It’s been a hazy, hot, humid summer– not my favorite weather! I’ve actually been feeling like I have cabin fever– normally more a winter than summer condition, but I was outside much more last winter, even with the bitter cold temperatures we had, than I have this summer. We’ve also had very few days without rain, usually in the form of torrential downpours, since early July, so it’s been difficult to plan hikes or plein air painting outings, so I’ve been doing more studio paintings, studies, and experiments from photos and then quick sketches when I do get outside (sketches will be in another post).
The Quiet Side of Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island is aptly named and full of beauty that one can enjoy in silence and solitude. As I drove along the Loop Road in Acadia National Park, even the not-quite-busy season crowds were enough on a beautiful Saturday in early June to deter me from stopping and sketching as often as I would have otherwise. Then I drove across to the Quiet Side and felt all tension melt away as I left the crowds of people and lines of cars behind.
I stayed for a few delightful days with a friend in a little one room cottage in the village of Southwest Harbor. Jana is an incredible artist who has spent a great deal of time exploring and painting all over Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park (see her website here– Jana Matusz), and over the days I stayed with her she shared many of her favorite hiking and painting spots with me. We hiked out to less-known but beautiful spots where we painted the coast or the woodlands. We watched a Peregrine Falcon fly in with food for her chicks, we saw a gorgeous Common Loon on her nest trying to be invisible, we saw an Osprey carrying a fish to its nestlings and then flying away with it again (did the chicks turn up their noses at it?), we climbed the aptly named Perpendicular Trail, we bushwacked down to a beautiful waterfall, and we tried, as so many have, to push Bubble Rock off the cliff where it hangs seemingly so precariously, and, of course, we ate lobster!
Like me, Jana likes to hike and paint quietly, so we both greatly appreciated the spirit of the Quiet Side. While we often chatted and laughed while driving from place to place, we hiked mostly without speaking, marveling at the play of light and shadow on birch trees along the trail or the various songs of myriad birds who mostly remained unseen or sudden vistas opening out before us. Then once we’d decided on a place to paint, we’d fall into a comfortable and companionable silence, each focused on our work, each appreciating the spot in our own way and attempting to capture it with our brushes. Be sure to check out Jana’s paintings on her website. We use different mediums and paint very differently, but I love her work and learn from studying every painting of hers.
It was a wonderful few days of hiking and sketching and I am eager to return and do some more exploring and painting. Many thanks to Jana for sharing her love and knowledge of the Quiet Side!
(Click on images to see larger image)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
And of course I painted the rocks and trees of Schoodic Peninsula!
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!
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.
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.
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?
2 The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
3 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.
4 He makes winds his messengers…
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…
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.
I’ve spent most of every day in the past week hiking, birding, climbing on rocks, sketching, and painting. I’ve identified two new birds for my life list– a Merlin and a Red Crossbill. I’ve walked an average of over 16,000 steps per day and I’ve filled about 50 pages in my sketchbook. I’ve watched and attempted to paint sunsets (not too many, because it’s often been cloudy and sometimes drizzly) and one sunrise (this morning at 4:50– the sun rises much earlier here than at home, thanks to latitude and longitude), and I’ve watched and attempted to sketch the otters here twice so far (they were a highlight of my last time here, and I love watching them swim and dive and cavort in the water). I’ve only pulled my computer out of its case a few times and even then have only been online briefly. I’ve spent hours in silence and days with few words spoken aloud, giving me much time to ponder, to pray, to simply be.
And that’s enough words for now, so I’ll just add photos of some of my sketches and some photos I’ve taken of this amazing place (will wait till I’m home to post my paintings). (These are just quick photos, because I’m not going to take the time to scan and crop them until I’m back home.) I am so very, very thankful to be able to spend time here immersed in nature and art. Thank you so much to the Schoodic Institute and Acadia National Park for giving me this opportunity, and a huge thank you to Stephen for holding down the fort at home and letting me have this time away.
I’m just home from a fabulous week of sketching and painting at Acadia National Park, mostly on the Schoodic Peninsula. Schoodic is beautiful no matter what the weather is doing, which is good, since the weather changes quickly and rarely seems to do as predicted. I love the softened atmosphere of foggy and rainy days just as much, as the brilliant colors and contrasts of sunny days.
There were three wonderful instructors who each gave us an hour and a half of instruction and tips the first three days, and the rest of the time was unscheduled time for painting– a wonderful way to structure the week. Meal times were great for sharing adventures and thoughts about art and nature, and a couple of times we had sessions where we shared and discussed the art we had been doing there. I loved seeing what everyone was doing, all very diverse styles and mediums, and I learned a lot from observing and from hearing how the other artists thought about their work.
During the week I got the wonderful news that our new granddaughter, Elizabeth, had just been born, which made me walk around the rest of the week with a smile on my face and joy in my heart. I’ll be heading to San Francisco to meet Elizabeth in two days, and have much to do in the meantime, so this post will mostly be photos of my work. I did very few actual paintings, focusing instead on filling two sketchbooks with landscapes and with field sketches of wildlife.
Click on images to see them larger
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.
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.
Otters scampering and swimming. Gulls in formation facing the sunset on Schoodic Point. Seabirds like specks, migrating over the sea. Fragrance of spruce rising in the sun, while Kinglets sing, scarcely seen. Storm waves crashing, resounding, revealing power beyond comprehension. Planets, stars and velvety darkness awesome in the night… These are some of the wonders of the Schoodic Peninsula, some easy to behold, others easy to miss.
I applied again to the Artist-in-Residence program at Acadia National Park, hoping to again experience the peace of being immersed in nature at Schoodic; the concentrated time to observe, study, and sketch wildlife and the environment; and the opportunity to share with others my love of creation through sketching and painting. A couple of weeks ago I was thrilled to get a phone call saying that I have been selected to be a returning Artist-in-Residence! I feel astonished and so honored to be selected, and I am very thankful to Acadia National Park and the Schoodic Institute for giving me this wonderful opportunity once again.
I love to share with others the wonders of nature and the joy of quieting oneself to see what the land and its inhabitants have to say to us, whether in day or night, fair weather or storm, grand in scale or miniscule. There are aspects of Acadia National Park and Schoodic Peninsula that are easy to see and hard to miss—rocks, sea, wind. In my first residency, last fall, I focused on the big picture, primarily on what I easily observed all around me. During this second residency I hope to focus on those aspects of nature that may be more easily missed—wildlife behavior or changes in a location or in plants over the course of day and night or fair weather and storm.
Whether easy to see or easy to miss, all creation is valuable and worthy of study. It is a powerful teacher, and when we open ourselves to learning what it has to offer, we gain insight into the hidden wonders of nature and also into ourselves—a combination that enriches our lives, refreshes our often harried souls, and builds a desire to care for creation.
I’ll be returning to Schoodic Peninsula for my second residency in spring of 2017, and of course I’m already dreaming of how I’ll spend my days there. In the meantime, I’ll be heading up there this June for an Artists’ Retreat offered by the Schoodic Institute. There’s still room for more artists, so here is a link for those who might be interested. Artist Retreat Last year when I was at Schoodic I joined with the artists who were there for the Artist Retreat and had a great time with them. The instructors are wonderful artists and teachers, and the other artists had all sorts of interesting experiences and knowledge to share and knew some fabulous painting locations.
Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap… I snuggle under my covers in the chilly room, lulled by the steady tapping of rain against the high windows. Suddenly the tapping becomes a loud drumming, accompanied by a sudden roar of wind, and I awaken fully, remembering that a huge storm has been predicted for today. I burrow my face into the enticing warmth of my pillow for another minute as I savor the sounds of the storm, then I leap from bed, and quickly pull on woolen long johns, jeans, turtleneck, two wool sweaters, a fleece vest, and, finally, my winter jacket, scarf, and hat. Grabbing keys and art supplies, I dash through pelting rain to my car, then head towards Schoodic Point.
Between the lingering dark of night, the heavy dark of storm, and the downpour of rain, I can barely see through my windshield. I don’t get far before I stop to stare in wonder at moving mountains of white standing out against the darkness, advancing across Arey Cove—white-capped crests rolling steadily toward shore, then crashing in mighty explosions of foam along what I know is a cobble beach, now buried beneath wildly churning water. Barely visible on the far side of the cove, giant liquid fingers reach up again and again to the heights of the granite cliffs of Little Moose Island.
I turn back to the road and drive carefully up to the point, round the curve into the parking lot, and stop. Mountains of salt water, more immense by far than the waves in the cove below, catapult themselves toward land, hurling raging waters against the pink granite that twelve hours earlier had been so serenely clothed in the soft glow of evening light. As each wave crashes with thunderous roar, burying the rocky point beneath roiling foam and swirling waters, spray leaps skyward, though no sky can be seen through the rain—waters from below leaping to meet waters from above.
I watch from way above the level of the water, way back from its edge, yet look up to see clouds of spray, blown high and wide by wind, so that my lips taste the sea, as I stand in silence before its awesome power.
River Otter—Lontra canadensis
When I was at the Schoodic Peninsula at Acadia National Park last fall, I especially enjoyed watching for otters. Here is what I wrote in my journal the first morning I saw them, after several days of looking for them each morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of them:
As we passed the pond where I’ve seen otter tracks crossing the road every morning, we heard some quiet splashing and spotted four little heads, each with its own wake, coming diagonally across the pond toward us. Otters! As they arrived at the edge of the pond, they saw us and submerged briefly. Then a head popped up, clearly looking at us and looking as though the otter was treading water to stay upright. Up and under a few times, whiskers dripping as the otter checked us out, clearly wary.
We backed out of sight and waited. And waited some more (and got colder and colder). After what seemed like a long time, but was probably no more than five minutes, an otter appeared on the roadside. She (or he) looked around, then ducked back out of sight, just as a second otter appeared. That one looked around a bit less warily, then loped across the road. As he reached the far side of the road he lay down briefly—which explains the larger wet marks I had been wondering about at one end of the tracks crossing the road each morning. The other three otters now appeared and loped across the road with their inimitable, curvy movement. Was the lead otter’s lying down a signal that all was safe?
Another morning I was looking out at the cove at some ducks and grebes, when something else caught my eye, something that looked a bit different than anything I had seen out in the water. I lifted my binoculars for a closer look—an otter swimming through the cove! Soon it was joined by three more, and I watched as they undulated up and down, sometimes diving, sometimes seeming to just enjoy up and down motion, as they curved in and out of the surface of the water without going deeper.
I watched as they climbed out on a rock and one leaned back, as though in a seaweed-covered recliner. At one point they all swam to a different rock and I watched as first one, then a second did what appeared to be scent-marking (sketch and description in my field sketches). Soon after, they all swam off, and I didn’t see them again until the next day, when they were out at Schoodic Point, swimming and then climbing on the rocks to eat, with one otter, who was separated from the other, whistling with what sounded like a distress call.