What comes after art classes?

Painting is a lifelong exercise in self-guided learning.

Clary Hill Blueberry Barrens, watercolor on Yupo, available through Maine Farmland Trust Gallery, by Carol L. Douglas

A student asked me why I teach all levels in my classes. Indeed, adding a brand-new painter to the group can sometimes be difficult, as I need to spend a little more time with that person at the start. I’ve found, however, that almost everyone needs the same lessons repeatedly. Painters make the same errors at almost every level—of value, color-mixing, contrast, line, and focal points. It takes a surprisingly amount of time to convince students of the value of process, including value sketches and drawing.

My own experience in taking master classes hasn’t been good; they’ve been less about mastery and more about marketing. That’s not to indict all painting teachers, but unless the teacher knows you in advance, they know very little about your painting level before you start the class, even with portfolio review.

Clary Hill Blueberry Barrens, oil on canvas, available through Maine Farmland Trust Gallery, by Carol L. Douglas

With twelve or fewer students in a class, I have time to meet each person where they are and encourage them a little farther along the road. This is very intensive, and I blow it more than I like. Yesterday I had a painter whom I should have pushed harder on establishing a focal point, but I didn’t realize that until dinnertime.

I still occasionally take classes myself, although it’s not common. It happens when I run across a painter who’s doing something I want to master. I took Poppy Balser’s watercolor workshop a few years ago, because Poppy can make a line of dark spruces shimmer against the sea. I wanted to know how she made that value jump in watercolor.

There are other painters I would like to learn from. Dick Sneary and Dave Dewey are both consummate watercolorists, and I admire their drafting and composition skills tremendously. Likewise, I admire Lois Dodd’s ability to drive to the emotional nut of a scene by removing all extraneous matter. And I often return to Clyfford Stillto think about composition.

Part of my class on Clary Hill, photo courtesy of Jennifer Johnson.

An old and reliable way to learn is to copy master works. I recently started drawing frames from Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko comic books. This led to copying images from the first great cartoonist, Peter Paul Rubens.

But, in general, I’m done studying with others. “How do you know when that happens?” my student asked me. In my case, I realized that the time I was spending traveling to the Art Students League of New York from Rochester would be better spent in my own studio working.

“What comes after I’m done studying with you?” she asked. Go out and paint (which students should be doing anyway). If you like the social side of classes, find a painting buddy or join a painting group. We make the most progress when we’re picking up our brushes several times a week.

Jean Cole’s painting on Clary Hill. She just came back from my Pecos workshop. The goal ought never to be to make ‘mini-me’ painters, but to develop each person’s own style.

I’m doing a FREE Zoom workshop on Friday, October 2 at 5 PM. Consider it Happy Hour, and join me with a glass of wine, a spritzer, or whatever else. We’re going to talk about studying painting. What should students expect to get from a workshop or class? What should teachers offer? Have you always wanted to try painting but been afraid of classes? Are you taking classes but want to get more out of them? Join us for a free-ranging discussion.

While this is in advance of my Find your Authentic Voice in Plein Air workshop in November in Tallahassee, everyone is welcome. There’s absolutely no charge or obligation. Signups are already brisk, so register soon!

Which way to Millinocket?

People ask me fascinating questions about painting in Maine, or about coming to America’s vacationland.

Heritage and American Eagle on Penobscot Bay. Just another day in Paradise.

Yesterday someone asked me, “Can I take the schooner trip without painting?” The answer is: of course! I chose American Eagle for my Age of Sail workshop because it’s a fantastic boat with a great crew. Captain John Foss and his crew cruise all summer. Just call them at 1-800-648-4544 and tell them you want to go sailing without that art teacher yammering at you. (And if you’re a qualified deckhand, they’re looking for two of them as well. Email them here.)

We always welcome non-painting fellow travelers at our workshops. They’re set in fabled beauty spots, and of interest to hikers, sailors and bird-watchers. Maine should be shared, when possible.
Watercolor sketch by Carol L. Douglas
“I get seasick. Is there a cure for that?”
Seasickness is a form of motion sickness. It generally goes away after a few days, presumably when your brain stops noticing the motion. There are ways to avoid it, including spending more time on deck. However, if you suffer from serious mal de mer, the best answer is to stay on dry land. Luckily, I have another workshop, Sea & Sky, that covers the same territory, just on terra firma.
That’s scenic Schoodic Peninsula, site of our annual Sea & Sky workshop. No prettier place in the world.
“Which way to Millinocket?”
Nobody ever really asks me that question, which was made famous by Bert & I. (The answer is, “You can’t get they-ah from heah.”) The question I’m asked is how to get to Schoodic Institute for Sea & Sky, or Rockland for Age of Sail.
The big news in these parts is that Amtrak is talking about reviving the coastal Maine train, with stops in Bath, Wiscasset, Damariscotta and Rockland. Even without that it is possible to take the bus from New York or Boston to Rockland.
People generally drive, though, since US 1 is one of the great scenic highways in America. It still has that old-fashioned “roadside attraction” vibe of Mom-and-Pop motels, diners, antique shops and putt-putt golf that’s been lost in most of America. Acadia is 4.5 hours north of Boston and Rockland is a little more than three hours north. If you’re coming a greater distance, you can fly into Portland, Bangor or Manchester, NH and rent a car.
Surf, by Carol L. Douglas.
“What do I need to bring?”
For the Age of Sail, you need nothing except your personal belongings and clothes. We supply all the materials for this water-medium class. For Sea & Sky, here are supply lists for watercolor, acrylicsand oils. But don’t spend a fortune buying new stuff if you already have a workable plein air kit. Contact me first and we’ll discuss what you need.
Why take one of these workshops?
  • You want to spend time painting in America’s top beauty spot.
  • You want help with design and composition.
  • You understand the idea of “simplify” but don’t know how to put it in practice.
  • You want to be a better painter without becoming someone else’s mini-me.
  • You’d like help identifying your own strengths and weaknesses.
  • You want a simple system to master value.
  • You want to learn more about color.
  • You’re an experienced painter but want to learn more about plein air.
  • You’re a beginner who wants to learn to paint in a logical method.

How to enroll:
For the Age of Sail, a registration form is here. You can email or call American Eagle’s at 1-800-648-4544. There’s a $25 discount to members of New York Plein Air Painters, Plein Air Painters of Maine or any returning students.
For Sea & Sky, the registration form is here. You can email or call me at 585-201-1558. There’s a $50 discount to members of New York Plein Air Painters, Plein Air Painters of Maine or returning students.