Island Life, Island Light

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Island Life, Island Light is the way I’m characterizing my latest six paintings. You can see them for a while at the Blue Hill Congregational Church, where the Blue Hill Concert Association graciously invited me to be the featured artist for early March. On Sunday, the Calidore String Quartet was scheduled to perform, and I couldn’t wait to hear them.

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.

island-light-mail-boat
In Mail Boat, I try to capture early morning island light

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.

island-light-gray-day
Gray Day, another kind of island light.

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.”

island-light-fish-pier
It’s very dark on the island at night, except when there’s a full moon and down at the Fish Pier/

Glazes

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.

island-light-sardine-factory
Island light at the end of the day transforms the old sardine factory.

Island Life

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.

island-light-lobster-shack
Best lobster rolls ever.

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.

island-light-bait-dock
The amazing island light down at the Bait Dock. It does something to reds, so I had to include the bait shovel.

Anyhoo, that’s the story of my latest six paintings. I hope you like them!

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Porch Kitty

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Porch Kitty. Watercolor and gouache on 140-lb. paper. 12″ by 12″. Private collection.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself

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I may as well start off with the David Copperfield crap about how my art and this website all got started.

Portrait of the artist as a young Barnard student. With Alexis Adler and Leah Haygood.

I was born in New York City, grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, returned to New York City as a Barnard undergrad and did some time in corporate America in Chicago while wasting much of my youth at Wrigley Field. Then I fled to New Hampshire where I started a journalism career, which took me to the Massachusetts Statehouse (yes, I have great stories about it) and then to Washington, D.C., as an Associated Press reporter.

I was not cut out for Versailles on the Potomac, and it would be an understatement to say Arlington, Va., never felt like home. I left AP to work for a labor union, which at least gave me more time to paint. In 2015, my husband Dan and I moved to a former stonecutters’ boardinghouse in Stonington, Maine.

Me at a farmers market

Here we make and sell frozen clam pies at farmers markets and local grocery stores while maintaining our website, the New England Historical Society. I paint and Dan delivers the mail.

While working as a reporter, I had very little free time. Watercolor suited because it was portable and quick. For a long time I practiced endless still life paintings of household objects. So boring.

A practice still life. Figs, I think.

During the oughts I got turned on to John Yardley, an English watercolorist who does lots of light-infused street scenes.

Browsing by John Yardley

It was just around then that cell phone cameras got to be quite good. I started taking pictures of scenes in downtown Washington, D.C., feeling predatory but shameless as I followed an orange coat or a white shirtsleeve until it caught the light just right.

I think I surreptitiously followed this poor woman all the way across Capitol Hill

Sometimes it took hundreds of cellphone images and lots of sketches before I could extrapolate a painting from them.

Sometimes I’d snap a photo and immediately see a painting, like this one. I was walking in front of the Capitol on my way to work, and just after this bicyclist passed me I whipped out my cellphone to capture him.

Bicycling to the Supreme Court. Watercolor on 140-lb. paper. 6.75″ by 10.5″. $200.

I found I love to paint people in streetscapes and landscapes and all kinds of scapes. I like to paint animals, too. (Dan says that’s all I should do.)

Moving Day. Watercolor on 140-lb. paper. 9″ by 12 “.  $300.

Painting people and animals means knowing how to draw.

I spent a lot of time in Washington sitting still – for hours on the Metro as it lurched toward the station or in rooms listening to people prattle on sententiously.

I used that time to practice drawing people. I’d look for someone on the Metro wearing earbuds (they rarely move except to the music) or I’d draw a politician in a hearing room. Sometimes I’d draw from C-Span images. (You’d be amazed at how much reporting comes off television monitors.)

Another place I found ideal for sketching people is the racetrack. Race fans sit very very still while they pore over the racing form, oblivious to me as I observe and record them. Saratoga is a wonderful place to paint, filled with color and motion, stock still subjects and plenty of filtered light.

She had no idea she was being immortalized
Run Away J.
Watercolor on 140 lb. paper, 6″ by 9.5″. $100.

I also like to paint on Cape Cod, where my parents live. The light on Cape Cod, as Edward Hopper noted, is luminous.

Red Boat, Blue Boat. Watercolor and gouache on tinted 140-lb. paper. 5.5″ by 8.5″. $200.

So now my home is in Maine, where my hero Winslow Homer lived, though I’m on Deer Isle and he was farther south. Every other person on this beautiful island is an artist or a fisherman. I found a lot of things to paint. I also joined the Deer Isle Artists Association last year and learned a lot about making and selling art in the Deer Isle gallery.

Lobster Boats at Sunset. Watercolor on 140-lb. paper. 8.5″ by 11.5″. $225.

I’m taking the next step with this website. With the help of my husband (thank you, Sweetiepie) I’ve posted images of a decades’ worth of my best paintings. Most are for sale, though some are already sold. I’m open to doing commissions (I even paint signs and I’m real good at lobsters) and I’m open to negotiations. Just email me at [email protected] or call at 207-348-3129. I’m on Instagram and Facebook as well.

 

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