Looking southeast along the Maine coast always seems to bring to view another headland or scrap of rocky coast. I’ve been thinking about this recently as I work on a series of small studies and paintings from that beloved coast. I keep asking myself why do I so love being between a rock and a hard place? It’s a hard question to answer. Maybe it’s the gestalt of our times, and I am just one among many in this spot. Then I think well, better enjoy some aspect of this! Painting and remembering these “hard places” is a source of joy for me, so I suspect I’ll keep painting them, I hope you enjoy them too..
A sunrise hike to the end of the point with a thermos and a biscuit. I can’t think of a better way to start the day. This view – looking out to Grand Manon from Lubec, Maine is absolutely one of my favorites. The deeply weathered outcrops feel extraordinarily ancient. I almost want to paint a pterodactyl in the sky. Enjoy. Detail below.
Wide expanses of sky and a disappearing ocean provide the subject for this large painting from Lubec, Maine. The surprise of seeing what lies beneath the water always rouses my curiosity. Rivulets and pools interspersed with ribbons of sand, slippery green algae, and peat banks form complex patterns across the nearly flat plane. A distant headland is barely visible in the encroaching fog. This is a quiet place. Enjoy.
Technical painting notes: I used a soft rubber roller to lay down a streaky layer of dark reddish brown oil paint, swished a manipulated with mineral spirits to suggest some of the textures I wanted. Later, as I worked up the details from the scene, the painting started to get too fussy, so I took out the roller again and simply re-rolled over some of the wet paint to “disturb” it. Patterns of wet paint repeated themselves as they came off the roller, creating a more interesting effect. I also rolled a semi-transparent layer of the gray/beige to suggest the sand, then let the accidents of rolling determine where the darker wet sand would be. FInal touches were highlighting the ridges of sand with more opaque paint, adding the strips of water caught between the ridges, and introducing a warm light to some of the further sand patches. Multiple grey glazes of fog pushed the horizon into the deeper distance.
Simple can be best. I started this painting with thoughts of a complex sky over the stark, low tide, Lubec Channel on the coast of Maine. As I worked, the focus changed. I saw the interesting subtleties of the land, and decided to subdue the sky, while maintaining some of the original cloud forms and fog bank. The contrast of the truly dark mud and channel bottom with the bright white of the incoming fog sets up enough drama. At the same time, the drama is soothing – perhaps due to the quiet tones and strong horizontals interspersed with sliding angles. The dark band of channel bottom was a great place to experiment with the use of impasto medium and some knife work, along with using a silicone scraper to “dig” into the paint. Spatter layers set the gravelly foreground, especially after I added some broken brushstrokes. Details below. Enjoy.
Everything is in transition. That is the theme behind Watching the Tide Go Out. Weather is changing; the sea has all but disappeared. Now it is possible to see what lies beneath – the sorted gravels, mud, salty vegetation, the soggy ground of clams, even the patterns left by clammers and an occasional vehicle. But along with the theme of transition, there’s also the reassurance of seeing far into the distance – wide open space and early mist lifting. A sense of anticipation. Landscape art is place. For me, it also is a way to portray an emotional attachment to the land, and to home. Details below. Enjoy.
Technical painting notes: The sky is straightforward oil painting, but the lower two fifths of the painting employ every technique I know to suggest the varied conditions of a retreating sea. The base layer of dark umbers and blues was rolled on with a soft rubber brayer. Before the paint could dry, I swished mineral spirits (mixed with a bit of stand oil) across was the surface, then spritzed it with more mineral spirits, then dragged a plastic bag across the surface. I wanted a crisply streaky, dark surface with highlights. Some areas were rolled again with out paint on the roller, to distribute the layer and soften textures. The whole process was repeated several times to build up a dense and interesting layer. Finally, just before the paint set up, I used a silicone scraper to create crisp light lines in the foreground – both to evoke the vegetation and to change the size of the marks so that the foreground would feel close.
The sea comes and goes, and in Lubec, Maine it can ebb a long way. This view across Lubec’s low tide flats toward Grand Manon in New Brunswick, Canada makes one think about walking on water. Or maybe not. I walked a similar area off Campobello Island once. Most of the beach was shingled (covered with stones), but when I accidentally placed my foot on what looked like a bit of mud, I sank up to my knee – surprise! A walking stick is a good idea. Those mud flats do still attract me, however. Here’s so much marine life. There’s also something more profound – a quality of being scraped clean, and seeing simple sky, water, and land. Complicated and simple at the same time – stark and subtle. Details below. Enjoy.
Technical painting notes: With Quiet Morning, I wanted to emphasize the stark simplicity of the the bands of sky, receding water, and land. I also liked the idea of a slice of cerulean blue sky bounded by bright gray, with the only other colors being a tiny bit of green and muted orange, dusty grayed red, plus lots of subdued gray/blue/browns. Lubec can feel like a black and white photograph, the colors are so subtle and the atmospherics so quietly intense. The challenge of how to bring the shine of wet mud up to the foreground plants was resolved with repeated glazes and manipulation of shadow. I pressed textures into the wet glaze, waited for it to dry, and glazed again. It gives the impression of wet mud seen beneath a film of water.
It’s astounding what you see when the tide goes out – especially around the Bay of Fundy. This view of the clam flats in Lubec, Maine is from low tide. I’ve often seen clammers working out there, and I’ve wandered the flats myself, looking at the vegetation, peat, myriad complexly patterned stones, sea cucumbers shells, and rich mud. There are so many micro-environments between Grand Manon (distant isle), Campobello Island (darker headland), and Quoddy Head beyond the picture to the right. In a few hours, only the headland will be above water. The distant fog bank will steal Grand Manon. The fog is present almost every day, sometimes enveloping, sometimes retreating, always mysterious. Details below. Enjoy.
Technical painting notes: My greatest difficulty with this painting was finding a way to describe such a subtle middle and foreground, while having enough nuance to keep it interesting. I used monoprint techniques of spattering, blotting, wiping, and layering paint with a roller to create the base layer. When it was dry, I glazed and glazed, then used a crumpled plastic bag to apply paint mixed with Liquin Impasto medium for some highlights. I used thin oil paint to suggest the water, applying it like a watercolorist with soft wash brushes.
The prominent, gloriously rough-hewn cliffs overlooking the Atlantic in Lubec, Maine are a feast for the senses. On my first visit, I thought I’d gone to heaven. Everything felt to so clear and clean – the air smelled of the sea, the gray rocks and wet, black stones seemed stripped of their color, and the sky too, filled with rolling fog banks, was a pearly gray. Only the seaweed screamed out in color, made all the more dramatic by the brief carpets of green by the salt pools. The wildly patterned intrusions of quartz running through the ledge took on a Jackson Pollock aspect. I visit this spot every chance I get, hoping to capture its soul-satisfying presence in a painting. My first visit was over a decade ago, and that’s when I started this painting. I thought it was finished several times, but with new knowledge and experience painting other work, I found ways to intensify my view.
Working on a painting over several years provides ample time to think about the subject, and what it means to me. In the beginning, it was the sheer, stark, ruggedness and complexity of the geography that appealed, but now I think it’s more about the way the demeanor of the ledge. It is old and worn, but still beautiful as it faces the Atlantic’s fierce storms and the unknown. There is a nobility about it. I want to be like that granite.
Details below. Enjoy.