at the top of this post. Rarely is that last painting worthwhile. I’m tired and rushed and should be cleaning up and preparing for the next event, instead of trying to crank one more painting out. That’s particularly true when doing two events back-to-back. In this case, I was more than happy with the results.
Framing on the road.
I can frame quickly because I work in standard sizes. I keep a log on my phone of the frames I’m carrying and the ones I’ve used so far. I’ve included a small photo essay about the tools and materials for framing. It’s the unglamorous part of plein air events, but it’s very important.
A glazing-point driver is a necessity for the serious plein air painter. This one is made by Fletcher.
I used to carry a cordless drill, but this old fellah is more accurate and lighter.
All the hardware I’ll ever need is in this case.
It is the collectors who make plein air events possible. In Ocean Park, Jean C. Hager-Rich has been a loyal supporter since the beginning. She tries to be the first in, makes quick decisions, and supports everyone with impartiality. A collector like Jean can set the tone for the whole event.
Equally important are our hosts, who open their homes and their lives to us for several days each summer. And then there are the volunteers, whose titles may be grand but whose tasks tend toward the humble.
After leaving Ocean Park, I zoomed around in the hills for what seemed like hours (because it was hours). I arrived at my hosts’ house shortly before 11. Harry met me at the door, concerned at my late arrival. Normally his wife is here to greet me, but she is swanning around the Eastern Seaboard. In the last three weeks, she has zoomed from Maine to New Jersey to Montreal, back to New Jersey, and then to Pennsylvania. She is returning to Maine today.
I need to recruit her as my wingman; clearly we are soul sisters.
The joys of a beach vacation: drying towels and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.
Drying towels, by Carol L. Douglas
Cheney Cottage, built in 1881, is now owned by the Ocean Park Association. It includes the Prophet’s Chamber, where the guest preacher stays. A shuffleboard court graces the side lawn; it’s run by a fifth generation Ocean Parker. The rambling old cottage itself is holiday housing.
Accompanied by early-morning birdsong, I strolled down Temple Avenue. I was looking for a streetscape that would capture the leafy greens, genteel architecture and relaxed summer feel of Ocean Park. Bright drying towels on the rail at Cheney Cottage caught my eye. They reminded me of summer trips to Maine when my kids were young.
As always, I did a value sketch before I started. From there I transferred my drawing to a 9X12 canvasboard. I frowned; it was too small. I decided to scale it up to 11X14.
I must have needed more coffee or something, because when I was done, the house was the same size as on the 9X12, but with more foreground showing.
The temptation in this situation is to add an object to the foreground to fix the bad design. I experimented with a figure, but it didn’t work. Adding objects as an afterthought usually makes things worse, drawing the eye away from the primary subject.
No matter; the house sits under great mature spruces, so the lawn was dappled with light and shadow. Having more foreground turned out to be no problem at all.
One of the great joys of plein air painting is the people you meet along the way. Cheney Cottage is currently occupied by an extended family who vacation together every year. Many of them stopped to see what I was doing. I spoke with an aunt who now stays across the street. As the family grows, there’s no longer room for them all in the old place.
The composition that was not to be.
I’m staying in the “new” part of the park, where cottages date from the 1920s and 1930s. In some ways, the character of Ocean Park—like everywhere—is inexorably changing. A long-term resident lamented the new builds in town. “Someday, all the old places will be gone,” she said. But not any time soon, thank goodness.
In the afternoon, I revisited a subject I’ve painted twice before: the Ocean Park Ice Cream Parlor. Here in southern Maine, the land is low, level and sandy. That makes wandering around with one’s gear easier, but it makes sight lines more challenging.
It helps to know perspective drawing, even when you’re feeling expressive.
No matter what angle I choose, the foundation of the ice cream parlor remains resolutely parallel to my picture plane. I’d explored the possibilities of that on Sunday with my surf painting, I didn’t want to do it again. I set up about three different paintings and wiped them out. Then a couple stopped to read the outside menu board. Idly, I sketched them on my canvas. I liked them, and built the rest of the painting to support them.
Over the afternoon, my figures morphed into a father and a child, and another person materialized. By 4 PM, both the painting and I were done.
What’s for lunch? by Carol L. Douglas
In the evening we had a lively reception for the artists. I went home to nap, intending to go out with Russel Whitten to do a nocturne. But when I awoke at 8:15, my eyes were nearly as red as my shirt. I went back to sleep.
This morning, the fog is not limited to my head. Fog makes for good painting, so I’m heading out in a few minutes. If you’re in southern Maine this morning, stop to see me. You can get directions at Jakeman Hall, at 14 Temple Avenue.
The aurora borealis didn’t show up, but my friends did. Our plein air event at Ocean Park is off to a great start.
The new sandbar, 10X8, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
I arrived in Ocean Park in a flurry of excitement. The sun has been kicking up an electro-magnetic storm and it was possible the Aurora Borealis would be visible as far south as Boston. While Ocean Park is two hours south of my house, I thought there was a good chance we might get a glimpse of them.
I’ve seen the Northern Lights many times, but never with paints in hand. I’ve painted them in my studio but I long to paint them en plein air.
Goosefare Brook oxbow, 8X6, painted last year. It’s gone now.
To that end, Frank Gwalthney and I drove down to Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. This 50-mile-long Federal preserve touches Ocean Park. In addition to sheltering sea birds, it also provides an oasis of dark sky in Vacationland. But, alas, there was no shimmering green light, merely beautiful stars.
The Heavens Declare, 48X36, oil on linen, by Carol L. Douglas. Once again, I miss the chance to paint Aurora Borealis in the wild.
We’d heard that the tides had scoured out a new channel for the brook, but I was unmoved. Goosefare Brook wiggles around in its basin annually. My skepticism was misplaced. The oxbow is entirely gone. Its hundreds of tons of sand now sit out in the ocean as a new sandbar off the creek’s mouth. This has created a tidal pool of still water, suitable for young kids and anyone else who doesn’t want to fight breakers.
We understand that the ocean is unfathomably powerful, but that tangible proof is more convincing than any number of warnings.
Straight-on breakers, 10X8, by Carol L. Douglas
Despite our slow start and happy chatter, we all managed to turn out credible first paintings. In a few minutes, I’m heading downtown to start my first painting of the day. I think it will be a streetscape. If you’re in southern Maine this morning, stop to see me. You can get directions at Jakeman Hall, at 14 Temple Avenue. (If you’re new to Ocean Park, you may need to set your GPS for Old Orchard Beach.)
Looking for me? I’ll be in Ocean Park and Castine next week.
Wadsworth Cove garden, 12X9, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas
For plein airpainters this is haying season, the time we are working flat-out. However, I’ve had company this week. My nephews are in school, so they can’t visit during the off-season. We shoehorned this visit in between my trips. I hit the road again on Sunday.
Last year, Russ, Ed, Anthony and I ended up painting as an ensemble, larking about together as friends rather than competitors. It was an entertaining, productive plein airexperience, and I can’t imagine how it could be better.
Curve on Goosefare Brook, 8X6, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas
Ocean Park is one of about a dozen remaining daughter Chautauquas in the US. It’s the only remaining one in Maine. Another camp meeting site, the Northport Wesleyan Grove Camp Meeting, exists today as the Bayside Historic District in the town of Northport. If there are others in this state, I haven’t run across them yet.
This movement started in 1874 with the New York Chautauqua Assembly, initially to train Sunday school teachers, but eventually dedicated to adult self-improvement. Chautauquas were usually set up in the woods, on lake or ocean shores, within day-travel distance of cities. They provided a potent combination of preaching, teaching, and recreation, and they became a craze. Among my few family photos are pictures of my grandmother and her sisters at Chautauqua, NY, around 1910.
Ocean Park ice cream parlor, 12X16, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas
Ocean Park was founded by the Free Will Baptists in 1881. Except for internet and electricity, its Temple, meeting halls, and library remain unchanged. Historic, pretty cottages line its streets.
The sale of work will be at the Temple on Wednesday at 5 PM, but the exciting part of the week is earlier, when the artists are at work. Our whereabouts are posted on a sign outside Jakeman Hall; come see us!
After we pack our tents on Wednesday evening, Mary, Anthony and I will be trundling north for the fifth annual Castine Plein Air. Castine is historically significant for entirely different reasons, but it’s an equally beautiful town.
Wadsworth Cove spruce, 6X8, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas
Located at the mouth of the Penobscot River estuary, Castine predates Plymouth Colony by seven years. Much of the town is 19th century New England clapboard and whitewash. Established in 1794 and in the same building since 1833, the post office is one of the United States’s oldest. Set far off the beaten track, Castine retains its small-town feeling even during summer tourism season. In fact, my only recommendation is that, if you want to stay over for the show, you reserve lodgingnow.
Castine has two excellent museums and a fine library that usually features an historical display, so it’s worth visiting on its own merits.
Castine Plein Air is juried and highly selective. With 39 artists painting within the confines of the town, you don’t need to check with the organizers to find us. We meet at the village green early on Thursday, and then paint until Saturday. The reception will be held from 4 to 6pm on Saturday, July 22.
My bedroom is unheated. On a -3F morning like this I am not anxious to jump out of bed. Yes, I’ve painted outdoors on days like this and, no, I’m not not in any hurry to repeat the experience.
Among my painting fraternity, the two people out there painting last week are both watercolorists: Poppy Balser, who’s up in Nova Scotia using vodka in her wash cup to keep the paints moving, and Russel Whitten in Ocean Park, who just worked fast until his paint crystallized.
Oil paint will eventually stop moving in this weather as well, although it takes this kind of extreme cold to get there. The painting of hayfields, above, was done on a similarly frigid morning. It was so cold that my car battery died while I was painting. I trekked to a farmhouse to call for help. “I couldn’t figure out what you were doing out there on a day like this,” the woman answering the door said. “I thought you were watching coyotes.”
That year, I had committed to a plein air painting every day, six days a week, regardless of the weather, which in Rochester, NY can be wicked. I painted in gales along the Lake Ontario shore, blasting snow in a vineyard, lashing rain, and occasional electrical storms. That year made me into a painter, and it is also how I finally moved from being an amateur to a professional. I had so many paintings lying around, I had to sell them. It also proved to me that I could paint in any conditions, and that I didn’t need to ever again—unless I wanted to.
“Iceberg: Sledge Dogs, Greenland,” 1935-7 and 1952, Rockwell Kent
Kent later said that his year in Illorsuit was the happiest and most productive time of his life. Among his other pursuits, he acquired a sled and team so that he could make even more remote painting and camping expeditions. In a witty aside, Kent painted himself painting this iceberg, surrounded by his sled dogs, here.
“The Sea of Ice,” 1823–24, Caspar David Friedrich
As a German Romantic, Caspar David Friedrich could, I suppose, be described as a utopianist of a different stripe. His goal was to portray that sublime moment when the contemplation of nature causes a reawakening of our spiritual self.
Friedrich set out a manifesto for painters that still rings true: “The artist should paint not only what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him. If, however, he sees nothing within him, then he should also refrain from painting that which he sees before him. Otherwise, his pictures will be like those folding screens behind which one expects to find only the sick or the dead.”
“The Hunters in the Snow,” 1565, Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Friedrich recognized winter as a still and dead time, and the only hint of human activity in The Sea of Ice, above, is the subtle, moralizing shipwreck. This is very different from Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s ““The Hunters in the Snow,” which is a panoply of everything we do in the wintertime. While the overwhelming sense is one of order and human industry, there are precursors of Friedrich’s wrecked ship in this painting: the hunters and their dogs are exhausted, and their bag is one measly red fox.
This painting was done during the Little Ice Age, when the threat of famine was real. It is both a medieval Labours of the Month painting and a Renaissance narrative painting.
“Winter Comes From The Arctic To The Temperate Zone,” 1935, Lawren Harris
Lawren Harris was one of the driving forces behind the Canadian Group of Seven, and the most plastic of those painters. He went from impressionism to art nouveau realism to complete abstraction in a matter of two decades. His break with realism occurred in the early 1930s, after he visited and painted in the Arctic.
Harris believed in the arctic as a living force: “”We are on the fringe of the great North and its living whiteness, its loneliness and replenishment, its resignations and release, tis call and answer, its cleansing rhythms. It seems that the top of the continent is a source of spiritual flow that will ever shed clarity into the growing race of America.”
The painting Russ bought at an antique shop in Southern Maine,
Today I present a mystery. I wish I could solve it myself, but it’s out of my area of expertise. I hope that one of you knows someone who knows someone who can speak definitively on the subject.
Russel Whitten is a talented young watercolor painter. In the short time I’ve known him, he’s become one of my favorite artists in the Maine plein air scene. At this year’s Art in the Park, we took a break together outside the Ocean Park Soda Fountain. He showed me a photo of a picture he acquired at an antique shop several years ago.
Russ believes it’s an Edward Hopper watercolor. He has studied Hopper’s watercolors extensively and is convinced he’s right. Since Russ is a watercolorist himself, he thinks deeply about painting technique and style within his own medium.
“Trawlers,” Edward Hopper (Gloucester, MA)
Although he was best known as an oil painter, Hopper first achieved success as a watercolorist, a medium he never abandoned. He produced many, many watercolor paintings, including studies of working boats such as trawlers, freighters and tugboats.
“Rocks and House,” Edward Hopper, undated
When art historians determine who painted something, it’s called “attribution,” and it’s by no means an exact science. How certain they can be depends on style, documentary evidence and scientific experimentation.
I did a quick perusal of Hopper’s Gloucester and Maine watercolors. Sometimes he signed them; sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes his drawing was exceptionally accurate; at other times it was whimsical. (Hopper had a great capacity for narrative and whimsy.) I’m not an art historian, and the image Russ sent me is very low resolution, but the color palette and the brushwork seem appropriate for the time, and possible for the artist.
“Back Street, Gloucester,” Edward Hopper, 1928.
I’m writing this from the airport at Toronto, Ontario. In this noise and chaos, it’s almost impossible to research anything intelligently, so I’m leaving it up to you.
So while I’m hiking around Iona tomorrow, you can scratch your head over this. If you know anyone whose specialty is Hopper, forward this to them and see what they say. Even better, look up some Hoppers yourself and try to make an informed guess. After all, art history is for everyone.
Come for the art show, stay for the full moon and balmy sea breezes.
Today is wrap-up day at Ocean Park’s Art in the Park. The wet paint show and saleis tonight from 5 to 7 PM. If you’re in Portland or points south, it’s a short drive to 14 Temple Ave, Ocean Park.
It’s a Perfect 10 day. You’ll see fine artwork in a beautiful historic beach town and you can stroll downtown for an ice cream cone afterward. Above all, nobody will be talking about the Republican National Convention.
Tour-de-force painting of the shuffleboard sign by Russel Whitten, in progress.
For the artists, the last day of an event means finishing work, taking photos, framing and packing. If there’s time, we might even paint one more piece just for fun. For watercolorists and pastel artists, the added work is even more considerable, since they must frame under glass and mount their work on acid-free paper.
Our workbenches are any flat surfaces we can appropriate for a few minutes. I have the luxury of a picnic table and fine weather today, but there have been many times I’ve framed on the back deck of my little Prius.
I started my morning yesterday by finishing my ice cream parlor painting from Monday. Anthony Watkins and Ed Buonvecchio chose the same subject, so we held an impromptu salon under the maples at the corner of Temple and Grand. All three of us like talking about painting almost as much as we like doing it.
“Goosefare sunset,” 10X8, Carol L. Douglas
An aspiring painter named Heidy sat down to watch me paint. When I realized she had her kit in her car, I suggested she paint with us in the afternoon. “You’ve chosen well, or badly,” I told her. “You’re surrounded by painting teachers.” It wasRussel Whitten who broke first and gave her an impromptu watercolor lesson.
Larry, Curly and Moe lost on a sand dune. (That’s really Anthony Watkins, Russ Whitten and Ed Buonvecchio.)
In addition to painting, Ed and I hawk Plein Air Painters of Maine to other painters. This totally-free association is a great resource. For most people, it’s important to have support and company in what is essentially a solitary pursuit.
“Curve on Goosefare Brook,” 8X6, Carol L. Douglas.
It’s not that common for event painters to move in a pack like we’ve been doing. I’ve really enjoyed it. For all our larking about, the work we’re turning out is of consistent high caliber. We’re all relaxed and having fun, and it shows in our work.
“Ocean Park Ice Cream Fountain,” 12X16. I’m heading down to finish it this morning.
Early yesterday I got a call from Ed Buonvecchio, who is painting at Ocean Park’sArt in the Park with me. He planned to paint along the railroad tracks on the road into town. I told him it sounded, frankly, awful. I’d find my own darn painting spot.
Ambling along Temple Avenue, I ran into Frank Gwalthney, who was walking purposefully up the street. “Could you let me into Jakeman Hall to sharpen my pencils?” I asked.
“I need to run down to the tracks first,” he responded. “I got a call that Ed’s car is too close to the tracks. He needs to move it before it gets hit by a train.”
“Rising Surf,” 8X6, painted from the water side.
Happily, I can report that neither Ed nor his car was harmed, although he was close enough to the tracks that he seemed a little, well, stunned the rest of the day. I was so wrong about the subject. Ed’s painting is one of those rare things that make me think, “I wish I’d painted that.”
Art in the Park has been redesigned to be an invitational event with just five painters. This means we get to know our fellows much better than at the typical event, where 30 painters swarm across the landscape. I took my lunch break under a spreading maple with Christine Mathieu. Our paths have crossed over the years, but this was the first time we’ve ever really had a chance to talk.
The storm which rolled across Maine yesterday rumbled and threatened but eventually skipped over us. It arrived conveniently a few moments before our opening reception at Porter Hall. I enjoyed chatting with a woman who regularly reads my blog at home in St. Martins in the Caribbean.
Painting in the surf. I kept moving the easel toward shore whenever I felt it start slipping.
In the evening I took a few minutes to jump into the sea. “Why not?” I asked myself as I pondered how gorgeous the surf always looks from the water side. The tide was rising, so I had to move my easel every few minutes, but painting from the water worked just fine—until I tried to get the salt-water out of my tripod. It’s carbon fiber, so it isn’t going to rust, but I’m worried about the fittings.
Russ Whitten, Ed Buonvecchio and I painted nocturnes at the end of the day.
We ended the day at the Temple, where Ed, Russel Whitten and I set up perilously late to paint a nocturne. (It helps if you do the drawing when it’s still light.) This was a little hard on Russ, whose watercolor paper wasn’t drying in the night air, and who has to “dance backwards,” leaving openings for the light areas instead of painting them in at the end.
The Temple, unfinished. I’ll finish it tonight.
The three of us grumbled and laughed about the absurdity of what we were doing but in the end we all turned out respectable attempts. Fourteen hours after we’d started working we folded up for the night. Today we do it again. It’s a fascinating life, although sometimes it’s grueling as well.