BERNARD — Art Paine has piece of advice for his painting students: “Honestly, have a friend that shoots you at the two-day mark. You really need to be shot at that point. There’s a horrible temptation to overwork it.”
Anyone who’s been around boats in Maine is likely familiar with the Paine name. Art (whose website tagline is “The Art of Boats, the Boats of Art”) and his twin brother Chuck have been designing, building, racing and painting pictures of boats up and down the Maine coast for more than four decades.
“I like living a varied life,” says Paine, who at 75 has no plans to retire. “I tried it once, for about a month. It wasn’t for me.”
Paine was raised in Jamestown, a town that comprises a sizable chunk of Conanicut Island in the middle of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay.
The bay is awash in boats, but Paine and his brother were raised poor, and yachting was a rich man’s world. “We were just besotted with boats,” says Paine, but “I never thought I’d ever get on board a yacht.”
Eventually, however, the family moved to Warwick, R.I., where local boaters took an interest in the boys hanging around the pier.
“We’d never much ever been on boats,” says Paine, but together they built a 13-and-a-half-foot Blue Jay racing sailboat, and that was that. “As soon as we’d started racing we just killed. We kicked ass.”
But sailboats weren’t the boys’ only hobby. As Paine tells it, he and his brother “were both considered kind of art prodigies.”
Both brothers were accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design, but with no scholarship money available, Paine wound up at the University of Rhode Island. He majored in fine art, minored in journalism and kept on sailing.
In his early 30s, Paine moved to the Mount Desert Island village of Bernard, where he bought a house overlooking the Bass Harbor inlet for $17,000.
“I wanted to get to a place that was as much like the island I grew up on” as possible, he said.
Paine was poor, and MDI “was the land of opportunity. I needed economic opportunity.” It may be hard to believe, he says, but in those days the island “was a bargain hunter’s paradise,” in an area filled with “some of the best boat builders on Earth.”
After moving to Maine, Art largely gave up painting and took to the sea, captaining boats for Hinckley Yachts and writing about boats for magazines, including Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors and Wooden Boat.
Then, about 20 years ago, as Paine tells it, “I realized I just had to paint. I realized I needed something extra.” Plus, he said, “I have a real problem with seasonal depression and it helps me to be standing in front of the colors.”
These days, Paine focuses his efforts on depictions of “boats or pretty women or dogs.” He mostly works from photographs, often his own, and is known for his vibrant paintings of the National Family Island Regatta, held each year in the shimmering turquoise waters of the Bahamas.
The sloops in that regatta, he said, are some of the most beautiful in the world: wooden boats built by hand in the Bahamas, decked out with cotton sails and slender pry boards, planks run out to windward where sailors perch as human ballast.
The sloops may appear simple, with clean, elegant lines, but painting one is deceptively difficult. “Marine art is really difficult art. It’s got to be accurate. It’s got to be read with the proper elements of a boat in proper proportions.”
It also happens that one of the most essential and beautiful colors to work with for marine painting — cerulean blue — is also one of the most fickle. “Different pigments are very different,” he said. Cerulean blue, “it’s pasty.”
Paine, who works at Elk Spar & Boat Shop when he isn’t teaching art or painting and racing boats, estimates that roughly half his income comes from his artwork.
He works on canvas and board but prefers the latter, because “a panel will give you finer edges and it doesn’t yield. I’m not a loose edge type of artist.”