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The Setting Sun – Working From Photo References

Oil painting of the Gulf of Mexico at Sunset, with oranges reflected on the emerald green sea
Oil painting of the Gulf of Mexico shoreline, with people silhouetted against the purple and peach-colored sunset
Oil painting of sea oats silhouetted against burnt-orange clouds over the Gulf of Mexico at sunset

Painting a sunset, during a sunset, would be very difficult because the light changes so fast.  But the subject begs to be captured on canvas.  Since the weather was chilly this weekend, and it was warm and cozy inside my studio, I decided to take a few stabs at it using photographs I have on my camera phone.  Photo references are not ideal for making a painting, because the camera does not catch everything the eye can see, and the camera certainly does not capture the sound of the waves, the warmth of the evening sun, the changing patterns of the waves, and the shifting latticework of shadows and light.  So I rely mostly on my sensory memories of the experience, some going right to the core of my own being, reflecting whatever might have been challenging me that day, whether work-issues, relationships, or even the existential questions of existence itself.

I have painted many a sky using watercolor, where the happy accidents often end up being exactly the right shape, color, and mood.  Oil painting is so much more deliberate, that I found myself questioning whatever made me think I could be a painter.  Plein air painting has allowed me to develop a much looser, impressionistic style, so I expected more immediate success with my sunset skies.  It took more time than I thought it would.  I can see that I need to practice more, if the sky is to be the subject and the focus of the painting.

The most elementary and powerful form of defining shapes is through silhouette, which sunsets encourage.  My first attempt does not have any foreground shapes other than the beach itself, and I think the next two are much more interesting because of the silhouettes of the figures in the middle ground of the second one and the sea oats in the last one.


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Winter Solstice, Deja Vu, Beginning Again

2013-1220 Labyrinth

Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, the day in the northern hemisphere when daylight is shortest, exactly one full year after the ancient Mayan calendar rolled over and began a new cycle.  2013 has been a new beginning for me, a year when I have manifested my decision to start plein air painting, and to become a full-time artist at least two days a week by the end of the year.  I cannot say that my two-days-a-week of being a full-time artist are 48 hours in a row, but rather, a few hours here and a few hours there over the course of the week, but most certainly taking up at least 16 “work time” hours.  Not all of it is actually the production of artworks;  some of it is framing and presentation, of course blogging, Facebook networking and looking at other artists’ works and art news, studying, taking a workshop, supporting the arts by attending openings and events locally, and giving art instruction.  Another significant part is the nourishment of my spirit, which I have come to realize is closely tied to my life as an artist, and must be factored in as a necessary investment of my time.  As I become aware of various energies and energetic systems, I find my senses heightened, and my creative energy has become more of a compulsion, so that I don’t just WANT to create, I MUST create.  My joy has multiplied exponentially.

I celebrated the Winter Solstice yesterday with a group of dear friends who share a commonality of spirit.  First we had breakfast at my house – cantaloupe, pineapple,cheese, croissants, and coffee and hot tea – with stimulating conversation punctuated by a visit from a young man who said his name was Ryan, who seemed to appreciate our conversation but wouldn’t have anything to eat.  He did say it was refreshing to be treated nicely.  He gave us some literature from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  His visit was limited by our plans to meet another dear friend at a labyrinth nearby, our intention to be walking it at the exact moment of Solstice, which was 11:11 AM Central Standard Time.  The labyrinth is on private property in a gated community, and we had received permission to use it.

After Leslie read us an invocation to set Sacred Space, Caroling began her walk, and after a respectful distance each of us followed — Maddie, Mary, Eda, Leslie, and myself.  This labyrinth meanders in a complex, continuous path from the outside to the center, with 11 circuits through four quadrants of a perfect circle.  You eventually end up in the middle, and then make your way back out again.  Your mental state is your own — some ponder the great questions of the universe, some simply commune with nature.   You can walk as fast or as slowly as you want, and if you have a question in your mind, by the time you are done with your walk, you probably have some clarity, or at the very least, peace.  We walked as individuals, as slowly or as fast as we wanted, sometimes overtaking each other, sometimes completely stopping for a moment or two.  Sometimes we passed by each other on adjacent paths, or even met each other on the same path, always acknowledging and honoring each other, perhaps with a nod, perhaps with a bow, and occasionally exchanging a sweet hug, mostly in silence.

My thoughts in the labyrinth often returned to review the changes in my life over the past year, especially spiritually and artistically, growth in so many ways, strengthening of old relationships and forging of new ones, some of it hesitant, some of it bold.  Eileen, Cheri, Donnelle, Felicia, Michael, Colleen, Beckie, Melissa, Susan, Miffie, Ginny, Jennifer, Bob, Steve, Saramae, Sean, Anne, Ed, Weezie, Sandra, another Mary, Pat, and so, so many more, a whole crowd of people, from the past too — were your ears burning?  And as I walked the winding path, it occurred to me that this path was familiar, hadn’t I been here before?  But of course I had — the path right next to me, where I had just been, had the same scenery, but it was a different path, and I was on another, sometimes going the same direction, sometimes the opposite direction, sometimes in light, sometimes in shadow, a metaphor for my life, a metaphor for my year.  My mind would wander, and then return to the present moment with the birds flitting and chirping in the surrounding forest, and my friends playing and pondering on their walks nearby, and I would have that odd feeling of deja vu and realize I was still here, on yet another circuit of the labyrinth, another circuit of my life, beginning another year of growth and expansion.

My goals for this new year are simple:  to continue on my present course, and to take as many workshops as I can afford, from plein air artists whose work I admire.  So far I already have signed up for a workshop with Laurel Daniel and one with Morgan Samuel Price and I confess, I am more than a little excited about this.  It’s going to be a fantastic year!  So to all, Feliz Navidad, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukka, Joyous Kwanzaa, Magical Solstice, and Happy Holidays!  And also to all, Happy New Year!


The above photo of my friends in the labyrinth, was altered using a photo app called “My Sketch”.  The plein air paintings below were completed in mid-November, the first two, and the other two this past week, in mid-December.

Oil painting of a creek running into Mack Bayou, in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida Oil painting, impression of a creek running into Mack Bayou, in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
 2013-1218 Grayton Beach State Park Dune Scrub  Oil painting of the dunes at Grayton Beach State Park, in the winter




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Painting Plein Air with an Extra-Long Filbert Brush

Extra long filbert
Extra-long Filbert
2013-1204 Dune Walkover
2013-1204 Dune Grasses
2013-1204 Bright Light on the Gulf

This blog post could be subtitled, “Where did November go?”

Soon after my show, “The Present Moment”, opened at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, I received an email asking if I would paint, plein air style, a view from the balcony, for some second-homeowners to hang in their “first” home in Tennessee.  I met with them, to visit and to look at their view of the coastal dune lake, Redfish Lake, and the Gulf of Mexico.  They gave me a few favorite photos, with morning light.  A day later, they sent me a photo of wind-driven clouds that they liked, and I started to work on the 24×36 gallery-wrapped canvas, with a 16×20 practice piece on the side.  The day before, I had painted with the local plein air group under the very clouds my clients had photographed.  So the scene was familiar enough to me that I was able to work from the photos and still have the feeling of being there.  I have nearly finished it and have posted photos below showing both the practice piece and the actual larger commissioned piece.  I have a few tweaks yet to do, especially perhaps darkening the tile roof on the gazebo.

Yesterday our plein air group met at Henderson Beach State Park, in Destin, Florida.  I painted with an extra-long filbert, size 7, made by Winsor & Newton.  The filbert, which I have sketched at left, is about 1/2″ wide, but the bristles are 2″ long.  I had bought it about 6 months ago, just to try out, but had never used it.  Last weekend I watched a painting demonstration on DVD by Frank Serrano.  I was inspired to try painting an entire painting using only one brush, and I thought, why not the extra-long filbert!.  So when our plein air group met at Henderson Beach State Park, in Destin, Florida, this week, I chose a scene which could easily be simplified, so that learning the brush would be my only challenge.  I grew to like the brush as I painted with it.  The extra long filbert holds more paint than an ordinary brush.  Because the bristles are longer and thus not as stiff,  it required me to lay color onto the canvas instead of scrubbing it as I sometimes do with stiffer brushes.  It was perfect for the texture of the fall-colored grasses on the dunes.

The day was gray, without direct sunlight, and the mist during the drive had dried up by the time I had set up my easel on the boardwalk to the Gulf.  A light breeze cooled it to a balmy 72°.  I painted fairly quickly, the scene complicated only by the structure of the dune walkover.  I had to use a small rigger to paint the walkover, but I used the extra-long filbert everywhere else.  The values and colors were muted by the indistinct light.  Because I had arrived about 40 minutes late, I worried that I would run out of time.  But I felt the 8×10 painting was finished after only about an hour, so I tried another, smaller one, 6×6, and wrapped it up fairly quickly too.  I started a third painting, 8×10, and gave myself the challenge of looking directly at the highlighted Gulf, sparkling white where the sun was peeking out of the darkening sky.  It turned out quite a bit more dramatic than the first two, because of the heightened values.  At right are the three paintings.  Silver plein air frames show them off nicely.  I have priced them for sale but may keep all three for my own collection.

If anyone did not get a chance to see “The Present Moment”, many of the pieces will remain at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, and some will be lining the stairwell on the way up to Bob and Cheri Peebles’ real estate offices on the second floor of the building, at Beach To Bay Realty.

Below is the not-quite-finished commissioned piece I was writing about, and below it, the practice piece where I worked out solutions to the problems I encountered along the way.

Oil painting of the view from a balcony at Sanctuary By The Sea, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida: Redfish Lake and the Gulf of Mexico 24 x 36, commissioned oil painting, view of Redfish Lake and the Gulf of Mexico from Sanctuary By the Sea
Practice piece for commissioned oil painting of the view from a balcony at Sanctuary By The Sea, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida: Redfish Lake and the Gulf of Mexico 16 x 20, practice for commissioned piece above

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A Successful Opening at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet

Oil painting of canoes in front of Western Lake at Grayton Beach State ParkThe opening of my solo show at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet was as amazing as I had hoped it would be.  My fifty oil paintings, mostly framed 8 x 10’s, were hung inside the walls of the building and also were displayed on easels positioned around the gardens.  With catering provided by Grayton Beach Catering, Donald and crew teased and tempted the guests with delectables, and David served wine.  I was overwhelmed by the attendance of so many friends and fellow artists.  Assisted by Nicole, Eileen West and proprietor Cheri Peebles sold and wrapped paintings throughout the event.  Eileen proclaimed it an excellent debut.

I had painted in the Oil Painters of America’s Great American Paint-Out in Grayton Beach State Park the very day of my opening, so a sign warned attendees of the Wet Paint on my painting of Canoes at Grayton Beach State Park, above right.

I also had recently painted a couple of plein air pieces, which had not yet been posted,so here they are:

Oil painting of potted plant and cherub at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet Oil painting of fountain at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet


The most significant sale was one of the two larger paintings I exhibited, a 30 x 40 gallery wrapped stretched canvas oil painting of the early sunlit grasses across the bayou that I could see from my house:

Oil painting of the golden grass in early morning sunlight on Tucker Bayou, Point Washington, FL

I don’t have an exact count, but I believe the following paintings also sold on opening night, and the last one pictured sold yesterday.  Approximately 40 paintings remain on display.

Oil painting, study of water lilies Oil painting of Nature Trail at Grayton Beach State Park Oil Painting of Bayou Grass, Point Washington, FL
Oil Painting of Pelican on Providenciales 2012-1130 NC Woods 2012-1128 Breaking Dawn, Jack, AL
Plein air 2 Reflections study 2


The paintings in the exhibit have all been completed within the past year.

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The Present Moment – Artist Joan Vienot

PhotoByJeffreyJonesI am thrilled to be showing my paintings at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet in Grayton Beach, Florida, November 2-17, 2013.  The opening reception will be November 2, 2013, from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM.  My show is titled “The Present Moment”.  I chose that title because the show features my plein air paintings, which are for the most part painted outside, in the open air, on location.  As such, painting ‘en plein air’ is a very temporal effort, constrained by weather, lighting, bugs, heat or cold, you name it, requiring the artist to be very much “in the present moment”, with mind and senses completely focused on the work and not wandering to yesterday’s political discussion or tomorrow’s fun workshop or how much laundry is waiting at home.  I also will be showing some studio pieces painted in a plein air style.

Here are some of the announcements and stories about  my coming show.  The first one is the one I am especially excited to share with you, a 20-minute live interview with Claire Bannerman, produced by  You will hear me explain my take on the process of painting and how it can be so very different from the product which the viewer sees, and you will hear a little about my personal history and my involvement in the art scene of South Walton County in Northwest Florida, where I live.

SUP Radio Show — Your Global Art Showcase with Claire Bannerman — Artist Joan Vienot Debuts in Grayton Beach Florida:  (The podcast interview media player is at the bottom of the text on that page.)

Walton Outdoors — Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet to Showcase Local Artist Joan Vienot Nov. 2-17 —

SoWal — Reception and Exhibit Opening for Local Artist Joan Vienot Nov 2 —

Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County — “The Present Moment” Joan Vienot’s Debut Exhibition —

Below is my plein air painting of Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, in Grayton Beach, Florida, painted across the street from the building and front gardens in September of this year.

Oil Painting of Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, modeled after Giverny





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The Present Moment — A Showing of My Art

Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet to showcase local artist Joan Vienot Nov. 2 – 17

“The Present Moment” show features landscapes painted in oil

A story by Lori Ceier, Walton Outdoors,

Artist Joan Vienot painting plein air at Grayt Grounds. Her work will be featured Nov. 2 – 17. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

A one woman show of works by Walton artist Joan Vienot will be on display at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet in Grayton Beach Nov. 2 – 17, 2013. Opening night is Nov. 2 from 5 – 8 p.m.

Cheri Peebles, owner of Grayt Grounds is excited about the show.

“My idea is to have a coffee house that is diversified and a service. Featuring local artists is good for the community and neighborhood,” said Peebles.

Joan Vienot’s history of making art in Walton County goes back to the first gallery in Grayton Beach who showcased her watercolor paintings of the dune lakes, Bay, the Gulf, and all things that grow and flourish along the coast. Her passion for the natural beauty of this area has led her to become a fine art painter. Vienot’s outdoor paintings done ‘en plein air,’ in the moment, capture the beauty we recognize as the paradise we live in here in Walton County.

The show will feature her plein air style 8”x10” oils on canvas offered in an affordable price range. There will be between 40 -50 works on display.

“I paint what I see, in the moment, which is reflected in my preference for figure drawing and plein air painting.  The greatest pleasure for me as an artist is the capture of the present moment, a little piece of Now, or at least my impression of the Now.  When painting on site outdoors, or figure drawing, the scene or the pose is very likely to change during the process of drawing or painting it.  I enjoy that hurried pace, the rush of the capture, the challenge of the media, and the ongoing quest for quick mastery.  In each case, the subject must be portrayed in fairly general terms, with only enough detail to lend unique identity and a little atmosphere.  I must forgive myself for a bit of inaccuracy in favor of conveying the essence of the subject in an abbreviated period of time, rarely doing much correcting when I return to the studio, preferring to let my interpretation of the moment stand on its own,” said Vienot.

Below find a sampling what you may see at Vienot’s show:

Clement-Taylor-Park-1 Grayt-Grounds-at-Monet-Monet-1 Grayton-Bch-St-Pk-1
Morning Bayou Pompano-Nicks-Restaurant Port-St.-Joe-Mist


joansmAbout Joan Vienot
Vienot has a BA in Fine Art from the University of Northern Colorado. In addition to teaching art to high school students, she is involved as a volunteer for the arts in Walton County, serving on the board of directors for the Cultural Arts Alliance and co-chairing the A+Art Committee for CAA, which showcases member artists’ work at the South Walton Center of Northwest Florida State College.

Recent exhibits and publications:
• Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters booth at ArtsQuest 2013
• Scenes of South Walton, 2012, Honorable Mention for “Aster Reflected,” at Hidden Lantern Gallery
• CAA Directors Show, 2012, Bayou Arts Center
• A Passion for Art, 2012, A+Art, Northwest Florida State College
• Figure It Out, 2011, Studio b
• Photography for The Stand Up Paddle Radio Show: published in The Paddler ezine, and Standup Journal

To learn more, go to

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Brighter Colors in Plein Air Painting

Oil painting of Hogtown Bayou looking west from Cessna Landing

I was showing a friend my paintings in my studio last weekend, and she remarked on the light and color of one row of paintings, which indeed were more vibrant than almost all of my other work.  I explained that none of the five were plein air, that they were exercises done in a workshop I took last summer, from Julie Gilbert Pollard, “Wet and Wild:  Painting Vibrant Water Scenes in Brilliant Color” (See my blog post).  Ordinarily, that would have explained the difference as far as I was concerned, but I started thinking more about it.  Granted, Julie taught us to use bright under-painting, and to use color for its value, rather than strictly for its hue.  But as I looked around at my paintings, I realized that at the time I was painting them, I thought I was painting very brightly, but in the studio they looked a less brilliant.  Then it dawned on me — I try to paint the colors that I see when I paint plein air.  And usually the sun is shining brightly, so light and color are at their optimum.  But when I bring my paintings indoors, the light invariably is never as bright as the sun, even using “daylight” bulbs.  When I take those same paintings into the sunlight, they are much brighter.  So I realized that in order for my paintings to have the same brilliance of color indoors that I see when I am painting them, I might need to paint with brighter color than what I see.  I’m going to think about that some more.

For today’s plein air session I took some canvas panels that were already under-painted, like we did in that workshop in July.  I had under-painted two 8×10 panels with red, and a third 6×6 with sort of a buff color.  I let some of the under-paintings show through, not covering the entire canvas with paint.  and I scratched out some of the grass and tree trucks, revealing the underlying color.  Below are my results.

Oil painting of Hogtown Bayou looking west from Cessna Landing

Oil painting of trees on the far side of Cessna Landing at Hogtown Bayou

Oil painting of soft grass at edge of Hogtown Bayou

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Photography: Good Morning!

Photo of the dock at the boat launch at Point Washington, FL, by Joan Vienot

Photo of the dock at the boat launch at Point Washington, FL, by Joan Vienot

Many mornings before I go to work, I will see a view that begs to be captured, the image that starts my day.  I post these morning photos on Facebook, with perhaps a wistful comment about my day-job cutting short my enjoyment of the scene.  This was the image I shot yesterday, the dock at the public boat launch in my village, Point Washington, Florida.  The view looks out over Tucker Bayou extending into the eastern Choctawhatchee Bay, in Northwest Florida.  It is one of my favorite areas to canoe and stand-up paddle.

Usually when I post to my personal page in Facebook, I set the post-privacy to friends only, but when I uploaded this image yesterday, I accidentally uploaded on the public setting, and it spread like wildfire.  Ordinarily I have a few “likes” and maybe one or two instances where people have shared my image onto their own page.  This photo had been shared 119 times in one day.

This view is iconic for the area. certainly, but there was a quality to the light, a certain late-summer gold on the grass, that I could see between the trees all the way from my house a good ways up the bayou.  The attraction was such that I took only a few seconds to brush my teeth before rushing out the door to capture it, afraid it would change before I could travel the long mile to get there.  I took a couple of shots with my good camera, and then I shot this one with my iPhone 4S for immediate upload.  Some of my friends on social media have told me they enjoy my morning shots, and it is gratifying to hear their comments.  Sharing an experience or a perception through an image makes it more meaningful to me.  But the number of “shares” on social media has surprised me, and I am pleased that so many people appreciated this simple scene.  Thankfully, I had remembered to watermark it with my website, which if the image is not altered on purpose, allows me to retain a connection as it travels the web.

My website is being updated.  When I saw my image starting to go viral, I called my webmaster to ask him to put Facebook “share” buttons on my site so the path would be circular, from the Facebook image on my personal page, to my website, and then back to my Facebook art page.  He responded immediately — kudos to Brian at

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Painting Plein Air At Home

Oil painting of the view into Tucker Bayou A nice thing about plein air painting is that it can be done anywhere outdoors. I am fortunate to live in an area of wonderful natural beauty, so everywhere I turn, there is a scene worth painting. I didn’t want to make the 30 mile drive into town to meet up with my plein air group, so I stayed home. The trees were tinged with fall colors, and the sky had returned to blue, after days of haze. It was a great day to paint. But I was in a bit of a rush this morning, wanting to finish by a certain time in order to be able to go to a poetry reading. After an hour of painting fast-and-furious, I left my easel setup on my dock, running to the house for a quick shower before driving to the reading.
SetUp on the Dock-sm

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From Mosquitoes to Fire Ants: Plein Air Painting in Florida

Oil Painting of Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, modeled after GivernyWhat I did not write about in my blog post last weekend, Plein Air at Torreya State Park, Bristol, Florida, was that there were a few bugs.  Mosquitoes and spiders to be specific.  Actually there were more than a few.  There were gazillions of them.  I stayed covered up with a long-sleeved shirt and long lightweight pants the entire 95º weekend, despite the humidity.  It was in the early hours of the first night that I realized I had made a terrible mistake, that I had failed to consider all the possibilities for my heavenly plein air retreat in the woods.  It never even occurred to me that I would actually need the repellant I always pack when I backpack..  After suffering through the first night with not one but two mosquitoes in my tent, I learned that I would need to slather every square inch, exposed or not,  with a good herbal repellant.  The mosquitoes bit right through my clothes.

Ordinarily the suffering that goes with plein air painting is mimimized by the thrill of the process.  There is nothing quite like the race against time to figure out and capture the light and colors of a scene.  So began my painting at this week’s session with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, a coffee shop occupying a copy of Giverny complete with gardens and a water lily coy pond near Grayton Beach, Florida.  It has become a favorite location for our group.  There must have been 15 or 20 painters there this week.  I had gotten a good start when I became aware of something biting my ankles.  I swatted a couple of times, sprayed some repellent on, and kept on painting.  All of a sudden with a clear understanding of what it must be like to be burned at the stake, I looked down to see the horror of a whole troop of ants setting my ankles on fire!  Anyone who lives in the southern United States knows exactly what I am talking about, but anyone not from the South cannot even imagine it.  Fire ants have a strategy of climbing onto your feet and legs en masse with the stealth of a cat burglar, and then upon some mysterious signal, all biting at the same time.  It literally feels like your feet are on fire.  Determined to hold my position and finish my painting, I found an extra paint shirt in my pickup and laid it on the ground in front of my easel.  Unbelievably, it worked — the ants stayed underneath the shirt while I stood on top of it.  Above is my painting of the building called Monet Monet at Grayton Beach, painted from the top of the fire ant mound across the street.  I almost always re-size my paintings for internet publication, but I decided to post a higher-resolution version so you can see the details.  You may have to click on the image when it first opens, to allow it to display at full magnification.  It’s not as distinctly focused as I would like, but it gives you an idea of the number of colors and fast-and-furious brushstrokes that go into a 2-hour painting.  Click here for very large image Of the Monet Monet painting.

Last night I had a little fun painting in my studio. I have mentioned before that I serve on the A+Art Committee of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County.  We will be showing members’ art made on 10″ x 10″ wood panels in a show called “One Size Fits All”.  All the panels will be priced at $100, of which the artist will get $80 and the remaining $20 will go to CAA.  I’ve already painted the two panels I am submitting, which I blogged about in Painting Under The Gun.  But if any of our paintings sell, we are allowing the buyer to take it home with them, and the selling artist then can fill the empty space with another painting.  I decided to paint a couple of extra paintings because I intend for mine to sell.  (Hint, hint, local patrons!!)  I love the iconic blue herons we see here everywhere there is water — docks, shorelines, even roadside ditches.  I tried out a new color combination in this painting.  I used a craggy piece of driftwood to make the lines of the grasses, which resulted in a much less controlled and more interesting jumble of lines than if I had put them in with a familiar tool or scraper.

Oil painting of blue heron standing on purple, brown, and orange stripes

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