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A Painting and a Poem

Scraped Bald, 9×12 oils on canvas panel, $650. Click to purchase.

The assignment for next week’s class in a course* I presently am taking asked for a painting and a short poem inspired by the painting. I decided to paint a composite of the memory and too-many-photos from the summit of Cadillac Mountain when I visited last week for the first time since I moved to Maine. Cadillac is the tallest of the ancient mountains in Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island, Maine, and is about 30 minutes from my home. Present-day Mt. Desert Island is actually the bottom of the caldera of a huge volcano from 420 million years ago. The summit road just re-opened — it is closed during the winter. The weather was threatening when I visited, the wind howling and the clouds ominous. Even so, the sweetest spring flowers were blooming in the low thickets of scrub. It was fairly magical. I actually wrote two poems, because I didn’t absorb that the instruction was to write a short poem of just 3 or 4 lines. My too-long first poem is titled “Another Painting”.

Another Painting

It hardly seems fair, living for the better part of seven decades

A full life, fully living, in places where others slave and save just to visit.

Counting forty-two years on a beach in Florida, white sands, tropical colors,

And now, today, stepping lightly to leave no trace on this Maine mountaintop,

Stepping so carefully on hard-as-steel rock-hard rock.

The mountain requires respect.

Standing up in the back seat of this pink Cadillac, a strong wind stinging my cheeks,

Freezing fingers holding my coat closed.

My windy watering eyes might have seen a blurry family of porcupines

Waddling across a puddle below.

The corner turns for another vast view, more pink granite with gray weathering, 

The fading echo of volcanic rock being scraped by glacial ice through the eons, 

And now krummholz whistling over bluets and blooming blueberries,

Serviceberry, rhodora, lime-green replacing grayed sienna.

And then descending, traveling through a photo calendar, 

Forty-two becomes four hundred twenty, four hundred twenty million years 

To realize the dream of an ideal life,

This life, another life for me, this another place, this another time, another painting.

The first, longer poem was personal, my feelings and thoughts about living in this incredibly interesting and beautiful area by intention, creating the life I want, living where I want to paint. The second, shorter poem borrows some of the phrasing but has a different theme, the passage of time.

Springtime on the Mountain

Four hundred and twenty million years later, 

For the four hundred and twenty millionth time, 

The cycle begins again on this pink Cadillac of mountains;

Bluets and blueberry blooms, 

Shadbush and muted shadows of overcast spring light

Softening the edges of hard-as-steel rock-hard rock.

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* “Brain, Aging and Art”, Acadia Senior College, instructed by Armine Darbinyan, MD, Assistant Professor, Adj, Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Pathology, Neuropathology.

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Plein Air Season, Maine

Balance Rock, Bar Harbor 6×12 oil, $250

Finally, it is plein air season!

The 10,000 hours rule postulates that one cannot become truly proficient at a study or skill until they have spent a lot of time at it – the “10,000 hours rule”. Now that the weather is warm here on the coast of Maine and I am comfortably able to be painting outdoors, I have 5 hours down and 9,995 to go, on my mission of learning to paint the rocky coastline. 

There are winter plein air painters, but I think I might be just a fair weather painter. Much of my time outdoors this past winter in Maine, my first winter, was spent scouting out scenic locations and taking reference photos to document places I might want to paint. I probably can count that towards my 10,000 hours, since observation is key.

While I could have been using my photos as reference for painting rocks all winter, I have discovered that most of my motivation to paint comes from spending time with my actual subject rather than just using a photo of my subject. Beyond the initial attraction, it is by being present with it that I fall in love with it and want to paint the excitement I feel. Painting en plein air and drawing from life give me that direct connection to what I can only describe as the spirit of the imagery. I lose track of time and self-awareness (if the bugs are cooperating); that is when it is easier to pass into the state of consciousness where there is no separation of existence.

Intertidal Calm 6×12 oil, $250

Last week the weather turned shirtsleeve-warm. I invited a couple of other plein air artists to paint with me at the part of Acadia National Park that is closest to my apartment, Thompson Island, the gateway to Mt. Desert Island. The painting above was painted en plein air.

The next day I went to the same location again by myself, this time trying to paint the rocks using just a palette knife. Some paintings you keep, and some paintings you scrape off and salvage the canvas, and that’s all I will say about that.

And the painting at the top of the page and at left was painted a few days later, with a rapidly rising tide requiring two relocations of my easel further up the shore. There are countless glacial erratics on Mt. Desert Island, rocks transported some distance by glacial activity 16,000 years ago during the last Ice Age. Balance Rock is of particular note because of its prominence on the shoreline. It was part of a granite rock formation some 25 miles north, quite obviously a different composition than the sandstone ledge it is balanced on.

Balance Rock, Bar Harbor, 6×12 oil, $250

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From my sketchbook

On cold weather days I am practicing sketching rocks from the many photos I have taken. I’m learning to simplify, especially the myriad of surface textures. 

Rocks need to be described through the planes of the surface. When painting them, I will have to be very sparing if I paint textures at all. I made the mistake of trying to paint the textures with a palette knife, last wek. After several hours and copious amounts of paint, I ended up scraping it all off, to salvage the canvas from the resulting mess. I’ll spare you that photo!

Shoreboats 6×12 oil, $375

Presently I am exhibiting two works in the Acadia Senior College Members Exhibit, including the new painting above, “Shoreboats”, painted after a visit to one of the working docks I found when I first moved here last fall.

Also The Gardener, at right, was accepted into the Bangor Art Society’s juried member exhibition. The Gardener was created during the time warp at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Our world had ground to a halt with a nationwide “shutdown” and my group plein air painting activities had ceased. So my friend Serena Robison, who supplies many local retail florists from her huge garden, invited me to paint there, a welcome respite from the forced isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic. At the back you see sweet Serena, tending her garden. This is one of my most favorite paintings.

The Gardner, 11×14, $750

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The pandemic made me realize how just valuable newsletters and web-based platforms can be. Last month I volunteered to help out with the local arts organization’s website here where I live in Maine, helping to create a Member Artists page and an Exhibits page for their website. I am most proud of the virtual exhibit / slide show I made after our most recent Members Exhibit, for people who were unable to see it in person: Spring, Sprang, Sprung

Moving Forward with Plein Air

A loose-knit group of plein air painters in the area communicate largely through text threads, but being new, I am not yet very-well-known here. So I also opened a group on Facebook for plein air painters interested in joining up with each other to paint here. It is called Plein Air MDI, Blue Hill, and Region. You are welcome to view it, though it is in its incipient stages, and most painters seem to be waiting for consistently warm weather.

I look forward to sharing more with you, now that I am outdoors painting again.

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Too Much Beauty

Can there be such a thing as too much beauty? I find myself overwhelmed by the scenic landscape here on the coast Maine. I can’t seem to get my fill of it. I’ve been doing a lot of staring, agog, and whenever I remember that I have a camera, I get lost shooting too many pictures. 

The weather is beginning to warm now that the spring equinox has passed, and I am anticipating painting plein air. But I think I will need to detach from the beauty in order to sketch or paint it. You’d think I could just paint from my gazillions of photos, but my art spirit seems to need the memories and impressions one gains only through the experience of painting on site.

So what have I been doing to fill up the long winter, you may ask. I’ve been going to scenic locations to hike or to shoot photos two or three times a week, making sketches of rocky formations, painting practice-studies from photos, and doing color and value exercises, and I am working my way through Scott Christensen’s online “Adventure of Painting” course. Plus I attend weekly 3-hour figure drawing sessions at the local art center. I was invited to speak about figure drawing there at the monthly salon meeting a couple of weeks ago. I showed examples and talked about how it helps me with putting figures in my paintings, especially when I am commissioned to paint live at events like weddings.

The art center is exhibiting members’ work at the library in Southwest Harbor now, a show titled “Spring, Sprang, Sprung”. I offered a few of my florals in celebration of Spring, and a new one I call “Facing the Sun”. 

Facing the Sun, oil on 12×6 canvas panel

Here is a quick slideshow of 17 of my scenic photos from this past winter in Maine. Enjoy!

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I’ve Moved to Maine!

Completely upending my life, I’ve moved to Maine, an area of the country where I know no one nearby and the weather is hostile for at least half of the year, and I am so thrilled to be here! The beauty of the area makes up for any perceived obstacles.

My mission is to paint the rocky coastline. The contrast between the hard, seemingly immovable rocky shore, and the fluidity of the ocean is a visual dynamic that excites me as an artist and easily extends to metaphors for life and spirituality.

I’ve been exploring the area while waiting for my furniture to travel the 1600 miles from my previous home of 42 years in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, to Trenton, Maine, where I have rented an apartment. Most of my explorations have been to the local big box stores for essentials like food, doormats (it rains a lot here), shower curtains, shelf liner, and such, the latter all nicely packed in who knows which box in the moving truck.

Shoreline at Bass Harbor Head Light

My trip to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to register my car in Maine was thwarted by my title being on the moving van instead of in the packet of important papers I brought with me. I remembered my cat Rafiki’s rabies vaccination certificate, but not my car title! Other efforts to become a legitimate Mainer were similarly blocked by not having enough documentation. No worries, they give you 30 days to make those changes.

I did buy an outdoor porch chair, which I am using in my living room until my furniture gets here — my campstools just weren’t adequate for lengthy sitting at the computer on rainy and foggy days when I’ve stayed home. I’ll be out and about in less than ideal weather soon enough, but I’d rather not right now when not knowing exactly where I’m going is complication enough.

On Thursday of this week, a very pretty day, I made it over to the lighthouse at Bass Harbor Head, pictured at left. I stayed there a good while, just drinking it in, and shooting a few photos.

While on that jaunt, I also found the ArtWaves Community Art Center, which I had joined earlier this year. I happened in on their figure drawing session, an art activity that I feel is an indicator of the sophistication of the artists in an area, figure drawing being such a difficult and humbling practice. I met Liz Cutler, prior Executive Director for this nonprofit, who was very welcoming and offered me supplies and a drawing board if I wanted to join them. I had dressed for outdoor weather, so I will join them another week. But I instantly felt at home, and Liz’s welcome confirmed my expectation that wherever I move, when I find artists, I immediately have community.

I also found the sweetest country store, Town Hill Market, open M-F through the winter, and Saturdays too in the summer. I picked up two pieces of fresh-made pizza and some delicious candied ginger, yum! Best of all, it’s only 12 minutes from my home in Trenton and just a short walk from ArtWaves!

These places are on Mount Desert Island, with Bar Harbor as their address.

On my return, I turned at the sign for the Bass Harbor Terminal for the ferry to Swan’s Island, but I was distracted by the visuals of a nearby dock piled high with lobster traps hauled in for the season. The Ferry Terminal will still be there next time I go to that side of Mount Desert Island. Maybe I will ride it over just for the fun of it, a 45-minute schedule interval, $12.50 for off-season walk-on.

I was entertained by a local selling a small outboard boat. Pushing it into the water for the buyer to try it out, he got it stuck on “the only rock on the beach for it to ‘fetch’ on”. I’ve added that to my new vocabulary list.

Since I had been passing signs all afternoon saying “Entrance Pass Must Be Displayed”, I thought I had better go see what that entailed. No one from the park service had ticketed me, but I figured it was just a matter of time.

I made my way to the Hull’s Cove Visitor Center for Acadia National Park, walked up the 52 steps from the parking lot (they warn you), and met the nicest ranger who explained that my National Parks Senior Pass was all I needed, and he gave me a plastic hanger to mount it in so I could hang it on my mirror. While there, I bought a book on the geology of Mount Desert Island — might as well try to learn a little something about the rocks I will be painting!

Only two more days before I get my furniture! Silly me, ever the optimist, I thought the movers would come at the beginning of the time-window they gave, and certainly by the end of it, which was yesterday! I am a good camper, but I didn’t pack for what has turned out to be an 11-day adventure!

I must say I’ve rather enjoyed the peace and quiet of this transition though, sort of a monastic existence, without TV and creature comforts, and with the jaw-dropping gorgeousness of the National Park only minutes away. Even so, I am not inclined to get out much during weathery days. I actually love solitude, and have enjoyed my little private forays around the apartment complex, especially the well-groomed 1-mile nature trail right here on the complex property. The video at left shows a view from the trail, a pretty creek resulting from a gully-washer of a rainstorm last Sunday.

And what am I reading? More Than Meets the Eye — Exploring Nature and Loss on the Coast of Maine, by Margie Patlak.

Stay tuned for art yet to be made!

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Onward to Maine? Hurry Up and Wait

In March 2022 I returned to Florida from my two-month winter adventure in Maine, and started checking off items on my catch-up list.

But three weeks after my return, while innocently crossing the parking lot at the grocery store, I felt something pop at the back of my “good” knee. My orthopedist gave me the bad news: I had torn loose my medial meniscus root. My only guess is that it had just been hanging on by a thread. If I didn’t have it repaired, I would need a new knee inside of a year. He scheduled surgery to repair it. Argh! What a shock to my charmed life! I have run into obstacles before, but being non-weight-bearing turned out to be Full Stop for me. (Picture me bumping around backwards seated on a rolling walker for 6 weeks.) Stuck in my second-floor apartment, and having to stand on only one leg to do anything made a chore of everything and it made Joan quite the dull girl. Following that adventure, rehabilitation has felt like an eternity. I am out of the brace and have finished my work with the physical therapist, and am now working on strength and endurance, and slowly rebuilding cardio by swimming, because I am not yet walking very fast. Hopefully I soon will have a more even gait and able to stand for longer periods of time so that I can return to painting outdoors.

This drama delayed my plans. Instead of early summer, my move to Downeast Maine now will be in mid-October. I never really adapted to being laid up, staying disgruntled most of the time. I kept my dream alive by reviewing my hundreds of photos, and drooling over other artists’ rocky shoreline paintings on Instagram. Now finally, I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, able to stand for short periods, and I have started boxing things up. The first things to be packed, and happily, were my crutches, cane, walker, compression wraps, and my elevated toilet seat! Those will go in the far back corner of the basement in the duplex apartment I will be renting. And as of yesterday, except for what is actually on my walls, all of my loose paintings are carefully packed and ready for the movers, including my collection of other artists’ work. This week I hope to get started on my storage unit.

I thought I would post photos of a few studies I painted a year ago at an artists retreat hosted by Mary Erickson in Port Clyde, Maine. I have these hanging in my “visioning corner” in my dining nook along with the works in my last blog post.

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Port Clyde, Maine, 6×12
View from Eight Bells, Port Clyde, Maine, 9×12 oils
Cove at Artists Retreat, Port Clyde, Maine, 9×12 oils
Leeward Lean, Port Clyde, Maine, 6×12 oils
Pond Rocks Study, Port Clyde, Maine, 8×10 oils
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Winter in Maine: Testing My Cold-Weather Tolerance

Correction: If you are following the link in the 8/20/22 newsletter, please continue reading at Onward to Maine? Hurry Up and Wait.

Before making a firm decision to move to the Northeast to learn to paint the rocky shoreline, I decided to test my tolerance for the winter weather by living there for a couple of months. So I found a rental in South Portland, Maine, and on this past New Years Eve I started my drive north with my cat and some art supplies. For the most part my winter gear was perfect for my sightseeing and adventuring, thanks to new insulation technology. I think my coldest venturing was around 0°F, with a wind chill of 15 below. I did need to buy some different hiking shoes – “Arctic Grip” soles are a prerequisite for safely traversing trails any amount of snow or minimal ice. My “Yak-Trax” worked well for more seriously icy walks. But my fingers nearly froze during the three seconds I would unglove in order to shoot a photo with my iPhone. Chemical hand warmers inside my mittens just couldn’t re-warm my fingers fast enough. So I broke down and bought some rechargeable electric gloves — Best. Invention. Ever. for cold-weather photography. My raingear and snow pants did well to block the wind, which was fairly constant at the shore. There were some days that it might have been warm enough to paint outdoors, but hauling my gear up and down 2 flights of stairs wasn’t something I relished, so I painted from memory and from reference photos when I got back indoors.

My experience was fairly tame, since it was a mild winter in a very civilized city. There was only one true Nor’easter and just a few storms with freezing rain. I would guess around two feet of snow fell over the two months I was there but my host did all the shoveling and snow-blowing, and the city was immediate in plowing and salting the roads.

My exploring took me as far northeast as Schoodic Point, Acadia National Park, and south to Cape Ann and Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

The area around Acadia National Park has every kind and color of rock and all of the ocean drama that I want to learn to paint. Most certainly cities have more cultural opportunities and events, but for my goal of learning to paint the rocky shoreline, it is better to be closer to my subject. I can always make day trips to the art museums in Rockland, Portland, and Boston. I anticipate that I will be more inconvenienced by the winter weather than I was in South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, but I don’t think it will be unmanageable. To be frank, the tourist season may be more of an aggravation to me than the weather. A friend of mine says our lives are ruled by the availability of parking!

And now I am back in Florida, waiting for a callback from the apartment complex where I will be renting when I move to Maine. I expect to be making the move sometime around mid-summer. I will be taking my paddle board and my canoe, but I am starting to pare down my other belongings, including my piles of paintings and drawings. Stay tuned, if you are following my Facebook page — I may be posting some amazing bargains and some freebies!

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Adjust, Adapt, Accommodate – Again

My life began taking a radical turn in a new direction a year ago while I was taking a course mentored by Dr. Michelle Gordon. The misfortune of having my official “launch” as a serious artist foiled by the pandemic in 2020 had stalled me, and Dr. Gordon’s program proved to be a good reset. The segment on healthy thinking included a fun exercise, visualizing my ideal day. I knew where this was going to go — if I could picture my ideal day, then I could start living it now, at least the parts that could immediately be put into action!

I pictured living in a grand house on a grassy cliff with giant windows looking out to sea. The view from the side windows would be the rocky cliffs receding into the distance. There would be a path down to the beach so I could easily transport my plein air painting supplies on my electric cart. The gorgeous scenery would provide infinite inspiration. Art exhibits, live theater and the symphony would be in town a mere 10 or 20 minutes away, and my daily routine would include a walk on a trail near the road. Evenings would be filled with laughter and camaraderie of small gatherings of fellow creatives sharing dinner with me, the meal prepared by my award-winning chef of course. To cement the visualization, I got out a slatted, cradled wood panel that I had picked up on a whim, and I painted the imaginary view from my house looking out to sea, and a few weeks later I painted the view I was visualizing through the side window, the receding line of cliffs. Without my knowing it, the mysterious wheels of change were already starting to turn, as I was being pulled towards my visualization. On one of my walks near my home in Northwest Florida I even caught myself experiencing the happiness of being in that ideal place — one part of my road actually was lined with the same type of grasses I imagined would be on the path through the grassy cliff!

Visualizing my ideal home: “View from the Grassy Cliff”
Visualizing my ideal home: “Side View from the Grassy Cliff”

I had no idea where this coastal cliff might be, but that detail did not matter. What would be fulfilling to me was to be in an area of exciting, endless inspiration to paint. After living for 40 years on the beautiful but flat Emerald Coast, I hungered for more dramatic landscape, scenes with a lot of angles and contrast; water crashing on sharp rocks would fit the bill. I spent a lot of time looking at the US coastline on Google Maps, looking for rocky shores with easy access, and then image-searching those areas. Northern California is supremely beautiful, as is the Pacific Northwest. But then I looked at other factors, like climate, wildfire and wind. I have vacationed on the jaw-droppingly beautiful coasts of Maine and Nova Scotia, so I started thinking more and more about New England, even though the winter might be unappealing.

Meanwhile, back to reality… A dearly departed friend used to say, “When uncertain, chop wood and carry water.” In other words, maintain routine, do your chores. For me, the chores that needed doing were necessary repairs on my house, postponed until I retired from my non-art career, and now it was time to take care of them. So, with the experienced guidance and support of my real estate friends Kim and Keen, I repaired and renovated my house and my studio and had the slightly wild-looking yard cleaned up. My contractors re-shaped the trees, graveled the driveway and carport, installed a water feature for my geothermal heat-pump, and replaced a few aging appliances. Kim and Keen then sold my house for me and my dream became a possibility.

That dream has evolved — I would like to spend the next productive part of my life learning to paint gorgeous scenery in different parts of the country — first maybe two years on the rocky coastline in New England, and then maybe a couple of years painting the spires and arches around Moab, and then possibly northern California or the Pacific Northwest, and perhaps down around Sedona or north to Glacier National Park, just letting my heart call me to the next beautiful place to paint. Or I could fall in love with the first area I go and decide to put down roots, who knows! Colorado will always be home because my family lives there, and I grew up there.

And now, just one year after visualizing my ideal life, here I am, in Maine. Actually I am here for only two months, January and February, to test my tolerance for the worst of the winter weather before I commit to moving here, and to do recon on longterm rentals. I’ve been staying in South Portland, Maine, for the month of January, exploring the scenic coast here and enjoying a little of what this sweet area has to offer. If you follow me on my personal Facebook Page, you know that I have not found winter to be a deal-breaker. February will include a widening of my circles as I look for longterm rental options. Next week I will drive up to Acadia National Park. At the end of February, I will return to my apartment in Florida to gather up my life. On the way home I will look at the coast of New Hampshire and then Cape Ann in Massachusetts.

Stay tuned to follow my adventures in this giant, intentional upheaval of my life.

And, if you have a home on a grassy cliff overlooking the sea somewhere, I would be happy to discuss house-sitting for you, if my cat Rafiki approves!

Photo of Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Rafiki

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Making Art During a Pandemic

…for the prospect of an exhibit at Anne Hunter Galleries in Seaside, Florida in the spring of 2020 gave way to floundering aimlessly for a while. Did you get the COVID-Blues? I sure did!

Initially my world was turned upside-down by the abrupt closure of my just-opened exhibit and the resulting kibosh on my art marketing strategy. And then the nightly news turned ghastly, and I became a victim of what has been called “doom-scrolling” on my phone, hopping from one awful news story to the next, constantly searching for true assessments of how bad it all really was, a sure-fire way to kill your muse. My routines were disrupted completely. In a desperate attempt at regaining control over something, anything, in my life, I started having my morning coffee and doing my morning readings and meditation downstairs in my studio instead of in my quiet room. At least that got me into the studio every day. It was a start!

I have partnered with fellow-artist and friend Cheryl Ploegstra for monthly accountability progress reports on art production and goals. That helps a lot with pandemic survival – it requires a little bit of record-keeping, and record-keeping proves to me that I am not really floundering — I actually am producing a good deal of work. Sales are slow, so I am grateful to have completed a few commissions. I’ll show you a couple, later on in this post.

I’m using my more plentiful free time to to refresh my painting and drawing skills. And I continue to step outside of my comfort zone by learning new media. The illuminated letter “E” at the beginning of this post is one such effort, in which I learned how to apply gold leaf in a workshop taught by fellow local artist Elia Saxer, and I received an introduction to water-miscible oil paints in a workshop taught by Patti Overholt. Below are samples of those media.

Water-Miscible Oils Workshop taught by Patti Overholt at Artful Things in Niceville, FL.
It works pretty much like solvent-soluble oils, but requires a different medium. Brush cleaning is a breeze!
The Illuminated Letter (gold leaf) Workshop taught by Elia Saxer at Artful Things in Niceville, FL

Palette-knife painting is a technique of applying paint which I don’t use very often, so I have been practicing on a few pieces. Below are some recent efforts using a palette knife, that I completed at one of my weekly plein air group sessions.

Kayaker, 6×6 oils on hardboard, painted en plein air using palette knife (click for larger version)
Heron, 6×6 oils on hardboard, painted en plein air using palette knife (click for larger version)
Gulf Coast Lupine, 11×14 oils on canvas panel, using palette knife and brushes (click for larger version)

Being grateful helps to ward off what I call the COVID-Blues. One large gratitude I have is for social media — I use it to stay inspired and to share my own work. I find Instant refreshment in the steady stream of awe-inspiring work from the artists I follow on Instagram. My account on Instagram is @JoanVienotArt. It includes my weekly plein air work, other paintings, commissions, demo’s, and workshop efforts. Posts on my Instagram account also post to my Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/JoanVienotArt/. Take a look — I’ve been busy!

Commissions, yes, commissions! I will paint the scene in person at your event. You can find more information about my live event painting on my Weddings page, 30AWeddingPainter.com. Two months ago I painted at a garden party / birthday party, pictured below. The optimal lighting happened right after the sun went down, when there was enough contrast for the decoration lights to really begin to glow while the brilliant colors of late daylight still bathed the scene. Because the lighting effect was momentary, I ended up completing some of this painting over the next few weeks in the studio. This one was so much fun. Even the drink glasses had lights in them!

Denise’s Birthday Party, 20×24 oils on gallery-wrapped canvas
Fearless Girl and Charging Bull, Joan Vienot, 16×20 oils on canvas panel,
from a photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency and licensed for my use by Getty Images.

The piece pictured above was commissioned by my friend and retirement manger Shelley Albarado. It was based on a photo of the famous Fearless Girl and Charging Bull sculptures on Wall Street, as photographed by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images. I did not paint an exact copy, but it certainly is obvious as derivative. I felt the people standing behind the bull in the photo did not contribute to the effect I wanted, so I re-composed it without them. I noted in the caption that I had purchased from Getty Images a license to use this image. That’s important to me, to always acknowledge and have the express permission of the photographer if I am using someone else’s image. After all, photographers are artists. I know that it takes a long time for a photographer to get the composition and lighting exactly right, and then to do the post-processing to enhance and improve the image. My preference is to shoot the photo myself if I am going to use reference photos, so that I have made all of the decisions about the composition, and have a memory of the atmosphere of the scene. But that would have entailed a trip into the past, because the Fearless Girl has been moved to another location.

One of the cartoons during this pandemic shows an artist at work, contrasted with an artist at work during a pandemic, and the two cartoon frames are identical. If only that were the case. Personally, I struggle to keep my spirits up. So much sickness and death! In my state alone the total number of deaths is 2½ times the number of people killed in 9/11. My hope is that I never become numb to this tragedy. If I were to become numb, then I would have to hang up my paintbrushes. As an artist, I feel it is imperative that I stay in touch with all of my feelings so that the art I produce does not become superficial. I wish health and safety for everyone reading this, and comfort in our losses.

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Announcing My New Art Newsletter

Hello to my long-time readers!

This post is for everyone who has subscribed to my blog updates through the WordPress RSS feed over the years. (If you’re subscribed, it means that this blog automatically sends you an email each time I make a new post; it should be coming from “noreply+feedproxy@google.com” and look something like the screenshot below).

Over the last few months, I’ve taken some time to update and expand my website’s newsletter. As a result, I’m changing subscription providers. If you have been receiving email notices of new blog posts from “noreply+feedproxy@google.com” and want to continue to receive updates, you will need to subscribe to my new newsletter using the form below.

New Art Newsletter

I’ll be sending an email every month or so with blog posts from my site and the occasional show or art news update. I’m also offering all of my new subscribers a free download of my work “Grayton Fog.” This is a high-resolution image suitable for printing. I recommend ordering a print at your local print shop that you can display in your home or rental property. You can also use it as a digital wallpaper on your computer or phone.

Sign up to receive a free download of my work “Grayton Fog”

I regret the inconvenience of asking you to sign up a second time; unfortunately there is no way for me to access the database collected by the RSS feed. As a result, you may receive duplicate emails if you were signed up for the RSS feed and now enroll in my new newsletter. I cannot remove you from the RSS feed emails, but you can easily remove yourself. See instructions at the end of this blog post if this applies to you.

Welcome to all new subscribers, and thank you to my long-time readers for continuing to follow my journey.


Receiving duplicate emails? Here’s how to fix that.

If you’re receiving 2 emails each time I publish a new blog, it means you’re on both the new and old newsletter lists. Unfortunately, I can’t remove you from the old list myself – but it is easy for you to remove yourself from that old list. First, identify which email sent from the “old list.” It will be sending from noreply+feedproxy@google.com and look something like the screenshot below.

Scroll to the very bottom of the email. You’ll see the following text:

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Click the “unsubscribe now” link.

You’ll be taken to the following FeedBurner page to confirm your choice. Click “Yes, unsubscribe me now.”

That’s it! Please contact me if you have any questions or issues with the process.

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Artist Retreat – A Recipe for Success

I have just returned from a weeklong artist retreat I shared with three friends at High Ridge Gardens near Charlotte, North Carolina. It was wonderful!

Several years ago I attended a talk by master artist Mary Erickson, and she had mentioned that artists are welcome to stay in the guest house on her large acreage near Charlotte, North Carolina. For a long time I had thought about going by myself for a week, having in the past taken marvelously inspiring and productive solo “art-vacations” in Nova Scotia and in Maine. I ended up inviting three artists to come with me to North Carolina for a week, three women for whom I have great respect as goal-driven emerging artists and as caring, sharing people: Brenda Osborne, Heather Clements, and Brenda Pinnick.

The first day, arrival at our artist retreat: Brenda O., Joan, Heather, and Sally the Goat. Heather’s photo.

Last fall Heather wrote about a solo residency that she gave herself in the mountains of North Georgia. Her personal creativity had dried up when a series of losses occurred in her life, beginning with Hurricane Michael in October, 2018, which devastated her community, damaging every single home, many beyond repair, and mowing down almost all of the mighty oaks in her neighborhood, one crashing into her house. Since the storm and until her trip last fall, Heather had been making a living teaching workshops and classes. Her trip last fall jump-started her personal production of art again. Reading it, I thought about inviting her to come with me on my artist retreat in North Carolina.

I had met Heather Clements many years ago. My fast-growing pool service business had my nose to the grindstone. The recession of 2007 brought that fast growth to a screeching halt, and that gave me time to look up and see what else was going on. I found out that Colleen Duffley was offering weekly Wednesday evening figure drawing sessions at her gallery, Studio B, in Alys Beach, Florida. Colleen invited Heather Clements to instruct the participants. Life drawing was one of my two areas of emphasis for my art degree, and I was thrilled for the opportunity to dust off my pencils, and to be guided by someone with as much command of the figure as Heather has.

I met Brenda Pinnick when I gave myself a trip to New Zealand to celebrate my retirement. Plein Air Magazine offers an annual Publisher’s Invitational trip overseas to tour, paint, and to experience the culture and cuisine, and in 2017 the destination was New Zealand. I think I only talked to Brenda a few times on that trip, but since then I have followed her on Facebook. She is incredibly productive, a wonderful plein air painter, her work easily competitive with some of the better artists I’ve seen. Brenda completed an artist residency for Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Alliance last fall.

Of the three, I probably know Brenda Osborne the best. Brenda served as the chair of our committee that arranged member art exhibitions for the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County where I live, and she also was the office manager for my business. A couple of years ago, shortly after I sold the business, Brenda sold me her car and took off sailing the eastern seaboard with her husband and her art supplies. Plein Air Magazine online wrote a story about her (https://www.outdoorpainter.com/itinerant-painter-on-the-waves/). Over the past year we have been getting together every month or two for progress reports as we work on our art goals.

So these three self-motivated and residency-experienced artists came to mind when I thought about including others on this artist retreat. Being self-motivated and residency-experienced turned out to be the recipe for success for our artist retreat.

I had had a busy year. I was the artist-in-residence for the 2019 Forgotten Coast en Plein Air last spring, one of the highlights of my life so far, combining my love of nature and natural science with my love of painting. I poured a lot of energy into it, so it was an intense endeavor, and highly rewarding. For the rest of the year, I worked on a theme of clouds and waves, my first effort at painting large canvases in studio, in preparation for a solo exhibit of 20 paintings this-coming spring. The trip to North Carolina was to be a concentrated break away from home, my personal intention being to paint en plein air (outdoors, in open air) the whole time I was there. 

When I invited the two Brendas and Heather, the only structure I suggested was for each person to be in charge of a couple of dinners, with breakfast and lunch on our own, and that we would review and critique each other’s work after dinner each night. I left it to everyone to decide how much and what and when and where they wanted to paint or study or just relax. Mary’s sitting room has a whole wall full of art books from floor to ceiling, and the house has numerous paintings of her own and also by other wonderful artists, so there was plenty to study indoors too. Outdoors there were birds everywhere, and Mary has several feeders near the house which bring the birds close. I loved watching the birds, especially the male cardinals with their flashy red feathers contrasted against the golds and tinted grays of winter. A short walk past the pond and up the hill, there were two horses, Cherokee and Angel, and Sally the goat. Inspiration was plentiful. And if that wasn’t enough, the surrounding countryside and town nearby provided scenic charm. Plus Mary opened her studio to us, which allowed for more controlled study and also was a respite from occasional weather challenges. The furthest we ventured was to the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge, about 20 miles from the house.

As it turned out, our artist retreat was more pleasantly social than I had envisioned. We all were early risers so we shared coffee time in the morning, and we bumped into each other throughout the day, sometimes sharing rides on a 4-wheeled cart called a Gator. Great conversations with a whole lot of laughter and an occasional tear, delicious food, and a shared motivation to become better artists, made for a wonderful, largely unstructured week of growth. Leaving the husbands at home probably increased our art production by at least double.

Mary Erickson offers her guesthouse through Airbnb (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/29588179?s=67&shared_item_type=1&virality_entry_point=1&sharer_id=59163127) for $50 per person per night, plus fees. But for artists she offers it in exchange for donations, and the suggested donation is only $25 per person per night, plus the cleaning fee. To reach her for this donation rate, go to her website (http://www.maryericksonart.com) and go to her “Contact” page. For more information on the property or to make a donation to support her offering the property as an artist retreat and bird sanctuary, go to http://highridgegardens.org.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so enjoy these I am posting of the grounds and of each artists study, many of them sketches or incomplete works in progress. Message me if you are interested in owning any of the artists’ paintings shown here.

Heather posted about our adventures and created a video of the grounds with a snippet of her working, as well as writing about the experience, on her Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/posts/33153770?fbclid=IwAR2naGDG8GT9trnuDMO8bOtZSB1PxTBxlsrDEsyIUWH06LYNqUSHT2eyAyc. (I have a cameo appearance in which my scowl makes plein air painting look much less fun than it actually is, ha!)

Below are some photos of us and the farm.


Brenda Osborne worked on a couple of exercises in John Pototschnik’s book on mixing color in oils, as well as painting en plein air. Brenda Osborne’s website is https://brendaosborneart.com.


Brenda Pinnick painted on property and also ventured out into the nearby community. Brenda Pinnick’s website is https://brendapinnick.com. She used oil paint.


Heather practiced drawing and watercolor on this trip. Heather Clements’ website is https://www.heatherclementsart.com


I suffered from over-choice, so many beautiful and interesting scenes on the farm. It was greener than I had expected, and the weather was mostly good, so I never got the snow scene I was hoping for. But we did have some nice, atmospheric, gray days. These are my oil paintings, all but one painted on the property at High Ridge Gardens. This page, of course, is my website, https://joanvienot.com.

As an artist, there is something different about being away from home that makes it worth missing one’s cats, dog, and family. Being away for short periods allows for concentrated focus. At High Ridge Gardens, it helped that the house had no TV. Whether solo or with others, I am convinced that an artist retreat gives me a little catapult forward in my journey as an artist. Many thanks to Mary Erickson for offering her beautiful property for such an affordable suggested donation!