Paint Schoodic

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

The world's friendliest people

In anticipation of Canada Day, let me tell you a story about our kind-hearted, open-handed neighbors.

Wreck of the SS Ethie (Newfoundland), by Carol L. Douglas
Newfoundland was the greatest surprise of my Trans-Canada trip. It looks like the Scottish Highlands. That isn’t too surprising, since John Cabot reportedly sailed just 1800 miles west of Ireland to discover it. In geographical terms, that’s next-door-neighborly.

It’s a massive island, and it’s empty; fewer than a half-million people call it home. Other than St. John’s, there’s not a single municipality with more than 25,000 people. Most Newfoundlanders live in small fishing villages strung along the coastlines.

About 300 KM west of St. John’s is the small town of Gander. It’s mainly notable for having gas and a Tim Hortons right on the Trans-Canada. Considering the fantastic landscape all around it, it’s not a place a painter would tarry.

Fog flowing down the mountains near Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland
Gander exists because of the grandiosely-named Gander International Airport. This was built in 1936, when trans-Atlantic flight was first developing. It’s the easternmost flat point on the North American continent, so it became the fueling point for planes traveling to and from Europe. 

On January 11, 1938, Captain Douglas Fraser made the first recorded landing in a single-engine biplane, a de Havilland Fox Moth VO-ADE.

The town reached its peak during the Second World War, when about 10,000 Allied airmen were billeted there. It was a refueling post for the Royal Air Force’s Air Ferry, which brought American- and Canadian-built planes from North America to Britain. In 1940, it was the largest airport on the planet.

Airman and Infantrymen at RCAF Station, Gander, 1943, Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada 
Eventually jets got big enough to leave from New York or Toronto without refueling, and Gander became just another boom town gone bust.

Until September 11, 2001. Less than an hour after the planes hit the Twin Towers, North American airspace was closed. That left flights in limbo over the North Atlantic. 38 civilian and 4 military flights were ordered to land at Gander. They held more than 6,600 people—two thirds of the population of Gander—and they wouldn’t be going anywhere for a week.

There was only one Customs Officer assigned to Gander. All he knew was that planes had attacked New York and the Pentagon, and we might be at war. He had to vet all those people before letting them loose in Canada. He drafted a planeload of American soldiers to help.

Under a milky sky (Hare Bay, Newfoundland), by Carol L. Douglas
Some passengers were on their planes for 30 hours waiting to be processed. Their only source of news was cell phones. When they finally disembarked, they were not allowed to carry any personal luggage; they left with the clothes on their backs.

Gander has 500 hotel rooms. These were allotted to plane personnel, with the idea that they needed to be rested and ready. That still left more than 6,000 people with no place to go.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the poorest province in Canada, but Gander’s churches, schools, shelters and private homes took in people. The remainder were transported to surrounding towns. Local bus drivers had been on strike, but they put down their picket signs and drove passengers to their destinations.

Cape Spear Road (Newfoundland), by Carol L. Douglas
There wasn’t enough food, bedding, diapers, or formula available for purchase. Citizens opened their own pantries instead. They supplied meals, deodorant, soap, blankets, spare underwear, hot showers and washing machines. The phone company set up phone banks and temporary cable and internet. Citizens even provided entertainment, including whale-watching tours.

Six days later, when airspace was finally opened up, all 6,600 passengers were delivered to the airport on time. Not one person missed a flight.

Canada Day is July 1. This year they are celebrating their Sesquicentennial. We couldn’t ask for better neighbors.

POSTSCRIPT: Michael Fuller of Parrsboro Creative just told me there's a Broadway musical about these events, called Come from Away. New York readers should check it out!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

What went wrong?

Photoshop is a great tool for figuring out how to fix a painting.

Surf at Marshall Point, by Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday I painted at Marshall Point. I was with Barbara Carr, who comes to Camden just once a year. My intention wasn’t to create a masterpiece, but to spend a few hours painting with a friend.

Marshall Point has a beautiful lighthouse, which made a cameo appearance in the movie Forrest Gump. As lovely as it is, I never paint it. I’m always mesmerized by the surf and the light on the sea.

My sketch for the above.
Barbara is an experienced painter, with a BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and a lot of years of practice under her belt. Still, I must be very tired. I’m usually a fast painter, but she finished two fine paintings in the time I painted one.

Our tides may not be Bay of Fundy class, but we still have high and strong tides here in mid-coast Maine. That means the rocks are uncovered fast in an ebb tide and covered equally quickly in a flood tide. The only answer to this is to draw fast and then use other rocks to fill in the details. In general, this strategy allows a lot of latitude for design, providing the artist is fully awake.

Lightening the foreground rocks did not help.
I liked what I did well enough when we were on site, but was ambivalent when I got it home. Comparing it to my sketch, I noticed two things. I had centered the large rock slightly compared to my original composition. The foreground in my sketch was darker than I’d originally proposed.

Adobe Photoshop or a similar graphics editor can be a useful tool for pondering possible revisions. I lightened the foreground rocks to see if that would help. That left a dark rock sitting in a sea of blue—factually true, but hardly interesting.

Cropping helped a little, but not enough to redeem the painting.
Generally, plein air painters use prepared boards in standard sizes. That means we’re at the mercy of canvas and frame makers in determining our aspect ratio.  (The alternative, customizing both frames and boards, is just too much work.) “Aspect ratio” just means the proportional relationship between the canvas’ width and height.  A 9X12 canvas, for example, has an aspect ratio of 3:4, making it exactly the same shape as a 12X16 canvas.

Of course, the sketch in my sketchbook is often a very different aspect ratio. If I’m not careful—and I wasn’t—I can relocate things to where they don’t belong when I transfer my idea to a larger board.

Common canvas shapes.
I cropped my image to see if moving the rock more to the right would help. Again, I don’t think it made much difference.

The real issues are more fundamental: the rocks and the waves are resolutely parallel to the picture frame, and all the action is below the mid-line. Another rock, middle-right, will do this painting a world of good. So will tightening up the edges of the waves. Those are easy fixes. I can do them in my sleep, and possibly will.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Mixed-up Media

Watercolor doesn’t get the respect it deserves in the United States.

Lake of Albano and Castel Gandolfo at sunset, c. 1777, watercolor, by John Robert Cozens
This Spring has given rise to a standing joke among my students. It’s been wet all spring, but it seems like Mother Nature cries especially hard every Tuesday. Because of this, I’m loath to go too far afield, even though there are delectable painting sites all around us. When the water starts spattering from the sky, it’s hard on everyone, but most particularly the watercolorists.

I noticed more watercolor painters at the Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival than at similar shows in the US. That might be because the admissions juror, Bill Rogers, is a watercolorist himself, or it might be an extension of the British love of watercolor.

Jennifer had her watercolor sketches out to show me when the wind picked up...
Although watercolor goes back to antiquity, the English developed the western tradition of watercolor plein air painting in the eighteenth century. This was driven by the desire of the upper-class to document the Grand Tour, which was a kind of intellectual finishing school for the uber-wealthy. The sons and daughters of the nobility and wealthiest self-made men were trundled off to Italy and Greece in the company of chaperones. There, they looked at and bought beautiful art, practiced their language skills, and mingled with other people exactly like themselves.

The only major difference between then and now was that they didn’t have cell phones with which to take selfies holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This sad lack created a market for travel books to be sold as souvenirs. Artists were dispatched to created what were then called ‘topographical drawings.’

...and flipped Roger's palette into her paintings.
Tourists also enjoyed sketching the landscape. A drawing master was a status symbol for families wanting to master the fashionable skill of watercolor painting.

Among those eighteenth century watercolor artists are names unknown to most Americans: Paul Sandby, Alexander Cozens, his son John Robert Cozens, Thomas Girtin, and John Sell Cotman. Anyone who thinks of watercolor as anemic and pale should study their work. Of course, John Constable and J.M.W. Turner also belong in this pantheon.

In America, John James Audubon used watercolor for his meticulous, colorful illustrations. Watercolor as an independent medium peaked here in the nineteenth century, with Winslow HomerThomas MoranThomas EakinsJohn LaFargeJohn Singer SargentChilde Hassam, and others.

Watercolor paintings have an undeserved reputation for being fragile. From a gallerist’s standpoint, however, they don’t show as well under hot lights as oil paintings do, because of the glass. There are ways to work around this problem, but they have limitations.

I use watercolor exclusively as a sketch medium, It's faster and more convenient than oils in many situations, including hiking or family vacations.
I always have a variety of media in my class, including oils, watercolor, acrylic and occasionally pastel. That isn’t a big deal conceptually, but it does lead to practical issues. The biggest of these is that oil in any form instantly ruins watercolor or pastel paper.

When I have a class made up of oil and watercolor painters, I must be meticulous in cleaning my hands between students. This was a lesson learned the hard way.

Yesterday was less rainy than predicted. By 1 PM, as we started to pack up, Clam Cove was wrapped in subtle shades of blue and green. My little band had done great work. We stood happily mesmerized by the rapid changes in the light, and the froth kicked up by the surf crossing a hidden ledge.

And then a gust of wind rose and blew an oil painter’s palette into a watercolorist’s finished work. It was a day's work undone in an instant. Luckily, she’s a very easygoing person. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

That vexing exchange rate question

In every important way, Canadians and Americans are indistinguishable. That artificial barrier, the border, makes our common life hard.

Poppy Balser's weir painting sold at the opening bell.
In 2012, the Canadian and US dollars were trading at close to par. Today, one Canadian dollar is worth just three bits (and a penny, but Canada no longer uses the penny). This isn’t the historical worst it’s been, but it’s close enough for discomfort.

The US dollar has also been weakening, but the Loonie has lagged even more. For both economies, this is in part because of central bank policies and in part because oil prices are down.

I benefited from the weak Canadian dollar when I crossed Canada last fall. The same dollar disparity hurt when I was trying to sell work in Canada.

Ed Buonvecchio painted the Cape D'or lighthouse. My photo doesn't do the painting justice.
We’d been told to price our work as usual by juror Bill Rogers. Even if he hadn’t said it, it’s my usual practice. It’s unfair to collectors and galleries to hop around when you price your work.

I was unsure how to apply the exchange rate. I ended up leaving the work at its American tag price. Even that was too expensive. There were five American artists in the festival. We were terrifically expensive compared to our Canadian peers.

My painting of the Parrsboro light was distinctively Nova Scotian; I wanted to sell it there. I dropped it to half its American price. It sold for $400.

From that, the venue takes 40%. This is a legitimate commission, and one every serious artist is happy to pay. That leaves me with a check for $240.

Mary Sheehan Winn painted Partridge Island.
But wait, there’s more. My bank is going to convert that and, assuming there are no additional currency fees, I will take home $181.25.

I know just enough about economics to understand that a strong American dollar hurts exports; a weak dollar helps exports. Growing up on the Niagara Frontier, I know there were years we went to Canada for gas and other years when Canadians came to the US to shop.

But I’ve never understood the exchange rate so personally.

Rockies at Canmore, Alberta. Christopher Gorey, of Ingonish, Nova Scotia, is a new painter to me. This wasn’t his festival piece, but it’s a good example of his great touch with watercolor.
There was another disparity in pricing, one that affected only Canadian artists. Artists who sell more than $30,000 per year are required to collect something called the HST, or Harmonized Sales Tax. They have to tack 15% on to the ticket price of their work.

The only time American artists collect sales tax is when we sell paintings directly to collectors. When paintings are sold through events or galleries, it’s the venue’s responsibility. The Canadian system would take some getting used to.

Marc Grandbois of L’Anse -St- Jean, Quebec City, is another painter I will keep track of. He caught the lowering sky over Two Islands beautifully.
Those of us who live along the border understand that in every important way, Canadians and Americans are indistinguishable. We have the same values, argue over the same disagreements, love the same landscape, drink the same coffee, shop at the same big-box stores, and (generally) speak the same language. NAFTA was supposed to make trading between us easier. In fact, between heightened border security and the disparity of our dollars, it’s harder than ever.

A pity, that.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Fickle Mother Nature

Style is a transitory and inconsequential factor, if one can turn it on and off at will.
Lonely Lighthouse, by Carol L. Douglas

I haven’t painted in that much rain since a memorable weekend at Rye’s Painters on Location with Brad Marshall, where we labored in the tail end of a hurricane. All the best planning won’t save you from low light and rain that blows in sideways under your umbrella. One solution is to paint from your car, but my Prius is too small for one artist, let alone two.

Sometimes, projected rain and fog fails to materialize along the coast. It gets sidetracked by the myriad cliffs, points, headlands and capes. That didn’t happen this weekend. The light was low and flat, and the lovely headlands danced and disappeared into the fog.

Ed Buonvecchio and I were up with first light on Friday to be on our way to Advocate Harbour. A mackerel sky was forming over Cape D’or. That’s a better sign of incipient rain than my arthritis.

They wrested their living from the sea (Advocate Harbour), by Carol L. Douglas
This small fishing village by the sea is characteristic of the old North Atlantic coast. We set up in the cemetery. The nearest tombstone to my easel memorialized two members of the same family, lost at sea in 1966. Going to the ocean to work is probably less dangerous today with modern navigation and communication tools, but the North Atlantic is a powerful and fickle mistress.

Later, I chatted for a few minutes with the owner of the herring weir at Partridge Island. He and his crew still tend the nets and harvest the fish with dipping nets. It’s pretty much a lost technology: there are some weirs at Grand Manan and Digby, but most of them are gone. Call me a Luddite if you want, but what value is there in automating work so that some men labor in solitude and others can’t find jobs?

Cape Blomidon makes its own cloud, by Carol L. Douglas

By mid-day Friday, we had lost our light. Poppy Balser, Ed and I trekked out to Cape D’or and did the “money shot,” but it didn’t move me. There was no sparkle in the water, and no light on the cliffs. I wish I’d painted the rhubarb growing by the lighthouse instead. Neither Poppy nor I submitted our paintings of the cliffs.

The next morning, we tried the overlook at Two Islands. I got a passible painting from it, even though my paint was emulsifying in the blowing rain. Eventually I squelched over to where Ed was set up. “I’m only here because of you,” he told me.

“That’s funny. I’m only here because of you,” I answered. Despite my rain gear, I was soaked down to my step-ins.

We removed to town and the porch of Ottawa House to finish the day. The volunteers offered us tea and cookies and the opportunity to paint indoors.

This hospitality has been true all over Parrsboro. Canadians are, in general, nice and helpful people. Since their dollar is weak compared to ours, you might think about vacationing there this summer.

Two Islands in the rain, by Carol L. Douglas
I’d had my eye on Cape Blomidon for hours, watching a standing hammer-shaped cloud forming off its tip. Volunteer Ed Gilbert told me that this cloud often forms above the cape in bad weather. “Blomiden” is a corruption of Blow-Me-Down, so named because the hot and cold air masses meet there and turn on hapless navigators.

The Quick Draw started in mist and fog, although true rain never really materialized on Sunday. I’d decided to paint with nothing smaller than an #12 round, since it was clear the juror liked that look. That paid off with a second-place ribbon.

We always feel badly if we don’t win prizes at these events, but often the awards have nothing to do with ability or insight and everything to do with style. I like “bold brush” painting as much as the next guy, but it’s not always conducive to describing the world, which is my primary objective. That I could switch it up to win a ribbon is an indication of just how transitory and inconsequential “style” is as a concept.

“I wish I could stay another day,” Ed texted me last night. The sky was clearing, and Cape Blomidon danced in the blue, shimmering light. But Maine is calling us back.

Friday, June 16, 2017

And we’re off

The locals were eager to share their million-dollar views and, by the way, did we need a washroom?

Ed and I did multiple value studies trying to sort out our painting sites for today.
The Canadian Maritimes shipbuilding industry dates to 1606, when two small boats were built at Port Royal. The availability of timber and proximity to the sea meant that by the nineteenth century, Nova Scotia’s shipyards were recognized worldwide.

There’s no sign of this boatbuilding industry left today, but Parrsboro built 10 barks, 2 barkentines, 11 brigs, 187 schooners, 1 full-rigged ship, and 41 brigantines. How do I know? At four in the afternoon, while I was sorting photos on my computer, Ed Buonvecchio was reading Parrsboro history.

Meanwhile, Poppy Balser was sitting on a stoop Instagramming and Mary Sheehan Winn was drafting a lobster boat. We were scattered along the harbor but linked by our cell phones.

Ed and I spent the morning doing value studies of possible locations. Because we’re in one car, we needed to agree on our final locations, without a lot of last-minute discussion. We listed the possibilities and then each listed them in order of priority. Our lists ended up being very nearly identical. In the end only one question remained: should we choose the Two Island overlook with the blue roof or the red roof?

Nova Scotians are very friendly. Several stopped to chat as we worked. Inevitably, they suggested that they, in fact, had a better view from their back deck. And, by the way, did we need a washroom?

At one point, I tossed my keys to Ed and took off with a stranger in his Ford F-150, which is the official truck of Canada. I wasn’t overly worried. He’d mentioned that he’d met his hero, George Herbert Walker Bush, several times. A man with such taste had to be trustworthy. He turned out to be charming and witty, and I returned to his property several times, to show it to Poppy and Ed in succession.

Thanks to Mary and her local connections, I’ve learned a lot about Parrsboro in two short days. In addition to her living relatives, she’s related to someone in every cemetery in town. “Aw, hello, Uncle Remus!” she would exclaim as we passed an old burying ground. “Hello, Cousin Louise!” At one point, she jumped from the car and tore crosslots looking for a grave. She caught up with me at the bottom of the hill, breathless. “That was easier than I expected,” she puffed.

That insider information made me smug. “Poppy,” I said when she arrived, “I know absolutely everything.”

“Do you know where the weir is?” she challenged. Fishing weirs are an ancient technology for catching tidal fish, dating back to prehistory. They’re dying out now, but Poppy is a master at painting them. And Parrsboro has one, just across the water from Parrsboro’s hypermodern tidal turbine, which unfortunately failed under the enormous hydraulic pressures of the Bay of Fundy and is being rebuilt this spring.

After we visited the weir, we took off at breakneck speed. I had less than three hours to show her all the sights before we were expected for the opening festivities. We were so short of time that I changed my shirt in the parking lot of the Cape D’or Lighthouse. It was so desolate that I could have had a sponge bath with nobody noticing.

We arrived back in Parrsboro with enough time to wash our faces and hands and scurry in to our appointment. By the time you read this, we’ll be out in Port Greville painting. Can you tell I’m excited?

Thursday, June 15, 2017


Research is not a luxury in a plein air event. Planning and preparation are key to success.

The back tracks of Nova Scotia can be a bit rough for an elderly Prius.
Yesterday, Mary Sheehan Winn and I spent more than ten hours tracking back and forth over the same 79 km-mile strip of land between Advocate Harbor and Five Islands. I used to consider this kind of reconnoitering a luxury, because it involved an extra day on the road. I’ve come to realize it’s a necessity. What am I looking for?

Subject: I’m interested in boats, tides, cliffs, rocks, clouds, water, and the small fishing villages that cling to the edges of the sea. That drives me to the outermost points, along the cliffs and the small dirt tracks that run along them. In this part of Nova Scotia, the waterfront is still occupied by people of modest means. Mobile homes share the coastline with old farmhouses.

I wrote earlier that we couldn’t find the fishing fleet at Parrsboro. That is because they tie up on the outside of the public landing, and the tide was down when I was here. With Mary’s help, I found them, but they’ll still be hard to paint. They’re across a wide basin from the closest vantage point.

Near Port Greville, Nova Scotia.
Weather forecast: Unfortunately, the forecast gets wetter and cooler as we approach the weekend. I’ll plan for things which need sparkle for tomorrow, and do things which can tolerate less light on Saturday.

Tide: The tide affects every seascape. This is most true here on the Bay of Fundy, which has the highest range in the world. At low tide, channels cut sinuously through the mud across Parrsboro harbour. At high tide, the town comes sharply into focus across shimmering water. Every possible painting has several permutations.

Angle of Light: Cape Blomidon curls into the Minas Basin like Big Boy’s giant lock of hair. It looms across every vantage point. Its color and clarity depend on the hour. The light can make a mediocre composition shine. For example, Five Islands are too widely spaced to make a good painting from the shoreline. But at the witching hour of dusk, they are lit up by the setting sun.

A lonely lobster boat on a rising tide.
Composition: If you’re not careful, it’s very easy to make an empty painting of the sea. I’m searching relentlessly for a composition that has foreground interest without sacrificing the sense of place.

Moon phase: We’re in a waning gibbous moon, and the sky is going to cloud over as we move forward in the week. If I’m going to do a nocturne, it will be tonight.

Character: Yesterday I was asked if I thought the Minas Basin looked just like Maine. Actually I think it looks more like the Great Lakes. Those red cliffs are the same sandstone that underlies Niagara. Because it’s soft, the scree at water’s edge is worn into flat cobblestones. Part of my examination is to put into words how I know this is the Bay of Fundy, rather than Cape Cod or Wisconsin.

Granite and basalt on much of the North Atlantic coast, but sandstone here.
Permission: I use this prep time to ask people if I can paint on their property. Yesterday, when I did so, a woman told me about a problem in their neighborhood with a rogue black bear. That’s very handy to know.

All the planning in the world won’t make a ‘great’ painting, however, and somewhere I need to build in a few hours to rest before our canvases are stamped and we’re set loose on an unsuspecting public.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Homeland insecurity

I’m not a very good liar, and the US-Canada border crossing is no place to hone my skills.
Ed Buonvecchio is looking forward to seeing the uniquely Fundy method of ditching boats.
Several years ago, I was crossing back to the US from Ontario with several of my painting students. One of them caught the eye of Homeland Security. The rest of us cooled our heels in a badly-lighted waiting room while Jennifer convinced two border officers that she is an utterly blameless citizen.

Jennifer is chirpy about most things, even an unscheduled brush with law enforcement. “Those young men were cute!” she twanged in her Virginia accent. “Ah didn’t mind spending half the night with them at all.”

Yesterday, I traveled to Canada with Ed Buonvecchio. Ed and I make up 2/3s of the Maine contingent to the Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival. He’s just come back from another long road trip. He’s tired.

Pink seas at Parrsboro, earlier this year.
Perhaps it’s my grandmotherly good looks, but I usually have no problems crossing borders. However, I’ve been mindful about it ever since Poppy Balser was stopped coming into the US for Castine Plein Air in 2016.  The question that tripped her up was, “Are you going to be selling any work?”

The accurate answer yesterday was that we are not going to sell work directly, but the festival’s organizers, Parrsboro Creative, would be doing so.

I’m not a very good liar. That doesn’t mean I’m honest; it just means that I don’t do it well. I don’t volunteer information, but it’s pointless for me to try to dissemble. A child would know I was telling a fib. Ed is, if anything, even worse.

It turns out that Ed, like my friend Jennifer, was flagged on the background check. We cooled our heels in a beautiful, airy, tiled building. Ed answered questions and fretted. I paced, trying to catch up with my husband on our Fitbit challenge.

Cobequid Bay farm, by Carol L. Douglas. I last painted up here, oh, about three weeks ago.
In the end, I’m like my pal Jennifer, always looking for the silver lining. I learned something important: it’s OK for American artists to work in Canada as long as our tools are worth less than a certain dollar amount. We can also bring in materials and supplies, as long as they’re worth less than a certain dollar amount. I haven’t found the magic numbers, but I figured our easels and brushes were probably worth less than $150 each, and our supplies under $100 each. (Those numbers may seem low, but these are pretty well-used items.)
I'm looking forward to painting with Poppy Balser again.
I'm relieved. That means we don’t have to try to pass ourselves off as amateurs when we cross over with our paints, brushes and canvases. That’s just easier on everyone, artists and customs inspectors alike.

“Ed,” I said in my biting Western New York accent, “That young man was cute! I didn’t mind spending time with him at all.”

Ed just rolled his eyes.


Addendum: I have no internet here, so my posts may be erratic for the rest of the week.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

You call this working?

For me, serious illness was a  corrective to the impulse to tiptoe around my calling. It reminded me that time is precious and fleeting. 

As I tried to figure out how my carefully-planned day went so haywire, a friend pointed out, “you hate packing and you love boats.” That is the only explanation for giving up what I absolutely had to do in order to join Howard Gallagher and Ken DeWaard on the Dirty Dory.

Camden is full of beautiful boats. It’s easy enough to find opportunities to paint them at rest. It’s much more difficult to see them under sail. I have a few photos from last year’s trip on American Eagle. Two years ago, Howard took the late Lee Boynton and me out to see the start of the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta. We shot pictures of modern boats. But opportunities to shoot the massive old schooners under way are limited, and I should grab them when I can.

Mercantile raising her sails.
It takes a skilled navigator to get in position while not annoying the schooner crew, and Howard is that. Here’s the video he shot while we were out:

One of the boats we followed out was the ketch Angelique. She is distinctive for her brown-rose tan-barked sails. In 2016, Poppy Balser and I sketched her as she stood off Castine in a harbor that already hosted Bowdoin and J&E Riggin. It was a magical morning but eventually I finished and left. Poppy stayed; Angelique docked; Poppy scored. Timing, as they say, is everything.

Angelique at the Dock, watercolor, by Poppy Balser.
The same was true yesterday. I returned to my studio to frame and photograph paintings and clean and pack my car. Ed Buonvecchio called; we chatted about the recent Finger Lakes Plein Air Festival. Kari Ganoung Ruiz, who won Best in Show, is a friend and a fellow member of Greater Rochester Plein Air Painters. She was my monitor for my 2015 Sea and Sky workshop. Kudos to a fine, fine painter.

Ed and I are heading to Nova Scotia this afternoon to paint in the Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival. I was there earlier this year with Bobbi Heath. The landscape is spectacular and I’m expecting great things to happen.

Angelique leaving Camden harbor.
This three-day event is full of meet-and-greet events, more than this old recluse is accustomed to. The culmination is a Collector’s Gala on Saturday night. I'm a little anxious at its posh description. Oh, well. One bright side to owning only one dress is that one doesn’t need to dither about what to wear. No, I'm not packed, but in the end, will anyone remember what I wore?

My husband says that after my first bout with cancer, I quit doing things I didn’t want to do. That’s not entirely true; every life is full of mundane and humdrum chores like packing. What has changed is that I try to not let obligation stand in the way of opportunity. Serious illness is a great corrective to the human impulse to tiptoe around our true calling. It reminds us that time is precious and fleeting.

Monday, June 12, 2017

But wait, there’s more!

Packing for a road trip is my most hated job. Perhaps a list will help me stay more organized.

To me, a successful job of packing means I come home with one clean pair of panties. I’d rather waste space on painting tools and supplies than on my personal gear. My last trip, however, ran a little longer than I’d expected. Washing clothes on the road was no big deal, but I didn’t have sufficient meds. It was a lesson that one can, in fact, cut it too fine.

I leave for Nova Scotia tomorrow. The forecast is for temperatures ranging from 9° to 24° C, which is 50°-75° in real money. That means double packing, because I must must be prepared for any weather.

Packing is my least-loved part of my job. I’ve decided to make a list, in the hope that it makes me a little more efficient. This is in addition to my list of painting supplies, which you can find here for oils, for watercolor, and for acrylics.

Feel free to comment with additional suggestions.

Rain happens, especially in the Northeast. In a plein air event, that's no excuse for not getting your painting done.
One week of clothing for the traveling artist

Fleece or cotton hoodie
Fleece or wool sweater
Cardigan or shawl for evening
Hiking boots
Hiking socks
Totally paint-spattered shirts—number of days +1
Totally paint-spattered capris—number of days divided by 2
One pair of long pants
Painting hat
Underpants—number of days +2
My bathing suit—not that I ever use it, but I can dream
A swim towel—ditto
Raingear—a jacket AND waterproof pants
One moderately dressy outfit for casual events
One actual dress or skirt for reception

Nobody does the painting hat quite as elegantly as Marjean Coghill.
Cosmetics—especially for you guys. You look downright unkempt at times
Sunglasses, glasses cleaner and cleaning cloth
Insect repellent
SPF lip balm
Aloe vera lotion for when you forget the sunscreen
Hairbrush and/or comb
Hair ties and bobby pins
Nail clipper
Shampoo and conditioner
Body wash
Prescription medications and vitamins. I sort mine prior to leaving into daily med containers
Toothbrush—I can get five weeks out of my electric toothbrush without a charge. I’ve tested this.
Monthly feminine supplies
(You’ll need a clear plastic bag if you’re flying for some of these things)

Downloaded media will be your best friend when you're stuck on the road back of beyond.
First aid:
A small first aid kit in your trunk
Over-the-counter allergy meds
Aspirin and/or your favorite NSAID

Odd equipment for when I am traveling overland and have space to burn:
Bandana—I can soak this in water and stay cool on a hot day.
Foldable wagon
Headlamp for nighttime painting
Small secateur clipper
Extra plastic poncho to cover easel in case of monsoon
Folding chair
Water bottle and a larger jug to refill
Nutritional bars and trail mix—no chocolate, unless you like cleaning up melted food
Brush soap
Baby wipes

Camera and charger
Cell phone and charger
Laptop and charger, if applicable
GPS if applicable
Fitbit charger
Spare charged external battery—this is a lifesaver when traveling

For every show, there will be an opening, and you're supposed to dress for it. Try to look as good as this posse, please: Mira Fink, Crista Pisano, me, Marlene Wiedenbaum, Laura Bianco, Kari Ganoung Ruiz (who just took Best in Show at Finger Lakes) and Tarryl Gabel.

Credit cards
Remember to turn on foreign cell service, if necessary
Download any media to phone or Kindle before leaving your wifi behind.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The one thing you shouldn’t say to another artist

I hate the word “mindfulness,” but I’ve resolved to be mindful about offering unsolicited advice to my peers.
The Three Graces, available through Camden Falls Gallery. My to-do list includes painting more boats in the water.
I’m just smart enough to know when to ask other people for advice. It’s usually very helpful, and I have many friends I also consider to be mentors. Then there’s unsolicited advice. I’ve come to dread the phrase “you should…” It always means another project I don’t have time to finish.

That’s pretty ironic coming from someone who teaches. Much of my time is spent saying “you should…” to my students. I can justify that by saying that my students sought my help. But I’m starting to think that “you should…” is the least helpful and most corrosive way of framing ideas.

Dawson City, Yukon. My undone list also includes finding a venue for the paintings from my Trans-Canada trip.
“You should…” isn’t an offer of help. It often ignores the realities or ideas that prevent someone from doing what the speaker thinks needs doing. 

“I already know I’m failing on a daily basis, because of the things I don’t get done,” an artist friend said recently. “I don’t need any help seeing that.”

Most professional artists are one-man shows. We do our own marketing, publicity, office work, and cleaning. Non-artists would be shocked at the number of hours we work, especially when our work seems to progress slowly.

I should put my remaining urban paintings on sale on the internet, since they're unlikely to sell in a gallery here on the Maine coast.
I use Bobbi Heath’s organizational system, here, to manage my work flow. Bobbi was a successful project manager in the corporate world. Her system is similar in concept to that which my husband’s software development team uses, although they don’t have cute Post-it notes. My calendar is computerized, as is my bookkeeping.

In other words, I’m as organized as I ever will be, and I still can’t get everything done. In fact, I have a standing to-do list that’s far longer than the working hours in my week. When I add another task to it, something else has to come out.

A great frame in its place, but its place isn't here.
One of the big “you should…” tasks on my list is changing my frame style. What worked in New York is too heavy and formal for Maine.

I have a plan for a stunning, light floater frame, drawn for me by artist Ed Buonvecchio. A friend showed me another frame, with a wood liner, that is equally airy. I have the woodshop in which to build either style. What I don’t have is the time to do the work. So I ordered a different gold frame for the 2017 season, and my real update will have to wait another year.

There’s a lesson in this for me. I hate the word “mindfulness,” but I’ve resolved to be mindful about saying “you should…” to my peers. Is there a better way to express the idea? Should the idea be left unspoken? Does this person want my input, or would simply listening be more helpful?

Thursday, June 8, 2017

What does it mean to be a successful artist?

To make progress, we must experience the doldrums as well as the exhilaration of creativity.
This sketch of the Ellwanger Estate in Rochester went from being something I hated to being a favorite painting.
One of my artist friends is struggling right now. Her current work feels stale to her, but when she pushes the boundaries, she is uncomfortable. She worries that the results feel like “too, too much.” Like most of us, she is looking for that sweet spot that combines marketability with room to grow and challenge herself.

Another artist friend wonders how to tell if you’re a successful artist. She proposed that you are a success if you bring joy to someone. I pointed out that a lot of people have some really awful art hanging on their walls. It apparently makes them happy. Bringing joy, then, may be setting the bar too low.
I spent one memorable spring consistently overshooting the colors. I wasn't happy then. I am now.
In other career paths, success is measured by dollars. In art, financial success is dependent on things other than artistic mastery, like connections, marketing skills, organization, and financial resources. Many great painters have labored in poverty and obscurity through most or all of their careers. Artistic success, then, must first be defined in artistic, not financial, terms. The problem is that the goal is constantly shifting.

As artists, we struggle to achieve some effect or transmit an idea. This struggle can be quite lengthy, lasting weeks or months. When we succeed, we can churn out art, seemingly effortlessly. During that short golden period, work is fun and exciting. We feel like we’ve finally ‘got it’.

I worked on site on Lower Falls at Letchworth for the better part of a season. That meant hiking to the bottom of the gorge with my painting kit. It was no fun.
Sadly, this is a fleeting thing.

Soon another question or problem surfaces. We realize a deficiency, or we need to explore a different subject. The searching and questing starts again. Work feels halting, incompetent, and difficult.

There are times when it seems like I’ve never held a brush before. I’m awkward, unpolished, and incapable. No, I’m not suffering from amnesia. If I’m doing my job right, I haven’t done this before, because part of what we artists do—or ought to do—is explore uncharted areas. Luckily, I’m a process-driven, rather than results-driven person. Otherwise, I’d lose my mind.

The struggle at the Lower Falls meant that painting its mate, Upper Falls at Letchworth, was easy.
Some of the pieces that felt most awkward at the time actually turned out to be road-markers for the forward journey. That’s why I’m never keen on scrubbing out ‘failures’ after a painting session. I just can’t tell what a painting means when I’m working on it.

Embracing a cycle of success and struggle is the heart of the artistic process. To make progress, we must allow ourselves to experience the doldrums as well as the exhilaration of the creative process.

The Long Road Home is another work that had to be dragged out of my fingertips.
When someone is at the bottom of one of these cycles, I recommend they read (or reread) the classic Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. They address the pertinent issues of habit, persistence and routine. If nothing else, the book reminds us that we’re not alone in this struggle.