I hope the same for you - happy summer!
I've been making some small watercolors lately - taking a little butcher tray of paint with me when I go out on a walk, just tossing it in a bag along with a few brushes, a bottle for water usually gotten somewhere on site (in this case an island stream), a pad of 5" x 8" watercolor paper, and a willingness to stay loose and look for the big shapes in nature. Detail has its place, but it's not always what I'm after, in painting. Here are a few of these recent watercolor sketches, from last weekend when my husband Ryan and I visited an island in Penobscot Bay. We took a walk to a beloved place, and he beach-combed while I painted for a while.
First is a five-minute sketch of the island meadow, with hot sun on the grass, and clouds rising over the treeline:
Then later, a ten- or fifteen-minute sketch from the shade of the porch, with a view out toward the harbor:
And another five-minute sketch, the view from the island toward the northeast. I only had time for the barest indication of sky, cloudbank, islands, water. I could make large oil paintings from any of these sketches, I think.
And one final watercolor, a quick one from the meadow again - the shape of a spruce tree, the white-paper cloud rising over it, and the colors of the grass - yellow ochre from all the heat of summer, some reddish-brown and green too:
Splashing around with watercolors, sitting in the shade on a hot summer afternoon on an island in Maine... life is fine!
I hope the same for you - happy summer!
Summer is here and I've been painting outside like mad, even on gray days. When rain threatens, as it has so often this spring, I put my palette into a small plastic carrying case (I bought several of these at an art supply store many years back, and they are perfect for this, and also for carrying small wet paintings), and bring along a plastic trash bag or two, so if the rain gets going I can toss everything into the bags quickly. I keep my brushes, paint rags, medium, small canvases and panels, snacks, etc., in an old gathering basket. One trash bag will fit over the whole basket, if need be. I can sling the basket over one arm and have two hands free for navigating terrain and balancing a wet painting, too.
This photo is from last week, taken at one of my very favorite places to paint, out on Bear Island in Penobscot Bay. I return here every year to see what this place has to say. And what it says, I find wordlessly enthralling. Rain, maybe, it's all so good and I love to paint gray days, and I was ready with my kit all set up. I even found a big piece of driftwood to sit on, instead of sitting on the beach. No easel for this one - most places on the island I walk to carrying just the basics, and I prefer sitting on the ground, at sea level, to lugging my french easel hither and yon. The tide was rising fast, and almost covered the little sand bar connecting me to the rest of the island.
Here is the painting I did that day, while sitting there. Painting for me is so often a question of drastic simplification, of getting down - or attempting to get down - the big shapes first, and then almost ignoring the actual scene itself, to work to resolve the painting. After the initial lay-in, that series of intuitive decisions, the painting quickly becomes its own entity and I see clearly (if it's going well... ahem...) what to do and how to do it. Before I pack up the painting to finish it at home, I look closely again at the landscape itself, to make sure I have indicated everything I need. Then, with a fairly clear idea of what to do next and what I want the finished painting to look like, I am done working on site. This painting is oil on panel, 10" x 22", and I worked outside for a few hours on it, then the rain really did start, and so I finished up quickly and spent maybe another hour working on it inside, a few days later.
Painting is, for me (among so many other things - it's hard to even talk about!), a series of questions and problems we set for ourselves. And the best part - these are questions and problems with answers and solutions. One reason, surely, that a successfully resolved painting is such a satisfying thing, both to make and to view. It may not be beautiful, or easy, but it can be an honest record of an experience, and a detailed map of a journey. A friend of mine says he prefers to see a painting in which the difficulties the painter had while making it are evident. Not all problems have tidy solutions, in painting and in life - and seeing a record of the struggle unites us. That sounds high-falutin', but oh well, there it is.
A reminder for friends in the area: I will be at Landing Gallery in Rockland for the evening art walk on July 5th. Landing Gallery has a group show opening, Maine Landscape Painters, which includes ten of my recent paintings. Some successfully resolved, some... not so much. You know, the usual!
Well, spring took its sweet old time arriving this year, and it's been so cold that I haven't been outside painting much yet. I did make it down to Port Clyde a few times (although I had to paint in the car once, because the wind was so strong!), and I have also been briskly walking around town with my sketchbook, stopping for a few minutes here and there to take note of ideas and feelings for future paintings. And of course I've been painting in the studio, and framing tons of work for the summer season, as local galleries prepare to reopen in May. So, with that in mind, here is my schedule for the spring and summer.
First up, my work will be at Landing Gallery on Elm Street in Rockland for a third season. I have ten paintings in the opening exhibit, the 2013 Seasonal Invitational, which opens on Friday May 3rd, during the town-wide art walk from 5-8 p.m. I will also be showing another group of paintings at Landing Gallery from mid-June through July, during the Maine Landscape Painters show, which officially opens Friday July 5th, again during the art walk from 5-8 p.m. And later in the summer some of my work will be included in a silent auction at Landing Gallery, from August 2nd through September 8th. Details and directions are at the Landing Gallery site.
Then in Blue Hill, I am so happy to return to the fabulous Handworks Gallery on Main Street. I will have six paintings in the season opener, which runs from May 17th - June 26th. The Handworks site is here.
I also have a group of eight paintings at the Sea Gull - the restaurant and shop at the very end of Pemaquid Point, right next to the lighthouse. I hope to spend some time painting the incredible rocks and open ocean there, too. The Sea Gull is opening for the season very soon. Information and directions are at their site.
Let's see, what else. (Busy this year, thankfully!) Okay, a cool new restaurant is opening soon in Belfast, the Juice Cellar, and some of my paintings of Penobscot Bay will be on the walls during the month of July. The invitation is on facebook.
And, finally, I attend an annual art retreat on Islesboro, and again this year our group will be having an exhibit together, at the Islesboro Historical Society and Museum. The opening is Friday August 16th from 5-7 p.m. and the exhibit runs through the 21st. I will have between ten and fifteen paintings up. Their website doesn't show the summer schedule yet, but will soon.
Okay, whew, that's all for now! Back to the easel!
Winter is an exciting time to be a painter, around here. The landscapes I know and love are transformed by the weather. Familiar views look very different wearing their coats of snow and the colors I use most often during the other three seasons are not needed. Sounds great, right? Except, you know, it's in the teens today and way too cold to be out standing around painting the glory that is Maine in winter. I know several painters who bundle up and suffer through painting sessions outside, this time of year. Hardy folks. I am not one of them. Maybe I need to invest in some better outdoor clothing, like arctic survival gear. When I do go outside I like to remain in motion, but standing still at an easel for longer than half an hour? In a word, no. So I do what I can instead, which is pull up a chair close to one of the windows in our house, and paint the view while keeping warm inside.
This is the neighbors' house, across the street, seen from our living room window. No green grass, no maple trees in full leaf, no summer sunshine, instead the snow piles from shoveling the walks and driveway, long blue shadows, and the clean winter sky that often comes after a storm. When the temperatures rises above freezing again I'll be back outside, but for now it's so good to stay near the woodstove and be able to paint what I love anyway.
This time of year usually finds me painting in my studio, because of the cold weather. The winter solstice is nearly here and I am thinking a lot about the other side of the year, the solstice in June, when daylight is at its longest and I am watching four-hour sunsets on Bear Island, out in Penobscot Bay. I look and look and look, sometimes take some photos, sometimes do some sketching, but mostly just sit and look. Here is a recent painting of one such long dusk - after sunset, the view west over Islesboro to the mainland, from Bear Island. In the dark of winter it's so good to remember these warm summer evenings. Happy solstice, and happy holidays, everyone.
A painter friend of mine teases me for using so much Payne's gray, which is one of my very favorite oil colors to paint with. It's true that sometimes I find the gray days much more exciting to paint than those ubiquitous blue summer skies. Oh heck, I love those too, who am I kidding, it's all so good!
Anyway, here is a reminder that I have a group of small paintings (both sunny and cloudy) for sale from now through the end of December at Handworks Gallery in Blue Hill. This is one of them: Channel Rock and Fling Island, from Great Spruce Head Island, Maine (12" x 12", oil on panel, 2012, $400). Just look at all that Payne's gray...
I took a trip to the Portland Museum of Art over the weekend to see the Winslow Homer exhibit Weatherbeaten and I cannot recommend it highly enough. His amazing paint handling and the strength of the imagery was timeless (the polar opposite of old-fashioned) and felt peculiarly relevant in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The show presents a view of the Maine coast with no calm ultramarine seas or fairweather clouds sailing along through blue skies, though of course Homer would have seen such scenes time and again. Instead, he gives us the white line of rough surf against cold viridian green breakers, plum and gray skies, ochre and red scrub along the shoreline, sunlight and moonlight coming and going through thick fog and layers of atmosphere, dark rocks full of both intense color and deep shadow. And a few glorious sunsets, rendered with painterly brushstrokes of peach, orange, and vermilion. One of my favorite paintings of all time is in this exhibit, West Point, Prout's Neck. To stand before it and really take it in was a privilege. What an extremely rewarding, rich painting, full of color and movement, with masterful compositional choices throughout.
One of the things that struck me about the show, after seeing it, was Homer's use of narrative and illustration techniques in his earlier paintings - they tell specific stories, events, people, and ships appear in them, and buildings, and other details of human involvement in the natural scene - and how these narrative elements gradually drop away in his later work until we are left with raw nature, and we, the viewers, have ourselves become the observers he used to paint on canvas. There is no story left, other than the same old glorious one, told over and over by the ocean. Homer reminds me of another American Master - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as he grew older, with no need to repeat the epic poems of his past, instead writing some gems of poems that include everything we need, short as they are. Here is one such, that I love, on this same theme, written by Longfellow late in life. I think of this often, when I'm out painting by the ocean myself:
The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls
The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown
The traveller hastens toward the town,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.
Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white hands,
Efface the footprints in the sands,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.
The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls
Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;
The day returns, but nevermore
Returns the traveller to the shore,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.
Here's another painting of not much in particular. Just a few old apple trees on the edge of some spruce woods, by a field, in the late afternoon. The shadows were coming out on to the field, and the woods held beautiful pockets of bright green light. This is a particular place, but it also could be anywhere. A painting of a quiet moment about radiance and darkness. I sat in the shadows on the grass and worked on it for about two hours. Oil on canvas, 10 x 8".
I recently returned home after a week of painting on Islesboro. What I seem to be most captivated by right now is long views to far horizons, with clouds, light, and atmosphere comprising most of the image that ends up on the canvas or panel. In other words, paintings of air, of almost nothing tangible. I've also been painting quite small lately, as a respite from some large and detailed canvases I worked on intensively earlier in the year. Here is one small wooden panel, from my time on Islesboro:
This is the view east from Pendleton Point, looking toward Bear Island, before sunset. The color was amazing and I only had a few minutes before it changed completely, so I chose a 5 x 7" panel and worked quickly. Here is another small painting, this is 6 x 6", and again, I had a short time to try to capture something ephemeral:
The fog was coming up the harbor in great skeins and the islands just offshore were there, and then not there, and suddenly there again. I tried to describe their basic shapes and not worry about the lack of color, intstead have this be about a few shades of gray.
I came home from the week with fifteen new paintings and a renewed sense of purpose regarding the work I hope to do in my studio this winter. Those far horizons are only becoming clearer and wider as the leaves fall from the trees!
I've just returned from fifteen days of painting on two islands in the middle of Penobscot Bay. My easel was very happy being out in the wild (see photo below), and holy mackerel so was I. Some days were gray, which I love (painting the muted colors of fog and rain is often a welcome break from blue skies), and some were sunny and hot. I spent the first week alone in a little cabin, and the second week among friends old and new, in a beautiful galleon of a summer house. The experiences I had in both places will resonate in my life and paintings for years to come. Happy summer, everyone.
Painter, reader, writer, bookseller, generally