Painting Maine’s Majesty
The rumble of lobster boats, occasionally punctuated by the sharp cry of gulls, echoes across the water at the break of day. The tide, too, is heading out, slowly exposing more and more of the rocky shore glinting in the morning light. Here, a heron stalks silently in shallow pools; there, a dory and its reflection rest before a day of work. In the distance, islands fade from green to blue, then merge with sky on the far horizon.
Equipped with pen, paint, and deep curiosity, I have been drawn to Maine’s rocky coast each summer for nearly 15 years. As a naturalist and watercolor artist, I have filled many sketchbooks while exploring quiet coves, spruce forests, ancient rocks, and tide pools. Sketching is the best way I know to observe more closely, learn about what I see, and capture my experiences.
Maps and charts are essential to the traveler and sketching one makes a perfect starting point for capturing a journey. I often look at both online and hard copy maps, as well as historical maps, to develop a sense of context, and then jump from there to create a map on paper. While a map may be a strict representation of the landscape, I often personalize mine by adding snippets of information about my travels. Sometimes the map remains simple, like this one of Harbor Island in Muscongus Bay, but it also can be fun to record a scrawl of detail about events and places visited, so that the result is an illustrated journal of dayto-day experiences.
News England Lights
The New England coast is famous for its lighthouses, and Maine boasts nearly 60 of them. Many— like those at Portland Head, Pemiquid Point, and Monhegan Island—are well recognized. Others, especially those on outer islands, are better known only to those navigating nearby.
First established in 1805, and replaced with the current structure in 1855, Franklin Island Light does its job without glamour or fanfare. Still, this classic lighthouse makes a fine subject, especially when set off by dramatic coastal skies.
Tools of the Trade
The coast of Maine has attracted generations of painters and solidified many of them as the best artists of their time. In the footsteps of Winslow Homer, Frederick Church, Childe Hassam, and the Wyeth family, today’s artists use similar tools and techniques to capture the allure of the coast’s magical, irresistible light.
For travel sketching, I like to pare down to a few simple supplies: a small set of watercolors, pen, a few brushes, and a 5-inch x 8-inch journal with heavy watercolor paper. The kit comes with me on boat trips, hikes, and shoreline rambles, as well as to museums and cafes, where a few meals have gone cold while I painted them.
Watching for Wildlife
An amazing diversity of marine life thrives among the rocks and seaweed between the high and low tide lines. These creatures are uniquely adapted to live under water and high-and-dry for hours each day as the tide ebbs and flows. Only the most hardy and adaptable survive—and they do it with remarkable tenacity.
Conditions for exploring and sketching tide pools are slick, wet, and rocky, but the results are rewarding. It’s important to head out when the tide is ebbing and nearly at its lowest point. That’s because the most diverse pools are nearest the outermost margins of land and sea. Here, marine life is exposed to dry conditions for the least amount of time each day. I draw quickly and keep an eye on the tide to avoid being caught by waves or surrounded by rising water.
Wherever you go, you’ll be sure to see herring gulls, blackbacked gulls, and laughing gulls jostling for an easy meal at the stern of lobster boats.
Harbor seals are common along the coast, where they prey on a wide variety of fish and squid. Males weigh up to 250 pounds; females are trimmer at 150 to 200 pounds. After nine months of gestation, females give birth to a single pup, usually born between mid-May and June.
Amidst an ever-changing sea, sky, and shore, Maine’s rocky coast is timeless. Experiencing it first-hand, whether on water or on land, with pen and paint in hand, it is fit for fueling many years of memory and fascination—or simply filling a lifetime of sketchbooks.