A Return to the Maine Coast

The artist’s reflections from a painting retreat to Acadia National Park, including the dynamic aspects of the ocean as a subject, and the resulting adjustments to her palette.

Gray Rocks Morning2
Gray Rocks, Morning, 20″x30″

But this flux is what adds the vitality to an image. Its ever-changing mode allows room for a creative force to emerge.

Summertime creates a space to explore the landscape anew both at home and away. My favorite space is the Atlantic coast. There is nothing so exhilarating as surf and rocks, an environment of constant movement and change. The tide adding another element that won’t cooperate with the position of the sun when working on a large composition. But this flux is what adds the vitality to an image. Its ever-changing mode allows room for a creative force to emerge. One’s imagination is swept up in these elemental forces and one is compelled to activate internal resources to seize the moment. These personal energies recomposed on canvas create tension and momentum. Think of Bellow’s  “Manana”or Homer’s Proust’s Neck” or Waugh’s  “Shores of Gloucester”.

Returning to the shores of Acadia, Maine this year, I found myself focused on the activity and tension in the foreground as compared to the isolation and aloofness of a background element- an island, a far off coastal point or a raised plume of surf. This opposition of geography as well as of feeling, I believe, added a dimension to this year’s paintings. I relied heavily on rabatment to  create the force of diagonals in the compositions as well as the stability of the internal square to raise a perpendicular element.

Setting Sun Otter Point2
Setting Sun, Otter Point, 20″x30″

As regards to my color investigations, I had some interesting insights. Last year, I added English red to my palette, as recommended by Waugh in his notes, to add punch and warmth to deep darks. When this is added to ultramarine blue, one gets an intense purple that is deep in value and more earthy than the addition of a cadmium red. I also like the subdued violet-gray achieved by English red and cobalt blue. This I used quite extensively as a cool reflected light in the shadows. I also found that English red and viridian created a perfect neutral for gray rocks. So I maintained this on my palette again this year.

But I also wanted to expand my range within the dark register. When the rocky coast contains deep crevices, the shadows are quite dark and need a variety of temperature changes. Last year, I used the BV, manganese violet-blueness and VR, violet-redness of Old Holland make. This year I pre-mixed a BV of cobalt and Chinese vermillion and a VR from cadmium red vermilion and manganese blue-violet. These two colors were deep, the BV being cool and the VR being warmer. But both these colors were slightly neutralized, less purplish and related to ivory black more seamlessly. I did use some ivory black (Old Holland) for the deepest accents and with the addition of cadmium yellow for the green seaweed, encrusted rocks that are submerged at high tide.

View toward Great Head2
View Toward Great Head, 20″x30″

Another insight I had, related to the sky colors. I had superb weather this year. Almost no fog and only one or two mornings of a faint iridescent cloudiness that dispersed after 11 am. So the skies were beautiful, sometimes perfectly clear and other times with lingering light clouds. I found that in the early morning, that a combination of cadmium red vermilion and lemon-yellow added that early morning warmth which I then overlaid with a cool viridian and white- not attempting to achieve a single color to get this effect. In the late afternoon facing east, I found that cadmium red vermilion and viridian overlaid separately achieved the proper effect. This was the first year I used cadmium red in the sky. Before, I had always used a violet red, such as rose madder genuine, to achieve a more pink/ yellow effect. I also used very little blue in my skies this year. Instead, I used a blue hue created by viridian and BV (mostly manganese). Both the addition of cadmium red and the blue hue, related more to the rocks and sea and added a unity of effect.

Beehive and Halfway Mtn, 16"x22"
Beehive and Halfway Mtn, 16″x22″

Lastly, I made myself particularly conscious of the super-color. That is the color of the light in which the objects of the seascape are illuminated. In a sense, this is the color of the sky incorporated over the land or sea. When I had difficulty with an effect, say the gray rocks in the image entitled as such, I added this super-color to the various grays to achieve a unity within the variety of the rock forms.

These images are some of the results of my summer adventure in Maine.

View Toward Cranberry Island, 20"x30"
View Toward Cranberry Island, 20″x30″
Windy Surf, 16"x22"
Windy Surf, 16″x22″
Sunrise, Great Head, 16"x22"
Sunrise, Great Head, 16″x22″

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey with creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

2 thoughts on “A Return to the Maine Coast”

  1. Beautiful! One of the many wonderful things about these paintings is how you capture the light of the different times of day and different kinds of day so well painting on site with these large (for me) canvases.

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