Monday Morning Art School: Draw a face, yours or others

Have trouble drawing people? Here’s a way to get a good likeness in a hurry.

Robbie, by Carol L. Douglas

We’re going to be doing self-portraits in my classes during the next two weeks. We’ll be using mirrors, but this is a technique that works with pictures of yourself or others, from the live model or from photographs. It’s not mine, of course; it is a process that came from the late portrait painter Daniel Greene.

Most artists don’t have trouble drawing individual features. They run into trouble hooking all those parts up into a plausible whole. Sadly, a person’s likeness starts with the overall structure of their head, not with the details. This is a fast and easy way to measure features so you get them straight. The hardest part, I think, is that I’m showing you in words and pictures instead of in person. But if you take the time to practice it, your portrait drawings will improve.

This is a repeat of a blog post from 2018. It’s based on an old photo of Sandy Quang I found on my laptop. In real life Sandy is almost always laughing. However, I’m not sure that the American selfie grin is the best thing to immortalize in paint.

If you don’t remember the rudiments of measuring with a pencil, please brush up here and here before you start.
I start by drawing a line indicating the angle at which the head is cocked.

The second line goes right through the eyeballs. This is not absolutely perpendicular to the center line, but it’s usually close. Remember, you are measuring a 3-D object onto a 2-D surface. It’s easy to mistake these lines for a grid. They’re not; they’re just measurements.
From there, go on to measure the remaining distances as shown above. Eventually, you can add a line for the eyebrows and the bottom of the bottom lip, but I find them confusing at this early stage.
The angle from the bottom of the nose to the pupils is the most important measurement in the face. Check, double check, and then place dots where it intersects with your eyeball line.
Next, draw lines from the bottom of the nose through the center of the pupils. You should create a triangle from eyes to bottom of nose. That’s the most important measurement you’ll do, and the most confusing.
Why are we using an angle instead of straight measurements on the eyes? This is the most important dimension in a human face, and angles allow us to double-check our work. A triangle is a shape, and that’s just easier for the brain to process than a line. That’s why I use angles to measure whenever I can. (Brush up on angle-drawing here.)
Unless the model is looking right at you, each eye is not the same distance from the center line. Check and double-check.
This triangle is the most important measurement in the whole face.

Then draw lines down from the center of the eyeballs to the corners of the mouth. In most people, the mouth is about as wide as the pupils of the eyes, but Sandy’s mouth is narrower than her eyes.

I did the drawing freehand but added this because it’s so difficult to understand from just words.

My last measurement is from the center line to outside of her ear. Conveniently, it’s about the same distance as from her hairline to the bottom of her nose. Remember, all measurements are relative. “It’s slightly less than two noses long,” is how we measure in drawing.

I managed to drop her ear too low at this point; I corrected it as I went. There are always fine corrections to be made. To me, that refinement is the best part of drawing. It’s like doing a puzzle.
Having made all those measurements, I was ready to rough in the overall features. I drew the nose and chin as volumes. (The angled line from the nose was to figure out my ear error.)
The drawing guides are superfluous after this point. Time to erase them and start having freehand fun.
Block in the mass of hair. Your eye perceives shapes and sizes differently depending on value and the color, as we learned here. That dark shape is important.
Refine the features, erasing and redrawing as time allows.
Because I was working with a #2 pencil on a cheap sketchbook, I waited until the end to add the shadow masses. Otherwise, they’d smear.
Throwback Sandy, by Carol L. Douglas

We are taught to draw the human face in ‘perfect’ terms: the eyes are halfway down the head, the tear ducts line up with the edges of the nostrils, the face is divided into thirds, etc., etc. In fact, human faces are infinitely varied. 
These ‘perfect’ laws fall apart especially fast when the subject isn’t white. For example, everything you learned about drawing eyes falls apart with an Asian person with no epicanthic fold. It’s far better to start with what’s really there.

This is a system that works, but you’ll need to practice it a few times before it feels comfortable. 

What’s an artist to do?

There’s no ‘there’ there to rebel against anymore.

Winter Lambing, 48X36, available, Carol L. Douglas

My goddaughter Sandy is the child of immigrants. Her family escaped China at the conclusion of the Civil War, when it was clear the communists had won. They went to Vietnam, which has an active community of Chinese emigres. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, they became Vietnamese boat people, ultimately ending up in the US. (For many reasons, let us hope that this time their refuge is secure.)

“Americans are in a constant state of rebellion against their parents,” Sandy observed as we did our daily constitutional up Beech Hill yesterday. “Why is that?” For Asians, filial piety is a virtue.

Wreck of the S.S. Ethie, 24X18, Carol L. Douglas

I’m familiar with some of the roots of that rebellion, being a product of the Swinging Sixties myself.  But it goes farther back, to the Roaring Twenties. Both the 1920s and the 1960s are thought by historians to be periods of nihilism in response to the cataclysm of world war, but that’s an incomplete explanation. The American Civil War was the greatest cataclysm in American history, and no such period followed it. The closest we came was the anarcho-communism of the turn of the century.

In art, we’ve been at this business of rebellion ever since the Impressionists showed in the first Salon des Refusésin 1863. We’re now in a position where vast sums of money are exchanged for intangible art. If there’s anything left to rebel against, I can’t see it.

Deadwood, 48X36, Carol L. Douglas

“Where is art going?” is a question every thinking artist should constantly ask himself. For our predecessors there were clear trends (although I’m sure they are clearer in retrospect). The past filled the galleries, and the bright young things were all in the coffee house complaining about it.

It’s harder for today’s young artist. The most obvious means to success is to make a spectacle of oneself, but that’s a different artform altogether. There are digital art and electronic installations, but for a painter, it’s difficult to see a direction in the current maelstrom. When plein air shows happily embrace abstraction and great galleries laud incompetence, there’s nothing left to push against.

All flesh is as grass, 36X48, Carol L. Douglas

One answer is to become more international in our viewpoint, to import other cultures’ attitudes about art. After all, we live in a global world. That’s a mixed bag, of course. Asian artists honor technique, but their governments don’t necessarily honor intellectual property rights.

I see certain trends in my little niche of landscape painting. As the digital world shapes our seeing, chroma (intensity) in painting increases. Detail decreases. But these are merely stylistic flutters. We’ve seen them come and go before. They’re meaningless in the bigger scheme of things.

Of course, I don’t have an answer to this question, or I’d already be doing it.

Five half-finished paintings in search of a conclusion

The beautiful warmth of Wednesday was just a dream. It’s still April in Maine, and we all know April is the cruellest month.

Not done.

On Wednesday, I met Peter Yesis and Ken DeWaard at Spruce Head. In the warm spring air, it felt like we were playing hooky. The neighborhood dogs trotted over to welcome us. There was a lobster boat on the pier, and the fisherman by the docks was working on his traps. Two Canada geese gamboled in the shallows. Perfect peace, and intimations of summer at long last.

I must have disconnected my common sense in the soft air, because I got there to realize I’d left my tripod at home. There are two absolute necessities for oil painting—an easel and white paint. Your other tools are helpful, but you can usually make a workaround solution. Forget your brushes? Take up palette-knife painting. Forget a canvas? One of your friends will have a spare.

Not done.

I improvised by putting my pochade box on a chair and balancing myself in front of it on Ken’s camp stool. It was wobbly but effective. However, Sandy Quang was meeting us after she stopped for a routine COVID test. The lab is near my house. She stopped by and collected my tripod.

I didn’t feel like grinding anything down to its final solution, so what I painted were sketches—sketches that can join the others sitting on my workbench in search of conclusion. Not that any of them need too much—a flourish here, a bit of light there. The overall structure is fine.

Not done.

Sandy peeled off in early afternoon, and then Peter left. I realized that I had to make the dump before it closed at 4 PM. Ken was starting his sixth sketch, but I was happy with my three, because I had all day Thursday before the weather closed in. I got the trash to the town dump with five minutes to spare.

Except, as so often happens, Thursday didn’t work out at all way I’d planned. I got to Rockport harbor, sat down and drew a composition I quite liked. Meanwhile, the boatyard crew was lowering a sloop into the water. I took a phone call while I waited to see where the boat would end up. “As soon as I start this painting in earnest, they’ll move that boat right into this slip,” I said. That’s always the way with boat paintings—they come and go.

Not done.

It turned out to not be a problem. This time I’d managed to leave my pochade box at home. By the time I drove home to get it, the tide had risen enough that my sketch was meaningless. Not to worry; the tide hits the same point four times a day. I’ll catch it on the flip side. Maybe by then the mast will be stepped on that beautiful winter visitor from Stonington, ME.

Later, I had some explanation for my absentmindedness. In the afternoon, I was laid low by a terrific headache and low-grade fever. I doubt it’s COVID, as I’ve had all my shots. I’m more concerned about Lyme, since I found a tick in my head after being in the Hudson Valley over the weekend. Yes, I’m calling my PCP. This is, sadly, routine in the northeast.

Meanwhile, we’re back to cold, dark and irritable weather. It won’t get out of the 30s today, and there’s snow on the forecast for New England. The beautiful warmth of Wednesday was just a dream. It’s still April in Maine, and we all know April is the cruellest month.

Monday Morning Art School: shiny baubles

When drawing bling, start with the mechanical measurements and work your way down to the details.

Happy New Year! by Carol L. Douglas

Student Samantha East noticed that I sometimes repeat blog posts. This is one of those times. As I jokingly said to Bruce McMillan in Friday’s comments, the lessons in painting are simple. It’s a question of when we’re ready to receive them. But to keep it interesting, I’m more interested in the reflections than the round shapes this year, although both are important.

I like shiny baubles, so I’ve asked my students to paint Christmas decorations this week. This post will give them a heads up on the lesson.

The ornaments we chose: a simple sphere for me and a globe-spider for Sandy.

By now, Christmas decorating is in full swing. We’ve at least located the boxes and asked our families to help carry them down from the attic. (Good luck with that, by the way.) Find a simple, round, reflective ornament. That’s your subject for today.

Those of you who don’t believe in Santa Claus or haven’t found the ornaments can find a reflective spherical object to substitute. The back of a metal soup spoon will work just fine. In my example above, I used a plastic toy horn.

Noting the axes.

Sandy Quang was my painting student in Rochester. She went on to get a BFA from Pratt and an MA from Hunter and now works at Camden Falls Gallery. She’s working on her MBA from University of Maine.

I asked her if she wanted to draw with me. Of course, she had her sketchbook tucked in her backpack. “Which one do you want?” I asked her. She chose the spider ornament.

We both added details. Mine were the ellipses on the collar of the ornament; Sandy’s were the beaded legs of the spider and her first markings for reflections.

wrote about drawing a glass dish, which is a series of ellipses on a central axis. A circle is easier to draw than an ellipse; it’s an ellipse that is symmetrical on all sides. A sphere appears to be a circle when it’s viewed in two dimensions. This is an unbreakable rule.

Both of us started with the axis of our drawing. For me, that was the vertical axis; for Sandy it was the axis holding her circles together. I mention this because when people say “I can’t draw!” they seldom realize how much of drawing is mechanical, simple measurement. It’s best to learn this from life, since the measurement has already been done for you when you work from a photo. You can easily work back from life drawing to working with pictures, but it’s harder to go the other way.

Marking out the outlines of our reflected shapes.

Next, we both put the appendages on our spheres. For me, that meant measuring the ellipses in the collar. For Sandy, it was the beaded spider legs. Sandy was starting to note the overall areas of reflection in her spheres.

We both worked on shading next. I finished my shading with an eraser, Sandy couldn’t do that because her paper was too rough.

Sandy and I chose different approaches in the next step, dictated by the paper we were working on. Because I had a smooth Bristol, I was able to blend my pencil line into smooth darks with my finger. Sandy could only work light-to-dark on the rougher paper she was carrying. That gives you the chance to see two different approaches to shading.

Our finished drawings: mine on the left, Sandy’s on the right. From there, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to painting them.

Sandy has a shadow under her final drawing because the ornament was sitting directly on my coffee table. I put the reflection of myself in my ornament. Those final details were the fun and easy part of the drawing exercise.

All drawing rests on accurate observation and measurement. Get them right and the shading and mark-making is simple.

This post originally ran in 2017 and 2019. It’s been edited.

Monday Morning Art School: anyone can draw

Drawing is a series of actions, rather like dance. It can be learned, just like any other process.

Teachers sometimes tell their students to hold the pencil fully outstretched. I disagree, because moving it up and down and sideways makes you move in an arc, as Sandy demonstrates, above. 

Drawing starts with measurement. Get that right, and everything else is just details.

1. Put yourself a few feet from the object you want to draw. Make sure you’re comfortable.

2. Hold your pencil between your thumb and fingers as shown. Most art teachers tell you to do your measurements with your arm completely outstretched; I prefer to have my arm loose and to visualize an imaginary plate glass window I’m running my pencil along.

Instead, hold your pencil loosely and comfortably, as if there were a plate glass window along which you were running the pencil. You will have to recheck your measurements frequently, but you should be doing that anyway.

3. Close one eye and focus on the pencil.

4. Holding your pencil upright and straight, align the point of your pencil with the top of the vase.

5. Slide your thumb down the pencil until it is at the bottom of the vase. This is now one unit of measurement in space.

Your pencil is your ruler. You are measuring ratios and then transferring them to the paper. (Note: my ratios look slightly different from what Sandy was seeing because I drew the picture later, from a slightly different angle.)

6. Put marks on your paper where you want the top and bottom of the vase to end up. This is now one unit of measurement on your paper. It doesn’t have to be the same size as your unit of measurement on your pencil.

7. Go back and line your pencil up again with the vase so that it fills the pencil from the point to your thumb. Now raise the pencil so you are measuring the flowers. Are they as tall as the vase?  Twice as tall? Half as tall? When you’ve determined this, add another mark to your paper to indicate where the top of the flowers should be. This should be the same ratio on paper as it was in space. But one unit on your pencil does not need to be one unit on your paper. What you draw can be much bigger than what you measure, as long as they are proportional.

Recheck the height with your pencil and then flip it to see how the width of the vase compares. It’s that simple. 

8. Go back and recheck the measurement on the vase height. Then just flip your pencil sideways and see how wide the vase looks in comparison to its height. Is the object as wide as it is tall? Twice as wide? Half as wide? Once you’ve determined this, go ahead and put horizontal marks on your paper to represent the width of the vase.

9. Turn your pencil to the side and observe that the flowers are about 2 or 2.5 times as wide as the vase (depending on where you’re standing).  Make those marks on your picture.

It really doesn’t matter where you start measuring or what order you measure in. You will figure out a system that works for you.

10. Once you have the proportions of the objects marked out, mark in the big shapes with a light pencil and then start breaking them down into smaller shapes. You are well on your way to drawing the object. 

Once you have the measurement hash marks in place, draw in the big shapes and start breaking them down into smaller shapes. The rest is just details.

Your assignment is to practice this. The more you practice accurate measurement, the better your painting will be. Next Monday I will talk about using angles and negative space to measure.

Stop thinking like a wage slave

You have to be an entrepreneur if you want to succeed in the arts.

Tricky Mary in a Pea-Soup Fog, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

My parents were the children of immigrants and were raised in great poverty. My mom went on to be one of the first class of nurse-practitioners graduated by University of Buffalo. My father was a child psychologist. Mom worked at the local hospital for her whole career; my father moved around a little, but always within the state system. They aspired to stability. In mid-century America, a job meant a trade-off of loyalty for a good salary and pension. It wasn’t a bad system, as long as it worked. It created a stable community, albeit one where economic mobility was not particularly coveted.

I don’t remember any entrepreneurs among my parents’ friends. The adults around me worked in jobs or professions. Even highly skilled machinists—much in demand—didn’t hang out their own shingles. They went to work in factories, where they were paid very well.

Parrsboro at Dawn, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

In fact, my father was a talented photographer and painter. He had his own studio before he married, but he didn’t know how to build a business. He had no role model for self-employment, so he wisely went back to school and got what he and his peers called a ‘real job.’

That economic system is broken now. Even wage slaves must be entrepreneurial. Young people think of the corporate ladder more as a jungle gym, where they swing from place to place rather than climb vertically.

Blueberry Barrens, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

My goddaughter is also the child of immigrants, but her history is different. Her family escaped the Communist revolution when her father was a young child. They moved to Vietnam and took up the family trade of cooking. After the fall of Saigon, they were again refugees, ultimately washing up in America. They’ve run a small restaurant for decades.

My goddaughter Sandy has a master’s degree and is working on a second one. But when COVID-19 knocked her out of her job, she didn’t go on unemployment. Instead, she’s been cleaning houses. She knows how to use a crisis, so she’s charging the earth in exchange for the risk. In fact, she’s never been shy about telling others how much she’s worth.

After one of her graduations, we went to Chinatown. Her mother and aunt stood listening as she haggled over the price of luggage. Finally, they nodded and the deal was done. She’d just been handed a diploma from one of America’s most prestigious art schools, but—more importantly—she’d demonstrated that she could negotiate a business deal.

Downdraft snow, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

That’s a real skill, and it’s something we don’t come by naturally—it’s learned, as much as calculus or drawing are.

I talked with a talented friend last week. She’s stuck in a low-paying job although she has good writing, video and design chops. When I suggested that she market her own videos, she quickly demurred. Without knowing how to be entrepreneurial, she’ll never escape the soul-sucking, 9-to-5 job.

That’s the bottom line for an art career in modern America. Your success or failure depends, not primarily on your painting skills, or your ‘talent’, but on your ability to sell yourself. If you don’t have that, don’t just give up—learn. Be more like Sandy.

Busman’s holiday

What does a gallerist do on a snow-day? Hang my show, of course.
Dancing Santa, by Carol L. Douglas
Maine Gallery Guide ran this feature about my upcoming studio Open House yesterday. If you like the Maine scene (especially if you live away), you really should subscribe to their newsletter. It’s the single best resource for our state’s art scene. Here’s a link to the sign-up page.
Meanwhile, my husband is fretting about the boxes and bags of stuff littering our house. “You’ve bought at least three times what you need,” he frets. Parties are where my inner Italian, usually tamped firmly down, comes into play. What’s worth doing, is worth doing to excess, I tell myself—and I buy more.
Part of the mess in my dining room.
No shindig is complete without the last-minute household disaster, and ours came in the form of a cracked chimney tile. This created the opportunity to move our woodstove from the kitchen to the dining room, where it has some chance of actually heating the house. We got the bad news two weeks ago and worked fast. Our mason opened the dining room wall last Monday, only to find a copper water line. All work stopped while we looked for a heating specialist to move the pipe.
Luckily, a young friend is coming to do the job on Sunday. Meanwhile, we have a hole in the dining room wall, and the rest of the room is a shambles. Whatever you do, don’t use our back stairs. The contents of our china cabinet are lined up on its treads. That staircase’s primary function is as a laundry chute, so we’re on pins and needles. If we forget, we’ll shatter a lifetime of useless collecting in a single moment.
And more mess. I bought the wine totally for its name.
Yesterday the storm that’s plagued the northeast this week finally showed up in mid-coast Maine. With so few people out, Sandy Quang left work early and stopped here to collect her mail. The poor young gallerist was about to enjoy a busman’s holiday. She spent the afternoon and evening helping me hang my work. She’s much better at it than me, and she has the additional advantage of a fresh eye. By the time we finished, the snow had stopped. It was a beautiful night, the moon shining dimly through the clearing clouds.
Even though the studio is a mess, I took a video of it for Bobbi Heath. “Are you posting that on Instagram?” she asked. No; it’s a mess, and I’m not very good at video. “People love to see the sausage being made,” she countered. She’s right; the two small videos I posted are being watched. Here’s a link and a link if you are also an avid sausage viewer.
Happy New Year! by Carol L. Douglas

Which brings me to my two resolutions for the new year. First, I’m going to learn to take a decent video. Second, I’m going to master my email list. But I’m always conflicted about email.

Yesterday I timed how many emails I was deleting. It was about 15 an hour, all asking me to donate money or to shop. That didn’t include the ones that ended up in my spam folder, which I watch carefully—Bruce McMillan’s very fine Postcard of the Daywas landing there for a while.
You can meet the original of my 4-H Christmas Angel on Saturday. She’s presiding over my tree, as she does every year.
That overload makes me hate the medium. But it’s a necessary evil, I’m afraid, at least until something better comes along.
Meanwhile, I hope to see you—in person—at my studio on Saturday. Here are the details, as if you could possibly forget them:
Carol L. Douglas Studio Open House
Saturday, December 7, 2019
Noon to Five
394 Commercial Street, Rockport

Monday Morning Art School: drawing a globe

Start with the mechanical measurement and work your way down to the details.
All illustrations are by Carol L. Douglas (left) and Sandy P. Quang (right)
By now, the long slog to decorate for the Christmas holidays is in full swing. If you haven’t got your tree up, you’ve at least located the boxes and asked your family to help you carry them down from the attic. (Good luck with that, by the way.) Find a simple, round, reflective ornament. That’s your subject for today.
Those of you who don’t believe in Santa Claus or haven’t found the ornaments yet can find a spherical object to substitute. A ball or a snow-globe will work just fine.
The ornaments in question.
Some of you might know Sandy Quang; she was my painting student in Rochester. She went on to get a BFA from Pratt and an MFA from Hunter and now works at Maine Media Workshops and Camden Falls Gallery. And, she just enrolled in an MBA program at University of Maine. The girl never sleeps.
I asked her if she wanted to draw with me. As my students do, she had her sketchbook tucked in her backpack. “Which one do you want?” I asked her. She chose the spider ornament.
Noting the axes.
Recently, I wrote about drawing a glass dish, which is a series of ellipses on a central axis. A circle is easier to draw than an ellipse; it’s an ellipse that is symmetrical on all sides. A sphere appears to be a circle when it’s viewed in two dimensions. This is an unbreakable rule.
We both added details. Mine were the ellipses on the collar of the ornament; Sandy’s were the beaded legs of the spider and her first markings for reflections.
Both of us started with the axis of our drawing. For me, that was the vertical axis; for Sandy it was the axis holding her circles together. I mention this because when people say “I can’t draw!” they seldom realize how much of drawing is mechanical, simple measurement. It’s best to learn this from life, since the measurement has already been done for you when you work from a photo. You can easily work back from life drawing to working with pictures, but it’s harder to go the other way.
Next, we both put the appendages on our spheres. For me, that meant measuring the ellipses in the collar, as I demonstrated in detail in an earlier post. For Sandy, it was the beaded spider legs. Sandy was starting to note the overall areas of reflection in her spheres.
Marking out the outlines of our reflected shapes.

Sandy and I chose different approaches in the next step, dictated by the paper we were working on. Because I had a smooth Bristol, I was able to blend my pencil line into smooth darks with my finger. Sandy could only work light-to-dark on the rougher paper she was carrying. That gives you the chance to see two different approaches to shading.

We both worked on shading next. I finished my shading with an eraser, Sandy couldn’t do that because her paper was too rough.
Sandy has a shadow under her final drawing because the ornament was sitting directly on my coffee table. I put the reflection of myself drawing in my ornament.
All drawing rests on accurate observation and measurement. Get that right and the shading and mark-making is simple.
This post originally ran in December, 2017. It’s been edited.

Talent, and other lies we tell our children

What’s the difference between a duffer and a star in any business? Hard work, intelligence and luck, not some ineffable quality of ‘talent’.
Painting of an Airstream trailer by Kathleen Gray Farthing for Plein Air Brandywine Valley.
When Kathleen Gray Farthing was a lass, her parents didn’t want her to major in art in college. You know the arguments; they start with “you can’t make a living as an artist.” Then her engineer father needed a graphic designer on a project. He was astonished at how much this man charged to do art, which he’d always thought of as a hobby.
Kathleen’s father took her drawings to this visiting graphic designer and asked him for a pronouncement. “She’ll never be a Brooks Robinson,” the man opined, “but she can play ball.”
The Cottage, by Kathleen Gray Farthing for Plein Air Brandywine Valley
It was both a cold assessment, and a curse intended to consign her to mediocrity. The equivalent to Brooks Robinson in the art world at the time was perhaps Jamie Wyeth. He was being lauded as the ‘heir of the Brandywine tradition’. There has only ever been one person born with his advantages. To his credit, he’s used them well. But there are many other great painters out there as well. They may not be on the cover of glossy magazines, but they build happy lives painting work that brings joy to many thousands of people.
I was terrible in math in high school. I’d been told all my life that my gifts lay in art and language and not in math or science, so I lived down to that prediction. Then I discovered that math is just a language that describes spatial relationships. I took math to multivariable calculus in college, earning all As. I accidentally escaped the curse of being bad at math by being good at art.
Walking into October, by Kathleen Gray Farthing for Plein Air Brandywine Valley
I’ve taught enough people to know that they blossom and grow in amazing ways. Take Sandy Quang, who is the daughter of non-English-speaking immigrants. She went to community college because that was her only option. Today, she has a BFA from Pratt Institute and an MA from Hunter College.
I had a teenage superstar in my studio back in Rochester. He had all the drive, ambition, and skill to be a very successful painter, and he want to RISD. Today he’s a set painter, working in the theater district, a paid-up member of Local One IATSE. But he’s not painting on canvases anymore, to my great regret.
Two of his classmates also studied with me. One was interested in science and art. Today, she’s a graduate architect, working toward her full licensing, and painting landscape in her spare time. The other went off to Hollywood to try his hand at acting. Today, he’s studying at Gobelins, L’École de L’Image in Paris.
Raining on John Deere, by Kathleen Gray Farthing for Brandywine Plein Air
Perhaps that long-ago critic thought Kathleen was too traditional to be a success in the art world of the late 20th century. Realism, after all, had been buried with full honors, and Kathleen isn’t the type to use her naked body as a printing plate. But it was an error to think the art world would stay in that state forever. Since then, realism has made an amazing comeback.
Like all of us, Kathleen’s had home runs and strikeouts in the decades since. Just last week, she painted a stunner, a miniature with loose brushwork, assured composition, and great mystery in the background. (It’s not online, so I can’t show you.) She’s overcome that curse through sheer hard work, and that’s an excellent lesson for all of us.

Let me invite you to my friend Sue’s party

Home from my last trip, I find the scene suddenly shifted to holiday joy
By Julie Haskell. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.
Sue Baines of the Kelpie Gallery is having a party on Saturday afternoon, 3-6. She makes the best hors d’ouevres in the world, and she’s a dab hand with coffee. I, obviously, plan to be there. If you’re in mid-coast Maine, you should go too.
I occasionally feel a frisson of guilt when I invite my pals to Sue’s events, because they really are more party than opening. I should probably offer to help. But she’s so darn talented in the kitchen, anything I did would stick out like a sore thumb. Still, she encourages me to invite you, and I’d like to see you.
By Gwen Sylvester, courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.
Don’t expect a hard sell. Sue isn’t like that. She doesn’t have to be. Her gallery is filled with absolutely wonderful work, beautifully curated in a light, airy space. I’m not saying that just because she represents me.
By John Bowdren, courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.
I know she sets up this event so all price points are represented. But that doesn’t mean the less-expensive pieces are any less beautiful. You can come away with a Christmas gift that’s handmade, local, and meaningful at a price that won’t break the bank. Or, if you’d rather break the bank, she can point you to some fantastic paintings.
By Kay Sullivan, courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.
Speaking of seasonal shifts, the great wooden boat fleet is shrink-wrapped at Camden and Rockport. You can finally find parking spaces at the harbor. Sadly, it also means Camden Falls Gallery will soon be closing for their winter hiatus. They’ve had a stellar collection of marine paintings this season, and you’d be remiss in not stopping by one more time before Howard and Margaret Gallagher set sail for the south. If you see Sandy Quang there, say hi. She’s my goddaughter.

Déjà vu, by Jill Valliere. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery 

Last, but certainly not least, my next session of plein air classes starts in Rockport next Tuesday. No, I’m not insane; the weather has been fine and the scenes achingly beautiful this autumn. This class runs every Tuesday through December 18, from 10 to 1, and the fee is $200. It’s where the cognoscenti of mid-coast Maine meet, so be there or be square.