Welcome back to real life

Sailing is a great disperser of cares.

Practicing painting aboard American Eagle. What a fabulous group of students I had this trip!

I’m back from teaching watercolor aboard the schooner American Eagle—a little tanned, a little heavier (thanks, Matthew) and a whole lot more content.

Sailing is a great disperser of cares. You’re at one with the boat; you have to be, as ignoring her swings and rolls will cause you to fall down. That puts you totally in the moment, watching the sails, the waves, the shifts in air, and the amazing complexity of 19th century transport technology. Sail power is the original renewable energy resource. American Eagle has been ‘leave no trace’ since long before the slogan was thought up.

We all start at the beginning–how to mix color, how to see color, how to lay it down on the paper.

The gam—the annual raft-up of the windjammer fleet—was modified this year, as COVID made it unwise to scramble over each other’s boats. Instead, the windjammers dropped anchor near one another off Vinelhaven. A dinghy zipped around with grog. The captains devised a scavenger hunt over the water.

I have a crush on every boat, but I especially have a crush on American Eagle. She’s terrifically elegant and clean-limbed for a boat that started life as a fishing vessel.

Captain John Foss returning from the co-op with fresh lobster for our supper. 

I was rather surprised to see her little sister joining us. That was the Agnes & Dell, proudly flying the flag of Newfoundland and Labrador. She’s a smaller version of American Eagle, with the same proud curved prow and lovely rounded transom. At around 50 feet, she was being sailed by a crew of just two. That’s a manageable dream, I thought. My affections wavered just a tiny bit. But, no, as long as I get to sail twice a year on American Eagle, I don’t need a boat of my own.

Agnes & Dell was also built as a fishing schooner. She’s almost as lovely as American Eagle.

At any rate, I was out there to teach watercolor, not moon over boats. It’s always a great time, and I’m blessed to be able to do it twice a year, in June and September. None of us knew how we were going to return from COVID, but this was a heartening start to a new season.

I had eight enthusiastic students. With a few exceptions, they’re all at the beginning of their artistic journey. It was a special privilege to help them with that. We painted, ate, and laughed—a lot. If you’re interested in the September trip, or any of my other workshops, check my website here. There are still openings.

Dorothy hard at work next to the memorial to quarry workers at Stonington. Even the toughest painters get shore leave. 

On the subject of returning to reality, post-COVID, I’m having an opening at my outdoor gallery on Saturday. Somewhere in the middle of winter I started painting regularly with Ken DeWaardEric Jacobsen, and Bjὂrn Runquist. Inevitably, that’s influenced the way I think about and approach my work.

I’m looking forward to sitting down and have a glass of wine with you and talking about the past year. It’s been a sea change for us all, and I want to hear about it from your side, as much as I want to show you it from my side.

Welcome Back to Real Life opens from 2-6 PM, Saturday, June 19 at Carol L. Douglas Studio at 394 Commercial Street in Rockport, ME. The gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 6. Or email me if you want to make an appointment.

Losing yourself in paint

The time you spend painting is not deducted from your lifespan.

One of my Monday night students told me her father lived to 107. He said, “the time you spend sailing is not deducted from your lifespan.”

He also believed that oatmeal every morning and a wee dram before supper would extend your life. I’ve got that part half right. Unfortunately, it’s the oatmeal; I eat it every morning.

I told my other class this and we speculated on what other activities might qualify. “Cocktail hour,” one suggested. I’m afraid that’s probably situational; some cocktail hours are fraught.

I think there’s something to Carol’s dad’s theory. There are activities that are so deeply satisfying that they flush the cares of the day right out. I’m not saying they’re easy; they are, as my friend Martha said of sewing, both mindful and mindless at the same time. Time doesn’t stand still; it vanishes. We each have our own list. For many, that includes painting. Like sailing and sewing, it rests on a firm technical foundation. It engages the mind and yet lets it roam.

Numerous studies have shown that engaging with the arts increases lifespan,  soothes chronic pain, staves off symptoms of dementia and accelerates brain development in kids.

My next session of classes is starting soon, and the exciting news is that we’ll be painting en plein air in the Rockport—Rockland—Camden area again. These classes will be Thursdays from 10-1 AM. The dates are:

  • May 27
  • June 3, 10, 24 (skips 17th for Age of Sail workshop)
  • July 1, 8

The fee for the six-week session is $210.

If you’re in the midcoast area and want to sign up, please contact me soon. As of last night I had four openings left. These classes are strictly limited to 12 people, because my legs can carry me only so fast. As always, we’ll be focusing on the water, shoreline, boats, architecture, and outstanding natural beauty of this place we’re blessed to call home.

If you’re not in midcoast Maine, you can sign up for another session of weekly classes by Zoom. Since some of my local students will be moving to the plein air group, there should be a few seats in each online class. These are limited to 14 people per session.

ZOOM morning Session

We meet on Tuesdays from 10 AM to 1 PM EST, on the following dates:

  • May 25
  • June 1, 8, 22, 29 (skips 15th for Age of Sail workshop)
  • July 6

The fee for the six-week session is $210.

ZOOM evening Session

We meet on Mondays from 6 to 9 PM EST, on the following dates:

  • May 24, 31
  • June 7, 21, 28 (skips 14th for Age of Sail workshop)
  • July 5

The fee for the six-week session is $210.

You don’t need to be in Maine to take these classes. We have students from Texas, Indiana, New York and elsewhere joining us.

As always, registration priority will be given to current students; if you’re interested, contact me to be put on a waitlist.

About these classes:

We cover the same subjects indoors and outdoors:

  • Color theory
  • Accurate drawing
  • Mixing colors
  • Finding your own voice
  • Authentic brushwork

We stress painting protocols to get you to good results with the least amount of wasted time. That means drawing, brushwork and color. I’m not interested in creating carbon copies of my style; I’m going to nurture yours, instead. However, you will learn to paint boldly, using fresh, clean color. You’ll learn to build commanding compositions, and to use hue, value and line to draw the eye through your paintings.

Watercolor, oils, pastels, acrylics and—yes, even egg tempera—are all welcome. Because they are small groups, I can work with painters of all levels.

All my classes are strictly limited to 14 people.

Email me for more information and supply lists.

We’re going sailing again this season!

Have you wanted to take my watercolor workshop on American Eagle but the dates didn’t work out for you? We’re doing it again this autumn, September 25-29.
There’s more opportunity for sunset painting in the fall. Photo courtesy of MB Rolfe.
Captain John Foss is a true antiquarian, maintaining and sailing a lovingly-restored schooner. It’s fitting that he uses one of the last remaining flip phones in America. I was most surprised to see a message from him while I was in Nova Scotia. Would I be interested in teaching a second workshop aboard American Eagle this fall?
With him sailing up and down the coast with that ancient phone and me out of the country, it was a little difficult to work out dates, Eventually, we decided on a sail that will run from Wednesday, September 25 to Sunday, September 29.
Under sail and hard at work aboard American Eagle.
Autumn is absolutely the best time of year here on the coast of Maine. Just as large bodies of water are slow to warm up in the summer, they’re slow to cool down in the fall. Fall, with its gorgeous flaming colors and earlier sunsets, is my absolute favorite time of year to paint en plein air. It will be especially beautiful from the water, with the reds of the blueberries and trees contrasting with the dark spruces and infinite blues of the sea.
Deckhand Kevin with the lobsters.  Photo courtesy Mary Whitney.
What I’ve learned painting on American Eagle
I’ve painted on this boat in the summer and in the fall, and I will never predict what will happen; every sail is different.
Colleen Lowe drawing Paddington Bear’s secret life of debauchery. Photo courtesy Mary Whitney.
Your materials are all provided, including paints, papers, and brushes.
The trip lasts four days. Lighthouses, wildlife, and unspoiled scenery are part of every trip. The boat is a true relic of the Age of Sail, but it’s been updated so you have a comfortable berth, fresh linens, modern heads and a fresh-water shower.
And then there’s dessert.  Photo courtesy Mary Whitney.
Every meal is lovingly prepared by the cook and his messmate, my pal Sarah Collins. That includes a lobster bake, which might be at sea or on shore, depending on where we end up.
I’m providing a complete painting kit made with QoR paints, which are very high-quality, and high-end watercolor paper and sketchbooks. We’ll use waterbrushes and a waterproof pen.
Pulled up for a picnic on Russ Island. That’s the Lewis R. French in the far distance.
Is painting on a moving boat even possible?
Yes, and it’s fascinating. The water, sky and shoreline are constantly changing. In addition, we’ve scheduled this workshop for the longest days of the year so that we’ll have plenty of time to paint sunrises and sunsets while at anchor.
Who’s invited?
This workshop is aimed at watercolor or gouache painters, particularly those with an interest in the sea or sailing. No experience? You’re very welcome; we’ve got everything you need to get started.
Lobsters are the one meal that the captain cooks.
To register
The schooner trip is $745, and your tuition for the workshop is $275, for a total of $1020, all inclusive. Email me here for more information. Or email American Eagle’s offices here or call them at 1-800-648-4544 to register. If you sign their guest book, they’ll send you a copy of a DVD.
Discounts
There’s a $25 discount on tuition to members of New York Plein Air Painters, Plein Air Painters of Maine or returning students from any of my workshops.

A tough decision, clarified by ocean breezes and seawater

A real good time and the lack of cell-phone reception helped me decide to cut back on blogging.
Under sail and hard at work.

 With the spring we’ve had this year, I was understandably worried about the weather for our Age of Sail watercolor workshop aboard the schooner American Eagle. Our time on the water turned out to be perfect. My only regret was a last-minute drop-out of a returning student (due to a family emergency).

Many people think it’s impossible to paint on a moving boat, but I’ve been doing it for four years now. It’s a cinematic experience. Images are flying at you quickly, and you record just as much as your mind can retain. Surprisingly, that’s quite a bit.
Drawing lesson on a deserted island. (Photo courtesy Mary Whitney)

Another misconception is that this is an opportunity to sail with a little painting thrown in. It’s actually a serious workshop on watercolor sketching. We work on composition, color theory, and the properties of watercolor. We just happen to do it in a spectacular setting, and on a magnificent boat.

Deckhand Kevin with the lobsters.  (Photo courtesy Mary Whitney)
I’m the teacher, but I’ve learned a few things. When a boat is traveling at ten knots, it’s time to down brushes and simply revel in the sensation of wind and water. This year I corralled everything before someone (me, for example) lost a brush overboard. And I won’t bring books for students to peruse. There’s very little down time.

The windjammer fleet is a thing of beauty.  (Photo courtesy Mary Whitney)
The big event on this trip is the gam, a raft-up of the Maine windjammer fleet. It’s always an exciting event, with music, a grog toast, and visits to other boats.
Later, we anchored at Stonington. I walked around the harbor with new friends, a couple from Louisiana. From the landing, we walked to Stonington’s beautiful old Opera House, then up to Church Street. John and Susan admired the lilacs, the architecture, and the harbor below.
The one morning of rain, we worked in the Main Cabin, drawing Paddington Bear in a secret life of debauchery. Painting by Colleen Lowe. (Photo courtesy Mary Whitney)
Our captain bought lobsters in Stonington, and from there we motored to nearby Russ Island to eat the darn bugs. It was downright hot, so we tucked ourselves into the shade and painted rocks and shoreline. The next night found us in North Haven’s lovely Pulpit Harbor, with its field of lupines just opening into the June sunlight.
Farro salad, just one of an impossible number of great dishes. (Photo courtesy Mary Whitney)
Captain John Foss and I agree that this is a fun event, so we’re planning to reprise it again next year. The dates are to be determined, but I expect it will be around the same week as this year’s sail. If you’re interested, email me and I’ll keep you on the list for more information.
And then there’s dessert.  (Photo courtesy Mary Whitney)
One of the nicest things about the ocean is the lack of cell-phone reception. That meant no blogging this week, which helped me reach a decision. I’ve been blogging five days a week for several years now, and that’s been very successful: this is the seventh-ranked art blog by Feedspot metrics.
Our boats, pulled up on Russ Island. That’s the Lewis R. French in the far distance.
But as I enter my busy season once again, I find I no longer want to maintain this pace. I spend about 90 minutes a day writing. This adds up to a full work-day every week. For the remainder of the season, I’ll be writing less often. I’m shooting for three days a week, and when the season has ended, I’ll reassess. Thank you for understanding.

Wanna go sailing?

I’ll wager that you won’t find a more interesting brace of workshops anywhere.
The light is ever-changing on the open water.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I moved to Maine for the painting. The light, the sea and the granite coast have drawn artists here for 200 years. I was just the latest sucker they snared.

In the early spring of 2016, I wandered into the North End Shipyard and asked if I could paint while they worked. The smell of varnish in the cold morning air brought back memories of equally frigid mornings on Lake Ontario.
Exploring off the American Eagle.
That summer, Captain John Foss asked me to sail with him on the American Eagle. I painted some work I really liked. This October, I went out with them again, bringing watercolors instead of oils. I found that watercolor is perfect for capturing the changing scene from a boat under sail. And it’s less intimidating than oils. Several people tried painting with me.
This trip includes a gam, an open-water raft up of boats. That’s been known to include rowing troubadours.
When we got back to land, Captain Foss and I designed the perfect trip for the artistically-inclined boat lover. Next June, he and his crew will sail us around the coast of Maine on their beautifully-appointed boat, providing berths and all our meals. I will teach you watercolors.
From the galley.
Can you even paint on a moving boat? Heck, yeah, and it’s fascinating. The water, sky and shoreline are constantly changing. We’ve scheduled this workshop for the longest days of the year so that we’ll have plenty of time to paint sunrises and sunsets while at anchor.
What if you prefer your ocean from the shore?

Schoodic is a wild and isolated place, but still accessible from Bangor International Airport.
I offer a workshop at Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Institute every August. This is designed to help the painter find his or her own voice and style. It’s intensive, with morning and afternoon on-site painting sessions and lunch-time demos. Classes are kept small so every student gets the attention they deserve.
All mediums are welcome.
Acadia is famous for its ocean breakers and big granite outcroppings. I’ve ferreted out some very exciting spots to paint, both in and out of the park. By the time your week is done, you’ll be at one with the wind, waves and pounding surf.
Breakers by Carol L. Douglas.
Schoodic offers many other non-painting entertainments for the outdoors enthusiast. There’s biking, mountain climbing, fishing and hiking all in the immediate area. Seabirds, dolphins and grey seals are regularly sighted off the coast here.
Both trips are also all-inclusive, so you don’t have to worry about meals or accommodations. And both are designed so it’s easy to bring your non-painting partner.
The instruction is one-on-one and intensive.
Why am I mentioning this now? Christmas is coming, but that’s not all. If you register before January 1 for either workshop, you get a discount. And I’m willing to wager that you won’t find a more interesting brace of workshops anywhere.
You can learn more about both workshops here.

Weather notes

When I arrived in Waldoboro, it was hovering around a high of 27° with a low in the single digits, and no snow.

A few weeks ago I quoted a sailing instructor:
For God’s sake, learn how to read the weather!

For home work, I made my sailing students keep a notebook chronicling the daily weather. It had to have the forecast from the newspaper with their own observations.
At the time, I said that would be a great idea for my plein air painting students, too. Rather than assign work I haven’t tried myself, I packed a small watercolor sketchbook, ruled off into six squares per page, and my trusty old Winsor & Newton pocket paint kit.
That was the pattern until the end of the week, when the temperatures moved up and the sky started building.
In Rochester my studio faces to the north and east, away from the weather front, and the southwest sides of our house—which is where the action is, weatherwise—have more limited visibility. After this week of balancing in precarious positions, I feel like I might just go out on the stoop and sit. It takes fifteen minutes for the paints to really freeze.
I was in Winter Harbor, left, when snow moved in.
What have I learned so far? It’s generally sunnier here in winter than it is in Rochester. The winter light is lemony and the shadows are purple, whereas in Rochester, the winter light tends toward peach and the shadows toward blue (perhaps because it’s never truly bright). And a blizzard is a blizzard is a blizzard, no matter where it’s blowing.
I hope to shovel out and hit the road to Pittsford today, but the plows remain obstinately quiet. Still, they needn’t come by until I’m ready to roll. Just in time is fine.
The day before the blizzard, left, was a perfectly clear Maine day.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.