Receiving angels

My studio. Clifford doesn’t stay here but I have to remove some doors before he can be moved. Wish you were here.
Since Friday, I’ve loaded half my earthly belongings on a 16’ rental truck, hooked my Prius up to it on a trailer, driven a gazillion miles, unloaded the truck and trailer and returned it to a rental center in Waterville, ME. It’s no surprise I’m moving slowly this morning.
The only way to live like a vagabond is to organize the hell out of your life, and that’s what I usually do. When you’re 25 and moving into your first home, you have a strong back and lots of young friends. When you’re my age, you have a weak back and you realize, sadly, that your friends are all in the same boat.
My business life, still shrink-wrapped.
But I have a husband and children, and they have friends, and the combination got that truck loaded and out of Rochester. The problem was on the Maine side, where it was down to me and a crusty old codger who busted up his back as a stone mason. It took us five hours of brutal hard work to get the heavy stuff off the truck and into either the studio or the garage.
That’s my modem and router. I decided I needed coffee before I got it working, which is why this is late. Coffee, food, internet: McDonald’s.
When I suggested he ride to Waterville with me to turn in the truck, he told me he was going home and taking a nap instead. “You can’t get they-ah from he-ah,” he told me in his broadest Maine accent.
This, my friends, is about a thousand pounds of paper and steel. Unloaded by the crusty old codger and me. Youth and talent are no match for old age and treachery.
I can’t back the Prius off the trailer without a spotter. It was a Sunday, the rental place was locked up tight, and the only people around were hanging out the windows of the bar across the street.
“Just gun it and pray like mad,” my friend had suggested as he drove away.
I sloshed around in the mud, disconnected my car, pulled out the ramps, checked to make sure everything was neat. As I was about to take a deep breath and follow his advice, an old beater driven by a young gearhead pulled into the lot.
It’s a darn good thing I pulled out my stuff for Olana before I left Rochester.
“You work here?” I asked him. Well, he didn’t, not exactly, but he guided me off the ramp anyway.
‘Lean less on your own understanding and more on God’s provision’ is something I give lip service to, but am not very good at. But, boy, it’s nice when it works.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Gonna take a sentimental journey

We’ve had a lot of good times in this studio, including swing-dancing model Michelle Long.
I am frequently asked, “How do you feel about this move? Are you excited? Sad to leave?” I have loved the 21 years I’ve been in Rochester, but I’m ready to move on. Most of my thinking has been practical, not reflective.
Now my studio is dismantled, just a heap of boxes.
Except today.
I was packing my studio with my younger daughter when a Taylor Swift song started playing. If you’ve raised teenagers, you know they tend to play songs until they’re burned into your mind, and this one reminded me powerfully of her teen years. “I don’t want to leave,” I sniffed at her.
“Get real, Mom,” she said. “Of course you want to do this.” And she’s right, but I have had a lot of fun here.
The girl, making me cry.
On that note, I received a lovely note today from a student. I almost declined to take her because I didn’t feel I could accomplish much in the few weeks she had to work with me. And yet, she has turned out to be an amazing pupil and painter.

“I made a list of things I learned in your class,” she wrote. “This is not exhaustive, but some highlights.”
  • Charcoal is a wonderful sketching medium, great for roughing in tones, and very easy to rub out if you aren’t pleased with the results.
  • Don’t hold your paintbrush like a pencil, hold it out closer to the end and magic happens. (Okay, maybe not magic, but the results are much better.)
  • How to mix reds.
  • How to mix greens.
  • How to organize a palette.
  • All about easels.
  • How to fold a plastic bag.
  • Buy paints by pigments, not by their “lipstick” names.
  • Warm light, cool shadows or cool light, warm shadows.
  • Paired primaries—learn them and love them!
  • Don’t belly-up to your painting. Stand back. And sometimes, step back.
  • How to build a painting: establish a tone study on the canvas (using a mix of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna), then block in colors, and then develop them dark to light.
  • Be brave about putting marks on the canvas. And keep putting marks on canvas, or paper, or whatever.
No student every did more color exercises in my class than Matt Menzies. Matt, I’m throwing that big palette away today.

She learned all this in about 18 hours of instruction time.
Which brings me to my Maine workshop. If she could learn so much in just a few half-days, imagine what you can do in an intensive week of study. I have just a few openings left, and I strongly encourage you to register now.
Marilyn Feinberg, Kamillah Ramos and Zoe Clark, on a warm summer day painting at Irondequoit Bay. All three of them left Rochester before me.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Back to the studio

There were visitors to the gallery all evening long. The show is up until April 11.
You can be the belle of the ball on Friday night, but you’re still a painting teacher on Saturday morning. It was a great opening with a fabulous turnout, and lots of insightful questions. There were crowds until 10 PM, at which time I stumbled home to bed, because Saturday mornings are always a rush.
Teressa’s been drawing on and off with me for a few years, but she finally bit the bullet and did her first painting this weekend.
Painting classes, I’ve noticed, are split between two populations. There are the forty- and fifty-somethings who always wanted to paint but never had time, and young people from their mid-teens to mid-twenties. This makes for a nice mix of people in the studio, but it also tells us something about our times. Nobody in the prime working years has time. They’re running flat out. Between grasping the brass ring and raising children, everything else takes a back seat.
My own Mary, who’s a talented artist but majoring in biomedical engineering, graced my studio with her presence. I am afraid I will have to ask her for some lessons in drawing with a tablet one of these days.
It’s kind of a pity that we’re so frenetically busy from our mid-twenties to our mid-forties. The time to be reflective shouldn’t be a luxury of the old and the young.
So it’s back to business as usual, but I’ll have the flowers to remind me of a wonderful evening. Thanks, guys!

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

The Winnowing Fork

I threw out 90% of my drawings, keeping only those of sentimental value. This could be nobody but my friend, clothing designer Jane Bartlett, posing for a quick sketch.

I recently bought new pads of newsprint , and they tipped me into chaos. I finally faced the truth that there wasn’t a single corner in which to shove one more thing in my studio. It wasn’t a simple question of emptying one drawer to accommodate the newsprint, either. My whole studio had become a tangled skein of art supplies, finished work, and projects under way.

And this, of course is my long-term plein air pal Marilyn Feinberg, being unusually still.
Twelve man-hours later, the winnowing fork has done its duty, and I can think again.
Of sentimental value for a totally different reason. This is the cartoon for a painting I envisioned of my doctor removing my staples after my first cancer surgery. I probably will never paint it, of course, but it would have been more fun than the surgery. Imagine that green florescent hospital lighting of old…
Artists tend to be pack-rats—after all, one never knows when that beaver skull or fake mustache will come in handy. But at a certain point, the clutter overwhelms. I paint best in a spare, very ordered environment, and much of my working day is spent trying to stop myself from trashing that.
The plein air board stash. Neatly reduced (although I suspect there’s another box of them in my frame shop).
Out went the acetate and rubylith left over from the days when designers stripped in pages. Out went stained or marked paper.  Out went damaged prints.
About a decade ago I decided to save all my gesture drawings. I have no idea why; I’ve never looked at any of them since. Out they went, too, netting me a full flat-file drawer for other purposes. I tossed a large stack of mediocre drawings, keeping only a few of sentimental value and a couple of painting cartoons that still amuse me.
I’ve finally realized that rubylith and amberlith and hand-stripping tabloid-size pages are never coming back. OK, I realized that a decade ago, but I still thought I could think of something to do with all that stuff. It’s on the curb now.
About once a year, I toss out several pounds of paintings I no longer like. I slash these canvases and boards, because I never want them returning, zombie-like, to embarrass me in the future. I reserve the right to edit the story of my life, and that includes my work.
What remains is a mixture of unfinished work that is in some way instructive, finished work that’s just “resting” outside frames for a short while, and a whole range of stuff I’m still not sure about.

Next up, my frame shop. That’s a scary thought.

Now that I’m so darn organized, I can start thinking about what’s coming up. There is only one slot open for my July workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME, and August and September are sold out.  Join us in July or October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

More on that winnowing thing

Everything I’ve sorted so far pales in comparison to the business of sorting paintings with a critical eye… there are works that aren’t mine, works I can’t assess the quality of, and works I hope to finish some day.

The Duchy is perched on the side of Rochester’s only hill. This makes it prone to short bursts of flooding. Given the monsoon-like rains of this week, Coach and I suspended our regular workout in favor of clearing storm drains with a hoe and a trowel.
Too much of a good thing leads inexorably to trouble.
New York is lush in late spring, and the Duchy tends to go for over-the-top horticultural displays. I confess I’ve contributed my share of them, having designed and planted St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church’s gardens as well as growing a profusion of roses, peonies and ornamental trees on my own small plot.
Blossoms, seed pods, soil, mulch, and clippings… all creating concrete in the storm drains.
Of course, a surfeit of good things can be as troublesome as any bad thing. The Duchy’s trees are lavishly shedding blossoms and seed pods. That has combined with soil, mulch and clippings washing down from gardens and along the gutters. Now, blossoms and seed pods and soil, mulch and clippings are all great things, but in excess they’ve packed the storm drains up like concrete.
Winnowing is an ugly job… but absolutely necessary.
This brings my thoughts inexorably back to my own studio. There are stacks and stacks of my field sketches, and paintings by my students, and unfinished canvases for which I still harbor some hope, not to mention art supplies that I may use someday. All are unabashedly good things, but taken as a whole, they’ve blocked my studio up as surely as those storm drains.
The hidden stashes don’t count if they’re in a dark closet, do they?

This, then, is the next big step in the winnowing process.
And if you haven’t signed up for my Rochester classes or Maine workshops, what on earth are you waiting for? August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME… and the other sessions are selling fast.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

Fall classes starting now!

The model’s eye point of view…

Studio in Art

Saturday, 10-1
Tuesday, 2:30-5:30

(Oil, pastel, acrylic, watercolor)This class focuses on still life as a fundamental tool for developing drawing and painting technique. It is appropriate for both beginning and advanced students. Instruction emphasizes direct painting, where paint is applied solidly rather than through glazing. For watercolor and acrylic, the emphasis is on alla prima techniques.

High school juniors and seniors interested in pursuing a BFA are especially encouraged to sign up for this class. I have an excellent track record in helping students develop outstanding college portfolios.


Open Model Sessions, by invitation only

Our open model sessions are moved to Friday afternoons. Please contact me if you want more information.

Autumn is always a difficult time to schedule, since I have obligations elsewhere and there is a surfeit of holidays. If your class is cancelled, you have the option of taking the other class that week, receiving a refund, or taking a private lesson. Just ask me.

The schedule, as it currently appears

Note: we will still be painting outside, as long as the weather permits.

September, 2012  
Tuesday 9/11/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 9/15/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 9/18/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 9/22/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 9/25/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 9/29/2012 NO CLASS: workshop 10 AM-1 PM

October, 2012  
Tuesday 10/2/2012 NO CLASS: workshop 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 10/6/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 10/9/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Friday 10/12/2012 Model  2 to 5 PM
Saturday 10/13/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 10/16/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 10/20/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 10/23/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Friday 10/26/2012 Model  2 to 5 PM
Saturday 10/27/2012 No CLASS 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 10/30/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM

November, 2012  
Saturday 11/3/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 11/6/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Friday 11/9/2012 Model  2 to 5 PM
Saturday 11/10/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 11/13/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 11/17/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 11/20/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 11/24/2012 NO CLASS: Thanksgiving 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 11/27/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Friday 11/30/2012 Model  2 to 5 PM

December, 2012  
Saturday 12/1/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 12/4/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Friday 12/7/2012 Model  2 to 5 PM
Saturday 12/8/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 12/11/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Friday 12/14/2012 Model  2 to 5 PM
Saturday 12/15/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 12/18/2012 Open studio class 2:30-5:30 PM
Friday 12/21/2012 Model  2 to 5 PM
Saturday 12/22/2012 Open studio class 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 12/25/2012 NO CLASS: Christmas 2:30-5:30 PM
Saturday 12/29/2012 NO CLASS: Holiday 10 AM-1 PM
Tuesday 1/1/2013 NO CLASS: Holiday 2:30-5:30 PM

Why am I quoting Joyce Kilmer?

There is something about this show that is a milestone for me; I’ve finally realized that painting is not perfectible, and in fact I LIKE it that way. I felt no compulsion to “hide my mistakes” or even finish this work. It’s very raw work, and because of that, it is in some way very powerful. I’m actually thrilled with how it’s come out.

And of course you’re invited. If you can’t read the above, it says:

Please join us Saturday evening
for the opening of

Figure and landscape paintings of Carol L. Douglas

Gallery Salon and Spa
780 University Avenue
Rochester, NY 14607
(585) 271-8340
September and October, 2012
Opening reception:
Saturday, September 1, 2012
6 to 10 PM

Oh, my! What should I buy?

My basic palette in my pochade box. 

I am happy to share my plein air supply lists with both my own students and others:

·         Watercolor supply list.
·         Oil painting supply list.
·         Pastel supply list.
I have friends who are tremendously efficient plein air packers. I freely admit I’m not up to their standard, but I do paint outdoors a lot, and successfully. Consider these lists not as gospels, but as starting points.
There is no one “best” palette for plein air (or any other kind of) painting. There are so many pigments available today that the artist is faced with—literally—millions of possible combinations. The medium you’re using, your own taste in color , what you want in opacity and drying time all affect your final choices.
And the exact same paints being used for figure painting.
A little knowledge of pigment development is helpful in whittling down selections. The newer the pigment, the more intense and more durable it will be. A palette of earth tones might have a hard time coping with the addition of dioxazine purple or phthalo blue, whereas a vivid 20th century palette will fail to notice a delicate Renaissance lake color.
This is not to say that you should choose only an “Old-Masters” or an “Impressionist” palette—my own palette has paints from every period. But you can avoid a lot of waste by avoiding obvious mismatches.
The earths and earliest synthesized colors:

The oldest pigments are the earth pigments: the ochres, siennas, umbers and carbon blacks. These have been in use more than 15,000 years. They are as solid and everlasting as dirt. Over time artists have been tremendously wily about expanding their narrow range.
The Egyptians created the first chemical pigment, Egyptian Blue, around 5000 years ago. They also pioneered the use of minerals as pigments with malachite, azurite and cinnabar, and devised a method of fixing dyes to solids (“lake making”) which is still in use today. The Chinese created vermilion and the Romans gave us lead white.
Renaissance alchemists must have been more focused on turning lead into gold, because although they made a few refinements to paints, they left the fundamental kit unchanged.
The industrial revolution:

The Industrial Revolution brought us a pigment revolution. Just a few examples are:
Cobalt Blue – 1802
Cerulean Blue – 1805
French Ultramarine – 1828
Zinc White – 1834
Cadmium Yellow – 1846  
Aureolin – 1862
Alizarin Crimson – 1868
Without the explosion of brilliant color in the 19thcentury, there could have been no Impressionism, no modern art.
Modern pigments:

The third tier of pigments are the highest-stain, most durable of colors, developed mainly for industry: “Hansa” yellows, titanium white, synthetic iron oxides (the “Mars” colors) phthalocyanines, quinacridones, perylenes, and pyrrols. Some have replaced 19thcentury colors that have proven to be fugitive (such as quinacridone violet to make “permanent” alizarin crimson). Some have an uneasy place on the palette because of their extremely high stain, such as phthalo blue.
My basic field kit.
References: “Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color,” by Phillip Ball. It is certainly the most fun book about color ever printed.

Gamblin Artist Colors has optional palettes here. (What is true for oils is generally true for acrylics.)
The most comprehensive guide to watercolor pigments I know of is here.
And my favorite resource for pastels is here.

The Opium Eater

This week’s figure class featured Gail Kellogg Hope modeling a Civil War era gown of her own devising, minus the ruffled hoop. (Readers interested in historic clothing can see Gail’s work here.) Because Gail’s hair was down and she was recumbent, I thought she looked charmingly like a 19th century laudanum addict.

I wanted to begin this essay on languid poses with an American painting, but I was unable to find an American Victorian example. I’m not sure such a painting exists—it would have been contrary to our national myth to see womanhood as anything other than industrious, thrifty, and alert.

“Baudelaire’s Mistress Reclining,” Edouard Manet, 1862, Szépmüvészeti Museum, Budapest.

Off to decadent France, then. The portrait above is of Baudelaire’s mistress, Jeanne Duval, who was a native Haitian of mixed race. Thus her coloring is more realistic than one might first suppose, although the blackness of the painting is Manet at his rebellious and intellectual best, as is the iconography (you can read an incredibly tedious essay on the subject here, although it doesn’t answer what is to me the most interesting question: why the title—not Manet’s doing—doesn’t dignify her by name).

“Lady Agnew of Lochnaw,” 1892-93, oil on canvas, The National Gallery of Scotland

The fin de siècle painters were much more comfortable with slouching. I’ve included this example by Sargent largely because the chair resembles the one in my studio—before a century of wear and grime and burst seams. Sargent’s lady reclines, but she is anything but debauched. Instead, the pose is one of aristocratic grace. Although Lady Agnew levels her gaze at the viewer with the same assurance as Jeanne Duval, her chin is down and demure. Notice the right arm culminating in a firm grip—it belies the rest of the pose and points to why Sargent’s portraits are never dull.

“The Baths of Caracalla,” Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1899, private collection

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was proof that not every Dutch painter was brilliant, although he gets my respect for being silly and exuberant. He was, of course, a fine technician. Although not strictly a Pre-Raphaelite painter, he shares with them the tendency to see women as sensual and emotional creatures. In this painting, his Roman matron sinks comfortably into a hard marble bench. Perhaps the background hints that these baths were built by Rome’s most psychotic emperor, but the matron’s couture, coiffure, coloring and companions are strikingly, calmly English.

“The Green Sash”, Henri Matisse, 1919, Art Institute of Chicago

After that, it is a relief to return to the ambiguity of Matisse. This painting is austere; in fact it has a lot in common with the Manet above. There is no “setting” per se. As in the Manet portrait, the gown has presence and meaning of its own.

Note that in the portrait of Lady Agnew, Sargent is using Matisse’s patterns while in this painting Matisse is using Sargent’s beloved black paint.

“#13 from the book, 41 Etchings Drypoints,” 1965, Richard Diebenkorn, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

We recognize this last work immediately as a mid-century American drawing by the hemline and the hair. As cloying as that was with Alma-Tadema, it is a virtue in this etching by Richard Diebenkorn. Why is that?

With the hand resting on the abdomen, we have come full circle back to the photo of our model. There seems to be nothing strange about that pose to me, but will future viewers see it as an idiosyncrasy of our age?