Stonington Green final 6"x12" oil on canvas board
Stonington Green drawing in paint on a toned canvas
A splash of color in the landscape grabs your attention, doesn't it? A red barn in the midst of green corn fields, a bright orange boat on blue water, or brightly colored houses by the sea, they are all eye catching. I love finding those splashes of color. And I love including them in my paintings.
But there's more to creating color in paintings than what's on the top layer. I often prime my canvas with complementary colors to those that will be predominant in the painting. For example, an orange or red color for landscapes, to complement the blue sky and green foliage. Little bits of this under layer will show through in the final painting, which makes the colors in the top layer pop. I think you can see that in the example of Stonington Green above.
Summer Marsh underpainting 8"x10" oil on linen panel
What's even more fun, is to block in the structure of the painting in bright colors as an underpainting. Once again, little bits of this underpainting will show through in the final painting. I used this process on Summer Marsh. The orange, purple and blue version above is the underpainting.
Summer Marsh final 8"x10" oil on linen panel
Can you see little bits of the underpainting showing through the final version above?
Backdoor to Seal Bay Complements 5"x7" oil on gessobord
And sometimes, what starts as an underpainting becomes so interesting, that it stands by itself and becomes the final painting. That's what happened above in this version of Backdoor to Seal Bay, painted with a knife. Crazy color, no?
White Dinghy Bow 5"x7" oil on gessoboard
I've painted this boat at least six times. And taken many pictures of it, as it turned on it's mooring in Casco Bay. It was built by a local lobsterman to take him to and from his lobster boat, the Foxy Lady. It's a classic skiff, one of the more common type of boat used by lobstermen. Skiffs have a flat bottom, pointed bow and flat stern. They can travel in shallow water, which makes them easy to take ashore. They are a subset of dinghies, whose name comes from their use rather than their shape.
Waiting for the Lobsterman 6"x6" oil on canvas panel
Above is my first painting of the white skiff, from about six years ago. This is the only painting where I included the engine, which was fun to paint, with it's chunky shape and tiller. I also love the red water line on this boat, very cheerful. And I was drawn to the shadow side being just a little darker then the water.
Dinghy in Blue 6"x6" oil on canvas panel
Above, I decided to go a little crazy with color. That's one of the great things about painting. As long as you get the values right (how dark or light a shape is), you can use any color you want for that shape. I often work from a black and white photo to do this. In this case, the canvas was toned bright pink, some of which shows through both the water and the reflection. I couldn't resist painting the boat yellow, and setting it off with a bright violet blue.
White Dinghy Stern 5"x7" oil on gessobord
I think this is the most recent painting of my favorite skiff, it's from last summer. Maybe it's time to paint her again. Every painting of this boat I've created has been sold. So either she's a beauty, or my attraction to her makes me paint at my best. She features in two of my note card sets, available here on my website.
Farm Pond Pines 6"x6" oil on canvas panel
One of my artist friends pointed out to me that tomorrow is National Making Life Beautiful Day. My skeptical side asked if every day has some kind of label. Probably. But since as a painter, most days I do get to make life beautiful in my choice of subjects, I kind of liked this one. So I started thinking about the dimensions of making life beautiful. Beauty in the visual comes to mind first, but there is beautiful music, and beauty in deeds, and there's making things beautiful for someone else.
Peony Garden 6"x6" oil on canvas panel
For many, flowers are the quintessential beauty in nature. Peonies are my favorite. And they've just started to bloom this season. Their blooms don't last but a couple of weeks, which makes them even more special. They come in white and shades of pink and red. If you're near Portland Maine they'll probably be blooming at Maine Audubon Gilsland Farm any day now. What a way to make life beautiful!
Distant Pink 6"x6" oil on canvas panel
Painting outside is a special way to enjoy a beautiful life. Being both focused and immersed in your subject matter does something to the artist's mind. The resulting painting isn't always great, but the experience is fulfilling.
The Meadows 6"x6" oil on canvas panel
Maybe tomorrow I'll take some peonies to my mother-in-law, send out a few notes to friends, and finish one of the home beautifying projects on my to-do list.
For more ideas on making life beautiful, check out this article by art tile potter Marina Bosetti.
Lobstah 8"x8" oil on canvas panel
In June, in our neighborhood in Maine, we have a lobster bake. It's a tradition that everyone loves. Sometimes there are extra lobsters, and people take them home. One year I did that and rearranged my take-home-lobster on a plate in a few different ways so that I could paint him.
With Pie 8"x8" oil on canvas panel
The way the lobsters are cooked has changed over time. Traditionally, they were baked over a fire in a nest of rock weed, which is the seaweed you see uncovered at low tide. Eggs were placed in the nest with the lobster, and used as thermometers. When the eggs were done, the lobsters were done. There are always clams as well, but they didn't make it home to be in the paintings!
Dinnah 8"x8" oil on canvas panel
In addition to the lobsters, clams, and eggs, everyone brings something. We start out with delicious appetizers. I almost always bring deviled eggs, which don't last long. Another favorite is a sort of chili rellenos bake that is cut into squares. It's totally yummy. And there's a seafood cheese dip that's very popular. If you're not careful, you won't have room for the lobsters. Oh, I almost forgot, for those who aren't crustacean fans, there are burgers and hot dogs.
Blueberry Pie 8"x8" oil on canvas panel
And finally there's dessert. Pies of many kinds, always brownies, cookies, watermelon, and fruit salad. I know I'm forgetting something.
I wish I could invite you to join us...
I took this photo with my phone on a beautiful summer afternoon. I'd like to crop it for a painting, and I want a compelling composition. I can see one problem already, the horizon is in the center. When looking at a photo or painting, our brain is attracted to the interlocking abstract shapes. And it is attracted most to assymetry, and irregular spacing. So a painting with half sky is less appealing that one that's mostly sky or mostly not sky. So I'll try cropping the photo to see what those two options look like.
I've put a grid on the photo to divide it into thirds horizontally and vertically. A good way to avoid putting things in the center (symmetric = not compelling) is to use the rule of thirds, which says that placing important elements of the design 1/3 away from the edges is the most appealing to our assymetry loving brains.
In the above image, I've cropped the photo to put the horizon on the bottom third line, and also placed the gap in the trees on that line where it crosses the right vertical third line. Now we've got a composition that's mostly about the sky. I could have lowered it even more to put the top of the trees at the bottom third line and gotten more of the clouds in the image.
In the above image, I've put the horizon on the top third horizontal line. The gap in the trees is still on the top right. Now we've got an an image that's about the marsh.
In the above crop, I've moved the gap in the trees to the left, bringing in more of the dark water and foliage.
It's actually easier to see the interlocking shapes if we use a black and white image and posterize the values (meaning limit the number). I like to use 4 values.
Above, the original photo in black and white, and posterized using the Pixlr app. For instructions, look here.
Below are the posterized images of the cropped images above. Using both the photos and the black and white posterized versions, which composition do you find the most compelling?
Note: While the rule of thirds grid is very useful in cropping for a good composition, a grid with an even number of columns and rows can be more useful for creating a drawing from the photo. Even making a grid with one vertical and one horizontal line through the middle of the photo will be a great aid to getting the drawing onto your canvas. And turning the gridded photo upside down also helps a lot, because you can no longer see the objects, but are simply drawing shapes. Below is an example for the mostly sky crop above. Note that you can put the grid on the color photo, black and white photo, or the posterized image, whichever is easier for you to use as a reference for the drawing.
You can add a grid on your phone or tablet with Grid # on Apple and Artist Grid on Android. For an 8"x10" painting, use the app to make a 4 by 4 grid on your device and then save, or screenshot it and crop, and you are ready to go. You can draw from your device or print out the image with the grid. For larger paintings you may want more grid lines. The apps let you choose the number.
Cozy Harbor Inlet 11”X14”, oil on linen panel, 2014
What's on your bucket list? Mine keeps changing, and the current situation makes me want to revise it again. Some of the items I've done, so they're off the list. Some are ongoing, like learn to speak French. I've been working on that one for 4 years. Then there's learn to play the cello. That's been on my list for over 30 years. Maybe it's time to ditch it.
Bright Sail, Cozy Harbor 16”X20”, oil on linen panel, 2015
Another thing on my list has been spending the summer in Maine. Last year was the first time we did, and it was wonderful. This year, I'm not so sure. I hope it happens. Being in Maine for the summer, and out on the water a lot of the time, is a dream come true, a real bucket list success.
My Dream of Maine 20”X24”, oil on canvas, 2016
Then there's learning to paint. I wanted to do that since high school. I took evening classes in drawing early in my work career. I spent some time with water colors, which is how many people start because it seems less messy than the other options. What they don't tell you is that water color is the most difficult painting medium to learn. Then an artist neighbor suggested oil paints, as more forgiving (which is true). That was 20 years ago. I would have missed so much if I never tried it.
What's on your bucket list?
If learning to paint is on that list, I have an opportunity for you. Take a look at the beginning painting workshop I'm teaching in June. You can take it from your own home.
Dinghies at the Dock (Tenants Harbor) 12"x12" oil on canvas - available here
Maine has so many beautiful harbors. It doesn't matter whether you arrive by car or by boat, there is always something to see. There are several Maine towns that I first visited by boat, which is kind of cool. Tenants Harbor and Stonington come to mind. There are three dimensions to the beauty of these harbors; nature, buildings, and boats. All of these appeal to me, and the combinations can be quite stunning!
One of my favorites is Tenants Harbor on the southwestern shore of Penobscot Bay. It’s a quiet small town with a big wide harbor. As you come into the harbor you pass Southern Island, owned by the Wyeth family, where many of Jamie Wyeth’s paintings were created. There’s a big lobstering business in Tenants, and it's long been the home of a classic lobster shack with excellent lobster rolls. For many years it was Cod End but it's now owned by Luke’s Lobster who have maintained the original feel and good food. You can take a walk through the town with its classic Maine houses, but the harbor is the gem; lobster boats, many pleasure boats, little sailboats coming and going. It’s a delightful place to be in the summer.
View From Round Pond 8"x10" oil on canvas - available here
Round Pond is another Maine harbor town that I love, on the western side of Muscongus Bay. It’s a pretty little town with an excellent restaurant. They let us paint in their yard looking out over the harbor. There's also a lovely church, and of course, lobster boats, and sailboats.
Merchant's Row (from Stonington) 8"x8" oil on canvas board - available here
Another harbor town that I love is Stonington, on Deer Isle on the eastern side of Penobscot Bay. South of Stonington is one of the most beautiful pieces of water in the state of Maine, an area of beautiful unpopulated islands, called Merchant’s Row. The scenery is stunning. Stonington is a bigger town than Tenants Harbor and Round Pond, with a number of restaurants and shops, an opera house, and the ferry to Isle a Haut. It's a beautiful place, with lovely architecture, and scenery that has been painted by many people.
Paintings in this post are available in the Downeast Collection, here.
Lucky Lady III 10"x10" oil on canvas panel
I've rarely painted from the same photo three times, but there was this Lucky Lady...
I first saw F/V (fishing vessel) Lucky Lady off Boothbay Harbor in 2009. What a great lobster boat! She was red, that always gets my attention. The stern man had on Grundens, yay! Another pop of color. And the weather was fine, bright blue water and sky, with a nice reflection. It was perfect. I snapped a photo as we passed by in our boat, and later painted her.
Press play to see the three versions of the Lucky Lady
Versions I and II are 6"x6", version III is 10"x10"
That first painting of the Lady sold quickly to one of my favorite collectors. And then about a year later, I got an email from a very nice woman inquiring about the sketch I'd posted before doing the painting. Her friend was buying the boat and she would've loved to buy the painting, but she saw online that it was sold. I offered to paint the Lucky Lady a second time for her friend and we did the deal. She gave it to him for his birthday and he loved it! I was so pleased.
Two of my other favorite Casco Bay lobster boats
The Sternman 16x20 and Blue Boat 6x8
Well, life went on, and then one day a couple of years later, I turned off Route 1 onto the road to South Freeport, and after a few minutes, what did I see in front of me on a Brownell trailer (that's the kind that carry big boats)? Yes! It was the Lucky Lady. I was thrilled. I followed the trailer to the boatyard, and was lucky enough to meet the owner who'd been given my painting. And I saw the nice renovation that he'd had done to turn the Lady into a cruiser. I was very pleased to see the boat was still red and still called the Lucky Lady. And to celebrate, I painted her again. My son always loved the Lucky Lady paintings, so Lucky Lady III now hangs in his kitchen.
Board Girls, Stripes, and Tubular all 12"x12" oil on canvas
It may seem frivolous to be thinking about the beach while we're in a pandemic, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one thinking about it. Since I can't go there myself, I've been looking through the beach paintings I've done over the years and dreaming of sun and sand. And lots of people to draw...
Sittin In the Sun, 4"x5" gouache on paper and sketch
The way I got into painting people on the beach was through drawing. When I’m at the beach I’m often sketching. It’s challenging to try and sketch people as they're sunning themselves. They look like they’re on their towels or in their chairs for the duration, and then poof, they move or get up. So I try and do my drawings in just a minute or two.
What Is It? and Shell Seekers 6"x6" oil on canvas/board
Other times I walk down the beach with my camera or phone clicking away, panning so that no one thinks they are being singled out. And they’re not, since in my drawings and paintings hopefully they are recognizable as people, but not as themselves!
On the Beach and Beach at Trouville, 6"x8" oil on canvas/board
Whatever we get at the beach, whether it's a lazy relaxing day, a vigorous swim in the surf, or only a sunburn, it's always worth it go. And that shower to rid ourselves of the sunscreen feels sooo good when we get home.
FYI, the Downeast Collection is now available here.
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