Day Eight, All About Pine Trees

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I check in with Facebook. My friend Alexis Adler posted this:

The first thing I see on Facebook on Day Eight

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.”

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Day Seven Brings Pine Trees and Masking Fluid

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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.

John Singleton Copley, detail from self-portrait

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.

At the end of Day Seven
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Day Six Confession

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On Day Six Oscar and I are only in the gallery from 9 to Noon.

I have a confession. I’m painting a lighthouse. I know it’s a cliché. But lighthouses weren’t a cliché until Edward Hopper discovered them.

Pemaquid Light by Edward Hopper

I had a college art professor, Joseph Masheck, who said, “There’s a reason things become cliches. It’s because they’re good and people like them.” (Or something like that.) Come to think of it, his lecture on Hopper stuck with me.

day six
Day Six progress. Or not.

I decide I’m done with one painting. The one on the right. I kind of hate it. I definitely hate the one on the left.

I’m struggling with painting Cadillac Mountain. Everything I do is boring, overworked or trite.

When Judith Felch was in yesterday, she said she traveled Europe as an art student and wondered about painting the mountains in Switzerland. Her teacher said mountain paintings have to have something in them to demonstrate their scale. Hmm.

We work quickly since we only have three hours. I kind of like the lighthouse painting. Oscar says it’s interesting. “Interesting” is high praise from Oscar.

 

I’m not sure I can come in on Sunday, I tell Oscar. I have company coming for dinner and pickleball and stuff to do. But I’ll let him know. He says he’s not sure if they’re going to play at the Church of the Morning After tomorrow. I say I’ll try to find out. But I don’t. He says it’s okay. He’ll just walk down to see if they’re there. Oscar can’t drive.

We decide we’re going to have a reception on our last day, Jan. 31. We could call it a closing opening. An artist friend tells me they’re called ‘closing receptions.’

We’ll have beer. And wine. And chocolate.

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Trumped on Day Five

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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.

Outside the Outcast studio

“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.”

Then he asks if I won the presidency.

No, I reply. I lost to another girl.

“Don’t blame the art,” replies Paul. “Your oppo research was unverified on that whore.”

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.

Sunset outside the DIAA gallery

 

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On Day Four, Still Doing Watercolor

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I have to play pickleball right after art today so I won’t paint with oil yet. I’ll be too messy and stinky. I gather some turkey soup and a few brushes and I pick up Oscar. I’m a little late because the power outage messed up the clocks. Also because I had to stop and take a picture of the old sardine factory near Oscar’s house for a New England Historical Society story.

The old sardine factory

Oscar says it’s okay I’m late, he wasn’t ready yet. We chat with Diana in the kitchen and tell her everything we did yesterday sucks. She says often the first thing you do is.

“Have fun,” she says as we leave.

“It’s work,” I say.

“I know, but it’s fun to work,” she says.

Oscar has a red Moleskine book he uses to help communicate. It has names and addresses, business cards, sketches. The book is ragged, he says it’s time for a new one. He hands me an envelope.

it’s my Christmas card. I love it.

He asks me to write my name and address in his new book. I see it’s from the National Gallery of Art. I point to my fountain painting. That’s from the National Gallery, I say. He tells me he loves that place. Shows me pictures he took there, of paintings by Picasso, by Stuart Davis. That’s what he wants to do with his Church of the Morning After painting.

I should bring in my Picasso book, the one Jean-Michel Basquiat used to pore over when he was living with my friend Alexis Adler. About the time he met Andy Warhol. We’re not sure how Alexis ended up with the book, but I was so glad she returned it to me several decades later. With Basquiat’s smudges and scribbles in it.

Scull by Jean-Michel Basquiat

(“I like the druggy downtown kids who spray paint walls and trains
I like their lack of training, their primitive technique
I think sometimes it hurts you when you stay too long in school
I think sometimes it hurts you when you’re afraid to be called a fool” – from Songs for Drella.)

Oscar shows me another book. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. “I can’t use the right side of my brain anymore,” he says. “I can’t do architecture.”

“I have to find a way,” he says.

By 10:30 on Day Four all I’ve done is lift mistakes from my paintings. I lift the sky from the Maine lobster trap painting. I lift the sky from the Acadia Panorama painting, which looks like two separate paintings fighting with each other. Maybe if I lighten the sky it will be better. Maybe if I replace the cobalt with cerulean and a dash of cadmium the sky and the land will stop fighting each other.

Day Four Visitors

Hub White comes in, our first visitor. He’s a DIAA board member. “It’s because you don’t have a visitor’s chair,” he says. He finds one in a closet.

Oscar and Hub both studied architecture at the University of Michigan — at the same time, Oscar realizes.  We talk about how gray it is in the Upper Midwest, how it gets dark here at 3:30 pm, what it’s like to paint big and to paint small.

Someone mentions John Singer Sargent. It’s his birthday today. Hub says he likes his travel paintings and his watercolors better than his society portraits. I say I think Sargent did too. I think he had to suck up to a lot of rich people to make a living, then when he didn’t have to anymore he painted what he wanted to paint. Like ‘Gassed.’

Gassed

Andy Warhol sucked up to rich people, too. Wonder if he’d been so successful if he hadn’t befriended Edie Sedgwick. Probably. There are plenty of rich people in Manhattan.

Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol

After Hub leaves, Linda Campbell drops in. Her surveying office, Due North, shares the building. I say I hear she’s becoming a drone pilot. She says there’s so much to know: airspace, weather, kinds of planes. She was taking a class at UMaine-Orono and everyone in it works for CMP, Emera or big construction companies. When the power went out on Wednesday the power companies sent drones to look for the outages, she says.

Annie Taylor Gray comes in briefly. She drove three hours to Bangor and back for a two-minute dentist appointment.

When I get home I post a photo of our Day Four work on Facebook.

“There was a lovely feeling in there today,” posts Annie.

Insert emoticon.

 

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On Day Three, Two Deer Isle Artists in Residence

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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.

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Diary of a Deer Isle Artist in Residence, Day Two

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Day Two as artist in residence is much like Day One. I paint all day listening mostly to Lou Reed. Songs for Drella, the homage he and John Cale wrote for Andy Warhol, strikes a  nerve.

He was a lot of things, what I remember most
He’d say, “I’ve got to bring home the bacon, someone’s got to bring home the roast.”

He’d get to the factory early
If you’d ask him he’d tell you straight out
It’s just work, the most important thing is work

I finally finish the painstaking detail of my National Gallery of Art painting. I hate it. There’s good stuff in it, but I’ll need to fix it. I’ll stick it on the wall and think about it.

Tired, I put the second painting on the wall and take a picture for Facebook.

“If it were me I’d move it a tad to the right,” writes my friend Ray Dinsmore. 

Vineeta Anand posts “Little by little…

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.

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Diary of a Deer Isle Artist in Residence, Day One

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Monday, Jan. 10

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.

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Lucky Me! 3 Weeks To Paint at DIAA

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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.

Oscar at the DIAA gallery over the summer. We were gallery sitting together.

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.

My workspace at home

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.

Work in Progress

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.”

The 12 by 12 show. All paintings are 12″ by 12″ and cost $144.

Here’s a 12″ by 12″ painting I sold at the show last year:

Oceanville Garden. Watercolor on 140-lb. paper. 12″ by 12″. Private collection.

Best of all, I can paint uninterrupted by the household chores and clam pie tasks that always loom. I’ll still be on the hook to write for the New England Historical Society, but I do that early in the morning anyway.

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.

 

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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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