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Yarmouth Art Festival coming right up


July Day, oil on canvas, 8″ x 8″ ©Sukie Curtis, 2014

Over the last handful of summers, David and I (sometimes with Bekah and/or Anna along with us) have spent a week on Little Cranberry Island, more often called “Islesford” by those who live there. Our time in this friendly island community, part of the several “Cranberry Isles” south of Mount Desert Island, usually includes plenty of walking, riding old bikes in various states of disrepair, wandering the shoreline and searching among the gazillion ocean-rolled-and-rounded beach stones.

And all the pleasures of watching the changing light on water and distant land, savoring the shifting weather and wind and the accompanying colors, sounds, smells, and even the “tastes” of the air. It is a delightful and inspiring place to sketch, draw, paint, doodle, journal–you name it!

Some years, because of the hassles of painting in oils and transporting home wet paintings, I’ve chosen instead to use a variety of tools in my sketch books–pen, graphite, watercolor pencils and crayons, and sometimes oil pastels. Last year I used two of my Islesford sketches as inspiration for a couple of small oil-on-canvas paintings when I got back home. Both of these, as well as the painting shown above, will be on view and for sale at the Yarmouth Art Festival held at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, Maine, October 22 to 25.

The image above, titled July Day, I painted this summer on a canvas that already had the beginnings of a different painting on it. This allowed me to play with the existing layers of color and texture while adding a new layer of paint as I sat on a bench on the northern shore of Islesford looking toward Mount Desert. (Painting over old paintings is a favorite “trick” of mine, one that plenty of other painters use to great advantage.)

I will post the other paintings in the Festival in my next post.

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Back to Baxter


With my daughter Anna at the summit of Mount Katahdin, August 1, 2014

One of the highlights of my summer was my first-ever successful climb (after one incomplete attempt) of Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, as indicated on the weathered sign in the photo.

Ever since getting about 3/4 of the way to the top of Katahdin via the Hunt Trail seven years ago, I’ve had it in the back of my mind to try again some day. But this time I wanted to make my ascent via the Saddle Trail from Chimney Pond, a more moderate way up the mountain with less intimidating boulders to scale and a shorter distance to cover, since Chimney Pond is in one of the glacial basins of Katahdin.

The “price” for the shorter and more moderate hike via the Saddle Trail is the effort of backpacking to Chimney Pond to spend a night or two (we stayed two nights, with our hike of Katahdin in the middle), which was an effort well rewarded.

And of course Katahdin itself and the whole Baxter State Park wilderness is soul-nourishing and art-inspiring. I’ve just entered some pieces for possible inclusion in an upcoming exhibit called “Inspired by Katahdin”–from little studies of fog swirling over Kidney Pond to a large (40″ x 30″) landscape of water coursing over and around “the old eternal rocks” at Katahdin Stream Falls (see below). We shall see what comes of that!


Eternal Rocks: Katahdin Stream Falls, oil on canvas, © Sukie Curtis, 2014


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Catching Up

Sunflower Sketch 2

Sunflower Sketch 2

On a beautiful late summer day, I headed to Falmouth to the Tidewater Farm property along the Presumscot River, where there are walking paths as well as some lovely gardens. This was my first visit to Tidewater but will certainly not be the last!

While my friend Diana Johnson sketched some views of the landscape, I plunked myself down on a garden path near a tool shed and sketched a towering sunflower with one massive bloom leaning high above my head. I found myself wondering just how heavy that blossom might be; it was at least ten inches across and loaded with seeds!


Here’s the last sketch I did before I headed home. It seems that the shapes of the leaves got simpler and more angular as I went along.


Sunflower Sketch 3

Sunflower Sketch 3

(Both sketches done in pencil and oil pastel on paper.)


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Poppy Love

Icelandic Poppies

Icelandic Poppies (for Jerry), oil on canvas, 14″ x 11″, ©Sukie Curtis 2014

OK, that’s kind of a cheesy title for this post, but I do love poppies!

I’ve never had much success growing poppies in my own garden (not enjoying “full sun”), so I usually content myself with admiring the oriental poppies that bloom so showily in other people’s gardens in June. The most common ones are scarlet with dramatic black centers and splotches deep inside the petals, but I’m especially partial to the pale pink and peach colored varieties. They really do that crepe paper petal thing so well!

This year I’ve gotten into Icelandic poppies from the delightful Snell Family Farm people at the Portland Farmers Market. I’m on my third bouquet of Icelandic poppies from them, and I’m also on a small poppy-painting binge. I plant to ride this wave as long as it lasts–not only the wave of poppies in bloom but also the wave of my interest in painting them.

They sport great colors, some interesting curving sculptural stems, and lovely two-part fuzzy, knobby bud casings that just may open up in the midst of being painted! (That did happen to me–I glanced up while painting to look closely at a bud and couldn’t find it!  In its place was the crumpled, tight-packed fabric of the newly-exposed blossom, and on the table were two miniature fuzzy slippers.) I love the contrast between the delicate, airy and near-weightlessness of the poppy blossoms and the juicy stuff of oil paint.

I have tentatively subtitled this painting with a dedication: “(for Jerry)” in honor of one of my mother’s first (they met in kindergarten!) and long-time friends, Jerry Day Mason, who is a very accomplished painter and an inspiration. I can picture at least two of her own paintings of poppies and have enjoyed seeing her very own, home-grown poppies in all their flamboyant color and splendor.

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Another Morning Mug

Morning Mug

Morning Mug, oil on canvas, 12″ x 12″, © Sukie Curtis 2014

I begin most mornings with a mug of hot tea (loose leaf Assam tea brewed in a pot, with milk, to be precise), but if you prefer your mornings with coffee, feel free to imagine this mug as your first coffee of the day!

Back in 2007 to 2008 when I undertook to draw in a sketch book at least once a day (and succeeded, except for two or three days out of 365), I often found that my left hand was the best subject around. Sometimes just my hand itself, perhaps with fingers bent to make it more interesting, but often my left hand holding my mug of tea.

I’ve never actually stopped to count just how many times over the intervening years I have drawn my left hand with mug, but I’d guess somewhere between 150 and 200 times! Most often I draw in a “semi-blind” sort of manner–primarily looking at my hand and not at my sketchbook. I find the results of blind or semi-blind contour drawings much more interesting and more alive than more traditional drawings that aim to represent reality with accuracy and in detail.

Here’s an example from November 13, 2012.


Ink drawing on paper, 6″ x 6″

Only recently have I turned any of these drawings into paintings. The one pictured at the top of this post is the second of two.


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High Summer


High Summer© Sukie Curtis, 2013. Oil on canvas. 30″ x 30″


“It’s only a matter of time,” people kept telling me last year, “until someone wants to buy this painting!” And sure enough, a couple of weeks ago it was purchased for a new office space, and I trust it is being enjoyed by those who work there and visit there.

This is one of those paintings (as so many of mine are) that started out as one thing and became another. It was first an interior view of some plants and potted bulbs on a window sill. (You can still see the window grid undergirding the whole.) And it also included a wide, gestural arc of cadmium red light paint, which you can see plenty of, almost like a big red letter C. The painting sat in a much-less paint-covered state for a long time before I dared to work with it again. There was a lot in it that I liked, but I also didn’t think it was finished. And I honestly didn’t know what to do with it!

More paint, more flower shapes and other shapes, and the possibility of its being as much an outside garden landscape as an interior view–those brought the painting to this state.

And now that it has moved on, it’s time for me to tackle another large canvas.


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Islesford Sketchbook 1


Islesford sketchbook, 7.7.13, view east into the woods: pen, watercolor pencils, oil pastel

From July 6 to 13, David and I returned to Little Cranberry Island, one of the Cranberry Isles off of Mount Desert Island (home of Acadia National Park). This was our third stay in recent years on Little Cranberry, also known as Islesford, a place David often visited during his high school and college years and beyond with his dear friend Nat Bowditch, whose family has spent summers there for generations. (Sadly, Nat died in 2008, way too young.)


Although I usually paint with oils, given the challenges of transporting wet paintings as well as the odors and hazards of paint solvents that might not be fully appreciated in a rented house, I usually limit myself to sketching materials and water-based paints during our visits to Islesford. This year I decided to photograph many of my daily sketches for posting.


Here’s the first: a seemingly simply but rather complex to “capture” view of the morning light in the trees to the east of the cabin.

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Getting to Know You

I am doing my best to learn the ins and outs of this blog. And I don’t find it very easy. People talk about a quick edit button, but I don’t see one! For the time being, I’ll keep plugging along. Perhaps the only way to figure it out is to do it, over and over and over.


Composition with African Fabric, oil on canvas, © Sukie Curtis, 2013

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What’s alla prima, anyway?

color study 5.29.13

color study 5.29.13

I’m happy to declare that choosing “alla prima” as my blog’s name is not entirely logical. As you may have guessed, alla prima is an Italian phrase, meaning “at once” or “at first attempt.” There’s a French term that captures the same idea: au premier coup, or “at first stroke.”

 In the realm of painting, it describes a certain style of painting, sometimes known as direct painting or wet-on-wet, usually referring to fairly quick paintings started and finished in one “go,” in contrast to a longer-term painting process that consists of built up layers of paint, with layers being allowed to dry before another is added.

 Alla prima painting is often associated with painting outdoors–en plein air (which is another French phrase, just to mix things up a bit more)–where the changing light and weather require that one paint pretty fast  in order to capture a given moment or composite impression of moments.

 Although I’m not primarily an alla prima painter, I love the phrase–the sound of it, the way it easily rolls of my tongue, and the way it allows me to pretend to speak Italian on occasion. And for a blog that I intend as a way to share brief observations, sketches, drawings, paintings, and–who knows?–maybe even a short poem or two, it feels just about right.

 So, alla prima it is.


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Sky color, overcast and pale

“Bone white.”

I’m sure I’ve seen that name on Benjamin Moore paint color cards among the many shades of white and off-white. I’m not sure just what Bone White is, but it feels like right name for this morning’s sky color when I first got up. It’s overcast, a very pale, cool grey though brightening (and perhaps warming in tone) in spots. To mix a similar color in oils would take mostly white with only touches of other hues. On its own it’s not a very appealing color to me; but out there in the big world, it’s not a bad neutral ground color for all the intriguing hues of spring foliage.

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