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The Monhegan Artists’ Residency: An Invaluable Experience

Oil Painting of Monhegan Island by Sarah Knock

Above Oil Painting: Monhegan From the Inn, 46 X 62, 1995

In 1989, I was one of two artists selected by the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine for the first year of the Monhegan Artists’ Residency.  I was provided with housing, a studio, and a stipend for six weeks on Monhegan Island, located 12 miles off the coast of Maine.  Monhegan is known for both its unparalleled beauty and its attraction to artists such as Robert Henri, Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, and Jamie Wyeth to name only a few.

I am not exaggerating when I say that this experience was seminal to my career as an artist.  A year before the residency, I had earned a degree in painting from Boston University where my main interest was painting and sculpting the figure.  At the time, I was also very involved with black and white photography.  I arrived on Monhegan full of enthusiasm but rather unfocused.  I hiked around the island with my heavy supplies, gradually figured out how to paint plein air (outside, on location), and became hooked on landscape/seascape painting.

Oil Painting of Monhegan Island – Fall – by Sarah Knock

Above Oil Painting: Monhegan and Manana Island-Fall, 42 X 56, 1994

Besides clarity of focus, the residency initiated an intense passion for the coast of Maine.  When I returned home, which was inland, I found myself longing to be on or near the water on a daily basis.  I drove to locations up and down the coast, took ferries to islands, whatever it took to paint near the water.  Nine years later, I was able to move to the coast where my chosen subject matter became easily accessible.

For my landscapes, I initially painted from the land, looking out at the water.  When I began kayaking, over twenty years ago, my perspective completely changed.  Instead of viewing the water, I could feel its movement as I floated and glided inches above the surface.  I became fascinated by reflections. Currently, I sometimes juxtapose what is underneath the water with the patterns of reflections on the surface.  Being on the water as opposed to viewing it from the land gives me a more intimate and involved relationship with what I am experiencing and expressing in my paintings.

To view my current work, please visit my Available Paintings gallery or visit Greenhut Galleries.


I would like to acknowledge Raquel and Peter Boehmer who selflessly and passionately made this amazing Residency a reality.

The goal of the Residency is to provide time and space for Maine visual artists to reflect, experiment, and explore. There are no requirements for producing or exhibiting a body of work.  It is an opportunity without conditions.  Please take the time to learn more about this wonderful program at

Stages of Oil Painting

It takes me about two months to paint a 24 X 36” oil on canvas. Preparation steps involve sketching to establish the general composition ideas and calculating dimensions. After these steps, I stretch, gesso, and tone the canvas.   This takes several days because of drying time. Next comes a series of drawings on the canvas (with a brush and paint) and establishing color and value relationships with paint. Each stage requires about a week of drying time. I repeat this process many times. I usually have several paintings in various stages of process so that I can continue working when paint needs to dry on a particular painting or section of a painting. I thoroughly enjoy each of these stages. If I find myself with a challenging stage, I put the painting aside and turn to another one for a while. I’ve included a photo of a finished painting, Sow and Pig Islands with Seaweed and Reflection, and a photo of the painting in process.


Sarah Knock, stages of oil painting


How a Cloudy Day Can Be Inspiring

Sister Island, Maquoit Bay, Sarah Knock

Maquoit Bay and Sister Island

Sun Breaking Through Clouds o/c 36 X 30

Sun Breaking Through the Clouds


I’m passionate about Sister Island.  For me, it’s like Monet’s haystacks–inspiring in all kinds of weather and light.  I see it every day from my studio on Maquoit Bay in Freeport and I kayak around it several times a week all summer and fall.  It has a beautiful ledge which is revealed at low tide.  At high tide, the north side has floating rock weed which gently undulates with the waves and current.  The lee side (away from the wind) is silent except for the sound of lobster boats, seagulls and ducks. This side has the best opportunity to see reflections which are the theme of most of my paintings.

The day that inspired my painting began with gun-metal gray sky and water. It was completely uninspiring.  I decided that I would just enjoy paddling without expectations of finding anything I might be interested in painting.  I’m usually interested in sun-dependent vivid colors and patterns based on light and shadow, not the cool, gray values of a cloudy day.

I was fortunate as I approached Sister Island.  The sun broke through the clouds creating some beautiful yellow tones against black patterns in the water reflection and a sky that I couldn’t resist with a warm whitish yellow sun. I grabbed my camera out of the deck bag on my kayak and took several shots before heading back to the studio to sketch some ideas.

The original painting had a much bigger sky which wasn’t working so I cut off the top 6 inches and re-stretched the canvas.  As I share this experience, I’m reminded that there’s always something amazing to experience if I remain open and receptive–sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s profound, but it’s always a gift for the taking. I wish I could maintain this awareness every day.  It’s most likely to occur when I’m kayaking with all senses open.