A Struggle With Blue and Orange on Day Seventeen

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It may be a created memory, but years ago I read somewhere that John Singer Sargent said all painting is based on blue and orange.

Reflections Rocks and Water by John Singer Sargent. Man, that guy could paint

I’ve looked it up on the internet, but can’t find the quote. Still, I’m a huge fan of blue and orange.

Fortunately Dan (my husband) owns a pair of blue suspenders and an orange chamois shirt (from L.L. Bean, of course). When he puts it on to go hiking I make sure my cell phone is charged. I will take lots of pictures and maybe I’ll get a painting out of it.

I took a bunch of photos on our recent excursion to the Schoodic Peninsula. Sitting in the DIAA gallery with Oscar, I decided to paint Dan against the dark brush – white hair (paper), orange (cadmium red, cadmium orange, alizarin crimson and maybe some quinacridone magenta) shirt, blue (cobalt) suspenders and white (paper)-with-shadow (cobalt and raw umber) pants.

The first painting looks weak and watery. And I’m trying to paint looser, but it isn’t working.

The second version is better, though I’m not thrilled with the figure.

Schoodic Stroll

And I didn’t get orange — red-orange, really — quite the way I want it. Red is hard to paint. You can’t just add water or white to lighten it and get gradations the way you can with blue. You have to combine different reds. In water color, for example, you might combine cadmium red, which is opaque, and quinacridone magenta, which is transparent.

I had an art teacher who once made her students study the Vermeer painting, “Girl With the Red Hat” so we understood how to paint red. We had to count how many different reds were in the hat. I don’t remember how many, except that it was a lot.

Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632 – 1675 ), Girl with the Red Hat, c. 1665/1666, oil on panel, Andrew W. Mellon Collection

There’s a lot to say about red. Playwright John Logan did in his play about Mark Rothko called Red by John Logan. I saw a terrific performance of it at The Winnipesaukee Playhouse with my mother-in-law two summers ago. But I digress.

I decide to paint Schoodic Stroll once more in 30 minutes. Just as an exercise to loosen up. Here’s what happened:

Maybe I’ll take another crack at it some other time.

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The Schoodic Peninsula on Day Thirteen

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Day Thirteen of my artist-in-residency is a day off. I wake up with a vicious headache and skip Sunday morning pickleball. By midmorning I feel better so Dan and I decide to go to the Schoodic Peninsula, hike around a little bit. It’s the quiet side of Acadia National Park, the side we like.

Dan comes downstairs wearing his orange chamois shirt and his blue suspenders. All painting is based on blue and orange. I’m thinking I’m going to get some images I can use in a painting.

Mark Island Light in front of Cadillac Mountain.

I take some shots of Cadillac Mountain and, even better, a lighthouse in front of Cadillac Mountain. We go to Blueberry Hill and walk around a little bit. He suggests the waves against the rocks would be a good image. Maybe.

I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill.

Walking back to the car I see Dan against the dark brush: white hair, orange shirt, blue suspenders. Just go ahead of me, I say. He groans, knowing what I’m up to, but he complies.

We drive past a sign that says Schoodic Institute. We wonder what it is. We drive up, we’re surprised by the buildings: bunkhouses, laboratories, a dining hall, an auditorium, classrooms.

The Rockefeller Building at the Schoodic Institute.

I want to see this big building, I say. We drive up to it. I realize with a jolt I’ve been here before, back when it was a naval station.

The week before my sophomore year in college, I spent hiking Acadia National Park with my friends Ruth and Yoko and twins whose names I’ve forgotten. I flew from Cleveland to Portland. Ruth met me at the airport and told me we’d have to take the bus to our cabin in East Sullivan. A promised car had not materialized.

It took us a day and a half to get there from the airport, about 170 miles. We were thrown off the bus to Bangor because Ruth said “Fuck” to the driver and we spent the night in the bus station parking lot.

At the cabin we had very little food and very little money. A farmer gave us a huge squash, and we dig mussels and clams for dinner.

It was cold one night, so we turned on the heat. If one of the twins hadn’t wakened us moaning we probably would have died from a gas leak.

Without a car, we hitchhiked to Acadia National Park and hiked. One day we were picked up by sailors, who told us there was a party at the Winter Harbor Naval Security Group Activity.

It was probably the prospect of free food that appealed to us. We had party clothes. We put them in our backpacks and we hitchhiked to the Schoodic Peninsula. We hiked a few miles along the park road until we got close to the naval station. We went into a cedar swamp and changed our clothes, combed our hair and put on makeup.

We walked into a change-of-command party in the mansion, uninvited but very welcome. It was a big room, elegant, with flowers, champagne, officers in dress whites, a few wives who seemed very old to us and a lot of tasty food still left on the buffet table. We pounced on the food.

It was probably one of the most important days in some admiral’s life, but we didn’t care. We ate the food, drank the champagne and sassed the Navy brass. I sat on a highly decorated officer’s lap and asked him about his ribbons. He didn’t care either.

Oh to be young and firm and the only young women at a party in a remote naval station…

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