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.
I am so lucky. I get to paint for three – count ‘em, three — straight weeks at the Deer Isle Artists Association gallery with my friend Oscar Turner starting next week.
It’s a huge space – well, way bigger than my studio at home, which was once a stonecutters’ boardinghouse. My workspace in the old stonecutter’s bedroom gets a little cramped.
In summer, the DIAA gallery hosts new exhibits every two weeks. In winter, the gallery is still heated (to all you non-New Englanders: heat is a big thing). But there are no shows. So the DIAA allows artists to use the space to paint for a month at a time.
Cindy Bourque-Simonds, the DIAA board member who manages exhibits, used the space in December. She told me people stopped by to chat and even brought coffee. I’m excited about the opportunity, looking forward to spending time with Oscar and hoping people will drop by for a visit.
The DIAA’s big space means I can paint on big canvases. And it also means I can work with oil paint, something I can’t do at home. And I can finish watercolor paintings I started last year, like this one.
I can also work on 12” by 12” oil paintings for the popular summer 12 by 12 show, and they’ll be dry. Last year I brought a few still-wet paintings to the show and asked DIAA president David McBeth if they were okay. He gestured to a long row of paintings propped up against the fence and said, “Just put them over in the wet paintings section.”
Here’s a 12″ by 12″ painting I sold at the show last year:
I start on Monday, January 9, the day after DIAA’s latest ART matters 2 discussion. The ART matters sessions are one reason I love living on Deer Isle. DIAA Board Member Hub White brings three artists together on Sunday afternoons once a month in winter. They show their work and chat about what they do. Then the audience joins the conversation.
There are only a few thousand people who live on this island, but Hub can easily find 20 artists and each ART matters discussion brings standing-room only crowds. So you can talk about art here without getting a blank stare.
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.
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.
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.
During the oughts I got turned on to John Yardley, an English watercolorist who does lots of light-infused street scenes.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
I also like to paint on Cape Cod, where my parents live. The light on Cape Cod, as Edward Hopper noted, is luminous.
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.
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.