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Sketches of Maine

Journal entry for 29 Sep 2011 | Link

When I first arrived in the studio at the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation, I found a still life set up by its previous occupant, Barbara Nussdorfer-Eblen, for her open studio event. That seemed like a good place to start.

Barbara's Still Life, 2011, watercolor, 13 x 9 1/2 inches

The next day, fog rolled in and stayed in for a few days.

Shoreline, Great Cranberry Island Tidal Pool, 2011, watercolor, 11 1/2 x 8 inches

There were several days of hard slogging on a canvas that didn't appreciate my plans for it. This is how it happens. I had it in my head that I was not going to use any mediums. I've been a heavy user of Galkyd Gel for a long time, and while it may be a sensible choice from an archival standpoint, it forces the paint to look a certain way. Galkyd Gel on your palette and a palette knife in your hand means that you have signed up for a cake-frosting application of oils. When they dry after a few weeks (at least they dry after a few weeks; without the gel, it would take months), they take on a perceptible waxy cast. So mediums were out. After painting thinly and poorly for the better part of a week, I put up a new canvas, squeezed out paints by the tablespoon, broke out the brushes, looked out the window, and hammered this down.

View of Tidal Pool from LaHotan Studio, Great Cranberry Island, 2011, oil on canvas, 36 x 22 inches

Then I put the first canvas, which had a fairly complete, thin painting on it, back on the easel and put it out of its misery. And mine.

Still Life on Window Sill of the LaHotan Studio, Great Cranberry Island, 2011, oil on canvas, 22 x 36 inches

Back over to that still life. I'm not sure where I got the idea to hit the edges with color and leave the forms open, but I was sufficiently pleased with this one...

Lilies, Hydrangeas, and Wild Apple, 2011, watercolor, 11 1/2 x 8 inches

...to try it again.

Plant Pot and Teapot, 2011, watercolor, 11 1/2 x 8 inches

But attempting the same thing in oil didn't pan out. It looked better when I scraped the attempt down. I faced it into the wall and started rethinking things. Maybe that heavy outline didn't have to go around every form. I noticed Jen, who helps in all capacities in the running of the foundation, watering the garden. I shot some photo reference and returned to the studio.

Jen Tending the Garden, Heliker-LaHotan Foundation, 2011, oil on canvas, 36 x 22 inches

Thus came an aha moment. I have been trying to make the sort of line I used in my Taichung Diary series and my comics to show up in my oils, and while I wasn't completely satisfied with this, it was a pretty close shot. I was keen to try another, but a foggy day fell upon us, and I wanted to have a go at a foggy day in oil. It was Maine, after all.

Heliker House, 2011, oil on canvas, 36 x 22 inches

Fog rolled in and out for a few days.

Bob's Studio and Jack's Grave in Fog, 2011, watercolor, 13 x 17 inches

Coming in on the boat from Northeast Harbor, I met the daughter of a retired Navy man from Virginia who owns a house near the foundation. Somehow her smoking habit came up in conversation, and I told her that I wanted to make her and her cigarette the subject of a painting. A couple of days later I caught her outside having a smoke and took some photos. This came out of them.

The Writer from Austin, 2011, oil on canvas, 22 x36 inches

I don't smoke and don't recommend that anyone else does, but the look of contentment that crossed her face while she partook was memorable. After returning to Boston I looked online for paintings of women smoking and didn't turn up very much. I doubt I could do better than A Hoppy Pipper did when she set about the same project in 2009. Ultimately I never figured out why I felt inclined to make this image, and I've concluded that if I could put it into words, I would have done so instead. The only necessary reasons are there in the paint.

This painting closed some of the gaps I see in Jen Tending the Garden. The figure, architecture, and landscape all feel more assured. (It turns out that the area between the edge of the house and the left side of the canvas is a golden rectangle, as is the canvas itself. That was not intentional, but there it is.) More figurative pieces beckoned (and still do) but the inspiration didn't present itself during the last week I had to paint. Instead I wanted to commemorate a couple of sights I had come to cherish, a hapless apple tree (although lucky to have owners who didn't give up on it) I passed by daily...

Downed Apple at Noether's, 2011, watercolor, 14 x 18 inches

...and the view of the tidal pool from the second floor of the LaHotan studio.

Shoreline and Shallow Water, Big Cranberry, 2011, watercolor, 13 x 17 inches

Lastly I wanted to portray a young pine springing up outside the studio door, against a background of ancient ones.

Pine Sapling, 2011, oil on canvas, 36 x 22 inches

Painting those trees at the back of the property required a blue-green that was so blue I had trouble convincing myself to lay it down. After doing so, I wondered why I had fretted about it. This piece was purchased the day after our open studio event, and four days after its completion, so my only photograph is of it completely wet.

And there you have it. A good haul for a 23-day residency: six oils, seven watercolors, and two published articles, not to mention some fine times spent with good people in a beautiful place. I still feel enormous gratitude to those who made this residency possible, directly and indirectly. I feel gratitude even to the Maine weather.