What you can and can’t change

Thought and practice moves our painting style, but it’s incremental, just like the Mary Day docking.

Winch (American Eagle), oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas, 12X16, $1449 framed.

Windjammers are slippery little devils. I should know that by now. You think you understand the rhythm of their comings and goings and you find one or two likely candidates and commit to painting them. Then you look away for a moment and you find a subject slipping away from her berth, heading out to sea.

That happened to me on Monday, when I’d stopped to paint before my dentist appointment. (‘Quickie’ has an entirely different meaning to artists than to the rest of the world.) I’d limned in the ketch Angelique, and the light and shadows were notated, but as I sadly watched her slide out of her berth, I knew she wouldn’t be back for days.

“You didn’t take a photo, did you?” asked Ken DeWaard. He knows most of my bad habits, thanks to my friend Terry spilling the beans. I could almost paint Angeliquefrom memory, but that never ends well. I shook my head ruefully, and begged him for a picture. “I’m just enabling you,” he muttered, but he sent it to me anyway.

Lobster fleet at Eastport, oil on canvas, 24×30, $3478 framed.

There was still the fine flat transom of the Lewis R. French to paint. She celebrated her 150th birthday this year, and that’s something to celebrate. We both set to again, but not five minutes later, Mary Day hove into view. She was heading for the berth directly in front of us. Normally, that would be a good thing, but it would obliterate the rest of our view.

Mary Day doesn’t have an engine; she’s pushed into place by a tender. It’s fascinating to watch 90’ of wood and sails delicately slide into her berth, guided by a tiny gnat of a boat. Since our subjects had vanished into the rhythm of a working harbor, we had no choice but to sit back and enjoy the spectacle. We talked about color and mark-making.

Striping (Heritage), oil on canvasboard, 6X8, $435 framed.

I hold that mark-making is as personal as handwriting. Once you’ve taught someone how to form their letters, you have very little control over the finished product. I’m shocked, sometimes, to see how much my handwriting resembles my mother’s. That’s a real mystery, since I’m a lefty and she was right-handed.

As a teacher, I do influence my students’ marks. “Don’t dab!” I’m wont to say, although I’m well aware that Pierre Bonnard dabbed to great effect. He’s the exception that proves the rule. Dabbing, in the hands of beginners, looks amateurish.

Mostly, I ask them to experiment with all the different things a brush can do and then find their own ways of using them. Once they’ve found that place, it’s pointless to try to shake it up too much. (This is why I don’t encourage palette-knife painting in my classes; it short-circuits this process.)

Pleasure boats, oil on canvasboard, 12X16, $1159 unframed. Even though this is not ‘my style’, it’s still one of my favorite paintings.

“There are things that are immutable, and it’s pointless to try to change them,” I said to Ken as we watched Mary Day’s crew work. “For example, I can’t be 6’5” and you can’t have my curly hair.”

“But there are things you can change,” said Ken. He’s right, of course. Our choices of brushes, canvas and pigments all influence our paint application, just as choosing a gel pen makes us write differently than with a pencil. Thought and practice moves our painting style, but it’s incremental, just like the Mary Day docking. Rush that by copying someone else, and you risk being a parody.

I don’t know a single serious artist who thinks he or she is painting well—even the ones who are highly successful. We’re all on a quest; our vision is constantly changing. But through all that, we have something that’s immutable. For lack of a better term, I’ll call it our styles.

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.

Beautiful boats and how they stay that way

Invented by a Scottish shipwright, the marine railway operates almost unchanged two hundred years later.
Packing oakum, by Carol L. Douglas
This is the first year in a while that I won’t be painting through fit-out, the annual renovation of the Maine windjammer fleet. I leave for Scotland on Monday. By the time I return they’ll be mostly finished.
The windjammer fleet is annually hauled out of the water according to a very loose schedule, written in longhand and pinned to the wall of the office at North End Shipyard. These boats are very big and very old. They spend nearly all their lives in the water, where they’re prey to worms, barnacles, and other underwater stinkers. They need regular repainting and occasional replanking. The Coast Guard carefully inspects their nether regions as well.
Setting blocks, by Carol L. Douglas
The marine railway, or patent slipway, was invented by a Scottish shipwright in 1818. Thomas Mortonwas looking for a cheaper, faster way of dry-docking boats in his Leith boatyard. As with so many brilliant ideas, his plan was deceptively simple. A boat would be secured to a wooden cradle while still floating in the water. This cradle would then be raised up a set of rails—the slipway—to dry land. A block and tackle arrangement would give a mechanical advantage, but the hoisting power came from men and mules.
Big-boned (Heritage), by Carol L. Douglas
With the advent of steam power, a donkey engine replaced the living horsepower. Today it’s an old, repurposed diesel engine. Other than that, however, the railway at North End Shipyard could be from anytime in the last two hundred years.
While some of the work now involves air compressors and Bondo, there’s a lot of it that’s straight out of the past as well. Hulls are still caulked with oakum and a long caulking mallet. Paint is scraped away and then replaced with brushes, and the Coast Guard laboriously walks the length of the hull pinging every plank with a hammer to search out rot.
Striping (Captain Linda Lee), by Carol L. Douglas
In most cases, the boats are out of the water only a few days. Sometimes the work they need barely outlasts a tide cycle. Conversely, the crew can find work that’s so extensive that they can’t get back in the water for a week or longer. Or weather can prevent hauling. Hence the vagaries of the schedule.
Those few days out of the water are hardly all the work that’s done every year on these boats. Their tenders were repaired and refinished in sheds over the winter; so too were the wooden blocks (pulleys) that the lines run through. Under their plastic covers, decks have been refinished, and repairs have been made to the below-deck accommodation for passengers. The masts are greased so the hoops can travel freely, and ratlines are retarred.
Coast Guard Inspection, by Carol L. Douglas
Everything above the waterline will be painted from floats. The Coast Guard will make sure that all the lifesaving equipment works and that the crew knows how to use it. It’s an intense, laborious process, all so these beautiful vessels can parade proudly for five months a year.
Despite the immense usefulness of his invention, Thomas Morton did not get stinking rich. He earned a total of £5737 in royalties and a lump sum of £2500 from the House of Commons. That made his total profit around a million modern US dollars—not much, considering how widely the marine railway is still used today. Perhaps when I’m in Edinburgh, I will search out his old shipyard and give a nod to one of the many inventions through which the Scots changed the modern world.
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. And my annual Sea & Sky workshop at Schoodic Institute in Acadia National Park has had a cancellation; I’m dying to know who’s going to take that last spot. For more information, email me.

The romance of the sea

What makes a person buy a tapped-out wooden boat and then spend a lifetime restoring and operating it?
Breaking storm, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas. I used American Eagle for my model, but the sea and sky are imaginary. Owl’s Head light is not, though.
American Eagle is one of a dozen windjammers plying the Maine coast. These historic schooners have been retrofitted from cargo or fishing as a niche vacation experience. Around 6000 people take an overnight schooner trip in Maine each summer. To put that in perspective, 164,513 people visit some part of Walt Disney World Resort every day.
There are no crowds, screaming kids, or queues on a schooner. There are, however, lines, which are sometimes called sheets, painters, or even ropes. A boat is a linguistic treasure-trove, but I digress.
Schooner captains wear three hats: they’re master sailors, fine carpenters and they run hospitality businesses. To make this work, they must have a stubborn streak of romanticism. Without that, all of these big boats would have been left to rot. Running a schooner business is incredibly hard work.
More work than they bargained for, by Carol L. Douglas. That’s the former Isaac H. Evans, now Boyd N. Sheppard, after a Coast Guard inspection. 
Our annual watercolor sketching trip aboard American Eagle is from June 9-13. (The practical details are here.) Here are some questions that readers have asked me:
How much time do we spend painting? We have to squeeze our work in between eating delicious meals and exploring islands, but we usually get about six hours of painting in every day.
I’m dieting so this is the part of searching through photos I don’t like. That was fresh caught salmon, cooked immediately. Courtesy American Eagle.
Can I help sail the boat?Guests are encouraged to participate in running the ship, including hoisting sails, taking a turn at the wheel, or helping out in the galley. Or they can read or watch the world go by.
What do we eat? Our meals are prepared on a woodstove below deck. They’re terrific. The mess-mate, Sarah, lives off the grid in her other life. The cook, Matthew, has adapted admirably to his 19th century work space. What they turn out from that kitchen is nothing short of miraculous.
I’ve never been on a boat before. What if I get seasick?  Motion sickness is less of a problem on schooners because they move more gently through the water than smaller vessels. And our part of the coast is protected from weather by the many islands lying offshore.
What should I bring?All your painting supplies are provided, but you’re welcome to bring other water-based media. As for clothing, Shary will send you a list before you get here.
Big-Boned, by Carol L. Douglas. That’s schooner Heritage taking her turn on the slipway.
How well-maintained are these vessels? Right now, they’re coming in to the slipway at the NorthEnd Shipyard for their annual spring fit-out, where they are scraped and repaired and undergo a rigorous Coast Guard inspection. They all carry modern navigation, rescue and communication devices.
Tell me about the boat we’re sailing on. She was launched in 1930 at Gloucester as Andrew and Rosalie, named for her first captain’s children. She was the last auxiliary schooner (powered by both sail and engine) to be built in that port, and was one of Gloucester’s last sail-powered fishing vessels.
Andrew and Rosaliewas used for fishing by Patrick Murphy and family until 1941, when she was sold to the Empire Fish Company. They renamed her American Eagle and converted her for use as a trawler.
I was derailed yesterday leaving home to paint Mercantile on the slipway. I forgot a few things: sketchbook, brush tank, wipe-out tool, and to cap it, my paints. Had to do this with the dribs and drabs on my palette, which explains the, er, limited palette. When I ran out, I went home.
In 1984, she was purchased by Captain John Foss and restored for the tourist trade. American Eagle is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. She is the sole surviving representative of the transitional period between traditional sail-powered fishing vessels and more modern trawlers.
Boothbay Harbor’s Windjammer Days publishes a great list of the 16 boats that will visit their harbor for the 57th Annual Windjammer Days Festival this June. That includes Maine’s dozen and four interlopers from Massachusetts. It’s a fun event.

Monday Morning Art School: draw six different boats

Drawing six similar objects will teach you to observe details.
Reliant rigged as a sloop.

I once got a commission to paint Lazy Jack II in Camden Harbor. I was pretty happy with the results. As I finished, two deckhands from another boat stopped to look at it. Their eyes met. “You’ve got the…” one started. “It’s not important,” said the other, and they quickly walked away. I’ve never figured out what’s wrong in that painting, but I did realize that you can only fudge the details so far. The experts will find you out.

In the normal course of things, you’re not going to see many square-rigged vessels here in mid-coast Maine (although you could see USS Constitution if you drive down to Boston). You’ll see fore-and-aft rigs, where the sails run above the keel rather than perpendicular to it.
A Bermuda-rigged sloop. This is the most common silhouette you’ll see wherever pleasure boats congregate. 
A boat’s sails all suspend from a vertical spar called the mast. This transmits all the power of the wind pushing the boat through the water. It’s really a marvel of engineering, especially since the kinks were worked out before the age of composite materials. There are some other spars whose names will be useful to know: booms, which run along the bottom of the sails, and gaffs, which get raised up in the air. Not every sailboat has gaffs, but they all have at least one mast and boom to hold the sails taut.
A gaff-rigged catboat.
A catboat is small and has a single sail on a single mast set well forward in the bow, or front of the boat. (I think this would be the perfect painter’s boat, especially if I could find one towable with my Prius.)
A sloop also has one mast, with only one sail in front of the mast. If that head-sail multiplies, your boat has morphed into a cutter. Reliance, the 1903 America’s Cup defender, could be rigged as either a sloop or cutter. I drew Reliance to illustrate that single-masted boats can be gaff-rigged as well as Bermuda-rigged. She was a peculiar thing, built only to win America’s Cup and then sold for scrap. Like all transitory things, she was, oh, so pretty.
A ketch. Angelique is far prettier.
Ketches and yawls have two masts, with the back (mizzen) sail smaller than the front sail. The difference is that in a ketch (like Angelique) the aft mast is meant to push. It’s pretty big. A yawl’s mizzen sail is very wee, almost vestigial, and is way to the back of the boat. It’s basically an air rudder, used to keep things in balance.
A yawl (or y’all, for those of you from the south).
Schooners started out having two masts, but three-masted schooners were introduced around 1800, and the spars proliferated from there. The only seven-masted schooner, the steel-hulled Thomas W. Lawson, was built in 1902. It was 395 ft. long.
While you might run across Victory Chimes, a three-masted schooner out of Rockland, the rest of the Maine windjammer fleet have two masts. A schooner’s forward mast is shorter than its mainmast, giving it an appearance of eagerness. Schooners come in all kinds of sail configurations.
A schooner’s foremast is shorter than its mainmast.
Your assignment is to find a photo of each of these sailing vessels and sketch them out as I did, paying particular attention to where the sails attach to the masts, the angles at which the gaffs are running, and the height of the masts in relationship to the length of the hull. This is not about sailing, it’s about attention to the details that matter.
If you aren’t interested in boats, you can do the same exercise with cars, motorcycles, or varieties of apples; I don’t care what they are, just that you have six objects from the same class of objects. 
The point of this exercise is not to create six beautiful boat drawings. It is to show you how much you learn by sketching. At the end of it, you should have a clear sense of why sketching in the field is a far better preparation for painting than taking photos is.
Remember, those of you who love boats: we’ll be sailing with Captain John Foss on the most beautiful of all windjammers—American Eagle—in June, studying watercolor painting on the move. For more information, see here.
My little assistants. I drew the boats and they colored.