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The Ruins at Coba

I spent a week in Mexico in mid-December.  Ruins from ancient civilizations fascinate me, and the ruins at Coba were no exception.  A boy there drove our big tricycle-tour-carriage to one of the pyramids, Nohoch Mul, one of the few in Mexico that visitors are still allowed to climb.  Nohoch Mul is the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula, 138′.  At the top, you can see out over the Mexican jungle to other points breaking the treeline in the distance, which I presume are other pyramids.  There was a structure on the platform at the top, with a short doorway which was screened closed.  The walls inside were black, like many fires had been burned inside.  It felt spooky, and I wondered if sacrifices had been made there — maybe some spirits were still hanging around.

Our tricycle guide took us to some of the other structures, including a round temple-pyramid and a Mayan ballcourt.  After we finished our tour, we realized there was another, smaller ball court, near the entrance to the area.

I found the ballcourts to be particularly fascinating.  I could almost hear the cheering for the teams of players trying to pass a ball through the stone rings in the center of the sloped side-walls.  The game was played recreationally, but also ceremonially when it is thought that the captain of the losing team gave up his head.

One of the rings was broken at the second ball court, and its jagged edges and sharp shadow shapes intrigued me.

As often happens when I am first starting a painting, the initial paint-drawing frustrated me and I almost quit.  There was very little color to the ruins — just the black, white, and gray of the rocks and mortar.  But I didn’t want to make it a black-and-white painting.  Near-black, and gray can be made from many colors.  I wanted the areas lit by the sun to be warm, and the shadows cooler, so I chose an orange tint for the sunny rocks, and I used cobalt violet mixed with orange for the shadowed areas.  Where I needed it to be even cooler, I added a little viridian green.  The broken stone ring was the obvious focal point, being so very different from the planes and shapes of the rest of the structure.  To bring even more attention to it, I added a warmer gray to its shadows, with more orange.  The shadows cast from the ring are in sharp contrast to the sunlit area, as opposed to the shadows from the trees overhead, which have soft edges.

Most of my images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

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Laguna de Siete Colores Adventure

After completing the Artist’s Way Workshop led by Joyce Hogue at A.Wickey Gallery, I think I need to start over and really read every word of every chapter of the book.  There were so many times I would read something and think, Oh, yeah, that’s not really about me or my life, when really there is a lot more truth than I was comfortable admitting, descriptions of ways that I sabotage efforts to create art.  Most especially I realized that I am not exactly being truthful when I say I don’t have time to do my art.  I took a good look at how I spend my time, and I noticed that I seem to be able to take off on a 5- or 10-day adventure at the drop of a hat, so it is absolutely untrue that I do not have time — it’s merely that I have not been scheduling time for my art.


So this-coming year, I resolve to expand my definition of myself, this time as an artist, as well as an adventurer.  Oh, I’ve been calling myself an artist my whole life, but when I am honest, I realize that time-after-time-after-time, I have resisted when it comes to actually producing art.  Sometimes it is the inertia of couch-sitting that holds me back, sometimes it is thrill of unknown adventure that I would rather do, sometimes it is the attraction of friendship and companionship, and sometimes the aggravation of bills or work commitments, but I am realizing that just about any excuse not to produce art has resulted in greatly limiting my artistic output.  If I really want for my dream of being a full-time artist to come true, I will need to quit ignoring the call of the paint and to start producing finished works.

At the very least, I will have an additional 3 hours of empty time every week, when I have been attending the 12 sessions of the Artist’s Way Workshop. Last week one of the participants hosted a party for us all, at her house.  Our assignment was to make a small gift using a quote form the Artist’s Way book.  I made and framed a 3×3″ watercolor of an orange, above right, with the quote that “sometimes we shake the apple tree, and the universe delivers oranges.”  This quote is significant to me, in that so many times in my life, I may have had a wish, a dream, or set an intention, and events come to pass which meet and exceed that intention in ways very different from how I had imagined.

I missed class the week before, while I was in Mexico at a retreat called Laguna de Siete Colores, named for Laguna Bacalar, in the southern Yucatan.  I was there to shoot promotional photography for The Stand Up Paddle Radio Show and for Undertoe Mexico Stand Up Paddleboards, the producers of the retreat.  The paintings at left are all oil on canvas panel, and this series is from the sunrise at Tulum, our first morning in Mexico.  Sunrise is always inspirational, and the colors are so warm and bright in the first hour after sunrise, the “golden hour.”  I plan to paint many more from this adventure in Mexico.

My present intention is to review and refresh my skills with painting, since I have only just begun oil painting late this year, after about 30 years of making drawings and watercolor paintings.  My goal is to join up with the local group of plein air painters, who paint every Wednesday morning.  I am limiting my work on these practice paintings to only 2 hours at most, so that I develop a faster and looser style of painting, which is more practical for plein air painting, due to rapidly changing light and weather conditions.

I have found that my brushes are pretty sad, so I have ordered 4 new ones, and also a new tube of titanium white,and new oil painting medium to make my paints more workable and to help them all dry more quickly and with the same degree of gloss.  I’m still pretty stingy with the paint, not mixing big enough batches of each color, which is forcing me to remember which tubes I used and in what quantities in order to get each color.  So far the color mixing has come back to me fairly easily, and I very much appreciate the fact that oil paints dry pretty close to the same color that I mix, as opposed to watercolor paints, which always dry more muted and lighter in value than when they are wet.

I usually post photos of my paintings on Facebook on my Joan Vienot Art page as soon as I finish them.  The tern painting was very popular, selling the same day I posted it.  Contact me if you are interested in any of my paintings.  Since they largely are practice pieces, I am maintaining reasonable pricing.


Finished piece: Whispering Statue

Around one month ago, the Artist’s Way workshop assignment was to open a book, and select a two-word phrase, and make a piece of art out of it, or write a poem, or whatever mode of expression we chose.  When George Harrison did this, he wrote the song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” after seeing the phrase “gently weeps” in the first random book he picked up.  I didn’t actually open the first book I picked up, but instead selected the title of a Nancy Drew mystery, The Whispering Statue.  I selected for my inspiration a piece of concrete yard art in my own yard, a gift from a dear friend, a statue of St. Francis of Assisi.  Below is the progression of the painting.  The statue stands next to my birdbath.  Click on any of the images for a larger view.

Most of my images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot



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Opening the Floodgates

A good friend of mine is preparing to backpack the Appalachian Trial.  Last month, over the long weekend after Thanksgiving, I accompanied her on her “shakedown” trip where she tested a lot of her new gear and her cooking methodology.  We camped on her mountain property near Mount Pisgah, near Brevard, NC, Jane in her fancy Hennessey Hammock, and me in my REI quarter-dome tent.  Having backpacked through the Smokies and in New Hampshire, I know that much of any backpacking experience is consumed with ordinary survival — food, clothing, and shelter — and this trip was no exception, with nighttime temperatures in the low 20’s (F).  Jane cooked on a lightweight backpacker’s alcohol-fueled stove, and I had my minimalist pan support with dry Esbit fuel, to rehydrate and heat our dehydrated food and make tea.  But we weren’t that far away from town, so even though we were “roughing it”, our evening meals were accompanied by good wine.  Each evening we would go for another walk, as if our mountain trail hikes had not provided enough exercise for the day, and then we would talk in between handfuls of “gorp” for dessert (good old raisins and peanuts) before crawling into our sleeping bags for the night.

The mountain imagery was overwhelming.  Jane is a fine art photographer, so spending time with her doubled the opportunities for the mountain splendor to imprint on my soul.  If there is a simple purpose to producing one’s art or vision, it may simply be to point out the beauty/order/harmony we see and to share it with those who might not have noticed.  I learned a lot about the limitations and capabilities of my iPhone camera.

I came home with my head and heart overflowing with the mountain colors and shapes.  Having only recently begun my return to oil painting, I was surprised to find myself wide awake and compelled to paint at 4:00 the very next morning after we got back.  By compelled, I mean that there was no option not to paint — it felt like a dam would break if I didn’t get an image made.  This happened twice in that week following our adventure, forcing me to focus my sleepy eyes 2 hours earlier than my usual wake-up time.  I painted the 8×10″ canvas panel very quickly, finishing before showering and leaving to be on time for my day job.  Above are my paintings which of course contain the colors and memories of my experience more so than the photographic references below.

Most of my images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

Photo reference

Photo reference


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Sean Dietrich

Sean Dietrich, Artist

I own and mange a service business which has progressed to the point where I am now working primarily at a desk in an office, instead of in the field where I first began to love the trade I am in.  The office work is less than satisfying, and I take many short breaks to maintain maximum productivity and to keep from becoming an automaton.  I often run the newsfeed from Facebook in the background behind whatever I am working on.  Sometimes it is hours before I actually look at Facebook, but as fortune would have it, a few weeks ago one of my favorite local artists posted a photo of a freshly completed figure painting, and said something to the effect of “Free to a good home” for the first person to comment.  By the time I saw it, it had been posted for 15 minutes already, and no one had commented yet, so I pounced, “I want it!”  I picked it up that Saturday, and now I am the proud owner of my very own Sean Dietrich painting, the 18 x 24 oil on canvas posted above.

I was attracted to Sean’s work by the loose style of the small studies he had been posting on his Facebook page.  These smaller works were loose and gestural, but had a certain precision of color and form that made it obvious that years of practice preceded the apparent simplicity.  When I met him to pick up my painting, I said to him that his work looked like it only took him twenty minutes but I knew it took about 30 years.  He laughed, and said “True!”

Sean blogs and posts his work at