Paint Schoodic

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Action vs. Reaction: the boring times in the studio


Sometimes the balance between creativity and routine gets out of kilter, and it never seems to be in favor of creative time.
Places I'd rather be right now: Headwaters of the Hudson, by Carol L. Douglas, which anyone who's been to Lake Tear of the Clouds would recognize as a romantic personification rather than the real thing.
I’m sorry there was no post yesterday. Grandchildren are human petri dishes, and mine gave me their norovirus. (That’s the nature of children, and I would change nothing.) I’m feeling better today, but not 100%.

Ironically, I’d planned to write about action vs. reaction. Every job has moments of each designed into it. For example, the EMT who saves your life is mostly reactive, responding to what’s happening to you and the instructions he’s getting over his radio. The engineer designing a new system of 0s and 1s is mostly active. As he interacts with his team, though, he is reactive.

But that’s in the particular. Generally speaking, most successful people are reactive much of the time. They’re listening to their competitors, their peers, and their customers, and trying to give the people what they want.
Palm and Sand, by Carol L. Douglas
The self-employed artist is stubbornly individualistic, but that doesn’t save him from reactivity. We treasure our active tasks, like painting or marketing, that we initiate and drive ourselves. Then there are tasks that are in response to others’ initiatives. For example, at 2 PM today, I must send an email. I don’t know why this particular moment is important to the organization but I do know that a small part of my mental energy today will be spent wondering whether gmail’s delayed-send feature really works.

Painting commissions, while on the ‘creative’ side of our ledger, are fundamentally reactive tasks. This is why some artists don’t enjoy them as much as other work. The impetus, the spark of idea, didn’t originate with us.

All sole proprietors exist in this maelstrom of action and reaction, which tug and vie for our scarce time.

Spring, by Carol L. Douglas, painted down the road a piece, on an April day.
Chief among the reactive tasks is bookkeeping, which I’d never do at all if the IRS didn’t prod me into it. Before I can file my taxes, I must audit my records to determine if they’re true. The whole job takes me the better part of a week. I think I should try doing the audits monthly. However, every February, I am so happy to be free of bookkeeping that I just go back to the Excel equivalent of stuffing receipts in an envelope.*

This year I decided to try to paint in the mornings and work on bookkeeping in the afternoons. This was a total failure. I would just settle in to my canvas and it would be time to move over to the dining room and its carefully separated piles of papers.

I’m back to my usual technique, which is to schedule tax prep during the nicest week of winter weather. It’s a knack, I tell you.

Why can’t I just ignore my taxes for a week and get back to them when the weather gets bad? Despite my protestations that I wouldn’t do this to myself again, I’ve arranged to be shot out of a cannon again this spring. On March 4, I’m leaving for a short painting trip through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. My third daughter is getting married in May. And after that is my regularly scheduled season. It’s now or never, and the IRS doesn’t like never.

Fall cookies for another daughter's wedding. That won't work for May!
I have learned that tasks tend to be amorphous until they’re pinned down. That means that small ones, like “order paint” loom as large as “bake 1000 cookies for the wedding reception,” a job I will be doing without my designer pal Jane this year. Writing them down and classifying them helps me keep them in perspective.

I’ve written before about Bobbi Heath’s time management system, here. It’s a simple system that can stop you from losing your mind when you’re overwhelmed. Whatever system works for you, now is a great time to deploy it, before the weather gets fine and you’re on the run.

*I had a GPS that kept mileage records. I just retired it and bought MileIQ. It’s fantastic for the plein air painter, who starts and stops and is pulled along by the wind.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: draw six different boats


Drawing six similar objects will teach you to observe details.
Reliant rigged as a sloop.
I once got a commission to paint Lazy Jack II in Camden Harbor. I was pretty happy with the results. As I finished, two deckhands from another boat stopped to look at it. Their eyes met. “You’ve got the…” one started. “It’s not important,” said the other, and they quickly walked away. I’ve never figured out what’s wrong in that painting, but I did realize that you can only fudge the details so far. The experts will find you out.

In the normal course of things, you’re not going to see many square-rigged vessels here in mid-coast Maine (although you could see USS Constitution if you drive down to Boston). You’ll see fore-and-aft rigs, where the sails run above the keel rather than perpendicular to it.

A Bermuda-rigged sloop. This is the most common silhouette you'll see wherever pleasure boats congregate. 
A boat’s sails all suspend from a vertical spar called the mast. This transmits all the power of the wind pushing the boat through the water. It’s really a marvel of engineering, especially since the kinks were worked out before the age of composite materials. There are some other spars whose names will be useful to know: booms, which run along the bottom of the sails, and gaffs, which get raised up in the air. Not every sailboat has gaffs, but they all have at least one mast and boom to hold the sails taut.

A gaff-rigged catboat.
A catboat is small and has a single sail on a single mast set well forward in the bow, or front of the boat. (I think this would be the perfect painter’s boat, especially if I could find one towable with my Prius.)

A sloop also has one mast, with only one sail in front of the mast. If that head-sail multiplies, your boat has morphed into a cutter. Reliance, the 1903 America’s Cup defender, could be rigged as either a sloop or cutter. I drew Reliance to illustrate that single-masted boats can be gaff-rigged as well as Bermuda-rigged. She was a peculiar thing, built only to win America’s Cup and then sold for scrap. Like all transitory things, she was, oh, so pretty.

A ketch. Angelique is far prettier.
Ketches and yawls have two masts, with the back (mizzen) sail smaller than the front sail. The difference is that in a ketch (like Angelique) the aft mast is meant to push. It’s pretty big. A yawl's mizzen sail is very wee, almost vestigial, and is way to the back of the boat. It’s basically an air rudder, used to keep things in balance.

A yawl (or y'all, for those of you from the south).
Schooners started out having two masts, but three-masted schooners were introduced around 1800, and the spars proliferated from there. The only seven-masted schooner, the steel-hulled Thomas W. Lawson, was built in 1902. It was 395 ft. long.

While you might run across Victory Chimes, a three-masted schooner out of Rockland, the rest of the Maine windjammer fleet have two masts. A schooner's forward mast is shorter than its mainmast, giving it an appearance of eagerness. Schooners come in all kinds of sail configurations.

A schooner's foremast is shorter than its mainmast.
Your assignment is to find a photo of each of these sailing vessels and sketch them out as I did, paying particular attention to where the sails attach to the masts, the angles at which the gaffs are running, and the height of the masts in relationship to the length of the hull. This is not about sailing, it’s about attention to the details that matter.

If you aren’t interested in boats, you can do the same exercise with cars, motorcycles, or varieties of apples; I don’t care what they are, just that you have six objects from the same class of objects. 

The point of this exercise is not to create six beautiful boat drawings. It is to show you how much you learn by sketching. At the end of it, you should have a clear sense of why sketching in the field is a far better preparation for painting than taking photos is.

Remember, those of you who love boats: we’ll be sailing with Captain John Foss on the most beautiful of all windjammers—American Eagle—in June, studying watercolor painting on the move. For more information, see here.

My little assistants. I drew the boats and they colored.

Friday, February 16, 2018

How professional artists structure their businesses.

While hundreds read the post, only a small handful answered the questions. Their answers are still fascinating.

Last week, I asked professional artists to tell a young painter from Alabama, Cat Pope, how they organize their business.

This is the first survey I've ever written. It was very easy to produce, but there are things I should have asked differently. If you haven't taken it yet, you can still go to the link here. The results mostly speak for themselves; I've just added a few parenthetical notes.

The respondents were heavily slanted to the northeast. Would artists from other parts of the country have answered differently? What about Canadian painters?



How hard, I wonder, is it to keep more than 3 galleries supplied with work? I should have also asked about other spaces like coffee shops, restaurants, or hotels.


This next chart represents some serious online work, even for people who aren't direct-selling through websites.



I feel the frustration of wearing all the hats, all the time. Apparently, I'm not alone. A lot of us put a lot of soul into the 'sole proprietorship' idea.


The following was a badly-designed question. I should have given respondents the opportunity to answer "none." 40% of respondents skipped it entirely, which makes "none" the second-largest category.


 Another missed opportunity. Why didn't I ask about annual sales goals?


I included this last question because artists are always being asked to "showcase their work" in charity auctions, yet it's not a deductible donation for us. When we see that work being sold for a fraction of its gallery price, we think it would be easier to just write a check.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Wallowing in plastic


A witty series of nature prints point out our devastating dependency on plastic packaging.
Double-crested Cormorant, Male, by John LaMacchia et al.
Rockland, ME, has provisionally passed a law banning single-use plastic shopping bags. These bags are invaluable to plein air painters, but we’re a cheap group and we’ll figure out another way to dispose of our oily rags. (One of my most popular posts ever was instructions on how to fold a plastic shopping bag to fit more neatly in your kit.)

I support the new law, although some of my friends are opposed. Plastic bags caught in branches are an annoying side effect of densely-packed people, and we get lots of visitors in the summer. It won't go into effect until next January, giving small retailers a chance to unload their stocks of bags. Plastic bags are already controlled in major cities in Canada. And my favorite grocery store—alas, not in Maine—has always had a bring-your-reusable-bag policy, which I navigated for years without trouble.
The ubiquitous tree-bag of North America.
Nobody knows how long it really takes for plastic packaging to break down, because we haven’t had it long enough to tell. Plastic degrades when exposed to sunlight, but it happens more slowly when it’s cold. A current guesstimate is that a foam plastic cup will take 50 years to decompose and a disposable diaper will take 450 years. On both ends of the plastic bag’s life cycle, it creates microplastics—either as bits and bobs from the manufacturing process, or as waste from the breakdown of bigger plastics. Marine organisms are indiscriminate foragers, so they eat these microplastics. Bigger pieces of plastic end up in marine animals’ guts, with deadly results.

Not using plastic packaging is often an easy choice, a matter of choosing the eggs in the cardboard container instead of that other brand. It’s far easier than, say, buying a smaller car or building a new mass-transit infrastructure.
Eastern Towhee, 1. Male 2. Female, by John LaMacchia et al.
Artist John LaMacchia describes himself as “an artist that makes things… and then he shows them to you.” Among his current work is a riff on John James Audubon’s Birds of America. This series of giclĂ©e prints, also called Birds of America, points up the difference between the environment of America 200 years ago and the environment today. For the birds, it’s our trash that makes the difference.
Red Knot, Female, by John LaMacchia et al.
Of course, the modern artist is an idea man, and must outsource the art skills. For that, LaMacchia turned to British ornithologist and illustrator Daniel Cole. LaMacchia sketches out his ideas using a combination of photography and drawing, and Cole executes them. A calligrapher, Hamid Reza Ebrahimi, does the plate notations in calligraphy, using an English Round Hand style commonly used for copperplate engraving.

LaMacchia’s goal is to create 435 plates, matching Audubon’s complete oeuvre. He’ll have to speed up the process, though, since the trio has finished six prints since they started in 2014. Of course, Audubon included birds that are now extinct, like the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, the Carolina Parakeet, and the Passenger Pigeon. That should cut down the final count.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Girl lighthouse keeper


At an age when modern kids are munching on Tide Pods, Abbie Burgess ran a lighthouse on a rock in the sea.
A 19th century engraving of the girl lighthouse keeper. Courtesy Elinor DeWire Collection. 
Matinicus Rock is a treeless, windswept outcropping of about 30 acres. It’s about twenty miles off the mainland, but it’s on the approach to Penobscot Bay.

Its first keeper lasted four years before going ashore to die. The second keeper also died after a short tenure. A tremendous storm in January 1839 forced a total reconstruction. Keeper Samuel Abbott was forced to take refuge in the attic with his family during the storm of February, 1842. He thought they were all going to die.

Samuel Burgess, was appointed the light’s keeper in 1853. He moved to the lighthouse with his wife Thankful and four of their children. Abbie was the oldest girl there.

Courtesy Elinor DeWire Collection.
She ran the light, freeing her father and brother to fish for lobster. The lamps used lard oil. “[T]hey were more difficult to tend than these lamps are, and sometimes they would not burn so well when first lighted, especially in cold weather when the oil got cold,” she wrote.

Abbe worried that, in the case of a great storm, she would be unable to move her invalid mother to safety. In December, 1855, she moved her mother’s bedroom to the lighthouse itself.

The cutter that was supposed to have supplied them in September had never shown up. By January, food and lamp oil were running low. Samuel Burgess sailed to Rockland for supplies. Shortly thereafter, a Nor'easter blew up.

Matinicus Light House. Designed by Alexander Parris, drawn by Brown and Hastings, engineers, March 28, 1848.
“...Father was away. Early in the day, as the tide arose, the sea made a complete breach over the rock, washing every movable thing away, and of the old dwelling not one stone was left upon another. The new dwelling was flooded, and the windows had to be secured to prevent the violence of the spray from breaking them in. As the tide came, the sea rose higher and higher, till the only endurable places were the lighttowers. If they stood we were saved, otherwise our fate was only too certain.

“But for some reason, I know not why, I had no misgivings, and went on with my work as usual. For four weeks, owing to rough weather, no landing could be effected on the rock. During this time we were without the assistance of any male members of our family. Though at times greatly exhausted with my labors, not once did the lights fail. Under God I was able to perform all my accustomed duties as well as my father's.

“You know the hens were our only companions… I said to mother: ‘I must try to save them.’ She advised me not to attempt it. The thought, however, of parting with them without an effort was not to be endured, so seizing a basket, I ran out a few yards after the rollers had passed and the sea fell off a little, with the water knee deep, to the coop, and rescued all but one. It was the work of a moment, and I was back in the house with the door fastened, but I was none too quick, for at that instant my little sister, standing at the window, exclaimed: "Oh, look! look there! the worst sea is coming.”

That wave swept the old house off the rock. 

The chickens proved their salvation. The Burgesses survived on a daily ration of a cup of cornmeal and an egg for the next three weeks.

Abbie Burgess Grant
Samuel Burgess lost his job after the election of 1860. He was replaced by Capt. John Grant. Abbie stayed on to train Grant and ended up marrying his youngest son, Isaac. They tended the Matinicus Rock Light for fourteen years, having four sons while there. They then moved to Whitehead Light off St. George.

Abbie Burgess Grant died in 1892 at the age of 53. “Sometimes I think the time is not far distant when I shall climb these lighthouse stairs no more,” she wrote. “I wonder if the care of the lighthouse will follow my soul after it has left this worn out body!”