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Plein Air on the World’s Most Beautiful Beach

Dr. Steven Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach, rates the best beaches in the world every year, using 50 criteria. Grayton Beach, Florida, has been Number One at least once and in the top ten several times. That would be no surprise to anyone who has seen this beach. The reflective white quartz sand consists of small grains with a texture as smooth as sugar, so fine that it crunches and squeaks underfoot like very cold snow. Under the blue sea of the Gulf of Mexico, the white sand bottom reflects turquoise, punctuated by an emerald streak where the sand bar offshore rises to within 10′ of the surface. On days like last Wednesday, you would never know that those same waters could house the fury of a hurricane, like the one last month that destroyed most of Panama City, Mexico Beach, and Port St. Joe, the destruction starting a mere 20 miles east of Grayton Beach.

The State of Florida has named its various coasts, and ours is named the Emerald Coast, for that beautiful green streak over the sand bar. On Wednesday of this week, our local plein air group, the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, painted at Grayton Beach State Park. The temperature was chilly, but the biting wind was from the north, so we were somewhat sheltered on the water-side of the dunes. Our paintings are all posted on our Facebook Page.

Oil painting studying the colors of the Gulf of Mexico on the Emerald Coast, Grayton Beach, FL
Impossible Blue

I purchased an iPhone app called Art Rooms, which places art on the walls of the room you choose out of their stock, appropriate to the size of the painting relative to the size of the furniture. I like this app. I did have to use Photoshop to place my painting behind the lamp in the second example.

Art Rooms app showing “Impossible Blue” over a desk

Art Rooms app showing “Impossible Blue” over a bedside table

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Just Plein Fun and Other Autumn Adventures

This post will have to be more pictures than writing — everything has been moving so fast I haven’t taken enough time to reflect on it all!

First, of course, the effects of Hurricane Michael are still heavy upon my neighboring communities, along the coastal towns from Panama City to St. George Island and further, and all points north of there. The fundraiser started by Larry Moore and managed by Denise Rose and team, “Operation Fundstorm”, begun with the hope of raising a mere $10,000, actually raised over $117,000! More than 200 artists donated paintings which then were auctioned online over the course of one week, with 100% of the proceeds going to provide hurricane relief on the Forgotten Coast. I am thrilled to have been a contributing artist, with “Seeing the Light”, at left.

Oil painting of a goat on top of the climbing stack of pallets and shed at Sweet Creek Farm Market
King of Sweet Creek, 3rd Place at Pike Road Paint-Out

The last week of October I drove up to Blue Ridge, Georgia, to pick up my paintings and those of two fellow local participants in the Blue Ridge Mountains Plein air Paint-Out, which gave me time to visit with several dear friends in Murphy, NC. On my way back, I stopped near Montgomery, AL, for the “Just Plein Fun: Pike Road Paint-Out” where I painted with the Alabama Plein Air Artists. I enjoyed meeting so many artists, and the organizers, Patti and Richard Payne, and hope to participate in that event again! I was honored to receive 3rd place with my painting “King of Sweet Creek”, a painting of a stack of pallets and a shelter, its rooftop commanded by a goat the whole time I was painting. Thee weather was chilly and drizzly that first day, without spectacular light, so I opted to paint story instead.

The first week of November, I hung 20 of my paintings at Artful Things in Niceville, FL, where they will be exhibited through December 2018. That same week I also was juried into the Foster Gallery at the Ruskin Place Artist Colony, in Seaside, FL. I have 14 works showing there, through the first week of February. The Foster at Ruskin is the second branch of the Foster Gallery, an artist collective organized by the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County. Upcoming dates are:

Friday, December 7th, The Foster Gallery at Ruskin Place Artist Colony, 201 Ruskin Pl., Seaside, FL 32459, 1st Friday Art Walk, 5pm – 8pm.

Thursday, December 13th, The Foster Gallery at Ruskin Place Artist Colony, 201 Ruskin Pl., Seaside, FL 32459, Opening Reception, 5pm – 7pm.

Saturday, December 1st, Artful Things, 1087 John Sims Pkwy E, Niceville, FL 32578, Open House , 11am – 4pm.

And finally, I have been invited to again serve as a Florida’s Finest en Plein Air Ambassador for the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air which is based in Port St. Joe. Florida’s Finest Ambassadors teach 15 2-hour one-on-one instructional sessions to people who are new to plein air painting. Those 15 sessions are offered over 5 days, 3 per day. I served as an Ambassador in 2016, so I know the drill — it’s a fairly grueling schedule. Normally 6 artists from across the state are selected to be Ambassadors. Since the area just suffered a hurricane, the event may be scaled back a bit, but I know there will be at least three Ambassadors this year.

My weekly Wednesday painting sessions with my local group have yielded a number of studies over the summer, pictured below.

Oil p[ainting of a hive at Muscogee Farms in Bruce, FL
Hive at Muscogee Farms, plein air
Oil painting of the tables area at Elmore's Landing, with girl reading a book
Summer Light at Elmore’s, plein air
Oil painting of Joe Elmore's Bison sculpture, in a plein air composite including multiple facets of Elmore's Landing
Joe Elmore’s Bison, plein air
Mexico Beach, plein air (before Hurricane Michael)
Oil painting of the shoreline and harbor at Ft. Walton Yacht Club, with small sailboats beached and fishing boats docked
Play Day at the Club, plein air
Oil painting of backyard scene with red chairs and red umbrella
Becky’s Quiet, plein air
Oil painting showing the tannin-rich waters of Turley Creek, Niceville, FL
Turkey Creek, plein air
Oil painting of the bright light on the neighbor's lawn across Mallet Bayou, painted from Brenda's dock
Neighbors Across Mallet Bayou, plein air
Wood Spirits at Elmore’s Landing, plein air
Oil painting of the dunes at Henderson Beach State Park, Destin, FL, painted en plein air.
Butterfly Dune, plein air
Oil painting of the dune scrub at Veteran's park on Okaloosa Island, Ft. Walton Beach, FL
Pyrocantha and Goldenrod, plein air
Oil painting of a rocky stream in the mountains, under waning light
Mountain Memories, a workshop piece painted from childhood memories


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Hurricane Michael Fundraiser

NOTE: These promotions have ended, but the need persists. Please find a way to donate or go help the people hit by Hurricane Michael!

The canal in Mexico Beach, photo from the Jacksonville Journal-Courier (

“Mexico Beach”, 11×14 oils on canvas panel. My painting of the canal from June of this year, a more peaceful time.

Hurricane Michael was a brute. The destruction starts just 20 miles east of my home, essentially ripping out all civilized services and damaging or destroying nearly all of the homes and businesses in Panama City, Lynn Haven, Marianna, Blountstown, Mexico Beach, and Port St. Joe, with wind or flood damage significant in Apalachicola, St. George Island, Eastpoint, Carrabelle, St. Marks and points further east and north. The storm increased in intensity from a Category 2 to almost a Category 5 practically overnight, make it the third-lowest-pressure storm to ever hit the United States in recorded history. Many of us, myself included, would stay for a Category 2, but never would have stayed through anything higher, let alone a Category 5, but by then it really was too late to evacuate without risking being caught in the storm while on the road, blocked by the nightmare of bumper-to-bumper evacuation. The storm was forecast for the eye to make landfall 50 miles east of me. With hurricane force winds extending about 50 miles out from the center, I felt relatively safe, because my house has been through 75-mph winds before, without damage. As it turned out, the 20 miles between my home and where significant damage starts are like night and day. It’s a sad time here on this beautiful coast and inland. In this day of division and self-centered interests, the outpouring of help from volunteers, just ordinary citizens really, is heartwarming. Funds are the only limitation. Donations are a huge help to the helpers as well as the unfortunate victims. Firefighters and policemen and helpers of all stripes also lost their homes.

Hurricane Recovery Fundraising

The need for funding requires creative answers. At least 200 artists are participating in an online silent auction next week, 10/22/18-10/28/18, in which 100% of the proceeds will go to Franklin’s Promise, a non-profit based locally and dedicated to the communities of the Forgotten Coast. They presently are focussed on the hurricane relief and recovery effort. I have donated “Seeing the Light” for this auction. More info at  Operation Fundstorm.

Additionally, I have posted a temporary page offering a significant discount on paintings I completed in Panama City and on the “Forgotten Coast”, the areas devastated by Hurricane Michael on October 10, 2018.

I will donate 50% of the proceeds from those discounted sales to Hurricane Michael relief efforts. I will leave the discount in place at least through Thanksgiving. First come, first serve. To see my discounted paintings available, please visit

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A Month of Adventure: Estes Valley Plein Air and Blue Ridge Mountains Paint-Out

I spent half of August and half of September on a month-long adventure of travel and plein air painting. Two weeks were in Colorado at the Estes Valley Plein Air event where I painted almost every day in beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park near the town of Estes Park, Colorado. And one week was in the spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains, near Blue Ridge, Georgia. I completed 11 paintings.

It was an honor to be juried into the Estes Valley Plein Air event, which was sponsored by the Art Center of Estes Park, and managed by the very capable team of Lars and Kristi. I opted to drive, instead of fly, from Florida to Colorado to reduce expenses. I had a cabin to stay in while I was there, thanks to the generosity of my friend Dr. Cynthia Reedy, but while traveling to and from, I tent-camped. I used love being in the great outdoors, “roughing it”. By camping and driving, I saved a $500 flight and a $900+ car rental and probably at least $500 in motels. I also saved the trouble and expense of shipping my frames and canvases and tools and equipment. I did buy new tires before I left, which I paid for by instructing a course for the employees of the business I had recently sold. Even so, except for the fact that I have family in Colorado, traveling this distance for an event is worthwhile as a business venture only if sales are generated.

The mountains of Colorado were very smoky the first week, from the bad forest fires further west. The smoke washed out mid-distant and distant colors. The second week the winds blew the smoke down to Denver, clearing the skies in the high country, but the winds also made it very difficult to work with an easel. I adapted as best I could, at one point even clamping my canvas to the bottom of my tripod, with my palette on the ground. There were other challenges. It threatened to rain most afternoons, and a few times it poured.

My days began by waking up in the dark, packing my lunch snack, and driving the slow trip up the 9 miles of one-way gravel switchbacks of Old Fall River Road, to get up to Mile 8 where I could pull off and hike out a short distance to my view of the entire glacial cirque just below the Alpine Visitors Center. I had wanted to paint this view since seeing it anew the previous year when I went to Estes Park for a pain ting workshop with Morgan Samuel Price. Some days it was far too windy and cold or too gray to paint plein air. I think I made the hour-long drive 7 days but was able to work on this painting only 3 mornings. I wanted to capture the grandeur of the morning vista. To see in image larger, click here, and click again if “+” appears under your cursor.

Oil painting of the glacial cirque near Fall River Pass, just below the Alpine Visitors Center, Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, Colorado
Fall River Glacial Cirque, 15×30 oils on canvas panel, en plein air

The barometric pressure high altitude  is much much lower than at my sea level home where it is usually around 30 inHg. A barometer at the Visitors Center displayed 19.28 inHg. I did suffer a mild case of altitude sickness the first few days I drove to the top, mainly a headache and just generally feeling unwell.  After the third time, I wasn’t bothered anymore. The area of the glacial cirque was chilly. The air temperature decreases 3.6° for every 1000′ increase in elevation, and the Visitors Center sits more than 4000 feet higher than the city of Estes Park. In addition, it was almost always windy, or at least gusty, which increased the chill considerably. But when I am painting en plein air, my focus becomes so intense I often lose track of discomforts. A few hours into my painting up there on the first day that I painted, I noticed a small marmot out of the corner of my eye, and turned around; there were four marmot pups busy running and grubbing near me, one almost at my feet! I guess if you stay quiet in one place for long enough, they think you are part of the landscape! I’ve posted longer videos on Facebook — here’s a shorter one:

My sisters and brothers-in-law rented a condo above Estes Park the first weekend I was there. Trudy and Steve came up from their home in Westminster and Sherrie and Mark from Greeley, and one of their daughters, Caitlin, came up from her home in Cheyenne. I think their chief entertainment is creating irresistible, delectable foods, and this weekend was no exception. I have no idea how they stay so fit. We hiked up to Gem Lake from Lumpy Ridge, my mentor and friend Morgan Samuel Price joining us. Morgan was there to teach a workshop, which I had taken the year before. I of course could hardly breathe at that altitude but after the 2-mile climb, was it ever worth it when we finally reached our destination. Below, a photo of Gem Lake.

Gem Lake, above Lumpy Ridge, Estes Park, Colorado

The artists of Estes Valley Plein Air were invited to paint a nocturne or a painting in town, in Estes Park, and I opted for the nocturne. I started when the sun went down, about 8:30, and finished close to 11 PM. Meanwhile the temperature dropped, quickly. I was dressed in light jeans and a fleece sweatshirt. As I said before, I don’t notice discomforts while I am painting, but I certainly noticed that I was shivering towards the end. I couldn’t feel my fingertips when I put my gear away. I couldn’t believe it when I got in my car — the display said it was 46°! No wonder it felt a little chilly. Coming from the humid deep south, the dry Colorado air felt cold, but not that cold! If it had been Northwest Florida, I would have quit after just 30 minutes!

Nocturne oil painting of the south entrance to Riverwalk Park / Riverside Plaza in Estes Park, Colorado
Riverwalk at Night, 11×14 oils on canvas panel, en plein air

Another special category was a sweet little park called Mrs. Walsh’s Garden. It had a meandering path, a pond and small waterfall, and lots of hummingbirds. Even Peter Cottontail came hopping up to within 10′ of me, becoming a statue when he saw me, and then fleeing fast as lightning. The hummingbirds thought my bright shirt was a flower. Here’s a video of a hummingbird taking a bath on the rock beside the waterfall:

I enjoyed painting the gentian flowers below, one of the few times I have used color straight out of the tube, as intense as it could be. I may accent the hummingbird a little more when the painting returns to me from the exhibit at the Art Center of Estes Park. I think people don’t notice it unless I tell them to look for it.

Oil painting of a hummingbird feeding on gentian in Mrs. Walsh's Garden, a city park in Estes Park, Colorado
Mrs. Walsh’s Gentian Visitor, 11×14 oils on canvas panel, en plein air

One day I hunted high and low for a location where I would be sheltered from the high winds and finally decided to deploy my Under The Weather Pod for the first time. I staked down the two back corners of the floor, and tied the top two back corners to the tree behind me. This allowed me to set up my easel and paint without freezing to death or getting bowled over by the wind. I still had to be on guard for the twisting gusts, but I managed to complete a painting beside Big Thompson Creek in Moraine Park, below.

Oil painting of the Big Thompson River flowing through Moraine Park above Estes Park, Colorado
Moraine Wind, 11×14 oils on canvas panel, en plein air

We were asked to frame a reserve painting so the Art Center would have something to fill the space if a painting sold. My reserve painting is “Where Are The Sheep?”, expressing my frustration that no bighorn sheep ever came down to Sheep Lakes in the Fall River Valley the whole time I was there! A herd of elk grazed in the distance one morning, but nary a single sheep! Nevertheless, the colors were beautiful in the early morning.

Oil painting of Sheep Lakes in Fall River Valley near Estes Park, Colorado
Where Are The Sheep? 10×20 oils on canvas panel, en plein air

I also participated in the Quickdraw in Estes Park, which was held in the same area where I had done my nocturne. I am pleased to report that mine sold in the very entertaining auction held immediately after the awards were announced. We only had 90 minutes to complete our painting, which was the fastest I had ever had to painting, at least until Blue Ridge two weeks later!!

Oil Painting of the bridge over the creek at Riverwalk Park in Estes Park, Colorado
My Quickdraw Painting at Estes Park, 9×12 oils on canvas panel, , en plein air

The next time I drive across the country, I am going to take an extra day or two to see the sights along the way. I went past Amarillo, where just 30 minutes south is the Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the United States. I was on a timeline, so I drove past, both going and coming back. On the return trip, I was heading to Blue Ridge, Georgia, to meet up with my painting buddies from home. We were all going to paint in the Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association Paint-Out. We stayed in Young Harris, GA, at the mountain home of John and Theresia McInnis. Theresia is an accomplished watercolorist and hostess extraordinaire. Elia Saxer, Beckie Hart, Brady DeGrasse, and Charlotte Arnold came up to paint as well, and we had a wonderful time painting, eating, and socializing. And I am happy to report that one of my paintings, Stanley Rapids, was awarded third place in the BRMAA Wet Room!

Oil painting of Stanley Rapids on the Taccoa River in Fannin County, Georgia
Stanley Rapids, 10×20 oils on canvas panel, painted en plein air.

I also painted the terraced waterfalls of the creek running through Taccoa Valley Campground. My sensations while painting were th roar of the Taccoa River behind me, campfire smoke in the air, light filtering through the trees and glittering in the waterfalls, children playing, soft leaves underfoot.

Oil painting of the creek flowing through the Taccoa Valley Campground to the Taccoa River in Fannin County, GA
Toccoa Valley Campground, 15 x 30 oils on canvas panel

On the last day I looked up a stand-up paddleboarding friend who lives in Blue Ridge, and painted some of the critters on his farm.

Oil painting of two horses and two goats on Chris Tilghman's farm in Blue Ridge, Georgia
On Chris’s Farm, 11×14 oils on canvas panel

I learned a lot about my ability to organize for a trip like this, and for next time, what to bring and what to leave at home. Certainly I could have ordered my frames to be shipped to Estes Park so that I wouldn’t have had to carry them in my car — that would have lightened my load and improved my gas mileage a little.That also would have allowed me to sleep in my car instead of my tent on the one night that rain threatened. I doubt I will reduce the amount of oil painting supplies I bring, but I probably will leave my gouache set and my watercolors at home if I do this trip again. The thing is, you just never know when you might want to do a study, and I want all options available, even though I always make my paintings using oils. I was surprised to find that I needed my back-up easel and clamps that I had brought in case I broke mine. My panel holder broke one day – a screw became stripped, so I was very happy to have an alternate way to hold my painting, but the main reason I used it was to hold my sign advertising the Art Center of Estes Park where the paintings were to be exhibited. Up in the high country it was too windy to try to clamp the sign to my easel.

I met many of the other artists both locations, and am sure I will run into many of them again. I remain a little intimidated — some have been painting for 20 or 30 years or more, all during the time that I was in my business career. But all were very friendly, and the icing on the cake in Colorado was to meet up with and paint with my college friend Daniel Sprick, who came up from Denver for the Q&A after the showing of a PBS documentary on his development as an artist, put on by the Estes Park Art Museum. Dan is a recognized contemporary master painter, and he will be the keynote speaker at the Figurative Arts Convention in Miami next month.

Joan Vienot painting with college friend Daniel Sprick at Lumpy Ridge, Estes Park, Colorado, 8/29/2018


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Why Not Just Take A Picture? Why Bother With Plein Air?

By all means, take a picture with your camera!

With today’s technology, we are taking photos every day, and some of them are really good. But why isn’t that enough for the plein air painter? Why not just paint from the photograph? I’ll try to answer that.

First of all, even the best cameras don’t pick up the values and colors exactly right. That’s why every good photographer is an artist, both with their composition of the scene and with their use of photo-editing software afterwards. But certainly we can do many of the things in the studio that we do en plein air, can’t we? Like re-composing, and leaving certain things out, or moving a tree a smidge to the left in order to provide contrast behind the focal area? Well yes, except that we are working with changing light, so we also have to make a lot of decisions on the spot, and try to mix colors right the first time.

But here’s a big difference. Imagine yourself driving down the highway, seeing some pretty scenery, and stopping to take a picture. Years later, or even days later, maybe even hours later, you are looking back at your photos, and you wonder what it was that made you snap that photo, what it was that caught your eye, why it was significant, why it impressed you enough to stop the car.

Now instead imagine yourself somewhere away from home, enjoying the sunset, shooting a photo now and then as the sunset progresses, listening to the soft rush of the waves coming in to the shore, and the call of seagulls and banter of children playing, with the smell of someone’s barbecue wafting over your beach chair, knowing your friends are up in the vacation house having drinks and telling stories. The sand is gritty between your toes, there is a pesky fly that wants to bite you, and the bottoms of your pant legs are sticking to your skin from getting wet because you walked out to return to the sea a flipping baitfish that had stranded itself on the sand. The key element here is the time it takes to absorb all of those sensations, so that depending on your present-moment awareness, a unique memory can be imprinted, so rich that years from now you might recall the scent of barbecue and the feel of the ocean breeze on your skin and the pleasure of rejoining your friends afterwards, when you look at the one or two photos of that sunset that you decided to keep.

In much the same way, a plein air painter experiences their environment for an extended period of time while painting, and that is the reason not to just settle for a photo. The time invested in the experience allows for the absorption of volumes of sensory information, some of which inevitably will make its way into the painting, whether intentionally or not. If you’ve ever marveled at the difference between seeing a good photo of a painting, and seeing the same painting in person, you know exactly what I am talking about. The painting itself contains an energy that came from the experience of the artist. I remember that tears came to my eyes, I was so overwhelmed when I saw “Starry Night” in person, even though I had stared at photos of the painting many times. It’s like the difference between reading Maya Angelou’s poetry, or listening to Maya Angelou herself reading it to you. She lived it.

It’s interesting when someone compliments an artist by saying a painting looks like a photograph. If it is a photograph of the painting, that might be an apt compliment indeed. But if they see the painting in person, hopefully they will feel the solid mass of rock underfoot and hear the call of the loon in the distance, and her mate answering, and they will know that a photograph could never give the same sense that the painting does. Well, except of course when it is a photograph by a really good photographer – I feel the crunch of the glacier moving and I sense a coyote looking at me, when I look at Ansel Adams’ photos.

So last week I painted through a rainstorm. To be honest, when it started to sprinkle and I went to the car to get my big, wide, painting umbrella, the weather App on my phone said the rain was going to diminish after a bit, not get worse, and by the time I finally figured out that the App was wrong, all of my gear was soaked, and I found myself wondering, why don’t I just take a picture? Thankfully, Florida’s summer rains are not too chilly, because the umbrella only shielded me from most of the rain. I posted a video of the misadventure on my personal Facebook page, 6/13/18, gum-chomping and all..

Here’s the end result, “After The Downpour” – sorry you have to view it as a photo. Even so, I will guarantee you that I would not have gotten this effect if I had just shot a photo and then painted it in the studio. Interestingly, even as I am writing this, my friend Janice Frossard just commented on Facebook about the painting that I blogged about yesterday, Devil’s Backbone First Light: “You can almost smell the sage brush and feel the cool morning air.” That’s what I’m talking about!

In this painting, can you smell the rain?

Oil painting of the patio behind the Bay Restaurant in Santa Rosa Beach, FL, after a torrential downpour
After the Downpour, 11×14 oils on canvas panel, en plein air


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From Plein Air Studies to Studio Painting

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 one whole morning for the part of the hogback formation that I had remembered from my childhood, and about going the next day 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 following day while the sun was coming up, painting all morning, and 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



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The Forgotten Coast en Plein Air and Plein Air South 2018

I attended the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air and Plein Air South again this May, taking time out for painting between demo’s and discussions. I practice painting en plein air to study the transient effects of light, to become more adept at composing, to learn more effective technique, and to develop a stronger instinct for decision-making. Many times a plein air painting will be worthy of framing. All are learning experiences. My intention is to study something different every time I paint, even when I paint a scene I have painted before. Every painting is making it easier to paint the next painting, but I challenge myself even more the next time, so I can’t say that painting is easy. I can say that I am seeing better.

Oil painting of the marsh from the deck of Scallop Republic on the way to Cape San Blas, Port St. Joe, FL
Scallop Republic Marsh

I am happy to report that my Quickdraw painting, Scallop Republic Marsh, was selected by Quickdraw judge Lori Putnam to be one of the 40 on display throughout the Forgotten Coast event, and that it was purchased, as was Eastpoint Oyster Shack, one of my paintings in the Florida’s Finest en Plein Air Ambassador exhibit.

The more exciting news happened the week following the Forgotten Coast event, which was Plein Air South, a convention in the same location with back-to-back educational sessions, lectures, and demonstrations. Approximately 160 artists attended. We were invited to display up to 3 plein air paintings, the best to be selected by artists’ vote. I thought they were just going to award a Best in Show, but they also awarded second place, which one of my paintings won, Spring Dune at St. George Island, pictured below! I received $485 of paintbrushes from Rosemary & Co., my favorite brush manufacturer! (Iin addition to the $180 of brushes I had just purchased!) I don’t guess I will run out of brushes for a while!!

Oil painting of the massive primary dune at St. George Island State Park, FL

Below are the studies I painted over the two weeks, in between listening to the speakers and watching the demo’s. Click any photo to learn purchase information.

Oil painting of the marsh at the kayak and canoe launch on Cape San Blas, Port St. Joe, FL
Kayak Launch at Cape San Blas, oils, 6×12


Oil painting of the early morning shadow of the primary dune on Cape San Blas, Port St. Joe, FL
Cape San Blas Morning Shadows, oils, 11×14


Oil painting of the shape of the primary dune on Cape San Blas, Port St. Joe, FL, painted with palette knife
Early Summer Dune at Cape San Blas


Oil painting of site of oyster shell bagging by the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast, for maintaining and restoring eroding coastline
Project Worksite, Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast, Oyster Shell Bagging, oils, 6×12


Oil painting of the light on the creek at George Core Park, Miss Zola Drive, Port St. Joe, FL
Creek at George Core Park, Miss Zola Drive, Port St. Joe, oils, 12×9


Oil painting of the early light at the St. Vincent Shuttle stop, off the tip of Indian Pass, Port St. Joe, FL
Warm in the Morning, Indian Pass, oils, 8×10


Oil painting of the artist's impression of the colorful sunrise at the tip of Indian Pass, Port St. Joe, FL
Sunrise Impression, oils, 4×6


Oil painting of artist's impression and memories of the marsh at the canoe and kayak launch on Cape San Blas, Port St. Joe, FL
Impression of the Marsh at Cape San Blas Canoe Launch, oils, 11×14


Unfinished, Rick on a Break, 14 x 11


Unfinished, Cape San Blas Light in Port St. Joe, 16×20


Joan Vienot, painting the Cape San Blas Light and lightkeepers’ cottages in Port St. Joe, hurrying to beat the rain!





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A Quick Trip to Colorado, Paints in Hand

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



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2018 St. George Island Plein Air Paint-Out

Postscript, 10/21/18, 11 days after Hurricane Michael

I am in shock, seeing that places I painted are heavily damaged or perhaps even have disappeared. When I painted “Spring Dune”, the third painting pictured below, I remember feeling like the huge old dune was a big protective bear guarding the edge of the park. Today I saw video that gives me every reason to suspect that this dune does not exist anymore.

The Plantation of St. George Island is a beautiful gated community situated on the west end of St. George Island, one bridge away from Eastpoint and and two bridges away from Apalachicola, Florida. The Arts Committee of the community, led by Bunnie Ison, produced the 2018 St. George island Paint-Out, an invitational plein air event. The artists participating were Catherine Hillis, Olena Babak, Craig Reynolds, Vernia Moore, Lynn Wilson, Debby Brienen, Randy Pitts, Janyce Loughridge, Randy Brienen, Karen Margulis, and Kelly Rysavy, Alison Menke, Natalia Andrea, Ed Nickerson, and me, Joan Vienot.. This was my first invitational plein air paint-out. I was a little worried because I thought that most of the other artists have been in invitational paint-outs before, and I had the impression that all were extremely talented. So it was to my surprise at the end of the week when I found one of my paintings, ” Marsh at Nick’s Hole” decorated with a 2nd place ribbon by judges Sandi Shaw of Pines and Palms Gallery of Thomasville, GA, and Ann Kozeliski of LeMoyne Gallery, Tallahassee, FL. The other winners were Alison Leigh Menke, Best in Show; and Natalia Andreeva,1st Place; and Ed Nickerson, 3rd Place.

Oil painting of the lime-green foliage and purple grasses of the marsh at Nick's Hole on St. George Island, FL
Awarded 2nd Place in 2018 St. George Island Paint-Out: “Marsh at Nick’s Hole”, 6×12, oils.

Oil painting o yellow beach flag on pole with stormy gray sky and waves in background, on St. George Island, FL
Yellow Flag Day

Day 1, Monday, April 9, 2018: On the first day of the St. George Island Paint-Out the weather was predicted to be rainy. I set up near on the boardwalk near a pavilion in St. George Island State Park. I was amused that despite the strong wind and boisterous surf, the warning flag for swimmers was merely a yellow caution flag. Where I live, a surf like that would have closed the waters — we would have had a red or even a double red flag. I decided that St. George Islanders must be a tough bunch. I painted the whipping flag and the surf, and called it “Yellow Flag Day”.

Oil painting of the massive primary dune at St. George Island State Park, FL
Spring Dune on St. George Island

After lunch on Day 1, I painted the big, protective, mother bear of a dune, the primary dune, looking eastward, in the St. George Island State Park. It peaked some distance from me so that I could not see it guarding the coast to the end of the island. The day continued to be blustery. That evening all of the artists were treated to dinner at the Clubhouse at the Plantation of St. George Island, and we were asked to bring the day’s paintings. I was floored buy the talent, skill, and expressiveness of my fellow artists. This was going to be a great week!

Old painting study for Shifting Sands, showing sand drifting over a boardwalk on St. George Island, Florida
Study for Shifting Sands
Ink sketch, study for Shifting Sands, St. George Island, FL
Sketch for Shifting Sands

Day 2, Tuesday, April 10, 2018: I left my host’s house at dark-thirty on Tuesday, and crossed the bridge from Apalachicola to St. George Island just as the sun was coming up. I stopped to catch a few photos of it, vowing to be there earlier the next day so that I could try to capture some of the color.

My host and fellow artist Lynn Wilson had mentioned the dunes in the Plantation, so on I went, on a mission to find them. I must have taken 100 photos — even though the day was fast becoming gray. One dune was drifting over a boardwalk, and I prepared to paint it by first sketching it and then painting a small 4×6 study of the basic shapes. And then the rain came. It got cold, and breezy, and I made a mad dash, lugging most of my gear back to my car before the torrential rain started. Time for a nice, big, late breakfast at The Beach Pit, one of our paint-out sponsors. When the rain stopped and I returned to my scene but it was not nearly as charming as it had been in the morning. So I changed my angle and painted the dune beside it, which had a huge scoop of out of it where the winter winds had blown the sand from the dune to now cover the boardwalk. I called it “Sands of Time.”

Oil painting of the scooped dune where the wind is carving it to drift over the adjacent boardwalk on St. George Island, FL
Sands of Time

Oil painting of the lime-green foliage and purple grasses of the marsh at Nick's Hole on St. George Island, FL
Marsh on St. George Island, also pictured above.

Day 3, Wednesday April 11, 2018: I had a half-day workshop for 3 people that lasted well into the afternoon. Painting while teaching is not the same for me as painting by myself — my demo’s rarely have the same immediacy, probably because I am explaining everything as I go along. The left half of our brain is the logical, sequential, linguistic side; the right side is the creative, intuitive, expressionistic side. The two sides are connected by the corpus colossum, so that the two halves can exchange and coordinate  information. I think my corpus colossum could use some calisthenics. I find running both halves of my brain at the same time to be quite a challenge. So as frustrating as it was, it wasn’t really a surprise to me that I was less than thrilled with my painting at the end of the workshop. It was excellent practice, but not a “keeper”, so I wiped it off. So I had no painting to show for my efforts that day. Frustrated, I walked out onto the dock at Nick’s Hole, and was greeted by my favorite scene on the island, the marsh grasses. I am always struck by the lime-green of the foliage in the barren sand where water sometimes floods in from the bayou. This year it is a particularly abundant, and begged to be painted. My painting of this scene was awarded second place by the event judges at the opening reception at the end of the week.

Day 4, Thursday, April 12, 2018: Finally, I got a chance to capture some of the color of the sky just as the sun was coming up. I painted one painting, and started a second one, but then it was too far into the morning — all of the color was gone. I would finish the second one the next day.

Oil painting of the sunrise at the south end of the bridge to St. George Island, Florida
First Light, St. George Island


Oil painting of the lighthouse on St. George Island, FL
St. George Light

Several of the artists offered demo’s or workshops throughout the week. On Thursday, Craig Reynolds demo’d the Lighthouse at the center of the island. I set up my easel to paint at the back of the class. I enjoyed the oh-so-subtle shadow wrapping around the right side of the white lighthouse.

Oil painting of the sunrise at the south end of the bridge to St. George Island, Florida
Sun-Up on St. George Island
Oil painting of the sunrise at the south end of the bridge to St. George Island, painted en plein air
Daybreak on St. George Island

Day 5, Friday, April 13, 2018: I finished my second sunrise from the previous day, and painted a third! I see neither the sunrise nor the sunset from my home, being surrounded by tall trees on the feeder creek to a bayou. Clearly I am thirsty for them. I predict some early morning walks on the beach in my future.

Oil painting in shades of yellow, of the lighthouse on St. george Island with blinding sunlight behind it
Seeing the Light

Friday was my birthday, and I can think of no better birthday present than to have spent this week painting on St. George Island! It defined happiness! Uncertain what to paint after the bright colors of sunrise, I drove to the center of the island, thinking I might do the street scene, but I looked up at the lighthouse and was blinded by the sun behind the lens and the catwalk railings. Why not give it a go, I thought. The resulting painting was definitely plein air but also was extremely expressive of my state of mind, without concern for the true color of the lighthouse but rather an attempt to show the blinding light. I was thrilled with the result. I have always been fairly disciplined in my plein air efforts, trying to be true to form and color, saving expressive painting for occasional studio works. This painting was for me a breath of fresh air.

Freshly inspired I drove back to the Plantation of St. George Island to again paint in the dunes area of Resort Village, but this time facing northward towards the developed area instead of south towards the beach. A path from the nearby houses in Resort Village passed through the wild on its way to the boardwalks to the beach. I set up my easel beside the path, my eye caught by two pines standing sentinel over the scrub. The late afternoon light was bright on the spring colors, and the shadows were casting beautiful blue-gray contours over the lay of the sand. Members of a family passed me a few times, and one, Carl, stopped and gave me his card when I was about to stop for the day, and he said, “I want that painting!” I told him it wasn’t finished yet, and he said that was OK, but he would be gone the next morning, to go ahead and finish it and to let him know when it was done. So I went to that evening’s Meet-and-Greet where I and Debby Brienen and Randy Brienen were the honored guests, and the next morning, Saturday, I finished “Carl’s Path”.

Oil painting of the landscape beside the path to the beach in Resort Village of the Plantation on St. George Island, FL
Carl’s Path

How can I sum this up? What a wonderful week! A mountain of thanks to Bunnie Ison and Buena Brown, and to my host and painting buddy Lynn Wilson, and to my resource person and Girl Friday, Barbara Iman, event judges Sandi Shaw, Pines and Palms Gallery, Thomasville, GA, and Ann Kozeliski, LeMoyne Arts, Tallahassee, FL, and to the Plantation of St. George Island, the visitor’s center, and the community supporters, and all the sponsors…

Community supporters:

St. George Island Paint Out Sponsors: