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An Ideal Day

Oil Painting of Pelican on Providenciales

I have set a goal this year, to make a transition in my life, to live at least two days a week as an artist by the end of this year.  It may happen lot sooner than that.  It all started when I decided to hold myself accountable for not yet having made the leap.  Frankly, I’ve been fearful that I would not be able to support myself with my art, a legitimate concern up until this point, since I have been sporadic in my production of art.  To support my fear, I have used every excuse not to be more prolific, or in many cases, to go days without sketching or painting.  My most frequent excuse is that I do not have time.  Guess what — I do have time — I’ve been less than truthful with myself.  I simply have chosen to use my time for other purposes, instead of for producing art.

I hired a coach, to give me suggestions and feedback for making progress towards my goal.  One of the things she asked me, was what an ideal day would be like for me. I described waking up rested, taking some time for meditation and then working out or paddling or doing some other fitness-oriented activity, followed by a visit to a gallery or some other “artist-date”, and then painting all afternoon, probably plein air painting, followed by a cultural event in the evening, perhaps a play or dance theater or a musical performance.  But then I thought to myself, about a week later, that if I had described that as my ideal day, then why had I not ever had an ideal day, and I realized then and there that I was lying to myself, because I have had unscheduled days before, but have not ever done all the things that would make up an ideal day.

So when one of my best friends called last week and asked another friend and me over for breakfast on Sunday, and I declined because I had other tentative plans, I instead invited her over to my art studio on Saturday because I intended to paint.  She is a writer, so I asked her to bring her paper so she could write while I painted.  She offered to bring breakfast.  Meanwhile, Saturday brought incredibly bad weather with it, and another friend decided to cancel a trip to see a client, and instead came over to my house to wait out the rain and to work on a drawing she was making.  So the morning found the three of us in my studio, painting and talking and solving the world’s problems.  I made a small painting of some young bananas growing on a tree that I had photographed on North Caicos a few weeks ago.  At left is the sequence of development.

I cannot describe the creative spirit that filled the studio while we talked and worked.  I was in awe of the circumstances that brought us all together, and the energy of the dynamics.  Both friends left around midday, and I took another half-hour or so to finish my painting, before going upstairs to get my house ready for the evening activity.  I had invited 6 friends to participate in “The Art of Seeing” class which Ponce de Leon, FL, artist Mary Moses teaches through her gallery, HRMagoo.  I still needed to trim the legs on 3 of my stools so everyone would be comfortable at my art table, and I needed to go to the deli to pick up the supper wraps I would be serving.

Mary brought a friend with her, guitarist/artist/singer/songwriter Sharon Johnson, who played her guitar and sang while the rest of us learned the Art of Seeing.  Mary demonstrated, toning a plywood board with charcoal and then showing us how she picked out shapes and faces from the patterns in the wood grain, and then developed them.  We all dove in, everyone in the group helping each other “find” shapes in their panels, with a good amount of laughter, all inspired, often awed, always positive, and occasionally raunchy, and all in all, a lot of fun.  The time flew, and we all had a great time.

I think I probably could continue to work on my panel, but I am surprised and happy with what I did so I may just call it finished as is.  It is not at all like any art I have ever made before, and it is uniquely my own, in that I drew the shapes and faces that for the most part I alone saw, and in my own way, without pre-planning the composition.  I found a number of faces on my panel, including a few aliens and a horse and two elephants and a covey of birds.  I assign significance and meaning to it which no doubt would alarm my some of my friends and family and perhaps cause them to look askance at me, so I’ll leave that unexplained for now, and settle for letting you do the interpreting and drawing your own meaning from it.  It is below left.

I would say that this day qualified as an ideal day.

I painted the pelican, below right, a couple of days later, using a reference photo from my vacation on Providenciales in January.

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

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Drawing Texture

If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you know that I am teaching a “Back-to-the-Basics” drawing class for the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County.  We had a lot of fun this week, experimenting with various drawing media which “wash out” or “bleed” when wet.  We used watercolor pencils, Flair pens and Vis-a-Vis pens, Graphtint, Derwent sketching pencils, and Aquarelle china-marking pencils.  I gave everyone a small piece of 140-lb hot press watercolor paper, so they could practice with the flat, smoothness of hot press.  Most were familiar only with the textured cold press or rough watercolor paper.  An example using a Flair pen is at right.  The color is not lightfast, so if it were framed, the best thing to do would be to use UV protective glass.

We reviewed last week’s lesson of 3 types of lighting — silhouette, high contrast, and full-values, and I showed the drawing at left to demonstrate full values with core shadow, cast shadow, reflected light, light reflected into the shadow, and rim light at the very edge of the silhouetted part of the shape.  I gave everyone a ping-pong ball, and suggested they practice drawing it over and over, with light coming from a different direction each time.  I know that practice will result in development of  a great deal of skill in shading.

The primary subject of the lesson for the day was Texture.

The next image, at right, is a detail off from a drawing I did that shows different textures in the landscape, and I also pointed out that I had dented the paper with a stylus to make lines that stayed white when I shaded across the reverse embossing, for some of the tree trunks and branches.

Pictured below the farmland detail is is a charcoal drawing on Kraft paper, of a huge chunk of charred wood, a texture study I did in college.  I did a series of drawings from that charred wood piece, each evolving into something unique, and the next drawing is a part of that series.  The textured parts in this drawing took on a more flowing appearance, like hair.  The next piece is a stump out on the Intracoastal Waterway, although you would

not necessarily be able to identify that — it was a fun texture study, and you can see that not all of the textures are drawn — where it is smooth, I left the interior space undeveloped.

In the brown drawing of 3 heads, I used an eraser to streak the drawing and create an interesting stylized texture.  The subject actually was a smooth mannequin head for displaying hats.

The drawing of the tree shows how the needles are spiky because they are drawn with short, hard strokes, and the tree trunk bark is textured in the lit areas but nearly black on the shadow side.  Many of the branches are actually drawn in silhouette or high contrast.  This is very different from the texture I used in the drawing of the teddy bear, which is smooth and soft.  I wanted it to look cuddly.  if I had drawn it with short, straight, hard strokes, it would not have looked as soft and cuddly.

We practiced drawing textures of real objects, using pieces of coral, twigs, a piece of a root, a weathered piece of wood, a seashell, and feathers.  We can practice with anything, and we usually find that once we get started, it’s not hard to do.  It takes some effort in the beginning, and then once we get the hang of it, we wonder why it seemed difficult.  It’s essential to learn how to NOT draw every single bit of the texture, but rather, for the sake of interest, to leave some of it simply implied.  Sometimes texture can be indicated just by the external contour.

The last four pictures below are covers of magazines, to illustrate different ways of treating texture.  The first one is particularly interesting to me, in that the hair is hardly drawn at all, but just enough of it is drawn that it implies the texture very well.



Below:  More examples of different textures

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Types of Lighting

I am teaching a “Back-to-the-Basics” drawing class for the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County.  This week we talked about three different types of lighting:  silhouette, high contrast, and full-values.  For a silhouette to be effective, it is essential that the subject be recognizable by its outer contours, since there is no interior development.  Below are some examples of sillouette.  Please forgive the quality of the photographs — they are meant for illustration only.

In high contrast, interior development is in only two values.  This allows for a more ambiguous outer contour because the development inside the form identifies the subject.  Below is a drawing done in high contrast.

Full-value development is the type of treatment we are most familiar with, where we can easily identify the subject because the interior development is in a full range of values, like the drawings below:

Many artists will use all three of these methods of describing shape, within the same drawing or painting.  Silhouettes require less attention, and if executed in middle values, can provide wonderful background imagery, effectively breaking up negative space and often repeating forms found in the foreground, as in paintings of flowers for example.  Even when the lighting is shown in full values, often the lighting will simplify into high contrast or silhouette, especially towards the edges of the composition.

Silhouettes can be extremely powerful.  Some of the happiest ooo’s and ahhh’s will be heard when you show a painting of a brightly colored sunset with silhouettes in the foreground.


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The Value of Beginner Classes

Like many artists and photographers, much of my creative development has been through sheer determination and white knuckles.  Workshops, classes, courses, and graduate- and post-graduate studies certainly have provided me with a solid grounding in the fundamentals.  But image-making as a whole, whether as craft or as fine art,  is largely learned by just doing it, finding your own comfort zone for composition, color, light, texture, balance, and rhythm.  In the doing, you develop confidence and authority.  Still, there is a lot to be said for reviewing the basics.  Sometimes in reviewing, you are introduced to something entirely new.  Or perhaps it is something you’ve been taught before that you forgot, or that you never understood before.  At the very least, you are a different person today than you were last year, so you see things differently.

Too often, an artist will become very good at their craft, able to produce amazing images, only to find themselves challenged by not being able to execute a detail, or not knowing how to structure an element.  I can’t tell you how many artists have told me that they cannot draw.  Drawing seems to me to be essential to the execution of anything visual.  It doesn’t have to be drawing with a pencil — it might be a drawing with a brush, with wet media.  Perhaps those artists have a limited definition of drawing.  Or perhaps they are more of the instinctive, intuitive school, where the image evolves almost like a performance, without the artist having a preconception.

A painting I did a couple of months ago, shown at right, might be considered a drawing as much as it is a painting.  I painted the canvas-board a dark blue-black color, let it dry, and then painted the tans and blue colors over it.  I created the trees by “drawing” them with a rubber stylus, wiping off the wet paint to expose the dark color underneath.  The related blog is at

Several accomplished artists are in the Back-to-the Basics Drawing Class that I am teaching for the Cultural Arts Alliance this month.  At first, I was a little intimidated because I know their capabilities, but within just a few minutes of my start,  I found my footing and got on a roll.  Many years ago, I was awarded secondary school teacher certification when I received my Fine Art degree from the University of Northern Colorado.  I taught painting and drawing in a high school in Colorado for 3 years before I moved to Florida.  Since then I have just taught a few adult classes in watercolor painting, and a private drawing course to a student who needed a humanities credit to graduate from high school.  So the Back-to-the-Basics Drawing Class is requiring me to review the basics myself.

Teaching can be exhausting.  Supposedly a good teacher prepares for 2 hours for every one hour in the classroom.  An experienced teacher will be so well-prepared and so practiced that he or she can teach off-the-cuff.  But it’s been so long since I taught that I am having to review everything myself, as well as come up with visual examples of the concepts and techniques I am teaching. In the first class I reviewed elementary perspective (ugh!) for the first hour, and in the second hour I let the class draw, focusing on thumbnail sketches and line quality.  I provided some articles that were difficult to draw, requiring the artists to simplify.

I myself am taking a beginning photography class.  My point-and-shoot camera is so smart that the only decisions I have had to make are compositional decisions.  There is a lot that I do that I don’t have to think about because it is “instinctive”.  And there is the added benefit of using a digital camera with no expense associated with the number of photos I take, so that if necessary, I can take a zillion photos on the high probability that at least one will turn out good.  But I have been finding limitations to the “automatic” settings, so now I am learning about ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.  I have dusted off my tripod, which has hardly been used because it is difficult to deploy from a canoe or stand-up paddleboard, my usual vehicles for nature photography.  The class I am taking is at Northwest Florida State College, at the South Walton Center.  Like many colleges, they offer non-credit adult-education classes for a nominal fee.  My class is taught by Jackie Ward, a professional photographer (  This week’s homework was to produce a few images of the same subject, keeping all camera settings the same and varying only the aperture, without too much concern for the excellence of the composition.  I photographed the little metal birds that are fastened onto my porch railing.  The first image below, focusing on the third bird, was shot with a larger aperture, so it has less depth of field than the second, and more bokeh (new fancy photographer’s word, meaning blur).  The bokeh is most obvious in the background trees.  Now I have a new problem:  I don’t have as many options as I would like, so now I need a better camera!

ISO 100 f/3.2

ISO 100 f/8


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

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