Just another day in paradise

I’m not much of a photographer, but this trip inspired me to try.

Sunset, approaching our home-away-from-home, the schooner American Eagle.

The northeast’s best season is autumn, and we rolled into it while I was teaching aboard schooner American Eagle. Warm sun, blue skies, and light breezes meant that I kept telling myself, “I wish I could bottle this and save it for winter.” That, of course, is impossible. Instead, I soaked it up as well as I could.

Schooner Heritage soaking up the last of the sun at Pulpit Harbor.

This was my last workshop of calendar year 2021. I’m pretty chuffed at how well all my students have painted all year, and this week has been no exception.

Tidal flats on an unoccupied island. The beach is washed clean twice a day.

A photo is a poor approximation of an experience, but that and our memories are all we generally come home with. (Of course, my students also bring home paintings.)

The sky created crazy beautiful effects.

I’m not much of a photographer to start with. I tend to snap and let the pieces fall where they may. I don’t generally even pick up my cell phone when I’m painting. That’s not a philosophy, it’s sheer cussedness. I’ve had to ask Ken DeWaard if he has pictures after we’ve painted somewhere together.

Lobsterboat coming home at dusk to Isleford harbor.

This sailing trip was different. I came home with dozens of snaps on my cellphone. The sky constantly shifted its optical effects. Our fellow windjammers flew against a backdrop of blue-against-blue. Harbor porpoises wheeled alongside our boat. We stopped at Little Cranberry Island and walked its peaceful streets.

Bell buoy and the Bass Harbor Light.

Next week, we start a new session of Zoom and plein air classes. If you meant to enroll but haven’t, I have limited openings:

  • Monday nights, 6-9 PM EST, there is one seat left.
  • Tuesday mornings, 10 AM-1 PM EST, there are three seats left.
  • Local plein air, Thursday mornings, 10 AM-1 PM EST, there are many seats left.

If you want more information or to register, email me.

There are times when the ocean appears to be made of aluminum foil.

Welcome back to real life

Sailing is a great disperser of cares.

Practicing painting aboard American Eagle. What a fabulous group of students I had this trip!

I’m back from teaching watercolor aboard the schooner American Eagle—a little tanned, a little heavier (thanks, Matthew) and a whole lot more content.

Sailing is a great disperser of cares. You’re at one with the boat; you have to be, as ignoring her swings and rolls will cause you to fall down. That puts you totally in the moment, watching the sails, the waves, the shifts in air, and the amazing complexity of 19th century transport technology. Sail power is the original renewable energy resource. American Eagle has been ‘leave no trace’ since long before the slogan was thought up.

We all start at the beginning–how to mix color, how to see color, how to lay it down on the paper.

The gam—the annual raft-up of the windjammer fleet—was modified this year, as COVID made it unwise to scramble over each other’s boats. Instead, the windjammers dropped anchor near one another off Vinelhaven. A dinghy zipped around with grog. The captains devised a scavenger hunt over the water.

I have a crush on every boat, but I especially have a crush on American Eagle. She’s terrifically elegant and clean-limbed for a boat that started life as a fishing vessel.

Captain John Foss returning from the co-op with fresh lobster for our supper. 

I was rather surprised to see her little sister joining us. That was the Agnes & Dell, proudly flying the flag of Newfoundland and Labrador. She’s a smaller version of American Eagle, with the same proud curved prow and lovely rounded transom. At around 50 feet, she was being sailed by a crew of just two. That’s a manageable dream, I thought. My affections wavered just a tiny bit. But, no, as long as I get to sail twice a year on American Eagle, I don’t need a boat of my own.

Agnes & Dell was also built as a fishing schooner. She’s almost as lovely as American Eagle.

At any rate, I was out there to teach watercolor, not moon over boats. It’s always a great time, and I’m blessed to be able to do it twice a year, in June and September. None of us knew how we were going to return from COVID, but this was a heartening start to a new season.

I had eight enthusiastic students. With a few exceptions, they’re all at the beginning of their artistic journey. It was a special privilege to help them with that. We painted, ate, and laughed—a lot. If you’re interested in the September trip, or any of my other workshops, check my website here. There are still openings.

Dorothy hard at work next to the memorial to quarry workers at Stonington. Even the toughest painters get shore leave. 

On the subject of returning to reality, post-COVID, I’m having an opening at my outdoor gallery on Saturday. Somewhere in the middle of winter I started painting regularly with Ken DeWaardEric Jacobsen, and Bjὂrn Runquist. Inevitably, that’s influenced the way I think about and approach my work.

I’m looking forward to sitting down and have a glass of wine with you and talking about the past year. It’s been a sea change for us all, and I want to hear about it from your side, as much as I want to show you it from my side.

Welcome Back to Real Life opens from 2-6 PM, Saturday, June 19 at Carol L. Douglas Studio at 394 Commercial Street in Rockport, ME. The gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 6. Or email me if you want to make an appointment.

It’s all about the food

Painting is great, but sometimes I’m really focused on where my next meal is coming from.

It has to be fresh and healthy and delicious, or I won’t waste my calories on it.

My husband revealed a secret stash of Italian pastries the other day. I’m a healthy eater, but I’m not one to look a gift Torta Novecento in the mouth.

My mother worked hard to avoid raising picky eaters, but I’m afraid she failed with me. There’s no point in using up calories if they’re not buying food made with the freshest, purest ingredients. I’d rather not eat than eat badly, which is why I pack my own lunches when flying (as I’m doing today).

Fresh bread aboard schooner American Eagle, all done by hand. 

But what constitutes good food? Our taste is both a product of our biology and learned behavior. That’s why my Chinese goddaughter loves pickled ginger and I prefer gingersnaps. What we like to eat is the result of all our senses interacting together, not just the sense of taste. That’s then overlaid with memory and emotion. That’s why our food taste is so unique and unpredictable, and why we have such strong feelings on the subject.

How food tastes is based on much more than our tastebuds.

Last week I picnicked on a bridge abutment while painting with Ken DeWaard and Björn Runquist. We had the simplest hastily-assembled sandwiches. We all remarked that they were unusually delicious. The combination of crisp air, warm sunlight, ice and snow, and cheerful banter made our sandwiches so much better than they would have been if eaten in our cars or our kitchens.

That’s also what happens in my painting workshops aboard the schooner American Eagle. Usually, we dine al fresco on deck. The salt air, dazzling light, and company combine to sharpen the palette.

The gam at sunset.

Captain John Foss told me in passing that Matthew Weeks signed on for another season as cook on American Eagle. I personally think Matthew is a genius; he cooks everything exactly the way I like it. Would messmate Sarah Collins also be back, I asked. Not for the whole season, John thought, but possibly for the gam. That’s a raft-up of all the windjammers in the fleet, and it happens in June. It’s an amazing sight.

The gam is also a party.

It’s also our first watercolor workshop trip of the year, so I think I’d better lay off the tortas and save room for Sarah’s baking. It’s incredible.

Schooner cooks add an extra level of difficulty to cooking for crowds: they’re working on a woodstove in a hot galley, below decks in the heart of a pitching, rolling ship. When the mate loudly calls out a change in tack, she’s not doing it for our amusement; it’s so Matthew and Sarah can stop dessert from flying.

And they do without electricity. That means meringues are beaten by hand, and bread is kneaded by hand.

We have access to fresh seafood around Maine.

Their stove is an early 20th century Atlantic Fisherman Although it’s the proper vintage, it’s not original to the boat. “The stove that was in the galley completely disintegrated when we tried to move it, so the Atlantic Fisherman stove came from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Along with the steering wheel, bell, steering gear, all the rigging blocks, and a bunch of other gear,” Captain John told me. I believe that makes Eagle a dual citizen.

It would grace any historic kitchen with elegance, but it’s a hard worker. In addition to providing coffee and meals, it heats all the hot water for our ablutions. If you’re an extremely early riser, you can hear Matthew softly padding down to the galley in the wee hours. He’s firing up the woodstove. That requires a lot of firewood. It’s stacked and stored between trips and then fed into that stove, piece by piece, throughout the sail. I’m a hard worker, and I couldn’t do what those sailors do every summer.

Sadly, we had to cancel both watercolor workshops in 2020. Most of my students rebooked for 2021, but there are a few openings for both the June and September trips. However, they’re always subject to the boat’s other bookings, so if you’re interested you should contact Shary to reserve a berth. I hope you’ll join us. The painting is great; have I mentioned the food?

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.

Locking it in

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!

 Watercoloring at Schoodic Point with Rebecca Bense.
Sometimes, the people who struggle in painting class are the ones you’d least expect to have trouble. They’re accomplished in their professional life, and they’ve demonstrated the capacity to master complex subjects quickly.
That proficiency can be their undoing. When they don’t immediately understand the process, they’re flummoxed. Understand ideas helps, but it’s not everything. They have to learn another way of learninggrasping an idea from the hands, not the head.
The critic may understand all the elements that make a good painting, but it’s unlikely that he or she can paint or draw anything. The working artist may understand none of those things, but is still able to make enchanting paintings. It’s all about where they’ve concentrated their effort.
It’s not all about what the teacher says; it’s mostly about what you do with that information.
You’ll do better in a workshop or class if you aim to enjoy the process, rather than focus on the end result. You can’t expect perfection in a week. The more time you spend working on art, the better you’ll be.
In my classes, I concentrate on one aspect of painting each session. I’m limiting the scope of the project. Painting involves so many complex skills and techniques that if they were all thrown at us at once, we’d be overwhelmed. If you’re teaching yourself, you need to find ways to limit scope on your own. Choose one or two things that you want to improve—such as your color handling or mark-making—and concentrate on just those until you’ve made them better. Then move on to the next thing.
Painting buddies on Penobscot Bay.
A painting buddy is a great asset, as a coach, a sounding board, and for moral support. I love the interactions in my classes, because they’re uniformly positive. In most cases, people really do wish their friends the best.
Gaye Adamshas some shrewd advice about practice: “It is important to lock in the learning. Recognize that workshops shorten the learning curve, which is awesome, but they are not a substitute for easel time.”
It’s difficult to paint for a short time every day, because of the set up and clean up. However, you can always carry a sketchbook and draw. Drawing is the single best thing you can do to improve your painting, and it’s fun. Save the painting for those periods when you have a few hours of uninterrupted time.
Painting aboard American Eagle last summer.
Sometimes we need more support than can be offered by practice alone. In that case, a teacher is very helpful. Check out their class size, the work being done by their students, and—above all—if they’re painting in a style that pleases you.
My own August workshop at Schoodic Institute in Acadia National Park is sold out. However, there are still a few openings in my sketch-watercolor workshop aboard the schooner American Eagle, June 9-13, 2019. This is a class to learn how to catch landscape quickly and expressively in watercolor, pen and pencil. Materials are provided. For more information, see here, or email me for more information.