Tuesday, August 16, 2011

'You Have To Go To Your Subject Matter'

My apologies first off, for not posting in over one months time. Some of you may remember that my wife Pam, was scheduled for a kidney transplant at the end of June. At the last minute it was postponed by doctors at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston MA. It was a matter of their remission policy and proper procedures regarding transplants for patients with an incurable disease. Basically, we never should have gotten to within three weeks to find out this information. Pam is now working on staying in remission for another couple years at which time they will perform the surgery for her. Maybe I'll go into this in more detail in a future post, but for now let's just say that it threw us off track. We are also working on putting our house on the market, because we need to downsize and the work involved to get your house ready to sell takes up a big chunk of painting time to say the least.

Our goal is to have a smaller living space with less upkeep and a larger studio space in which we can thrive. This makes the most sense to us. We are really looking forward to it. Once you finally say goodbye to a house in your mind and 'let go', you begin the move towards a new future and that's just what we need.

George R. Carpenter  1928-2006  Painting in Jeffersonville Vermont

I titled this post 'You have To Go To Your Subject Matter' because I've been thinking about this lately and wanted to share the ideas and thoughts behind it. Years ago I met a painter in Ogunquit Maine, George Carpenter, who became a good friend and mentor. He shared many of his ideas with me. George died a few years back while painting at his easel. He had a work ethic that was quite the goal to work towards. Simply put, he was always working. When I heard the news of his passing, I was deeply saddened by the thought of losing a good friend but I found myself nodding in a kind of approval with the news that he died while at work on a painting just outside the front door of his gallery in Perkins Cove.

George would share ideas about painting along with his thoughts about what it meant to be a painter and how to go about properly being one. If he was in the mood to share, he was very generous. If he was not in the mood to share, you best be quiet and let him work. If George wanted to share his ideas with you, you were also going to hear them whether you wanted to or not. Sometimes I would find myself questioning his thinking, but nine times out of ten, I'd later come to realize that he had stated it right.

Early on, George would invite me on painting trips with him to some part of Northern Maine or Vermont with the understanding that he would share his thoughts but I was going to do all the driving. This was a fine idea by me. This kind of relationship lasted up until his passing.

'You Have To Go To Your Subject Matter', he would always say. 'It's not going to come to you'. While it's true that there are things to paint in our own back yard, he believed that painting trips to special places to find the best subject matter were both practical advice and a necessary fact for the outdoor painter. The truth of the matter is, for instance, if you desire to paint working boats and working harbors, you need to go where it's still being done. I can drive for a little over an hour from my rural home in the country and be in places where there are boats. I can paint in these places and get good paintings, but I can drive 5 hours into Maine and find things that make me absolutely drool. If I am that excited about a subject, than I have more opportunities to make my share of winning paintings. From the 'sale' side of making a living as a painter, the more excited I am about my subject, the better the chances that I will find an audience who feels my excitement for it too.

I always find that upon returning from a trip, I get more excited about painting the subject matter in my own area. It's like seeing it for the first time again after being away from it. I'm sure you will agree with me that, as painters, this should be our daily goal with whatever it is we are painting.

Pam and I just got back from teaching our annual five day workshop on Monhegan Island. This is one of those special places. We've been going there for more than 15 years and this was our 12th annual plein air workshop. Now let's face it, Monhegan has been a place of inspiration for artists, writers, poets and other creative individuals for more than one hundred years. Every nook and cranny of this beloved place has been painted time and time again by somebody, yet this tiny island keeps us coming back for more. The moment I step onto the Monhegan Dock after making the 12 mile jaunt on the ferry from from Port Clyde, I feel my stress level drop to just about non existent. I look at everything as if I've never seen it before and I get excited to be there! It's the kind of place that makes you feel like you've just arrived home. We've spent weeks on Monhegan with our six kids when they were younger and I've found just as much pleasure from hiking and  taking in the beauty and magic of it all as I do from painting it. The December 1995 edition of American Artists 'Workshop' Magazine has a 17 page spread about our Monhegan workshop. All the photos from that article were taken by our dear friend Roger Cole.

In a few weeks, I am going to make a trip 'down east' to Stonington Maine to paint the harbor and the boats. For me, this is another magical place. It's that kind of place that makes me drool just thinking about. My last trip here was with Pam and some good friends. Chuck Waldman and his wife Janet came east and this was their first introduction to Maine! Gray Park came too. Our good friend and 'health food chef extraordinaire', Ken Wojcik came and did all the cooking for us so that we could spend every moment painting. If we weren't painting or eating the really good meals we were provided, we were hauling out the guitar and banjo and having some fun playing. Ken is also a good photographer and he spent some time with his camera too.

I'm going to be solo on this particular trip because I feel a great need to isolate myself and get work done. I'm bringing nothing but 11x14's with me. Lot's of them. I will  go to bed early each night and wake up before the sunrise. I will paint in the early morning and then take a needed nap at some point around mid-day. Then I will paint again until dark. I'll bring my Gloucester Easel and my 16x20 paint box. This is exactly how it would be on painting trips back in the day with George.

Here is a painting by George Carpenter that is part of my collection. This is a view from off the highway on the way to Jeffersonville Vermont. This was painted from memory.

George pointed out this spot as we drove down the highway .
He said he was going to paint it from memory and
 that it would be a 'real ball buster of a painting.'


Melinda said...

Continued best wishes for Pam. Great blog!

Unknown said...

Thank you Melinda.

Unknown said...

Hi David,
I don't know exactly how the situation is with Pam, this must be a difficult time for both of you. My tought and prayers are with you, is a good thing that you paint miles of canvas and share this blog with the world. You live in a beautiful place and your oils show the love you have for it. Hope your move goes well. A hug to Pam and You,