So you want to paint in Maine

Tell me what you want to paint and I’ll tell you where to go.
Cliff below Owls Head, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy The Kelpie Gallery.
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).
The Three Graces, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Camden Falls Gallery.
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.
But if Poppy wants to paint trawlers, she’ll have to go south to Rockland’s Municipal Fish Pier. We could paint at the North End Shipyard or the city’s famous lighthouse. Below the Apprentice Shop, there’s a great view of the working harbor. It’s a city famous for its art, from the Farnsworth Art Museumand Center for Maine Contemporary Art to its innumerable commercial galleries. Like Belfast, it has a beautiful downtown.
American Eagle in Drydock, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Camden Falls Gallery.
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. 
Tenant’s Harbor is a place I haven’t painted enough. It has a lobster pound, a fishing fleet, an inlet and beautiful architecture. Mosquito Harboris lined with low marshes. Then there’s Drift Inn beach, and the Marshall Point Lighthousebefore we get to Port Clyde. This is another famous beauty spot, with a great fishing harbor visible from many angles. It’s also where we catch the ferry to Monhegan.
Lobster Pound at Tenants Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy The Kelpie Gallery.
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.

Reentering the work world

Sometimes you need a hair of the dog what bit you.

Sunset near Clark Island, by Carol L. Douglas

There are very few people I would invite over when my house isn’t clean. Bobbi Heath is one of them. She kindly brought dinner. My cough has lingered and I was downright crabby. I wasn’t sure reality was any place I wanted to be dragged back to. She ignored all that, and I’m far better for it.

The best place for rolling ocean breakers near me is in St. George, which is south of Penobscot and its canopy of islands. The tide was rising, throwing up a good screen of spray. I had about three hours where it would be in roughly the same position as it rose, paused and started to drop again.
That gave me time to approach the business of painting in a gingerly way. I did a fast watercolor sketch, which seemed like less of a commitment. The surf and the wind died as the tide turned.
Off Marshall Point, watercolor, by Carol L. Douglas
When a wave’s height reaches a point of instability, it breaks. Part of its energy is converted to turbulence, which we see as foam. How this happens varies depending on what’s hidden below the water’s surface. If the ocean floor slopes gradually up, the wave steepens until the top becomes unstable. Whitewater spills down the face of the wave. This results in long, slow breakers.
We don’t have a gradual seafloor in Maine. Here, breakers trip and collapse over ledges and sandbars. These breakers are fast and violent, releasing their energy much more quickly than a gentle spilling wave.
Being close to the Bay of Fundy, we also have a relatively high tide. That means a lot can change in an hour. At high tide, there was nothing for my particular waves to get excited about. They ended their careers in a gentle roll onto the rocks. Still, that’s as interesting as the collision of breakers, and so I painted that in oils.
Rolling, not breaking, by Carol L. Douglas
I was most interested in the light conditions, anyway. I like a strong, raking sidelight, which autumn provides here in the north. Bobbi introduced me to a new term for this: contre-jour. That’s just old-fashioned backlighting in party clothes. I found it, almost in excess.
Already, the sun makes no effort to reach the top of the vault of heaven, dragging itself around the sky’s perimeter like an old man. It sparkles like a jewel on the water and it darn near blinds the painter. Still, every old farmhouse shone like an architectural jewel, and every plant and tree was picked out in beautiful gold. It’s the most beautiful time of the year in the northeast.
I’m no birder, and I don’t recognize these fellows. They’re about the size of songbirds.
We each did a second painting, down the road in quiet South Thomaston. There was little company except flying things—some gulls, some wee water birds, and several pounds of mosquitoes per square yard.
Sooner than I expected, it was evening and my truncated workweek was done. On Saturday, I had coffee with New Brunswick artists Alan and Helen Spinney. On Sunday, I clambered around a steep piece of hillside in Belfast. Today I feel almost normal. Thanks, Bobbi.

Respecting private property

Nobody’s around and you want to paint. Find the owner, ask for permission, or just don’t do it.

The Dugs in Autumn, by Carol L. Douglas, was painted from the shoulder of a public road.

We don’t have air conditioning here. On the most torrid of coastal Maine nights we might run a box fan. This morning I woke shivering and ran to my closet for my fluffy robe. It’s 40° F, with an expected high of 62°. This is the start of sweater weather, and it’s the maddest, gladdest season of the whole year. It’s my favorite season to paint, and I will be heading out as soon as I finish this.

Last year I followed autumn across the continent from Alaska to Labrador. It’s very different in the west, where the gold aspens flame across the dark spruces. Here in the northeast, we have a more conventional show of reds and golds against the greens. That’s because we live in a hardwood forest.
Yesterday I went out exploring with Bobbi Heath. She showed me a nature preserve in my own back yard. This is Fernalds Neck, which juts out into Megunticook Lakein Camden. I’d been down the road, since a friend lives there, but didn’t realize it continued on past her house. I’m cautious about trespassing, as a general rule.
Rockport Autumn Afternoon, by Carol L. Douglas, was painted on private property, with permission.
The red (or swamp) maples were starting their show of brilliant crimson, but that’s not where we will head today. Instead, we’re aiming for the St. George Peninsula. Yesterday we scoped out a footbridge, a dinghy, and some slow-rolling waves, the last remnants of hurricane.
Some of these require standing on private property. We asked for permission at the places that interested us. Part of our job is to be ambassadors for plein air painting. That means respecting private property rights.
An artist is within his or her rights to paint from the shoulder of the road. However, boathouses, lawns and businesses are private property. So are the inviting water meadows that stretch out from the road. That ‘million dollar view’ may, in fact, be a commercial investment of a great deal of money. It looks unoccupied and poetic to you, but those heaps of buoys, pot-warp and traps are part of the owners’ livelihood, and they don’t want you messing around with them.
Wabash bottom lands, by Carol L. Douglas, was painted on private property with permission.
A few years ago, Bobbi and I set up on a roadside in Port Clyde, near an unassuming garage. While we were there, several other painters bushwacked behind the garage to paint. The owner showed up. He was rightfully enraged by the encroachment. Since we were on the road, we caught the brunt of his anger.
I’ve asked for permission to paint hundreds of times. I’ve been told ‘no’ many times. Usually it’s because the owner is chary of a lawsuit. In Indiana, I once set up along a swampy road along the Wabash River. A local warned me off. “There’s a meth house down there,” he told me.
Sadly, that’s a more common danger in modern America than wild animals. In rural New York, I set up on a roadside to paint a bucolic barn scene. A woman came out of her house and asked what I was doing. I explained and asked her, as a courtesy, if she minded. “I sure do,” she snapped. In that case, you should just leave.
Cattle, Sweets Corners Road, by Carol L. Douglas, was painted from the road side of an electric fence.
Of course, you should also respect fences. Cows and horses are pretty, but they can also be territorial, and you have no business being inside their enclosures.
Having said that, most people like artists and are curious about what we’re doing. In fact, most of my easel sales have been unexpected purchases by property owners who stopped by to look at my work.

Go Barons!

Everyone on this planet is separated by only six other people, but you have to find the right six people to make the connection.


On Saturday, I drove to Tenants Harbor to drop off paintings at the Jackson Memorial Library for Plein Air Painters of Maine’s annual show. I knew, vaguely, that the library had moved, but I didn’t anticipate any trouble finding the new one. Tenants Harbor is tiny.
Luise van Keuren gave me a tour of the new library building. It is spacious, contemporary, light-filled and painted in soft, restful tones. The Town of St. George numbered 2,591 people at the last census. They’ve built a library that any swank New York suburb would be proud of.
St. George is comprised of five villages: Spruce Head, Clark Island, Tenants Harbor, Martinsville, and Port Clyde. It has a consolidated K-8 school in Tenants Harbor, attended by about 200 kids. After they finish grade eight, kids can choose to go to one of five regional high schools. This is the Maine way.
Anchor, by Carol L. Douglas
Media studies are pushing libraries out of public schools everywhere in the country. In Tenants Harbor, the public library is picking up the slack. Kids walk down a snow-filled forest path that connects their school with the Jackson Library. They get their library periods and after-school programs there.
In foreign aid, local, fast and nimble aid projects have been popular for several decades, via things like small-scale aid projects and micro-credit. In our own country, we gravitate toward one-size-fits-all solutions. Luckily, libraries are still, by and large, locally controlled and funded. If we apportioned them using the same, vicious cost/benefit approach we take for most things, Tenants Harbor wouldn’t even have a library. But for now, Maine loves her libraries and it shows.
It was time to leave, but my husband was deep in conversation with the library’s director, Deb Armer. Turns out she once lived around the corner from us in Brighton, NY, where her husband had also gone to high school. Go Barons!

I also included this palm tree, because I’m sick of the snow. Well, I was visiting Cali Veilleux, and she’s from Spruce Head, so there is a Maine theme, right?
“There are three people at this library with some connection to Brighton,” she told us. In New York terms, Brighton is a tiny pin prick on the map, with a population of 37,000. It is well-represented here in our little corner of Maine.
Alene Kennedy at the library created a lovely poster for the show, which I’ve reproduced above. I plan to be at the opening. I can’t wait to see what my painter friends have been up to. We only paint together some of the time, after all.
The opening is Friday, April 7, from 6-8 PM. Just go down Route 131 past the General Store, the Post Office, and the Town Hall, and it will be on your right. If you cross the creek, you’ve gone too far. See you there!

Road with a view

A million quiet moments of beauty are in every vista. (Photo by Sandy Quang)

A million quiet moments of beauty are in every vista. (Photo by Sandy Quang)
One of the tasks of a plein air painting teacher is to locate painting sites. Not only must they have good subject matter, but they must be safe, have sufficient parking, and give access to a bathroom or a quiet stretch of shrubbery. They should be easily accessible to people coming from a wide range of places. Some of my favorites are on the St. George Peninsula.
After being surprised by the overgrowth at Glen Cove a few weeks ago, I decided I should reconnoiter more. Even that doesn’t always work. When I got to Spruce Head yesterday, a bucket truck was parked where I’d hoped to teach, doing something to the power lines. No matter. A little farther along there was ample parking and a different view.
Yesterday's view from the causeway at Spruce Head. (Photo by Sandy Quang)

Yesterday’s view from the causeway at Spruce Head. (Photo by Sandy Quang)
Back in the day, studios at the Art Students League were jammed full of students, to a degree non-New Yorkers would never accept. Needless to say, not everyone had a “good view.” We were expected to make the most of what we had. It was very good training in finding the sublime anywhere.
In general, if you can’t find something to paint, it’s your mind that need adjusting, not the view. That’s not to say that it’s not easier in Maine, where every twist in the road brings something new. But there are many levels of beauty in every scene.
Yesterday, my students all painted variations of a dinghy at rest on the mud flats. It was an easily accessible composition, and it’s what I would have painted. But sometimes when you’re sitting quietly in nature, other things begin to vie with your attention—a rock formation, the shadows formed by a dock. For me, that usually happens about halfway through a painting, when I realize I’m actually more interested in something completely different from where I started.
A heron flew in to fish in the shallows. He spent the whole morning with us.
I currently have three students painting in water-based media. For the teacher, having both oils and watercolor in your class requires turning your brain inside out repeatedly, for the basic way you see and work—light vs. dark—is reversed between them.
Sheryl Cassibry and I did this little watercolor sketch together, as a way of exploring how the medium works.

Sheryl Cassibry and I did this little watercolor sketch together, as a way of exploring how the medium works.
Sheryl Cassibry and I did a joint watercolor painting in my sketchbook last week. We took turns painting on it. It was a fun way to explore how the medium works.
My Southern readers will laugh, but even out on Spruce Head, it was just too hot to paint. My car thermometer read 79° F. as I drove back to Rockport. I’m not acclimated to any kind of heat, and standing out in the blazing sun with a strong on-shore breeze, I got a terrific headache.
It wasn’t just me, either. Renee Lammers told me later that it was too hot to paint in Stonington, too. “I think I need a cooling vest,” she said. Maybe she’ll invent one.