Inside the blue line

I’ll be teaching in the Adirondacks on August 13-14. Be there or be square.

Spruces and Pines in a Boreal Bog, painted at the Paul Smith’s VIC and long since gone to a private collector.

I cut my teeth teaching workshops in the Adirondack wilderness, so it’s with great pleasure that I’ll be doing that again, August 13-14, at Paul Smiths College in the High Peaks region. (For more information see hereor contact Jane Davis.) 

My Acadiaworkshop is sold out, so this is your only opportunity to study plein airwith me here in the northeast. It’s part of the Adirondack Plein Air Festival, but you do not have to be a participant in the festival to take the workshop. 

Bracken fern, also painted at Paul Smith’s VIC. 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 in a plein air frame.

(Of course, I have other workshops that still have openings—see my websitefor the full listing.)

New Yorkers are justly proud of the Adirondack Park. It covers most of the Adirondack Mountain massif and is the largest park in the Lower 48. Unlike most state parks, about half of the land is privately-owned, with state land wrapped around towns, villages and businesses.

I’ve been visiting the Adirondacks since I was a baby, and have painted, hiked, canoed and driven countless hours within it. But nobody can know the whole park intimately. It’s just too vast.

There are 6.1 million acres with more than 10,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams. There are boreal bogs and old growth forests, mountain peaks and roaring rivers. I’ve visited (and painted in) many wild places, and have found none wilder or more beautiful.

The Dugs, painted in the Adirondacks near Speculator, NY. 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 in a plein air frame.

As parks go, it’s pretty old. In 1885 the state legislature designated lands there and in the Catskills to be forever wild. This would come to be called ‘inside the blue line’. Those land protections were preserved in the state constitution in 1894. In contrast, the National Park System wasn’t formed until 1916.

There are about 130,000 full-time residents within the park and another 7-10 million visitors every year. That puts tremendous pressure on the land, but the relationship between residents, visitors, wilderness and government somehow holds together.

Because the park has so much private land within its borders, there are accommodations for every budget. You can stay at the newly-restored Hotel Saranac, or you can go back-country camping at a state-owned campsite. (The popular camping sites sell out fast, so don’t dither.)

Whiteface makes its own weather, 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 in a plein air frame. Whiteface Mountain is one of the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks.

My workshop will be held at the Visitors Interpretive Center (VIC) at Paul Smith’s College, which is located in the hamlet of Paul Smiths, NY. Town and college are named after Apollos (Paul) Smith, who started as a humble Vermont fishing guide and ended up an entrepreneur.

The VIC is an assortment of Adirondack habitats. There’s a large pond, running streams, a boreal bog, and lots of woodlands. Mountain peaks rise in the distance. Luxurious for a backwoods workshop, there are bathrooms with running water.

This teaching gig comes with the responsibility of being juror of awards for the Adirondack Plein Air Festival. Sandra Hildreth is the grande dame of Adirondack painting and the founder of the festival. She wanted a juror who was plugged into the ethos of wilderness and plein airpainting in general. These are two things I’m passionate about.

But my intimacy with the venue is also a potential downside—I know many of the painters who participate. Could I be objective? After a point, there are just too many of my acquaintances involved for me to favor anyone. I think I’ll be fine.

Night sky

Apparently, I’ve been doing nocturnes all wrong.
S’mores (Ben and Cora at Rollins Pond), by Carol L. Douglas, 9X12, oil on canvasboard. It’s difficult to photograph a wet nocturne.
Like a good farmer, my bedtime is 7:30. Most of the year, that makes painting nocturnes difficult. They only work in December, when the sun sets at 4 PM at my little snug harbor. Otherwise, I’m tired and fractious when I paint them, and that shows.
This year, there’s a full moon during Adirondack Plein Air. Even I could see the advantages of staying up. Chrissy Pahucki and I had one of those Great Ideas that so often gets me in trouble. She secured a campsite in the state forest. I got the makings for S’Mores. We met at dusk.
The cycle of life (Black Pond), by Carol L. Douglas, 14X18, oil on canvasboard.
It killed me to pay $5 for a bag of spruce logs when I have about ten cords of hardwood behind my shed. However, the ban on moving firewood applies even to artists. I felt a little better buying it from  Paul Smith’s College VIC. I’d like to think I was supporting their athletics program, since the wood is split by their students.
“How about getting hot dogs to roast for dinner?” I suggested. Fifteen-year-old Ben rolled his eyes at me, as if I were an elderly, daft grandmother. I counted on my fingers. Yes, I was old enough, with room to spare. I cackled, since it seemed appropriate.
Beaver dam, by Carol L. Douglas, 14X18, oil on canvasboard. A special thank you to Sandra Hildreth, who took me to this wonderful place.
Cora, 14, has started to look startlingly like her dad, although much prettier. She has a lovely profile and is a good model. I made a mental note to have her pose for a real portrait next year.
We talked about important stuff, such as whether Ben could toast a marshmallow without catching it on fire. Beth Bathe concentrated on the back of Cora’s head, while Lisa BurgerLentz ignored us all and went down to the shore and painted the waning light across Rollins Pond.
The moon rose, magnificent above a Winnebago parked nearby. “Wow, this is beautiful!” exclaimed Chrissy, who’d wandered off and was standing at the shoreline. We trooped down and admired the view, which was, of course, spectacular. The pond was so still that the stars were reflecting in its surface. A light froth of cirrocumulus clouds arced above our heads, and simultaneously, at our feet. The moon, huge and wise, peeked through the needles of an Eastern White Pine.
The view that got away. I stood in the water to take this photo, and now my shoes are wet and cold.
It was, of course, the better scene, one in a million, and we’d let it get away from us. That’s always the way, it seems. I try to be philosophical and tell myself that’s the sign of a great painting location. 
We had the campsite until 11 AM. Could I stay and paint another nocturne? The late hour eventually won out. This morning I feel like I’ve been on a three-day toot, which is why this post is late and barely intelligible. But I learned something important about nocturnes: they’re much more fun if you do them by a fire with friends.

Buckling down to do some work

Mountain Farm in Evening, 8X6, oil on canvas
Yesterday, I spent several hours hiking at the 3,000-acre Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC). We’re expected to paint there tomorrow, and I’ve never been there. Toting up the various trails I followed, I figure I hiked about five miles, which is my normal daily walk at home. Hiking trails, however, are different from paved urban sidewalks, particularly in a mountainous area.
Mira Fink working on her watercolor at the VIC.
There is an iconic view of a rock outcropping in the VIC’s Heron Marsh which is lovely, but it is perhaps too perfect for my taste. Brian McDonnell, VIC facilities manager, warned me that it would be swarming with artists on Friday. A lovely view on the far end of the marsh caught my eye, but it’s a mile and a half from the parking lot. There is a spruce swamp that is simply magical, but I’m not sure how I’ll convert that to something intelligible. I won’t choose now; I think it would be better to let the views percolate in my mind’s eye before committing them to canvas.
Approaching the spruce swamp at the VIC.
I also went back to two sites that I visited on Tuesday, because I wasn’t certain they would make good compositions. I did greyscale drawings to satisfy myself that painting them would work.
A panoramic view of the High Peaks can only work if there’s foreground interest. I’ll tidy up the trees and I think it will work.
At about 5 PM, I went to town to have my boards stamped. From there, Crista Pisano, Laura Bianco and I went to Gabriels, NY to paint farms in the waning evening light. It was the first time I’ve actually flexed my brush hand in a week, and it felt good.
I’m still not convinced about these river rocks at Jay, but painting should be all about taking risks, right?
Message me if you want information about next year’s Maine workshops. Information about this year’s programs is available here.