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.
Day Twelve falls on Saturday, a short day. I have to be at the gym at 2 pm to help set up the pickleball tournament.
I go to Oscar’s house to pick him up. and we chat with Diana about having a party at the end of our artist residency. Saturday, Feb. 4 would be best. Diana has champagne, I have salmon. “There are plastic glasses at the gallery,” I say. “People who go to art receptions know to expect cheap wine in plastic glasses.” Oscar holds up a bottle of beer. We’ll have that, too.
At the DIAA gallery my drawing of a Bar Harbor streetscape awaits me. I’m going to finish it today. I’m going to paint quickly. And I’m not going to use cerulean. I depend on it too much.
I go with cobalt and burnt umber rather than my cerulean and cadmium for walls and pavement and shadows. The focal point of the image is a woman’s hair. I will use cadmium and Quinacridone gold for her hair. I will use Prussian blue for her blouse. When I finish, I’m not happy. My values need adjusting. I darken the background but not the walls around her. It’s time to go but I’m not done. Oh well. Oscar likes it a lot.
I go home and make Hoo Mee chow mein for lunch. I can blame my unhealthy meal when I’m easily eliminated from the pickleball game. And my flannel shirt, not exactly ideal athletic wear.
I play with Alex Shorey, a Deer Isle-Stonington High School senior and pickleball devotee. It was Alex who decided we’d wear plaid flannel shirts as our team uniform. We are done for as soon as our opponent Linda Campbell realizes my backhand is weak. I sit on the bench and chat with the spectators. Oscar is watching, trying to figure out the game.
Though Winterfest is sponsored by the Healthy Island Project, there is a huge table of brownies, cookies and Rice Krispy Treats at the gym entrance. I tell Oscar to go get some chocolate. Then I get some myself. “There must be a billion calories on this table,” I say.
The woman presiding over it laughs. “I’m doing the social part of well-being,” she says.
Day Eleven is quiet, a gray day with a dusting of snow on the ground. Annie Taylor Gray drops by to pick up a sign Dan made for her Chamber of Commerce table at Winterfest.
I toy with the horse painting, darkening here, lightening there. I realize the bay horse is missing half his neck, so I paint it in.
I read an email from a friend in Washington. Donald Trump is being inaugurated. There was a huge demonstration in the streets. Protesters smashed windows and riot police used pepper spray on them, the story goes. “Donald Trump is president,” I say to Oscar.
“Well, here goes.”
Katy Helman sees the lights are on in the gallery and comes in to see how Oscar survived his first encounter with pickleball last night. She exclaims over his painting, a mélange of color and maritime images. “Oscar, you’re going wild.” He says it was time to do something different.
Katy goes over to the wall of paintings and slips into Teacher Mode. She looks at my Cadillac Mountain paintings – all five of them.
“Explain to me which ones you did and why,” she says. I tell her the first one was too stiff, so I tried to paint one in 30 minutes, then I did another, and another. She points to a figure in one of them and cautions me against making it too cartoony.
I point to a painting I made up of a man walking a dog in Acadia National Park. “This one I think is trite. I think it’s the red and blue,” I say. “I’m thinking about changing his shirt to white.”
Katy says no, it’s right in the middle of the painting. “Maybe you could dull it with some orange.”
I point to the lighthouse painting. “I gotta get rid of this rock in the middle. Maybe make it smaller, lighten it.” Katy agrees.
She stands back. “You paint a lot with pink and green.”
“It’s because I love cerulean,” I say. “I mix it with the cadmiums a lot, red and yellow.”
Dan comes by. He just dropped two cases of clam pie off at Tradewinds in Blue Hill. They have a Made in Maine section. We love them.
“Look at all the nice paintings on the wall,” Dan says.
“They suck,” I say.
“No, they’re nice,” he says.
Oscar looks up. “You say they suck, then people say they’re good. That’s the deal. That’s what we do.”
I see Katy Helman coming out of the post office. I wave and open the door. She comes in. “I’m going to ask Linda if she can take photos with her drone for my Haystack students next weekend,” she says. “Cool idea,” I say.
She looks at my Pepto-Bismol painting without the Pepto and slips into Teacher Mode, which I always find entertaining. “Much improved,” she says.
“Who did this?” she says, pointing to Oscar’s painting of the Church of the Morning After. “Oscar, you should do white line woodcuts,” she says. “It would really lend itself to your work.”
We look up Kate Hanlon, Katy’s friend who does white line woodcuts. Hmmm. Good idea. Katy explains how it works. Maybe she’ll teach us.
She looks at my 30-minute mountain painting. “Why didn’t you use a square format?” she said. “If you cropped it and moved the figure in it would be much more dynamic.”
“It’s a pain to mat and frame square formats,” I say. Matting and framing are the bane of artists who work with paper. It’s why some people turn to oil on canvas. It’s probably why I’ll turn to oil on canvas. Katy says you can get square frames at Target. The nearest Target is an hour and a half away.
I run to the Galley to get a sandwich. Oscar brought his lunch so he’s going to stay put, though he loves the Galley. Along with the Burnt Cove Market and V&S Variety, it’s the biggest worker cooperative in the state of Maine.
When I return Oscar is explaining to Katy it’s nearly impossible for him to remember names since his stroke (though I’m flattered he remembers mine). To learn a new technique, he has to see it repeated and repeated and repeated. Katy says, “So you adjust.”
Oscar and I walk to 44 North to get our half cup of coffee. The lights are on in Bruce Bulger’s studio in the old high school, so we go in. Bruce makes beautiful furniture. He is a woodworker and illustrator, and his studio is filled with marvelous machinery and woodcutting tools. Bruce’s son comes out and greets us.
He’s working on a drawer with 45-degree angled dovetails. “How many times do you measure before you cut?” I ask. “The more I measure, the less I have to cut,” he says.
I take a picture of the big wooden statue in the next room. “That’s Tam Tam,” he says. “From the Fiji Islands.” It’s going to the Blue Hill Library. His dad is making a pedestal for it. I try to take a picture of Rudy, his new puppy. Rudy is too quick for me and hides under a workbench.
Melissa Raftery is in at 44 North Coffee. She says they’re excited about moving to the old Fibula Gallery on Main Street. They’ll have nooks for the coffee shop on the first floor, she says, and they’ll have to hire a crane to move their roaster. I tell her they’ll do very, very well. I take a picture for the Stonington Farmers Market Facebook page. Too bad I can’t take a photo of her partner, Megan Wood, too. “She’s in Guatemala,” says Melissa. “I got to go to Australia last year.” On coffee business.
I paint horses, two of them, at Acadia. I try to draw very precisely and paint very loosely. I’m almost done at the end of the day. Oscar says it’s the best thing I’ve done. I’m not sure how I feel about it.
Oscar wants to try pickleball tonight so I drop him off at the Island Community Center, go home, change, and return to pickleball. There are 11 new players and 12 old ones, like me. Pickleballs are flying all over the gym, coats and boots piled on the benches and buzzing conversations while people wait their turn to play. Or try to play. I tell a newbie I like to come to the gym in winter because it’s warm and light and friendly when it’s cold and dreary outside. “I need more of that in my life,” she says.
I check in with Facebook. My friend Alexis Adler posted this:
I feel like it’s my own personal Jean-Michel Basquiat Week.
I have to drive my neighbor Zoe Hansson to the nursing home on the morning of Day Eight. Then I have to go to book group.
Zoe has lost much of her sight and can’t drive. We go to the Island Nursing Home every Monday to visit her sister Luanne. Zoe walks with Luanne around the building, helps her eat, makes sure she’s cared for. Sometimes Zoe coaxes a smile from Luanne. Those are good days. Luanne has Alzheimer’s. “I have to be realistic,” says Zoe. I admire the hell out of Zoe.
She asks me if I’ve done my snowman painting yet. Zoe thinks I should paint a snowman. Why not? I think. I’ve painted dancing lobsters on a shingle before.
Zoe is in a good mood today. I’m just dropping her off at the nursing home and then she’s going to lunch with friends at 11. I ask who she’s going with. “Bunzy Sherman,” says Zoe. “How funny,” I say. “My book group is meeting right next to Bunzy’s studio.”
Bunzy is a potter. This island is lousy with artists: potters and painters and blacksmiths, jewelry makers, weavers, knitters. Half the women who come to book group today are artists. Me, Carolyn Walton, a painter, and Mary Howe, a book artist. All DIAA members. All PFAs – people from away. You’re a PFA if you weren’t born on the island. We all love the book, News of the World by Paulette Jiles. Everyone gives it a nine on a scale of one to 10.
I leave book group early to pick up Oscar. He brings two travel mugs, each filled with a half cup of coffee. 44 North is closed today because of the MLK holiday. There’s little traffic outside as the Post Office and library are closed. We work diligently for three hours, saying little.
I work on my lighthouse painting. I spent most of yesterday painstakingly painting three pine trees — branches, needles, twigs – on the left of the lighthouse. Just before we left on Day Seven I quickly roughed in a fourth tree on the right of the lighthouse. I like the one on the right so much better than the three on the left. I spend much of Day Eight undoing what I did on Day Seven. I’m not sure I can salvage this painting.
Oscar gives me some sandpaper to lift up the Pepto-Bismol from my lobster trap painting. It’s on 300 lb. paper, which can take a beating. Gwendolyn Bragg, my former teacher at the Art League in Alexandria taught me that.
There’s a little light in the sky when we leave. “How would you paint that?” Oscar asks. “Cerulean, a little cadmium, some raw sienna,” I say. “The clouds I’d make cobalt blue and raw umber.”
I start Day Seven by writing a story about how Harrison Gray Otis swindled John Singleton Copley out of his Beacon Hill property in 1795. Or so Copley thought. Copley was seriously OCD and fought the deal for years. The story didn’t generate much traffic for the New England Historical Society but I got to look at Copley’s portraits. They are sublime. They shimmer, they gleam, they glower, they smirk. They put me in the presence of Revere silver and Newport block-and-shell cabinetry and revolution.
This is how good Copley’s portraits are:
Back when I was a foolish young Cubs fan, I frequently and vividly discussed my admiration for the flakey slugger Dave Kingman. One evening my friend Fiona Inglis and I had an epic night out in Wrigleyville, three hours of laughter, booze and Thai food. (Or maybe Indian or Mexican.) Fiona is a fan of after-dinner liqueur. I am not. Fiona tried to persuade me to order a glass of Frangelico. It’s delicious, she says. You’ll love it. It’s like ambrosia. It’s the best thing you’ve ever put in your mouth.
I stand firm against the Frangelico.
Fiona keeps trying. (Remember, we are well-lubricated.) Finally she comes up with her winning argument. “It’s as good as Dave Kingman’s shorts,” she says.
That’s how good John Singleton Copley’s portraits are. As good as Dave Kingman’s shorts.
Day Seven is a short day of painting. I would skip pickleball, but the big Winterfest tournament is coming up and I have to practice.
I pick up Oscar at 2 pm and we work diligently for three hours. Oscar is working with masking fluid. He offers me some if I need it. He also gives me half a clementine and some chocolate.
Katy Helman drops in. She saw our paintings on the wall and thought there was an exhibit. Then she saw me.
“Why weren’t you at pickleball?” I ask. She explains she’s mentoring a high-school student named Mason through Haystack. He took her workshop in digital photography. Katy used to teach art at the Deer Isle Stonington High School.
Katy shouts out the door to Mason to roam around Deer Isle Village and take photographs while she visits.
She looks at my lobster trap painting. She likes what I did with the light on the buoys. “Yeah, but I lost my mind and painted the sky Pepto-Bismol pink,” I say. “I have to fix it.”
“Can you fix watercolor?” Katy says. “I know nothing about it.” Katy does abstract paintings in oil. Very playful. Very unlike what I do. But we both love the square format.
Katy walks over to the table. My heart sinks. She’s going to see my damn lighthouse.
“Yeah, it’s a lighthouse,” I say.
Katy shrugs. “People do things for all kinds of reasons, their own reasons.”
I say, “I want to make prints of it and sell it in Bar Harbor.” Katy nods. “Commercial reasons are good reasons.
At the end of Day 7 Oscar isn’t happy with his painting. I’m kind of liking the lighthouse, even though I spent the last three hours painting nothing but pine trees. Oscar says it’s the best thing I’ve done here. I agree.
Oscar and I are walking back from 44 North with half cups of coffee on Day Five of our DIAA residency. As we pass Outcast Studio’s collection of odd cars, Oscar says Trump just wants money. When Oscar was an architect in New York he knew people who worked for Trump. They apparently did not speak highly of him. Oscar hates Trump.
“How many wars will there be?” says Oscar, who served in Vietnam. “Everybody always wants war.”
Annie Taylor Gray is the new executive director for the Deer Isle-Stonington Chamber of Commerce. She wants me to design a poster for the Deer Isle Lupinefest in June. I send a message to my friend Paul Dolan in Chicago. “Help,” I write. “What’s a cool typeface these days? I haven’t designed a poster since I ran for student council president in sixth grade.”
“Maybe Interstate Cond for a San Serif or Avenir Next,” he replies. “Garamond is a classic serif. I love the Garamond script. And Baskerville.”
Judith Felch, another DIAA board member, comes in for a visit. She does wonderful nature drawings. I had just been thinking about the day I walked into the DIAA gallery in the fall of 2015. Judith was minding the store. I asked about joining. She said the great thing about DIAA is that members have six chances to exhibit from spring through fall. “And now I’m here, messing up the gallery,” I say.
“It’s a lovely group of people,” she says.
Judith is disturbed by Donald Trump. We talk politics and journalism.
After Judith leaves, Oscar asks me if I’m still doing journalism. No, I say. (I’m not counting the New England Historical Society.) I don’t have the stomach for it.
Oscar and I are both spent by 4:00 on Day Five. We decide to leave a little early. There’s actually still light in the sky.
Oscar lays out his things and starts work on a sketch of the guys jamming at the Church of the Morning After. It’s not much more than a fish shack. Everyone is welcome to listen or play there on Sunday mornings at 7.
I show Oscar the pastel I’ve done of the outside of Church. He shows me a watercolor sketch he did.
“It’s the best thing on the island,” he says, meaning the Church. He tells me he wants to do a new painting in color. It’s the most ambitious thing he’s done so far, I think. I work on a new painting of Cadillac Mountain.
We take a break at lunch and walk to 44 North for coffee. Rufus recognizes me. “I met you before,” he says. “Last summer. You do the web work for the Farmer’s Market.” We chat. Oscar orders some Sumatra coffee and explains he wants it ground fine, not too fine. Rufus says he wants to have sketching sessions in the summer at the 44 North shop in Stonington. Maybe Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. “Oscar would love that,” I said. “He can walk to it.”
As we come back from 44 North, Oscar points to a house. He’s trying to tell me something but I don’t understand. Later I do. He was pointing to the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts building on Rte. 15. “That’s where Stu Kestenbaum works,” he says.
“He’s a nice guy,” I say. “I play pickleball with him.”
Oscar tells me he went to one of Stu’s poetry readings. Stu is the poet laureate of Maine. Oscar sat up front, loved Stu’s poetry. Afterward he talked to Stu. “I can’t talk. I get frustrated,” he says.
Oscar can’t always say what we wants to say since he had a stroke. But he usually gets across his meaning. Besides, a lot of idle chit chat is overrated.
Oscar Turner comments on Facebook. “Wednesday,” he writes. He’s still on Bainbridge Island, I thought. I call and agree to pick him up at 9 a.m. tomorrow. He will be the second artist in residence for January starting on Day Three.
It’s freezing this morning. Below freezing. The power is still on, though, so I gather my water color supplies and drive the 13 minutes along 15A to the Deer Isle Artists Association gallery.
I’m greeted by a large empty space with three tables covered with butcher paper. Two folding chairs lean against the wall. I have no doubt Cindy Bourque-Simonds did that for me. I feel welcome.
I’m all alone in this big space with my computer, paper, paint. The sun streams into the big gallery windows. Subarus and pickup trucks come and go from the post office across the street and the library next door. Heanssler and Eaton oil trucks roar by frequently. We’re so low on heating oil at home that Dan went out and bought 10 gallons of diesel to put in the furnace.
I fill my Maxwell House coffee container with water and start work on a painting I’ve been working on for two years. A fountain in the National Gallery of Art. I took a picture of it at a time when I was unhappy and roaming around art galleries, train stations, skating rinks and botanical gardens, looking for images I could paint at some later, happier date. Like now,
The painting is too dark. I do a little work on another one, a painting of a house on pilings with lobster traps and buoys. It’s too dark. When it’s time to leave I put it on the wall anyway.
I post a picture to Facebook. “Leslie, You need to paint bigger,” my friend Kerry Petertil writes later.
I try to lock the door. It’s so cold out the key won’t turn. I call Dan. He comes to my rescue. He realizes the problem isn’t my mechanical ineptitude. He opens the side door. We lock the front door, go out the side door, lock the side door, put the key back in the lockbox and go home. Popcorn for dinner.