STUDIO TOUR WITH CAREN-MARIE MICHEL

Nestled into her beautiful home, Caren-Marie's studio is packed with blank canvases, finished work, paint, and inspiration. Her signature style is a mix of detailed landscapes and playful takes on Maine landmarks. The magenta primed canvases give Caren-Marie's work a familiar look and feel, whether she's painting an industrial city-scape, or the Maine coast. Read more below! CAREN_MICHEL-0882

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What kind of a painter do you typically describe yourself as?
A landscape painter, somewhere between a realist and an impressionist.
Tell us about your journey as an artist throughout your life?
I started in grammar school taking private lessons for six years with Esther Barney, went to USM as an English Major for a year and then transferred to Portland School of Art (now Maine College of Art) where I earned my BFA in painting. I was a married student and had my first daughter after graduation, we decided that I would be a stay at home mom and along came a second daughter. I didn't want to paint as a hobby or part time, so I didn't paint at all for 22 years. I started a banking career to earn money after both girls were in school. In 2000, I left banking to paint full time when the younger daughter went away to college. It was like starting from scratch right out of art school, very slow at first, working on landscapes from my photos. I joined some art organizations and started showing in group juried shows and alternate art venues. Portland Press Herald writer Bob Keyes did a profile on my Westbrook focused paintings in 2004, and that was a real turning point for my art career. I started painting plein air at about that time too.
You do primarily plein air painting. Can you tell us more about that process?
I always have my car packed with my gear, if the day is not rainy or too windy, I'm out to paint. I choose my location, it takes about 15 minutes to set up and get settled and about 2 hours to complete the painting. I have learned to work very quickly as the light and tide completely change in a couple of hours. I almost always complete the painting on location, rarely going back to it in the studio. I regularly paint with 2 dear friends, we are just getting started with the season. I have also started a Greater Portland chapter of the Plein Air Painters of Maine, I choose a location each week for painters to meet up to paint every Tuesday.
How often are you on the road to explore Maine and paint?
As often as I can, all year. I usually spend several weeks on the road all over Maine and New Brunswick, 110,000 miles in nine years!
What is your favorite part of Maine to paint?
That's a really hard question to answer! My favorites are the Katahdin area, Mount Desert Island, Pemaquid, Wolfe's Neck in Freeport and the Scarborough Marsh/Pine Point area. I really love exploring and finding new locations and also painting the same location in series.
You always prime your canvases in a magenta. Can you tell us more about that?
I really don't like a plain white canvas staring at me, I happened upon this color 14 years ago when I started painting again and just stuck with it as an under painting color. I haven't yet tired of it, and some of the color remains in the final painting and that gives a cohesiveness to all my work.
Where do you show and how have you made connections?
I show my Katahdin work exclusively at North Light Gallery in Millinocket, I met owner Marsha Donahue when she worked at Greenhut Galleries in Portland and they did my framing. She moved to Millinocket to start the gallery ten years ago and I have been with her from the beginning. I also am a member of the Saccarappa Art Collective in Westbrook. We have been open over a year and a half, we hang a new show every six weeks with 8 members and 3 guest artists. Fellow Westbrook artist Andy Curran started the collective and asked me to join. I also show work at Fore Street Gallery and EcoHome Studio in Portland, Hole in the Wall Studioworks in Raymond and Portage Company in Woolwich. Those gallery connections were made through artist friends, and internet searches, so networking and internet presence are important. I have also been part of Double Dozen at Aucocisco Galleries in Portland, I met Andy Verzosa through the Gallery and the Union of Maine Visual Artists. I have also recently had work included in two shows at the Art Gallery at the University of New England, one as a Katahdin area artist included in David Little's book "Art of Katahdin" and the other show with a piece in the permanent collection. Last year I had had a solo show at the Saint John Arts Centre in New Brunswick, Canada, 58 paintings, made that connection by calling the gallery and proposing a collaborative project painting New Brunswick culminating in a show. I had previously shown in a group show there with the Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy.
You are engaged in a lot of social media for your work. Do you feel this is a necessity in today's world as an artist?
Absolutely! Studio life is very solitary, social media is a great way to meet other artists and to connect. I belong to a few arts organizations and we use social media, Facebook, to communicate. It's great way to share my painting adventures, collectors can always see what I am up to, become familiar with my work and stay connected. I also rely on my painting blog to keep myself accountable and to document my work, I have had many show opportunities develop directly from social networking. When I first started using Facebook, I met a great group of plein air painters from all over the country planning a painting get together in Maine, I met up with them in person had some great painting times and now are good friends. I also use Instagram, Twitter, sell on Etsy and have a photo blog.
Do you find that Maine is a supportive place to live as an artist?
Yes, art is a big part of our tradition, especially plein air painting. People that I meet while out on location are very supportive and appreciate their special places being documented.
Where do you go to for inspiration? Do you have any daily reads?
I just go outdoors. I almost always paint water. As I set up my easel, I can take a deep breath, relax and completely become involved in the place. It can be very challenging, weather, light, bugs, wind, tides, but it's addictive too. No daily reads, I do take lots of photos and find inspiration when I review the photos, taking me right back to the place. I also like to paint commercial buildings and cityscapes, those most often done in the studio.

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