Delivering the Catch 9"x12" oil on canvas (Stonington, ME)
Someone asked me the other day what the word "downeast" means. To many people it simply means the coast of Maine. So what's that like?
It's brightly colored buoys bouncing in the waves; the smell of bait and diesel as lobster boats make their way along the rocky shore;
the forlorn horn of a navigation buoy out in the bay, especially at night, when sound seems to travel farther;
the salt infused taste of a lobster roll or a bucket of steamed clams;
and the wonder of the land and seascape, islands dotted here and there, with maybe a schooner anchored in a quiet cove.
Detail of Buoy 5 6"x6" oil on canvas
In fact, downeast (or down east) is a term that originated in the early 1800’s. In the summer the prevailing winds on the coast of Maine come from the southwest. It’s easiest for sailing ships to move in the same direction as the wind, called heading downwind. So ships traveling from Boston to ports in Maine travel downwind, and those ports are located east of Boston, thus down east. In fact, Mainers will still say they are going up to Boston, even though it’s more than 50 miles south of the Maine border.
Gorgeous granite islands at the entrance to Seal Bay on Vinalhaven
While in general terms, people use downeast to mean any coastal place that's northeast of Boston, more rigorously, it’s the area northeast of the Penobscot River, including Hancock and Washington counties, and the Canadian Maritime provinces New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Due to the tough winter weather, it was one of the last parts of the state settled by Europeans, but has some of the most wonderful natural beauty on the coast.
Entrance to Seal Bay 5"x7" oil on gessobord
I treasure the time that we get to spend downeast each summer, usually on our boat. And looking at the paintings that it inspires take me back there every time.
Lobster boats on their moorings in Stonington, on Deer Isle
Detail of Pumpkin Knob (The Nubbin) 5"x7" oil on panel
I confess, I’m a morning person. I love to get up as soon as it’s light. Whether I head out immediately to take a walk, which is what I’m doing these days, or if I simply make my breakfast and enjoy it in the peace and quiet, being up early starts my day right. I know there are night owls, but I don’t know how that works. By 9:30 PM I'm usually missing half the plot of whatever mystery we’re watching as I doze in my chair. I'm not complaining, It's worth it to be awake all the hours of the day that it's light.
Tidewater Clouds 8"x10" oil on canvas
One of my very favorite things to do in the early summer mornings when we’re in Maine, is to gather my painting gear and head down to the neighborhood dock, and do a quick painting before I’m in the way of those heading out on their boats. There’s just something about that time of the morning, it’s still, you can hear the gulls squawking, you can smell the mud flats at low tide, that really earthy but not unpleasant smell, you can hear the put-put of the diesel engine on a lobster boat, and if there's any breeze, the lap of the small waves on the rocky shore. You can practically taste the salt in the air. Being out in the early morning is such an immersive nature experience.
Sturdivant Island Summer 5"x7" oil on panel
We have a couple of benches at the end of our pier, very convenient to sit on while painting, but you have to be careful not to loose a brush or a knife in between the slats. It’s high up above the water so you can see quite far. Cousins Island, Sturdivant and Basket islands. And our own little rock of an island, which used to be call Pumpkin Knob, now called the Nubbin on the nautical charts. If you look the other way, you can see up towards Freeport, and the bridge to Cousin’s Islands. Truthfully, I usually leave the bridge out of paintings... These early morning painting sessions are such a treat.
The video below from last summer shows the view from the dock. Maybe you can see some of the paintings above in the video. You might even see your own boat!
Detail of Dinghy-4 in Blue and Green 5"x7" oil on canvas
I've painting a lot of blue lately. Just like I've been wanting to be by the water, I'm drawn to the color blue. It's probably because in times of trouble, I look to things that are calm and serene, like the sky on a cloudless day and the water reflecting it.
Summer Marsh 8"x10" oil on canvas
Have you ever noticed how the sky is a darker blue high up over our heads and can be almost light blue-green at the horizon? And how the blue of the water becomes darker when there's a stiff breeze? There are so many blues! Peacock blue, swimming pool turquoise, the blue of lilacs, deep cobalt blue, the purple blue of shadows on the snow, I'm sure you can add many more.
Detail of Spring Marsh Reflection 5"x7" oil on canvas
How does the artist paint all these blues? The easiest way is to start with the two blues shown below. Then with the help of some white, two yellows, and two reds we can mix all the colors of the rainbow, including all the blues, greens, and other colors in these paintings. Learn more about this limited palette here.
phthalo blue (left), ultramarine blue (right), and below mixed with white
Detail of Promise of Adventure 12"x12" oil on Raymar panel
While we've been stuck at home, I find myself needing to be by the water. In an earlier post I showed a video of a favorite nearby walk, which is a favorite largely due to the water view. Yesterday I saw a bright green canoe on the far shore...
Detail of Diligence 6"x6" oil on Raymar panel.
What is it about water that attracts us so much? And put a boat in the water and it's even more compelling. Which reminds me of a discussion I once had with a fellow in Castine, at their plein air event. He was admiring a painting I'd done of a small sailboat, and I asked him "Would you like it better with a person in it?" His instant response was "No!". When I asked why, he told me that what appealed to him about the empty boat, was the promise of adventure, that he could hop in, grab the oars and take off. If someone was already occupying the boat, it wouldn't be his adventure. I love that!
Detail of Bright Sail Cozy Harbor 16"x20" oil on canvas.
I love painting boats, all kinds. And I love being in them too. But I have to admit, most of those I paint, don't have anyone in them. So I guess I feel the same way as the guy in Castine. There is one situation though, where it's good include some people, and that's when I'm painting a boat portrait for the owner. In that case I want to paint their adventure as well as their boat.
Our son's dogs, Clara and Troy
On my morning walk the other day, a fellow and his dog moved off the trail to give me 6 feet of social distancing. I smiled and commented on his beautiful dog, and he said " If there is one group of critters on this planet that is over the moon with happiness these days, it's our dogs. What could be better for them than to have all their favorite people home all the time?" Isn't that the truth? And it goes for any pet that enjoys the company of their pack.
Having them around is good for us people too, especially now, when we can only enjoy the company of our human friends and family via the telephone or video conferencing. A head or paw on the knee is a reminder that someone cares and that someone needs us too. Since our beloved airedale died, my pet interaction has been with our son's two rescues, and I love them. I'm looking forward to when I'll be able to join them on their daily walks again.
I've also enjoyed the experience of painting people's pets, mostly dogs, and some cats too. Pet portraits are fun for several reasons. Animals have interesting shapes, and I love to draw them. There are lots of angles, and spots and varied coloring add to the puzzle. There's something there to hold onto when you start to draw.
To create a pet portrait, I usually start with an under painting in one color, showing the darks and lights, which is my map for the color layer. It's a huge help, and part of the process I teach my students for any painting. Next I begin the color layer with the darkest of the dark paint, in fairly large shapes, and move to the lightest. Then, while the painting is still wet, a top layer of detail, and I'm done. Above and below are some examples of that process.
Another fun thing about painting pets is that these paintings are usually commissions. In a commission I get to learn a lot more about the subject and what it means to my client than happens when I create a painting based on my own preferences. I get to hear about the animal's personality, and stories about their antics. A successful painting is one that means something to someone, to a particular person or family. Pet portraits give me an opportunity to create that meaning for those who've lost a pet or are intent on treasuring their current furry friend.
For 10 years of previous blogposts, click here.