Judine French: Watercolors on Monhegan Island

Thu, 07/22/2021 - 8:30am

Monhegan Island was covered in a thick layer of fog Wednesday, July 14, but that wasn’t going to stop Judine French from painting.

She likes the effect the oversaturation gives her watercolors. French created one of her favorite pieces, Monhegan's Lobster Cove in the mist, on a similar day years ago.

No matter the weather, her set-up is always the same. A rolling carrier with two large wheels holds her supplies, with a small folding chair strapped to one side and an easel on the other. The L.L. Bean backpack filled with paints rests inside the cart. A snack and, on most days, bug spray are also required. 

Monhegan provides French with seemingly endless painting venues, she explained, from the boats down at the wharf to the “fabulous” views of the surf coming in from the cliffs. French is also drawn to the dark, mysterious atmosphere of Cathedral Woods and its fairy houses. 

“I look for the peacefulness and serenity in nature, it suits my personality. Nature always inspires me to put my own spin on what I see and enjoy,” said French. “I like injecting my own interpretation of color into what I am painting. I also love the creative process involved with each new work.” 

For over a decade, French has been coming to Monhegan as part of watercolor artist Doris Rice’s two-week painting workshop. French did not attend last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so she is excited to be back on the island with her fellow artists, some she’s been painting with since 2000.

“The enthusiasm of being part of the group is really cool. We have a lot of new painters and they all learn from the old ones,” said French. “It’s great to see old friends and do stuff again.” 

The artists also get to develop their craft with daily critiques. During these sessions, Rice places mylar plastic over their work to show them how, by adding or subtracting elements, their pieces improve. “We all really benefit from that. Even those of us who have been painting for a long time. You can always learn something new.”

Rice’s watercolor classes got French interested in the medium when she lived in Exeter, New Hampshire. She had always wanted to take up painting but wanted to avoid oil paint after 30 years of being exposed to fumes as an interior house painter. “It was just kind of nasty to the system after a long period of time. As much I would probably like to play with (oil), it just doesn’t make sense.” 

When not painting, French enjoys riding in her and spouse Ingrid’s powerboat, the QB2 (Queen Bee 2) in Casco Bay. 15 years ago, the couple moved to Maine because it was better for boating than New Hampshire was. French recalled her one attempt of painting on the QB2 quickly ending due the boat’s endless rocking.

“I tried that once and that was it. That does not compute,” said French, laughing. She thinks she would be open to trying again on a larger, steadier vessel.

French continues to follow her passions on land. “As I continue to age, gracefully perhaps, I hope to still be able to take classes, visit Monhegan to paint, and show my art in various galleries.”

French’s work is on display at Boothbay Region Art Foundation and Pemaquid Point’s Saltwater Gallery.