Greetings From Maine!

by Daniel Ambrose on August 30, 2014

Daniel Ambrose painting at Port Clyde Maine, August 2014

Daniel painting at Port Clyde Maine, August 2014

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been in Port Clyde, Maine. I’m staying at a house my good friend and talented painter Mary Erickson leases for two months in the summer. She rents rooms out to other artists and the house becomes an energetic, community art camp. Renowned painter Don Demers came up last week and the house was full of his students including a lovely, lively bunch of  ladies from the Carolina’s who cooked fabulous meals and entertained us all with humorous southern stories.

The days are long, and for us dedicated painters addicted to sunlight, usually begin at 5:30 a.m. as the first blush breaks the horizon and ends after sunset around 8 in the evening.

This is my third year in Maine. The first two I drove all over the place wanting to see everything. One of my first visits was a pilgrimage to the Olson house.

It takes me two or three years to get to know a place and figure out what I want to express about it in my work. This year I decided to work around Port Clyde and Tenants Harbor and in so doing have met many interesting people. Tony and Joan who summer here on their Grand Banks trawler, graciously invited me aboard and while there an Englishman rowed over from his sailboat and we were invited to tour his yacht. It turns out he owns a prestigious art gallery in London and deals exclusively in Old Master paintings.

Left: Katherine Stiener-Adair, Maggie and Mary Erickson

Left: Catherine Steiner-Adair, Maggie and Mary Erickson

The brilliant author, budding plein air painter and all around fascinating Catherine Steiner-Adair has a summer cottage here and has been painting with us every chance she gets. She was on book tour last year, speaking about her insightful and timely book: “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age”.

The locals here are so welcoming and I’ve received many invitations. Glen the gregarious plumber collects everything he can and stores it in his fish shack. American Pickers would have a field day in it. The window boxes of friendly flowers adorning the tiny post office match Sandra the postmasters smile who greets me by name now when I drop in to mail my Mary a letter.

I bumped into Jamie Wyeth coming off his boat with the awesome name “Dreadnaught”. He dresses in in a black coat and mismatched 18th century stockings and is quite nice.

Jamie Wyeth's boat, Dreadnaught.

Jamie Wyeth’s boat, Dreadnaught.

I’ll post some of my work and thoughts on plein air painting in my next missive. Right now the light is getting good and I’m heading up to Turkey Cove.


First Summer, egg tempera on panel

First Summer, egg tempera on panel

It began as a whisper at first, a subtle shift in the wind, which otherwise would have gone unnoticed, except for the shiver that raced up my spine. There was a message on the line. You don’t know me, the voice was saying, I didn’t even know if you would talk to me, but I think you should give me a try. You may assume that you are content with your current situation, the path that you have chosen, but I have watched you for a while and know you are not satisfied. Come, give me a try.

I saw you standing in the meadow many years ago, after a spring rain. A youth then, you were staring at the blossoming trees, studying the leaves, wondering what made them glow so green in the glistening light. And again, chest high in murmuring salt grass of a golden marsh, your eyes transfixed on the palisade of palm trees marching across the distant horizon—Oh how you loved their airy blueness. I was there beside you in the surf, when you drew that snowy egret, saw it turn in the twilight—watched you marvel at the lilac and green hues nestled in the shadow of its breast. Yes, I can see right through you, see how you struggle to understand and posses the elusive ever changing colors of the day. They lift your spirits then pass right through you, like music floating through a room.

Know you have tried others, at first, enamored by their colorful charms. Then after becoming familiar with their traits, you lay them aside, for they could not do for you what you asked them too. So here I am, I’ve been around for thousands of years, and for a time in the reign of kings and popes, I was the most popular one in the room.

To be continued.

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“I don’t know anything about inspiration because I don’t know what inspiration is—I’ve heard about it, but I never saw it.” William Faulkner

Photo:  Vintage cat door knocker, Charleston, South Carolina.

Photo: Vintage cat door knocker, Charleston, South Carolina.

Where do ideas come from?

Successful artists constantly fuel the creative fire. They don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike, they just get to work and believe in the process.

Contemporary painter Chuck Close says, “inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

I’m primarily an internal painter. My creative process involves reading, writing, reflecting and continually drawing or painting to produce ideas. I use external subjects to manifest my thoughts. Most of my paintings are researched based. When I become interested in something, I want to learn all I can about it. I like to think it adds a bit more verisimilitude to my work.

The past few years, I’ve been experimenting with various visual objects to trigger new associations, concepts and connections. The key is to keep working. Inspiration will come, work will materialize.

Driving back from the Crossnore show in North Carolina we dropped off a couple of new paintings at Cheryl Newby gallery and stopped in Charleston.

Walking around I snapped a few quick photos, relying on my unconscious before I had time to analyze—idea triggers—shoot and scoot.

Loading them on my computer, I Googled door knockers to learn why so many of these old ones have grotesque faces.

Apparently, they are designed to keep evil spirits away. Which reminded me of the voodoo church I stumbled across once in a questionable neighborhood in South Florida. A jaundice-eyed resident told me the aluminum foil covering the windows was to keep out evil spirits. I was hoping it worked both ways.


Photo: Voodoo church

At the opposite end of the ecclesiastical spectrum, in the courtyard of a Catholic church on an island on the west coast of Florida, I was drawn to another type of shadowy spectral playing on the doorway. The result was this egg tempera painting.

Boca Shadows. egg tempera painting

Boca Shadows. egg tempera painting

Below is a detail photo of the actual door. Initially, I thought the two rings were door knockers. Because, when I first visited the church, a couple of elderly woman were exiting and told me to just go on in. The door is never locked. I went inside and on the way out had trouble shutting the door. I shoved it harder and heard a loud Click. The door was locked! Uh oh. Asking forgiveness, I skedaddled.

Curious about these two rings, I discovered that they are the oldest type of door knockers and sometimes referred to as a sanctuary knocker. In medieval times, large rings were mounted on the doors of churches. Anyone who had committed a crime could seek sanctuary by grabbing hold.

Photo: wrought metal door knocker rings

Photo: wrought metal door knocker rings

Earlier in the week, I was hoping to hold onto the rings of the whitewater raft on the Nolichuky river in North Carolina that Mary had booked. Especially after listening to our guide tell us how many ways we could die. I was hoping to stay in the raft and also study the water for a fly-fishing painting commission. I managed the latter. Before we took off, I briefly considered staying on the porch and hanging out with the rafter’s dog.

Photo: Nolichucky rafter's dog

Photo: Nolichucky rafter’s dog

He reminded me of a Naive American’s dog I saw at an outpost in Alaska during a blizzard. It immediately triggered a train of inspirational images and nouns from childhood, with many possible painting ideas to explore.

However, as Robert Frost wrote,”Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”