From Plein Air Studies to Studio Painting

June 16, 2018 in Landscape, Plein Air

Last week I completed a painting of the early morning light on part of the hogback [rock formation running along the front range of the Colorado Rockies] at Devil’s Backbone Open Space at Loveland, Colorado, a Larimer County Natural Resources Park. I blogged about painting en plein air there 6 weeks ago, “A Quick Trip to Colorado, Paints in Hand“.

I am a believer in painting only what you experience. There is the occasional commissioned painting of someone’s scene from their own photo, or their dog or child, but I feel more strongly about the scene if I actually was there and I think that I make a better painting when I have a memory or feelings about the scene.

This certainly was true with Devil’s Backbone First Light. I blogged about looking for the part of the hogback formation that I had remembered from my childhood one whole morning, and about going to Loveland to another part of the hogback with my sister and brother-in-law to hike, and then hiking it myself with my paints the next day while the sun was coming up, painting all morning, and then hiking the trails again that afternoon with both sisters and their husbands and a couple of the grandkids. I was filled with powerful memories of the scene, made more significant by spending time with family there, and I had my 3 plein air studies, and my iPhotos. Only my memory held the actual lighting I wanted to portray — the photos were much less colorful than I remembered or than my plein air paintings indicated, but they provided better value comparisons and better perspective. My plein air works provided truer color, and the time spent painting en plein air imprinted certain details on my memory. If I had merely photographed the rocks, and not painted en plein air, I would not have remembered the yellow-green of the lichen and the pinks and lavenders of the sagebrush, and the tufts of grass growing between the rocks on top of the hogback.

I was thrilled to realize just how much the process had helped to make the painting. Below is Devil’s Backbone First Light, followed by the three studies I painted en plein air.

Oil painting of first light on Devil's Backbone, Laramie County, Loveland, Colorado

Devil’s Backbone First Light, 10 x20 oils on stretched canvas (click on image for purchase info)

Oil painting (study) at Devil's Backbone Open Space, Larimer County, Colorado

6×8 study, Devil’s Backbone, Loveland, CO

Oil painting (study) at Devil's Backbone Open Space, Larimer County, Colorado

4×6 study, Devil’s Backbone, Loveland, CO

Oil painting (study) at Devil's Backbone Open Space, Larimer County, Colorado

4×6 study, Devil’s Backbone, Loveland, CO

 

 

A Quick Trip to Colorado, Paints in Hand

May 26, 2018 in Landscape, Plein Air

My dad, Harold Vienot (98 years old!) and Ranger Tom at Barr Lake State Park, Brighton, Colorado

Study of the fountain in the courtyard at Inglenook, Brighton, COI had an unscheduled week between painting in the St. George Island Paint-Out in mid-April and the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air in early May which I attend as a spectator, so it was a perfect time to take a quick trip to Colorado for a family visit. I stayed in the guest room at the retirement home where my 98-year-old Dad has an apartment, and I accompanied him to the on-premises cafeteria for meals in the daytime, but otherwise left him to maintain his routines and nap undisturbed while I entertained myself. One day I took him to the local state park, Barr Lake, where I think he enjoyed reminiscing with the ranger about old buildings that used to be in town as much as he enjoyed the scenic outing. His eyesight is still pretty good – he could see the herd of deer and a circling hawk after I pointed them out to him.

I had packed my small Guerrilla Painter kit, so I broke it out one afternoon to study the fountain in Dad’s courtyard. The light was changing fast, so I just settled for trying to get the shapes right for the overflowing bowls.

The next morning I left at sunrise to try to fine a land formation I remembered from my childhood, a part of the Hogback that we used to drive past sometimes on our way home from family day-trips to the mountains or to visit my cousins in Golden.

Deer in front of Red Rocks

The Hogback I remembered from childhood

Sherrie and Mark

Isaac Mark Sherrie Emma Trudy Steve at the Keyhole

Joan Vienot, hiking at Devil’s Backbone Open Space

The Dakota Hogback is an outcropping of rock that lifted up at a slant all along and in front of the Rockies. The sandwiching layers of earth and softer stone eroded away, leaving dramatic formations of of exposed rock, sometimes so beautiful that they are established landmarks, like Red Rocks Amphitheater and the Boulder Flatirons. The part I was interested in just looks like the spiny bladed back of a stegosaurus, and the road ran right alongside it. I drove out on I-70 towards the mountains, and I exited on Hogback Road. I stopped every now and then to take photos, but I drove all the way down to Littleton without finding the formation I remembered. On my return trip, I had high hopes for an area called Dinosaur Ridge, but the Hogback was not visible from the road there. Finally I crossed back over to the north side of I-70, and there it was, although as with all childhood memories, I remembered it being significantly bigger and also dramatically lit by the sunset instead of the midday sun. Of course the road is now paved, and travel is at 60 mph instead of a bumpy 45 over gravel. So there it was, and then it was gone. But I was thrilled to have found it.

That weekend I drove to Greeley to visit with my sister Sherrie and her husband Mark, and we went to the Hogback west of Loveland, a county-maintained recreational area called Devil’s Backbone Open Space. We scouted the hiking trail for a place for me to paint the next day. We found a beautiful overlook, and the next morning I hiked up at sunrise with my painting gear, and I painted in bliss all morning. At noon my other sister Trudy and my brother-in-law Steve were joining us, so I went back down for lunch and then we again hiked the easy trail along the beautiful, craggy Hogback formation there.

Joan Vienot, painting at Devil’s Backbone Open Space

It was interesting painting the Hogback at sunrise. Normally, vertical shapes are darker than flat horizontal surfaces, because horizontal surfaces receive more light from the sun and the sky. But early in the morning the opposite was true, because the sun was lighting the side of the rock formations. As the morning progressed, both surfaces seemed to be equally lit, and then finally at midday, the ground colors became washed out as the vertical rocks grew darker.

I was puzzled by the receding meadows of sage and grass. The near field was a mix of dusty-green and lavender shapes, but the more distant fields seems to be a brighter yellow-green. Normally, more distant planes become bluer and lighter, and much less saturated. I decided the Colorado air was deceiving me. But later, as we hiked along the rock formation and passed beside those fields, I saw that they actually were made up not of sagebrush and grasses, but instead they were carpeted with small, bright yellow wildflowers! When I was painting, my eyes did not deceive me, I simply did not believe my eyes!

I so enjoyed painting at Devil’s Backbone Open Space that I would like to go again, and spend about a week there. As I think about my art career which only just now is really getting off the ground, now that I have fully retired from my career in swimming pool service, this would be the ideal way to travel, going to an area and instead of trying to see it all, finding something that particularly excites me, and then spending a whole week painting it.

I see and experience so much more when I paint. If I am driving, I will stop and shoot a lot of photos, but being still for several hours in one spot, painting, affords an absorption of experience that is unsurpassable. And the process also includes just getting there! On my hike I surprised a couple of deer near the trail, and also a rabbit who eyed me warily. And on the opposite cliffs, 4 deer walking the ridge were silhouetted against the sun. The day before, we watched a kestrel trying to scare away a big owl perched on a ledge in the cliff of the Hogback. And I found the most brilliant yellow in the lichen on the rocks, as bright as any wildflower! These are things you just don’t see if you are moving too quickly. I so love the Great Outdoors, and strongly feel the necessity of preserving and protecting it. So I document it, or at least my impression of it.

Yellow Lichen

 

 

Finding a Mentor: Morgan Samuel Price

September 1, 2017 in Landscape, Plein Air

I started plein air painting four years ago. I painted in the Quickdraw at the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air, my first such event. I knew none of the artists. Afterwards, I chanced to be lunching at the table next to the one where master painter Morgan Samuel Price was sitting. Morgan had just won an award in the Quickdraw. My friend and I introduced ourselves and began talking with her, the usual niceties. Afterwards, I looked up her website to see who she was, and I was appropriately amazed by her paintings, both the skill and the affect. I was thrilled when I found out that she was offering a plein air painting workshop in Apalachicola that next spring. Apalachicola is only 100 miles away from my home. It is a village with an interesting history, and great painting subjects ranging from the working shrimping trawlers and oystering boats to decrepit shotgun houses and restored mansions. What a great place to take my first workshop in plein air painting! I blogged about Morgan’s amazing patience – that was in March of 2014.

I took two more workshops from Morgan – one the next year, in Apalachicola, and one last year, in Taos. This year I signed up to take her workshop in Dahlonega, Georgia, in October. I like learning to paint in different locations – it forces me to learn to paint things that are new to me. I got a call from Morgan in late spring, saying that she had space in her Estes Park workshop. I decided to go. Having grown up in Colorado, I was familiar with Estes Park, but I had not looked at it with artist’s eyes in over 40 years, and certainly not with plein air painter’s eyes. I had gone to Estes Park for a family get-together for my Dad’s 90th birthday, but it was wintertime, and the landscape is completely different when covered with snow. So I was completely agog as we drove Hwy 36 through the foothills to Lyons and then up the North St. Vrain Canyon. My awe grew as we continued up the canyon to finally stop at a quaint cabin just north of Estes Park, which would be home base for the week.

Whether it was the demos, the instruction, my awe with the geography, or simply the good company, and no doubt a combination of all that, I enjoyed this workshop like no other, and feel that I learned volumes! And that brings me to the reason I am writing this blog, which is to attest to the value of finding a mentor and repeatedly studying with that person. Of course it certainly helps if the mentor is a master painter!

With a good mentor, you develop a trusting relationship, which makes you more receptive to their suggestions and criticism, and more self-confident in your painting. You become better at the language of painting, better at explaining your challenges, better at asking the right questions, and you learn to observe at the right times, and to pay attention to what has previously eluded you. You even learn better teaching progressions for your own workshops. You become more in tune with your own motivations and you paint with more personal authority, trusting your instinct more. And you develop a stronger eye for assessing your own work, as well as that of others. I’m not saying there isn’t value in taking workshops from different artists — I have learned from a number of instructors. But the value in a mentor is the trusting relationship that develops, which makes it possible to listen to their feedback without feeling as defensive. I confess I still have some resistance, still wanting to justify why I painted something less effectively than I could, but I am able to understand and agree much more than I used to. I also am acquiring attitudes and standards of excellence which will be helpful to me in my career.

I can’t wait to get into the studio now and start working on larger paintings! The grandeur of the glacier-carved Rockies, especially on Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road, simply begs for large canvases. Below are the studies I did in this workshop.

Oil painting of the light on the tree behind Cynthia's cabin Montevideo  Oil painting of Book Cliffs before the storm

Oil painting of the falls cascading over the jumble of boulders in the Fall River Alluvial Fan in Rocky Mountain National Park  Oil painting of the Big Thompson River below the cliffs at Sleepy Hollow Park, below Estes Park

Oil painting of a grove of aspen trees near Estes Park, Colorado  Oil painting of the cliffs at Sleepy Hollow Park, with backlit trees and grasses  Oil painting of the late afternoon light on the meadow at Moraine Park, above Estes Park

As always, contact me if you are interested in purchasing my work.

I am starting to more and more realize the value of paint sketches. Even when they don’t seem to have any merit at all – I always have learned from them. Below are some of my paint sketches. In the first one, I was looking for the right colors for the mountain and the sky. In the second, I was studying the colors and shapes of some rocks, and in the third, I was looking at the difference between ponderosa pines and blue spruce.

    

 

Habits and Routines in the Artistic Process

August 18, 2017 in Figurative, Landscape, Plein Air

I am struggling with an absence of routine. Without it, certain basic maintenance tasks are neglected. I like to get up in the morning, have a cup of coffee, read something inspirational, and write my 5 gratitudes, and do a short meditation before I get my day underway. But lately I have been getting sidetracked into the day’s business as soon as I get my coffee — starting with email correspondence, news, and social media updates, and I never get back to my morning quiet time. My life has been complicated by a pesky knee injury which has required a good deal of physical therapy and greatly reduced my physical activity. I am coming out of that phase in my life, increasing my activity, improving my nutrition, and I intend to restore routine to my life.

I used to blog weekly. I couldn’t believe my eyes this morning when I saw that my last post was 2 months ago. This was a certain message that I need to re-organize my life.

It’s not that I haven’t gotten things done, or that I have neglected my spiritual and psychological health. But I have neglected a lot of things, obviously blogging being one of them.

So why does that matter? Because blogging is one of my chief way of assessing progress, with a little introspection on the side. Self-assessment is essential for monitoring progress.

In brief, projects accomplished and actions taken over the past two months:

  • Continued coordinating and attending weekly Wednesday morning plein air painting excursions with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, with the goal of maintaining community among the painters, and maintaining if not improving my skills.
  • Organized and hung a small exhibit of works by the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters in the lobby of Northwest Florida State College South Walton Center, with the goal of constantly exposing young minds to plein air painting, and with the end goal of creating appreciation for the genre, encouraging young artists, and perhaps inviting future participation and patronage.
  • Served as coordinator for a juried exhibit of plein air paintings for my local arts alliance at the Foster Gallery, preliminary to an event we are planning for this fall.
  • Completed my 4 months of physical therapy for IT Band Syndrome due to knee arthritis (what a pain!!)
  • Vacationed in Montana for a week with my sisters from Colorado, and their families, and visited my 97-year-old Dad in his senior home in Colorado, and shared pie with my brother and his family there.
  • Completed a commissioned painting for a patron.
  • Exhibited in two special exhibits at the Foster Gallery – showing two plein air paintings in Outdoor Magic 2017, and a figurative piece in Faces & Figures.
  • Studied DVD’s by plein air painters Laurel Daniel and Joseph McGurl.

Below are studies and works done over the past couple of months.

Oil painting of the "umbrella trees" at Western Lake in Grayton Beach, FL, at dawn, a commissioned work 8"x48"

See full-size at Umbrella Trees at Dawn. This painting was commissioned by local friends who had a very specific space where they wanted to hang it in their house, a space roughly 9″ x 60″. The painting is 8″ x 48″. They gave me the subject, an iconic local treeline that we know as the “umbrella trees”, at Western Lake near Grayton Beach, Florida. They wanted to see it every morning and smile. So I chose dawn.

 

Oil painting of the first light of dawn coming over the mountain to kiss the grassy hill at Green Bear Ranch, Eureka, MT

The first light of dawn coming over the mountain to kiss the grassy hill at Green Bear Ranch, Eureka, MT, painted en plein air while on vacation with family two weeks ago. (click photo for larger image)

Oil painting of the road cut across Dickey Lake, MT, on a day hazy from the smoke of forest fires in BC, Canada.

Plein air painting of the road cut across Dickey Lake, Montana, on a day hazy from the smoke of forest fires in BC, Canada. (click photo for larger image)

Oil painting of the grassy rise edging the roadside park between Basin Bayou and Villa Tasso on the Choctawhatchee Bay in Florida

A roadside park in Choctaw Beach, on the Choctawhatchee Bay in NW Florida, painted en plein air. (click photo for larger image)

Oil painting of the lake at Lincoln Park in Niceville, FL, with the muted colors of a cloudy day

View from Lincoln Park, Niceville, FL, on a cloudy day, painted en plein air. (click photo for larger image)

Oil painting of a V-bottomed boat at Nick's Restaurant on the Choctawhatchee Bay at Basin Bayou near Freeport, FL

V-bottomed boat at Nick’s Restaurant on the Choctawhatchee Bay at Basin Bayou near Freeport, FL, painted en plein air. (click photo for larger image)

Oil studies of the light on the water at Thomas Pilcher Park in Santa Rosa Beach, FL

Plein air studies of the light on the water at Thomas Pilcher Park in Santa Rosa Beach, FL. (click photo for larger image)

Oil painting of a bend in the creek, showing the transparent tannin-stained water over the sand bar, at Turkey Creek in Niceville, FL

Plein air painting of the a bend in the creek, showing the transparent tannin-stained water over the sand bar, at Turkey Creek in Niceville, FL. (click photo for larger image)

I drew Katie and Marley for a special exhibit by my local arts alliance called “Faces & Figures” at The Foster Gallery. Katie is a neighbor in my community who walks her dog in Eden Gardens State Park. On this day, she was sitting on the bench up by the bayou. The paper actually is a very light blue — the camera incorrectly corrected for color-cast. (click photo for larger image)

As always, contact me if interested in available art or a commission.

 

Plein Air to Colorado and Back

March 6, 2014 in Landscape, Photography, Plein Air

Photograph of the moon setting over Buffalo Mountain, in Silverthorne, CO, with the alpenglow preceding the sunrise

Photograph, moon setting over Buffalo Mountain in Silverthorne, CO, in the alpenglow of the sunrise

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that this year I have the intention of attending as many workshops as I can afford, to learn as much as I can from artists whose work I admire.  At the very least, if i am traveling anywhere, I am justifying it by taking my paints.

Oil painting of the view from Four Amigos at Silverthorne, Colorado

So last month when I traveled to Colorado for my Dad’s 94th birthday and then to the mountains to play in the snow with my two sisters and their families, I took my Guerrilla Painter’s Box, with every intention of painting every day.  I had forgotten that where there is snow, then it probably will be snowing!  So the light was too dim for inspired painting, and the weather suitable only for playing in the snow, until the last day I was there, when the sun finally came out.  I stepped out onto the front balcony and caught the view of the mountains across the way.  I left that little 5 x 7 painting there with my sister as a small thank you for the adventures.

Oil painting of a snowy Colorado mountain sceneI took a lot of photos, thinking I would paint more snow scenes later, but life has been hectic since I returned, so I only managed one, at left.

Yesterday I again painted with th Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters group in my home area in Florida.  We met at Baytowne in Sandestin, FL, and I painted the brightly colored shops reflecting into the pond.  It was chilly, and the light was low, with rain predicted, but the lake was flat and the reflections just a bit choppy.  To brighten my colors, I choose a canvas I had under painted orange, and I allowed some of the orange to show through my colors, and I scratched off some of the paint in places where I wanted lines, so the lines shine a bright orange.

Oil painting of the shops at Baytowne in sandestin, FL, reflected in the lakWe met near the fountain for our critique.  Another artist had the misfortune of dropping his painting and the edge of it sliced a diagonal scrape across the face of my painting, so I had some repairing to do afterwards. I am happy to report that the painting is no worse for the wear.  sometimes these sorts of things happen when you are painting outdoors — it’s all just part of the experience, where things are never entirely under control.