making the big picture small

words + photography MICHAEL DAUGHERTY

When I was fourteen, my family lived on a wooden
sailboat for a year and half. That started
my appreciation of boats. Many of my paintings
are from the perspective of a kayak.
Rock Ledges I, Crow Island, oil on panel, 5 x 7 inches

These three small oil paintings, Rock Ledges, Late Afternoon and
Barnacle Rock were painted on our two month-long
kayak trip...
Late Afternoon, Ram Island, oil on panel, 6 x 6 inches

...I carried an oil painting kit, two sketchbooks,
pens, and watercolors. I loved almost every island
we camped on...
Barnacle Rock, Hen Islands, oil on panel, 5 x 7 inches

...never wanting to leave in the morning. We spent
more than one night on each of these
islands, which gave me more time to paint.
Hell’s Half Acre, Rock Reflection, charcoal on paper, 15 x 17 inches

Charcoal is a perfect medium to focus
on form especially the coastal erratics...
Gooseberry Island Erratics
charcoal on paper, 22 x 29.5 inches

...and sea sculpted granite ledges
we have on the coast of Maine.
Drilling Stone, Stonington Waterfront
oil on panel, 10 x 10 inches

Paintings of road work may seem like
a departure from my other work but...
Reach, oil on panel, 10 x 10 inches is a favorite subject and part of the landscape
I see living in a coastal Maine town.
Pink Peapod, Reflection
oil on canvas, 16 x 16 inches
Green Boat
oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches
Rounding Little McGlathery Island, lino relief print, 6 x 8 inches

These linoleum prints are illustrations
for the book about...
View From Ram Island
lino relief print, 8 x 6 inches

...our two-month long kayak trip
Upwest and Downeast.
South Little Hen Island
lino relief print, 6 x 8 inches

My wife, Rebecca, has her art studio in town, a small space in an old commercial building, evenly divided between a work area in back and a gallery in front. Sometimes she flies the multicolored OPEN flag, and occasionally visitors wander in, often people who remember her paintings from the bigger, multi-artist gallery we used to have that overlooked the harbor in the middle of town. I like to stop
in as well and sit in one of the comfortable chairs and take it in: the art
on the walls, the quiet, the faint aroma of wet oil paint wafting from the next room.

The gallery is hung with a mix of paintings, charcoal drawings and relief prints—a work in progress likely to change from one day to the next. Hanging her work is part of the process. She gets to see how a new painting relates to one she did a year ago, or how a progression of charcoal drawings points the way to the next project on the easel.

Lately, one wall has been gradually covered by a series of linoleum-block prints, all inspired by a summer-long sea kayak trip. During one summer, we paddled the Maine coast between Portland and Eastport twice: over 600 miles that began and ended at Deer Isle, our usual home. We camped on islands, resupplying along the way at whatever stores we could get to. Our goal, more than getting anywhere, was simply to enjoy living among the wild islands. Rebecca filled sketchbooks and painted postcard-sized oil paintings, all of which have provided her with material for this current series of relief prints, which will accompany the text I’ve written about
the trip in a book. Though her prints are “illustrating” the book, they progressed quite separately from my account, so it’s more like two
stories about a particular time and place—one told with words, the other with images.

Not long after I met Rebecca —when we were young, back in 1988—we moved into a travel trailer, and the back of our pickup truck became her mobile studio, with plywood racks for the big canvasses she favored back then. The paintings tended to evolve more slowly than we traveled, though, so her New Hampshire painting was still on the easel in Florida, and her Texas paintings continued into New Mexico. She was less drawn to the landscape then, instead seeking the details found in those landscapes, like rocks or shells or gradually withering flowers.

Instead of using a big canvas to focus on tiny details, this recent series of block prints is more about keeping the big picture small. Intended for the page as much as they are for a wall, they tell the story of a small journey along a particular familiar coast at a particular time in our lives. We’d given up our gallery and our home, squeezing a livelihood out of sea kayak guiding in the summer and house-sitting gigs through the winters. We saw the trip as a probable last chance to revel in jobless, homeless freedom before we settle into something a little more stable and permanent.

So we loaded our kayaks and spent the summer outside. Every morning we unzipped the tent flap to reveal another sliver of the Maine coast panorama: another island, another erratic boulder, another morning mired in fog. It was a way to slow down and appreciate this moody place we’ve fallen in love with, that we’ve made into our home—even when we had no place to call our own.

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