April 2013: Fishermen at Whiskey Bay, watercolor by Douglas Chambers
Fishermen at Whiskey Bay, watercolor by Douglas Chambers

Featured Artist: Doug Chambers

Last updated: April 1, 2013

Doug Chambers is an artist who lives in the Benton Harbor area and spends as much time as possible at his place in Brimley.  In May of 2010 he had an exhibit in Alberta House that reflected his love of Michigan’s waterways and of sailing.  It was a collection of bright and breezy watercolors—sailboats and other small vessels, interspersed with views of lighthouses.  Three years later a look at his website has revealed intriguing changes and prompted a need to catch up.  The breezy nautical watercolors are still there but along with them are acrylics and pen and ink drawings.  More of the paintings reflect farms and wood lands.  The colors and technique have changed and the effect is now impressionistic, with shimmering light and reflected movement.  There are figure studies as well—in both color and black and white—and some of them are highly abstracted.

Definitely time to revisit Doug Chambers and find out what is going on.

First, a bit of background.  Doug Chambers’s art training began with lessons from his grandfather when he was eight.  He was also taking piano and guitar lessons at an early age.  He took up the trombone in junior high and formed a band, which, by the time he was in high school was traveling all over Michigan.  This profession was terminated when he was drafted and he became an M.P., based in Indianapolis.  When his army service was  over he took advantage of the G.I. bill and enrolled in West Shore Community College in Scottville, Michigan where he developed an art portfolio.  The next stop was the Kendall School of Art and Design where he earned a B.F.A. in illustration.  After graduation he worked as a cartoonist and illustrator for several northern Michigan newspapers and was the illustrator of Great Lakes ships for a Saturday historical magazine, The Broadside.

Deciding he needed a more stable income, Chambers returned to school to earn a teaching degree.  The switch, he says, was a stretch for him, but he learned to love teaching middle school and subsequently earned a masters degree in reading.  He says he had the best of both worlds, teaching art, music and the sciences at Fairplain Creative Arts/Gifted and Talented Academy in Benton Harbor.

Teaching the sciences fit in well with his passionate concern for the environment and his love of Michigan’s waters.  His association with other science teachers resulted in annual summer studies on Beaver Island.  He explains: 

It was from my job that I was able to meet and develop a relationship with the Beaver Island Watercolor Society,  We as teachers, even though it may have looked like we weren't working, were working on our professional teaching certificates. You can't continue to teach without them. Nobody rests in the summer teaching any more. You have to earn credits and as I painted with this group from the CMU Biological Station on Beaver Island, I soon learned you could use these hours toward your professional certificate if you were teaching art.  Of course part of my teaching responsibilities included science, and there were other teachers there studying biology.  I painted with both the artists and the biologists as their work was absolutely fascinating and if you were quiet, they would share with you what they were doing. The ring neck snakes, spotted turtles, and cone flowers were my favorite projects. All of this came back to my students which was why they did so well in science and art. My relationship continues with this group and every year they/we, go back to the island and paint.”  Chambers was the Benton Harbor Schools Teacher of the Year in 1994.  His paintings won the Best of Show Award from the Beaver Island Watercolor Society in 2000, 2001 and 2007.

Chambers’s love of sailing also came early.  At the age of fourteen he crewed a 36-foot yawl for Lyle Slabaugh, out of Saugatuck, Michigan. It was there that he learned to appreciate the art of sailing and all that it encompasses, especially the beauty and the power of the Great Lakes.

Having recently retired from teaching Chambers is now again free to pursue art full time and is expanding his horizons and probing his limits.  Working toward a better way to depict light and atmosphere, he is using more acrylics, explaining,

I've needed more control over lighting to do what I'm trying to do, which is basically capture the light and balance that with shapes.  He’s also taken up figure studies:  The life drawing/painting class is an attempt to challenge my eye at lines and curves.  They never end on the human figure, and really it is not the figure itself that is so alluring, although it can be for sure, but rather I'm counting on it to drive my skill level up at any of the subjects I choose to do. . . . It is the most challenging for me, and it has a good payoff for drawing the curves on boats, tree branches and anything else really.  I'm having sessions where I make the work come in to focus, then take it out of focus into an impressionistic view.  I like the atmosphere and am concerned with how that looks.  Sometimes there is less there than what I put in, but there is a mystery to what lies in between all of us and my exploration is down that avenue for now.

Chambers is also painting with other artists: 

I go to Kalamazoo Institute of Arts where artists can gather and paint Monday evenings. This has been very enjoyable as the winter moves much quicker when you are engaged in something that captivates your attention. We have a show there in March and I am working now on selection of three of my life paintings. . . The group of painters called Plain Air Artists of West Michigan allows you to paint with them if you have an interest and I share a website with them along with 20 other artists  This allows me to continue to paint while I stay fairly close to home where I have and have had family members that need care and assistance.

This comment prompted questions about how he came to acquire his Brimley residence and why Brimley.  His reply: 

Brimley is a story within itself for us. My wife, Elaine and I, had wanted to live on the Great Lakes for years.  (more like decades).   One year when we were camping our way to Northern Michigan University where Elaine was attending a workshop and we were going to look at property near Marquette, our car overheated in Brimley and required a wait before we could get it looked at.

It wouldn't overheat if we weren't pulling the camper so we toured around Brimley.   Both of us fell in love with the area.  I would call it love at first sight.  Our situation took another turn when we found a place that we liked that was for sale.  We gave up on Marquette, never gave it another thought.  Our only regret is that we currently are unable to spend as much time as we would like due to some continuing family illnesses.   We don't however, regret taking care of our family members.  So our trips are more frequent, but less time for the stay.  We are able to work out a nice schedule that takes in all seasons now, not just the summer.  My favorite place to go is the Naomikong Delta.  I've never experienced any land form as beautiful as this.   Lady slippers, and golden eagles, along with warm shallows, indigo sky lines and rugged coast.  We have had the pleasure of living in the area for 14 years now.”

And finally, to sum up some professional credits since his 2010 show:   

Shortly after Blue Ice and Fire in Sault Ste. Marie, Boniface Art Gallery, in Escanaba had a show, Northern Exposure, and I received an honorable mention for, The Sylvania, a fresh water freighter rounding a bend in somewhat of an oncoming sea. From there I did a show at Wakeena Beach, a Lake Michigan park area where the land has been preserved by the Michigan Land Conservancy. Painting on site is a wonderful way to sell your items, as people love to watch painters paint. So I have done several of these and found them a sure way to sell some.  Another recent show held at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo Michigan was titled "Fresh Water".   This was a lively show and well attended, with 25 watercolors. People liked the idea of Great Lakes Fresh Water, and was held in the summer, so those unable to take a vacation were able to travel visually for a few minutes, or so was informed . . .

Morrison Jewelers, Kalamazoo, Michigan,  provides space periodically and has allowed me to further my markets. Every art hop is a chance, if you are invited, to show or sell your work. Art hops in Kalamazoo occur once a month. The Plain Air Painters of West Michigan do the same thing only they do it out in the open at their paint outs . . . You take your work with you and sell as you paint.  People gather and check out the work of South West Michigan Land Conservancy as they are active in obtaining property that is put aside for parks or green spaces that cannot be developed, to ensure that future generations will have and can enjoy nature, the out doors, and hiking.

More recently, a friend of mine offered to develop a website, www.douglaschambers.org for my work and I jumped at that opportunity to post my work in a gallery with a biography, and prints page.   My website has allowed me to sell my work online, through the mail with the g'clee line that Eric Demaray helped me with through his gallery and print shop.  "The Crow's Nest" has all of my prices and sizes for prints.  This is a separate section at my website where the titles, sizes, prices, and order forms are downloadable.  Fill it out, make your order, and I mail it to you.  The intent was to make art affordable, which it did.   I was in hopes that the line that I call "From the Crow's Nest" would sell more rapidly than it does, but I love the "Crow's Nest" name, which is why I use crowdaddy1@frontier.com for an email address.

A nice surprise for me was when Dick Blick Art Supplies discovered my website and asked if they could use the Sylvania on the cover of their student watercolor booklets. You can now order their paper from their catalog with that watercolor on the cover.

Works by Doug Chambers
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The Sylvania by Douglas Chambers

The Sylvania

The Sylvania by Douglas Chambers on Blick watercolor pad

The Sylvania on Blick watercolor pad

I have been posting slide shows of my work on facebook along with music that I have either written or partially written. The music is actually what drives all of my work.  Without it I would have no motivation to do any of it.  I also taught adults at the Paw Paw Art Gallery, in Paw Paw Michigan.  This was great fun but I was running out of time to produce art works as much of your teaching can spill over into prep and leave little time for painting, and now music.

Chambers is a prime example of how the creative process works.  It isn’t related primarily to medium or even to a particular art but is the essence of an individual.  It isn’t static, but is  changing and evolving.  It’s challenging; it’s probing; it’s a continuum.  The artist never arrives anywhere; he can achieve goals and pass checkpoints but the horizon is always ahead of him.

Works by Doug Chambers
Click to see a larger version.

The Big Catch by Douglas Chambers

The Big Catch

Gem Hunter by Douglas Chambers

Gem Hunter

St. Marys Challenger (watercolor) by Douglas Chambers

St. Marys Challenger (watercolor)

St. Marys Challenger (acrylics)  by Douglas Chambers

St. Marys Challenger (acrylics)

The Chippewa Running Home by Douglas Chambers

The Chippewa Running Home

A Cool Windy Day by Douglas Chambers

A Cool Windy Day

Eagle Harbor by Douglas Chambers

Eagle Harbor

Fishermen at Whiskey Bay by Douglas Chambers

Fishermen at Whiskey Bay

Preparing The Nets by Douglas Chambers

Preparing The Nets

Michigan Fall by Douglas Chambers

Michigan Fall

John Hammond by Douglas Chambers

John Hammond

Midnight Dream by Douglas Chambers

Midnight Dream

Reclining Woman by Douglas Chambers

Reclining Woman

Whitefish Point by Douglas Chambers

Whitefish Point

Traverse City Regatta by Douglas Chambers

Traverse City Regatta

Seated Woman by Douglas Chambers

Seated Woman

The Rescue by Douglas Chambers

The Rescue

Waiska Bay by Douglas Chambers

Waiska Bay

Walking Man by Douglas Chambers

Walking Man

Sault Area Arts Council Home Page 217 Ferris Street, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
e-mail: saac@saultarts.org Phone: (906) 635-1312