Renewal in Maine

ahhhhh, Maine!

Every once in a while, fortune truly smiles upon me. An example is meeting Mary Erickson, an artist, a connector, a lovely person. I met Mary at a painting event in the Adirondacks, and we got along well, in part because most people get along well with Mary, and in part because we shared a love of birds, nature, and painting.

Mary likes painting Maine, but she likes to do it with friends. So she started renting a house called Nanatuck outside of Port Clyde, and inviting painting friends to stay for a week and share the costs and cooking. This expanded into six weeks, and a rotating cast of characters.

We had lobster for dinner one night. Tough life.

It’s impossible to describe how Mary manages to stay out of people’s business, encourage their endeavors, smother any emerging drama, foster fellowship, and in general create an environment that is productive, fun, and drenched in beauty. For a week at the end of August, I was a part of the Nanatuck tribe–there to write about artists, but also to be a part of the whole experience.

Painting-wise, I was a guppy among whales. Don Demers was there, and I was reminded how no matter how good a photo of his work may be, it is even better in person. I don’t know of another marine artist who is better at capturing water, sky, and atmosphere. Everyone else was also represented by high-end galleries and enjoying considerable success with their art.

The Happy Clam’s lobster roll, with sides of red cabbage and some amazing, turmeric-tinged spätzle.

Unless you drive to a bigger town to shop, you will find that chicken costs more than lobster in Port Clyde. So what is a hungry artist to do? I sampled lobster rolls from various shacks, and came away the most impressed by the roll at The Happy Clam. I must admit that the delicious spätzle that was an option for a side dish swayed my opinion somewhat. On my last full day in Maine, I came close to a lobster hat trick–I ate leftover pasta with lobster for breakfast, and had a lobster roll for lunch. Alas, no lobster at dinner. Tough luck, huh?

Marsha Massih made this incredible rice dish. I wanted fourths!

Maine. The ocean is manganese. The rocks are volcanic, with folds and layers forming ridged granite with much personality. Fog coming off the ocean is grey and cool. Cormorants, American goldfinch, mergansers, gulls, and blue jays are common. Kingfishers, osprey, cedar waxwings, eiders, Canada geese, and chipmunks abound. Pines turn the landscape a deep dark green. The sun can be brutal. The people are friendly. The blueberries are small and flavorful.

Daniel Ambrose sketching on the shore

My first painting was pretty bad. I was just getting used to the colors. I was trying to figure out how to get verticals into the vistas. The weather was so changeable, and the tide was dramatic and seemed quick.

Soaking my feet at Drift Inn Beach

I soon realized that paintings of any size at all would require two painting sessions at the same time of day. Two of my paintings were completed that way. I painted one triangle painting 80% on site, and it might be my favorite of the trip. On my last day at Nanatuck, I started a painting that went nowhere. But when I finished it up back home in NYC, it turned out well.

“Marshall Point Triangles,” 2017, acrylic, 6x8ish

The renewal of old friendships and the development of new ones, the art-making, the food, the beauty of Maine, the simplicity of our days were fantastic, but the most important aspect of my week at Nanatuck was being Bob Bahr. At home, I am Daddy. I am a husband. I am a writer known only on the phone and online. I am a painter who posts to Facebook and Etsy. At Nanatuck, I was a person, relatively unknown, free to be me, free to be social or antisocial, free to be generous and gregarious or reclusive and resting, free to experiment or to paint traditionally, free to let my personality come out. I am loved at home, but I am old news, seen in one way. Being around supportive people, creative people with little experience with me, allows me to reestablish what makes me, me. I don’t know if this makes much sense, but I can’t stress how important it is.

So, thanks, Mary.

Painting at the Anderson Farm


Lift Your Little Head Up to the Sky and Sing

With apologies to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, I present this fun little painting.

Lynne and I saw this song sparrow nearly every morning for a month on our morning walks to Dyckman Fields. We walk together for exercise, but it also gives us a chance to talk to each other beyond the admin stuff that dominates so much of our household conversation. Each morning, this little bird inspired me, singing his heart out, head tilted up to the skies. Wonderful.

So I took lots of photos. I drew him a few times and settled on a pose. I drew the pose on a piece of wood I–ahem–upcycled from the curb, and sent the photo to my good friend Jim Coe for advice. He is a bird expert and a fine painter, so I wanted to know if I were veering too far off the path on this. I am not a very tight painter, but accuracy counts. That’s the journalist side of me.

So he gave some tips and i burned it and then I painted it with acrylic. I love this darling little thing, but I put it up for sale here.

Burning Wood

Burning Wood

For a couple of years, I’ve been borrowing my older son’s woodburning tool to draw on wood, then painting it with acrylic paints. I’ve used slices from tree trunks and nice hardwood boards from drawers I find discarded on the sidewalk here in Inwood.

This morning, I drew, burnt, and painted this drawer back. I took the photo of the American goldfinches about two weeks ago on a morning walk with my wife.

I enjoy burning wood, and have since I was a boy. I like painting on wood, too.



I’ve been sort of obsessed with triangles lately.

I know when it happened, but I’m not sure why. It started with this:

No one knows for certain where this teepee-like structure came from. Artists of all ages often build interesting little installations in Inwood Hill Park made from natural materials. So it could be that. One person swore that there was a movie shot at the spot, and the film crew built it as a set.

Regardless, my younger son and his friends were thrilled with it. And the more I looked at it, the more I was struck by how the triangle shape of the shelter was echoed in the very dark lower trunk of the tree at the top of the hill. Then I saw that the massive rocks descending the hill were triangles. And the sky holes formed by large tree branches, too. Soon, I saw triangles everywhere.

I came back to paint the shelter, making sure that the dark trunk of the ridge tree was in the composition. That study was good and pretty interesting to me, but I wanted to push it.

“Shelter (study),” 2017, acrylic, 12×6

One Saturday, my wife and I decided it was a good day for “divide and conquer,” meaning we split up the boys and each of us does something with one of them to keep them from killing each other (and ganging up on us!) I took Charlie to the park and took my plein air kit. He took baseball equipment and his scooter. I saw triangles in the marsh scene. I painted this:

“HH Bridge Abstraction,” 2017, acrylic, 12×12

That was exciting to me, although it seemed to horrify or puzzle most passersby.

The next week, I took this painting back to the shelter spot, and painted over it, abstracting the scene into triangles. I knew what this was for. I wanted my friend Danny to own this one. At first, I thought I would leave about half of the original painting, shown below, which depicts Dyckman Street, looking down Seaman Ave. But the leaves and hillside gradually took over the canvas.

“Dyckman View, 2017, acrylic, 36×18. Painted over.

In the end, only a bit of the first painting showed through. I liked how the pre-War buildings of Seaman Ave were peaking through a painting of a very different kind of shelter. This was Inwood from the times of the Lenape people to today. I shot a photo of “Shelter,” but in progress. I mailed off the painting to Danny without photographing the finished product. Doh!

“Shelter,” 2017, acrylic, 36×18. In progress, on location.

I started reading about triangles. I learned that they are symbolic of many things. The downward pointing triangle appealed the most to me. It represents abundance, plenty (the “cups” cards of the Tarot), fertility, the female genitalia, water. The upward pointing triangle symbolizes power, stability, maleness.

But mostly, I saw triangles all over in the landscape.

The next triangle painting explored the female angle of triangles. I painted my wife’s legs.

“Legs,” 2017, acrylic on paper, 10×17

That worked out well, with the legs abstracted to show the warm and cool of colors on the form. Next, I took a photo of mine of a summer tanager and abstracted it a bit with triangles. I liked how I could use triangles to break up the preponderance of blue sky. The triangles also suggested the tree branches pretty well.

“Tanager Tangent,” 2017, acrylic, 18x 36. Available in my Etsy shop.

Then, I painted with my friend Tony Winters, and this gave me a chance to paint the Henry Hudson Bridge from a different angle, using triangles.

“Rocks at the Foot,” 2017, acrylic, 12×9. Available in my Etsy shop.

And this latest triangle painting is for our downstairs neighbor, the wonderful MJ. It’s my gift to her on her 9th birthday.

“Future Perfect,” 2017, acrylic, 12×9

I don’t know when this will end or where it will lead. Right now, I am happy to go back and forth between triangles and more representational work. Ω


**Visit my Etsy shop if you are interested in one of the paintings: