It’s a little painful to read my friends’ Facebook posts about cherry blossom time in Washington, D.C., when I’m swathed in wool and hearing the wind howl outside. Mother Nature is not nice to Downeast Maine in the spring. We don’t even have crocuses yet. All we have is some buds and ducks exchanging amorous looks.
Since the rain and cold have kept me indoors, though, I’ve cleaned out my studio. And I found a lot of old watercolors. Way too many old watercolors.
This one, Blue Cherries, shows the cherry blossoms at Hains Point in Washington, D.C. Dan and I used to play golf there early on weekend mornings pretty much year round. During cherry blossom time we’d drive around the point for our own private cherry blossom viewing. It wasn’t at all crowded, which, if you know Washington, is saying a mouthful.
Cherry Blossom Time
The Senate Garden also offered a few uncrowded moments on Capitol Hill , at least when the protesters were taking a break. (I shouldn’t make fun; I often joined the protests myself.) The Lower Garden is far enough from the Capitol that the paramilitary doesn’t patrol it much either. There’s nothing like the sight of a semi-automatic weapon to jolt one out of one’s cherry blossom reverie.
Anyway, I painted these two ladies blissfully contemplating cherry blossoms in the Senate Lower Garden. I like to think they had a nice trip to the nation’s capital.
So … since they’re just a painful reminder that moving to Maine meant giving up spring, I decided to sell them for $100 apiece. I can’t even guarantee they’ll have a mat. But shoot me an email, [email protected], and let me know if you’re interested.
A bumper sticker that says “Incite Art, Create Community” decorates quite a few cars here on Deer Isle (along with “Fish Forever”). Opera House Arts (aka the Opera House) has been selling it for about 20 years, and I experienced its full meaning just the other day.
Incite Art, Create Community
It all started last summer, when my friend Katy Allgeyer decided to incite art, create community by staging an exhibit at her Art By Katy gallery for me and another Leslie married to a Dan, Leslie Anderson. I didn’t know Leslie well, but got to know her during our show, which Katy called Leslie Squared. (You can see my paintings here.)
Then one day in the fall Leslie asked me if I’d like to go painting with her. Of course I did.
So on a gorgeous day in late September we climbed Kezar Mountain in Little Deer Isle and looked down at a smattering of islands. The children’s book author, Robert McCloskey, lived on the island that looked like a pie with a slice cut out – Scott Island.
I’d actually interviewed McCloskey, sort of, when I was an Associated Press reporter in Boston. Some kid from Boston College had stolen one of the bronze Make Way for Ducklings ducks in the Public Garden. When they found it – in the BC library, I think – I called up McCloskey and asked him what he thought of the theft. “No!” he said. Then he hung up on me. I didn’t blame him one little bit.
Up on Kezar Mountain I painted Scott Island on an Arches watercolor block, which has a flap that protects the paper. Then I took it home, left it on the block and forgot about it.
Six months later, the Opera House presented Sea Times – local actors portraying Deer Isle old-timers who’d been interviewed by middle school students in the 1980s. They told 20 stories of winter on Deer Isle in the olden days. One reenactor portrayed Robert McCloskey, who talked about the first and only time he spent the winter on Scott Island with his wife and infant daughter.
The next day I was looking for something in my messy studio and came across the painting of Scott Island. So I posted it on my Facebook page and wrote, “Funny thing…” and told the story.
Then a friend who lives on Deer Isle wanted to know if the painting was for sale. Of course it was. She had gotten to know Robert McCloskey’s daughter Jane and grown fond of her, liked the painting and wanted to buy it.
So hours later Dan and I dropped “Scott Island” off at her home. We had a nice chat about our community and then left with good feeling all round.
By the way, I later painted Leslie painting on top of Kezar Mountain.
That’s how it happens. Incite art, create community.
One can get a little starved for classical music on Deer Isle. (But just a little.)
Island Life, Island Light
I’ve been used to making small watercolor paintings, so these are big for me: Wood panels, two feet by three feet. I bought them on sale last fall. I hadn’t decided what to do with them. Then Ron Stegall called me one day and asked if I’d be a featured artist for one of the chamber music concerts. Duh. Of course I said yes.
So I chose the March 10 concert, which gave me a few months to (a) find a studio (b) order plenty of oil paint and (c) decide what to paint. I knew I wanted to go beyond pretty landscapes, but I wasn’t sure how.
Then I remembered what Jules Maidoff once said to me in Florence, where I was painting portraits in a studio with the Art Students League. My roommate knew Jules’ daughter, and we visited them at his home. “Why paint in a studio?” Jules said. “You’re in Florence, so paint Florence.”
I’m in Deer Isle, I thought, so paint Deer Isle. It’s not quite like any other place in the world. Not by a long shot.
But actually, one of my paintings, Mail Boat, is about Monhegan Island, not Deer Isle. In the fall I’d taken a trip to Monhegan with my husband Dan and my parents. We took the first mail boat, which left very early in the morning. The light was spectacular. Liquid and golden. Almost unearthly.
So as I stared at my blank panels, I kept thinking about the light on that mail boat. Hence painting No. 1.
Two and Three
Then I looked for other subjects, different kinds of island light. Every day on the way to the post office I walk past the green house with the pier, the shed and the lobster traps. On a gloomy January day when I felt blue I noticed how a sliver of light through the clouds gave a glow to the front of the house. Painting No. 2, Gray Day.
Just past that house is the Fish Pier, where fishermen unload their lobsters and scallops. Refrigerated trucks then haul the seafood off the island. I’ve always wanted to do a nightscape, and the Fish Pier from my studio window has a lot of exciting imagery at night. So I had three ideas. I decided they were coherent enough as “Island Light, Island Life.”
I wanted rich color, but I didn’t want to do wet-into-wet painting, which reminds me of frosting a cake, something I’m not good at. I remembered I’d written a story for the New England Historical Society about Maxfield Parrish’s glazing technique. So I researched glazing, and I bought a bunch of galkyd paints and solvents and mediums to go with. Then I put on my work clothes and spent a couple of cold winter months painting all day.
I started with underpaintings, or grisailles, either of acrylic or galkyds. I chose grays for some, umber for others and cadmium red for the most muted paintings.
One evening I walked past the old sardine factory and saw it glow in the late island light. Painting No. 4. The old factory is used for parking now, as the sardines are gone and the sardine factories mostly moved to the Far East. There are people on Deer Isle who’d like those jobs back. I think of this painting as Ruin Porn.
I also had a bunch of photos in my cell phone of LDI Lobster, the lobster shack at the end of the bridge. They have, without doubt, the best lobster rolls I’ve ever tasted. I love the look of lobster shacks, how they evoke the glories of a sunny summer day. I’m sure no one has committed suicide while waiting for a lobster roll to come up. Painting No. 5.
I wrestled with what to do for painting No. 6. One day in the summer I had gone to East Point for a book club meeting. It was hard not to notice the gorgeous views (I think that’s Cadillac Mountain in the background). So I returned the next day and hung out on the bait dock for an hour or so. I took a lot of pictures of the charming ruffian in the painting. We talked about the Wyeths and about cool stuff around the bait dock – the fish bones, the hidden salt marsh at low tide, the driftwood.
His image kept haunting me. I was struck by the almost magical light and the contrast between the tender way he held the fish bones and the offputting message tattooed on his fingers: FUCK OFF!
So I took elements from all the different photos and voila! Painting No. 6. I thought about painting in his tattos, but then I decided I preferred a G rating. Maybe I’m just a coward.
Anyhoo, that’s the story of my latest six paintings. I hope you like them!
During the dead of winter in Downeast Maine I feel a bit like the farmers who plant their crops and repair their tools. It’s time to stay indoors, order supplies and paint my butt off.
I’m fortunate to have a winter studio above the Island Agency on Stonington’s Main Street (thank you, Morgan!). With a southern exposure the light is great for eight or so hours, and the window overlooks Fish Pier. So there’s always something going on as the fishermen jet off in their skiffs or bring in loads of lobsters. Even when I’m not looking out the window, I’m soothed by the glug-glug-glug of marine engines.
Winter Studio Work
I’m lucky to have an early deadline to work toward this year. The Blue Hill Concert Association asked me to be their feature artist for their March 10 concert. Of course I said yes. It’s a world-class chamber music concert at the Blue Hill Congregational Church, and I’m excited to be part of it. I especially like the pressed tin walls and ceilings that I’ll hang my art against.
I’ve wanted to paint bigger, so I ordered six 2′ by 3′ wooden panels. Then I struggled with what to paint. My friend Katy Allgeyer challenged me by asking, “What do you want to do? Just paint pretty pictures?” And I did want to move on from picturesque landscapes.
I decided to paint scenes of island life, emphasizing island light. Just by happenstance I gave them all two-word names: Mail Boat. Gray Day. Bait Dock. Fish Pier. Lobster Shack. Sardine Factory.
After thinking about how I’d paint them, I decided the best way to capture island light is to paint in layers. I’ve always admired the paintings of Maxfield Parrish, and I thought his technique of glazing would work in replicating the intensity of island colors — when the sun’s out, that is. Glazing would also create rich, warm grays, which is what we get here when the sun isn’t out.
I start off with a grisaille, a monochrome underpainting.
Right now I have four grisailles finished, with two more to go. And on days when the wind blows and the snow falls, I comfort myself by thinking it will almost be spring when I complete all six paintings.
This summer I ventured beyond Deer Isle — not that far, but still I ventured. And then I finished up the year with a snowscape of Stonington that I’ve been wanting to do since, oh, last winter.
The Stonington Library
You can’t quite see the Stonington Public Library in the painting — it’s behind the building to the right. But now about a dozen of my paintings are hanging on the library walls. I’d like to put up a few more, but I’ve got to find frames for them first.
The Stonington Library recently underwent a major renovation, and now it’s even more of a jewel. There’s a new reading nook, a handicapped-accessible public bathroom (a very big deal in an island tourist community) and a new energy efficient furnace. Sadly, the fabulous Vicki Zelnick, who has done wonders with the library, will retire soon. I’ll miss her.
I’ve already posted my first painting of Brooklin here, called Naskeag Point. And my second, come to think of it — Wooden Boat — here.
Recently I finished another one, a watercolor called Wooden Boat School Buoys for fairly obvious reasons.
I know the whole buoys-hanging-from-a-tree thing is a cliche, but these had so much energy I had to paint them. Besides, as an art history teacher once said, There’s a good reason cliches become cliches.
Here’s a watercolor of Monhegan Island from the stern of the Laura B (or was it the Elizabeth Ann?) Anyhoo, I’d been immersing myself in Andrew Wyeth’s paintings, both at the Farnsworth Museum and at the Wyeth gallery on the second floor of the Port Clyde General Store. One Wyeth painting, an overhead view of a rushing stream called The Carry, really wowed me. Later, as I sat looking out at the wake of the boat I got inspired to paint this.
Then I did a couple of small oils, again inspired by a day trip to Monhegan on a sunny fall day.
Some brand-new cards along with old favorites of mine are on sale for a one-day only pop-up market at the Deer Isle Artists Association from 10 am to 5 pm on Saturday, December 1 at the DIAA Gallery.
I’ve been wanting to paint a snow scene of Stonington for a long time, so this fall I buckled down and painted this watercolor of the town from the harbor.
I made cards of the painting, which are on sale at the pop-up market.
Cindy Bourque-Simonds, DIAA’s most tireless board member, runs the pop-up market by herself. “This is a different kind of a show for us, because many of our artists are trying something new and pricing them as affordable gifts,” she said for the official press release.
New Oil Paintings
For me, something new is an oil painting of the kayak launch at the Wooden Boat School in Brooklin, Maine.
That, too, is on sale at the pop-up market, along with a small oil painting of my friend Leslie Anderson. We painted together last fall on the top of Kezar Mountain in Little Deer Isle. As you can see I painted it loosely, which was quite fun.
Next on my agenda: I have some big — for me at least — wooden panels. They’re two feet by three feet, and I plan to finish them over the winter.
Be there at the starting gate if you have your eye on a particular work of art.
The 12 by 12 (By 12) features paintings, prints and collages (also known as wall art) no bigger than 12″ by 12.” It also includes 3-dimensional art, such as ceramics, baskets, fiber art and sculpture, also no bigger than — you guessed it — 12″ by 12″ by 12″.
Every work of art sells at an extremely reasonable price of $144 ($12 X $12). The gallery hangs new work as pieces sell. The show lasts two weeks, as all DIAA summer exhibits do, until August 12.
The exhibit is important to the DIAA because it raises money for operating costs.
If you’d like to meet the artists, the reception will be held on Sunday, Aug. 5, from 3 pm to 5 pm. Wine and lemonade will be served, and there will be plenty of food as well.
I’ve shown my work in the past two 12 by 12 (By 12) exhibits. This year I’m donating three watercolors to the show.
They are: Farmers Market,
Farmers Market, Watercolor, 12″ by 12″Caterpillar Hill and
and, finally, Cape Rosier.
These are all Maine scenes. Farmers Market, as its name implies, pictures a scene from the Stonington Farmers Market,
Caterpillar Hill is the view from a stunning lookout on Route 15 on the way to Deer Isle (or the way back). It overlooks Penobscot Bay, the island and the Penobscot River. If you happen to drive by, check out the informational markers. I believe they explain the disastrous Penobscot Expedition during the American Revolution. It didn’t go well for Paul Revere.
Cape Rosier is a part of Brooksville, also part of the Blue Hill peninsula. I’ve just recently discovered this beautiful part of the world and plan to paint much more of it!
This is the last painting I finished — just in time to send to my sister in Seattle as a Christmas gift. Usually I let my paintings sit around for a few days after they’re done. I wander into my studio from time to time and check them out to see if there’s some flaw I missed. In this case, I missed the splotch of gold in the lower right corner because I had to get it to the post office. So I guess I’ll have to fly out to Seattle with a paintbrush to fix it.
I’d wanted to paint this picture for a long time. When we moved into our house in Stonington, Maine, in September 2015, I took some photos to send to family and friends. This photo of our cat Brownie was one of them.
I loved the light and shadows, and envisioned a painting based on quinacridone gold. It’s one of my favorite colors. I bought a big tube of it once at Utrecht in Washington, D.C., and the clerk said I’d never go through it. She was wrong.
I thought long and hard, by the way, about making Brownie more identifiably cat-like — curled up in a ball so you could see her face and whiskers. But I decided against it. Part of the appeal of the image was that it conveyed a mood — complete abandon to the sunshine’s warmth.
I knew an artist who told me (haughtily) she never painted from photos. At the time she was in the process of taking her mother’s antiques to an auction house. Perhaps if she painted from photos she wouldn’t have needed to sell those antiques. Painting from life is limiting: You’re stuck doing still lives and stationary people and landscapes in good weather. Plein air snobs miss out on so much. And the creative achievement in art isn’t in the reproducing, it’s in the seeing.