Painting a day keeps South Portland artist in shape

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Painting is a daily exercise for Ruth Gorton, a South Portland artist who creates a new work of art virtually every day, sending an image of each painting out via e-mail to nearly 400 people all over this country and as far away as South America and France. Gorton, who also teaches drawing and painting at her Ridgeland Avenue home, paused recently, however, to respond to talk to the Current about painting daily, drawing inspiration, and connecting through art.

Q: You create a painting each day – how long have you been doing that and why?

A: I began creating a painting a day in April of 2007. Daily Painting through the Internet is an artist movement that began in 2004 here in the United States. It started as a means to give artists a chance to work directly with clients and to show smaller paintings that would be difficult for dealers to include in galleries. I liked the idea when I first heard of it and I’ve really enjoyed working directly with folks who are interested in my paintings. However, the biggest benefit that I’ve found is that daily painting keeps me in shape … Similar to a musician or an athlete, if you want to do the very best that you possibly can, you must seriously practice every day.

Q: You post the paintings on your Web site and also e-mail them each weekday to interested viewers. How many people are on your daily painting e-mail list and can you share some general information about them – do they live in Maine or elsewhere, are they people you know or strangers, and what types of responses do you get from them about your work?

A: Yes, I do post the paintings on my Web site (www.ruthgorton.com). I began e-mailing each daily painting in April 2007, a bit over a year and a half before I began my Web site in November of 2008. The e-mail distribution list began with family, friends, colleagues, business contacts, magazine publishers and innkeepers. The list has grown through those connections to others who live across the United States, and in South America, the United Kingdom and France. There are currently 375 people who receive a Daily Painting greeting each morning. It’s reached a point where I personally know very few of these folks. However, through responding to their comments, I feel like I’m getting to know many of them as we continue our connection.

Q: How long does it take you each day to create a painting?

A: Each painting takes about two to three hours a day. I treat it like a part-time job early each day.

Q: Your daily paintings seem to be of Maine scenes – can you tell us more about what you choose to paint and what draws you to those subjects?

A: Yes, many of my paintings are from Maine. I love painting landscapes, the coastline and architecture. A few are from when I travel. What draws me to a subject is usually the lighting, shadows, angles and color. And once the painting is started, it is most often about those elements more than the subject.

Q: The daily paintings seem to be relatively small and done in acrylic. Please describe more about the way you paint. Also, do you go out each day to the location where you’re painting a scene or paint from memory or a photograph?

A: Most daily paintings are around 5 inches by 7 inches and painted in acrylic. I keep them small so I can complete each one within the two to three hours daily. I love acrylic paint because it has a tremendous amount of substance and saturation as well as (being) so forgiving as a medium. If I want to change something, it can easily be done. I’m primarily a studio painter. I sketch both from location and photographs, then return to the studio to complete the painting. If I see something I can’t sketch or photograph – for instance when I’m driving in my car – I’ll do it from memory. I have a series titled “Turnpike Treasures” that I’ve done from the memory of some great highway landscapes.

Q: Do you ever take a day off from painting? What about going on vacation?

A: Yes, I do take a day off from painting, on weekends, for example, and I did take a weeklong vacation in March. However, I’m always scouting for reference material, carrying my camera and sketchbook around with me constantly.

Q: What other artists – past or present – do you consider a source of inspiration and why?

A: The artists that have been my source of inspiration are varied. They may be more contemporary painters like Morris Louis, for example, or painters like Monet, from the Impressionist era. To me the stimulating common thread between these painters and their colleagues is their individual emphasis on light, color and contrast, although they present these elements in very different ways.

Q: You teach classes at your home studio for both children and adults. What do you enjoy most about teaching art?

A: I love teaching people how to observe things a bit differently than they usually do … from a different angle or from a different light. To me, whether I’m teaching drawing or painting, the most rewarding thing I can hear from a student of any age is: “I’m seeing things differently than I did before,” or “Wow! I never noticed this before!”

Q: You also provide therapeutic recreational classes for children and adults. Please give an example of how you use art as therapy in your classes.

A: Therapeutic recreational drawing and painting classes also involve helping people to observe their world around them. It includes providing them with ways to express their observations through various techniques. I feel that when people are healing from any sort of circumstance, tapping into their creative abilities can open many new doors for them to help themselves through that process and gain confidence.

Q: You had a 25-year career as a graphic artist and illustrator before turning to painting full time and teaching. Can you briefly describe your previous career and what you illustrated?

A: I illustrated for various publications and magazines before turning to full-time painting and teaching. I loved it. I illustrated with traditional methods. However, when the computer took over as the preferred method, I lost a lot of my interest in the process.

Q: You’re formerly from Massachusetts, where you studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School. When did you come to Maine and what drew you here?

A: I moved to Maine in 1974. I considered other places to live after that. However, the grass wasn’t greener on the other side. Sailing is my second passion, and I love the Maine coast.

Q: South Portland has a growing arts scene, with new galleries opening over the past few years. What is it like to be an artist in South Portland as such changes take place?

A: Southern Maine is a wonderful place to live as an artist. With new galleries opening, and a continually developing arts scene, there’s endless opportunity for stimulation and learning experiences.

Ruth Gorton, a South Portland artist, gives instruction in her studio to Hugo Gasc, another artist from South Portland. Gorton creates a new painting almost every day. (Staff photo by Tess Nacelewicz)

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