Thursday, June 17, 2010


Bon voyage

I know I shouldn't keep apologizing for not posting very often, but I want to anyway. Besides, I'm merely writing to say that I won't be back here for another week at least. In explanation, I offer a picture of the leading candidate for the best outhouse in the world (see the archive, July 2007, for a few more photos of this charming and well-situated structure):It resides near the harbor I'll soon be seeing in person, not just in photographs, because I'm about to set off on my annual week-long painting trip to Bear Island, in Penobscot Bay. Home of the finest outhouses on the east coast, surely. Just look at this one! Which reminds me, I must remember to pack toilet paper. And extra flashlight batteries. Usually I can do without making lists, but this is the one time I dearly need them, for fidgety details such as these. Important details - sunscreen, bathing suit, sweaters, band-aids. All my art supplies, and enough canvases to keep me painting throughout the week. If I bring too many I'll stress out about having to fill them all by week's end (horror vacui), and if I don't bring enough I'll run out and wish I had a few more for the last day (happened last year). As with so many things in life, it's a fine line.

Last year I read Constable's letters before and during this same trip. This year I've been reading Philip C. Beam's book Winslow Homer at Prout's Neck (Little, Brown 1966) - a classic about this master painter and his Maine experience - and attempting to keep in mind a few pieces of it, for the week ahead. First, from a letter of Homer's:

"'The life that I have chosen gives me my full hours of enjoyment for the balance of my life. The Sun will not rise, or set, without my notice, and thanks.'" (p.126)

Second, some advice he gave to a young painter friend:

"'...when you paint, try to put down exactly what you see. Whatever else you have to offer will come out anyway.'" (p.208)

The former is a timely reminder to keep gratitude at the center of everything, and is spoken like a true lover of nature besides. The latter is as concise and helpful a bit of art instruction as I've ever read. Painting is learning to see, and learning how to translate what you see by way of your materials, while simultaneously getting out of your own way. Your style is what you can't help but have, if you paint long enough - the "whatever else." And how I love Winslow Homer's style. He is one of a handful of painters who says in paint what I most want to hear. Wordlessly. For a book person, that's saying a lot. I'll remember what he says this week while I'm wedged in the rocks balancing a canvas on one knee and attempting to get out of my own way.

Until next time.

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