Traveling with more than one medium

American Eagle rounding Owls Head, 6×8, oil on archival canvasboard, $348 unframed.

One of my tasks this week was booking my air travel to my workshops in Sedona, AZ and Austin, TX in March. The price of rental cars and airfare have both dropped substantially from last year. That makes travel easier on everyone.

Often, workshop students will ask me about bringing a second medium with them. I encourage that. Watercolor and gouache kits are small and you can easily slip them in a bag with your other tools.

Mark Gale, who will be my monitor in Austin, recently bought a travel watercolor kit. At first, he was hopelessly confused by it; now he is thinking of bringing it on his next RV trip. It’s portable and dries fast. Some mediums are more appropriate for specific purposes than others.

Painting in multiple media has a loosening effect in your work. Once you get past the shock of thinking about values ‘backwards’, moving between oil and watercolor will lighten up your brushwork. Pastels can teach you to lay up colors in sparkling fields like an Impressionist, providing you don’t get sidetracked into blending. Acrylics will help you learn to not get bogged down in the weeds of modeling.

The Wave, 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869

However, you have to carry this stuff

Each of these, however, requires its own set of tools and substrates, so you can’t bring them all. When I travel to workshops, I bring two suitcases. My carry-on has my personal belongings. My checked bag has my tools, canvases and paints.

Travel is always a compromise between canvas size and practicality. The less variation in size, the easier it is to pack. I like to paint big, but space is at a premium. Knowing I might bring home wet paintings, I’ll limit myself to 11/14 and 9/12. I’ll also bring a 9/12 Arches Watercolor Block and my watercolor kit.

Unless I have multiple pastel students, I don’t carry my full pastel kit. It’s too cumbersome. Instead, I can bring a small kit of NuPastels and some sanded paper. That’s enough to get my point across.

Wreck of the SS Ethie, oil on canvas, 18X24, $2318 framed.

Oil painters who travel should be familiar with Safety Data Sheets (SDS). The flash point is in section nine, Physical and Chemical Properties. This tells you what you can and cannot fly with. A flash point at or below 140° F (60° C) indicates it is a flammable liquid and may not be carried in airline baggage. You’ll have to hunt, but all vendors are required to provide SDS for every product.

Turpenoid has a flash point of 129° F (54° C), so it can’t fly. Gamsol’s flash point is 144°F (62°C) so it’s legal. I buy a fresh small bottle and wrap it in its SDS with the flash point highlighted. Remember to completely empty and clean your brush washing tank before flying.

Most painting mediums have drying agents added. This gives them a flash point of under 140° F, so they can’t fly. I’ve switched to using linseed oil instead. Again, I wrap the bottle in its SDS with the flash point (500° F) highlighted.

American Eagle in Drydock, 12X16, $1159 unframed.

A small tube of oil paint is 37 ml. or 1.25 oz, so is safe for your carry-on. A large tube is 150 ml., or 5 oz. It must be in your checked luggage or it will be confiscated. I pack this handy label with my oil paints.

Watercolor tubes are tiny and harmless, but the only trouble I’ve ever had flying with paints was with watercolors. Now I squeeze out what I need for the week into a palette and leave the tubes at home.

It’s very easy to forget to wash your oil painting brushes on the road, and dried brushes are unredeemable. If you can do nothing else, rinse them thoroughly in solvent and wipe them down until you can treat them properly. I sell a brush soap that I can recommend without hesitation; my daughter makes it for me.

There are several portable painting racks available, but when painting on the road, I simply lay my paintings out on a flat surface, with newspaper underneath. Unframed work gets separated with waxed paper, taped together, and packed in my checked luggage. If the paint isn’t too thick, it won’t be harmed.

My 2023 workshop schedule can be found here. That includes September aboard schooner American Eagle, mountain vistas in the Berkshires, and our ever-popular Sea & Sky at Schoodic in Acadia National Park. New, in October, an immersive, in-person workshop in Rockport, ME. In 2024, we’ll be in Sedona and Austin in March. Why not register today?

Connection and chaos

Christmas Eve, oil on canvasboard, 6X8 private collection.

Last weekend, more than 260 million Americans were under winter weather advisories of some sort. That’s a stunningly high percentage of our population. I understand the powerful impulse that impelled some of them into the teeth of the blizzard despite those warnings. I’ve driven into horrible storms myself just because it was Christmas.

We’re high on a bluff so the storm surge couldn’t touch us. We heat with wood. During our few hours without power, we wrapped gifts by candlelight and ate Scotch eggs.

That doesn’t mean the state of Maine went unscathed. My contractor was called away from my kitchen project to tend a house flooded by the storm surge; thousands of gallons of salt water rolled across the lawn into their basement. He cut the power and they’ll be replacing their systems this week.

Christmas Eve 2, oil on canvasboard, private collection.

Almost a quarter of a million customers were without power in Maine on Friday. Some still haven’t seen it restored. That made for a wicked cold and dark Christmas for many people.

I had no great expectations for Christmas, so when my plans went flapdoodle, it was no big deal. I was headed for Troy, NY, to have pizza with my youngest child. We would then wait patiently for his sisters to be done with their roistering so we could celebrate Christmas later this week.

My daughters didn’t fare as well. M was snowed in at Buffalo. L has influenza, but she wouldn’t have been able to travel to her in-laws’ home anyway; the driving was too awful. One of J’s in-laws had emergency surgery on Christmas Eve and others were down with influenza.

For me this meant no inconvenience, just constant recalibration. That hardly compares with being stuck in an airport for thirty hours, but it’s had its moments.

Lonely cabin, 8X10, oil on canvasboard, $652 framed.

Buffalo has a long history of blizzards. Many Buffalo natives (of which I am one) have, at one time or another, been trapped by sudden, catastrophic snowfalls. There were generally no happy Hallmark endings to our experiences. There was no instant personal connection, no way nor reason to stay in contact with the strangers with whom we were thrown together.

At 18, when the Blizzard of ’77 hit, I was sublimely self-centered. At 63, I’m more inclined to look at the people around me. A thought niggles—what if we looked at this week as an opportunity for new connections, to welcome others into our Christmas spirit?

At Passover, my Jewish friends set an extra cup of wine on the dinner table and open the door for the prophet Elijah. This tradition is intertwined with the idea of welcoming the stranger, since nobody knows in what guise Elijah might appear.

I believe that a winter that starts out with a roar generally continues in the same vein. That means more storms, more dislocation. My resolution for the remainder of this Christmastide and beyond is to focus more on the ones I’m with than the ones I’m missing.

The Late Bus, 8X6, oil on canvasboard, $435 framed.

I’m also going to run to Walmart and replace my husband’s car emergency kit. His has wandered off. For those of you new to sub-zero temperatures, that means:

  • A filled water bottle;
  • Candles and matches in a tightly-sealed glass jar;
  • Chocolate bars or other high-calorie non-perishable snack foods (you can eat them in the spring if you don’t need them now);
  • A car blanket;
  • A collapsible shovel in the trunk;
  • A charged power bank for your phone.

I’m rich!

The Rocks Remain, 16X20, $2029, available through Sedona Arts Center.

Flying west from a tiny town in northern New England lacks charm. You get up at an unearthly hour, drive to a bus depot, and head to Logan. It complicates the already-dismal nature of air travel to have to start at 2 AM.

I live in one of America’s beauty spots. Why I’d spend 21 hours to get to another beauty spot is a mystery of wanderlust and economics, but apparently it works. I do it with frequency.

Rim Light, 16X20, $2029, available through Sedona Arts Center.

The trips themselves can make me grumpy. Yesterday, I was in Phoenix, consoling myself in my friends’ kitchen with chocolate when my phone rang. It was Eric Jacobsen, calling to wish me well at the 18th Annual Sedona Plein Air. That’s what’s brought me to Arizona.

Eric’s a great listener. I’d made an error in my car reservation and it ended up costing me a thousand bucks. My frames were dinged in transit. That sets the break-even hurdle at this event higher than I’m comfortable with.

He reminded me that blessings are not always linear, but they are guaranteed. That was an indirect way of pointing out my true wealth: I’m surrounded by people of great intellect and compassion.

Falling Tide, 11X14, $1087, available through Cape Ann Plein Air.

My old pal Ed Buonvecchio, formerly of Manchester, Maine, has been watching for my paints. They’re traveling here by UPS. As of this morning, they still haven’t arrived, but I have a small reserve in my kit. Ed was my monitor at my 2022 workshop in Sedona and I’m hoping he’ll do next year’s, too. (It’s called Towards Amazing Color, and it sold out last year.)

As I mentioned Monday, frames make me nuts. Ed’s a dab hand at woodworking, and he’s offered to help me mend my damaged frames. That’s a generous offer, since he is also painting in this event. But that’s Ed; he has a heart a mile wide.

Dawn Wind, Twin Lights, 9X12, $869, available through Cape Ann Plein Air.

It seems like I always land in Phoenix at rush hour. That puts me on Interstate 10 just in time to sit in traffic. “I fail to see any beauty in this landscape,” I grumbled. I felt better when I arrived at my friends’ house. I’ve known Jim and Ellen since our salad days. That’s a uniquely comfortable relationship that involves knowing each other’s secrets but electing to not disclose them. I felt even better when we went out for dinner and Jim picked up the check.

After a too-short visit, I was northbound to Sedona on US 17. There’s a point around Black Canyon City where you cross a ridge, the saguaro cactuses giving way to the conifers of higher elevations. “This is the most beautiful place in the world!” I exclaimed.

And thereafter, every ridge I crossed was tinged with loveliness—not simple grandeur, but the ineffable beauty of Creation. My pulse quickened. I’m uniquely blessed, because wherever I am is at that moment the most beautiful place in the world.

True wealth is in being surrounded with good people. It’s also in not coveting anything but simply experiencing it in the moment. I’m happy to be here, as I have been happy to be in all the places it’s been my good fortune to visit. When I get home, I’ll be equally happy to be in my little farmhouse on Richards Hill.

By the way, paintings from Cape Ann Plein Air are up and for sale. There is work available from some of the best plein air artists in America. Buy early; buy often!

First world problems are real problems

Black House, 18X24, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas
Black House, 18X24, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas

I’ve got a student who’s been waiting for a chip for his GM pickup truck for several months. “First world problem,” he says good-humoredly when I ask him about it. I get that he means it as an expression of gratitude that his problems aren’t bigger, but it’s an expression that bugs me. It rests on a logical fallacy. First-world problems are not inherently less-important than those of the developing world.

Yes, food poverty is an extreme and crushing problem, but so too are fatal drug overdoses. Affluence increases longevity, but it’s not a strictly linear relationship; otherwise, Bangladeshis (averaging 72.1 years) would not outlive Indians (averaging 69.7 years).

Manhattan bridge approach, 9X12, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas

Obviously, I can’t speak for the developing world, but I doubt their lives are characterized by endless misery and suffering. We all have our joys and sorrows, big problems and trivial ones.

A vehicle, a reader chastised me recently, is not a necessity. “High gas prices are a good thing. We should walk more and use public transportation,” she wrote. I don’t know where she lives, but that’s not practical for most of us. Even those who live in large cities rely on internal-combustion engines. Everything they consume is delivered by truck; their trash is invisibly whisked away in trucks. Subway trains and busses are, overwhelmingly, diesel. Food is grown on farms, using tractors, powered by diesel.

A truck sitting at a dealership, undriveable, represents something more than inconvenience. It’s a major financial asset that’s depreciating without being usable. It represents trips that can’t be taken and work that cannot be done. For the dealership, not finishing the job means lost productivity.

Beach toys, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas. Four out of five travelers are experiencing disruptions this year. It hurts.

Multiply that by 95,000 GM vehicles sitting on lots without chips, and we’re talking about billions of dollars of lost revenue. That will inevitably translate to laid-off workers. And that’s just one car manufacturer.

“First world problem” is sometimes used as a comical apology about trivial concerns. In this sense, it’s a humblebrag, since it points out that you can afford $5 for a cup of coffee in the first place, or to lose another set of AirPods. It’s checking your privilege before someone else has the chance to check it for you, and that’s where it gets really ugly.

Tomatoes, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas. Not being able to grow your own food is definitely a first-world problem.

If you complain that you spent two hours in a security line at an airport and missed your connection, and someone responds “first world problem,” they’re really just saying “STFU; I don’t care about your troubles.” Travel problems are very real; 4 out of 5 travelers this year are reporting some kind of disruption.

Artists are the canaries in the coal-mine of the economy, as aesthetics are pretty high on the hierarchy of human need. I’ve worked through six recessions, and they’re no fun. We’re not in one yet, but we’re in a period of economic turmoil. We’re seeing all kinds of fallout in the art business this summer. Dismiss this as a first world problem if you want, but please don’t say it within my earshot.