Paint Schoodic

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: draw six different boats


Drawing six similar objects will teach you to observe details.
Reliant rigged as a sloop.
I once got a commission to paint Lazy Jack II in Camden Harbor. I was pretty happy with the results. As I finished, two deckhands from another boat stopped to look at it. Their eyes met. “You’ve got the…” one started. “It’s not important,” said the other, and they quickly walked away. I’ve never figured out what’s wrong in that painting, but I did realize that you can only fudge the details so far. The experts will find you out.

In the normal course of things, you’re not going to see many square-rigged vessels here in mid-coast Maine (although you could see USS Constitution if you drive down to Boston). You’ll see fore-and-aft rigs, where the sails run above the keel rather than perpendicular to it.

A Bermuda-rigged sloop. This is the most common silhouette you'll see wherever pleasure boats congregate. 
A boat’s sails all suspend from a vertical spar called the mast. This transmits all the power of the wind pushing the boat through the water. It’s really a marvel of engineering, especially since the kinks were worked out before the age of composite materials. There are some other spars whose names will be useful to know: booms, which run along the bottom of the sails, and gaffs, which get raised up in the air. Not every sailboat has gaffs, but they all have at least one mast and boom to hold the sails taut.

A gaff-rigged catboat.
A catboat is small and has a single sail on a single mast set well forward in the bow, or front of the boat. (I think this would be the perfect painter’s boat, especially if I could find one towable with my Prius.)

A sloop also has one mast, with only one sail in front of the mast. If that head-sail multiplies, your boat has morphed into a cutter. Reliance, the 1903 America’s Cup defender, could be rigged as either a sloop or cutter. I drew Reliance to illustrate that single-masted boats can be gaff-rigged as well as Bermuda-rigged. She was a peculiar thing, built only to win America’s Cup and then sold for scrap. Like all transitory things, she was, oh, so pretty.

A ketch. Angelique is far prettier.
Ketches and yawls have two masts, with the back (mizzen) sail smaller than the front sail. The difference is that in a ketch (like Angelique) the aft mast is meant to push. It’s pretty big. A yawl's mizzen sail is very wee, almost vestigial, and is way to the back of the boat. It’s basically an air rudder, used to keep things in balance.

A yawl (or y'all, for those of you from the south).
Schooners started out having two masts, but three-masted schooners were introduced around 1800, and the spars proliferated from there. The only seven-masted schooner, the steel-hulled Thomas W. Lawson, was built in 1902. It was 395 ft. long.

While you might run across Victory Chimes, a three-masted schooner out of Rockland, the rest of the Maine windjammer fleet have two masts. A schooner's forward mast is shorter than its mainmast, giving it an appearance of eagerness. Schooners come in all kinds of sail configurations.

A schooner's foremast is shorter than its mainmast.
Your assignment is to find a photo of each of these sailing vessels and sketch them out as I did, paying particular attention to where the sails attach to the masts, the angles at which the gaffs are running, and the height of the masts in relationship to the length of the hull. This is not about sailing, it’s about attention to the details that matter.

If you aren’t interested in boats, you can do the same exercise with cars, motorcycles, or varieties of apples; I don’t care what they are, just that you have six objects from the same class of objects. 

The point of this exercise is not to create six beautiful boat drawings. It is to show you how much you learn by sketching. At the end of it, you should have a clear sense of why sketching in the field is a far better preparation for painting than taking photos is.

Remember, those of you who love boats: we’ll be sailing with Captain John Foss on the most beautiful of all windjammers—American Eagle—in June, studying watercolor painting on the move. For more information, see here.

My little assistants. I drew the boats and they colored.

Friday, February 16, 2018

How professional artists structure their businesses.

While hundreds read the post, only a small handful answered the questions. Their answers are still fascinating.

Last week, I asked professional artists to tell a young painter from Alabama, Cat Pope, how they organize their business.

This is the first survey I've ever written. It was very easy to produce, but there are things I should have asked differently. If you haven't taken it yet, you can still go to the link here. The results mostly speak for themselves; I've just added a few parenthetical notes.

The respondents were heavily slanted to the northeast. Would artists from other parts of the country have answered differently? What about Canadian painters?



How hard, I wonder, is it to keep more than 3 galleries supplied with work? I should have also asked about other spaces like coffee shops, restaurants, or hotels.


This next chart represents some serious online work, even for people who aren't direct-selling through websites.



I feel the frustration of wearing all the hats, all the time. Apparently, I'm not alone. A lot of us put a lot of soul into the 'sole proprietorship' idea.


The following was a badly-designed question. I should have given respondents the opportunity to answer "none." 40% of respondents skipped it entirely, which makes "none" the second-largest category.


 Another missed opportunity. Why didn't I ask about annual sales goals?


I included this last question because artists are always being asked to "showcase their work" in charity auctions, yet it's not a deductible donation for us. When we see that work being sold for a fraction of its gallery price, we think it would be easier to just write a check.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Wallowing in plastic


A witty series of nature prints point out our devastating dependency on plastic packaging.
Double-crested Cormorant, Male, by John LaMacchia et al.
Rockland, ME, has provisionally passed a law banning single-use plastic shopping bags. These bags are invaluable to plein air painters, but we’re a cheap group and we’ll figure out another way to dispose of our oily rags. (One of my most popular posts ever was instructions on how to fold a plastic shopping bag to fit more neatly in your kit.)

I support the new law, although some of my friends are opposed. Plastic bags caught in branches are an annoying side effect of densely-packed people, and we get lots of visitors in the summer. It won't go into effect until next January, giving small retailers a chance to unload their stocks of bags. Plastic bags are already controlled in major cities in Canada. And my favorite grocery store—alas, not in Maine—has always had a bring-your-reusable-bag policy, which I navigated for years without trouble.
The ubiquitous tree-bag of North America.
Nobody knows how long it really takes for plastic packaging to break down, because we haven’t had it long enough to tell. Plastic degrades when exposed to sunlight, but it happens more slowly when it’s cold. A current guesstimate is that a foam plastic cup will take 50 years to decompose and a disposable diaper will take 450 years. On both ends of the plastic bag’s life cycle, it creates microplastics—either as bits and bobs from the manufacturing process, or as waste from the breakdown of bigger plastics. Marine organisms are indiscriminate foragers, so they eat these microplastics. Bigger pieces of plastic end up in marine animals’ guts, with deadly results.

Not using plastic packaging is often an easy choice, a matter of choosing the eggs in the cardboard container instead of that other brand. It’s far easier than, say, buying a smaller car or building a new mass-transit infrastructure.
Eastern Towhee, 1. Male 2. Female, by John LaMacchia et al.
Artist John LaMacchia describes himself as “an artist that makes things… and then he shows them to you.” Among his current work is a riff on John James Audubon’s Birds of America. This series of giclĂ©e prints, also called Birds of America, points up the difference between the environment of America 200 years ago and the environment today. For the birds, it’s our trash that makes the difference.
Red Knot, Female, by John LaMacchia et al.
Of course, the modern artist is an idea man, and must outsource the art skills. For that, LaMacchia turned to British ornithologist and illustrator Daniel Cole. LaMacchia sketches out his ideas using a combination of photography and drawing, and Cole executes them. A calligrapher, Hamid Reza Ebrahimi, does the plate notations in calligraphy, using an English Round Hand style commonly used for copperplate engraving.

LaMacchia’s goal is to create 435 plates, matching Audubon’s complete oeuvre. He’ll have to speed up the process, though, since the trio has finished six prints since they started in 2014. Of course, Audubon included birds that are now extinct, like the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, the Carolina Parakeet, and the Passenger Pigeon. That should cut down the final count.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Girl lighthouse keeper


At an age when modern kids are munching on Tide Pods, Abbie Burgess ran a lighthouse on a rock in the sea.
A 19th century engraving of the girl lighthouse keeper. Courtesy Elinor DeWire Collection. 
Matinicus Rock is a treeless, windswept outcropping of about 30 acres. It’s about twenty miles off the mainland, but it’s on the approach to Penobscot Bay.

Its first keeper lasted four years before going ashore to die. The second keeper also died after a short tenure. A tremendous storm in January 1839 forced a total reconstruction. Keeper Samuel Abbott was forced to take refuge in the attic with his family during the storm of February, 1842. He thought they were all going to die.

Samuel Burgess, was appointed the light’s keeper in 1853. He moved to the lighthouse with his wife Thankful and four of their children. Abbie was the oldest girl there.

Courtesy Elinor DeWire Collection.
She ran the light, freeing her father and brother to fish for lobster. The lamps used lard oil. “[T]hey were more difficult to tend than these lamps are, and sometimes they would not burn so well when first lighted, especially in cold weather when the oil got cold,” she wrote.

Abbe worried that, in the case of a great storm, she would be unable to move her invalid mother to safety. In December, 1855, she moved her mother’s bedroom to the lighthouse itself.

The cutter that was supposed to have supplied them in September had never shown up. By January, food and lamp oil were running low. Samuel Burgess sailed to Rockland for supplies. Shortly thereafter, a Nor'easter blew up.

Matinicus Light House. Designed by Alexander Parris, drawn by Brown and Hastings, engineers, March 28, 1848.
“...Father was away. Early in the day, as the tide arose, the sea made a complete breach over the rock, washing every movable thing away, and of the old dwelling not one stone was left upon another. The new dwelling was flooded, and the windows had to be secured to prevent the violence of the spray from breaking them in. As the tide came, the sea rose higher and higher, till the only endurable places were the lighttowers. If they stood we were saved, otherwise our fate was only too certain.

“But for some reason, I know not why, I had no misgivings, and went on with my work as usual. For four weeks, owing to rough weather, no landing could be effected on the rock. During this time we were without the assistance of any male members of our family. Though at times greatly exhausted with my labors, not once did the lights fail. Under God I was able to perform all my accustomed duties as well as my father's.

“You know the hens were our only companions… I said to mother: ‘I must try to save them.’ She advised me not to attempt it. The thought, however, of parting with them without an effort was not to be endured, so seizing a basket, I ran out a few yards after the rollers had passed and the sea fell off a little, with the water knee deep, to the coop, and rescued all but one. It was the work of a moment, and I was back in the house with the door fastened, but I was none too quick, for at that instant my little sister, standing at the window, exclaimed: "Oh, look! look there! the worst sea is coming.”

That wave swept the old house off the rock. 

The chickens proved their salvation. The Burgesses survived on a daily ration of a cup of cornmeal and an egg for the next three weeks.

Abbie Burgess Grant
Samuel Burgess lost his job after the election of 1860. He was replaced by Capt. John Grant. Abbie stayed on to train Grant and ended up marrying his youngest son, Isaac. They tended the Matinicus Rock Light for fourteen years, having four sons while there. They then moved to Whitehead Light off St. George.

Abbie Burgess Grant died in 1892 at the age of 53. “Sometimes I think the time is not far distant when I shall climb these lighthouse stairs no more,” she wrote. “I wonder if the care of the lighthouse will follow my soul after it has left this worn out body!”

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

America’s first black woman artist


Edmonia Lewis was a Neoclassicist, but her work explored issues of race and gender before these were even concepts.

The Death of Cleopatra, 1876, Edmonia Lewis, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The first school of American women sculptors arose, paradoxically, in Italy, around Massachusetts-born Harriet Hosmer. These women went to Rome to take advantage of trained carvers and craftsmen and the access to pure white Carrara marble. Along with their male peers, they mined the rich vein of Neoclassicism. America was wealthy and the monument business was booming.

For women artists, there was the additional advantage of breaking away from the social strictures of home. Carving stone is hard physical work, considered uniquely unfeminine in the culture of the time.

Not that they escaped completely. There were plenty of conventional men among the expatriates. Henry James famously described them as “that strange sisterhood of American ‘lady sculptors’ who at one time settled upon the seven hills [of Rome] in a white, marmorean flock.”

Edmonia Lewis, c. 1870, courtesy National Portrait Gallery.
“One of the sisterhood,” James continued, “was a negress, whose colour, picturesquely contrasting with that of her plastic material, was the pleading agent of her fame.” Ouch.

He was referring to Edmonia Lewis, who is now considered the first prominent American female minority artist. Devoutly Catholic, she created many religious works, much of which are lost. Her oeuvre also included portrait busts and classical themes.

Lewis was born in Greenbush, Rensselaer County, New York, in 1844. Her father was of Haitian descent and her mother was Mississauga Ojibwe and African. Lewis was orphaned by the age of nine and adopted by two aunts who lived near Niagara Falls and sold souviners to tourists. At age 12, she was sent to a Free Baptist abolitionist school in central New York, and went from there to Oberlin College. After a childhood of absolute freedom, the strictures of civilization were uncomfortable.

Old Arrow Maker, 1872, is nominally an illustration of a passage from the Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It’s also an evocation of Lewis’ own childhood. Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum.


“Until I was twelve years old I led this wandering life, fishing and swimming and making moccasins. I was then sent to school for three years… but was declared to be wild—they could do nothing with me,” she recollected.

At Oberlin, she was accused of poisoning two friends with an aphrodisiac, a nod to her Haitian background. From that point, she was a marked woman. Another accusation, of stealing, prevented her graduation and she moved to Boston to take up training in sculpture. Again, her relationship with her mentor and teacher, Edward Augustus Brackett, broke down into acrimony.

Lewis’ Portrait of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, c. 1866, was one of the sales that enabled her to leave Boston for Rome. Courtesy Museum of African American History.
Meanwhile, she was lauded as a success in the Abolitionist press, bringing commissions and attention before she was fully prepared to deal with them. She left for Rome and a new start.

At the height of her popularity in the ‘60s and ‘70s, her studio was frequented by visitors fascinated by her charm and exotic clothing and background.

Lewis’ most celebrated sculpture was the monumental Death of Cleopatra, created for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Cleopatra killed herself after the death of her lover and ally, Mark Antony. In the 19th century imagination, she was Africa, he was Europe.

The public was accustomed to depictions of the dying queen as regal, calm and composed. Lewis’ depiction is of a sprawling, inelegant woman, on her throne, in the throes of death. As she did so often in her work, she was quietly looking at issues of race and gender in a novel way.