Holy Mackerel!

My demo painting. Not inspired, but by the time we were done, everyone had done all the steps.

My demo painting. Not inspired or finished, but by the time we were done, everyone had done all the steps.

I hate whole-class demonstrations, mostly because I hate watching them myself. Nevertheless, some processes require step-by-step instruction, and I try to sneak them in where possible.

With oil paint, you can set your easel up like a lectern in front of a group. With watercolor, particularly used as a field sketching medium, it’s not that simple. The work needs to be angled nearly flat, which makes watching the process more difficult.

Even in Vacationland painting classes fade away in August. People have things to do. Yesterday I was down to two students. Both are in the early stages. It was the perfect time to go over the basics of watercolor.

My idea was similar to those paint and sip events that are so popular right now. Being mid-morning, there was no wine. (Of course, there is no real relationship between drinking and art, any more so than there is between drinking and engineering.) Furthermore, I didn’t give them a canned subject; we would choose a general area in which to work and they could frame it as they wanted.

Come to Maine. The work is strenuous, but you will learn a lot.

Come to Maine to paint. The conditions are strenuous, but you will learn a lot.

We did each step in unison. First we chose subjects, then we did a value study, then we cropped our studies. We transferred our drawing to paper, did washes, built in darks.

At no time did we proceed to the next step before all three of us had finished with the prior one. That has a curious way of messing with your concentration.

For a while, a school of mackerel swirled in the water at our feet, snapping at something on the surface. A large gull dove into it, coming up empty-beaked. Come to Maine to learn to paint; it’s never boring.

My polarized sunglasses let me watch the column of fish deep in the water, but sadly my camera could only photograph the surface.

My polarized sunglasses let me watch this column of fish swirling in the water, but my camera could only photograph the surface.

We ran out of time long before we were finished, but we’d reviewed all the principles, including that a good painting takes a long time. Whatever the medium is, that’s universally true.

Our subject was simple and pedestrian, and eventually was obliterated by the arrival of lobster boats back from their morning’s work. None of us painted anything brilliant. But we established the order of operations for watercolor, which is so radically different from painting with oil. We were able to discuss brushes and technique in detail.

After class, I walked to the post office to get my mail. I remarked to my husband that teaching two students always requires more concentration than teaching six. I think all three of us learned a lot.

Carol Douglas

About Carol Douglas

Carol L. Douglas is a painter who lives, works and teaches in Rockport, ME. Her annual workshop will again be held on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park, from August 6-11, 2017. Visit www.watch-me-paint.com/ for more information.