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Loading the Tanker

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Late afternoon light lit up the side of a tanker as it was loaded at the docks in Portsmouth, NH. 

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The Docks in Portsmouth

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Portsmouth, NH is a seacoast town in my neighborhood. Its full of great old historic neighborhoods, old streets and a working harbor. This was painted near Puddle Dock in the old part of Portsmouth Harbor.

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Captains, Cranes, Boats and a Bridge

Sometimes you have a perfect day.

That happened last week when I set up to paint in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
I’ve been having a great time painting this winter.  For the past 8 weeks I’ve been in Portsmouth, New Hampshire painting subjects that I’ve never painted before…

…man made objects, buildings, machines, ships, bridges, metal, industrial things….dark,  gritty, heavy, non-cozy, non-pastoral stuff.   
Not really what you’d call friendly, or human-sized, it’s the substance of big industry. 

I’m painting this industrial landscape with fellow painter Barbara Carr who is just as interested in this new subject as I am. 
We pick a general location every week then scout around to see what has shown up. Portsmouth is a busy seaport, the setting changes all the time.
 Right now the well-known and well-used Memorial Bridge, an aging drawbridge, is being removed so a new one can be built in the same location.  

    
Unusual looking tug boats have appeared to move the barges and cranes for the workers as they dismantle the bridge.

Its a big deal. Hundreds of people love this bridge. It’s the only one you can walk across to get to Kittery, Maine. Everyone comes by to see the “de-construction”.  
We were lucky to find a quiet corner.  

Barbara wasted no time locating her spot and setting up.
I sketched in my design.

It wasn’t easy. Not only did the barges move around while we were painting…

…but the reason they were moved soon became apparent. A huge ship needed to get up the river, and one barge was in the way.
It looked like a tight fit getting through the channel.

 The ship was so big that the tugs had to keep the barges and cranes in place as it passed.

All kinds of frameworks are being put in place to dismantle the remaining sides of the bridge.
A visit from Captain Leo Smith of the tugboat “Miss Stacy” made our day! How often does the captain of your subject visit you? 

Then as if that wasn’t enough… the next group of experts to arrive were from the barges. Emmanuel Jefferson(on right) is the operator of the monster red crane I was painting ! 

These ironworkers usually work in the Chesapeake Bay region and wanted to see what these northern artists were painting. 

Heck ! The pressure was on. Get those painting done. Back to work!
Its a real party scene down by the bridge. People pour in all day, looking, chatting, taking pictures and watching everything the workers do.
Jeff Weaver stopped by after finishing a painting he started the day before when the crowds were so thick he couldn’t even find a place nearby to park. 
We kept painting until sunset. 

The scene on the river keeps changing. Tugs, cranes and barges move around.



 When they stopped work for the day the two tugs tied up on the barge anchored in the middle of the river. They were all lit up. It looked like a small industrial island.

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The Point of Graves

Sometimes when you go out to paint there is so much subject matter to choose from…

….that you can’t decide where to start.
2 Boats Sketch 8×12 ink, watercolor
This was one of those days.

My friend Barbara and I met in Portsmouth, NH to paint. After looking around in a couple of different locations …
2 Sketches, ink, watercolor

 …we finally decided to stop at the corner of Peirce Island Road and Mechanic Street across from an 1600’s burial ground named The Point of Graves.

From this spot we could paint boats, houses, streets, the skyline or the park !  You could just turn your head and the view was completely different. 

Clock Chimneys Sketch, 6×8 ink, watercolor 

Portsmouth has so much to offer… 

 …a working harbor with large and small boats… 

…great architecture, a variety of old houses, large and small … 
Old Neighborhood Sketch, 6×8 ink watercolor
…and fine vistas of rooftops in the Strawberry Banke neighborhood. 
It’s a busy port with the hustle and bustle of oil tankers coming and going.
While we were painting the largest amount of joggers we’d ever seen in a 3 hour period scampered by. 
Barbara and I sketched a variety of subjects before we set up to paint. 
We were lucky.  It was a warm day with no wind blowing off on the ocean. 
As it is no longer peak tourist season, we could park and paint where ever we wanted. 
Small furry friends watched the activity from above.
 The muted colors on this overcast November day were typical for New England. 

Everything along the water had a silvery blue-violet tint to it.

Every now and then cloud holes would appear out over the ocean and sunshine would break through. 

At high tide the tugs were busy fetching and guiding huge oil tankers into berths up the river. 

I looked toward the river, painting the park and the drawbridge beyond it.  Barbara painted an old interesting house on the other side of the street.

In this neighborhood the streets are small and narrow with uneven brick sidewalks.


One of the docks is slowly disintegrating into the channel. 

 Small lobster boats travel under the Peirce Island bridge to the docks on the Island.

It is almost the winter solstice. The sun sets early, shortly after 4 pm.

The old dock buildings looked mysterious in the soft light.

The moon rose above the roof tops.

Lights started to glow in the windows of houses all over the neighborhood.
There are so many lights in a large town. When they come on at dusk the landscape is all lit up.

The “Puddledock” neighborhood has all kinds of little gleaming lights.  Christmas trees twinkled in some of the house windows. I’m coming back to paint nocturnes in this neighborhood!

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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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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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Very Old Houses in the Snow

A few days ago I met up with two friends in Strawbery Banke to paint on a beautiful, cold winter day. 

Here’s a detailed report of that outing: Postcards from ME & NH


I wanted to be flexible to walk around and study a number of subjects and experiment with different views so I concentrated on sketching with ink and water color pencils. 

This is the view up the small dirt lane we were standing in.
4×8, pen & watercolor on Aquarelle

In front of us was a open area of snow with the shadows of the houses  behind us stretching across it. 
8×10, pen & watercolor on Aquarelle

Around the corner I found a small back garden with a single window on the rear side of a house.
11×11, pen & watercolor on Aquarelle

Another lane headed toward the harbor.
7×9 pen & watercolor on Aquarelle

Some of these houses are very old.  They are funny shapes, have no back doors and have windows in odd spots or entire walls with only one or two small windows.
6×10, pen & watercolor on Aquarelle


 As we packed up to head home at sunset a half moon was up high in the sky.

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These Old Houses

We had a true Nor’easter yesterday and it delivered piles of fresh snow and a sunny, quiet day today.
Nothing beats snow for the best plein air experience.  On a clear day the air is crisp…
…the shadows are blue and the snow is a brilliant warm white.
I headed over to Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth, NH to meet to friends who wanted to paint old buildings in winter light. The collection of old buildings in Strawberry Banke is excellent! 
Meet Chris Volpe and Todd Bonita!… who were all set up and in the thick of it when I arrived.  It was about 20 degrees. These guys were set up painting in the shade as if it was a summer day!   
Todd was painting a view of a small building in a sunlit patch of snow that was rapidly being swallowed by the shadow of a big house.  He was measuring carefully to make sure his drawing and perspective were correct.

Today was the first day of a trial run for a new plein air set up, a Julian half size french easel.
It was a second hand special and missing the palette.  This is the new replacement palette a woodworker at the Button Factory made.  It is very handsome.
Todd used a neat custom made maul stick to get his lines straight on the edge of the building and windows. Don Demers was the artist who passed on this neat idea. Its great to learn and see these unique tools painters use. 
While these guys were painting I was walking around sketching a number of views…

And I dropped into the Banks Gallery up the street near us to see the contemporary American paintings and talk to Jamie the owner.
We had very nice visitors pause on their way through the lane. The Museum is closed until spring.  Many people in the neighborhood enjoy walking through the quiet lanes. 
The afternoon sped by and soon the whole area was in shadow.  The sun was dropping below the horizon and it was beginning to get chilly.  Todd put the last notes on his sketch.
The sky became a peachy color after sunset and the half moon and stars came out.  It was a nice ending to the first plein air outing of the new year.  
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A Taste of Portsmouth & Sagamore Creek

Sagamore Creek is a great area for painting tidal water, islands, marshes, lobster boats, and historic houses…
Jane & I went for a walk around Creek Farm then headed next door to the Wentworth Cooldige  mansion where we set up… 
The house built in 1696 was the home for the first Royal governor of New Hampshire , Benning Wentworth. Its very odd looking as pieces were added on to the original structure.
The sun was warm… Jane set up on a bench on the lawn…
…with a  big view of the creek looking across to Newcastle.
Portsmouth harbor is tucked around the corner behind a piece of Newcastle that juts out into the creek.
I painted the island behind me…
….and had to set up facing the sun to keep the glare off my painting and palette or else when I get back inside the colors will be wrong…
I didn’t notice it but this ship’s anchor was huge!  Jane said “Look at the size of that anchor next to you !” I was busy painting (and keeping warm).
Since we had some daylight left we went promptly over to Prescott Park and the Portsmouth docks for another painting session.
There was loads to sketch and paint. The lobster boats were coming in for the day. 
The sun was setting behind the Strawberry Banke neighborhood.
Before it got too dark I started my sketch of the houses back lit by the yellow sky and Jane hurried to finish her sketch of the buildings on Marcy Street.  As the sun went down the temps started to drop really fast. We were happy to call it a day and head home to a nice hot dinner.
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Lions, Deer and Angels at Creek Farm

Around the turn of the century Creek Farm was a big, rambling summer cottage for a wealthy Boston family. It has remnants of formal gardens, long sloping lawns,  a rocky shoreline and a bit of pebbly beach.  It has a cove that was a damned to create a natural salt water swimming pool.
It sits on the edge of Sagamore Creek in Portsmouth. NH, looking across the water to Newcastle, NH.
Two stone lion creatures guard the entrance to what was once a terraced formal garden.
Marcus and I set up on the lower lawn to sketch and paint views of the house …
…and the lions…
Marcus worked diligently on the details of the multi-level cottage.
My sister Ann joined us for the day.  She chose to sit on the lawn in the formal garden where she had the long view of the creek and Newcastle. 
To add to the natural show in front of us, the Blue Angels suddenly appeared in the sky to the west performing a number of dangerously daring formations.   What a thundering roar those engines make!  The stuff plein air painters see is unending! 
As the sun dropped in the sky we decided to pull out the acrylics and go for a few small sketches.
Marcus & I are taping canvas to a board to paint several different sketches on the same sheet.  This is nice simple way to do lots of studies. 
Acrylics are dicey.  Painting a la prima when them is a hoot. I’m using the regular fast drying type.  I have dry paint on my palette in minutes ! Marcus has Golden’s open acrylics, so they are a bit easier  to deal with.

As we prepared to leave, a doe with two fawns wandered across the lawn happily munching their grassy dinner.  They didn’t even care that we were 30 ft away packing up our paints!