Let down your defenses

I understand and empathize with defensiveness very well, but I also know that it is paralyzing.

Annett Sauve lets me demonstrate on her canvas. (Photo courtesy of Jane Chapin)

Thomas Edison is credited with saying that “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” He ought to have added persistence in that equation. It’s a kind of intelligence, one that isn’t measured on tests and used as a predictor of success—but it ought to be.

Of the six students in this workshop, two are returning students. They share that trait of persistence. For both of them, the process of painting has really clicked on this trip. I refine my teaching method with every class, which I think makes it clearer, but the difference is mostly in them.

Mary Whitney’s painting in paradise.

Painting is not simple. Learning it takes time, and is a two-way dialogue. The student must be open to what’s being taught in order to make any real progress. Likewise, the teacher must be listening constantly for cues from the student.

For a long time, I was a very defensive painting (and everything else) student. I knew what I thought I knew and wasn’t willing to let others change that, even as I understood I needed help. It was a pity, because it blunted any possibility of becoming a better painter.

What were the symptoms of this self-defeating viewpoint? Whenever a teacher suggested I try something a different way, I responded with a rationalization. “I know, but…” saved me from having to try and fail. I was unnecessarily critical of others’ work, and there was a very limited range of paintings I understood enough to love.

Karla King and me, working at Pecos National Historic Park. (Photo courtesy of Jane Chapin)

What cured that? My broken self-image was repaired. To explain how I was broken would require delving into a maelstrom, so I will skip it. But the cure was a combination of my developing faith (I was made in God’s image, so I can’t be fatally flawed) and the slow development of real competence. This was not just as a painter, but as a parent, a spouse, and a functioning adult.

I understand and empathize with defensiveness very well, but I also know that it is paralyzing. I can’t fix it by simply saying, “let down your defenses.” That insecurity is the very nut the student is trying so hard to protect.

Instead, I sidestep the whole question by insisting that, for one week, workshop students try it my way. It’s not arrogance on my part, but rather the desire that students get value for the money they’re shelling out.

Historic New Mexico.

Of course, the process I use is not the only way to paint alla prima, nor is it in any way my own invention. Painting—like most other human endeavors—has been developed incrementally by thousands of practitioners. Our best practices are a synthesis of their ideas. Before a student rejects the basic rules of painting, he or she should not only understand why they are used, but have thoroughly mastered them.

I’m thinking about this because I’m going to do a free cocktail-hour webinar on October 2, where I’ll talk about objectives in studying painting. Everyone is welcome, and I hope you bring lots of questions.

“The first time I felt normal in a long time.”

If you’re depressed or anxious right now, for heaven’s sake, turn off your laptop and TV.

Jane Chapin with my new dog, Guillo (short for Guillermo and pronounced Gee-zho).

There’s a small hamlet here that’s a New Mexican Brigadoon, a tiny community that time forgot. It’s otherworldly, like a set from a movie. Modest adobe houses are set on a bluff overlooking a verdant valley. The dogs and the people are generous and friendly.

This is one of my favorite places, where I could paint the rest of my life in contentment. That’s a fairly high bar, since I’ve painted in many of the world’s beauty spots.

Yesterday I shared this place with the six students in my Pecos workshop. It’s a well-earned reward, because I’m working them harder than I’ve ever worked students before. On Monday, we did a day-long joint project where I demoed step-by-step in watercolor and oils. They followed along, duplicating my processes exactly. On Tuesday, we threw color theory into that mix. All six of them draw well, so they’re able to keep up.

Mary Silver working on values. It’s all about that base.

Yesterday, they were spread out along a dusty track running from the road back to the morada, which is the meeting house of New Mexican penitentes. As is my usual technique, I spent much of the day going from person to person, working one-on-one. This creates the opportunity for intimate conversation (and is why so many of my students have become lifelong friends).

“This is the first time I’ve felt normal in a long time,” two of them told me independently of each other. Those within earshot heartily agreed with them. We’re in a place that’s anything but normal. Our group is disparate, with students from students from Texas, Missouri, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Maine. I had to ask them what made them feel normal.

Jean Cole with our ride. And here I thought I had overdone it by getting a full-size truck.

It’s being in a group and not wearing masks, they thought. I suspect they’re right. Human beings are primarily social animals. We read each other through body language and facial expressions as much—or more—than with our words. Here we can talk and laugh, and we needn’t worry overmuch about whether we’re maintaining a proper two-meter separation (as if there was any science behind that rather arbitrary number).

But there’s more to it than that. We’re also in a media blackout. One thing I like about painting here (and in Acadia, and Alaska and Patagonia and other remote places) is that I don’t have cell-phone reception. I’m not seeing the news or looking at Facebook. Here I can’t even take a phone call. If you want me, text me and I may see your message by the end of the day.

Linda DeLorey and Jean Cole painting in Paradise.

That means we haven’t talked or thought about COVID-19 all week. And there’s a lesson in that—if you’re depressed or anxious right now, for heaven’s sake, turn off your laptop and TV. Go for a walk in this crystalline September air. Play with a puppy. Do anything that involves your real community and doesn’t involve the whole generalized human condition. It’s what’s around you that’s real, not what the talking heads keep telling you.

A student asked me whether we are going to have safe-distancing accommodations at Sea & Sky this year. The answer is yes. For this year only, everyone gets their own apartment. However, if you’re coming from Massachusetts or any other supposedly high-risk state, you will need a negative COVID test to stay at Schoodic Institute. (Of course, that too may change by October.)

Last but certainly not least, I’m going to do a free cocktail-hour webinar on October 2, where I’ll talk about objectives in studying painting. Everyone is welcome, and I hope you bring lots of questions.

Fear of Failure

People do not become brave in a vacuum—they get that way by taking risks.

Along the Pecos River in Winter, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

The newest diversion for small businessmen in America is to sit up nights and think about what they should cancel. I had my most recent conversation about this with Jane Chapinon Saturday, as we try to figure out whether my New Mexico workshop is on or not. The problem in New Mexico is the same one we faced here in Maine earlier in the year: the same advisories that are appropriate for places like Albuquerque are overkill for small mountain towns. Even though painters will be safe in Pecos, we still must abide by state law.

It may seem like tempting fate, but I don’t worry overmuch about coronavirus. It’s wise to be cautious about it, just as it’s wise to be prudent when camping in bear country. But I’m in good health for my age, and my chances of recovery are vastly greater (better than a hundred to one) than dying if I contract the disease. I’d like to live to a great old age, but, as Lucy Angkatell chirpily notes in Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, we’re all going to die of something anyway.

Downdraft snow, by Carol L. Douglas

The Hollow was written in 1946, and Lady Angkatell’s attitude toward death is as obsolete as the novel’s melodrama. Modern society is constructed around a fierce desire to minimize risk. We worry about lawsuits; we worry about perceived threats that may have little basis in reality. We’ve been conditioning ourselves out of risk-taking for most of my adult life.

When I was a kid, we routinely walked to school without adult supervision, played games without adult supervision, rode horses without adult supervision, and used tools and equipment with only the loosest adult supervision. Today, kids are barred from doing these things, yet the child mortality rate has never been lower in America (largely because of vaccines).

New Mexico Farmstead, by Carol L. Douglas.

When my kids were babies, the bogeyman in the room was child abduction, which kept a whole generation under the watchful eyes of their mothers. It turned out to be largely illusory, but it effectively ended childhood freedom.

Yesterday I was talking with a Zoom student from Tennessee. He mentioned that he learned to drive a tractor at age 8. Today, he’s a pilot. I was about the same age when I learned to drive our Ford 9N. By age 14, I was moving hay from fields in one town to our home farm in the next. Had I been injured in a farm accident then, it would have been a tragedy. Today, it would be a reason to pass a new set of laws barring kids from farm work.

Pecos hillside, by Carol L. Douglas. No, our workshop isn’t scheduled for snow season; I just have a perverse liking for winter.

But being raised as ‘free range’ children was formative to creating intrepid adults. A child who learns how to manage risk will grow into a confident adult. That’s key, as I wrote recently, to success in the arts. People do not become brave in a vacuum—they get that way by taking risks and accepting defeat.

I occasionally have a super-achiever in painting class, a person who has always been the best at whatever he or she attempts. That’s a terrible handicap in art. The inability to accept failure means they can’t accept the risk that is inherent in all art-making. Their fear of failure consigns them to fail.

Art, after all, could be defined as a series of failures on the way to an impossible objective. For that, risk-taking is a great teacher.

By the way, if you wonder why comments must be moderated on this blog, it’s because of mornings like this, where I start my day by deleting dozens of bot-spam comments before I can actually write anything.

Atmosphere and style

If you take anything from travel, it should be new and different color harmonies based on different light.

Beach Erosion, by Carol L. Douglas. Oil on canvasboard. Available through Ocean Park Association.

The best plein air locations do not necessarily have one grand vista demanding attention. Instead, they are made of many tiny, riveting details. Raven’s Nest in Schoodic is beautiful, but it can only make one painting.

Thomaston is an unsung gem on the Maine coast. Northbound visitors know they can shave time by cutting along the Camden Road, avoiding Thomaston altogether. Those who drive through seldom turn off Route 1. That’s a pity. Streets of stately old homes march down to the St. George estuary, each one a small masterpiece of local carpentry.

Fish Beach, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard.

I scouted locations as an evening mist coalesced into drizzle. It was pleasant but made for lousy painting. We’ve had a string of overcast days recently, and they’re cutting into my plein air time.

Artists have historically prized indirect light, but mostly for their studios. North-facing windows give you reflected light, which has a very even, cool temperament. Vermeer’s interiors epitomize this. The light rakes in low from the left, soft but intense, picking out the richness of details. This is also the perfect lighting for hyperrealismbecause every detail can have the same intensity.

It’s not great lighting for contemporary plein air, however. Flat lighting is currently out of style. That hasn’t always been the case. The Dutch Golden Age painters excelled at it. Their landscapes are small cities, harbors or boats under great billowing clouds. That put man in his proper place in their worldview.

Beach saplings, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

Lighting is the difference between Northern European and Italian painting. The Low Countries and England sit under delicate filtered light. Northerners could never have invented chiaroscuro, with all its explosive drama. They never saw that hard, flat light.

Although the Great Lakes are a vast inland sea, they do not have the same temperament as the ocean. This is not about the kind of mischief they can get up to, because they’re in fact quite tricky. Rather, it’s about their skies. The eastern lakes tend to collect clouds, giving them a filtered, delicate light. Their skies never have the pitiless clarity of ocean light.

I grew up along the Great Lakes, and that’s where I first learned to paint. It’s taken me years to realize how this influenced my own development. In fact, flat light is an impediment to most contemporary painters.

We moderns are all, more or less, beholden to the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. The main strut that holds Impressionism together—color temperature—is more or less non-existent in flat light, where everything is cool. That’s why so many Impressionist painters flocked to the south of France. 

White Sands of Iona, by Carol L. Douglas. Four beaches, four different lighting situations.

I was reminded of that as I invented a color harmony in an early morning overcast. It takes time to learn how color temperature works in the real world, and the color relationships of the Great Lakes or Adirondacks do not translate automatically to Maine. If you gain anything by traveling to paint, it should be new and different color harmonies based on the light.

On that note, Sea & Sky has moved to October. I’ve always taught it in August so that art teachers could join us, but October is the height of New England autumn color. The ocean is still warm, meaning the weather is usually stellar.

As with all my workshops, we’ve got a COVID-19 refund policy in place—if we have to cancel, we’re sending your money back to you. Information on my Acadia, Tallahassee, Pecos and 2021 sailing workshops can all be found on my website.

Paint in beautiful Pecos, New Mexico, September 13-18, 2020

New Mexico’s a vastly different landscape, yet has the same long views and limpid light that so captivate me about Maine.

Dry Wash, by Carol L. Douglas

It takes a lot to get me to teach anywhere but Maine these days. But there’s another place I love to paint. I haven’t taught in New Mexico in more than a decade, and it’s time to go back.

The village of Pecos, NM lies along the Pecos River, which flows out of the Santa Fe National Forest. Nearby, Pecos National Historical ParkGlorieta Pass, and Pecos Benedictine Monastery provide superb mountain views. Ranches and small adobe settlements dot the landscape. This is a landscape of colorful skies, hoodoos, dry washes, pine wildernesses, horses, and pickup trucks. Yet it’s within commuting distance of Santa Fe, so accommodations, necessities and world-class galleries are just a short drive away.
Horses at a ranch in Pecos, NM. Photo courtesy Jane Chapin.
I first painted in the Pecos area during a plein airevent in 2018. I was supposed to range all over the state, but I loved Pecos so much I stayed right there. Then I came back the following winter. I’ve explored the ridges and canyons, the river valley, horse pastures, fallow bottomlands, and I think I have a great itinerary planned for you.

Old farmyard, Pecos, NM, by Carol L. Douglas. If I were going to buy a second home, this would be it.

I’m delighted to offer this opportunity in conjunction with the brand-new Pecos Art Center (about which I’ll be telling you more soon). This organization was founded to bring arts and culture to the local community. Each workshop instructor is asked to present a program for local school students before or after their workshop. This augments local art education and gives back to the local community. “In Pecos, we believe we live in a unique and authentic place and want to give something back to the community who has welcomed us to paint there,” said organizer Jane Chapin. “We want to preserve its character while leaving a footprint of opportunities for the next generation.”

Adobe and beautiful mountains. Photo courtesy Jane Chapin.
This workshop is aimed at helping painters refine their personal technique in plein air. All media are welcome: watercolor, pastel, oils and acrylics. This is an intensive class, with morning and afternoon on-site painting sessions and lunch-time demos. Classes are kept small so every student gets the attention they deserve.
My friend Jimmy Stewart critiquing my painting along the river bottom. Photo courtesy Jane Chapin.
Opportunities for accommodations are varied. There are seasonal rentals in the area, or commute up from Santa Fe if you want a more urban setting.
The workshop fee is $600. That includes five days of highly-personalized instruction and a social gathering on Sunday evening, where you’ll meet your classmates. Email me here for more information.
Snow at higher elevations (downdraft), by Carol L. Douglas
Carol Douglas has 20 years’ experience teaching students of all levels in watercolor, oils, acrylics and pastels. “Some teachers are good artists, and some artists are good teachers, but it is rare to find a good artist who is also a good teacher. Carol is one of them. She will teach you the fundamentals you need to know, which a lot of teachers gloss over without explanation, but she also takes you to the next level, wherever you are on the learning curve.” (David Blanchard)

State of mind

If you don’t engage with your subject, you’ll waste time if you paint it.

This year we have a service dog with us. He could make anyone happy. (Photo by Jennifer Johnson)

I started this year’s workshop with an exercise I haven’t done in years. I took the protocols I published the last two Mondays (hereand here) and had my students execute them in two groups. Each team member took turns doing a step of the process. Together they brought a painting from initial design to finished product.
Process is everything in painting. Being involved, rather than just watching, makes it stick in the mind.
The oil painting group work on their painting. (Photo by Jennifer Johnson)
An hour in, I asked myself, “What have I done?” In the end, my misgivings were ungrounded. Yes, the students learned my process. More importantly, the exercise took away their performance anxiety. They leapfrogged right over the usual bad first painting.
Unfortunately, we can’t always have group exercises to loosen up. We need other strategies to help us focus. One of the most important—to me—is to work at the same time every day. That tells my body and brain when to get serious.
The watercolor group faithfully executed every step I assigned to them.
Another technique I’ve recently adopted is to sit quietly with a view for several minutes and gauge my reaction. I’ve realized there are scenes which irritate or bore me. They may be iconic, beautiful and lovely, but I’ll be fighting my reaction all the way. There are other scenes which touch a deep wellspring of positive feeling. And there are places where my reaction is simply disinterested. The trick is to give myself enough time to understand these reactions, instead of relying on my logical mind to determine what will make a good painting. Or even worse, a ‘sellable’ painting.
Rhea Zweifler relaxing into her drawing. (Photo by Jennifer Johnson)
This is not a geographical issue. Every place I’ve ever been is multifaceted. I’ve painted lovely landscapes in Terre Haute, Indiana, which is flat farmland bisected by the muddy Wabash River. And I’ve painted absolute gibberish in famous beauty spots.
Yesterday, one student ended up wiping out her afternoon painting. “I set up here and thought, ‘I guess I’ll paint that scene over there.’ But I wasn’t really interested. I should have walked around more and found something that I really loved.” She was irritated by her choice and never fully engaged with the painting. Had she recognized that at the start, she would have saved herself a lot of work.
That’s another way preparatory sketches are helpful. We hate abandoning projects we’ve started. However, if your sketch isn’t dynamic and powerful, you need to stop and figure out why. It could be a composition problem, but it’s equally likely that you don’t really like the view as much as you think you ought.
Into each workshop an obligatory lecture/demo must fall.
I have—too many times—slogged through a painting for three or four hours only to turn around and ask myself, “why didn’t I paint that?” A little quiet reflection at the start of my process would have saved me a lot of wasted time.
It’s far easier to paint something your heart responds to, rather than something that bores or annoys you. If it’s the right scene, you’ll get lost in your work, forgetting time. If it’s not, you’ll spend most of the session wishing you were done. The only way to know which you’ve got is to sit quietly and let it speak to you.
Is this rational? No. Is it true? Absolutely.

Nobody owns technique

One can learn a lot from books, but one can’t learn everything.
This recipe doesn’t spell anything out for you; it presumes you understand how to bake. (BTW, confectioners sugar no longer weighs out at 2.5 cups to the pound. I’d guess it’s milled differently today.)
In 1954 a woman named Doris passed this cookie recipe along to my mother. Its telegraphic style always makes me smile. In the 1950s, baking technique did not need to be explained by one married woman to another. Today, those of us who learned to bake from our mothers or through 4H can follow this recipe without a problem. Those who didn’t, probably can’t. It presumes a basic understanding of baking that is no longer common today.
Once a friend was fretting about how she couldn’t find an uncomplicated muffin recipe. “But they’re all just lists of ingredients,” I said. “You always assemble them in the same order: sift the dry ingredients together, beat the wet ingredients together, and then fold the two mixtures into each other.”
I showed this recipe to Jane Bartlett, who remarked that when she teaches Shibori she frequently tells her students that nobody owns technique. This is a very apt observation for both baking and the fine arts. There is nothing one can patent about artistic technique, any more than one could patent the order of operations for baking.
Dance of the Wood Nymphs, by Albert Pinkham Ryder. It was probably a lovely painting when he finished it, but his disregard of commonly-accepted protocol meant it was an archival disaster.
Painting is so straightforward that departing from the accepted protocols is often foolish. A few years ago, some of my students attended a workshop teaching painting into thin layers of wet glaze. The tonalist Albert Pinkham Ryder did that in the 19th century, and his works have almost all darkened or totally disintegrated.
One can learn a lot from books, but one can’t learn everything.  A kid in my studio announced her intention of making an apple pie the other day. (She is an excellent cook but her food heritage is non-western.) I gave her a cookbook and the supplies and left her to it. Imagine my surprise when this was what she came up with:
Elegantly layered, but it’s not an apple pie. Not everything can be learned from books.
To make an apple pie, one needs to know what an apple pie looks and tastes like, but it also helps to have assembled an apple pie under someone else’s tutelage. The same is—of course—true of painting and drawing. Yes, one can learn something about them from books, videos, and the occasional visit to an art gallery, but a good teacher really does help.
This post was originally published on October 4, 2013. If you live in mid-coast Maine and are interested in painting classes, my next session starts January 8. Email me for more information.

I hate wasting money

If you’re like me, you can’t handle one more project right now, but my early bird discount expires on January 1.
Becky Bense among the rocks at Schoodic Point.
Several people have told me they’re registering for next summer’s Sea & Sky workshop but haven’t sent their deposit. It will cost you $100 more if you wait until after January 1 to register.
I was once a student, too. I clearly remember my frustration with too much theory and not enough technique. I resolved then that I’d do my best to send my students away with tangible technical help.

Students tell me that I’m the first teacher who’s ever given them a consistent system for putting paint on canvas in a way that’s bright, clean and clear. There are some basic steps in making paintings. They’ve worked for centuries. I do my best to teach them through my blog, but it’s really better to see for yourself.

You’ll see the giant lobsterman of Prospect Harbor.
I know painters at all levels. It’s sometimes frustrating to see them stuck for months or even years on the same painting problems. That’s especially true when I know the problems are easily corrected. Take the question of muddy, grey, paint. 90% of the time, it’s caused by how you lay down the underpainting, not your paint mixing.
What helps me break through problems like these is radical change, something that shakes up my routine enough for new ideas to sneak in.
And paint at this untouched Maine harbor.
Coming to Schoodic is as radical a change as you’re likely to get. You’re out of your environment, in one of the earth’s great beauty spots. You eat, laugh, and play with like-minded fellow painters. And you learn. I implore my students: “You don’t have to do this forever; just give it one week.” Usually, they incorporate those changes into their ‘forever.’
In a world of incredible atmospherics.
Here are the most common questions I hear:
How do I get there?Fly into Bangor or Portland, ME, rent a car, and drive over to Acadia National Park. It’s simple. Or, you can carpool.
I’m not very experienced. Is this workshop for me? Yes. We take such a small group that everyone gets individual attention. We meet you where you’re at.
Where are we staying? At the Schoodic Education and Research Center. You don’t just book a room there; you have to be part of an educational program.
Michael and Ellen practice their loafing skills at Blueberry Hill.
Can I bring my spouse?Please do. A non-painting partner sharing the same room is $475. That includes all meals, including our lobster feast. There’s lots to do in the area–hiking, biking, photography, birdwatching, fishing, or just quiet meditative time in nature. Sometimes non-painting spouses just like to hang out with the class, too. That’s fine with me.
Pastels are a beautiful medium for the Maine coast. And, yes, I should have been wearing gloves. (Photo courtesy of Claudia Schellenberg)
What mediums can I bring? Oils, acrylics, watercolor, pastel. And of course your drawing supplies.
Is that a good price? Even at $1600, my workshop is a fantastic deal, since it includes your meals, accommodations instruction and insider knowledge of the Schoodic Peninsula. Next year, the price is going up, since my costs rose this year.
But the Early Bird discount makes it a ridiculous bargain. So, if you’re planning on signing up, send me a check and the registration form, pronto, and save yourself $100.

Schooner or Schoodic?

If you register before Christmas, you’ll get a $50 discount for the schooner workshop or $100 off the price of the Schoodic workshop.
A coastal Maine sunset, courtesy of Claudia Schellenberg.
My daughter Mary once said that what I really wanted for my birthday was for someone to come here and throw things out. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I’m not a collector.
The one thing I can always be suckered into is cooking gadgets. This is odd, because I’m a bad cook.
We fall into the gadget trap when we’re frustrated by our incompetence. A kitchen of beautiful equipment hasn’t made me a cook, and a studio full of lovely brushes won’t make someone a painter, either. A workshop is much better value for money, and it doesn’t take up space.
A schooner gam by dawn in Penobscot Bay. You don’t see that everywhere.

The Age of Sail

June 9-13, 2019 

This was so much fun, we’re reprising it for as long as Captain John Foss puts up with us. We sail with him on the historic schooner American Eagle out of Rockland harbor. This is a leisurely cruise along the Maine coast, sailing where the wind blows and recording our impressions in watercolor journals.
Who knows what you’ll see? I’ve done this trip four times and each one was completely different. The light, the wildlife, and the water are all constantly changing. And I’m going to teach you to catch that in your sketchbooks.
Your materials are all provided, including paints, papers, and the use of brushes. All you do is show up. Non-painting guests are welcome too. The Captain will put them to work, if they want.
Extremely al fresco lobster boil.
The trip lasts four days and includes an evening “gam,” a raft-up of the great schooner fleet of the mid-coast region. That’s an opportunity to see these beasties up close and personal.
American Eagle is a true relic of the great days of sail power, but it’s been updated so you have a comfortable berth, fresh linens, modern heads and a fresh-water shower.
Our meals are cooked up on the original woodstove by the cook and his mate. They’re fantastic. They include a lobster bake, which might be at sea or on an empty island, depending on where we end up.
There’s no place to paint like the coast of Maine. Photo courtesy of Ellen Joyce Trayer
August 4-9, 2019

This is my sixth year teaching from Schoodic Institute. It’s situated right at Schoodic Point, in one of the finest locations in all of Acadia National Park—quiet, unspoiled and dramatic. The Institute was built on the site of an old naval base, so it commands the point. It’s laced with hiking paths. Its use is restricted to educational programs, so there’s none of the hustle and bustle you find elsewhere in the park. And the whole area is wild and undeveloped.
Meals, snacks, and accommodations are included in your fee. This includes a lobster boil by a local fisherman. We do morning and afternoon sessions, I demo during lunch, and then we return to the Institute for quiet camaraderie at night. There’s a critique at the end.
All media welcome. Photo courtesy of Claudia Schellenberg.

If your partner wants to come along, he or she will find ample opportunity to hike, bike, fish, or tour in the immediate area. It’s an outdoorsman’s paradise.

Email me here for more information. If you register before Christmas, you’ll get a $50 discount for the schooner workshop or $100 off the price of the Schoodic one.

That pesky style thing

Painting, at its best, is about honesty and truth-telling.

Winter Harbor lighthouse with Cadillac Mountain, by Becky Bense.

Yesterday, one of my students heaved a great sigh and told us about a girl she knew when she was in school. “She could draw these fine, detailed, curlicued things. And here I was, drawing these big, massive shapes. Of course, she was the art teacher’s pet.”
I immediately imagined this kid in my mind’s eye, her blonde hair lightened with Sun-In, parted in the middle and sweeping back like Farrah Fawcett’s. (She probably didn’t look like that, but that was the style of the girl who held the whip-hand back in the 1970s.) I laughed, because my student—who is, like most of my students, also a friend—is none of the above. She’s whip-smart, rock-solid, organized, and fiery. Her drawing reflected that even as a kid.
Mt. Desert Narrows, by Jennifer Johnson
That should be the primary stylistic goal of painters—not to paint like someone else, and certainly not to leave a workshop painting like me. Style, in my opinion, is the gap between the internal vision you have and what actually comes out of your brush. It’s a shifting thing, because your skills are (hopefully) constantly improving.
We’re all group normed in a million decisions, whether it’s how we dress, where we live, or what we choose to do for a living. That’s true of painting as well, something I wrote about here. It happens whenever you bring your work to a gallery, participate in a plein air event, or even compare work with another artist. We’re herd animals and we feel most comfortable when we fit in.
Winter Harbor lighthouse, by Claudia Schellenberg
On the other hand, we’re also products of our time. In the 20th century, that meant painting anxiety, angst, fear of the Bomb, world war. Those things radiate through the great artists of the past century. The spirit of the times in the 21st century is still open for discussion, of course; we’re barely there.
Before I do a workshop, I look up my artists online to get an idea of their skill level and where they might want to go. (I also ask about what they want to learn.) In general, plein air attracts an intrepid type of person; they can’t be too fearful and want to deal with the inconveniences of working in the woods. But beyond that, people are a constant surprise.
Rocks by Linda Delorey
It would be easy to tell them, “do it this way,” and create a miniature Carol Douglas. I don’t want to do that, however; I want to explain the process of applying paint and then give them their heads. But I can’t help them advance if I don’t know what they’re looking for. That comes back to the question of honesty in painting.
Coastline by Diane Leifheit
Another student, following up on this subject of truth-telling, asked me what I think of Pablo Picasso. I can find something to like in almost all art. However, Picasso is a closed door to me. I think it’s a question of his honesty, which reveals his character, and that I don’t seem to like very much. This is not because of his biography; I’ve never read very much about him. It’s what comes through in his paintings. That’s a sign of his power as a painter.