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


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 contact form if interested in purchase.)

Tucker Bayou, by Leslie Kolovich, oil painting on canvas panel, 10×8
(Use 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, 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

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


Reconnaissance in New Orleans

June 22, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air by joanvienot

Oil painting of potted blooming geraniums and rosebush on steps to shotgun house in New Orleans, painted plein air

I woke early the first morning of my visit, and painted this little 8×6 oil of the potted geranium and rosebush on my host’s front steps in first light. I gave it to them as a thank-you gift.

Having such wonderful hosts made my visit to New Orleans earlier this week so very easy.  My intention was to see how plein air works were displayed in fine galleries.  Bill and Saramae Dalferes welcomed me into their home and Saramae chauffeured me up and down Magazine and Julia Streets to galleries we knew to carry plein air works, as well as a few more along the way.

(Because I write my blog as a record of my progress, it becomes a notebook of sorts, if anyone is wondering why I link so much.  Some of my links are to give a thank you to people or places which have given an experience to me; I link others so that I can go back and look up people or places I don’t want to forget.)

Saramae Dalferes is the career coach who helped me make the transition to becoming a full-time artist 2 days a week, a year ago last spring.  (Her email address is in the last paragraph, below.)  Saramae helped me identify the roadblocks that were keeping me stagnant, and then, once identified, helped me to remove them by changing the way I think and speak, by removing words that limited me.  One of the biggest changes was effected by using a relatively simple tool, a calendar.  When I put my future painting dates on a calendar, they are 99% certain to happen.  If I don’t, then they are about 10% certain, even today, and back then, 0%.

Saramae had finished a lot of research before I even arrived last Monday.  A few galleries were open Monday afternoon, but Tuesday was the day to remember!  We started at the Cole Pratt Gallery where the assistant director of the gallery, Cristin Cortez, graciously and expertly talked to us about every artist in the gallery.  We had specifically gone to see the works of Phil Sandusky, a prolific plein air artist and author of New Orleans en Plein Air and New Orleans Impressionist Cityscapes as well as many other books.

But I was thrilled with all of the work displayed at the Cole Pratt Gallery.  I especially enjoyed Denyce Celentano’s Everyone At The Beach Drives The Same Car, and Susan Downing-White’s Songs for the Gulf Coast Ballad. The front gallery held an exhibit of exquisitely impressionistic landscapes by John Stafford.

The plein air works by Sandusky were presented in wooden shadow box floater frames, which display the panel or canvas all the way to the edge, where the “reveal” of a standard frame hides about 1/4 to 3/8″ around the edge of the painting.

We stopped at the Garden District Gallery where we met the director Jim Adams, a fascinating guy whose wife, gallery owner Patti Adams, was showing amazing works with a number of other artists in the front gallery exhibit, “Drawn – Exploring the Line”. Jim and Patti also play for the symphony there in New Orleans.  We had gone in to see plein air paintings by Elayne Kuehler, but apparently that show was over.  She has a drawing in the “Drawn” exhibit.  As an aside, it puzzles me why drawings command prices that are so much lower than other media, even though they may demonstrate far superior technical skill and expression.  Carol Peeble’s work is a perfect example, an amazing large piece selling for only $1200, her 50% probably including the expense of the framing.  (I do not begrudge the gallery’s share, the gallery having all of the overhead expenses as well as advertising — the relatively low price of the media probably has more to do with an archaic perception of drawings being less permanent, bu with today’s archival materials and presentation, that no longer is true.)

Saramae also took me to the Soren Christensen Gallery where the director brought us plein air works by Libby Johnson out of the back room where they were waiting to be hung for an upcoming show..  The Jean Bragg Gallery of Southern Art was displaying a number of plein air artists, but when I asked how artists were selected, the director said that they were partial to local artists showing work painted in Louisianna.

We happened upon the Callan Contemporary Gallery, which had eye-popping optical illusions by James Flynn, and in a back room we discovered a piece by Sibylle Peretti, Holding Birdsfrom her show there last April, which completely blew me away.  72″ wide, it included a fantastic drawing floating underneath thick engraved, smoked plexiglas, with imagery created over the drawing, and feathers underneath and other feathers engraved and silver-leafed within the plexiglas.  No plein air works at the Callan, but what a visual feast!

The rest seems like a whirlwind — Betsy Stewart at Octavia Art Gallery; Lemieux Gallery, where Margaret Tolbert’s impression of a spring felt like home to me; at Guy Lyman which is showing many plein air paintings, in the back room sitting on the floor, a beautiful ink and conte drawing of a Dancer holding her ballet shoes, by Wilfred R.E. Fairclough, $1200; glassworks artist Dale Chihuly at the Arthur Roger Gallery, works priced from $40,000 to $225,000, and last but not least, the stillifes of Amy Weiskopf, small works priced generally $6000, framed in beautiful shadow box floater frames that looked like they were made of bronze, with no visible seams at the miter joints.

My plan last year was to begin plein air painting and regain my long dormant skills as a painter, intending to become a full-time artist at least two days a week.  This year I have been taking as many workshops as I could afford, sort of a post-graduate refresher course in painting techniques and style, and next year I intend to focus on marketing.  The purpose of the trip to New Orleans this week was to get ideas my subconscious can mull over for next year, while I trek onward with this year’s goals.

Presently my plein air paintings are shown at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet in Grayton Beach, Florida, and my figure drawings are at Bohlert Massey Interiors in the Village of South Walton in Seacrest Beach.

If you want to contact my career coach, Saramae Dalferes, for her help with your own aspirations, her email address, given with her permission, is sedalferesatyahoodotcom, which I have translated out of standard email address format to discourage spam.

Below are a few other images from my visit.

2014-0616 Magazine Street iPhoto of the extreme shadows of the ferns growing out of the Garden District Cemetery wall in New Orleans App'd iPhoto of the lamp on the shed in Bill and Saramae's backyard

Value sketch on toned paper, Whole Foods on Magazine Street, New Orleans

Commissioned Works En Plein Air

June 6, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air by joanvienot

I recently completed two commissioned assignments in which specific subjects were requested.  In the first case, a specific style also was requested.  Fortunately for me, the stylistic samples I was given, ranged from the light and airy scenes of the French Impressionists to a piece of “outsider art” which had that sort of purely expressive sense of being painted by an artist who has not had formal training.  I was confident I could paint within that wide of a range!

The location of the first commissioned piece was in the gardens at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, at a wedding reception, and my job was to paint the bride and groom’s first dance.  When I arrived to get the background started, the Forrest Williams band was setting up, and the people from Grayton Beach Catering were bustling about.  My background was blocked in when the first guests arrived, and I was enjoying the band singing “She’s as Sweet as Tupelo Honey”.  By the time the guests started arriving, my 10×8 painting was well underway, and a few of the guests would wander over and watch as I worked.  I let one of the children put some color on the bottom part.  When the bride and groom were announced and made their entrance onto the dance floor, I put down my brush and picked up my sketchpad and my camera.  After the dance, I laid in the figures on my nearly finished background and then finished the details in the studio using my sketch and my photos for reference.  Afterwards, I decided to paint another painting in the studio, making effort to paint in a more “Impressionist” style, with layers of short, patterned brushstrokes loaded with color, which was great fun.

Sketch of couple dancing outdoors

Plein air sketch

Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Painted en Plein Air

Plein air painting, details in studio

Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Impressionist Style

Studio painting

For mobile viewing

Sketch of couple dancing outdoors

Plein air

Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Painted en Plein Air

Plein air

Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Impressionist Style



The second commission was for Channing Gardner, a real estate agent, for a gift for his client.  My task was to paint the Seagrove Beach property as it was when it was purchased, before anything was built on it.  It took me two mornings to complete it, because of the changing light and the heat.  I opted for a wider format, painting it 12×24, which allowed me to include more of the coastal development to contrast with the empty lot.

Oil painting of central Seagrove Beach westward towards Seaside, showing recently purchased empty lot

June is my busiest time of year in my day job, managing my pool service business, so I was not able to join the local plein air painters yet this summer until things lightened up this week.  We met near the pond at Mystic Port, a small collection of shops and restaurants north of Grayton Beach, Florida.  I was intrigued by the fountain, but never having painted one, I gladly accepted the suggestion of a more experienced artist, to put the splash on the surface of the water and then take a palette knife and drag upwards.  I am happy with the results — I can hearing the water falling.  Other works by our group on that day can be found on our Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters Facebook page,

Oil painting of the fountain splashing at Mystic Port, Grayton Beach, FL