Paint Schoodic

We had another successful painting workshop at the Schoodic Institute in beautiful Acadia National Park. Join us in 2018!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Self-defeating behavior?

Perhaps women make less money because we tend to take our careers less seriously than men do.

American Eagle in Dry Dock, by Carol L. Douglas
I’ve written about gender inequality in prices achieved by male and female artists. I’ve also written about the gender gap in the broader arts industry. Women in the arts earn 68¢ for every dollar earned by men. That’s far worse than in the overall economy, where women can expect to earn 79¢ for every male-earned dollar.

There’s gender disparity in arts prizes, too. We see it at every awards celebration. It’s somewhat puzzling because the judging for art prizes is usually ‘blind’, meaning the juror doesn’t know who the artist is. However, that’s a leaky bucket, since most of us recognize each other’s work even when the work isn’t signed.

Dinghy, Camden Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas
If work is genuinely judged without knowledge of who the artist is, what do judges see in men’s work that they don’t in women’s work? Men tend to paint bigger at plein air events; they buy into the cliché, “go big or go home” more than women do. Bigger work is flashier and more likely to catch a juror’s eye. That’s about the only qualitative gender-based difference I’ve seen, and it’s hardly absolute. I’ve strained to look for them, and differences in subject matter, competence, temperament or viewpoint are simply not there.

Lisa BurgerLentz and I were chatting last week about the idea of professionalism. She proposed that artists who define themselves as professionals tend to earn more money than those who see themselves as dedicated hobbyists or amateurs. I looked around the sales floor at Adirondack Plein Air and thought she was right. Those painters who see themselves as pros charge more money and put effort into creating a consistent package of framing, image, and product. They have developed a sales patter that works. To be a professional artist, you do a lot more than create beautiful work.

Bev's Garden, by Carol L. Douglas
Bobbi Heath and I drove to Long Island Beach, New Jersey, yesterday for Plein Air Plus. In her prior life, Bobbi was a tech project manager who worked in entrepreneurial start-ups. She brings those management skills to her art career. “No one else bestows on you the title of ‘professional.’ You decide whether you’re a professional or not. It’s not about how much you sell. It is based on your view of yourself. Being a professional is about how you approach your work. It’s an attitude that you have about yourself and your career.”

None of this has anything to do with artistic brilliance. I assume that anyone reading this is already striving to be the best painter he or she can be. In the marketplace, artistic brilliance is a chimera. It’s irrelevant to sales, because there’s a market for anything. It’s also a subjective definition.

Keuka Clearing Sky, by Carol L. Douglas
Perhaps women make less money because we tend to take our careers less seriously than men do. We shy away from the hard work of comparative pricing, marketing, and market development, partially because those aren’t areas we have any experience in. We tend to see our low income as an indictment of our worth, rather than a stage in our business development. If that’s the case, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

Monday, August 21, 2017

My tribe is a circus

Love more, forgive more, hug more, and say ‘I'm sorry’ more.

Along Kiwassa Lake, by Carol L. Douglas
Saturday threatened rain, so John Slivjak, Tara Will and Stacy Rogers wisely set up in a bandshell for the Adirondack Plein Air Quick-Draw. I was nearby.

It was not until I bent to fix my umbrella that I noticed a musician setting up equipment on the stage. John, Tara and Stacy just played through, like the professionals they are.

Aside from a little air guitar, John Slivjak, Tara Wills and Stacy Rogers didn't let a performance distract them. (Photo courtesy of Ann Slivjak)
Friday had been a great opening reception and sale. Still, I had been settling into a bad mood all day. Being doused as I left Town Hall didn’t help. I am not prone to the black dog of depression, but I was questioning my life choices, feeling old, washed up and hopeless. I thought I might be getting a cold. “You’re just overtired,” my husband consoled me.

Friends invited me to go out for a celebratory drink. “No thanks, I’d rather drink alone,” I groused.

Two weeks ago, my husband and I flew to Baltimore to pray with a friend. During Saturday’s Quick-Draw, I got a text from his wife telling me that he was failing. At 1:30 PM my husband called to tell me that Emerson had passed away.

We were in the whirl of an art sale. There was nothing I could do but shut down my feelings and get on with the job. In our brief conversation, my husband told me he’d felt it was coming. I realized then that I had been given the gift of grieving in advance.

Tomatoes, my Quick-Draw from the Festival.
Emerson was a wise old bird. He looked to the state of his own soul rather than fussing at others about their choices. That’s the harder road. It means facing up to our faults, repenting, and resolving to stop our sin cycles. It requires terrifying honesty.

It’s also the only way to be a light of the world. With so few of them around, I found it difficult to understand how God could call home such a powerful saint. Still, Christians get no special pass from the troubles of mankind. We’re just given a powerful tool—grace—to deal with them.

“Death eventually will come for us all,” said Emerson’s friend Mary Beth Robinson. “What we do today affects the legacy we leave. This week perhaps we should strive to love more, forgive more, hug more, say ‘I'm sorry’ more, and simply try to make a mark for good in our little part of the world.”

Part of my posse, 2017: Kari Ganoung Ruiz, me, Tarryl Gabel, Crista Pisano and Laura Martinez-Bianco. All the bling was in footwear this year.
Meanwhile, the reception ground on. A woman asked me if it was fun meeting other artists. I laughed and explained that we are a small community who know most of each other from other events. We’re like circus performers, a distinct tribe of people who labor in obscurity until the day we set up our tent show in your town. I treasure these friendships, and every event I do adds a few more.

The same posse in 2014, with the addition of Mira Fink and Marlene Wiedenbaum. We were younger and more stylin' then.
Reminded of this, I spent the rest of the afternoon talking to my friends, catching up on their news. A few minutes after we finished, I was on the road again. I pulled over twice to wipe my eyes. I think it was the spruce pollen.

Friday, August 18, 2017

I’m not able on my own

When the weather turns sour and your painting kit collapses, it helps to have friends.

Dry Bones, by Carol L. Douglas
Imagine dropping half a pint of fast-drying varnish into your tool-box and not finding it for a few hours. That is what happened yesterday, when the top of my painting medium jar came loose and dumped its contents into my backpack. I wiped off what I could, but a few items need replacing, including the fishing gloves I’ve used to paint since Alaska.

I stopped at a liquor store and begged a box. It now contains my painting tools. I’m passing through Albany on Sunday and I think I can replace both the backpack and medium there.

Yesterday we were instructed to paint within Saranac Lake to gin up interest in this weekend’s show and sale. There are fifty artists, so the town was littered with easels. This is an old mountain city with a small brick downtown and sprawling frame houses, so we were spoiled for choice. 

I found a lovely green dinghy on the shore of Lake Flower. It was planted beside a young willow, one of the almost infinite varieties of shrubby willows that grow here in the mountains.

A little dinghy, by Carol L. Douglas
Artists are asked to do a small painting to benefit the Saranac Lake Central School District’s art program. In the seven years of this show, the Adirondack Plein Air Festival has donated over $11,000 back to community arts organizations.

I painted a tiny view of hydrangeas against a shabby yellow apartment building. I’m not a flower painter but that wall of hydrangeas has been talking to me since we arrived. This is the first time in years I've painted on an untoned canvas, and I'm not used to it. The color seems flat to me.

Hydrangeas, by Carol L. Douglas
I met up with Chrissy Pahucki and her daughter Samantha at Saranac Lake Artworks. Chrissy always travels with her kids. They’ve become competent young artists. I asked Samantha if she was interested in a career as a painter. “No,” she shuddered. She’s more interested in digital design.

Chrissy told me I might be able to find some dead trees at Bartlett Carry. This is a quarter-mile portage trail that enables canoers to get from Upper Saranac Lake to Middle Saranac Lake, since the river that connects them is unnavigable. I would never have found this location without her help, since the dirt road to the tiny public access site is posted “private” and “do not enter.” However, there is a public space of a few feet for the carry. It faced an island with some superlative dead trees. There I reworked yesterday’s idea from Ray Brook with some foreground interest.

My new backpack is not weatherproof.
I was awakened by thundering rain on the roof. I need to figure out a place to frame my work that isn’t wet. It’s a day when we need friends. “Though I feel I'm just as strong as any man I know. I'm not able on my own,” sang Need to Breathe. This morning, I can relate.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Painting in symbols

Painting symbols of death and resurrection, I realized that there is no painting that can't be improved by the addition of a boat.

Overgrown, by Carol L. Douglas
The only thing my paternal grandfather left us was his surname. He took off when my dad was a little boy. It was the start of the Great Depression. My father ended up living with two maiden aunts.

I mentioned this on Facebook a few months ago. A genealogist friend offered to try to find my missing ancestor. His story ended, sadly, at the Ray Brook Sanitorium here in the Adirondacks.

TB was a terrible problem in large cities in the early twentieth century. Until the discovery of Streptomycin in 1943, cold mountain air was the only available cure. By isolating sufferers, sanitoriums also slowed down the transmission of the disease. Opened in 1904, Ray Brook was the first state-run tuberculosis sanitorium.

My father went to his grave wondering why his father abandoned him. Ninety years later, we can’t understand why TB was such a shameful secret that it couldn’t have been shared with a little boy.

Ray Brook, by Carol L. Douglas
Today the sanitorium is a state prison. The hamlet of Ray Brook itself is not picturesque. It’s home to several correctional and park department headquarters and not much else. I turned off on a local road. A small rivulet had created a marshy bog in a former forest. It was populated by the skeletons of dead trees, drowned by water flowing along their feet. The mountains are full of these ghost forests. They are part of the cycle of life. In their soft lavender and orange tones, they are eerily pretty counterparts to the lushness everywhere else.

It was a difficult painting, and I don’t know that I did the subject justice. It was time for a complete about-face. I headed north in search of a baby Eastern White Pine. “A big painting of a tiny tree,” I told myself.

“How will you know if it’s a white pine or a red pine?” someone asked me. She then told me that white pine has five needles per fascicle, while red and jack pines have two needles. I’ve stored that information in the disordered closet that is my brain.

I dropped this earlier painting in the leaf litter. I hope it dries enough to pick the debris out before Saturday.
A baby white pine, a boulder and some water ought to be easy to find in the Adirondacks. However, each patch of the mountains has its own predominant tree cover. I ended up almost back to Paul Smith’s College before I found strong stands of white pines.

I never did find exactly what I was looking for. However, rocks and water are both important Christian symbols, so when I found St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church surrounded by baby white pines, I figured I had found my place.

St. Gabriel’s was completely restored for its centennial in 1996. It’s shabby now, and its foundation is surrounded with opportunistic sprouts in the little patch of sunshine the parking lot provided. I wondered how, 21 years later, it has fallen so far in its fortunes.

Headlights, by Carol L. Douglas
After two large paintings, it was time to reconsider my nocturne. I saw no easy solution for the composition problem other than scrapping the thing and starting again. It was much too literal, and the only good part of it was the car’s headlights hitting the ice cream stand.

Then I remembered that I’d parked myself next to a small runabout on a trailer. The ice-cream shop is next to Lake Flower Marina. By moving the boat into my picture, my problem was solved.

There is no painting that cannot be improved by the addition of a boat.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What is romanticism?

The next time I need to paint a nocturne, I’m going to a Ford dealership and painting F-150s.

Spruces and pines on the Barnum Brook Trail, by Carol L. Douglas.
Nocturnes are very popular right now, but I suspect I’m not romantic enough for them. I can’t exactly put my finger on what romance in painting means, but I think it involves thinking sensually vs. analytically. Anders Zorn is a romantic painter. Winslow Homer is not (even though he painted some brilliant nocturnes).

I’m not talking about the artistic movement of the 19th century here, but rather the response of the soul to paint. This isn’t a technical distinction or a matter of subject. It’s a question of how we see the world. My old pal Kari Ganoung Ruiz is a wonderful painter of nocturnes. She’s also a very romantic soul. I just keep thinking about how early I must get up in the morning.

Perhaps what I've been talking about, above, is sentimentality. Romanticism may be just a question of what we really love. The lonely light in the darkness is a painting of longing. It reminds me of Jay Gatsby staring at the green light at the end of Tom and Daisy's dock. I’ve read it twice, and I still hate that book.

Young trees, by Carol L. Douglas
Earlier, I’d painted with Lisa Burger-Lentz and John Slivjak at Paul Smith’s VIC. They, like many other painters here at Adirondack Plein Air, are from the greater Philadelphia area. I started a large canvas of rocks, pines and spruces along the Barnum Brook trail. This is a very popular scene, but it’s not my favorite trail in the VIC. I’m usually drawn to the Boreal Life Trail, which runs through a bog. 

Vallkulla, 1908, by Anders Zorn (courtesy Wikiart)
I’ve been drawn to baby pines and spruces ever since seeing Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter in 2014. Zorn treats infant trees with the respect we usually give their towering elders. Tiny trees are everywhere in the forest. They are more than just punctuation marks. Without them, there would be no green at our eye level, because the canopy is far above our heads. Plus, baby trees are cute.

I edited reality to feature two eastern white pines in the foreground where two baby spruces were growing. It didn’t go well, so I stopped and did a small study of young trees. This helped enough that I could go back to my original painting. As in so many things, nature knows best. Spruces worked better there than the white pines, so I put them back where they belonged.

Unfinished, by Carol L. Douglas
As dusk fell, I drove to the local ice cream stand to do the small nocturne, above. This is a terrible photo of a half-finished painting, which possibly needs cropping with a radial arm saw. I hope to set up somewhere today where I have access to my car, so that I can finish it. Really, however, I’m more interested in the pines.