The Floating World

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Memorial Day is the official start of summer in Downeast Maine, though that doesn’t mean it’s warm. It was so cold on Friday the Stonington Farmers Market opened with only seven shivering vendors, including me with a fresh batch of frozen seafood pies.

Kim Kral and Bob Gillmor pitch a tent at the Stonington Farmers Market on Saturday.

Wind is the real enemy of the farmers market. Richard Lymburner, who sells plants early and garlic late, lost his tent in a cold blast. Sunset Acres (meat, cheese and greens) didn’t bother to put up a tent, nor did I; I shared with Bob Gillmor, aka Spoon Bob for the wooden spoons he makes. Even with rocks weighting down his tent we had to hang on to it when the wind gusted.

Still, the summer people came and bought a few things. You can tell they’re here because some of them walk down the middle of the street, gazing rapturously at the beauty of coastal Maine. That ticks off the sternmen, who drive even more aggressively than usual on the roads.

Sternmen are young men who make a lot of money working on fishing boats. They’re paid with a portion of the haul. Stonington is the biggest lobster port in Maine; last year, $65.3 million worth of lobster was yanked out of the sea. That’s $343,000 per boat.

The sternmen drive their skiffs the way they drive on the roads. I love to watch them zip across the harbor, leaving a long white wake. One cloudless blue day I noticed one orange skiff breezing into Fish Pier. Since I’m a sucker for blue and orange, I took some pictures and then made a painting.

Driving Home

I called it Driving Home and posted it on Facebook. That prompted a response from my sister who lives in San Francisco:

I’m wanting more orange in the back. Love the reflection of the boat and the wake.

So I replied:

Thanks PK. You raise an interesting point about the orange. I was thinking of a burst of orange against the blue but I could have put some orange elsewhere, perhaps as dots or mixed with blue to make shadows. If I’d put orange in the back it would have brought the background forward and flattened the picture, though I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. The Japanese, you know.

That inspired another suggestion:

What if you put a bit more brown on the roof to ground the background a bit. I don’t know about art, so I’m not sure f it would flatten out the picture. But I do feel that the top left is floating away a bit. I like the pier too!!

So I went to the Deer Isle Artists Association, where the painting hangs next to one by my friend Carolyn Walton. I decided the roof was floating away. But I also decided it didn’t matter.

 

Eight of my paintings are now hanging at the DIAA gallery on Main Street in Deer Isle Village. They’ll be there until June 8 as part of the Make A Detour show. My notecards and postcards are there too. Stop by this Thursday morning (June 1) or Saturday afternoon (June 3) and say hi. I’ll be there peddling art.

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Looking for Signs of Spring on Deer Isle

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It’s easy to get obsessed with signs of spring, since there are so few of them here on Deer Isle this year.

It’s May 6, and I’m still wearing wool socks while my friends in metro Washington, D.C., torment me with Facebook images of cherry blossoms and azaleas along with complaints of 90 degree weather.

The Portland Press Herald tries to put a positive spin on the weather forecast:

Enjoy the sun today; we won’t see it for a while

That’s for sure.

Two nice days lie ahead, sandwiched between damp weather patterns.

By ‘damp weather patterns’ they mean several weeks of cold, overcast, rainy, foggy, dreary weather.

You don’t need the news media to forecast the weather here in Stonington. Here’s how to do it, per one of our neighbors:

Today you can’t see the stone. 
Here’s Stonington Harbor on a typical spring day in 2017.

Signs of Spring

Here on Deer Isle the grass did get green, and the occasional crocus and daffodil peek out along the stone walls.

In between rain showers I’ve been outside looking up to find the ultimate signs of spring: those lovely green leaves. I found wonderful things, and I’ve been having a blast posting them on Instagram.

I went a little crazy with the filter on this one:

Buds

This one is from the tree on Pres du Port’s front lawn.

Buds and moss

It was so encouraging to see this tree starting to leaf out a few days ago:

The blue sky didn’t last long

These guys have a little longer to go.

From Dunham Point Road

I took all these photos with my cellphone and altered them with Instagram filters. I think they show that art is as much about seeing as it is about what you do with what you see.

I haven’t abandoned my paintbrushes, though. I’m working on a Stonington streetscape right now for the May 26 ‘Make a Detour’ exhibition at the Deer Isle Artist Association. Hope to see you there!

 

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The Jordan Pond House Gives Me Fits

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Jordan Pond Intruder, Watercolor on 140-lb. paper. 9″ by 12″.

The Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park was originally a restaurant built in the 1870s next to (surprise!) Jordan Pond, a deep, clear lake formed by a glacier. At one end are two mountains called ‘The Bubbles.’

Jordan Pond, looking toward The Bubbles.

In the 1890s, the Jordan Pond House hosted high-society events for the wealthy summer people of Bar Harbor. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., bought it and gave it to the National Park Service in 1946. That was the year before the Year Maine Burned.

In 1947, 200 wildfires in two October weeks wiped out nine Maine towns, left 2,500 homeless, consumed 2,000 acres in Acadia National Park and burned many of the seasonal estates and grand hotels  in Bar Harbor.

Jordan Pond House

The Jordan Pond House survived that fire, but not another one in 1979. It was rebuilt with a large gift shop. Today it serves tea and popovers on the veranda overlooking the pond, along with locally sourced Maine cuisine.  I’m told the food is a cut well above the usual Aramark park fare.

What I love about the Jordan Pond House is the way people cluster under the entryway, which is covered with some sort of vine. I’m guessing wistaria but it could be something else.

I like the way the vines filter the light, the way the entryway frames human figures. But I’ve never been able to take anything resembling a decent picture of them, no matter how fast I am with the smart phone. So I had to make this painting up pretty much from memory with a few reference photos.

I had a terrible time with this painting. It took me three tries to get the vines right, the flowers gave me fits and the background didn’t work. I left it on the dining room table for two weeks before realizing I needed to lighten the background. Then it took another day to realize it needed something in the middle. I put in the dog, though I don’t think they’re allowed in Acadia.  Hence the title, Intruder at the Jordan Pond House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Boys on Beaches

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boys on beaches
Rock Throwing at Sandy Neck, Watercolor and Gouache on 140 lb. paper, 9″ by 12″, $300.

Boys on beaches having fun are irresistible subjects for me. Boys on beaches wearing red are even more so.

I love paintings that show a person’s mood or emotion in an identifiable setting. Boys on beaches are almost always having a blast, and their body language shows it. They’re as joyful as — well, Louis Armstrong playing Potato Head Blues.

But I digress.

Friends ask why I do representational art. The great Edward Hopper explains why:

The inner life of a human being is a vast and varied realm and does not concern itself alone with stimulating arrangements of color, form and design.

He also explains, sort of, why the color red on a Cape Cod beach is so vibrant:

…there’s a beautiful light there — very luminous–perhaps because it’s so far out to sea; an island almost.

The painting above is taken from an image of my nephew Scotty throwing a rock at Sandy Neck Beach in Barnstable, Mass. He was 10 years old and visiting his grandparents in nearby Sandwich during Easter vacation. Scotty and his older brother and sister were getting restless, so Grandma and I took them to the beach. That’s the power plant and the Sagamore Bridge in the background.

It took me a year to get around to it, but I finally finished Scotty this week.

boys on beaches

I’ve done several other paintings of boys on beaches. One, Boys of Summer, was just accepted into the New England Watercolor Society Regional Juried Exhibition. (Very exciting.) They’re walking on the boardwalk on Town Neck Beach in Sandwich.

Another of my favorites was also set at Town Neck Beach:

boys on beaches
Cape Cod Potato Chips. Watercolor on 140-lb. paper. 12″ by 14″. $600.

I painted the last two paintings five or six years ago. The boys are probably in their late teens by now. I hope they’re still able to cut loose at the beach.

 

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Oscar and I Hold a Closing Opening Party

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Our Closing Opening started with the salmon. My sister Christen, who lives in the Pacific Northwest, sent Dan and me a honking big smoked salmon for Christmas. We didn’t think we could eat it all before it went bad.

So one day Oscar Turner and I were toiling away at the Deer Isle Artists Association gallery when Hub White stopped by. We joked about how many artists have drawn or painted the Church of the Morning After. We should have an exhibit here and invite the musicians to play at the reception, we joked.

Hell, Oscar and I should have our own closing opening on our last day, we said. We could serve that salmon.

So Oscar and I asked Cindy Bourque-Simonds if we could have a party. We promised up and down to clean the gallery and to get it ready for the ART matters 2 session the next day. Cindy said yes. She’d even bring brownies.

On our last day as artists in residence, Oscar and I cleaned after I finished my painting of Mom and the champion yellow birch. We left our paintings up on the wall.

Most if not all the work Oscar and I finished by our closing opening.

We took some of our stuff home and packed some of it away in the closet. So sad to end our artist-in-residency.

Still, there’d be a party.

We had sent out invitations.

We counted plastic glasses, napkins, paper plates and plastic cutlery hidden away in the DIAA cupboard. Oscar and Diana brought tablecloths, flowers, wine and more hors d’oeuvres.

Dan made little lobster pizzas (we’re hoping to introduce them in grocery stores this summer). I made salmon hors d’oeuvres. Lots of them.

In the end Oscar and I were grateful and happy so many people came out on such a wintry night. Though sometimes I think Deer Isle year-rounders in winter will go anywhere that’s warm, light and contains another mammal or two.

You can go to a party on Deer Isle and not one person will ask you where you work — unlike, say, Washington, D.C. Of course everyone already knows what everyone else does here. Don’t have an affair unless you want everyone to know about it.

Our guests included artists– Buzz Masters, Sarah Doremus, Peter Beerits; Rebecca Daugherty, Deborah Lothrop (aka Blossom’s mom), Maureen Farr, Judy Rader, Katy Helman and Cindy Bourque-Simonds – as well as a surveyor, three innkeepers, a jam-maker, a physiologist, teachers, a salesman, a Maine guide and novelist.

Spoonmaker Bob Gillmor came all the way from Blue Hill. Leave it to Bob to tell us about Gallery Punch. It’s a concoction of vodka, whiskey, champagne and something else designed to get art patrons drunk so they’ll buy expensive paintings.

No Gallery Punch. Just wine, beer, seafood and chocolate.

We weren’t selling our paintings, but perhaps we would have if we’d known about Gallery Punch.

Diane Horton took our photo. With a real camera, too.

Oscar had a blast. “What a great night,” he said.

Plus the salmon was all eaten.

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Painting the Champion Yellow Birch

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I began painting the champion yellow birch on my second-to-last day as artist-at work in the Deer Isle Artists Association gallery in January.

The Champion Yellow Birch

I had vowed to do a painting in oil in the DIAA gallery because I can’t do it at home, at least in the winter. The fumes concentrate in our gas dryer and our gas stove, making our clothes and food stink — something to which Dan strongly objects. Imagine that.

I brought some canvases, paint, oil brushes, miscellaneous solvents and an easel to the gallery in early january. For three weeks they taunted me. Finally on Day 22 I took the plunge.

I had an image in mind. In the fall of 2016 I took my mom, visiting from Cape Cod, to the Yellow Birch Farm on the Reach Road in Deer Isle. It’s an amazing place, owned by Missy Greene and Eric Ziner. It has goats, vegetables, Missy’s amazing ceramics and Eric’s wonderful metal sculptures.  I met Missy at the Stonington Farmers Market, where she kindly offered to sell our frozen clam chowder pies from their farmstand.

But I digress. Mom and I ran into Eric at the farm, and he told us how to find the champion birch tree in the woods. It’s actually a former champion; Eric said they delisted it because people were taking too many pieces from it.  So we found the tree in all its autumn glory. I took a few photos of Mom admiring the champion yellow birch and tucked them into my subconscious.

When I got out my oil paints, I knew I wanted to attack it with bold outlines of black paint. That approach worked with a painting I did in Florence a few years ago.

Florentine Trapeze Artist

Anatomically she’s a little off, but I like it anyway.

Oil is a very different medium than watercolor. It seems to take a lot more time to finish an oil painting (and definitely more time to clean the brushes), but less time to master the medium.

I’m not sure if I want to leave The Champion Yellow Birch the way it is, or work on it some more this summer when I can paint outside. Stay tuned.

 

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Getting Phyllis Just Right

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Sometimes paintings magically work the first time I put them down.  More often I have to try and try again. In the case of Phyllis, I painted about a dozen versions before I got it right.

Phyllis started out as an image of a kid walking on Cadillac Mountain. I painted it at home, before my artist-in-residency at the Deer Isle Artists Association gallery.

Walking Cadillac Mountain

I liked it well enough, but it wasn’t quite what I was getting at. The vegetation seemed a little overworked, the figure was a little stiff, the feeling it elicited wasn’t exactly awe at Cadillac’s majesty and all that.

I tried painting three adults at the edge of the painting.

Three on a Mountain

Nope, that didn’t do it for me either. I liked the image of the woman, but again the vegetation looked overworked.

So I shifted gears and painted a panoramic view of Frenchman Bay from Cadillac Mountain. All of these paintings were adapted from a couple dozen photos I took with my cell phone.

Cadillac Mountain Panorama

I was pleasantly surprised by the way the painting glowed (thank you, quinacridone gold).

I decided to leave it alone and go back to my images of people on Cadillac Mountain. I set my timer on my cell phone and finished in 30 minutes.

Phyllis on Cadillac Mountain

Cindy Bourque-Simonds, who manages the DIAA’s exhibits, dropped in with her dog. “Who’s that?” she asked, pointing to the woman I’d made up on the top of the mountain.

“Phyllis,” I said.

Phyllis looked cartoony and the mountain looked too pink in some places, too muddy in others. I tried again.

Phyllis Again

Better.

Then I thought I’d combine the Cadillac Mountain Panorama with Phyllis.

Version No. 1:

Phyllis on Cadillac Mountain

Version No. 2. I didn’t even finish Phyllis. I knew what I had to do.

Cadillac Mountain, Unfinished Phyllis

Final Version. Finally.

Cadillac Mountain, Finally Phyllis

 

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Rules for Survival in Washington, D.C.

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In one way or another, I’ve been working for two years on this painting of an interior courtyard at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

By Day Nineteen at the DIAA Gallery I finally finished it. I may do it over, but, like my lobster trap painting, the details are so exhausting I probably don’t have it in me.

Courtyard at the National Gallery of Art

The painting is based on a bunch of photos I took while wandering the National Gallery of Art during my lunch hour. My office was 10 minutes away from the NGA, and I often took solace there during the winter of 2014-15. My boss was abusing me at work, and he had ordered my colleagues not to talk to me. I was just trying to survive until I could sell my house and move to Maine.

The image of the shadowy guard in the background is what the painting is about. He reminds me of me back then, a marginalized presence looking at an aspiration (even if the aspiration was to kill a goose rather than sell a house).

Judith Felch, the DIAA’s treasurer, came in to the gallery one day while Oscar and I were painting, and she mentioned she was taking her grandchildren to Washington, D.C. Judith graciously listened as I rattled off my rules for survival for tourists with children in Washington, D.C.

Go to the museums early. The American History and Air and Space museums turn into mayhem in the afternoon.

Prepare for security. You can enter few public buildings in Washington without going through a metal detector. And don’t be alarmed by the paramilitary surrounding the Capitol.  They probably won’t shoot you.

Have a plan for a place to rest. The National Mall is not friendly to pedestrians, so break up your day with a meal or a snack. The café at the Sculpture Garden, the courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery/Museum of American Art are good places for lunch. The Botanical Garden is a good place to rest after the Air and Space Museum.

(Here, by the way, is what the National Gallery is featuring:

…and Babe Ruth.

Go to the Waterfall Café in the National Gallery of Art and have some gelato.

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Day Eighteen: Stonington Harbor

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I get a lesson in climate change at The Harbor Café, which overlooks Stonington Harbor.

Oscar and I decide to have lunch there on Day Eighteen. (Thursday, Jan. 27, if you’re keeping track of our artists-in-residency at the Deer Isle Artists Association gallery.)

The Harbor Café is a Stonington institution, open year round and, when nothing else is open, the restaurant of last resort. The food is what you’d expect in a Maine fishing village: hearty American fare.

Oscar and I sit in the window so we can watch the world go by, mostly in pickup trucks. Sandra brings me the haddock sandwich I ordered. The fish is the size of a pork roast. Oscar ordered the same. This is about as good as fried fish gets. We are happy.

Stonington Harbor. Hagen Dock is on the left.

“They’ve stopped working on Hagen Dock,” I say. “The barge is gone.”

A fisherman, an older gentleman at the next table, laughs. “They ran out of money,” he said. “They’re good at that.”

“They’ve done the hard part,” says Oscar.

“The hard part is finishing it,” says the fisherman.

“Maybe the hard part is paying for it,” I say.

Arrow points to the orange barrels on Hagen Dock. View from Harbor Cafe

The fisherman explains the dock has to be built up to the orange barrels. They’ve actually just paused because of the weather.

“There’s going to be a catwalk around it, so we can’t tie our skiffs up to the floating dock anymore,” says the fisherman. “Years ago I wanted them to fill in the harbor, build a wharf, shore up those buildings. When I first got here all those buildings were on dry land.”

Now they’re on pilings. “Wow,” I say.

“The tides are two feet higher than they were 20 years ago,” the fisherman says. “They used to be 10 feet. Now they’re 12. Those buildings are all gonna be gone. If they’d done like I suggested, we could put our boats right up to the wharf, there’d be parking.”

“People could walk along the waterfront,” I say. “Tourists love that.”

“And there’s plenty of grout,” he says. “Just barge it over from Crotch Island.” There is a quarry on Crotch Island. Some days when the wind is right you can hear the rumble and roar of the quarrying.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjiuCuuZQv8

Sandra brings the check. Oscar insists on paying. I always worry, because Oscar can’t do numbers. He pays with a credit card but he doesn’t leave a tip. I slip Sandra $5 bill. “Oscar can’t do numbers,” I say. She smiles.

I painted one of those buildings on the waterfront. Wonder how long it will last.

Lobster Traps on Stonington Harbor

 

 

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A Struggle With Blue and Orange on Day Seventeen

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It may be a created memory, but years ago I read somewhere that John Singer Sargent said all painting is based on blue and orange.

Reflections Rocks and Water by John Singer Sargent. Man, that guy could paint

I’ve looked it up on the internet, but can’t find the quote. Still, I’m a huge fan of blue and orange.

Fortunately Dan (my husband) owns a pair of blue suspenders and an orange chamois shirt (from L.L. Bean, of course). When he puts it on to go hiking I make sure my cell phone is charged. I will take lots of pictures and maybe I’ll get a painting out of it.

I took a bunch of photos on our recent excursion to the Schoodic Peninsula. Sitting in the DIAA gallery with Oscar, I decided to paint Dan against the dark brush – white hair (paper), orange (cadmium red, cadmium orange, alizarin crimson and maybe some quinacridone magenta) shirt, blue (cobalt) suspenders and white (paper)-with-shadow (cobalt and raw umber) pants.

The first painting looks weak and watery. And I’m trying to paint looser, but it isn’t working.

The second version is better, though I’m not thrilled with the figure.

Schoodic Stroll

And I didn’t get orange — red-orange, really — quite the way I want it. Red is hard to paint. You can’t just add water or white to lighten it and get gradations the way you can with blue. You have to combine different reds. In water color, for example, you might combine cadmium red, which is opaque, and quinacridone magenta, which is transparent.

I had an art teacher who once made her students study the Vermeer painting, “Girl With the Red Hat” so we understood how to paint red. We had to count how many different reds were in the hat. I don’t remember how many, except that it was a lot.

Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632 – 1675 ), Girl with the Red Hat, c. 1665/1666, oil on panel, Andrew W. Mellon Collection

There’s a lot to say about red. Playwright John Logan did in his play about Mark Rothko called Red by John Logan. I saw a terrific performance of it at The Winnipesaukee Playhouse with my mother-in-law two summers ago. But I digress.

I decide to paint Schoodic Stroll once more in 30 minutes. Just as an exercise to loosen up. Here’s what happened:

Maybe I’ll take another crack at it some other time.

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