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.

Messing around

“The light changed,” is a ridiculous complaint anywhere, but nowhere more so than on the sea.
Somewhere in Eggemoggin Reach, as the rain cleared off. (All images by and reserved by Carol L. Douglas)
My intent in going out on the American Eaglewasn’t to paint. I planned to relax, talk to new people, listen to Captain John Foss’ hoary jokes, and read. At the last minute, I slipped my watercolors in my duffel bag and made it a busman’s holiday. Not only did I have a good time, so did several other people who tried out my paints.
An oil painting from the deck, during last summer’s venture.
Last June I painted in oils from this boat. I had fun but was an obstacle to the crew and captain. Even my small easel took up too much space along the main cabin. I was constantly grabbing it to prevent it flying into the sea. American Eagle is a highly-polished, much-loved vessel. I worried that I would accidentally stain her deck with some brilliant pigment that would forever rankle the captain.
Dinghy in Bass Harbor.
Watercolor simplified things. It meant I could work on a board on my lap, it’s a smaller kit, and it’s faster. My mistakes would wash away.
The passing ocean scene provides limited composition options. You can put the horizon high, low or in the middle. Short of the occasional porpoise, grey seal, or lobster boat, there isn’t much happening to break it. That hard, unbroken line is, in some ways, the essence of the subject. I had to learn to love it.
Browns Head Lighthouse.
I used sea-water, which is something I learned from Poppy Balser. It causes the paint to granulate slightly as it dries, similarly to sprinkling salt on select passages. I had a bucket and therefore all the salt water I needed. I did wash my brushes in fresh water at night, to preserve the ferrules.
I tend to splash things around with great abandon however I paint. These usual slovenly habits got in my way on this trip. The bright sun was deceptive. On the ocean, in the middle of October, my paper took a very long time to dry. I filled the time as best I could by messing around. Still I occasionally misjudged my surfaces.
Exiting Stonington.
The sea is ultimately a reduction to two elements: water and air. Even out of sight of land, the view is different in every direction. The sky changes and the water changes. To paint this is anything but simple. In moments the sea can go from molten silver to deepest green, and you can do nothing but follow obediently along. “The light changed,” is a ridiculous complaint anywhere, but nowhere more so than on the sea.
Looking home toward Beech Hill.
On our last day out, Captain John Foss turned over the wheel to Sam Sikkema, who captains the Picton Castle out of Lunenburg, NS, in her trans-Atlantic training trips. I was sketching Beech Hill at the time and a new friend, Lee Auchincloss of Navigator Publishing, was painting the Camden Hills.
Sam let out the old Eagle’s stays. Suddenly, the rail was low and my subject obscured. But I’m hardly complaining. It was a fleet finish to a beautiful week. Now, it’s back to work for all of us.

New name, same vision

Penobscot East Resource Center has changed its name to Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries. It’s still the same great group.

High Tide, Scott Island, by Carol L. Douglas
Artists are besieged by requests for auction items. I’ve written before about how you should contribute if you support the organization’s goals, but not because you think it will give you a tax deduction.
One organization I endorse is the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries (MCCF) in Stonington. This non-profit is dedicated to maintaining sustainable fishing off the Maine coast forever. They think this should be a three-pronged approach:
  • ·         Preserve our diverse ecosystem;
  • ·         Assure continued access to fishing;
  • ·         Maintain profitability for community-scale fishermen.

Much of the charm of the Maine coast comes from the fishing industry: the lobster fleets bobbing merrily in small harbors and coves, colorful traps stacked on wharves or fashioned into Christmas trees in the holiday season.
Stonington Green, by Bobbi Heath
The tourist industry is closely entwined with the fishing industry. So is the landscape-painting industry. That’s especially true for people like me, who paint a lot of boats.
For that reason, I’ve contributed painted buoys to MCCF’s auction for several years. My personal favorites were the Mermaid Madonna and the Lobster That Ate New York, although the lupineand fishones probably netted the group more money.
Stonington Public Landing, by Carol L. Douglas (courtesy the Kelpie Gallery)
Last year, Bobbi Heathjoined me in contributing a buoy. This year, we’re both contributing again. Happily, the organization has opened the auction up to include conventional paintings. I found painting on a cylinder to be devilishly difficult.
On Friday, I delivered a painting done off Stonington, entitled High Tide, Scott Island. I did this off the deck of American Eagle last summer. It was an idyllic day, and I hope my happiness at being on the water is apparent.
I also delivered Bobbi’s painting, Stonington Green. Administrative Director Bobbi Billings recognized the house as belonging to someone she knew. That kind of validation always tickles me, and I wish Bobbi Heath had been there to hear it.
The auction will be held on August 7 at the Opera House in Stonington. For more information, contact MCCF here.
Stonington waterfront (unfinished) by Carol L. Douglas
Friday was one of those days where every curve in the road elicits a gasp of delight at the wonder and glory of spring. Stonington is absurdly beautiful, but it’s also two hours from my studio. I’m lucky to get up there once or twice a summer. That has a bad effect on painting, because the pressure to choose the ‘right’ scene is immense.
I set up on the deck of MCCF’s office. It provides an iconic view of Stonington, with its repeating mansard roofs. I gave myself a strict deadline, after which I would have to be on my way. There’s a lot of drawing in the painting, and I have to adjust a roofline, but I very nearly made it.
Friday’s rainbow off Lincolnville.
I finished in complete solitude in the limpid light of late afternoon, the tide having filled the basin that lies before the town. In the distance, I could hear a foghorn bleating. The Maine coast produces erratic weather and distorts sound, so I had no idea where it might be raining. I packed my gear and reluctantly headed west. I wasn’t much past Orland when this Spring’s ever-present rain hit my windshield in earnest.

How to paint something that makes no sense

"Coal Seam," by Carol L. Douglas

“Coal Seam,” by Carol L. Douglas
We’ve all had the experience of loving an abstracted landscape painting, only to finally visit the site on which it was painted and realize it was much more realistic than we’d thought. Visiting Ghost Ranch with Georgia O’Keeffe in mind is an excellent example. There are iconic views that make sense no matter who paints them, like Motif Number One in Rockport, MA. On the flip side, there are things that wouldn’t be believable even in the most realistic of styles.
This was the case with the coal seam I painted along the Red Deer River in Canada’s badlands. It’s small, it’s odd, and I like it, even though I’m still not sure I’m finished.
This is what my camera saw of the coal seam. It's an excellent argument for plein air painting.

This is what my camera saw of the coal seam. It’s an excellent argument for plein air painting.
I didn’t finish the painting on-site because the vibrations from the high winds were making my easel unusable. I was shocked to look at my reference painting and see how bleached the place looks in a photo. Those seams of rock were a beautiful cross-play of color in real life.
"Goosefare Reflection," by Carol L. Douglas

“Goosefare Reflection,” by Carol L. Douglas
This summer I painted Goosefare Creek in Ocean Park, ME, which ended up being a similar abstraction. The Goosefare’s mouth changes course with every nor’easter that blows through. That means you can take any artistic liberty you want. I was interested in the sand and its reflection in the wide arc of the stream.

"Sunset off Stonington," by Carol L. Douglas

“Sunset off Stonington,” by Carol L. Douglas
Sunrises and sunsets sometimes seem artificial to me. The one above was painted from the deck of the American Eagle off Stonington, ME. I threw it down in disgust after touching up the colors last week, complaining that I had ruined it.
“What do you do with the ones you don’t like?” a friend asked.
“Swear and get back to work on them,” I answered.
In fact, after a few days not looking at it, I think the light and color are really quite accurate.
"Rain squall on Lake Huron," by Carol L. Douglas

“Rain squall on Lake Huron,” by Carol L. Douglas
I had about fifteen minutes to limb out this storm on Lake Huron before the blowing rain emulsified my paint. Finishing it was just a matter of adding some final coverage. I wouldn’t do more with it, because even though it’s just a few brushstrokes, it tells the viewer everything he needs to know.
There’s something to be said for not jumping in too fast to ‘fix’ a plein air piece. You can easily destroy what’s quirky and wonderful about it because to your tired eyes it looks just wrong.