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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Freedom from want

If you say grace tomorrow, you could do worse than thanking God for the four freedoms enumerated by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Freedom from Want, 1943, Norman Rockwell
I had a painting teacher who hated Norman Rockwell. She was in agreement with the art establishment of her time, which derided him as ‘just an illustrator.’ They also rebelled against his view of America, but that wasn’t what she said. “He has no sense of perspective,” she told me. “He just layers objects to give the illusion of depth.”

For some of his cover art that was true. Consider The Runaway (below), painted for the September 20, 1958 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. It’s just three figures square to the picture plane, surrounded by the horizontal lines and miscellany of the soda shop counter. If that was the only Rockwell painting you ever saw, you could be forgiven for thinking as she did.

The Runaway, 1958, Norman Rockwell.
Compare that with Shiner (also below), from the May 23, 1953 cover of the same magazine. The little girl is again square to the picture plane, but there is a second focal point at the top right. They’re tied together by the linoleum. We’re seeing the subject from a kid-height viewpoint. Rockwell understood perspective quite well, thank you.

Freedom from Want was painted during World War II as part of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series. The series was meant to illustrate a passage from President Franklin Roosevelt’s State of the Union address of January 6, 1941, when Nazi Germany occupied most of Western Europe. The paintings were so idiosyncratically American, however, that they instead have come to represent American values. Freedom from Want is now irrevocably entwined with the American holiday season, which kicks off tomorrow.

Shiner, 1953, Norman Rockwell.
The foil for the whole painting is the white-on-white table, surrounded by a wreath of faces. If you’ve ever wondered about Rockwell as a painter, study that table. He’s as brilliant with the whites as Joaquín Sorolla, albeit in a much more American way.

The table is significantly foreshortened and the centerpiece—a fruit bowl—is at the very bottom of the picture. That and the truncated faces at the bottom make you wonder how much longer the table actually is.

This clever cropping make you think you’re looking at a snapshot of someone’s dinner. Of course, you’re not. He painted the figures from life, using his friends and neighbors as models. About the turkey, Rockwell said, “Our cook cooked it, I painted it and we ate it. That was one of the few times I've ever eaten the model.”

Note that there’s almost no other food on the table. Such is the magic of his realism that Rockwell makes you believe it’s an overloaded table. In fact, that was the criticism of it at the time, that it depicted indulgence while Europe was starving.

Of course, Thanksgiving is a meal of excess. (I myself plan to make seven pies today.) But if you say grace tomorrow—and I hope you do—you could do worse than thanking God for the four freedoms enumerated by President Roosevelt all those years ago:

  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom from Want
  • Freedom from Fear
  • Freedom of Worship

Have a very blessed holiday!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

You don’t need $450 million to buy a painting

Original art comes in all price points. It’s not just for rich people.

Apple Orchard by Chrissy Spoor Pahucki is available at
Almost everyone in America knows that a painting reputed to be by Leonardo Da Vinci sold for a record-breaking $450 million last week at Christie’s. That’s an amount I can’t even begin to comprehend. It implies that regular folks like you and me can’t afford art.

“When I was a child middle-class people didn't have original art in their homes, unless one of the family was an artist,” said painter Bobbi Heath. “Things are different now. Original artwork is available at a price point equivalent to buying a poster and having it framed. You can find it online, at art fairs and open studios, especially this time of year. And you don't need a gallery owner to tell you what you should like. Spread your wings and hang something on the wall that makes you happy.”

This little dinghy by Bobbi Heath is available at Yarmouth Frame and Gallery.
When I was a kid, our public library had an art-lending program. You could borrow a painting or print, hang it on your wall for a while and enjoy it, then return it and borrow another work. That was as profound as checking out books.

Art is a tool by which we can dream. It has the capacity to transport us out of our current situation. The hospital where my friend lay dying had beautiful floral paintings in its cancer wing. When I had to step out of her room while they did a procedure—which was often—I found myself staring into those paintings. They were my path out of a sad situation.

Our choice of paintings is one of the primary ways we express ourselves in our personal spaces. Bob Bahr used to write a column for Outdoor Painter called Artist as Collector. It told you as much about the artist’s personality as the artist’s own work did.

This little mussel by Susan Lewis Baines is available through the Kelpie Gallery.
“One thing I have learned after 20 years working with art is that the ‘price’ of a work of art has nothing to do with its value,” said conservator Lauren R. Lewis. “The value lies in how you connect with a work of art on an emotional level. I have never been able to get on board with the idea of ‘art as investment.’ The art market is fickle, so I never recommend that someone buy a painting with the intention of selling it later at a profit.”

I have clients, a married couple, who pared their lives down to almost no material possessions. They own two large oil paintings—one by Marilyn Fairman and one by me. As nomadic as their life is, they hang those paintings in a prominent place wherever they land. Art brings a language of beauty to our lives,” one of them told me. “We have contentment and constancy from looking at our beloved pieces.”

White Pines and Black Spruce by Carol L. Douglas is available at
“Unlike generic prints from the nearest big box store, original art comes with a story about where you found it, why you bought it, or the super cool artist you bought it from,” said painter Chrissy Pahucki.

Original art is less expensive than you might imagine. I was at a gallery last weekend where there were hand-drawn colored pencil works for less than I was considering paying for a mixer attachment for my daughter for Christmas. Less, in fact, than a coffee-table art book, but with more staying power.

Buy art because you love it,” said Lauren Lewis. “Buy art because it makes you feel good to look at it. Buy art because you need to have it in your life. That is how you tell the worth of a painting.”

Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday Morning Art School: Repeating shapes and perspective

Everyone has a door somewhere in their house, right? It’s a great subject to practice drawing.
I’m sure you have a door almost exactly like this one somewhere in your house. It's commonplace, but it's also a series of repeating shapes that can teach you a lot about perspective.

I left it slightly ajar, but it doesn't have to be. Seat yourself as far away as you can get from it. The closer you are, the more difficult it is to keep your measurements straight. I'd like you to sit at a slight angle to it so you can think about perspective.

This is intended to be a fast drawing, taking you no more than 15 or 20 minutes. The same rules apply to a careful drawing, of course; you'd just be more meticulous in your measuring and marking. But you'll learn just as much going fast.

My first task is to figure out the angles of the top and bottom of the door. (My camera distorts perspective so what’s in the photo won’t match what’s on my drawing.) I do that by holding my pencil along the bottom of the door and figuring out the angle.

I find that setting my pencil down on my paper at the appropriate angle helps me see it better.

Then I do the exact same thing on the top.

Note that the shelf at my eye level is completely horizontal. Any level surface at eye level has to be horizontal; that's a hard-and-fast rule. 

Two-point perspective, courtesy Luciano Testoni. All those lines traveling off to the vanishing points on the left and right? Let's call them rays.
The picture above is classical two-point perspective with a lot of extra bells and whistles. I don't want you to get bogged down in it; I included it so you can compare the rays in that drawing to what you see in your room. Notice that when you look at lines high in your room, the 'rays' travel downward to the sides, where the so-called 'vanishing points' are. When you look at objects near the floor, the rays travel upward to the vanishing points. That's because the vanishing points are always at the viewer's eye level. 

My measuring hashmarks
Next, I do that nifty measuring thing that involves holding my pencil in front of my eye and using it as a ruler. Since the height is already determined by my angled lines, I just need to figure out how wide the door is relative to the height. I figured the door is a little less than half as wide as it was tall. Later, I'll find out just how off I was.

This shape is called a trapezoid, and there's an easy way to find its center. Just draw an X from corner to corner as shown. That's very useful information in perspective drawing, because it helps you place windows, doors, roof peaks, etc. correctly. Make a habit of finding it.

And here’s a quick-and-dirty way to get the perspective right. Divide the two side lines into equal units—thirds, quarters, eighths, or whatever other units you can mark off by eye. Then just draw lines connecting the corresponding sides. The 1/3 point on the left gets attached to the 1/3 point on the right, etc. You’ll have the perspective rays right in one try.

I never get my measurements right on the first try, so I've learned to not fuss too much on my initial measurements. The great thing about repeating shapes is that your mistakes are easy to see. I realized the door was slightly too short and wide, so I adjusted them slightly. I also took out the free-hand curl on the right-bottom corner. Note how useful the center point is in placing the central spine of the door. I know that the moulding around the glass is the same width all around, so this is one of those repeating shapes I can use to check my work. (Of course, it's going to be ever so slightly wider on the side closer to me.)

No, I can’t draw a straight line, not without a ruler.

My finished drawing. I would have enjoyed putting in all the details, and I could always be more careful, but I still have letters to write. You can finish it or not, to your heart's content.

Next week, I’m going to have you draw a pie plate. That means you have to finish up the leftover pie before Monday. And a reminder, you can post your homework here. There are lots of people reading Monday Morning Art School; I’d love to see some drawings!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Willful ignorance

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it
Trooper Meditating Beside a Grave, 1865, Winslow Homer, Joslyn Art Museum
Tomorrow is the celebration of the consecration of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, PA, where President Abraham Lincoln delivered what is now known as the Gettysburg Address. Since that day in 1863, when Union Soldiers marched with Lincoln from the bustling town to the cemetery, people have marked the occasion with a solemn parade on the Saturday closest to November 19.

At first, it was Civil War veterans themselves who organized the remembrance. As they petered out, it became reenactors, from both north and south, coming together to make a powerful statement of unity.

Union and Confederate veterans shake hands at the Assembly Tent at Gettysburg, US Library of Congress
This year will be no exception, but participants and visitors have been told to not bring backpacks or coolers to the parade route or other scheduled events. They’ve also been warned not to engage with ‘anti-Confederate groups’ that might be in the crowds on Saturday afternoon. This is because they’ve received a ‘credible threat,’ which is now being investigated by the FBI, state police and local cops.

This is only the latest threat against Civil War reenactors. In October, a reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek was marred by threats and the discovery of a pipe bomb. Manassas, VA, cancelled its annual tribute to the two bloody battles fought there due to similar threats. Also canceled was a similar reenactment at McConnels, SC.

Reenactors are the dramatists of history. They tend to be fascinated with specific periods, learning about them with great accuracy. I know specialists from the French and Indian War, the Revolution, nautical history, and the domestic economy. But the most visible reenactment community is the Civil War one.

Sharpshooter, 1863, Winslow Homer, Portland Museum of Art
They are, in my experience, history buffs with a strong creative streak, well-read and meticulous. They’re not donning the blue and grey to advance any kind of political agenda. They’re harmless. For many people, seeing a Civil War reenactment is a cheap and painless history lesson.

“A 2012 ACTA survey found that less than 20 [percent] of American college graduates could accurately identify the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation, less than half could identify George Washington as the American general at Yorktown, and only 42 [percent] knew that the Battle of the Bulge occurred during World War II,” reported National Review.

If Americans weren’t so woefully ignorant of their own history, could a book entitled Did Lincoln Own Slaves even exist? It was written by a college professor in response to his students asking dumb questions. That should indicate the depth of our cultural illiteracy problem.

Organizers have played down the threats to Civil War events. They don’t want to alarm the public unnecessarily. But as citizens, we need to calmly consider why they’re happening and what we ought to do about them.

Song of the Lark, 1876, Winslow Homer, Chrysler Museum of Art
“I believe it’s part of the monument issue, about rewriting history,” one reenactor told me. The parade isn’t about reenactors strutting their stuff, she added, but about recreating the historic parade itself. 

“Truly, you can’t change history, only the story that's told,” she noted.

Intimidation always threatens free speech. “I am afraid that the threats will make it so expensive for the local governments that we will no longer be welcome to put on the events. Then they win,” another reenactor told me.

The Civil War is something we should never revise, downplay or forget. Almost one in 30 American citizens died in the fighting.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” wrote George Santayana. I’d add a coda to that: Willful ignorance is the worst offense possible against your fellow citizens. We all end up paying for it.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Art and advertising

An amendment to the Rockland building code brings us full circle back to Pop Art.

Robert Indiana’s art sign is on the left and the commercial Strand sign on the right. Which is art? Photo courtesy of Coastal Maine Realty.
 Heading into Rockland, ME from the south, you can’t help but notice Robert Indiana’s massive Electric Eat sign on the roof of the Farnsworth Art Museum. It’s been there since 2009 and has become a fixture of the local skyline.

The piece was initially commissioned for the New York State Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair. Fair attendees immediately queued for the non-existent restaurant. After a day of frustration for all concerned, the sign went dark. It wasn’t relit again until it moved to Maine.

In its original setting, the piece blurred the line between art and life a little too effectively.
While the piece is unequivocally good for Rockland’s cityscape, it was also the bellwether for an issue recently facing Rockland’s town board: when is a sign a sign, and when is it art?

The question facing code enforcement officer John Root was whether a sign proposed for the front of Ada’s Kitchen constitutes art or advertising. It will read, simply, “East.”

Ada’s Kitchen is owned by Jen and Rick Rockwell. “There’s no such business as EAST,” Rick Rockwell told the Pen Bay Pilot. “EAST is a concept. It’s a general direction. The object of this piece is to celebrate the past of Rockland. It speaks about our proximity as being in the eastern part of our country, in the most eastern parts of our state.”

I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, 1928, Charles Demuth, Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is proto-pop.
The paper reported that Jen Rockwell told the City Council, “further north, toward her establishment, drivers start speeding up due to their perception that there’s nothing more to look at until the ferry terminal.” Well, now she’s talking about advertising. I’d have to disagree with her anyway, because one of my favorite signs in town is for the Rockland Café. That’s very close to their location.

But Ms. Rockwell was right that the visual concentration is weighted to the south end of town. She was, in essence, critiquing Main Street as a work of art in itself, and saying its balance is off. 

Rockland has successfully recreated itself as the northeast’s art mecca. With art sales, I suppose, comes public art. Not all of it is going to be by artists of the stature of Robert Indiana, but a Code Enforcement Officer isn’t qualified to judge aesthetics. Nor, I suppose, does he want to.

Campbell’s Tomato Juice Box, 1964, Andy Warhol. Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on wood. Museum of Modern Art. This is full-blown Pop Art
He does need to assess whether the sign is properly sized, lighted and hung, and to be sure that it won’t swing loose in a Nor’easter or fall and crush visitors. To do that, he needs a specific code addressing art signs, and now he has one.

My own definition of art is that it’s something that’s useless for any practical purpose. The Rockland City Council came close to the same conclusion when it concluded that a sign is art if it doesn’t advertise the product being sold by the business. In other words, you can hang an art lobster up if your business is selling hand-knitted scarves, but you can’t hang a lobster up if you actually sell lobsters.

Then one looks at the sign for the Strand Theatre and realizes that it’s as much an art statement as anything on Main Street, even though it advertises their specific business. That brings us full circle to Robert Indiana’s work and the whole Pop Art movement of the 1960s. Their goal was to blur the line between mass culture and fine art. And now it is done.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cult and color

Our ideas of the psychology of color come from a 19th century occultist, Madame Blavatsky.

From Concerning the Spiritual in Art, by Wassily Kandinsky. He believed both shapes and colors had specific meanings.
My student used to love to read aloud to me while I was painting. This is how I ‘read’ Wassily Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art.

Kandinsky was a student of the great occultist of his day, Madame Helena Blavatsky. She has the distinction of being one of the few women to successfully found a cult in modern western society, Theosophy.

Two Helens (Helena Hahn and Helena Blavatsky), artist unknown, is a portrait of the teenage Helena and her late mother.
Born into the Russian nobility, Madame Blavatsky’s nomadic youth exposed her, in turn, to Tibetan Buddhism, Freemasonry and the meandering byways of esotericism. Her mother died when she was 14. Shortly after, she began to experience astral projection and visions involving a spirit guide, a “mysterious Indian” named Master Morya. He would become the first Master of Ancient Wisdom in Theosophy. Blavatsky claimed to have traveled the world with him.

At age 17, she married a much older man because, she said, he was interested in magic. The marriage was a disaster. She fled, escaping to Constantinople. According to biographer Peter Washington, at this point “myth and reality begin to merge seamlessly in Blavatsky's biography.” She claimed to visit Asia, the Americas, and Tibet, where she learned a secret language, Senzar, from which she translated the texts of Theosophy. She developed clairvoyance, telepathy, the ability to control another person’s consciousness, to dematerialize and rematerialize physical objects, and to project her astral body. “Hardly a word of this appears to be true,” wrote her biographer.

Madame Blavatsky as a medium in New York. Courtesy New York Public Library.
With Colonel Henry Steel Olcott and Irish Spiritualist William Quan Judge, she founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. Shortly thereafter, Blavatsky penned the first ‘bible’ of her new religion, Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology.

Olcott and Blavatsky continued her peripatetic lifestyle, moving first to India, and then to Europe. Meanwhile, Theosophy was a growing concern. By 1885, there were 121 Theosophical Society lodges worldwide. The movement had attracted such luminaries as W. B. Yeats, Thomas EdisonAbner Doubleday and the social reformer social Annie Besant.

Among them were many successful artists, including Wassily Kandinsky. Concerning the Spiritual in Art was written after Madame Blavatsky’s death, but it is heavily influenced by her theories.

Kandinsky was an avid student of occult and mystical teachings, especially Theosophy. Madame Blavatsky taught that creation is a geometrical progression, beginning with a single point. The creative aspect of the form is expressed by a descending series of circles, triangles and squares. Kandinsky adopted this. He based his color teachings on Blavatsky’s writings about the correlation between vibrations, color, and sound. While the framework of his color theory was based on that of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the content was pure Theosophy.

Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott in their later years.
We think of Kandinsky as the first abstract painter, but he was in fact attempting to create a visible representation of the astral world as described by Blavatsky.

Kandinsky believed:
  • Yellow is “warm,” “cheeky and exciting,” “disturbing.” This is the color of madness.
  • Green represents passivity and peace. Good for tired people, it can become boring.
  • Blue is a supernatural “typical heavenly color.” The lighter it is, the more calming it is.
  • Red is the color of “manly maturity.” It is restless, glowing, and alive.
  • Light Red means joy, energy and triumph.
  • Middle Red expresses stability and passion.
  • Dark Red is a “deep” color.
  • Brown is inhibited, dull, and inflexible.
  • Orange is a healthy radiant mix of red and yellow. 
  • Violet  is “morbid, extinguished, sad.”
  • White is the harmony of silence.
  • Black  is “Not without possibilities […] like an eternal silence, without future and hope.”
  • Grey is soundless and motionless, but different from green because it expresses a hopeless stillness.
These ideas still kick around today and influence our beliefs about color.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The truth about red

Why does red pop out at you? The first question to answer is whether that’s actually true.

Tilt-a-Whirl, by Carol L. Douglas
“Your color temperature reference seems to be something other than degrees Kelvin of a black-body radiator. Can you explain?” an engineer wrote me yesterday. The simple answer is that, to the painter, color is not a property of electromagnetic radiation, but a sensory perception question.

During the past few weeks, I’ve told you that much of what we accept as truth about color perception is just social convention. Today I’d like to talk about what (we currently think) is true. Science is constantly discovering new things, and in a hundred years, this understanding might be as obsolete as phrenology.

There are two basic theories of how we perceive color. The Young-Helmholtz Theory tells us that the retina’s three types of cones are sensitive to either red, green or blue. Ewald Hering proposed that we interpret color antagonistically. In other words, it’s either red or green, blue or yellow, black or white. Both theories appear to be true.
Deflatable, by Carol L. Douglas. The orange life jackets stand out because they're the complement to the blue water.
The range of color (the “gamut”) that normal people can see is limited by this antagonism. We can see yellowish-green easily enough. We can’t see reddish-green because the cones in our eyes can’t perceive red and green simultaneously. Furthermore, we can’t see colors that are outside the limits of our receptors. Of course, the brain is always outsmarting us, so there are times the brain thinks it can see these so-called impossible colors.

Color perception doesn’t just happen on the retina; the visual cortex is involved, too. Some parts of the spectrum get a bigger response in the visual cortex than others, but that depends on what light conditions the visual system is adapting to.

Palm shadow, by Carol L. Douglas.
We’ve all noticed this in practice. On a clear day, a red dinghy bobbing on the turquoise waves stands out. In gloom it is hardly noticeable. Our perception of reds falls off fast in low light conditions. This is why one can’t fall back on truisms like “the retina perceives red first.” The human brain is far too wily for that.

Our mind practices something called color constancy. It’s how we understand that an apple is green whether we see it in the blue light of dawn, the true light of midday, or in the golden light of the setting sun. If we use a viewfinder to isolate the color of the apple, we often realize that what we’re seeing is anything but green. Still, our mind stubbornly processes the object as green.

This is an adaptive process that probably helps keep us alive, but it often mucks painters up. It’s hard to render unusual lighting effects when your brain is trying so hard to normalize them for you.

The same thing happens with lighting levels. That’s why it’s so important to check values against neighboring objects as we go. Our brain constantly adjusts our perception to normalize lights and darks.

Castine lunch break, by Carol L. Douglas
So why does red stand out? The answer is complex. In certain situations, such as a leafy green tunnel of a road, a red stop sign does, indeed, stand out. It’s the complementary color to its environment. But much of our reaction to color is a learned response. We notice red stop signs because we’ve trained ourselves to notice them. We believe red is an energetic color because society tells us so.

I use red to prime my canvases not because I believe it has special properties, but because it's the complement of the dominant color in my environment, which is green.

Tomorrow, I’m going to introduce you to the 19th century cult leader who, more than anyone else, gave us our modern ideas about color. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Monday Morning Art School: Add back the banned black

A color exercise that can be done with anything from a dime-store watercolor kit to a professional palette.

Back before black was banned from the palette, we had shades and tints. Shades are made by adding black to a pure color. Tints are an admixture of white to a pure color. Shades aren’t an effective way to make something darker, but they often make nice new hues.

What we consider acceptable in color-mixing is style-driven, just like everything else. For example, see the Permanent Pigments Practical Color Mixing Guide of 1954, below. It’s all about making shades and tints. That’s a hint about why mid-century paintings looked so grey. A little shading goes a long way.

A mid-century guide to mixing colors.
Today’s exercise is to make a paint chart playing the warm tones on your palette against the cool tones. Both of these examples were done in class by students. My definition of warm vs. cool has shifted over time. Ten years ago, I included quinacridone violet among the cools; last month I had my student stick it in among the warms. That’s because warm-vs.-cool is an arbitrary designation.

The chart in watercolors.
The instructions are a little different for solid-media students than for watercolorists. In either case, start by marking off your paper or canvas with 1” squares, allowing enough room for the cool colors on the left and the warm colors across the top.

Watercolorists (and users of fluid acrylics) just need to mix the colors. Oil painters need to tint their colors with a little bit of white. I’ll get to that below.

In watercolor, the column on the far left should be pure pigments straight from the tube: blues, greens, black, and violets if you want to call them cool. The row across the very top should also be pure pigments, but in the warm tones: reds, oranges and yellows.

The boxes in the middle of the chart are all mixtures. For example, the second-row-second-column box on Sheryl’s chart is black+raw umber. The third-row-second-column box is ultramarine blue+raw umber. The bottom right box is sap green+quinacridone violet, and so on.

The greatest difficulty for watercolor painters is to try and keep the color balance equal. Pigments differ in density, and it’s hard to control dilution. Still, try to use the same amount of each in your mixtures.

Sheryl was doing something my friend Poppy Balser calls “licking the paper.” (That’s partly because she was using a very cheap paper.) That means she was fussing after she put the first brushstroke down. That gave her final chart a mottled appearance. Try to get the mixture down in one brushstroke and leave it.

The chart in oils.
Solid media (oil, gouache, and acrylic) painters have a slightly different assignment. They need to add white to their mixtures. I always add it on the cool side of the chart, by mixing a large clump of the cool-plus-white colors and using that to work across, modulating the warm colors. Working this way, your second-row-second-column box will be (black+white)+raw umber. The third-row-second-column box will be (ultramarine blue+white)+raw umber, and so on.

Note that there is one three-way mixture on the left column. I do not typically paint with a tubed violet, so row five started with a mixed violet to which I added white. If you use a dioxazine purple, it belongs here.

The chart above was designed for figure painting, but applies everywhere. It easily adapts for differences in skin color. Figure commission by Carol L. Douglas
Your last task for this week is to use color temperature, rather than value (lightness or darkness) to define the volume of a sphere, as in Sheryl’s example, below. Her shadows are warm, and her light is cool. Experiment with reversing that as well.

The shape of this sphere isn't defined with value (lightness or darkness) but with a shift in color temperature. Try it!

Friday, November 10, 2017

You'll find me out back with the horses.

Come to see the art, stay to feed the horses.

Toy Monkey, by Carol L. Douglas
The Kelpie Gallery is located in front of Pepper Hill Farm in South Thomaston. I’ve never walked back to the barns, because I’m always too busy looking at the paintings. However, gallery owner Susan Lewis Baines promises that if I visit next Saturday, November 18, she’ll give me (and you) carrots to treat the beasties with.

That’s an irresistible deal. Sue is sometimes seen with a furry fellow who might be a Haflinger—I don’t know, because we’ve never been properly introduced—and perhaps I’ll get to meet him. We kept horses in my misspent youth, and I know them pretty well. I doubt I could swing into a saddle now, but I can still whisper sweet nothings in their ears.

I’ll be there because the Kelpie Gallery will be presenting its Holiday Season show, Provenance, with an opening reception on Friday, November 17, from 5 to 8 PM. The party continues all day Saturday. Sue’s offering hot coffee or mulled cider and homemade biscotti, including a gluten-free option. If you’ve never attended an opening at the Kelpie, you don’t yet know that Sue’s a first-rank foodie. The nibbles at her events are always fantastic.

Little White Pumpkin, by Nancy Lee Lovley
I dropped off two pieces for the show yesterday. I never meant to go past the doorway, but was drawn in to look at a small, detailed painting by Jerry Cable that called to me from the farthest room. It was of the white walls and red roof of Monhegan Island Light. It was iconic while still avoiding any hint of cliché. This is a hard trick to pull off, and it’s the best in Maine regional painting. It’s why people come here to look at art.

I’m often compelled to look farther than I intended when I stop at the Kelpie Gallery. Sue’s a painter herself, and I think her arrangement of paintings is a continuation of her own color sense. She treats it fluidly, making it flow from room to room. She can hang disparate works together in a way that flatters them all.

Father Christmas, by Carol L. Douglas
The two paintings I dropped off are silly and sweet—a Father Christmas figurine and a toy monkey. Both remind me of younger days and a house full of noisy kids on Christmas morning.

Represented artists are Tania Amazeen-Jones, Susan Lewis Baines, Holly Berry, John Bowdren, Jerry Cable, Sandra Leinonen Dunn, Maggie Galen, Julie Haskell, Pamela Hetherly, Beth London, Nancy Lee Lovley, the late Erik Lundin, Angela Anderson Pomerleau, Wayne Robbins, Ann Sklar, Kay Sullivan, Gwen Sylvester, and Lucas Sylvester. Oh, and yours truly.

To get to the Kelpie Gallery, just head south on Maine Rt. 73 from Rockland. The gallery is about a mile south of the Owls Head Transportation Museum and on the same side of the road. (That’s 81 Elm Street, S. Thomaston, if you’re using your GPS.)

And, yes, the bridge over the Weskeag is now open.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Bits and bobs go on the block

Chrissy Pahucki has created an easy platform to experiment with online marketing this Christmas season. You might want to try it.

This rock study was painted at Upper Jay, in New York. While I might be able to pass it off as Jay, Maine, it would be better to just sell it to someone who loves the Adirondacks.
Over time, an artist’s studio gets overrun with orphan work. These are the one or two paintings from a previous body of work, field sketches that came back from trips and weren’t sold, and work left from plein air events.  The more you’re making art, the more these things tend to clog up the works. In fact, if we were to be strictly honest, we sometimes want to sell paintings mainly to make room to make more paintings.

Like most painters, I have a bin of plein air studies. This is where I drop things that I’m not going to pursue. Visitors are welcome to fish through them whenever they stop by, but they’re not orphan work. They’re my repository of ideas.

This spring lake was painted in New York. It should go home to New York.
A non-artist would be shocked by the turnaround time for selling artwork; it can take several years for a painting to find its buyer. This is why we don’t aggressively mark stuff down at the end of each season: we know its sale depends on it being seen by the right person.

I haven’t had a holiday painting sale in several years, since I moved to the edge of the continent. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, the visitors are gone and all that’s left around here are other artists.

This is the last painting I have left of Vigo County, Indiana.
I decided it was time and that this year I should do it solely online.

Sales events always force me to try to make objective judgments about my paintings. This year, I decided I should mark down work created outside of my current location in midcoast Maine. There are some funny bits and bobs in my studio.

And one of two I have left of central Pennsylvania.
I have only one small canvas left of paintings I did in Vigo County, Indiana. I’d had the opportunity to go out there with my friend Jane while she took care of some family business. I have two small canvases left of a set I did from the top of a hillside on Route 125 in Pennsylvania. I’d had a 360° view of rolling farmland and capitalized on it by turning my easel around on the top of the hill. I got most of the way around before the light failed.

Perhaps the most difficult to add to this collection are my two remaining canvases of the Genesee River at Letchworth State Park. I spent a summer driving down to this spot, hiking my equipment into the gorge and concentrating on painting the rock walls. My goal was to learn to simplify and abstract them, and in these two canvases, I think I succeeded in that. But last year, they were knocked from the wall in my gallery and their frames were damaged. I realized then that they perfectly represent the Genesee Valley but have no place in my current inventory, so they, too, are going on the block.

These were part of a series I did from a mountain top, trying to capture 360° in one painting day. I almost succeeded.
Where am I going to do this? My friend Chrissy Pahucki has started an online plein-air store, here. By this weekend, I expect to have my work up, but that’s not why I mention it. I think other artists ought to try it, too. Chrissy is a painter and art teacher herself, and her terms are very reasonable. I haven’t pursued online selling because I didn’t want to have to add e-commerce to my website. This is an easy way for me to dip my toe into this marketplace.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Keeping the beat

What’s important in painting? Master the basics and the mark-making will take care of itself.

Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian, 1888–1900, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. This painting demonstrates the power of letting a single value dominate the composition. 
My husband has this thing he likes to tell young musicians: “Just do what you’re doing but do it in time.” That’s because they like to try things that are more complicated than their skill supports, and they end up losing the beat. He wants them to understand that the beat is what’s essential, not slick fingering.

Of course, young musicians are fascinated with ornamentation. For one thing, it’s actually easier than keeping the beat.

On Monday, I wrote, “I never bother much about my mark-making [in drawing]. It can take care of itself. I’m mostly interested in applying accurate values.” If it becomes your focus, mark-making can be the slick fingering that makes you lose the beat.

That’s not to say that mark-making isn’t important. But what’s essential in painting is:

Values: A good painting rests primarily on the framework of a good value structure. This means massed darks in a coherent pattern, simplified shapes, and a limited number of value steps. In a strong composition, one value generally takes precedence over the others. It in effect ‘sets the mood.’

Weymouth Bay, 1816, John Constable. This uses closely analogous colors to create cohesiveness in a painting of raw natural elements.
Color: Right now, we focus on color temperature, but that hasn’t always been the case. Every generation has had its own ideas about color unity, contrast, and cohesion. A good color structure has balance and a few points of brilliant contrast to drive the eye. It reuses colors in different passages to tie things together.

Movement: A good painter directs his audience to read his work in a specific order, by giving compositional priority to different elements. He uses contrast, line, shape and color to do this. If nothing’s moving, the painting will be boring.

Line: These are the edges between forms, rather than literal lines. These edges lead you through the painting. They might be broken (the “lost and found line”) or clear and sharp. Their character controls how we perceive the forms they outline.

Even the most linear of painters uses movement to direct the viewer in reading his work. The Grand Baigneuse, also called The Valpinçon Bather, 1808, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the Louvre.
Form: Paintings are made of two-dimensional shapes, but they create the illusion of form. That is the sense that what we’re seeing exists in three dimension. While some abstract painting ignores form, a feeling of depth is critical in representational painting.

Texture: A work is called ‘painterly’ when brushstrokes and drawing are not completely controlled, as with Vincent van Gogh. A work is ‘linear’ when it relies on skillful drawing, shading, and controlled color, as with Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

Unity: Do all the parts of the picture feel as if they belong together, or does something feel like it was stuck there as an afterthought? In realism, it’s important that objects are proportional to each other. Last-ditch additions to salvage a bad composition usually just destroy a painting’s unity.

Loose brushwork does not mean lack of drawing or preparation. Vase of Sunflowers, 1898, Henri Matisse, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Balance: While asymmetry is pleasing, any sense that a painting is heavily weighted to one side is disconcerting.

Focus: Most paintings have a main and then secondary focal points. A good artist directs you through them using movement, above.

Rhythm: An underlying rhythm of shapes and color supports that movement.

Content: I realize this is a dated concept, but it’s nice if a painting is more than just another pretty face, if it conveys some deeper truth to the viewer.

By the time you master these, scribing and mark-making will come naturally to you.