November Leaves, Bethel, ME

This was painted in the woods behind my hosts' house, a woods dense with dark trunks and spiky wet branches. It was a cold, gray, drizzly day, and I'd been trudging around looking for an inspiring view, wondering why I'd started the tour in November instead of October or September. I'd missed fall foliage season, and even the leaves on the ground had lost most of their color.

But, after I'd stared at the ground long enough, it struck me that the leaves were still worth painting. Leaves, pine needles, dirt and bits of bark and lichen. The panel I used had been previously coated with red oxide (one of five colors I tend to use for priming), and I chose it to invoke the fading color of autumn -- also to simplify the work: it looked alright to leave a lot of the panel unpainted and showing through.

Bethel Maine is home to a good college friend, Kirk, his wife Martha and their family. A few years earlier, when my Itinerant Artist Project idea was just starting to form, I'd done a tentative test of the process with them: I stayed 2 days and made a small painting of the view from their cabin to give to them. Before then, I'd occasionally stayed with friends and left artwork behind, but never with such a fast turnaround. I usually needed 2 weeks or so to get tuned in and paint.

Also, even with friends, I had trouble letting go of paintings and wanted to remind myself what that was like. It's never easy, but for that Bethel test run it felt OK. When I returned the next summer and saw the painting on the wall, appreciated and looking nice, I felt more encouraged. It was a very simple scene, very small, but done thoughtfully. That seemed to be enough for my project. I couldn't just automatically do that wherever I went -- the essence of the painting, I think, was that it conveyed an engaged presence, the opposite of automatic. But it seemed like something I could manage for a series of stops and something substantive enough to bring an Itinerant Artist Project alive to a wide range of hosts.

My hosts for this particular stop in Bethel were Martha's parents. I tend to work better when not staying directly with friends. And Martha's mother had a special connection to my Project. She was a docent at Bethel's Rufus Porter House, Rufus Porter being one of New England's more famous 19th century itinerant artists. On one of my previous visits she'd given me a tour of the house and told me about the man. Many early American itinerant painters are regarded as hacks, a legacy I was not altogether comfortable with. Porter, on the other hand, was an original. His work is fun. He was also an inventor and the founder of Scientific American. As an aspiring itinerant I found all this very encouraging.