Out with the Old, In with the New: From 2016 to 2017

January 17, 2017 in Landscape, Plein Air

2016, A Year of Recognition

An art career doesn’t happen overnight.

When I received my degree in Fine Art, I imagined that I would be a fulltime artist by the time I was 40 years old. Instead, I was completely immersed in a growing pool service business, with hardly enough time to produce the occasional donation of art for charity. It would be another 15 years before things would change.

In 2007, with the economy slowing to a crawl, my business growth stopped and I found myself with a good deal of free time. I began producing art every week and I started volunteering for the local arts organization, the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, helping to organize and produce art exhibits. Soon after, I became a member of the Board of Directors. I began painting en plein air in 2012, and in 2015 I volunteered to be the coordinator for the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters. Finally, in late 2015, I sold my pool service business, and I began pursuing my art career more diligently.

And now it is the end of 2016. What a year it has been! I continue to serve for the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, and I continue to coordinate the weekly gatherings of the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters. Here’s my year in review:

In January, the Sunshine Art Center / Beach Art Group produced a solo exhibit of 55 of my paintings, honoring me for winning People’s Choice Best in Show at the Local Color Plein Air Paint-Out in Lynn Haven, Florida, which was held last fall.

Also in January, all 3 of my entries were accepted into the Southeast Regional Juried Art Exhibition at the Mattie Kelley Art Center at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Florida, and “Western Lake with Umbrella Trees”, my 12 x 24 plein air oil painting, won 3rd place.

At the end of January, I was the featured plein air painter and workshop instructor for the Florida Chautauqua Assembly in DeFuniak Springs, Florida.

I was the February Artist of the Month for the Freeport Art League, displaying work at the City Hall in Freeport, Florida.

In mid-February, I got my left thumb repaired, CMC arthroplasty, which gave me a new thumb joint. I practiced with watercolors while I had use of only one hand, which was less messy and a fun return to my years fresh out of college.

In the spring, I received a phone call from Joe Taylor, from the Forgotten Coast Coalition in Apalachicola, Florida, telling me I would be one of six artists selected from across the state to be a “Florida’s Finest en Plein Air” Ambassador for 2016 until May of 2017. That recognition gave me a good deal of credibility among other artists and attendees of the annual Forgotten Coast En Plein Air Invitational in Apalachicola. I also gained immeasurable experience teaching the fifteen one-on-one plein air painting lessons as an Ambassador.

In June, I coordinated an exhibit of works by the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast.

I continued my weekly painting excursions with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters through the summer, and was the luncheon speaker at the Arts and Design Society in Ft. Walton Beach in July.

In the fall, I taught two more plein air painting workshops – one in Panama City and one in Santa Rosa Beach.

Also in the fall, I competed in the Bagdad-Milton Plein Air Paint-Out near Pensacola, Florida, where I was honored to receive Best in Show for my 12 x 24 oil painting “Anticipation”.

A month later I was asked to be the judge of the Alabama Plein Air Artists’ Gulf Shores Paint-Out Quickdraw, which allowed me to demonstrate my expertise in evaluating art.

The final honor for the year was being juried into the Foster Gallery, a co-op of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, which exhibits 15 select artists every quarter.

I was the November Artist of the Month for the Freeport Art League, displaying work at the City Hall in Freeport, Florida.

Also in November, I had my right thumb repaired, CMC arthroplasty, the same surgery I had on my left thumb in February. I practiced working with pastels instead of oils, for 5 weeks while my right hand was immobilized, using my left (non-dominant) hand. Pastels are great fun, a welcome addition to my repertoire. I was surprised that using my left hand was not the nuisance I anticipated, just another challenge.

The events of this past year have improved my reputation as an artist, and have given me the confidence to set more ambitious goals. In 2017 I will be making a strong effort toward marketing as I continue to strengthen my painting skills.

My dream is to be able to travel and paint, and I have begun to realize that dream. In August I traveled with local painter Rebecca Perrott, to Arizona to take a workshop from my favorite instructor, Morgan Samuel Price, and in October I traveled with two other local painters, Theresia McInnis and Deborah Scott Mason, to North Georgia for a short week of plein air painting in the Blue Ridge area. In February I will travel with Apalachicola painter Lynn Wilson and a number of other painters to New Zealand for a week of plein air painting and adventure, on Plein Air Magazine’s Publisher’s Trip.

Plein air painting comes with many challenges which include the changing light, the weather, insects, and even by one’s own fitness. Sometimes I think I must be crazy to enjoy it so much. But after years of burning the midnight oil managing a business, which thankfully paid the bills, but did not nurture the soul, I am thrilled to be well on my way in this new career, the career I dreamed of!

It is my joy is to share the beauty I see.

Below are recent paintings. The first painting is the first one painted in oils with my new thumb joint, post-surgery, a bitter cold day. Eden Gardens State Park is one of our favorite locations to paint. It was decorated for the holidays, but I was sufficiently challenged to just get a bit of the structure, my primary interest being the intense color of the resurrection fern growing on the live-oak trees.

Oil painting of the mansion at Eden Gardens State Park in Pt. Washington, FL, painted en plein air

The next painting below was painted on a warmer day, outside the Foster Gallery at the Market Shops at Sandestin, Florida, where I was accepted as one of the 15 artists to show work this quarter. It is a small painting, only 6×6, but as is usually the case, something I had never painted before.

Oil painting of pansies, painted en plein air

The next week we painted the Western Lake Outfall at Grayton Beach, Florida. The coastal dune lakes of our county are a rarity, being found only in a few other places in the entire world. When a coastal dune lake accumulates enough rain run-off, it breaks open and the overfill flows into the Gulf of Mexico, and tides then exchange saltwater with freshwater in the lake, until the beach builds up and closes off the lake outfall again. The outfall was flowing on the day we were there. When I say we, I am talking about the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, a group of avid artists meeting weekly at various locations, to paint en plein air. On this day, the sky was completely overcast, and the entire scene was muted shades of gray, except for a coral strip of sky between the clouds and the Gulf waters. Halfway through our morning painting session, the blinding sun came out, and suddenly the entire scene was in color. The smarter painters set their first canvas aside and began another painting. The rest of us fussed and fumed our way through, perhaps relying on a photo or two to quickly finish our paintings before our memory gave out.

Oil painting of the Western Lake Outfall in Grayton Beach, FL, on an overcast day, painted en plein air

Last week we painted at the Destin Library. Beautiful gardens and landscaping surround the library. Unfortunately, we had a hard freeze the weekend before, so many of the camellia blossoms has dropped off, but on one bush new blossoms had opened since the freeze, and that bush begged to be painted.

Oil painting of the camellias and grounds at the City of Destin Public Library, Destin, FL, painted en plain air

Yesterday I was nominated to post a painting a day in the 7-Day Artist’s Challenge on Facebook. The first day I shared Thistle Bloom, which I will be giving away out of my display at the Foster Gallery where I am one of the juried artists exhibiting through February 25, 2017. Today I shared the painting below. This 12×24 oil painting was done almost all en plein air at Twin Oaks Farm last September. When we first got there, the early morning light was beginning to warm the chicken sheds and the rolling fields, and the sheep were just waking up.

Oil painting of the chicken sheds, chickens, sheep, and rolling fields at Twin Oaks Farm in Bonifay, FL, painted en plein air

Click on any image for purchase information.

Attention Subscribers!

December 9, 2016 in Landscape, Plein Air

If you signed up to receive email notifications of new entries on my website, joanvienot.com, please sign up again, so that you will continue to receive notifications. The system I was using from 2010 until now, the end of 2016, is no longer supported, so we had to change. The subscription field is located top right on this screen above if you are on your computer. If you are on your phone, please scroll down to the bottom. Thank you for your interest!

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Here’s a plein air painting I completed recently, from LuLu’s Restaurant in Destin, FL. It was a breezy, sunshiny day, and the bright colors of the chairs immediately caught my eye. The scene was so busy that I felt like a kid, playing with the shapes and using colors I seldom use, very different from the tones of natural landscapes.

Oil painting of Lulu's Restaurant bayside, in Destin, FL, painted en plein air

Painting Trips and Events – Too Busy to Blog

October 28, 2016 in Landscape, Plein Air

My art/life vision is starting to manifest. A few years ago, after more than 30 years in a non-art career, I began to get a serious itch to be done with that work so that I could paint more. I continued to paint just once a week, and often blogged weekly, and late last year I sold my business. Now, I am lucky if I can get a blog written once a month, because I am painting so much more.

Oil painting of the colorful foreground brush on a rainy day at Grayton Beach State Park in FloridaThere often is a social element to painting en plein air, several artists painting together, working silently most of the time, but supportively interacting before and after painting. I find I enjoy that aspect immensely. It can take the sting out of challenging experiences, and it can reinforce the successful ones. The former was the case when 4 of us painted at Coastal Dune Lake Appreciation Day at Grayton Beach State Park in September. The weather was threatening, and the food vendor left soon after the festival started. There event was not very well attended, and our pavilion became the gathering place for the few die-hard sponsors and supporters. But we had each other, and that kept us there painting through the drizzle. At right is the painting I completed, showing the rich reds underneath the near grasses and bushes, and the beach dunes in the background.

I also enjoyed my first plein air painters trip that was independent of any festival or workshop. Three of us went to the mountains of North Georgia and North Carolina to paint for half a week. Our host, Theresia McInnis, had researched and mapped out a number of wonderful, scenic locations for us to paint, and we were absolutely in heaven. Below are the paintings I completed on that trip. I am happy to report that the painting titled Dry Falls sold to a tourist right off my easel.

Oil painting at Dry Falls, NC, painted en plein air

Dry Falls, NC

Oil painting of the pizza shack on the Nantahala River, North Carolina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oil painting of cone flowers on the porch, Murphy, North CarolinaOil painting of the autumn gold trees lining the Nantahala River, in North CarolinaOil painting of the bridge at Vogle State Park, with the rocky, reflective creek underneath early autumn colors

 

 

It’s a Busy Month!

January 17, 2016 in General, Plein Air

Solo show PCB 1-2016

 

Here’s the line-up:

January 11 – March 11, 2016: Solo exhibition, Panama City Beach, FL. Beach Art Group is presenting an exhibition of oil paintings by Joan Vienot, winner of People’s Choice Best in Show at the 2015 Local Color Plein Air Festival paint-out. The exhibit will be displayed at Palms Conference Center in Panama City Beach from January 11 to March 11, 2016. Meet the artist at the reception, February 7, from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. Call Helen Ballance at (850) 541-3867 for other viewing times. http://www.beachartgroup.com/exhibitions–events.html

January 23 – March 4, 2016, with opening reception January 23, 6:00 – 8:00 pm: ADSO Southeast Regional Juried Art Show. All 3 of Joan’s submissions were accepted into this prestigious exhibition. http://www.mattiekellyartscenter.org/EventItem.cfm?ID=1038. 1/31/16 addendum: The judge awarded “Western Lake with Umbrella Trees” third place!!

January 29-30, 2016: Florida Chautauqua Assembly Plein Air Painting Workshop, Joan Vienot, Instructor. This workshop will provide new insight to accomplished painters, and courage for the beginner, with focus on simplification of subject matter, using value and intensity to create believable composition, and enhancement of color through temperature relationship. Joan will instruct in oil painting but all media are welcome. An optional half-day pre-workshop, January 28, 2016, will help the painter decide how to choose a subject to paint en plein air, observing the changing light and shadow, practicing “thumbnail” sketching, and planning interesting compositions. http://www.florida-chautauqua-center.org/assembly_2016/art_program_2016; Supply list at https://www.dropbox.com/s/vqk9u2fuzxe8n38/Workshop%20Description.pdf?dl=0. Joan also will be displaying a few select paintings in the Chautauqua Art Show. 1/31/16 addendum: 10 plein air painters enjoyed 2 beautiful sunny days of instruction! Click here for a photo of her demonstrating.

January, 2016 and thereafter: DeFuniak Springs Art Co-op, 9th and Baldwin, DeFuniak Springs, FL  32433. Joan is showing 10 paintings. https://www.facebook.com/defuniakspringsartcoop

February 1-29, 2016: Joan will be the Freeport Art League Artist of the Month, displaying paintings at Freeport City Hall during the month of February, at 112 FL Hwy 20, Freeport, FL 32433. https://www.facebook.com/FreeportArtLeague/

I hope you can spend some time at one or more of these events! There’s nothing like actually seeing the art in person. I try to take good photos of my work for this website, but a camera cannot ever completely capture the intensities and true color relationships the way that the human eye can. I look forward to seeing you!   ~ Joan Vienot

Too Busy to Blog!

December 12, 2015 in Landscape, Photography, Plein Air

It’s been a hectic two months. I will summarize with pictures.

In early November, I painted with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at Bruce Cafe. We also had painted there last May, but I didn’t finish that painting. After we went back and painted there in November, I realized I just needed a few more dashes of color to finish capturing the essence on the May painting, so I finished it in the studio. Below are both paintings.

Oil painting of Bruce Cafe, Bruce, Florida

Bruce Cafe, November 2015

Oil painting of Bruce Cafe, in Bruce, Florida

Bruce Cafe, May, 2015

The next week we painted at Alaqua Animal Refuge. I had a lot of help from the young horses there. (Click on images for a larger view.)

Oil painting of the willow and pond by the entrance road at Alaqua Animal Refuge, Portland, FL

Click painting for purchase information.

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Early the next morning, very early, at 3 AM, I got up to get ready to help Helen Ballance with a television interview for the 2015 Local Color Plein Air Festival in Lynn Haven, Florida, an hour drive from my home. Paris Janos, WJHG Channel 7, was at Roberts Hall to talk with Helen about the festival, and I was one of two plein air painters providing color by painting during the multiple interview spots. It was dark when I started, so for the first time ever, I started with a black canvas. I struggled — the streetlight was stronger than my palette lamp. Things improved when first light hit the bank. Below is my painting, and my own part in the interview is at http://www.wjhg.com/news/newschannel7today/headlines/Color-Plein-Art-Festival-346679182.html.

Oil painting o Lynn Haven Bank & Trust, painted early morning en plein air for TV publicity for Local Color Plein Air Festival 2015

Click painting for purchase information.

The actual paint-out and festival was two days later, at Roberts Hall in Lynn Haven. To my pleasant surprise, I won People’s Choice Best in Show, which included a check for $300 and a solo show at Palms Conference Center in Panama City Beach in late January and February, 2016. Below is a [glare-y] photo of my painting a shot of how I look after an afternoon of competitive plein air painting, ha!

Oil painting of the light edging the potted flowers outside Victoria's Restaurant, Lynn Haven Florida, winner of People's Choice Best in Show at Local Color Plein Air Festival

Apologies for the glare on the photo!

Joan Vienot with People's Choice Best in Show award at Local Color Plein Air Festival, Lynn Haven, FL,November 14, 2015
Photo of People's Choice Best in Show painting at 2015 Local Color Plein Air Festival, Lynn Haven, FL

12122615_1118243564860829_737914790070585022_nMeanwhile, other activities included collecting images from local artists for a fundraiser calendar, and coordinating with the printer (message me if you want one — $12 each), images at https://www.dropbox.com/sh/eq37g61gzmezupv/AACTHegCiNwOz0lT9iXP9gD3a?dl=0;

Working on a new map for the hiking trails for Friends of Camp Helen State Park (watercolor and lots of graphics work);

Painting en plein air, completed in studio, at a big wedding reception (can’t post a pic yet, because it’s still drying — the owner gets to see it first);

Starting a little arthritis maintenance which may slow me down a little next year  😥  ;

Agreeing to teach a 2-day Plein Air Painting Workshop at the Florida Chautauqua Assembly January 29 and 30, 2016, with a half-day pre-workshop on Selecting a Plein Air Subject, details at Joan Vienot Plein Air Workshop;

And receiving notification that all three of my entries have been accepted juried into the Southeast Regional Art Exhibition at the Mattie Kelly Arts Center in Niceville in January and February. Yippee!!! Below are the images I submitted, two plein air paintings and one photograph:

Oil painting of the slash pines forming the iconic "umbrella trees' of Western Lake at Grayton Beach, FL, painted en plein air
Oil painting of the train depot and tracks at DeFuniak Springs, FL, facing east Vienot2 Lady Louise photography

I’m also pleased that my three submissions to the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County’s A+Art “One Size Fits All” have sold. Below are those images — two using photographic transfer onto the 10×10 panels, and the third a plein air painting floated in the 10×10 panel reversed, using it as a frame. The photographic images remain available if you would like a print.

Photo of the sunrise over the Choctawhatchee Bay, dramatized with Snapseed App Photograph of a lily on Ocheesee Pond, between Marianna and Chattahoochee, FL Oil painting of dune grasses at Henderson Beach State Park, Destin, FL

And finally, this week’s weekly plein air outing with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, painting at Turkey Creek Park in Niceville, Florida:

Oil painting of Turkey Creek in Niceville, Florida, in the fall, 1/4 mile up the boardwalk

Click on images for more detailed information and for the contact form if you would like to purchase.

Plein Air Painting With New Colors

October 20, 2015 in Landscape, Plein Air

As if I didn’t already have enough challenge painting en plein air, I recently tried out a new color, “cobalt green” on a couple of plein air outings. In both cases, the bright color was perfect for representing what I was seeing at the time, but it challenged me because I was unfamiliar with how it mixed with my other colors. At the Ft. Walton Beach Indian Temple Mound, I painted a bushy palm study, and at Grayton Beach State Park I painted a front-lit scene showing the colors to be much warmer and brighter than when viewed from my usual position of looking into the light.

Oil painting of a palm tree at Indian Temple Mound in Ft. Walton Beach, FL Oil painting of the fall grasses in the sunes of Grayton Beach State Park

The next week our Wednesday painting group, the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, met at the restored train depot in DeFuniak Springs, and we each painted various views around the depot and the surrounding lake yard. I chose a limited palette which included cobalt violet, a color I have carried in my paint-kit for a long time, but rarely use. It mixed well to create many of the red-violets I used to tie my painting together.

Oil painting of the train depot and tracks at DeFuniak Springs, FL, facing east

This past weekend I took a workshop from Keith Martin Johns hosted by my friend Lynn Wilson through her On the Waterfront Gallery in Apalachicola, FL. Keith taught us to paint using a 9-step value-scale from white to black for our method of changing the value of our colors. I never use my ivory black. It was a bit stiff when I squeezed it out of the tube, and I realized the tube may have been as much as 30 years old! Keith and Linda had provided us with photo references, and the assignment was to take two photos with two very different kinds of lighting, one predominantly sky, and the other a landscape, and compose a 24 x 36 painting from the two photos. I felt uncomfortable with the unfamiliar methodology, so it really forced me to stretch and grow, trying something new, with a sky I never would have attempted except for having attended this workshop! My effort is below.

Oil painting of amazing pink clouds swirling into the sunset over a marsh scene, painted in Keith Martin Johns workshop

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These below are the two photo references the instructor provided that I used to create the composition above.

Seeing More Color, Plein Air Painting

June 14, 2015 in Landscape, Plein Air

Oil painting of the potted plants in the pavilion at the head of the Turkey Creek boardwalk, Niceville, FLAfter noticing my tendency to dull my colors when painting in the bright light outside, I decided to paint with brighter colors, sometimes straight out of the tube. The duller colors were exact when I was outdoors, but indoor lighting is never as bright as the sunlight, so I found my paintings looked dull when I brought them indoors. This effort to paint my paintings so that the colors look realistic when indoors, challenges me, because the more intense color seems a little garish while I am painting. I have to battle my instinct to tone it down.

Painting the potted plants in the pavilion at the head of the Turkey Creek boardwalk in Niceville, FL, last week, I was thrilled to find my subject half in the sun and half in the shade. Colors change radically when the sunlight hits them, being more true to what we think of as local color, in the shade. And the reds! Seldom do I get to use strong red! What fun!

Oil painting of the boats, hens and chicks, in the yard near Nick's Seafood Restaurant in Basin Bayou, FLThis week Wednesday was overcast. The light was strong, but the colors were muted. The Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters were painting at Nick’s Seafood Restaurant in Basin Bayou, west of Freeport, FL. I remembered  all the fancy little chickens running around in Trey’s yard next door, and I hoped to paint them. Alas, they were gone, and the only critters to show up were three scrawny young turkeys, two white and one brown. So I decided to paint the play of light around the boats, and the geometry of the chicken coop. Halfway into the painting, Trey came out and I asked him about the chickens, and he said there were about a hundred in the coop. I heard them start cheeping, as a little boy spread food for them. Trey threw some corn between me and the coop and a few adult chickens came out to eat. So I got to paint chickens after all!

Click on image for form to get purchase information.

Nothing is Simple in Plein Air Painting

April 27, 2015 in Landscape

Oil painting of blackberry leaves and honeysuckle cascading over a fence at The Boathouse Landing in Valpariaso, FLPainting with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at The Boathouse Landing in Valparaiso, FL, last Wednesday, I thought I would paint a simple cascade of leaves over a fence. The lush green blackberry leaves were punctuated by a few white and yellow honeysuckle blossoms. I was wishing I could capture the scent along with the shapes and colors.

And then I found out that it wasn’t simple at all. I was very close to my subject, and perhaps that was the challenge — I was seeing too much detail. I’ve heard of people taking off their corrective eyeglasses so that they don’t see as much when they paint — maybe that would have made it easier.

I had toned the canvas with a light wash of pink acrylic paint before I started the oil painting. My purpose was to retain some of the pinks and reds that were in the blackberry stems and branches. Overwhelmed by the large mass of green leaves, I settled for the patterns of light and dark, and painted the honeysuckle flowers towards the end of the session. I scratched out a few of the twigs and branches of the blackberries, revealing the pink canvas. There were bands of light between the fence slats peeking through the leaves in a few places. Later, in the studio, I refined the edges of the spots of light to help the leaves stand in front of them.

It ended up being a great session for challenging myself, topped off by a nice meal and good conversation with fellow painters Dan Robison, Weezie Bancroft Brabner, Patti Overholt.

Growth Mindset in Plein Air Painting

October 27, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air

Plein air oil painting of mist rising from Beaver Lake at Oak Mountain State ParkBecause there are so many variables in n plein air painting, each painting presents a unique set of challenges, even if I am painting the same place at the same time of day. Adding a complication, I myself am different, and I am part of the process. “Wherever you go, there you are.” So I make no attempt to repaint the same scene in exactly the same way.

I read a blog about a concept called “growth mindset”. Apparently “researchers have known for some time that the brain is like a muscle; that the more you use it, the more it grows. They’ve found that neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly having success with easy ones.” (Salman Khan)

The point was that we learn and grow during the struggles.  I certainly know this to be true within the patterns and rhythms of my life, and recently I have been coming to this conclusion about my approach to my art. Perhaps it is the stage of of growth as an artist, or perhaps it will always be this way, that I have to learn anew how to paint, during each painting.  Of course, I become better at my craft, but each painting presents new compositional challenges, new color challenges, and often, new lighting or atmospheric challenges, not to mention of course, new imagery in new scenery. Usually, I paint something I have never painted before.  During the process of the painting I must learn how to paint whatever it is that I am painting. I try to capture the light.

Last Saturday, my challenge was to paint the mist rising off the surface of a lake at sun-up. Many many years ago I remember creating a passable mist by scumbling white gauche on a watercolor painting, but I had no idea how to paint mist in oils. I ended up using a light gray mixture of paint where I wanted the mist, and feathering it as best as I could without mixing much into the colors above and below. This seems like a technique I should practice, since I probably will want to create this sort of atmosphere from time to time. Above right is my 5×7 plein air effort.

Below are paintings from the last two weeks — two from my best friend’s balcony looking out over Camp Creek Lake, and the other a painting of one of the gigantic live oaks at Eden Gardens State Park.

Oil painting of the marsh and trees of Camp Creek Lake, with short cypress turning orange in the fall Oil painting of the marsh and trees at the edge of Camp Creek Lake, with purple shadows Oil painting of large live oak and light/shadow patterns on the grass underneath, at Eden Gardens State Park

 

Commissions Under Pressure – Plein Air at Events

October 18, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air

Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Impressionist Style

May, 2014

Those who follow my blog know that I contract to paint plein air at wedding receptions at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet where my plein air paintings are shown.  I blogged about it in May, “Commissioned Works en Plein Air.” So you might think it would become old hat, painting the same setting.  But the colors are different, the sounds change, the plants change, the people are different, and most of all, the light changes, so the challenges are always there, and I must always grow as a result. If the scene feels too familiar, all I need to do is move my easel a little, or turn my head, for a new point of view. I am not so fast as to actually paint the couple on site — instead I paint the surroundings in the hour before the event, and then I take photos and sketch a gesture of their entrance or first dance or whatever scene they choose, and then I may block in the general silhouette of the couple. I complete the painting in the studio. The biggest challenge, in commissioned work, of course is pleasing the client, and that includes working with color choices that compliment or repeat the design colors of the event, and sometimes it includes altering my painting style to lean towards a particular style the client likes.

Oil painting of the bridge and garden at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, plein air preparation for painting a wedding couple's first dance

Plan A, with afternoon light

My most recent contract was a month ago, in September.  I had gotten the time wrong, thinking the newly wedded couple would be making their entrance around 5:30 instead of 7:30, so I was painting the entire back scene with late afternoon light in preparation for adding the couple when they made their entrance. I had planned to catch the couple coming across the bridge over the coy pond, placing them slightly right of center, against the spray of the green bamboo like plant that grows behind the bridge.

When the couple made their entrance at 7:30, my entire painting was wrong — the garden was now illuminated by string lights instead of afternoon sunlight. Plan B:  Start a second painting!!!  I was only minimally prepared for a nocturne, but I needed to get my painter’s sense of the location, the sounds, the vibrancy of the lights, the energy of the party. By painter’s sense, I mean that visceral impression of myself being a participant in the scene and not just an observer. I needed to be able to recall all of it, not just relying on photo references, which convey only a small part of what I try to project. I set up my little lights, one on my palette and one on my painting, and knocked out a study of the light-wrapped trees and the dance patio to help me do the job right when I got back to the studio.

2014-0920 Grayt Grounds Nocturne Study

Plan B, nocturne study

The challenges of painting a nocturne successfully include first of all, believable colors. My palette from the afternoon painting was not the colors I would have chosen if I had planned a nocturne, but I was under the gun to capture the light-wrapped trees and the energy of the gardens so I used my afternoon palette.  I don’t judge the resulting study — it has so much background energy, it looks like the place is on fire — it was perfect for reminding me of some of the feeling I needed to capture, even though I needed to figure out how to paint the light-wrapped trees better.

A little about composition… When I teach, I suggest that my students stick to the safer “rule of thirds” for the focal point, which means putting the focus of the painting on one of the intersections of the horizontal and vertical tri-sections of the painting. By putting the couple smack in the middle of the painting, I was challenged to direct the viewer’s eye. I didn’t want the eye to go straight to the center and just stay there.  I wanted the eye to circle the painting, returning again and again to center, to help the viewer look at the painting for a longer period of time. That required more attention to the crowd than I was visualizing at the actual event, and especially more attention to the figures at the outside edges, who are intended to help the eye circle, and by their body position also help redirect the attention back to center. The scene is dramatized by the blue and red spotlights that were on the couple during their First Dance.

By writing this, I am reminded how many decisions go into making a painting. When painting plein air, those decisions are made on the fly; they are more considered in the studio. To arrange for me to paint plein air at your event, contact Cheri Peebles at Grayt Grounds: http://graytgrounds.com/contact/.

Oil painting of couple dancing outdoors at Grayt Grounds in wedding reception - final piece