Yankee stories

In the midst of crisis, new traditions are created.

Soft September Morning, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas, was a painting commission.

This week, I drove south to deliver a painting. The client is a redoubtable Yankee lady: straight, strong and smart. Her home is a classic Yankee house. It started as a tiny Victorian cottage and grew pell-mell over the generations.

We got talking—as women do—about the holidays. She had ordered a 28-pound turkey for Thanksgiving. Her family is close, and she normally sets a magnificent table using her grandmother’s linens and her best flatware and dishes.

Fallow field, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas, is available for investment.

Then COVID got worse and our restrictions grew tighter. A 28-pound turkey between two older people is as close to eternity as one wants to get, and she barely outweighs that bird. However, she was obliged. So, she cooked her traditional Thanksgiving feast anyway, and carefully boxed it up. “I had a chart telling me which package went with what so that everyone had enough for dinner and for leftovers,” she said. At the appointed time, her family drove in and collected their Thanksgiving dinners. “The kids were so happy to see their cousins,” she said, “even out in the driveway.”

And—bam—in the midst of crisis, a new tradition is created. “Remember the year we had Drive-Thru Thanksgiving?” those kids will recall as they themselves morph into redoubtable old Yankees. And they’ll remember their resourceful, optimistic, loving grandmother.

Tête-à-tête, by Carol L. Douglas, was a commissioned painting.

From there I went to another client. She had to move in a hurry and bought her new house in a sellers’ market. There were a lot of expensive repairs. The painting I delivered is of her old home, and it will have pride of place because she misses it. But she believes God has placed her there ‘for a reason and a season,’ as we evangelicals are wont to say. She sent me along with a jar of homemade applesauce.

My little dog occasionally needs a stop, so we found a dog park along the way. There was one other human there. She told me she’s planning on buying a van and hitting the road when her only child starts college next fall.

“I haven’t been anywhere for 18 years,” she said. She must have been a very young mother, because she barely looked much over 18 herself. I suggested her son might want a room to come home to, but she’d already thought of that. “His grandparents live here, and they have a room for him, and for me,” she said.

Midsummer, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas, is available, and it’s a statement piece; it’s large.

Why not? If not now, when? I’ve traveled and camped alone and I recommend it. The bears are unlikely to bother you and the human predators prefer easier pickings. The message she’ll send her son is powerful—you can chart your own course in this world.

I don’t often talk about paintings as investments, but this year has got me thinking about diversification. Like many Americans, my husband and I don’t have pensions. Our retirement savings are invested in mutual funds. The stock market has had a great run, but now I’m thinking about diversifying my own portfolio.

Art is a very illiquid asset. You’re not going to sell it quickly to make a buck, and you should only invest in it if you know something about art to start with. Having said that, the global art boom is here to stay. Worldwide art sales surpassed $67 billion last year. That’s an objective measure of value.

The great beauty of art is that you get to enjoy it while it appreciates (which is not true of my IRA). That means you don’t have to feel self-indulgent if you buy a painting; it may be the best thing you ever did for your heirs.

Travel in the age of coronavirus

We live in an age of instant global connection, without filters. That means we’re about to experience pandemic differently than ever before.
Athabasca Glacier, by Carol L. Douglas

Turpenoid, made by Weber, and Gamsol, made by Gamblin, are both odorless mineral spirits (OMS), modern substitutes for turpentine in the oil-painter’s kit. A chance conversation with Kevin Beers last night made me realize that Turpenoid has a flash point of 110-130° F. while Gamsol has a flash point of 144° F. That small difference makes Gamsol safe to fly with, but Turpenoid not.

I received a message from Jane Chapin last night that read, “The office in El Calafate says that our solvent has not arrived, but they will help us. Bring Gamsol.” We and a few other intrepid artists are heading to Argentina tomorrow to paint in Patagoniaand Tierra del Fuegoand a few other places heavy on glaciers, light on trees.
Light snow above the Arctic Circle, by Carol L. Douglas.
Travel always comes with last minute snafus. First among these now is coronavirus. I’ll be through four airports in the next 24 hours. I can’t find hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes anywhere in mid-coast Maine. Luckily, my friend and monitor, Jennifer Johnson, just flew home from Australia. She gave me her stash. It will suffice through to Miami, when Jane can augment my supplies.
Coronavirus is unlikely to be in Tierra del Fuego, but it’s still making me edgy. Will my son be sent home to finish his last college semester through online classes? If so, how will he get here? Will I be locked out of the country or quarantined on my return? The scope of the problem was borne home to me last weekend, when my niece rescheduled her May wedding to September. She’s marrying a Canadian of Asian descent and nobody knows what international travel will look like in two months.
Me, talking to KCAS members, in case you’ve forgotten what I look like. Photo courtesy Jennifer Johnson.
Pandemic is as old as the human race, but today we have decentralized news and powerful social media. As I write this, the death toll from coronavirus in the US is 31—or about 40% as many as have been murdered to date this year in Chicago. But we are intimately aware of each of COVID-19’s victims, because we’ve read about them all. That changes our perception of our own risk.
Still, you can’t live in the fear zone. Human beings are wired to experience negative results more keenly than positive ones, to stop us from doing stupid things that will kill us. This is called our negativity bias, and it results in our thinking that things will go wrong more than they’ll go right. The fewer risks we take, the stronger that belief is. We can become immobilized by the fear of change. The intrepid artist has to work to overcome that, by substituting a positivity bias. I have a simple one: faith in God.
Last night, I spoke to the Knox County Art Society (KCAS) about how negativity bias makes some of us fear outdoor painting excessively. But if I—at age 61—can still go outside and paint in the wild, so can you. “If it doesn’t kill you, get back up and do it again,” I said.
KCAS is the brainchild of David Blanchard of Camden, and it’s grown to eighty members in a year. It’s offering classes, speakers, exhibitions and more. If you’re an artist in Knox County, Maine, you should be a member.
In addition to being the home of one of America’s newest art societies, Maine is home to America’s oldest continuous art society, the Bangor Art Society. It’s time to apply for their 145th anniversary juried show, which will open on May 1. It’s a fun show with a fun reception. Register here.

Fugue State

I may be the only plein air painter in the world who comes home and says, “I wish I’d simplified less.” 
Late winter along the Pecos River, by Carol L. Douglas
I know the rules of good design. In my studio, an informal formal analysis always runs in the back of my mind. I have goals for each painting, and my work is a challenge to meet those goals.
Get me in the field, however, and I enter a sort of fugue state. I paint almost unconsciously. The more difficult the physical challenges, the truer that is.
Horno in the snow, by Carol L. Douglas
Fugue state is an old-fashioned term for a rare kind of a dissociative disorder where the patient forgets who and where they are. I don’t mean to deprecate the sufferings of people with dissociative disorders, which are exceedingly serious. But if the American Psychiatric Association wants to abandon the term, I’m going to adopt it. It perfectly fits my mental state when I’m plein air painting.
Having painted alongside many, many artists who flail around in anxiety, I think I’m very blessed. I can just cut out the world and think about nothing at all.
Below the Ridge, by Carol L. Douglas
A fugue state often involves putting on a whole different identity. That seems to be what happens to me, because my plein air and studio work have very different characters. I may be the only plein air painter in the world who comes home and says, “I wish I’d simplified less.” Everything is mosaic with very little form, and less and less detail as the years go by.
Snow along the Pecos River, by Carol L. Douglas
My husband obliquely challenged that while we were in New Mexico. To challenge myself, I spent one morning in New Mexico staring at pictures of Peredvizhnikipaintings of log cabins. Then I went out to paint log barns. I think some of that Russian technique permeated the deepest parts of my brain, because I was able to do the log walls with enough detail, without getting fussy. But overall, the painting was pretty similar to everything else I painted that week.
Upper Reaches of the Pecos River, by Carol L. Douglas
I can set out to consciously paint a certain way, and it makes no difference. Get me in the woods with my brushes and instinct crowds out all my thinking. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know, but it does reflect that I’m happiest outdoors.
Occasionally, readers ask me why I travel to paint—after all, I live in America’s Vacationland. It’s not the studio that’s the problem, it’s my desk. Sometimes I just want to go away and let the paperwork pile up somewhere I’m not. 
Snow at higher elevations, by Carol L. Douglas
It’s like a vacation for the brain, except it’s not restful. I work very hard on the road, but mercifully none of it involves marketing. That’s exactly why you should consider a workshop, as well. Mine are here, if you’re interested.
I got home from New Mexico a week ago today. Yesterday was the first day in which I managed to unpack and photograph my work. Because it has been cold and my paint was thick, most of them were still wet when I left. That necessitated building a more stable carrier system, which I did with an old box, tape and slender strips cut from an old Coroplast political sign. (Jane Chapin throws away nothing, bless her heart.)
Snow below the summit, by Carol L. Douglas
Interesting, the only one which sustained any damage in transit was in a PanelPak carrier. A drop of thick white paint migrated on its surface. That had nothing to do with the carrier, and everything to do with how fat the paint was.

The winter doldrums

All painters should occasionally go somewhere else to paint, even if it’s just the next town over.
Snow squall at Twelve Corners, by Carol L. Douglas

It’s 3° F at my house. That’s positively balmy compared to other places in the north. It’s -13° in the Dakotas, -11° in Detroit, and so cold in Saranac Lake, NY that the National Weather Service refuses to speculate. This is what newscasters are breathlessly calling a polar vortex. It’s just our old friend winter, rebranded.

I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY. I have antifreeze in my veins. The coldest weather I’ve ever painted in was -10°F. That was about twenty years ago, when I made the commitment that I’d paint outdoors six days a week for a whole year through. Sub-zero weather is a fact of life in Western New York, as are blizzards and wind-swept deluges in the warmer months. I painted through it all.
Path, by Carol L. Douglas
I came away from that year realizing two things. The first was that if you paint that much, you have to sell your work, if only to be able to afford more paint and canvases. That was the start of my consistent business practice.
More importantly, I didn’t need to do it again. Now I paint outdoors in the winter because I want to, not because I’ve got something to prove. That means I can set limits: no subzero weather, no gloomy days, and no howling winds. Snow paintings are best with sunlight.
One more thing I’ve only recently concluded: you can’t skimp on winter clothes. I’ve spent way too much time being cold because I was underdressed. That’s foolish.
Hayfield, Niagara County, NY, by Carol L. Douglas. The lumpiness in the paint is because it was so cold even my oils froze.
The painting above was done in a hayfield in Niagara County, NY. When I packed up to leave, I realized my van had a dead battery from the cold. Twenty years ago, I didn’t have a cell phone, so I trudged down the road to call my brother. “I was wondering what on earth you were doing there,” said the kind lady who answered the door. My brother just called me an idiot.
What do plein airartists do in the winter? Mostly, we paint indoors. All of us have ideas for studio paintings, commissions, etc., that need to be executed sometime. If we have any sense, we also rest. I haven’t done a good job of that this year; I’m scrambling to finish work before the season starts again.
Rock wall, by Carol L. Douglas. Winter means a lot of twilight in the north.
If we’re lucky, we sneak in a short trip South to paint, as I did last winter. This year, I’m being contrarian and flying west instead, to New Mexico (where it’s a balmy 25° and sunny today). Jane Chapin and I plan to paint some winter mountain scenes high above Santa Fe. Yes, we have mountains in the Northeast, but they’re a very different character.
All painters should occasionally go somewhere else to paint. It doesn’t have to be an expensive, extensive trip. If you live on the coastal plains, go to the hills. If you live in a town, go to the countryside. Even the smallest shift of viewpoint profits us. The land has a different shape, different focal points, different light, different masses. We stretch when we paint what’s outside our norm.
Suburban snowstorm, by Carol L. Douglas. Wherever there are trees and snow together, you can paint a landscape.
I leave Monday, weather permitting. I’m starting to pack my winter gear. But first, I must clear the driveway and bring in more wood. Ah, winter! You may be beautiful, but you’re also a lot of work.

Like a rolling stone

I understand the impulse to go, but I’m also starting to consider the cost.
The Sound of Iona, c. 1928, Francis Cadell, private collection

This is the time of year when my husband and I look at each other and say, “we never go anywhere.” That’s ridiculous, since I have plenty of opportunity to travel. But I’m a restless soul.

One place I’d like to return, palette in hand, is Iona, in Scotland. It’s home to one of Christendom’s oldest religious sites, but it was also a favorite haunt of the Scottish Colourists.
These were four painters who brought Impressionism and Fauvism home and married them to their own native landscape. They wouldn’t have broken the constraints of Scottish tradition without leaving, but at the same time, they were clearly torn between the two milieus.
I understand the impulse to go, but I’m also starting to consider the cost.
A Rocky Shore, Iona, undated, Samuel Peploe, courtesy City of Edinburgh Council
Samuel Peploe was born in Edinburgh. He studied briefly at the Royal Scottish Academy, and then moved on to the Académie Julian and Académie Colarossi in Paris. His Scottish plein air work started in 1901, when he began traveling through the Hebrides with his pal John Duncan Fergusson.
In 1910 Peploe moved back to Paris. It was a short relocation; he returned to Scotland in 1912. During the 1920s, he summered on Iona with his friend Francis Cadell. He died in 1935, after advising his son Denis to not take up art as a career.
Dark Sea and Red Sail, 1909, John Duncan Fergusson, courtesy Perth & Kinross Council
Disenchanted with the rigid instruction available in his hometown of Edinburgh, John Duncan Fergusson traveled to Morocco, Spain and France, determined to teach himself. By the 1920s, he was settled in London. In 1928, he and his wife, dancer Margaret Morris, moved back to Paris, until the threat of another world war drove them home. They moved permanently to Glasgow in 1939. He died in 1961, a famous, feted artist.
Francis Cadell, too, was born in Edinburgh. He studied at the Académie Julian starting at the age of 16. Unlike his friends, Cadell spent his adult life in Scotland. As a consequence, he concentrated on intimately local themes—landscapes, New Towninteriors, society portraits, and the white sands of Iona. He served in WW1 with Scottish regiments.
Cadell died in poverty in 1937. His success is largely posthumous; his paintings now command upwards of half a million pounds.
Boats in Harbour, undated, Leslie Hunter, private collection
Leslie Hunter was the outlier.  He was born in Rothesay, the only town on the Isle of Bute. After the death of two of his siblings, his family emigrated to California. Hunter was 15. By age 19, he had moved alone to San Francisco, where he worked as an illustrator.
In 1904, Hunter made the requisite visit to Paris. He saw, for the first time, the fantastic ferment of Impressionism. He returned to San Francisco and began painting. This body of work was destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Disappointed, Hunter returned to Scotland, settling in Glasgow. He was introduced to the Fauvists in a 1907 visit to Paris. There, his old buddy, Alice Toklas, took him to the Stein Salon. Hunter was shocked but impressed by the painting.
The outbreak of WW1 forced him back to Glasgow, but by 1927, Hunter was again in France, sending work back to Britain. In 1929, he suffered a physical breakdown. His sister fetched him home. Recovered, he still hoped to break out, this time for London. His health continued to fail and he died in a nursing home in Glasgow at age 54.
As I write this, I am reminded of a beach near me, also with white sand, also lovely. No chance of that, however; I’m leaving again on Tuesday.

The car cures itself

Summer for a professional plein air painter can involve as much driving as painting.

Cape Blomiden makes its own cloud, by Carol L. Douglas, was painted during a rainstorm in the first annual Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival.
One of my students missed last weekend’s workshop due to a painful flareup of plantar fasciitis. Another student, himself a doctor, told me about taking the disease into his own hands. He simply stretched the offending tissue until it audibly tore. “The relief was instantaneous,” he told me as I stared at him aghast.
My little Prius has done something similar. It has, over the last year, developed a loud scream at high speeds. Turning up the radio was useless. I had the tires rotated to see if that helped. No luck. A front wheel bearing was replaced in March; I replaced its mate two weeks ago. The right rear brake locked up while my car was in Logan Airport long-term parking in April. That wasn’t the root of the noise either. Meanwhile, every month I’ve been spending more money on this car than the payment on a Ford F-150.

I appreciate AAA’s tow service, but I’ve seen too much of it recently.
But even the money hasn’t been the real problem. “It’s no longer reliable,” I lamented to my husband. Next week I drive alone to Parrsboro, NS, where I’m painting in the second annual Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival. There are some lonely stretches up that way, and I don’t like the idea of getting stranded. I’ve started car shopping, but I don’t have the time to do proper research.
Meanwhile, I’ve had a busy spring. On the night of my daughter’s wedding rehearsal, I stopped for a light at a busy intersection. I woke up seconds later to find that I’d rolled right into the line of oncoming cars.
I have more than a million miles of accident-free driving under my belt and I’d like to keep it that way.  Yesterday when I found myself blinking away sleep on the New York State Thruway, I did something I never do: I relinquished the wheel to my co-pilot. Thus, it was he, not me, who was driving when a tire burst on the interstate.
Two Islands in the Rain, Carol L. Douglas, also from Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival
In the end, this turned out to be the Prius healing itself. A few hours later, we were back on the road. The sound that’s been plaguing me for months was gone. It was a defective tire after all.
We rolled into Rockport around the time that the fishermen are up rubbing the sleep from their eyes and checking the weather. The thermostat in my car read 43° F. and it was foggy and pouring.
I have a short tight week here in Maine. I leave to teach watercolor on the schooner American Eagle on Sunday evening. After we dock, I leave directly for Parrsboro, NS.
Teaching watercolor aboard American Eagle mercifully involves no driving. The dock is just minutes from my home.
I’ll be missing the opening reception for the latter, but Poppy Balser kindly stopped by on her way to Paint Annapolisto collect my boards for me. She’ll get them stamped so I don’t have to spend half of my first day there trying to find someone to stamp them for me. I’ll just have to find Poppy.
And the eco-warrior is back on the road, all healed.
This is nothing unusual; it’s the life of many of my friends each summer. We sort events into boxes. Sometimes we can stop at home, swap the boxes, and do our laundry. But often we stack our calendars up in the back of our vehicles: frames and supports for the different events share trunk space. If we’re crossing the border, we take a deep breath as we approach Customs. We’re not breaking the law, but a search of our cars will result in an awful mishmash of our supplies.

Home is where they wear you out with parties

When your car is too ratty for Buffalo, you may have a problem.
Erie Canal, by Carol L. Douglas

I woke up to the smell of lake water in the air—a uniquely Buffalo smell, and one that presages rain. It’s my last day here, and I’ll be glad to head home after eight days on the road. I can’t keep up the pace of all this partying. It’s the official sport of Buffalo, after all.

Buffalo’s always been a hard-partying kind of town. At one time the bars stayed open all night to cater to shift-workers. There are no more manufacturing jobs, and the bars now close at 4 AM. I don’t know any American city more dedicated to drinking than that.
Rock tumble at the Holley canal spillway, by Carol L. Douglas
My childhood chum Tim Wendel is in town promoting his newest book, Cancer Crossings. I’d like to catch up, but I comfort myself with the idea that he doesn’t have any more time than I do. I’d hoped to connect with another childhood friend, dancer Cynthia Cadwell Pegado. She’s one of my oldest friends, actually, since we met at our infant dedication at Delaware Baptist Church. I managed to connect with my sister-in-law and her new husband yesterday. And I had dinner in Ellicott Creek Park with my brother and his family. When your life is in your car, you meet up where you can.
It’s like this every time I go on a road trip, but never more so than when I’m in Buffalo. This is my home town, and I’m proud to be from here. However, I can’t see myself ever coming back to live. I can’t handle the pace.
Bluebells on the Erie Canal towpath. WNY has its moments of fascination, for sure.
Buffalonians are, in general, polite drivers, but I still don’t much enjoy sitting in traffic. There’s more and more of that in my old haunts. After a sixty-year hiatus, my home town is finally coming into its own. I’ve waited for this, but I can’t say that I like it much.
I followed a Lamborghini down Niagara Falls Boulevard yesterday. This was always a city of rusty cargo vans. Suddenly, I’m self-conscious about the condition of the old Mercury Monterey we’re tooling around in. I didn’t realize it was possible to drive a car that’s too ratty for Buffalo.
I drove to Grand Island to look at a replacement for my trusty Prius yesterday. At 257,000 miles, it’s grown fragile. My best option, I think, is a pickup truck. “That’s a rather extreme shift,” my daughter commented.
After 257,000 miles and 13 years, the Prius is growing fragile.
I’m spending more and more time on back roads. My Prius, while indomitable, has broken two springs. It was never designed for the dirt roads of Nova Scotia, for example. It’s too small to camp in, and I had to have the roof repainted after (inadvisably) carrying my canoe on it.
I looked at SUVs, but they all seem designed more for luxury than for off-roading. I hate scrubbing paint out of upholstery, so a truck is starting to look like my best choice. Still, $40,000 is a lot to spend on a vehicle.
I don’t even remember painting this sketch of a NYSDOT tug on the Erie Canal. I wonder where it ended up.
I have one more task—to load my youngest kid’s stuff in my van—and then we can take off. By mid-afternoon, I should be tooling east on US 90 toward Massachusetts. After that, I get to work in earnest. I have a commission to finish, and a piece to write for Saranac Lake, and if I plan to make any money this summer, I’d better deliver some new work to my galleries.

Sensible Maine

Not all regional differences are about the landscape, the accents and the buildings. There are also differences in character.
Erie Canal Sketch by Carol L. Douglas. You’re pretty, New York, but don’t let it go to your head.

Last year, Bobbi Heathand I stopped on the road and bought boxes, bubble wrap and tape. We left these, carefully marked, for our work to be returned after a show in New Jersey. Mine were mailed back unsecured and unwrapped. Mercifully, nothing was damaged, but had that $3000 of inventory been ruined, the Postal Service would have been justified in not paying the claim. Our host at that event was gracious and kind, but the slipshod mailing left me thinking poorly of the event.

Compare that to my experience at Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta earlier this month. When my frames arrived broken, co-chair Jane Chapin loaned me three of hers. That flexible, kind attitude was visible in small and large ways throughout the event. They held three receptions for the artists. They cooked for us and cared for us. Their attitude makes me want to hurry back.
There are invisible differences from place to place in America, and sometimes they’re more important than what you see.
Erie Canal Bridge Sketch, by Carol L. Douglas.
I engage with government in very limited ways—the department of motor vehicles, the town clerk, the planning office, and the post office. In my small town of Rockport, ME (pop. 3,330), I’m accustomed to public officials being accommodating and thoughtful. The other day I visited the clerk’s office to ask what my excise tax would be on a new car I’m considering. It was a few minutes before closing time. The deputy clerk calculated it, commiserated, and made a friendly joke as we left.
In New York, it’s a high crime and misdemeanor if every dot and tittle is not in place. Its clerks guard their prerogatives assiduously. I should have remembered that, but I’ve gotten soft.
Catskill Farm, by Carol L. Douglas
So I was a little blindsided when my daughter ran into trouble at the local town hall. She and her fiancé need a marriage license by the weekend. They had followed the instructions on the New York State website. Of course, like everyone else, they followed them wrong. She was carrying the wrong identification.
Still, the town she is getting married in is very close to the town where she was born. She’s carrying the highest-and-greatest form of identification—her United States Passport. It ought to have been no big deal to just get a new birth certificate.
No way, no how. They won’t give it to her without her Social Security card, one of the most loosely-controlled documents Americans carry. “Homeland Security visits us, you know!” the clerk told her.
The Dugs, by Carol L. Douglas
“This is New York, right?” a friend quipped. “Try bribing them.” I won’t do that, but if it doesn’t get straightened out today, I’m going to try sending a little muscle along. And there’s always ‘the touch’, putting the word out to friends and family to see who knows someone who knows someone. Because in New York, that’s how things get done.
But back to sensible Maine for the answer. I called Camden Falls Gallery and got Howard Gallagher on the phone. “Sure!” he said, and he sent Sandy Quang over to my house to get the requisite documents from my safe. Then she got into her car and left for New York a few hours earlier than she had planned. If all goes well, Mary’s birth certificate and social security card should be in her hand by midday and the wedding will proceed as planned.

This line of country

Google maps makes it possible to play cat-and-mouse in your car.
Parke County, Indiana, from an earlier midwest painting trip.
Most of my kids have Google maps location sharing set up. This feature tells you where a cell phone is. If I had younger kids, I’d insist on it. However, my children are all adults. I don’t have them tied to my apron strings; it was something my husband was tinkering with and we never turned it off.
It’s very useful, especially when someone loses their cell phone. “Mary,” I can say from across the country, “it’s at your house.”
Chapel of Faith, by Carol L. Douglas
I met my eldest and her family in Mobile, Alabama. Since then we’ve been traveling in parallel. They amuse themselves with tourist activities while I paint, and we meet up afterwards.
Location sharing has limitations. It updates periodically, not instantaneously. You can set a route to the last destination the phone was in, but you can’t track the other phone in real time. It will be less fun when they fix that.
Parke County, Indiana, from an earlier midwest painting trip.
My kids were poking along the gulf coast while I was in Langan Park with fellow painter Cat Pope. Rather than call them to meet up, I decided to track them. It was an exhilarating game, for they were moving as fast as I was. Time after time, I pounced, only to come up with thin air—they’d moved on. Finally, they entered a cul-de-sac. “Ah!” I said. “I can cut them off at the entrance.” But, alas, another car pulled up behind me, preventing my neat maneuver.
A warning, though: you’re driving a real machine, not an imaginary video-game car. Pull off to the side of the road to use Google maps, just as you should when doing anything not driving-related.
My son-in-law likes to drive at night. They headed north while I got a hotel room in Mississippi. I’m a poor sleeper. I noted they’d stopped for a while at a rest stop in Tennessee. In the morning, they were at the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY.
Wabash Bottom Lands, by Carol L. Douglas
Rather than retrace my steps through Virginia, I decided to head north after them.
They’d stopped at a lonely country intersection south of Birmingham, Alabama for gas, about 40 miles from where I’d been in Marion last week. There were two service stations. The first was devoid of life, except for a big ol’ junkyard dog. Arthur lost his favorite cap running back to his truck.
At the second station, there appeared to be a party in progress. There were trucks everywhere, but nobody was buying gas. Nobody seemed to notice him. “They were like zombies,” Arthur told me. He decided to go back to the first station. The dog was gone and the pumps were on, but the station was as ghostly and abandoned as ever.
As he headed back to the interstate, he saw something in the road. “That’s my hat!” he exclaimed. It was full of bitemarks. He left it right where it was.

Strategic thinking

My plein air events for 2017 are all done. It’s time to consider how to improve things in 2018.
Full Stop, by Carol L. Douglas. Part of my self-analysis is to consider what paintings gave me the most joy to paint this summer. This is a small sample.
Mary Byrom asked me why I moved to Maine just to spend so much of my time on the road. It’s a good question, and one I take seriously as I plan for 2018.
Boston is a cork blocking Maine’s access to the rest of the country. I’ve been driving on I-90 for the better part of 40 years. This summer, traffic in eastern Massachusetts seemed particularly bad. Keeping that in mind, we timed our departure from Pittsfield to avoid the worst traffic on I-495. Instead, we sat for nearly an hour on the Masspike outside Worcester. It was a perfect bookend to our trip south eleven days earlier, when we rode the brakes all the way down I-84 to New York City.
Two Islands in the rain, by Carol L. Douglas
It felt wonderful to pull into our driveway. When I got out of my car in the far reaches of the night, there was the Milky Way, hanging directly over my head. It seemed as if I could have reached out a hand and scooped up diamonds.
I’ve spent the last month fighting a wicked bout of asthmatic bronchitis. That’s a dead giveaway that I need to cool my jets.
In the belly of the whale, by Carol L. Douglas. I got to spend a day looking at the guts of a scalloper. What could be better?
Years ago, the organizers of an invitational event told me that they did a three-year running average of sales for each artist. Each year, the bottom 25% of performers were cut from their roster. Friendship and sentiment were never considered. The lowest-performing artists were replaced with new people. By giving painters a pass for the first two years, the event gave new painters a chance to gain a foothold in the community
I’m thinking of doing a similar analysis on my own calendar. I want to spread my work out across a longer season. That means, sadly, cutting some mid-summer events.
Along Kiwassa Lake, by Carol L. Douglas. Is there anything more lake-camp than a clothesline strung along the shore?
However, I must consider distance, convenience, and opportunity costs. An event in New Jersey needs to yield a better return than one in Maine. If it provides housing for its artists, it is better than an event where I need a hotel. And any time I’m painting elsewhere, I’m not on the docks in Camden, which might well have a better return.
I’m not sure I can design a matrix that’s as brutally, beautifully simple as my friends at the art center’s, but I can still think this through objectively.
Penobscot Early Morning, by Carol L. Douglas. Painted from a friend’s deck while drinking coffee.
Another thing I’m considering for 2018 is creating a limited-liability corporation. I’ve never actually lost a painting student yet, and I’m insured, but why expose my family to the financial risk?
I am revisiting the question of online painting sales. I’ve pondered this repeatedly over the last five years. The recurring nature of the question tells me that online marketing isn’t going away. It’s not a question of if, but when. The changeover isn’t going to be easy; it means enabling e-commerce on my website, changing my marketing strategy, and—most importantly—changing the way I think about selling paintings. But it’s our current reality.
That high-level thinking will all wait, though. Today, I’m going to just read the mail and water my tomatoes. I’ll go collect my car from the garage and stop at the post office and the library. Perhaps I’ll walk down to the harbor and see what beautiful boats have floated in. It’s a glorious time of year in the Northeast and I aim to enjoy it.