Meanwhile, back in the studio ... with Mark Coates

Sun, 02/13/2022 - 8:45am

I was watching a junco and young blue jay vying for seed from the feeder (the jay won – big surprise) out my kitchen window the other morning. I started thinking about all of the local artists who paint birds and those who paint landscapes, and Mark Coates came to mind. My stream-of-consciousness moment continued as I recalled his 2018 ARTinME Best In Show oil painting, “Wash Day.” The scene was very “Sprucewold-y” with trees, both live and not, rocks, a sweet small brown house, laundry hanging on a clothesline and a totem pole attached to a tree. There was so still so much to see in it as I continued traveling through my mind’s eye. That totem pole was so unexpected and, for me, as memorable as the white wash hanging on the line. And the trees. I’m always fascinated by how every artist interprets trees ... the various shades of green, or colors, depending on the season, the brush strokes ... the yellows and greens of the shrubby vegetation ... anyway ... I decided to give him a call to see what he’s been up to this winter.

Turns out, he spends a lot of time looking out a window at his house, too. In his case, it’s the dining room window. In fact, he’d just finished a 24” x 36” oil painting entitled “Fresh Snow.” We talked about this painting and the series he’s been working on focused on Bath Iron Works and the immediate area around it. This time of year the closest Mark gets to his preferred plein air experience is working in the dining room. Otherwise, he goes out and wanders about shooting photographs totally digging the beautiful area he has called home since 2015.

“I have spectacular views where I live, especially in winter when the snow, the life, the sky is just amazing. I started painting the sky ... those pink streaks ... I spent a long time trying to capture all the warm light on the snow from that pinkish hue. It took a few weeks to paint and then we had that second snow a few weeks later and I liked that light even more,” he said.

Mark went back to the painting and “Fresh Snow” got even fresher!

I really like this piece. The contrasting colors – the rich dark trunks and branches of the trees and their shadows, the layers of light in the sky, the snow and the water ... it’s a comforting scene. Boothbay Harbor in winter; the stillness is restful, the scene lovely. Aren’t we lucky?

Now, for those who don’t know, Mark is originally from the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area where he taught art at the middle and high schools in Howard County Public School System. He eventually became district coordinator of the arts in the Baltimore area. Mark also taught art at Maryland Institute College of Art; and the National Gallery of Art in Washington on weekends for 20 years.

He still enjoys going to art museums and galleries and spends a lot of time in Portland. “I’m always looking for new ideas and I get inspiration by talking with other artists,” Mark said. “So many artists work alone, like me. It’s about being part of an (artistic) community that encourages and inspires.”

What’s on the easel right now? Another in the BIW series with that ginormous crane at the forefront at twilight … we’ve all been out there that time of day taking pics of the gorgeous colors in the sky so, finished, this one will be a must see!

Mark says he lacks the discipline to paint every day and goes on hiatus from the palette and easel. “It’s a different vibe when you’re a young person hungry to make a living and you have to crank out art to sell to survive. We (older, retired artists) have the luxury of exploring what interests us.”

Typically he prefers to focus on one thing at a time. “It’s like sitting down to write a term paper; it’s an epic struggle when you start. What it boils down to is what your intent is and what really intrigues you: Is it the subject, the color; or is it the theme/series you’re into. It’s when you start to interpret what you see that it becomes interesting … you just have to trust your process.”

For more about Mark and his work, visit His work can also be seen at Boothbay Region Art Foundation in Boothbay Harbor.