Acadia Artist Retreat 2017– Wonderful week of painting and sketching!

The final week of my month in Maine was the 2017 Summer Acadia Artist Retreat at the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park. We had a foggy start to the week and, although I love painting the softness of fog and mist, one of the other program leaders and I were planning some indoor alternatives to plein air painting in case some of the participants weren’t keen on being outside in the fog. At our first gathering, however, all the participants waxed enthusiastic about the fog and said they were excited to get out and paint the fog-wreathed landscape. That enthusiastic spirit prevailed throughout the week as we painted in fog and sunshine, hiked as a group to Little Moose Island and then dispersed to paint whatever views captured our attention, shared thoughts and ideas over meals, learned from Ranger Kate Petrie on her fabulous geology walk and touch tank presentation, painted taxidermy models and a retired ranger who kindly sat as a portrait model for two hours, did figure drawing at nearby studio in town, and more, including, of course, lots of free painting time on our own. All the planned activities were optional, and varying numbers of artists participated in each, with everyone free to pursue their own interests and goals for the week.

Portrait painting with a retired park ranger
Ranger-led bird walk
Ranger Kate explaining sedimentary rock

Each of the four program leaders gave a brief presentation; mine was on quick sketching of wildlife, particularly birds. I also demonstrated the meander folded journals I like to make and fill when I travel to a special place. Below are photos of my meander journal opened out; I love that this kind of journal is called a meander journal, since I fill it as I meander through time and place.

Meander Journal side 1
Meander Journal Side 2

I really appreciated the opportunity to garner some helpful suggestions and ideas from the various presentations and from the other participants and am looking forward to putting some of these ideas into practice in the coming weeks. In addition to the painting and sharing times, we had delicious and plentiful breakfasts and dinners served at Schooner Commons, Schoodic Institute’s dining hall, as well as box lunches that we prepared each morning at breakfast so that we could be free to paint or explore throughout the day. On our final night we had a fabulous lobster dinner, cooked and served by the lobsterman who had caught the lobsters that day!

(photo by Jana Matusz)
Lobster dinner!
(photo by Jana Matusz)
Dinner at Schooner Commons

One of my goals for this retreat and really for the whole month in Maine was to try new approaches and materials, and the retreat was great for that with so much varied input and opportunities. I had been wanting to do more with gouache, which I’d only used a few times, and one of the retreat artists uses gouache, so I asked a few questions and watched her work, then went out a played with it. These two are gouache, the fisher from a taxidermy mount and the landscape did plein air in my meander journal on Little Moose Island.

Fisher in gouache
Little Moose Island in gouache

I’d also been wanting to do figure drawing again, which I’ve only done a few times, so it was great to have that as an option one evening at a studio in Winter Harbor, and again, I learned a lot from seeing how the other artists there approached it. While doing the figure drawing, I also tried working with walnut ink, which I’ve had for a while but have never used. (I’m not posting my figure drawings here since some viewers might not appreciate the nudity.) I also had not painted a portrait from life before, so painting a ranger who patiently sat for a portrait session was new and very enjoyable. I don’t think it looks a whole lot like him, but I was happy with it as a first portrait in watercolor from life. A bonus was that we got to hear wonderful stories from his work as a ranger while we painted him.

Walnut ink & watercolor
Ranger Ed


I tried sketching on Rite in the Rain paper when it was too foggy for my pencil to work on ordinary paper, and that worked wonderfully for sketching a Herring Gull at Schoodic Point. I’ll definitely keep a pad of this paper in my car for damp days.

Rite in the Rain paper

I tried doing watercolor on multimedia artboard, which I had never even heard of, and I loved it! I’ve already ordered a pack of it and am eager to do more with it.

Spruce in Mist on multimedia artboard

And of course I painted the rocks and trees of Schoodic Peninsula!

Pink granite and diabase dike
Schoodic Point Fog
Rainy day painting from the back of my car
Schoodic Point Solstice

Here’s a link to Schoodic Institute’s write-up of the retreat with many more photos: Artists Reflect on challenges, techniques, and experiences at Acadia Retreat . We’re already starting to think about next year’s retreat, so keep posted for updates!

Musings, Doodlings, and Insights from Acadia National Park

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I’m back home in the Hudson Valley of New York, but when I close my eyes I see spruces and firs draped in Old Man’s Beard lichen, their trunks nearly white with other lichens, their roots clad in bright green mosses; pink granite and greenish-black diabase rock glistening in the surf; Herring Gulls and Eider Ducks flashing white in the sun as the fly over blue-green water. I hear the steady pounding and crashing of waves on the rocky shores and feel the nearly constant cool breeze that wonderfully keeps black flies and mosquitoes away. The songs of Black-throated Green Warblers, Northern Parulas, Swainson’s Thrushes, Winter Wrens, and many other birds still play in my mind. I feel cool mist on my cheeks and watch the hide and seek game of the islands as thick fog rolls in and out and in again.

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I was planning to post again after my second week, but I was so enjoying my break from computer time that I decided to wait till I was back home. I was also heading out to explore, sketch, or hike by 5:00 most mornings and wasn’t spending much time inside, so I didn’t really have time to photograph my artwork or post about what I was doing.

The second week of my artist residency was just as wonderful as the first, perhaps more so, as I settled into a quieter internal state of mind and became more and more present with the world around me and with my own being. I had been very much looking forward to this extended time of quiet, and it was, as expected, a time of insight and personal growth, as well as a wonderful time of sketching and painting.

I’m still reviewing and pondering my times of roaming and observing and meditating, so will probably have more thoughts as time goes on, but one significant insight for me was realizing how much I pressure myself, even when there are no external demands on me. While in Maine I was reading and pondering the book Nature as Spiritual Practice, by Steven Chase, and one section I really liked was about how the cycles of nature can be a kind of liturgy– liturgy being something repetitive that shapes us over time. The liturgy of the sea helped me recognize the pressure I was placing on myself.

One morning I was sitting above the sea in my favorite contemplation spot–a sun-warmed hollow in a diabase dike (a vein of dark diabase rock in the pink Schoodic granite), and I started thinking of the steady rise and fall of tides and the ebb and flow of waves. I thought of the refreshing action of the waves on the rocks and tide pools and then about how much I needed to be refreshed. And that led me to the realization that I was pushing and driving myself even while there, which was absurd, since I’d be sketching and painting just as much without pressuring myself, just because I love to do those things. As I realized that, I felt the pressure wash away, and I came away from that time with an eagerness to simply live as God made me to live with the abilities and passions he has given me, without driving myself to always do more or be better in order to satisfy some internal voice that was telling me I never did enough.

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Throughout my residency I read psalms that speak of sky and sea and wind and creatures of all sorts praising God through being what they are and doing what they were made to do, and I let them lead me in praising God both with words and by living as he made me to be. I had never before asked myself how a wave praises God, but that was one question I asked nearly every day as I heard the fierce crashing or the gentle lapping of the sea in its various moods. And how is the wind, so very present on Schoodic Peninsula, God’s messenger, and what message might it have for me?

The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
    he stretches out the heavens like a tent
    and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
    and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers…
Psalm 104:2-4

11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord…
Psalm 96:11-13

I have come home with more peace as well as more questions to ponder, and I’m looking forward to continuing to observe and share the beauty I find in creation with a greater awareness of my place as a student and observer of nature, while continuing to grow as an artist and a child of God. I am overflowing with gratitude for the opportunity to have spent these weeks immersed in the beauty of Acadia National Park and am so grateful to the Park and to the Schoodic Institute for this gift.

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Summer Acadia Artist Retreat

I’m almost all packed. The important stuff- piles of art supplies- are all in the car (and have been for several days). I still have to throw some clothes in a bag, grab the book of John Muir writings that I got from the library, sling my binoculars around my neck, and then… jump in the car and head north and east to Acadia National Park. This time I’m going to be there for a week-long artist retreat. I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with two of the instructors, whom I met when I was at Acadia last fall, and meeting the third instructor and spending time with the other artists who will be there. I’m eager to learn from the three artists, each with different areas of expertise, and am so looking forward to lots of free time for plein air painting. I can hardly wait!

The weather report is calling for some rain, so at the suggestion of a friend who’s also going to be there, I have set up the back of our minivan as a traveling studio. I’m all set to paint from either the back or the side door of the car, depending on views and parking. Hopefully, though, we’ll have plenty of good weather for painting fully en plein air.

Traveling studio in our minivan

In addition to being very excited about focused time for painting in such a beautiful, quiet place (we’ll be on the quiet Schoodic Peninsula part of the park), I’m looking forward to the quiet of retreat time after a busy few weeks here at home. Time to think, to absorb the peace of nature, and to meditate on all the ways that creation speaks to me of who God is and who I am. I spent today at a local monastery having a quiet day to help slow my whirling mind a bit and to do some planning for my retreat time, both spiritually and artistically. And now I am going to go finish packing some warm clothes (highs are supposed to be in the low 60’s!) and go to bed to dream of surf and wind and trees and birds.

Schoodic Point (painted from a photo I took last month)