Wednesday, May 15, 2019

My 5 Favorite Islands You Can Visit by Ferry - #2 - Peaks

A Casco Bay Ferry departing Portland

I'll admit it, one of the best parts of a trip to Peaks Island is the ferry ride from Portland. Sailboats, Lighthouses, the civil war era Fort Gorges, lobster boats and buoys, there's a lot to see. 

The Windjammer Frances

Sparkle 10"x8" oil painting

Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse

The Ferry Landing at Peaks Island

But there's a lot of fun to be had on the island too. Just three miles from Portland, Maine, Peaks Island is home to almost a thousand year round residents and many more in summer. Imagine living on an island in beautiful Casco Bay, only a short ferry ride from the vibrant city of Portland. That  sounds idyllic to me. There is the Richard Boyd Art Gallery, several restaurants, interesting museums, and a wonderful road that follows the edge of the island all the way around. Rent a bike at Brad's Bikes, or bring your own, and take that ride. You'll see cottages, the rocky shore, the bay and the ocean, and lots of boats. Stop to visit the Fifth Maine Regiment Museum, where I once had a delightful tour full of great stories, and the Umbrella Cover Museum, yes, you read that correctly.

Peaks Cottages

The road around the island

For me, the bike ride with my plein air gear is the best part of a visit to Peaks. Most of Casco Bay is protected from the sea and lacking in surf. On the outside of Peaks, there's a rocky shore and a chance of a few waves crashing on the rocks. Perfect for doing some painting.

My painting, Rocky Shore, 8"x10" in front of that shore now covered by a higher tide

The ferry to Peaks leaves from Commercial Street in Portland with 16 trips a day in the summer.

My list of favorite islands is not being presented in order. Stay tuned for the other three.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Value Planes in the Landscape - Carlson's Theory of Angles

Merchant's Row 8"x8" oil on canvas panel

John Carlson made many useful observations in his book, Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting. One of the most fundamental is that light from the sky illuminates planes in the landscape differently depending on their angle to the sun. This concept is known as Carlson's Theory of Angles and Consequent Values, or simply, Carlson's theory of Angles. He proposes that we consider four planes of the landscape, 1) the ground plane, 2) the verticals, such as trees, 3) the plane of mountains or slanted roofs, 4) and finally, the sky.

When the sun is overhead, the sky will be the lightest value. The ground plane, which gets the full force of the sun, will be the second lightest. The plane of the mountains and slanted roofs, will be third lightest, and the darkest will be the trees. I hope that you can see this in the image below, which represents the upper left corner of the painting above.

There are, of course, complications to this, when the sun is not directly overhead. When the sun is low in the sky, shadows are cast on the ground plane, and verticals can be in sunlight or shade. And in the case of my illustration, where the ground plane is water, the surface of the water in wind is usually much darker than when calm and reflecting the sky like a mirror. Even with those caveats, when I keep Carlson's theory in mind, I'm able to find these values in my landscape and use them to make a stronger  painting.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

My 5 Favorite Maine Islands You Can Visit by Ferry - #1 - Monhegan

Monhegan Skyline

If once you have slept on an island
You'll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name,
You may bustle about in street and shop
You may sit at home and sew,
But you'll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.
You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But you'll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.
Oh! you won't know why and you can't say how
Such a change upon you came,
But once you have slept on an island,
You'll never be quite the same. 

 - Rachel Lyman Field

There are many more than five islands in Maine that you can visit by ferry, and I'm going to share my favorites in the next few posts. Perhaps these will help you with your summer vacation plans. At the top of my list is Monhegan, the artist's island, ten miles off the midcoast Maine shore.

"Monhegan" comes from the Algonquian Monchiggon, meaning "out-to-sea island." It was first visited by Europeans in the early 17th century and became a British fishing camp and trading post. The island was caught in the conflict between Britain and France for control of the region, but even during the times when the island was not inhabited, the protected harbor was a stopover for ships. The current lighthouse was built in 1850, after its 25 year old predecessor was damaged by storms. There is a wonderful museum in the Lighthouse Keeper's cottage.

 House on Monhegan - Bobbi Heath

By 1890 the island was established as an artist's colony, which continues to today. Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, and Jamie Wyeth are names you've probably heard. What inspires artists to paint here? The light and the subject matter. Many places that are surrounded by water are wonderful for painters because the light bouncing off the water is everywhere, sparkling and giving life to the shadows. As to subject matter, the island is made up of the village, the harbor, forests, meadows, and the dramatic cliffs on the ocean side facing the Atlantic. There's plenty there to paint.

Monhegan is .7 mile wide and 1.7 miles long, and is not developed like the rest of the Maine coast. There are less than 80 year round residents, a working lobster fishing village, and a thriving artist's community. The island has no paved roads and visitors cannot bring cars, but if you are willing to walk, you are in for a treat. Two thirds of the island is protected as a nature preserve by the Monhegan Associates, "an island trust which has accepted the responsibility of holding and maintaining the land in its natural form, for all future generations to enjoy". Seventeen miles of natural trails encircle and crisscross the island, through meadows and forests, onto the headlands, and along the coves and ledges. Birdwatchers, nature lovers, and photographers will all find something to interest them. You'll likely see painters in both the village and on the ocean side cliffs. You can download a trail map of the island, courtesy of the Monhegan Associates, here.

How can you get there? Monhegan is served by ferries from three Maine harbors, from southwest to northeast, BoothBay Harbor (Balmy Days Cruises), Round Pond (Hardy Boat Cruises), and Port Clyde (Monhegan Boat Line). You can visit for the day or longer.

 Downtown Monhegan - Bobbi Heath

My recommendation for a day trip is to take a walk through the village and then visit the lighthouse, where you'll get a fabulous view of the village at your feet and the island of Manana, which makes up the other side of Monhegan's harbor. If you have time, continue past the lighthouse and walk through Cathedral Woods to White Head on the backside. To get a beautiful view of White Head, turn right on the trail and walk to Gull Cove. Alternatively, the walk to Lobster Cove is beautiful, and your rewards is the rocky cove and the remains of the wreck of the D T Sheridan. And FYI, these walks are somewhat rugged.

Where can you stay? The largest hotels/BnBs are the Island Inn, the Monhegan House, and the Trailing Yew, each offering an experience unique from the others. And there are 11 rooms/homes listed on and at the moment.

And if you do visit Monhegan, please let me know how you found it.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Mixing Color

Green Ledge 2003

Rachel Carson Marsh 2014

When I first started painting, I used very bright colors, mostly green, blue, purple, yellow, and white. I didn’t understand that there are 3 dimensions to any patch of paint you put on a canvas: hue (the named color on the color wheel), value (how light or dark it is), and chroma (intensity or saturation). Think about the last one as bright (highly saturated) versus dull (grayed down). Grays are very important to balance areas that are bright, but mixing grays can be confusing, since they can become muddy. As I watch individual painters evolve over time, I often see the same progression I went through; from bright, out of the tube colors, through a phase where the artist is trying their best to paint what they see in nature, to a place where they create their own color palette. And here I’m not talking about what you squeeze out onto your physical palette, but what you mix with those colors and place on your paintings.

Here are a few things I’ve learned.

Guideline 1: Mix efficiently

Regardless of what color you’re trying to create, if you don’t know how to mix efficiently, you’ll end up with lots of paint you can’t use. 

Start by mixing only two colors together. A primary and white is the simplest example. Let’s use white and ultramarine blue. Squeeze out some of both, with some space in between. Is the blue you want closer to the tube ultramarine blue or to white in value? If it’s closer to the ultramarine blue, then pull a little of the white into your ultramarine blue pile and mix them together with the back of your palette knife. It will probably still be too dark, so pull in some more white and repeat mixing. Continue to do this until you have the color and value that you want. If what you wanted was closer to the white in value, then do the opposite, pull a little ultramarine blue into the white pile, mix, and repeat as above.

Contrast the above with plopping down two pretty much equal blobs of ultramarine blue and white and simply mixing them together. To get what you want, you’re going to have to add more and more of one or the other, and you’ll have LOTS of paint by the time you’re done.

The above is illustrated in this video.

Guideline 2: Use a limited palette

Color mixing chart for a limited palette of lemon (Hansa) yellow, cadmium yellow, cadmium red, quinacridone red, ultramarine blue, and phthalo blue, with white (+W)

The more pigments you mix together, the more likely you are to get mud. A limited palette helps prevent this. You’ll also spend less money on paint and have less paint to carry around if you use a limited palette. What is this limited palette? Ideally it would be just the primary colors and white. The secondaries can be made from the primaries, but not vice a versa (try it if you’re not sure). The primary colors tend to have only one pigment in the tube. The problem is that none of them are exactly the color we see on the color wheel. Ultramarine blue is a little on the purple side of blue, and cobalt and phthalo blue are a little on the green side. But we can take advantage of that. If we mix a red and a blue that lean to the purple side together we get a really bright purple. And if we mix the red that leans toward yellow and the blue that leans toward green, we get a grayed down version (see the color mixing chart above). So if we have two of each primary and some white we can make everything we need, with a minimal chance of mud, and control over our grays. My paintings improved so much once I mastered this!

Guideline 3: Limit your use of white

White isn’t always the best way to make a color lighter, yellow can be a better choice, especially with reds. And it’s best to first block in the darks and then the lights (those mixtures that contain white), because it’s very hard to paint dark into light paint while both are wet.

A Great Exercise:

To practice paint mixing, get some pleasing color chips from the hardware paint department, and try mixing them. When you’re close, put a little of the mixture on the paint chip. Is the color right? Squint to make sure the value is right. Thanks to Leslie Saeta for this idea.