Finding the Light in Plein Air Painting

October 1, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air by joanvienot

Oil painting of th early fall colors reflected in Beaver Lake, Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama

When I go outside to paint, I am looking for the light and I am anticipating where it will be in 2 hours when I will be finishing the painting. I say I am looking for it, but truthfully, it catches my eye.  The more I paint, the more the light catches my eye.  The drive home from Birmingham, Alabama, yesterday was heaven, the light was so brilliant.  It was a crisp, clear fall day, with long shadows and the clarity of lower humidity. Autumn colors were just beginning to show. It’s interesting that the drive up to Birmingham was so much less remarkable, simply because it was a gray day, a 3 on my scale of days worth painting.  But yesterday was a 10!  Part of the visual ecstasy was due to having been painting in the morning.  Anytime I paint plein air, my awareness and my enjoyment of all things visual increases exponentially.

The morning broke gently in Oak Mountain State Park, slight pinks in the mist over the Beaver Lake, glowing through the filter of the screen roof of my tent. There had been almost no chance of rain, so I had slept there without a rainfly.  I left my cozy lightweight sleeping bag and walked down to the water’s edge, but my morning meditation was cut short by the realization that the trees were going to be sparkling bright in a few minutes, and the lake would provide glassy reflections. I went back to the campsite and set up to paint. My campmate, Leslie, took her oil pastels some 100 yards away to a picnic table, and I was left to watch the light evolve.

I had to resist the temptation to paint the myriad detail. My intention was to capture the color of the trees on the far side of the lake, and the reflections. I could not indulge in the amazing purples in the foreground tree leaves, or the oranges in the dewy grass — they had to remain muted in order to stay true to what had caught my eye in the beginning. That is the discipline required when plein air painting, because “eye-candy” is everywhere.

Oil pastel painting of early fall colors on the mountain behind Beaver lake at Oak Mountain State Park, by Leslie Kolovich

Leslie Kolovich, Beaver Lake, Study in Oil Pastels

I’ve been helping my friend Leslie Kolovich with technique and media exploration and lately she has been plein air painting.  I have been thrilled with her progress every step of the way.  I didn’t consider her piece finished finished yesterday — we needed to pack up and get back home for her family obligations, but I was very happy with where her piece was going.  We talked about her continuing to layer color and continuing developing the darks, and how to add reflection in the lake water.  I was blown away later last night when she texted me, declaring her painting “Horrible” and “Embarrassingly bad”. I think this is a perfect example of a point that many artists get to, at a certain stage of each work, when they wonder what on earth ever made them think they could be an artist.  At that point, you either quit the piece, or you continue trudging through the process. It’s not a happy time. I remember reading that it took Leonardo daVinci 4 years to paint the Mona Lisa.  The problem is that we are so impatient, we expect instant success.  And Leslie has had instant success on many of her works.  She has amazing talent. But there always is that period of time in creating art when the work looks completely wrong and unsalvageable. It’s the point when you have “Broken the egg in order to make the omelet”. I think that’s what Leslie was seeing last night. But at the same time, I am not a fan of working on a piece that is making me miserable.  So I told her she had a decision to make.  She could continue to work on it, she could scrub the board clean and re-use it, or she could set the painting aside and let it be for a while. I hope she doesn’t kill me for posting her work here.

Oil painting of the deer moss and lichen on a birdhouse in the treesA couple weeks ago I was late getting to my weekly plein air group outing, and nothing immediately appealed to me, knowing I would only have about an hour or so to paint before it would be time to meet and critique, so I went back home and wandered my yard for inspiration. I returned to a birdhouse that had caught my eye a few weeks before, the deer moss and lichen on the roof providing such a great contrast of texture to the aging wood. I am deciding whether I should add a bird back in the bushes, to give it more story.

 

Plein Air Painting in the Wind

September 25, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air by joanvienot

Oil painting of the shore grass along the choctawhatchee Bay on Okaloosa Island, Gulf Islands National Seashore15 mph winds brought in low humidity resulting in crystal clear views for the weekly Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters session yesterday. Wind and painting are an unpredictable combination. I’ve seen it happen, a painter’s masterpiece suddenly face down in the sand, a gust taking the easel right over. My painting companion, Leslie, set up on the lee side of sheltering informational sign. I was more concerned about the sun, looking for shade for my canvas and my palette.  I found good shade, but it was in the open wind. I remembered what could happen when I saw the front leg of my easel start coming off the ground, but I couldn’t find anything to tie down my easel. I ended up using the long, wide strip of velcro that secures my palette box closed, fastening my easel onto the leg of the sign I was standing next to.

The colors were beautiful in the early fall sunlight, the grasses taking on pink and lavender hues.  The Choctawhatchee Bay was a deep emerald with the incoming tide. The scene was largely light in value, the bay  providing middle-value contrast, and punctuated by a few dark darks at the base of the foliage. The wind was perfect for the kite-sailors practicing their aerial magic over the bay.

Here’s a look at our group’s efforts: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.578356358954030.1073741877.285985251524477&type=1

Plein Air Painting What You Can When You Can

September 10, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air by joanvienot

So often I pass a scene that begs to be painted, while on my way to some other engagement I am obligated to or have committed to. And then other times, when I have my paints and the time, the setting doesn’t seem right or the light is wrong, so there I am, all dressed up and nowhere to go.  When the two come together though, it is so much fun!  Today was one of those days, in both cases:  first in that I had an obligation and couldn’t paint, but then when I was finished with my prior commitment and made my way to this week’s location for the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, the setting was right and the light was right, and I was so very happy!  It was the first time I had been at Marse Landing in Freeport, FL, and I was so impressed with all of the beautiful plein air possibilities.  The light was shining through the cypress trees onto the wetlands plants alongside the creek, the impossible greens and yellows begging to be captured. I knew I was getting a late start, so I made a preliminary values sketch, and then got out a couple of tiny 4″x4″ gesso boards and got busy. Below are my two efforts:

Small plein air oil painting of wetlands plants along Four Mile Creek in Freeport, FL Small plein air oil painting of wetlands plants in Four Mile Creek, Freeport, FL

 

Healing With Art, An Exhibit At Sacred Heart Hospital

September 5, 2014 in Landscape by joanvienot

Two of my 8×10 plein air oil paintings been selected to be in “Healing with Art”, an exhibit sponsored by the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County in partnership with Sacred Heart Hospital’s Arts in Medicine program. The exhibit will be in the atrium of the Sacred Heart Hospital in Santa Rosa Beach. The beauty of art and the process of creating it can be a healing experience. The show, curated by CAA’s A+Art Committee, runs from September 19, 2014, through January 6, 2015, with an opening reception on Friday, Sept 26, 2014, 5-7 pm in the atrium lobby at Sacred Heart Hospital. “Healing With Art” is coordinated by Melody Bogle, and the venue coordinator is Sherry Londe.  Sacred Heart Hospital is located at the corner of Mack Bayou road and US 98, at 7800 US Hwy 98 West, Miramar Beach, FL 32550.  Y’all come! :-)

Oil painting of the marsh, crossing over onto Indian Pass peninsula, Port St. Joe, FL

Marsh

Oil painting of the view from the Oak Marina at Niceville, Florida

Oak Marina

 

Plein Air Painting at Eden Gardens State Park

August 14, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air by joanvienot

Oil painting of two palm trees at Eden Gardens State ParkIt was a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively, to get outdoors and paint again.  I’ve been spending most of my free time at my office for my regular job, managing my swimming pool service business, and have not been able to paint for more than 2 weeks.  My best friend came to paint too, so I am posting her finished painting as well. We were meeting at Eden Gardens State Park to paint with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters.

Tucker Bayou, by Leslie Kolovich, oil painting on canvas panel, 10x8  (Use joanvienot.com contact form if interested in purchase.)

Tucker Bayou, by Leslie Kolovich, oil painting on canvas panel, 10×8
(Use joanvienot.com contact form if interested in purchase.)

The day seemed like it would be sunny but as the morning progressed, the sky grew hazy, so that there was no direct sunlight, unfortunately. But I had already picked out my subject, a pair of palm trees, which I knew would challenge me.  The trick is to paint shapes, not things, so I tried to simplify the fronds into triangular shapes, but my habit kept me painting the individual sprays of leaves.  I would catch myself doing that, and make myself paint away the detail, and then catch myself painting the individual leaves again. By the end of the morning, my painting reached the impression I wanted to convey.

My friend Leslie Kolovich painted the open water of Tucker Bayou looking towards the entrance to the Choctawhatchee Bay.  This is only her 2nd plein air painting. It’s fun to look at the process through the eyes of a new painter.

Reconnaissance for Plein Air Painting

August 3, 2014 in Landscape, Photography, Plein Air by joanvienot

Photograph of hibiscus at Oyster Lake in Santa Rosa Beach, FL

2014-0803 Hibiscus at Oyster Lake (iPhoto)

Today I loaded my painting backpack into my pickup before daylight, had my coffee, checked the news, and then started driving to my intended painting location when raindrops started falling on my windshield.  I prefer fair-weather painting, and even better, I much prefer sunny days. So today I changed my plans, and instead, scouted a new location. There used to be a causeway over Oyster Lake, one of the rare coastal dune lakes found here. It regularly used to flood, and it prevented free flow from the marshy headwaters. So the county removed and replaced the causeway with a footbridge, and the view of the shallow marsh from the footbridge is unbeatable. I took a few photos, with plans of returning.

A good plein air painter can find something interesting and beautiful in just about anything he or she looks at, but it’s nice to paint things other people instantly find beautiful too, at least if I want to sell my work. So I always have an eye out for typically beautiful landscape scenery. This location was the mother lode. I took shots from several different viewpoint, a few in black-and-white to make note of the values that the camera “saw”. I make note of that because the camera never sees things the way a person does, but it “takes good notes” when I am in a hurry. I rarely return to the studio to paint, prefer the immediacy of plein air painting.Taking photos merely helps me remember places I want to go back to.

 

 

Plein Air Painting on a Road Trip

July 29, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air by joanvienot

Last Friday I drove a friend, Leslie, up to Birmingham for her doctor appointment, on the condition that I could paint before we left the next day.  To my pleasant surprise, she wanted to try painting too!

I had brought my usual plein air backpack and paints, but in my vehicle I also keep a Guerrilla Painter kit, which is a small box containing oil paints, palette, brushes, and everything else needed for spur-of-the-moment painting, for times when something just has to be painted but catches me without my full backpack.  So I set Leslie up with that kit.  I toned our canvases a light orange, and while they dried, I laid out Leslie’s palette, with a good dollop of each of the primary colors, plus another hue of blue, and also white.  A little linseed oil and some solvent completed the set-up. We were at Oak Mountain State Park, and we picked a view of the lake with a sweet cove in the foreground, lush greens everywhere.  I stopped painting every 20 minutes or so to reassure Leslie who seemed ready to throw away her efforts every time I turned around. She stayed with it until to her surprise, she finished her first plein air oil painting!  I always find myself a little surprised too, at the end of nearly every plein air session, to have a finished painting, or very nearly finished, after 60, 90, or 120 minutes of such struggle, such searching for the right colors and strokes to express the truth that I see.

And afterwards, as we were driving back home, we found ourselves in that frame of mind that comes only after that intense focus, that blissful sense of the present moment, when nothing exists except the immediate which becomes intensely magnified by its undistracted singularity.  The scenery we were driving through was more beautiful.  The rolling hills and green roadsides were in high definition and “Technicolor”.  It was what I now recognize as that ecstatic state of awareness brought on by plein air painting, similar to meditation or any other pastime requiring sincere concentration.

Below is my finished painting from this adventure at Oak Mountain State Park, and another from Boggy Bayou State Park in Niceville, FL, where I met up with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters 2 weeks ago.

Oil painting of the lake at Oak Mountain State Park, Birmingham, AL

Oil painting of the trees and cast shadows at Fred Gannon Boggy Bayou State Park, Niceville, FL

 

But sometimes a painting is not finished, usually due to the light changing, or bugs biting, or weather threatening. Below are 3 unfinished studies, one of the spring at Ponce de Leon State Park, FL, one of a cedar at Camp Helen State Park, and one of the multi-colored leaves of some potted plants in front of the gazebo at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet.

Ponce de Leon, study Cedar at Camp Helen, study Grayt Grounds, study

As always, most of my paintings and images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

Camp Creek Wetlands Plein Air Painting Video Progression

July 19, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air by joanvienot

My best friend Leslie Kolovich‘s home and studio look out over the beautiful wetlands of Camp Creek Lake, one of the rare coastal dune lakes of Walton County in Northwest Florida.  True coastal dune lakes, which periodically exchange water with the sea, exist in only a few places in the world. Ginger Jackson Sinton has written a book about our lakes, Rare Coastal Dune Lakes: Biodiversity and a Sense of Home.  A contributor to SoWal.com, she writes, “Walton County defines coastal dune lakes as shallow bodies of water located within two miles of the coast that occasionally intermingle with the Gulf. The lakes are composed of both fresh and saltwater from tributaries, groundwater seepage (from the uplands and the Gulf), rainfall, and coastal storm surges. Their levels rise and fall due to frequency, strength, and duration of storm activity, tidal flows and wind conditions. When water levels reach a critical point the lowest level of the beach opens up, creating a temporary outlet, or outfall, into the Gulf.”  (Click for whole article.)

This past Wednesday afternoon found me at Leslie’s studio. The late afternoon sun was painting the top of the marsh grasses with golden light. Leslie has often said that I should paint from her upstairs porch, so we went up for a look, and I immediately went back out to my pickup to get my painting backpack.  Early morning and late afternoon light require fast work because the light and shadows are changing so fast. Leslie shot a few short videos showing the progress of my work. I had toned an 8×10 canvas panel a light muted tannish-green, and I chose that panel for this painting so I wouldn’t be worried about white glaring through if my brush skipped over any of the canvas — an unnecessary concern as I painted alla prima impasto.

Below are five of the videos Leslie shot, sometimes with talking, sometimes not.  It’s difficult for me to talk while I’m painting, and Leslie and I had a few laughs about that as I sometimes struggled for words!

Oil painting of the wetlands at Camp Creek Lake, South Walton county, Florida

The Sunsets of 30A

July 15, 2014 in Landscape by joanvienot

Cindy Moskovitz recently published a beautiful book of photographic images titled Sunsets of 30A, The Magic of Light on the Emerald Coast.  My friend Colleen Duffley designed the layout (Colleen Duffley Productions).  The book is filled with eye-popping, jaw-dropping photography by individual photographers both professional and amateur, every scene an image of a sunset over the rare coastal dune lakes or the sugar-sand beaches bordering Highway 30A in South Walton County, in Northwest Florida.  Images shot by a number of my friends and acquaintances were selected for the book.  The distinguished list includes Arlene Newsome, Claire Bannerman, Colleen Duffley, Cindy Moskovitz, Dave Sullivan, Dawn Chapman Whitty, Elam Stolzfus, Garrett Griffis, Ginger Jackson Sinton, Jack Hanes, Jamie Conley, Jeanne Dean, Joey McKenna, John Hollan, Larry Davis, Leigh Leuze, Linda Howell, Lynn Nesmith, Mary Brockett, Payson Howard, Robert Leeper, Shelly Swanger, and William McCalmont, as well as myself, Joan Vienot.  I also painted the watercolor map of the area, on which Colleen then overlaid the names of the various communities.  Below is the map, and below that, my sunset photograph selected for the book.

Sunsets of 30A Map

Layout by Colleen Duffley Productions

 

Photograph of Seagrove Beach

“The blazing colors of sundown fade into the intimacy of the night.” ~Joan Vienot | Seagrove Beach

For more information or to purchase the book, go to www.sunsetsof30a.com.

Completion of Plein Air Paintings in the Studio

July 13, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air by joanvienot

I’ve heard of certain art described as being painted “in the style of plein air”, but that description describes nothing, because plein air is not a style.  Some plein air artists paint in a more abstracted style, and some paint very representationally. Plein air painting, by definition, is painting in open air, on-site. It describes an activity as well as the painting produced during that activity. Plein air artists focus on capturing some aspect of the actual fleeting light. Usually the subject and the artist are at the mercy of the elements and the environment, but there are no rules — if the weather or bugs are nasty, the artist might paint from inside his car.  But very little, if any work, is done in the studio. When invitations are given for plein air works to be formally shown, usually the requirement is that most of the painting have been done outdoors, on site, from life, anywhere from 80% of the painting painting en plein air, to the purist’s position of 100% painted on site.

As for my plein work, occasionally I will correct a shape or add a detail in the studio, but usually my plein air paintings are fully completed outdoors, on site. Like many plein air artists, I have many plein air paintings stacked in my studio that for one reason or another, I consider unfinished, or with which I feel less than satisfied as far as the painting representing my impression of the scene and setting.  Some have compositional problems, because in addition to the value patterns showing the play of light, there are so many design elements to consider – line, shape, size, position, color, texture, and density, as well as the compositional principles of balance, rhythm, and harmony.

So this week when I was chased back indoors by some biting yellow flies, I worked in the studio, making a few corrections to a plein air painting I had produced in a Laurel Daniel workshop this spring. I removed a pesky, distracting “V”, made the greens more yellow and less green, and I added a little more light in the background, and a red boat shape.  The composition is more effective now, and more clearly represents my impression of the morning view, except for the boat of course, which simply adds interest.

2014-0425 Muted Perspective, Unfinished

As initially painted en plein air, the view from Gascoigne Bluff, St. Simons Island, Georgia

Oil painting of Gascoigne Bay looking through the trees and brush

Completed painting of the view from Gascoigne Bluff, St. Simons Island, Georgia