Paint Schoodic

Join Carol L. Douglas at beautiful Acadia National Park, August 6-11, 2017. More details here!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Recovering from failure

What do you do when it’s all going wrong, and there’s an audience for your fiasco?

Can I finish this successfully? Gee, I hope so.
I am tossing around a theory that there’s a sweet spot in composition. On one side, you have the so-called ‘perfect composition.’ We’re always upset when these don’t win prizes, but—hint—they can be boring. On the other side is the total mess that breaks all rules, that is visually jarring and doesn’t satisfy.

Somewhere between them is where I aim to be. I have hit that at times by breaking rules (yes, the same rules I tell my students not to ignore). Not yesterday.

Carol's Bell Curve of Composition
It was a horrible day painting. Nothing I touched worked, and I couldn’t focus. Why?

It’s possible I set myself up to fail. That morning, I told watercolorist Ted Lameyer that I almost never end up flailing around these days.

It’s also possible that physical discomfort was getting in my way. My back is bothering me. And after working for several days in hot sun with insufficient fluids, I have a background dehydration headache.

It’s more likely, however, that the problem lies in the challenges I’ve set myself. I want to scale up my field painting in general. The smallest painting I want to do here is 11X14.

The subjects I mapped out for this year are also difficult. They’re things I’ve shied away from in previous years. For example, Castine’s common is a lovely patch of green ringed by venerable white clapboard buildings. It’s quintessential New England, but it’s basically a void surrounded by subject, with the added fillip of a Civic War monument smack dab in the middle of every view. My solution—a head-on view of the Adams School—may interest me, but it’s going to be a tough composition to wrestle into submission.

Maxwell the boatyard dog. His interest makes me wonder if my late dog Max peed on my backpack.
Still, I have no option but to recover. How will I do that?

There are several painters at this event whose judgment I trust; I will consult them today. Why listen to them rather than my own internal voice, which I usually trust?

In the heat of the moment we often hate what ain’t bad. Last year at this event, I painted the British Canal. I spent half my time on it and disliked the results; I would have run over it and tossed it in the ocean had that been an option. It’s in a collection here in Castine and I saw it last night. It’s actually an interesting and edgy painting but I was too frustrated at the time to realize that.

I find it helpful to remind myself that I don’t have to prove that I can paint; I wouldn’t be here if I couldn't. I try to block out what happened yesterday. Above all, I don’t perseverate over failing paintings; I move on.

And, lastly, I make sure I get enough sleep. Sometimes my worst failures are from simple exhaustion. Fix that, and I’m once again my usual chirpy self.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Swanning-around song

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep. (Robert Frost)

Full stop, by Carol L. Douglas
Route 3 from Augusta to Belfast is my least-favorite nighttime road. I love my Prius but it’s a small car. I’ve avoided any deer in its quarter of a million miles; I do not want to hit a moose. But inland and over is the quickest route from Ocean Park to Castine, ME. I struggled to see as the road wound and dipped around lakes and hills. As I approached Belfast, I saw a skunk doing his little shuffle on the shoulder of the road. He was small and it was late. Had I hit him, both of us would have been grieved.

Luckily, I only drive this way once a year, on the way from Ocean Park Art in the Park to Castine Plein Air. Since I love both shows equally, the late-night drive is a necessity.

Russel Whitten took a short break to give a painting lesson on his way into the show and sale.
I finished framing yesterday with enough time to paint the small study at the top of this post. Rarely is that last painting worthwhile. I’m tired and rushed and should be cleaning up and preparing for the next event, instead of trying to crank one more painting out. That’s particularly true when doing two events back-to-back. In this case, I was more than happy with the results.

Framing on the road.
I can frame quickly because I work in standard sizes. I keep a log on my phone of the frames I’m carrying and the ones I’ve used so far. I’ve included a small photo essay about the tools and materials for framing. It’s the unglamorous part of plein air events, but it’s very important.

A glazing-point driver is a necessity for the serious plein air painter. This one is made by Fletcher.
I used to carry a cordless drill, but this old fellah is more accurate and lighter.
All the hardware I'll ever need is in this case.
It is the collectors who make plein air events possible. In Ocean Park, Jean C. Hager-Rich has been a loyal supporter since the beginning. She tries to be the first in, makes quick decisions, and supports everyone with impartiality. A collector like Jean can set the tone for the whole event.

Equally important are our hosts, who open their homes and their lives to us for several days each summer. And then there are the volunteers, whose titles may be grand but whose tasks tend toward the humble.

After leaving Ocean Park, I zoomed around in the hills for what seemed like hours (because it was hours). I arrived at my hosts’ house shortly before 11. Harry met me at the door, concerned at my late arrival. Normally his wife is here to greet me, but she is swanning around the Eastern Seaboard. In the last three weeks, she has zoomed from Maine to New Jersey to Montreal, back to New Jersey, and then to Pennsylvania. She is returning to Maine today.

I need to recruit her as my wingman; clearly we are soul sisters.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Tank half empty, week half full

A show and sale at Ocean Park tonight, and we are then off running to Castine.

Beach time, by Carol L. Douglas
“I’m not doing a preparatory sketch, a value study, nothing!” I announced to Ed Buonvecchio as I flopped down on a bench next to him and pulled out my tripod. It’s terrible practice, and I would never recommend it to my students.

Still, I can’t help smiling at the resulting painting. A passer-by smiled and said, “Now, that’s Ocean Park!” I believe in process, but I also hope to communicate some of the joy of the beach, the fog, and the sun. That’s why I paint in the first place.

It was the last of my six paintings for Ocean Park Art in the Park. I have no idea if they’re better or worse than last year’s. Nor am I overly worried. I’m not judgmental about others’ work; why would I do that to myself?

Cupholders are for cleaning brushes, right?
I’m going to spend the morning framing and digging out my car. Then I’ll deliver my work. If there’s time, I’ll paint one more painting, just for fun. Then I’ll shower, put on my party clothes, and head over to the show and sale.

That’s from 5-7 PM at the Ocean Park Temple. This 1881 octagonal frame structure is worth seeing. It's beautiful and redolent of 19th century values and tradition. Tonight, it will have the bonus of a very good wet paint show. (You can find it by programming 46-62 Temple Ave, Old Orchard Beach, ME in your phone.) I’ll be on the stage with Mary Byrom. No, we are not singing or dancing.

Beach toys, by Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday I was in front of the Ocean Park Soda Fountain at 8 AM. This building has exercised a mesmerizing charm on me this year. I set up to paint the beach toys on the gift shop side.

I’d like to tell you how many hours I painted “in earnest.” However, there was never any seriousness about it. I’ve painted in Manhattan many times, but never spoken with as many people as I did yesterday. Since they were at the beach, they were all happy. I think it comes through in my painting.

Talking with passers-by is part of what itinerant plein air painters do. If we didn’t like people, we’d be home in our studios, harrumphing along quietly.

The roof of the historic Temple at Ocean Park
Many people told me they saw a story about us in the Journal Tribune, and felt welcomed to talk to an artist. It’s rare that I see an immediate response to a news story like that.

A number of people also mentioned seeing my painting of Fort Point Historic Site in the Bangor Daily News, as part of the publicity for Wet Paint on the Weskeag. The preview and sale will be at the Kelpie Gallery in South Thomaston on August 13 from 4-8 PM.

But before that happens, I’ve got many miles to go. Tonight, after the last paintings are packed up and the Temple lights dim, Mary Byrom, Anthony Watkins and I leave for Castine Plein Air. We will roll into that quiet village a few minutes before midnight. Tomorrow we line up bright and early on the Village Green to have our canvases stamped, and we are off and running again.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Woman about town

The joys of a beach vacation: drying towels and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.

Drying towels, by Carol L. Douglas
Cheney Cottage, built in 1881, is now owned by the Ocean Park Association. It includes the Prophet’s Chamber, where the guest preacher stays. A shuffleboard court graces the side lawn; it’s run by a fifth generation Ocean Parker. The rambling old cottage itself is holiday housing.

Accompanied by early-morning birdsong, I strolled down Temple Avenue. I was looking for a streetscape that would capture the leafy greens, genteel architecture and relaxed summer feel of Ocean Park. Bright drying towels on the rail at Cheney Cottage caught my eye. They reminded me of summer trips to Maine when my kids were young.

As always, I did a value sketch before I started. From there I transferred my drawing to a 9X12 canvasboard. I frowned; it was too small. I decided to scale it up to 11X14.

I must have needed more coffee or something, because when I was done, the house was the same size as on the 9X12, but with more foreground showing. 

The temptation in this situation is to add an object to the foreground to fix the bad design. I experimented with a figure, but it didn’t work. Adding objects as an afterthought usually makes things worse, drawing the eye away from the primary subject. 

No matter; the house sits under great mature spruces, so the lawn was dappled with light and shadow. Having more foreground turned out to be no problem at all.

One of the great joys of plein air painting is the people you meet along the way. Cheney Cottage is currently occupied by an extended family who vacation together every year. Many of them stopped to see what I was doing. I spoke with an aunt who now stays across the street. As the family grows, there’s no longer room for them all in the old place.

The composition that was not to be.
I’m staying in the “new” part of the park, where cottages date from the 1920s and 1930s. In some ways, the character of Ocean Park—like everywhere—is inexorably changing. A long-term resident lamented the new builds in town. “Someday, all the old places will be gone,” she said. But not any time soon, thank goodness.

In the afternoon, I revisited a subject I’ve painted twice before: the Ocean Park Ice Cream Parlor. Here in southern Maine, the land is low, level and sandy. That makes wandering around with one’s gear easier, but it makes sight lines more challenging.

It helps to know perspective drawing, even when you're feeling expressive.
No matter what angle I choose, the foundation of the ice cream parlor remains resolutely parallel to my picture plane. I’d explored the possibilities of that on Sunday with my surf painting, I didn’t want to do it again. I set up about three different paintings and wiped them out. Then a couple stopped to read the outside menu board. Idly, I sketched them on my canvas. I liked them, and built the rest of the painting to support them.

Over the afternoon, my figures morphed into a father and a child, and another person materialized. By 4 PM, both the painting and I were done.

What's for lunch? by Carol L. Douglas
In the evening we had a lively reception for the artists. I went home to nap, intending to go out with Russel Whitten to do a nocturne. But when I awoke at 8:15, my eyes were nearly as red as my shirt. I went back to sleep.

This morning, the fog is not limited to my head. Fog makes for good painting, so I’m heading out in a few minutes. If you’re in southern Maine this morning, stop to see me. You can get directions at Jakeman Hall, at 14 Temple Avenue.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Reunion

The aurora borealis didn’t show up, but my friends did. Our plein air event at Ocean Park is off to a great start.
The new sandbar, 10X8, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas

I arrived in Ocean Park in a flurry of excitement. The sun has been kicking up an electro-magnetic storm and it was possible the Aurora Borealis would be visible as far south as Boston. While Ocean Park is two hours south of my house, I thought there was a good chance we might get a glimpse of them.

I’ve seen the Northern Lights many times, but never with paints in hand. I’ve painted them in my studio but I long to paint them en plein air.

Goosefare Brook oxbow, 8X6, painted last year. It's gone now.
To that end, Frank Gwalthney and I drove down to Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. This 50-mile-long Federal preserve touches Ocean Park. In addition to sheltering sea birds, it also provides an oasis of dark sky in Vacationland. But, alas, there was no shimmering green light, merely beautiful stars.

I spent five weeks painting in Canada and Alaska last year and never saw them there, either. They are fickle and shy.

Still, it’s not what you don’t have; it’s what you do have, and what I have is a happy band of painters whom I treasure as friends. Anthony Watkins set up to paint the Ocean Park Ice Cream Fountain. The rest of us headed off to the mouth of Goosefare Brook.

The Heavens Declare, 48X36, oil on linen, by Carol L. Douglas. Once again, I miss the chance to paint Aurora Borealis in the wild.
We’d heard that the tides had scoured out a new channel for the brook, but I was unmoved. Goosefare Brook wiggles around in its basin annually. My skepticism was misplaced. The oxbow is entirely gone. Its hundreds of tons of sand now sit out in the ocean as a new sandbar off the creek’s mouth. This has created a tidal pool of still water, suitable for young kids and anyone else who doesn’t want to fight breakers.

We understand that the ocean is unfathomably powerful, but that tangible proof is more convincing than any number of warnings.

Straight-on breakers, 10X8, by Carol L. Douglas
Despite our slow start and happy chatter, we all managed to turn out credible first paintings. In a few minutes, I’m heading downtown to start my first painting of the day. I think it will be a streetscape. If you’re in southern Maine this morning, stop to see me. You can get directions at Jakeman Hall, at 14 Temple Avenue. (If you’re new to Ocean Park, you may need to set your GPS for Old Orchard Beach.)


See you soon!