Have you wanted to take my watercolor workshop on American Eagle but the dates didn’t work out for you? We’re doing it again this autumn, September 25-29.
There’s more opportunity for sunset painting in the fall. Photo courtesy of MB Rolfe.
Captain John Foss is a true antiquarian, maintaining and sailing a lovingly-restored schooner. It’s fitting that he uses one of the last remaining flip phones in America. I was most surprised to see a message from him while I was in Nova Scotia. Would I be interested in teaching a second workshop aboard American Eagle this fall?
With him sailing up and down the coast with that ancient phone and me out of the country, it was a little difficult to work out dates, Eventually, we decided on a sail that will run from Wednesday, September 25 to Sunday, September 29.
Under sail and hard at work aboard American Eagle.
Autumn is absolutely the best time of year here on the coast of Maine. Just as large bodies of water are slow to warm up in the summer, they’re slow to cool down in the fall. Fall, with its gorgeous flaming colors and earlier sunsets, is my absolute favorite time of year to paint en plein air. It will be especially beautiful from the water, with the reds of the blueberries and trees contrasting with the dark spruces and infinite blues of the sea.
Deckhand Kevin with the lobsters. Photo courtesy Mary Whitney.
What I’ve learned painting on American Eagle
I’ve painted on this boat in the summer and in the fall, and I will never predict what will happen; every sail is different.
Colleen Lowe drawing Paddington Bear’s secret life of debauchery. Photo courtesy Mary Whitney.
Your materials are all provided, including paints, papers, and brushes.
The trip lasts four days. Lighthouses, wildlife, and unspoiled scenery are part of every trip. The boat is a true relic of the Age of Sail, but it’s been updated so you have a comfortable berth, fresh linens, modern heads and a fresh-water shower.
And then there's dessert. Photo courtesy Mary Whitney.
Every meal is lovingly prepared by the cook and his messmate, my pal Sarah Collins. That includes a lobster bake, which might be at sea or on shore, depending on where we end up.
I'm providing a complete painting kit made with QoR paints, which are very high-quality, and high-end watercolor paper and sketchbooks. We'll use waterbrushes and a waterproof pen.
Pulled up for a picnic on Russ Island. That's the Lewis R. French in the far distance.
Is painting on a moving boat even possible?
Yes, and it’s fascinating. The water, sky and shoreline are constantly changing. In addition, we’ve scheduled this workshop for the longest days of the year so that we’ll have plenty of time to paint sunrises and sunsets while at anchor.
This workshop is aimed at watercolor or gouache painters, particularly those with an interest in the sea or sailing. No experience? You’re very welcome; we’ve got everything you need to get started.
Lobsters are the one meal that the captain cooks.
The schooner trip is $745, and your tuition for the workshop is $275, for a total of $1020, all inclusive. Email me here for more information. Or email American Eagle’s offices here or call them at 1-800-648-4544 to register. If you sign their guest book, they’ll send you a copy of a DVD.
There’s a $25 discount on tuition to members of New York Plein Air Painters, Plein Air Painters of Maine or returning students from any of my workshops.
We learn from studying our peers and the painters who’ve gone before us.
Victoria Street, oil on linen, 16x20, by Carol L. Douglas
Bruce McMillan emailed me last week. “Just in case you feel you're painting a lot, in 1911, from early August to late September on Monhegan, Robert Henri painted 300 paintings, most of them on 12x15 wooden boards, his last major foray into marine art.”
I churned out fifteen largish canvases in thirteen days during my Parrsboro residency and wondered if I was sacrificing quality for quantity. But I’m familiar with Henri’s marine paintings; they’re simple, monumental and brilliant. Bruce’s reassurance came at exactly the right time.
Once we’re done with art classes, we learn mostly from observing other artists. When we see something that we admire, we want to incorporate the essence of that idea into our work. It’s not stealing; it’s how all art develops.
Miss Margaret, oil on canvasboard, 8x10, by Carol L. Douglas. Maggie was my roommate for two weeks.
A writer told me recently, “you can rewrite that ending eight times and it won’t necessarily be better; you’ll just have eight different endings.” At least with the written word, they’re separate. In alla prima painting, those previous iterations lie there in the murk and muddy up the top layers.
I’d never heard of Tom Forrestall before this current trip. He’s sometimes called the Canadian Andrew Wyeth because of the precision of his egg tempera technique. But beneath that is a light, quirky vision. It’s magical realism unencumbered with social commentary. Can this kind of ruthless observation be learned? I won’t know until I try.
Clearing to the west, oil on canvas, 12x16, by Carol L. Douglas
Tara Will is a pastel painter from Maryland. She has never met a compositional rule she’s not willing to bend, break or pummel into submission. I look at everything she posts because her paintings are always colorful, light, and energetic. She keeps pastel lean and fresh.
Marc Granboisis a plein air painter from Quebec. His snow and ice are tremendous, but his skies are what I’m interested in these days. He can pull moody, brooding, and dramatic out of a leaden northern sky. There’s tremendous energy in his linework and patterning.
Every artist needs to know art history to understand where he or she fits into the great saga of art. A number of Nova Scotians commented that my painting style looked very Tom Thomson or Group of Seven. That’s partially because they’re familiar to Canadians, but it’s also because I have studied them for many years.
Recent landslide (Cape Sharp), oil on linen, 18x24, by Carol L. Douglas. This painting is the only one that's going to get a studio revision--in this case, a crop, I think. I removed something at the last minute and it unbalanced the composition.
More recently, I’ve been thinking about the Scottish Colourists, particularly Francis Cadell. Both the Canadians and Scottish groups are post-impressionist, but they’re as interested in a sense of place as they are in formal order and structure.
Most of the painters I’ve mentioned are not superstars; they’re my fellows in the trenches. Who do you admire right now? What can you learn from their painting? Thinking about what you like in your peers’ work gives you an idea of what you might want to change in your own. It’s a moving target. In a year, we’ll be talking about entirely different artists.
Sometimes you set out to paint one thing, only to realize it’s something else that’s caught your interest.
Landslide, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
Had you asked me on Wednesday what I planned to paint, I’d have looked at you squiggle-eyed. I was too tired to see beauty in anything. I drove out a long dirt road to Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE). There is a lovely view off its back deck (and a restroom) but it didn’t move me. I returned to Partridge Island and hiked up to its observation deck. There’s a flowerpot rock on the beach below, but it seemed like too much work to drag my kit back up.
I tried instead to tackle the running tide for a third time. None of them, in my opinion, captures the powerful delicacy of the tides here.
Tides manifest as horizontal as they run back and forth along the slanting sea bed. Here the shore is flat and sandy and the tides high. The streaming water runs for hundreds of feet in a six-hour cycle. It moves shockingly fast. Still, it’s gentle. There’s no white crashing surf.
Harbor Mouth, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
On the surface, the Minas Basin is placid. However, it contains vast, uncontrolled kinetic energy. For example, the Dory Rips, off Cape d’Or, are a collision of three opposed tidal currents that slam into an underwater reef, forcing the water up into house-high standing waves. You can’t capture that on canvas when you’re looking down from cliffs ranging up to 600 feet in height.
I walked the beach at Partridge Island early in the morning, as it neared high tide. There was roiling on the otherwise-placid surface. That was a rip current. Hours later, children would play and search for fossils in the same spot, oblivious to the powerful forces that had just departed.
Partridge Island is connected to the mainland by a sandbar. It was created during the infamous Saxby Gale of 1869. This October hurricane overlapped an unusually high tide to create the perfect storm along the Maine coast and Bay of Fundy. Low-lying farms were inundated, harbors were wrecked, and breakwaters washed away. It cost at least 37 lives, and created the highest tide ever recorded, 70.9 ft, at Burntcoat Head.
Salt water meadows (East Bay from Partridge Island), oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas
Exactly 150 years later, there are structures on the Partridge Island isthmus, including a herring weir and some cottages. It’s a popular picnic and camping spot. But that’s a blink of the eye in geological time, and it’s wise to remember that the sea giveth and taketh away.
In the afternoon, I painted in Diligent River. My instructions were to turn onto a private drive that snakes three kilometers down to the sea, running first through blueberries, then meadows, and then a spruce forest. There’s a freshwater pond of about 15 acres. It’s high because of our endless rain this spring. The dock is several feet offshore. Half of it has loosed its moorings and sailed away.
Parrsboro had a parade this week, and I could have been in it had I answered my phone. This float commemorates the forced landing of a Handley Page V/1500 named Atlantic here, on July 5, 1919.
It was lovely, but the coastline compelled me. A break has been created in the trees by a spring mudslide. I’d intended to paint Cape Split, but the glorious tumult of rocks and upended tree trunks caught my imagination. Through it, ferns slid to a new destination unharmed. Spruce saplings grew on, unheeding.
The cliffs here are an unstable amalgam of sediment and basalt. They’re always in motion, slipping down to be milled into new sand beaches. Since these are some of the most important paleontological areas in Nova Scotia, new fossils are always being exposed. Inevitably, that interested me more than the view, and I found myself painting something I’d not intended.
I was invigorated. Three large paintings in two days when I thought there was no gas left in the tank.
To survive in an uninhabited land, you need community. The next crisis may be yours.
New Puppy, by Carol L. Douglas, 8x10, oil on canvas.
There’s a vixen that sits on the shoulder of a road here, glorying in the sun. When I first saw her, I thought about calling animal control, because that’s unusual behavior for a fox. I’ve since learned that she took a wire to the muzzle. It became infected and a Good Samaritan fed her antibiotic-laced meat to save her life. Now, she’s a local pet of sorts. A certain person (whose name I won’t mention) gives her dog biscuits. Others feed her Timbits. Still others despair that she’s running with a bad crowd, and her new friends will rob her of the ability to live a normal fox life.
It's no surprise that people feed her. She's cute.
I’ve lived in my small town in Maine for four years, and I don’t know this much about anything that happens there. And I’m, as they say, plugged in.
Rural Canadians can, as they say, talk a hind leg off a donkey. They’re outgoing compared to their New England cousins. It’s not just Nova Scotians, either. On Monday an Edmonton, Alberta man chatted with me as I loaded my car. I now know more about him than I do about either of my neighbors back in Maine.
If I took up all the invitations I’ve received, I’d never get home. A man showed me photos of his spectacular view. He’d moved here from Hamilton, Ontario. “That’s a six-million-dollar view back home,” I said. He nodded enthusiastically. He really wants artists to come paint it.
Pink sand, by Carol L. Douglas, 8x10, oil on canvas.
Almost one in four Canadians live in the so-called Golden Horseshoe that wraps around Toronto (which includes Hamilton). Four of five Canadians live in cities. The rest of Canada is essentially empty. Rural Canadians can’t afford to be stand-offish. To survive in what is essentially a wilderness, you need to cultivate community. The next disaster or crisis may be yours.
Parrsboro, with a population of 1,205, is a regional hub in Cumberland County. It has a small co-op and a Pharmasave, along with a smattering of other businesses. The town is a third the size it was a century ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s going “gentle into that good night.”
It’s a lovely little town, with opportunities for great painting, but it reminded me powerfully of Camden. In other words, there are too many tourists milling around. I’ll be back during the shoulder season, but for now I prefer the ranginess of Parrsboro.
I’m not alone. On Saturday, I met an artist from Halifax, in Parrsboro for a workshop. “I love it here,” she said wistfully. “I could live here.” Perhaps someday, she will.
Risk-taking is not only good for art, it’s good practice for life.
Midsummer, by Carol L. Douglas. Oil on canvas, 24x36.
“I can’t remember what you told me you plan to concentrate on during this residency,” Bobbi Heath said.
That was because I had deftly avoided answering her question. A residency is a great time to set up a challenge and then answer it. The people vetting your application want to know how the opportunity is going to expand your vision or change your practice. We try to do something inventive yet considered. Of course, that sometimes means you’ve painted yourself into a corner before you’ve even started.
I’ve been thinking recently about architecture, and what gives us a sense of place, and, of course, boats. I’m sure I could have whipped up a grandiose statement with those ingredients, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Farm, by Carol L. Douglas
Nova Scotia has a vernacular building style that’s peculiar to Canada and Britain. These are steep-roofed houses with twin gables. Sometimes they have matching window bays. They may be tarted up with gingerbread, or they may be very simple. They’re always proper, like a nice old lady in her best pantsuit. It’s not a common building style in most of the United States, but there are many examples in my part of Maine.
It was thinking about them that made me spend my first several days painting buildings from above. There is, in fact, something audacious about this kind of painting: it’s based on drawing.
“You must have taken mechanical drawing or drafting in school,” an artist said after she saw my sketch for Midsummer. Rather, I learned to draw when perspective and measurement were routine. If I could get students to do one thing, it would be to spend twice as much time drawing as they ever spend painting. But I digress.
As fun as painting houses has been, they're still well within my skill set. It was time to radically mix it up.
Her laundry and lupines, by Carol L. Douglas
I offered to demo in downtown Parrsboro. I painted the estuary two weeks ago and wasn’t keen on doing it again so soon. My other options were commercial buildings. Behind one was a laundry line. It was unfortunately surrounded by a scramble of wild roses and lupines. My least-favorite things to paint are flowers.
I drew the scene three times and realized I was getting nowhere with the scientific method. I started lashing paint on without a good underpainting, moving objects in mid-process, and doing all the things I tell students to never do. It took much longer than a well-drafted painting ever does.
Is it successful? It doesn’t really matter. It was a good way to force myself past my resistance to flowers, and to hang my painting on a tale. The laundry told a powerful story to me. It was a single woman’s working wardrobe, hanging outside a simple, concrete-block apartment. Everyone paints white sheets. I painted black leggings.
When I was done, I wanted to paint the exact same subject again, but this time I would approach it very differently. The beauty of a residency is that I can do that.
Why push yourself out of your comfort zone? It develops your tolerance for change. Human beings are wired to experience negative results more keenly than positive ones. It’s called our negativity bias, and it’s there to stop us from doing stupid things that will kill us.
This bias carries over to predicting outcomes. We tend to think things will go wrong more than they’ll go right. The fewer risks we take, the stronger that belief is. We can become immobilized by the fear of change.
There are a few ways around this, of course. Personally, I believe that an interactive God has my back. You can call that a positivity bias, if you want.
Repeatedly taking controlled risks is in itself therapeutic. It reduces our negativity bias. Our brains learn that risky ventures can succeed, and that failing is not necessarily awful.
That is not only good for art, it’s good practice for life. This week, challenge yourself.
This farm is down on its luck, but it’s been in the family for five generations. How much longer can it survive?
Hill farm with logging truck, by Carol L. Douglas. 16x20, oil on canvas. The black flies will go as soon as it dries.
On Wednesday I found an old hill farm to draw in East Fraserville, Nova Scotia. I found a place I could safely pull off the road, so I set up my safety cone and got to work.
I’ve been assessing my reaction to painting locations and including that in the painting. On Tuesdayand Wednesday, I was aware of a low-level anxiety, coming from the hilly, narrow roads and the steep shoulders I was working from. This is an 80-kmh provincial highway, which translates to a 55-mph state road.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more uncomfortable, I saw a logging truck snake down the long hill toward me. To be fair, these were very careful drivers, but I have a healthy respect for their top-heavy loads.
It's a narrow, fast road, and this is not what you want to see bearing down on you while painting.
My painting became less about looking down on the house and more about its relationship to the high road. It is a lovely old place, similar in age and style to my own, but it’s in bad repair. Still, they had hospitable, woofy dogs, gamboling cats, and an impeccable garden. I figured I’d like the owners.
I met the husband in the early evening. He was a tall, sturdy, upright fellow of about my age. He told me that blueberries are depressed right now. They’re paying $.20 Canadian per pound, which is $.15 our money. Worse than that, the big growers had warehouses full last year and refused to take any from smaller growers. His crop rotted in the field.
He has hundreds of acres of land earning no revenue, so he’s taken an outside job. He kept apologizing for the condition of his house. Since he and his wife raised five daughters and sent them to university from that farm, it began to look downright heroic.
“People ask me why my house is down in a hole, but the road used to be where my driveway is now,” he told me. The high road was built in the 1950s.
The house in 1888, before it had a porch. (Tinted photo courtesy of the owner.)
He showed me a tinted photo of the house taken in 1888. What follows is my best recollection. The man on the far right is his great-great-grandfather. His great-great-great grandmother is the older lady, and the other woman is his great-great-grandmother. The two gentlemen to the left were named Crossman; there’s a nearby hill named after that family. There’s also a dog, if you look carefully.
His great-great-great grandfather died when his son was 14. He was climbing a fence while hunting and accidentally shot himself under the arm. He walked to a neighbor’s house, sat down on a stump and bled to death. Two days later, one of those Crossman fellows brought the widow to East Fraserville. In a hardscrabble world, necessity wins out over sentiment. But who are we to criticize? Today we marry for love and half our marriages end in divorce.
This is an underpainting I started yesterday. Hopefully I'll finish it today.
The house has been in the family ever since, although its glory days are now long gone. Farming’s never been an easy road, but it’s worse when small producers are being squeezed out, as is happening in Nova Scotia right now. I wonder how my new friend feels about being unable to farm his family homestead. I wonder if any of his daughters are interested in it, or whether it will pass out of the family when this generation passes on.
What causes the droughts in our creative life, when we’ve apparently forgotten everything we ever knew about painting?
Ottawa House, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas, available.
I’m back in Nova Scotia for a two-week residency at Parrsboro Creative. A few years ago, they decided their little community at the top of the Bay of Fundy ought to be a major art center. A series of artist residencies is part of their master plan.
One of my goals is to paint some of the scenes I haven’t gotten to during three years at Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival (PIPAF). The first of these is historic Ottawa House. Built around 1770, it became the summer home of Sir Charles Tupper in 1871. Tupper was a well-known politician who once served as Prime Minister of Canada for 69 days.
The only way to paint the scene is to set up along a hairpin turn. The right side of the road is a blind spot for drivers whipping around the bend, so I faced oncoming traffic.
My home-away-from-home for the next two weeks.
A local stopped. “Two weeks ago, two girls lost control on this corner and plowed into the guardrail there.” He pointed to a spot about thirty feet away. “If it weren’t for these cables, they’d have gone over the embankment. Took two posts clean out.”
I began to think about Grant Wood’sDeath on the Ridge Road. “Those cables have been there since the Second World War,” said the man, patting a post fondly. They certainly have the whiff of age about them, and are battered and twisted from impacts across the years.
I’m starting to know people in Parrsboro, and one of them stopped to chat as I worked. “You’ve chosen a dangerous spot,” he started.
That was my clue to move along. The affair was starting to remind me of that joke that ends with God saying, “First I sent you a canoe, then a boat, and then a helicopter. What more did you want?”
Four Ducks, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas, sold.
Still, all except two of the top 20% were men. I was the other woman. While I’m pleased, I also want to see my paint-spattered sisters consistently getting their due.
I’ve spent the better part of a week pondering why I painted so well at Cape Elizabeth and so badly at PIPAF the prior week. Robert More reminded me that the creative space is elusive, showing up where and when it wants. I was certainly tired and rushed when I arrived in Parrsboro.
Despite my workmanlike approach to painting, there are times when it all goes bad. The advantage to being older is that you’ve gone through this many times before, and you know it’s a transient problem. “You can’t create when the well runs dry,” my friend Jane Bartlett says. Prayerful reflection, sleep, reading and recreation all refill the well. I’ve done those things, and I’m back on track. Let’s hope it continues.
Line-of-Action won’t make you a figure artist, but if you can’t get to a weekly model session, it’s the next best thing.
The Anatomy Class at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, 1888, François Sallé. Courtesy Art Gallery of New South Wales.
My son-in-law Aaron has the makings of a very fine artist. Yesterday, he snapchatted me some figure gestures with a note that said, “I practice online when I can’t come to your class.” (He lives in Buffalo.) They were quite good.
The website he’s using is Line of Action. It’s a bundle of reference photos that can either play as a slideshow or in a class format. The latter is like a figure session, starting with 30-second gestures and working up to longer poses.
Bathers on the Seine – Academy, 1874-76, Édouard Manet, courtesy São Paulo Museum of Art.
I clicked through the figure photos. For the most part they were poses I might see on an average Wednesday night at Camden Life Drawing. In some cases, the photos exaggerate perspective due to barrel lens distortion. But that’s a quibble. For someone wanting to draw comics, lens distortion might help create dynamism. The viewer can choose gender and whether the model is clothed or unclothed. Nothing I saw was remotely sexualized (a danger with working from photos on the internet).
There are other categories of images as well: animals, hands and feet, and faces. I’ve done gesture drawings of horses in motion, cows, and sleeping dogs and cats. However, animals, as a rule, don’t pose well. Too often animal portraits are static because they are generally done from photos.
The drawing class, 1660, Michiel Sweerts. Courtesy Frans Hals Museum. The formal class has been around for centuries because it works.
If you choose to play the slides in class format, you will experience the models as seen in a typical figure drawing classroom. This mode includes built-in breaks. You can practice drawing just as you might practice cello.
Modelo de Academia, date unknown, Manuel Teixeira da Rocha. Private collection.
Typically, figure-drawing classes start with brief gestures. These help the artist draw kinesthetically, putting his whole arm into the process. Short gestures fire up a kind of sympathetic drawing, which can be more accurate in measurement than more formal systems. And short gestures are unsettling, so the artist can’t get into a rut from the start.
From gestures, most classes move through longer and longer poses. The final long pose is where the artist begins to explore detail. Anatomical accuracy is usually the primary concern in a figure class. But equally important are composition and the relationship of the figure to its (mostly unarticulated) ground.
Line-of-Action won’t make you a figure artist—you need lots of time with live models for that. But if you’re in a place where you can’t get to a weekly figure group, or a point in life where going out to draw is impossible, it’s the next best thing.
You can use their basic photo library and the class format algorithm for free. There are two basic subscription levels. Since I don’t need feedback from their artist community, I’ll just be dropping by as a casual user.
“I’m the worst, I’m totally garbage at scheduling” is not an excuse; it’s just a sign that you were raised by wolves.
Cape Elizabeth Cliffs, by Carol L. Douglas
Tomorrow is the wedding of the season in my former town of Rochester, NY. The sister of the bride is flying in from Scotland; the sisters of the groom from France. The gathering will include my husband, my daughter, and many of my old and treasured friends.
I’ll be thinking of them as I paint at Cape Elizabeth Paint for Preservation. No, I do not think my career is more important than my old friend, but I was accepted to this event before she announced the date.
Back in the last millennium, etiquette mavens taught that the only proper reason to break a prior commitment was an invitation to the White House. I’m liberal enough to include a personal emergency or a date in court, but the principle was that your word, once given, is inviolate.
Painting in Cape Elizabeth Paint for Preservation last June. (Photo courtesy of Karen Lybrand)
It can be difficult to maintain this policy. Last autumn, I’d signed up for Plein Air Brandywine Valley when my daughter invited me to London and Bath. I had no prior relationship with the show and my family was very persuasive. My husband went to England; I painted in Pennsylvania. I liked Children’s Beach House, the sponsoring organization, enough that I’ll be back again this year.
I think it’s no bad thing to be reliable. One of the few things I regret decades later is having flaked on someone who was really counting on me.
Modern culture has a bad reputation for flaking, or not showing up when you say you will. Having given three weddings for my daughters, I’ve experienced this first-hand. The worst offenders, by the way, have not been much-maligned millennials, but people who are old enough to know better.
“Technology makes it so much easier to flake out,” saidclinical psychologist Andrea Bonior. “It's infinitely easier and less awkward than having to talk to someone by phone or, worse, tell them in person.”
Painting in the cold rain at Brandywine last autumn.
But showing up when you promise is as important to festival organizers as it is to the mother of the bride. Organizers invest a great deal of time and energy on a short list of painters, one they’ve carefully selected through a complex process of invitation or jurying. Your name and work have been assiduously promoted to their lists, and they encourage your fans to come to their event.
Most committees work on their event all year long, and they work indefatigably during the run-up and the week of the event. Much of the work is done by volunteers, working alongside paid staff. The work involved in putting on a successful plein air competition is staggering; it is probably equal to organizing a white tie dinner at Buckingham Palace.
Some events have runners-up to fill last minute gaps. But even these shows will have publicized your presence to their punters. Not showing up leaves them plugging a mystery “Special Guest” in the place of their headliners.
So, if you’re thinking of bailing on an event, don’t. And if you must, make sure you have an awfully good reason—your own death, for example. “I’m the worst, I’m totally garbage at scheduling” is not an excuse; it’s just a sign that you were raised by wolves.
PIPAF is emerging quickly in the plein airmovement. But in terms of gender equality, it’s already a leader.
View From Back Street Oil on Panel, by Chantel Julien was the 2017 PIPAF Best in Show winner. (Photo courtesy Parrsboro Creative)
Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival has emerged quickly as an important contender in the plein air scene. It attracts big-name artists, sales are increasing, and visitation is up. But there’s one way in which I hope it remains unchanged: gender equality.
At most plein air competitions, top prizes are taken by male artists. Some sponsors have tried to address this by alternating between male and female jurors, but have found that the gender of the juror doesn’t make much difference. Painting is one of the last bastions in western culture where men’s work is perceived as more valuable than women’s work.
Nancy Tankersley was the 2018 PIPAF Best in Show winner. (Photo courtesy Parrsboro Creative)
This imbalance is unfortunately not just for dead artists. A data-mining exercise last year found that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) collection is only 11% women-made. At the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 18% of the artists are female.
The Romantic ideal of the Cult of Genius underlies much of the misogyny of the modern art world, because Genius was thought to be a male trait. “Underlying the question about woman as artist, then, we find the myth of the Great Artist—subject of a hundred monographs, unique, godlike—bearing within his person since birth a mysterious essence, rather like the golden nugget in Mrs. Grass’s chicken soup, called Genius or Talent, which, like murder, must always out, no matter how unlikely or unpromising the circumstances,” wrote Linda Nochlin in a ground-breaking feminist essay in 1971.
Sunset Glow at the Weir, by Poppy Balser was the 2019 PIPAF Best in Show winner. (Photo courtesy Parrsboro Creative)
The great virtue of plein air painting is that it rejects the Cult of Genius in favor of craftsmanship and hard work. And despite its lack of recognition in the art establishment, it is the first new art movement in decades, and overall one of the greatest in art history.
Adams, et al sought to burst the idea—once and for all—that art prices reflected any difference in quality between male and female painters. They devised two experiments where paintings were assigned arbitrary genders. In both cases, knowledgeable buyers appreciated paintings less when they thought the artist was female. Ouch.
But in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, the tide is turning. I can’t credit Canadian culture for this: two of the three jurors have been American. Nor is it a case of women jurors crediting women painters, because two of the three jurors were male. However it happened, it’s wonderful to see prizes awarded to women painters.