Paint Schoodic

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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Painting as a spectator sport

A squall rolled through Camden last night and people put their sails up to dry. I begged the owner of this gaff-rigged boat to not go out until I was done painting. He was a kind man; he acquiesced... and then bought the painting.
Painting as a spectator sport—who knew such a thing was even possible? It’s 9 PM and I’m just getting in for the evening, so instead of words, I’m giving you a photo essay.

Would you find this crowd disconcerting? Nah, not me either. But the harbormaster doing a countdown to the first brush stroke over the loudspeaker... that was a mite disconcerting. If he'd fired a starter gun, I'd have fallen in the harbor.
Howard Gallagher from Camden Falls Gallery auctioning off the quick-draw paintings. I can't say enough good things about the gallery's professional-yet-relaxed management of this event.
Because I'd used up my 8X10 frame in the morning, I had to paint 6X8 for the quick-draw. That's really small for me, and I was a little concerned it was going nowhere. But the Bowsprit of the Nathaniel Bowditch turned out just fine for such a wee painting, and the buyer seemed thrilled.
There's a Build-a-Boat competition going on during the festival. If I weren't painting, I'd be very tempted to compete.
(This was Day Six of Camden Plein Air, Camden Falls Gallery’s annual paint-out and wet paint auction. From Monday, August 26 through Monday, September 2 participating artists from around New England and the mid-Atlantic region are painting picturesque Camden Harbor and the surrounding area. New work produced during this event will be displayed in the Camden Falls Gallery throughout the week, and a Wet Paint Auction will be held on Saturday, September 7 to benefit four local non-profit organizations.)

By evening it was misty and cool. The rain held out exactly long enough to finish the live auction.
Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Holy cow, this place is a zoo!

Downtown Camden, oil on canvasboard, by little ol' me.
If you thought Camden was crowded on a normal summer day, you should see it during the Windjammer Festival. I ended up parking halfway to Rockland, and I fielded about a thousand questions and comments from passers-by. Good thing I love talking to people!

Look at all them wooden boats!
I’m from a city of festivals, and I’m pretty jaded about them, but there is nothing like seeing all those big ships in one harbor. Amazing.

And somehow, I got a decent painting of the town done, despite the interruptions.

(This was Day Five of Camden Plein Air, Camden Falls Gallery’s annual paint-out and wet paint auction. From Monday, August 26 through Monday, September 2 participating artists from around New England and the mid-Atlantic region are painting picturesque Camden Harbor and the surrounding area. New work produced during this event will be displayed in the Camden Falls Gallery throughout the week, and a Wet Paint Auction will be held on Saturday, September 7 to benefit four local non-profit organizations.)

Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Back in the saddle again

Behind Main Street on the Megunticook River, oil on canvas, 12X16, by little ol' me.
 I felt this morning as if I’d been thrown by a particularly fractious horse and was having a hard time dragging myself back into the saddle. That was compounded by a cold rain which put paid to my first idea for a subject. That was to drive out to Aldermere Farm to paint Belted Galloways in front of Mount Battie. (Neither cattle nor mountains have rigging, tidal changes, or any claim to carefully measured angles.)

Hey! I thought you said we were giving up obsessive drafting today!
In pursuit of a sheltered painting spot, I ended up on the Riverhouse Footbridge over the Megunticook River. This was hardly the place of soft shapes I’d been dreaming of, but it is a view I’ve wanted to paint for a while. Essentially, it’s a different view of this scene, which I painted earlier this month.

Reason #6345 why I love my easel: it can set up in a minimum of space on a narrow footbridge.
“Nothing ever came from a life that was a simple one,” Flogging Molly howled in my headphones as I worked. That seemed appropriate. One day up, one day down—the secret is to never be so much in the moment that you forget the long view. Yesterday, I forgot how to paint. Today I liked what I painted. Tomorrow… well, who knows what tomorrow will bring?

This was such a complicated thing to draw that I never got past the “laying in paint” phase to see it as a whole. I suspect it will need tweaking before I submit it in the morning.

A man came by and asked me what these plants were. "I see them on the beach, I see them everywhere," he said. "Um, the things on the beach are rosa rugosa. These are cherry tomatoes," I answered. I definitely pegged him as 'from away.'
On Saturday, I paint in a two-hour “quick draw,” the results of which will immediately be auctioned off. Will I be able to get out of this obsessive phase I find myself in before then? I sure hope so.

When the fairy lights come on, you're done for the day.
(This was Day Four of Camden Plein Air, Camden Falls Gallery’s annual paintout and wet paint auction. From Monday, August 26 through Monday, September 2 participating artists from around New England and the mid-Atlantic region are painting picturesque Camden Harbor and the surrounding area. New work produced during this event will be displayed in the Camden Falls Gallery throughout the week, and a Wet Paint Auction will be held on Saturday, September 7 to benefit four local non-profit organizations.)

Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My hooptie

My ride. My backpack. All rolled into one.
I had such a great day painting, I think I'd like to talk about my bike. My ride (and it's not a hooptie, no matter what my friend Toby says) works to carry my stuff around, but is rendered impractical by the sheer volume of traffic in Camden—it would be insane to ride a bike on the street and the sidewalks are jammed. So I’m using it as a glorified cart.

Coming in from the north, I hit fog north of Lincolnville, and had my fingers crossed hoping it would stretch to Camden. Gone was my idea of painting the Megunticook or the Farmer’s Market; the fog was all that mattered. I was overjoyed to see it persist; the captains of the charter boats, not so much. They  were stuck in port until it cleared. But clear it eventually did, and there went both my boats along with the fog.

I have no opinion on it except it was a heckuva lot of work.
This is a reprise of a theme I painted earlier this month, which you can see here. I personally think I nailed it better the first time, but that’s the nature of paint outs and plein air in general—you can’t predict the outcome.

Perhaps I should have painted the car in the foreground instead...
I have been focusing on the rigging of these darn schooners so intensely, I feel like I painted this entire thing with a size 0 round and a rigger. This isn’t a natural way of painting for me, and tomorrow I have to move off to something else before my head explodes.


Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What a difference a day makes!

A lousy photo of a decent painting of the schooner Mercantile.
Yesterday I posted that I was unhappy with the design of my Mt. Battie painting, and hoped to fix it by playing with the light. (I was hoping I could break the rigid horizontal at the bottom by making the contrast with the water almost non-existent.) My student Carol Thiel asked, “Why don’t you put some boats in the foreground to break up that line?” That was a far more intelligent suggestion than trying to force the composition. I did it and it worked fine, and now I have an iconic Camden painting, of the library, a steeple, Mount Battie, and some boats—and no need to take a circular saw to the board.
Alison painting on a small canvas.
But that required waiting for the tide to rise. In the morning, I painted the schooner Mercantile at anchor. I loved Old Glory’s reflection in the water, and I walked around the harbor trying to find the best angle. I settled on painting from a floating dock. This is the easiest place from which to paint but it is hard on the legs. The docks rock constantly. So after five hours or so, I retreated back up to dry land.

Camden harbor with correction.
There I was happily surprised by my friend Alison Hill, a painter from Monhegan. She set up near me with an enormous jute canvas. In less than an hour she’d limned out a lovely painting of the harbor, and we’d had a great chat.

A little tailgate critique. Nice, nice group of artists.
Tomorrow, I have choices—a farmer’s market or the Mighty Megunticook?


Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Day One at Camden Plein Air

Unfinished, Mt. Battie from Camden Harbor. Will either finish it or scrape it out tomorrow.
The first day at Camden Plein Air dawned with great atmospherics—a light drizzle that had fizzled out by 10 AM. Threatened thunderstorms failed to materialize, and scudding clouds to the north over Mount Battie made for a constantly changeable sky.

Painting with a peanut gallery.
I’ve wanted to paint Mount Battie from the harbor since I’ve been coming to Camden.  I’m not sure what I think of this attempt; it’s accurate enough but the composition isn’t doing anything for me. Before I turn it into a floor tile, I’ll take it back to the harbor in the morning and see if I can do something with the lighting.
And then someone either goes and docks a boat right in the middle of your view, or removes one that was critical to your painting...

I met a new friend today, Renee Lammers, who paints on copper panels. She shared a sandwich with me; we watched each other’s backs quite contentedly.

Painting from the deck of a boat has been on my bucket list for years, so when someone offered me the opportunity to try it this week, I agreed enthusiastically. It will require a still day, but I’m excited about the possibility.

An early bedtime tonight!


Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

On the road again

Eco-Warrior 1: my new backpack for Camden Plein Air.
I’ve been home in Rochester just long enough to scrub the tub, check the mail, and break my printer. This morning I’m en route back to Maine. Since this is a painting trip rather than a teaching one, I’ve got two passengers with me—my entire IT department, in fact. (Note to burglars: don’t assume the Duchy has been left defenseless. When I got home from Maine last weekend it was to find two new young people had moved in. Empty, my house has more occupants than the average American household.)


I’m headed up to beautiful Camden to paint in Camden Plein Air, Camden Falls Gallery’s annual paintout and wet paint auction. From Monday, August 26 through Monday, September 2 participating artists from around New England and the mid-Atlantic region will gather to paint picturesque Camden Harbor and the surrounding area.

New work produced during this event will be displayed in the Camden Falls Gallery throughout the week, and a Wet Paint Auction will be held on Saturday, September 7 to benefit four local non-profit organizations.
Eco-Warrior 2: two bikes, my painting kit, luggage and a cooler for three, a bass guitar, and three adult-size human beings. I’ll buy a Tesla when it can do this.
I have wanted to bring my bike to Maine all summer, but could never think up a good excuse to justify it. (The drag on my bike rack cuts my mileage slightly.) This paint-out is the perfect excuse. The contents of my backpack fit perfectly in the plastic milk crate on the back, and I anticipate a week of joyfully pedaling from painting site to painting site.

Because I’m not teaching, I think I’ll be able to blog in real time, but I will be posting a little later in the day than usual.

Join me in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Kids, gather around and I’ll tell you about the Dark Age of Graphic Design

My watercolor graphic for the invitation. Yes, it dangles. It is meant to be a corner ornament.
A long time ago and far, far away I worked as a graphic designer. One of my favorite tasks was choosing paper for print jobs. AJ Laux in Lockport and, later, XPedX’s retail store on South Avenue in Rochester were two of my favorite places. Paper and envelopes, not shrink-wrapped but each kind in their own precise little cardboard coffer, are more sensual than chocolate, more gratifying than new shoes.

OK, kids, go ask your grandparents what this tool was. And think that I paid $48 for it in the 1980s. That's like $2000 today. (I saved it in case I can figure out how to use it as a depilatory.)
 A few weeks ago, an important client commissioned a watercolor-and-design project. That would be my daughter, who is being married in October. Of course I was happy; not only do I love my daughter but I particularly love multi-layered, text-based design. And I got to do a watercolor!

What a lovely time to be a designer this is! Never has software been so fluid, flawless and flexible. High speed digital printing has rendered service bureaus, separations, film, and press proofs obsolete. The technical barriers that stood between idea and realization have pretty much been eliminated. You have an inspiration; an hour later it’s uploaded and on its way. And if you don’t have any skill, you can do a pretty bang-up job just using the templates available online. (Try that with painting.)

The last project for which I was able to buy paper at XPedX.
(I am a bit wistful when I see all the wonderful hand-drawn typefaces shared so freely across the internet. As a youngster I loved typeface design, but there was no way to convert one’s own typography to anything useful. It’s almost enough to make one envy the young.)

But in the past few years there has been a less-welcome change in the graphics industry. The demise of small offset print shops has led to the corresponding demise of the small paper shops which supported them. The rise of big box office supply stores has undone small stationers. Last year XPedX closed their retail stores nationwide. One’s paper-buying options in Western New York seem to be limited to office supply stores (which specialize in copy paper) and craft stores (which specialize in scrapbooking papers). 

All off-whites are not created equal.
I spent the day today on the phone talking to paper reps to no avail—none of them were set up to have a retail customer come in and fondle their samples.

Finally, I found a throwback, a lovely woman named Cheryl who works in a paper warehouse in Buffalo. She was willing to take the time to work with me on my very small order. Quickly we ascertained that in the limited time we had, our color choices were ivory, ivory, or ivory. Luckily, the bride likes off white, and I have some accent sheets from a prior project that will dovetail quite nicely.

There are some things you just can’t order blind over the internet: sun-kissed garden tomatoes, silk lingerie, and paper you’ve never seen, touched or felt. I solved today’s problem but I don’t know what the long-term answer will be.

Join us in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Last evening class of summer

When we realized our Auburn Trail site wasn't going to work, we put up this nifty sign. Went back after class to take it down, and it was gamely hanging in there!
The wise artist investigates locations by painting them repeatedly and in depth, which is why Cezanne had his Mont Sainte-Victoire, Homer his Prout’s Neck, and Van Gogh his Saint-Rémy. This is why I usually hold my evening plein air classes in the same location for a full season.

Last evening class of the summer and I finally found a painting site that tripped my trigger. That's Catherine, Sandy and Carol in Powder Mills Park.
This summer, however, we were a restless group. The Erie Canal at Schoen Place worked for a while, but didn’t have enough variety for an entire summer. Tinker Park seemed too manicured, and the part that is compelling (the swamp) is a long way back from the parking lot. The Center at High Falls closed and took away our High Falls restroom. Barben Farm is lovely, but I didn’t want to wear out our welcome.

Isn't it lovely?
Wednesday evening promised to be very fine. We decided to try our luck with the Auburn Trail in Victor. A rails-to-trails project, it is about 9 miles long, following the old Auburn and Rochester Railroad. The site we were interested in is a thousand feet or so off the road, where a spur of Irondequoit Creek crosses the trail.

Young Sophia is trying to take credit for Sandy's painting.
My initial scheme was for our mobility-impaired student to zoom down the path on her walker. (She’s very quick; she just needs support.) However, the trail was very recently graveled, so the surface was too soft for her walker’s wheels. My second scheme was to move the barrier cones aside and drive her down in my car. My conscience kicked in, however, and I couldn’t do it. No cars, I admitted to myself, meant no cars.
Carol Thiel brought some paintings to show us from a recent paint-out in Saranac Lake. I particularly like the middle distance in this one.
Isn't this a neat idea? Old textbook, repurposed as a sketchbook. Great for value studies.
So we relocated to the fish hatchery at Powder Mills Park, and there we found the beautiful painting site we’d been searching for. Virginia was overjoyed to paint pond scum. The rest of us concentrated on more conventional views. Meanwhile, cedar waxwings flitted around us and a bluegill cavorted in the shadows. It was a magical end to summer.

And Lyn's painting went head over teakettle on the ground, followed by her cup of mineral spirits, which sat in a puddle on the top of the painting. All in all, a great time was had by all.
Join us in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Camden Plein Air, 2013

A Fitz Henry Lane Kind of Day at Camden Harbor, oil on canvas, 12X9
On Sunday I zoom back to Maine to participate in the Camden Plein Air Paint-Out and Wet Paint Auction being sponsored by Camden Falls Gallery.

Over 20 artists will be painting en plein air in and around Camden from Monday, August 26 to Monday, September 2, Labor Day. A live auction will be held at the Bok Amphitheatre in Camden Harbor Park (behind the public library) on Saturday, September 7 from 6:30-7:30 pm, following a reception from 5:30-6:30 pm. Proceeds will benefit the Camden Windjammer Festival, Camden Public Library, and Penobscot Marine Museum.

This year's participating artists include: Tania Amazeen-Jones, Bill Barton, Todd Bonita, Paul Bonneau, Lee Boynton, Ian Bruce, Allen Bunker, Beaman Cole, Dan Corey, Alison Dibble, F. Michael Dorsey, Stephan Giannini, Eric Glass, Alison Hill, Kirk McBride, Aline Ordman, Colin Page, Judith Schuppien, Diane Scott, Janet Sutherland, Michael Vermette, and little ol’ me.

Because I won’t be teaching, I will do my best to post my day’s painting live each day.


Join us in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

That "how-to" I didn't do yesterday...

Megunticook River at Camden, ME, 9X12, oil on canvas, by little ol' me.
Yesterday I intended to write about how I do field sketches, but distracted myself with raving about a most-excellent new student. Today, then, I get down to business. This is my method of producing a relatively-quick, finished field study with a minimum of “flailing around,” as my pal Brad Marshall so memorably termed it.

My first step is a value study. Whether I do this with charcoal, greyscale markers, or pencil is immaterial—if the value structure doesn’t work, the painting won’t work. 

A value study can be done in charcoal, with greyscale markers, or in pencil.
As I mentioned yesterday, I decided to decompress the center of the painting and omit a wall that encroached on the view from the left, and both—in the end—proved to be the lesser choices. I can’t call those highly-subjective decisions “wrong,” but I did change my mind halfway through.

The Megunticook River wending its way through Camden's old buildings. Isn't it beautiful?
 My next step was to draw the picture on my canvas. This is never simply a question of transferring my rough value sketch; nor is it a finished drawing into which I paint. What I do is a carefully-measured map of the future painting. I find this particularly useful when painting architecture, where measurement matters a great deal. I generally do this drawing with a watercolor pencil. I can erase to my heart’s content with water, but when I finally start painting in oil the drawing is locked into the bottom layer.

Not a transfer of my value study; not a "drawing" per se. A map for the finished painting.
 From there, I blocked in the big shapes, paying attention to preserving the values of my sketch, and working (generally) from dark to light. This is especially important if you plan to take more than a few hours to do a painting, because it allows you to paint through significant changes in lighting.

I say “big shapes,” but while I focus on these, I do not obliterate all the drawing I did earlier.


It was upon reaching this degree of blocking that I realized how little I liked this scene without the wall on the left pushing in against it. Putting it in over wet paint (without a drawing) resulted in it being somewhat vague compared to the rest of the painting, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. (Whenever I do something like this, I amuse myself by speculating on what art historians might adduce as a ‘meaning’ of my painterly screw-ups.)

I plan to repaint this scene next week, when I participate in Camden Falls Gallery’s Plein Air Wet Paint Auction. But more on that tomorrow.


Join us in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Painting side by side with a beginner, you learn things

My painting (left), my student's painting (right).
I had the opportunity this week to paint side-by-side with a student. He has painted exactly three observational pieces in his life, all under my tutelage. However, as a lifelong builder, he actually has pretty decent drawing chops; he just hasn’t dignified his sketching by calling it art.

The Megunticook River runs beneath and between old mill buildings in Camden, ME.
I set out to do a how-to post about my technique for developing a field sketch. He just happened to be standing next to me, or so I thought.

The Megunticook River runs underneath and around old mill buildings in downtown Camden, Me. I loved the light on the water and the shimmering reflections of the white buildings in the background. However, I felt that it would be better to decompress the gap between the far buildings and remove the building that squeezed the scene down from the left. My student chose to represent the scene exactly as he saw it. About halfway through the painting, I realized that my editorial changes—intended to let the scene “breathe”—had in fact robbed it of its idiosyncratic charm. I would not have realized this had I not been looking at his painting taking shape next to mine.

Working a pretty narrow view, in a pretty narrow space.
The owner of the business next door stopped by several times to see what we were doing. He raved about this man’s painting. But my student—like so many of us—couldn’t hear that praise as genuine, or doesn’t understand how truly gifted he is to be able to do this on the third try. 

His palette, acrylics.
“Someday, they’ll be talking about you as the new Grandma Moses, and I’ll be a footnote in your personal history,” I told him.

His finished painting. 
Sometimes you need to see a painting dignified with a frame; it is as if it puts on its tuxedo and is ready to perform. So I tossed his painting in a frame while I framed mine. I think he suddenly realized just how good it is and was shocked.

Later this week, I'll post my step-by-step instructions. After all, technique is important; the joy of painting... well, that is something far greater.


Join us in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Three paintings on the block in Castine, ME

Midsummer Reverie, 6X8, oil on canvas.  One of three paintings for sale at Castine Historical Society today.
I finally figured out what I like so much about Castine, Maine—it reminds me of Lewiston, NY, where I spent a good deal of time in my salad days.

Anyone who knows Lewiston will recognize a parallel with this from Castine’s history: “In 1607, Samuel de Champlain, the great French explorer and colonizer, sailed up the Penobscot River and wrote of the beauty of the river and its shores. Four years later Father Pierre Biard, a French Jesuit, met here with a group of Indians…”

Owl's Head Light, 8X10, oil on canvas.  One of three paintings for sale at Castine Historical Society today.
That was three years after Champlain went through Lewiston, but WNY’s Jesuit didn’t arrive until 1640 or thereabouts. Lewiston had René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle and Fr. Louis Hennepin; Castine had Jean-Vincent d'Abbadie de Saint-Castin.

Both regions were contested territory long before the surrounding forests were of much value, because both were on navigable routes into the interior. That means that both places have a great depth of native, French and British pre-colonial history packed into them.

Rising Tide at Wadsworth Cove, 12X16, oil on canvas.  One of three paintings for sale at Castine Historical Society today.
I have three paintings in the Castine Historical Society Art Show and Sale, which ends today. (One of the downsides of not blogging while traveling is that you don’t stay current.) I also recently heard that my mermaid buoy  for the Penobscot East Resource Center auction was purchased by a Vinalhaven fisherman. There’s something darn authentic about that.

Join us in October, 2013 at Lakewatch Manor—which is selling out fast—or let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!