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Late Light in Portsmouth

Portsmouth is a really great town on the New England seacoast. It’s the biggest port in the state of New Hampshire.


I’ve always loved this place. It is old. It has great alleys, buildings and streets. It’s a destination for visitors…

…and the biggest town in my neck of the woods.


So when I was feeling like painting in a downtown setting last week…

I headed for Portsmouth and set up my easel right behind my car in front of the post office.

There is very limited parking in Portsmouth as it is a real busy little hub…

….so I painted fast ! Today I had two hours to set up, paint and break down.

I was more than lucky with the weather; it was quiet, sunny and warm.  

This spot picked me. I was going to set up in Market Square to paint the people walking around.
Pencil sketch,4×6 

No way!  While driving down the one way street into the square I saw this view and yelled “Stop – this is it !” 

I moved fast. After my initial pencil sketch, I put my brush into paint and laid the design in.

The streets were humming with cars and people. I had to concentrate on what I was doing. 

It was nice to have my car parked next to me. It created a buffer and I only had to make sure I didn’t step out into traffic in the road.

Everything down the street into the square was back-lit and side-lit as the sun went down in the south west. 

Canyons… was all I could think of.  I’ve only painted canyons during the brief time I visited out west.

Obviously it had a big effect on me.  When I’m in cities with tall buildings they remind me of the canyons in Arizona, Wyoming and Utah. 

Yes. This is unusual for me to be seeking out a man-made landscape.  Buildings?   And lots of buildings? 

Yet it seemed like the place to be even with the parking restrictions in the prime painting locations.

It’s like I’m backing into my subject matter these days instead of heading straight at it.

I’m not thinking “Oh I’d like to paint buildings.”

It’s more like, “What does that place look like in the evening or after dark ?” 


I’ve found that it doesn’t look like I think it will !
You can never tell.  Lighting makes all the difference 

I think I have a perfect place and great view picked out ….to discover later as the light changes that I have what I want for 15 minutes if I’m lucky .
And now after one quick outing on the streets of Portsmouth I realize I’m barely scratching the surface…

…of the hundreds of paintings waiting to happen here.

Of course I need to have those great lighting conditions for some of them.

And it doesn’t hurt to have a warm feeling for this lovely old port.
Daniel St Sketch, 12×12 oil on canvas panel


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Painters at Turbat’s Creek

Turbat’s Creek in Cape Porpoise is a piece of southern Maine coastline that has the same look as 40 years ago. The cluster of traditional fish shacks is still there. The water in the creek is cleaner now than it was then. 
It’s a favorite spot for painters. When you visit you will know why.
Island View, 16×20, oil

At low tide the creek is so shallow you can wade through it and walk out to the nearby island.

All kinds of old dock pilings poke out of the sand on the edge of the creek near the fish shacks.
It was sunny and warm on this day. I chose this location for a meeting of Plein Air Painters of Maine. When I arrived Ellen And Flo were already busy painting.
Flo had a big solar umbrella that kept both her and the easel out of the direct sun, so she could see her colors clearly.
Barbara arrived and tucked herself in under the shade of some small trees for a good view of the back of the fish houses.
Carol went out on the pebbly beach near the harbor. Painters were all over the place! It was a hub of productive activity on the creek today.
I spied a nice patch of marsh grass with tidal pools looking toward Vaughn’s Island. 
I sketched my design in pencil.
Next I painted in the view on my panel in burnt sienna. I marked my dark areas and looked at the shapes I was placing. 
I put in colors and kept building the shapes in a three dimensional form as I went.
The day started out perfectly clear. In the early afternoon clouds began to fill the sky. 
It was actually nice to have some relief from the sun. The cast shadows made the landscape look more interesting.
When I had arrived at Turbat’s Creek in the morning the tide was low and still going out.
Recently I’ve been painting larger on location. Today I was painting a mid-size painting and finished most of it on site. 
My husband Marcus arrived by mid-afternoon and set his easel up by the boat launch near a fish shack. 
Painters arrived and departed all day long, some came early, others came late in the day depending on their preference for lighting conditions.  Suzanne arrived to paint the late afternoon light from a nice vantage point on the the rocky beach. 
There were many visitors coming by all day. It was great! I saw friends I hadn’t seen since last summer. I’d stop to talk to them then continue on with my painting. 
The sun dropped lower in the west, and the colors on the land, sky and water were beautiful. This is my favorite time of the day to paint. 
Long shadows stretched across the sand.
I had recorded enough information to call it a day. I can finish the painting in the studio.
I went to over to the beach to tell Suzanne I was heading home.  She and I were the last painters left. 
Suddenly a police car and big red truck towing a boat pulled into Turbat’s Creek Road. I  had to move my easel out of the boat launch area – fast!  
The police launched the boat in the water and took off for Vaughn’s Island – hot on the trial of some outlaw reported to be over there. 
It was an exciting day at Turbat’s Creek. I was happy to head home with an almost finished  painting! 
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Pierce Island

Pierce Island is a small island in the Piscataqua River that belongs to the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
The Piscataqua River has some of the fastest tidal currents of any river on the eastern coast of the U.S.
Bridges  4×6 watercolor

The island looks across the river at Badger’s Island and Seavey’s Island in Kittery, Maine which were the homes of famous shipyards that built fleets of clipper ships. When I first moved to the seacoast I lived in a house in a tiny, quiet neighborhood on Badger’s Island.  
The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is on Seavey’s Island.  It is a hub of activity where they repair submarines. 

Pierce Island is a quiet place on a busy harbor. It has walking trails, picnic areas, a swimming pool, a boat launch and the state wharf. 

Wild roses grow in profusion all over the island.

It’s July so the rose hips are ripe. They are high in vitamin c and make the best jam and tea! 

Plein Air Painters of Maine were meeting on the island to paint for the day. I found a  parking spot right on the river front.  My good friend Ellen arrived and set up to paint near me. 
It was overcast with fast moving clouds heading out to sea. The weather report predicted thunder storms. I stayed close to my car to paint. Everyone who sees my car loves to look in it at all my painting gear. It looks like a treasure chest to them.  
Ellen was painting in pastels. What a different set up than mine ! She needs different types of pastels and a variety of colors.  She has all these boxes of colors she brings. She sets them up on a small table.
She showed me how she sketched in her design and the types of pastels she used for sketching.
I was painting with a limited palette of lemon yellow, medium red, ultramarine blue, burnt sienna and white. I premixed all my color groups before I started to paint.
The sun broke through the cloud cover every now and then. The tide was going out and the light was changing drastically.
  Ellen was laying down areas of different colors, then blending them together with her fingers.
I moved my easel and palette into the shade so I could see the colors I was mixing accurately.  
The sun was out, it became warm and I loaned Ellen my hat. It was actually getting hot !
After she placed in her foreground Ellen drew in the placement of the bridges. Wow, what a different approach with this dry medium. She drew right on top of all the other colors.
I can’t do that easily with wet oil paint. 
I have to wait for it to set up or use something to speed up the drying time. 
The tide was now all the way out and the Memorial Bridge opened up to the top. People watching were getting excited hoping a big ship would come through.  
 When I lived on Badger’s Island I used to watch ships come and go all the time. I could  look out my  kitchen window and a ship bigger than a five story building would go by. I got used to it. It was part of life on an island in a busy harbor. 
Three Bridges 6×12 oil

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In a Garden of Delights

We arrived at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine for a day of painting amidst the flowers…
It is a fairly new location which opened to the public in 2007. It features 248 acres of woodland, trails and landscaped gardens in addition to shoreline on a tidal river. Visit if you get a chance.
Marcus came along on this trip. How lucky can I be? He also offered to transport my gear to my painting location.

The garden is so large and varied I couldn’t take time to tour all of it and still get a painting done. I was alerted about a predicted thunder storm so I decided to paint in the part of the gardens that wasn’t too much of a hike from the car.  It was a summer Sunday, so the place was packed with visitors from everywhere. 

The first garden we entered was “The Lerner Garden of the Five Senses.” 

There was running water that meandered throughout the garden traveling via brooks and rills from pond to pond to lower levels of the garden.  

The first painter I bumped into was Debra painting a view from the pavilion. The colors spread out before her were beyond belief…  

It is quite a challenge to paint this and all the other brilliant colors surrounding it…

And John…who was set up on a rise above the labyrinth and joked about his minimalist approach to all this overwhelming color!

Every view was another explosion of blossoms…

It’s early July after all…what can you expect?  Summer in Maine!  All nature is celebrating.  

There is a small forest pond in this garden that I would love to have in my back yard. A path of huge flat stones crosses right through the water. In my search for the perfect place to paint I knew I had found it.

It is beautiful!  The only problem was I would have to set my easel up right in the pond or in the plant beds and there are rules about that.

I went back and set up on the wooden platform near the lower pond. No disturbing the vegetation that way. 


At midday some of the water lilies were open.  I’m not sure why some are closed unless its because they are baby blossoms.  They are smaller in size so that makes sense.   

I assembled my big easel which has now become my favorite set-up. Its so nice to have that shelf to hold my paint box and everything I need. 

There was color galore all around me. What is this attraction to flowers I’m having this summer ?  Maybe its my love of gardens.  I’ve always gardened and have even designed a few simple gardens. I think that if I wasn’t a painter I would be a garden designer. 

I packed my gear on this trip so that everything I needed was in my paint box. I duct taped my brushes to the lid so they wouldn’t get crushed and bent.  

The spot I picked was really nice. It was on a quiet cul-de-sac with two benches and a view up the lower pond into the gardens beyond.  

Here I painted several studies of the pond and the lilies.

It was perfect to focus in on a specific area and keep it simple in the midst of the overwhelming multitude of choices. I could paint here for days and in any season and still not run out of an amazing variety of subjects.

I didn’t even get to see the “Birch Allee” or the meditation garden on the shore line…the garden was closing up for the night and so were the lilies…I’ll have to come back and paint another time. 
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Seaports, Farms and Marshes

 Some mornings are just full of big lists of things to do…and this Monday I had a doozy of  list. I was up a the crack of dawn and headed south to Cape Ann, Massachusetts to the busy port of Gloucester. 

It’s a gorgeous, gritty, fishing town with tons of great things to paint. You would never run out of interesting subjects. It makes total sense that artists flocked to this area to paint.  
I didn’t have time to paint in Gloucester this morning.  I had to drop off a painting for a show at the North Shore Arts Association…that venerable old institution on the water in East Gloucester.
The harbor is huge. Near North Shore Arts it was packed with pleasure craft on both sides of the dock. The working boats were moored across the water.
On my return trip north I stopped at the Essex Salt Marsh, in Essex, Massachusetts. Impressive! Now, this is an area I could really spend some time wandering around… I’m a experienced traveler of the Maine marshes and along the seacoast of New Hampshire.  These marshes have a very different character.   
Sprinkled across 17,000 acres of huge wide open spaces of marsh grass and water are high round topped islands stretching into the distance.  This marsh goes all the way up the coast of Massachusetts into New Hampshire. It connects to the marshes I know up there! 

This house sat on the edge of the marsh. I looked like it was at the same level as the incoming tide and maybe sinking into the soft ground. The roof sagged in two different directions. I loved the laundry hanging on the porch clothes line… 

While I was gazing across the sea of grass a sailboat came into view.  It was cruising in a channel close to one of the nearby islands. 
I want to stay here and paint for at least a week.  I know I would barely scratch the surface but at least I’d get a taste of what is here! The clouds floating in the distance were an hour’s drive north over Portsmouth, New Hampshire. What great, wide open spaces these marshes are ! 
I had no time to tarry… a group from Plein Air Painters of Maine were meeting me at Laudholm Farm in Wells, Maine at midday.
Laudholm Farm is an old salt water farm with a house, barns, meadows, forest, marshes, a beach and a several miles of hiking trails. Barbara Carr was set up next to the huge barn painting a view of the farmhouse. 
Flo was on the other side of the barn in the shade of a grove of trees. 
Ann Marie Therrien and …
 Roger Deering were up on the hill under the old beech tree capturing views of the fields and country lanes… 

I set up on the other side of the beech tree . It’s huge and must be over a hundred years old!   

We all painted away happily for a few hours with the steady sea breeze keeping us cool and chasing all the bugs away. 

I painted a couple of small studies of the summer meadows.

 As evening came I headed over to the marshes near Parsons Beach in Kennebunk, Maine 

High tide was pouring into the marsh. 

When the tide is rushing in it creates currents and rapids in narrow spots under the bridges.
The back area was filling rapidly. It was still 2 and a half hours until peak high tide.
I began my sketch when the tide was just starting to turn. I stayed with the design I marked in. When I’m painting out here in the marshes I always need to pay attention to the tides. I have to paint fast. Not only does the light change, but the shore line changes as well ! It makes it all exciting and interesting.  This sketch is a 24 x 24  on panel. I’ll finish it tomorrow in the studio.

As the sun set the wind died down.  The water became still.  The reflections were lovely.  The bugs were not ! They came swarming. The gnats started biting me, ignoring the heavy duty killer bug repellent I had put on.  I’m smart, I know how to deal with this.  I packed up and headed home for dinner.
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Salt, Seaweed and Quiet in East Boothbay

I’ve wanted to paint with Plein Air Painters of Maine since I first found them while searching for local painters on the internet…
It is the only plein air group that paints regularly in the state of Maine. 

They paint every week somewhere in midcoast or western Maine. I went up to Boothbay to paint with them.
  There is only one road from southern Maine to the midcoast region. It is coastal Route 1, a small two lane highway with spectacular views. 
The midcoast region of Maine is very different from southern Maine where I live.  In the south one is close to the open ocean. We have crashing surf and lots of wind.  To reach the open ocean in midcoast Maine you have to drive down a long pennisula before you see it.
When we arrived at the PAPME painting location on Boothbay Shores along the Damariscotta River we discovered Suzanne Brewer painting on the beach!  
We parked the car nearby, set up and went to work. 
The sun was warm and the cool breeze off the water was pleasant. 
The area was quiet. We saw a handful of walkers and bikers. Every now and then a car drove by. Working boats went up and down the river and in and out of Ocean Harbor. 
Marcus set up next to me to paint with acrylics. Brave guy ! He has no experience painting, never mind painting outside.  He is hoping to become good enough to enjoy it and maybe become a Sunday painter… like Winston Churchill who enjoyed plein air painting as a way to de-stress from his overwhelming responsibilities.  
Painting en plein air can be very calming. Its so demanding that you have to give it your full attention and forget everything else.   Zen mind, painters mind!
Boothbay was a new location for me so I decided to paint 4 small field studies of 4 different views.
There  was a nice variety of things to paint without even moving from our spot. 
Now that it’s almost the summer solstice the sun feels like its at high noon for hours.
Marcus focused intently as he placed the different colors on his field sketches.
As the sun shifted into the west I finished my sketches and started to pack up.  A SUV drove up and a woman got out and said “Mary?” It was Corinne McIntyre a founder of Plein Air Painters of Maine ! She heard that I had arrived after she left that morning so she drove over to meet me!  

She  offered to  take us on a tour around the tip of the pennisula and show me other painting locations. We drove the entire loop road on the pennisula. The views were gorgeous. Islands were scattered across the water.

Corinne showed us a nice trail along the water to great painting locations on Grimes Cove.

This area is a very old seaside summer community.  The roads are right along the water. You can park right on the edge of the sea and enjoy the view. 
Three trees is a distinctive and well known spot.

Before we left East Boothbay we stopped at Corinne’s home and Ocean Point Studio/Gallery. It was chock full of her paintings of Boothbay and midcoast. What a delight ! I’m heading back later this summer to visit her and paint some of these lovely places.