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Simplification in Plein Air

Oil painting of the pond by Clement Taylor Park, Destin, FL

The Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters met at Clement Taylor Park in Destin this morning.  Intending to get there around 8:30, I in fact arrived well after 9 and it was approaching 10 before I actually started putting paint on the canvas.  I put my easel near a pond at the side of the park, a short distance from where several other painters had set up.  Purple pond flowers attracted my attention and I thought about how I wanted to paint the background so that the flowers in the foreground would stand out.  I painted quickly, urged on by the noise of a landscape blower next door, as well as my concern for having arrived late.  I wanted to learn how to simplify, which I did by painting areas of color instead of every single leaf.  I purposefully left everything with softer edges, except for the water lilies which were in sharp contrast to the pond water.  But just like a couple weeks ago, when I drew close to the finish, my intended focus was no where to be found in my painting.  I decided to leave out the pond flowers I had wanted to emphasize.  The painting had a lot of visual texture, because of the high contrast of values in the leaves of the trees.  It would be difficult to make the pond flowers stand out against the darks and lights of the background.

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

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Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at ArtsQuest

Oil painting of the Bayou at Nick's Restaurant, west of Freeport, Florida
Oil painting in process, showing tents at ArtsQuest 2013 Tents at ArtsQuest Fine Arts and Music Festival, Watercolor, FL

ArtsQuest Fine Art and Music Festival has come and gone, and in its wake, the familiar feeling of having passed through a wormhole in time and space, a sort of time warp, coming out on the other side with everything the same and yet very much changed.

Members of the sponsoring agency, the non-profit Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, are invited to exhibit 3 pieces of their artwork in the member tent, in exchange for 4 hours of volunteer work at the festival.  For my volunteer work, I was asked to defend some No Parking cones and to move them out of the way when exhibiting artists needed to get through to set up their booths.  It was the first time that I had seen booths being set up.   My only exposure to setting up tents has been for overnight camping, and it is in light of that experience that I can pronounce tent-raising to be a close second to two-person canoeing for the fast track to divorce court, so I was fairly amazed at the calm and congeniality of the artists doing their nesting.   The next day I helped set up the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters tent and found it to be not at all unpleasant, so I think the key ingredient is having artists do the job.

The festival opened Friday afternoon.   The experience was invaluable.  With the tunes of Kelsey Anna and Matt miller and later Cody Copeland wafting over the grounds, I painted plein air near our booth the first afternoon, and again on the afternoon of the third day, the air filled by other musicians.  The rest of the time I talked to the passers-by about the plein air art and artists and I explained what plein air painting is to everyone who would listen.  Almost no one knew that plein air painting simply means painting in open air, on-site, looking at the scene you are painting.

We enjoyed great exposure at our booth, picking up some 30 email addresses to add to the 95 that already receive weekly notices of our next plein air painting location.  One of the regular participants in our outings, Melody Bogle, had submitted her work and been juried into the festival, so she had her own booth.  We all were overjoyed when the announcement came that she had won Best in Show for the 2013 Festival.  With more than 100 artists juried into the festival, I felt like her win validated plein air painting to the show-goers.

I painted the painting at left on the first afternoon of the ArtsQuest Fine Art Festival.  It shows the plein air tent and the row of tents that housed the CAA members’ exhibit in front of the concrete pond in Cerulean Park at Watercolor, Florida.  I re-painted the lawn when I got back to my home studio, because the shadows made the pond look like it was higher than the tents.  By removing the shadows and instead painting some downward-curving lawn contours, it was a quick fix to make the pond look lower than the tents.  Perspective and postion are, after all, merely optical illusions.  I compressed the scene to show only the tents, without any of the commercial buildings that were actually there fronting the streets of the beautiful village of Watercolor, Florida.

I own and manage a swimming pool service company as my “day-job”.  One of my customers came by the plein air booth, and I enjoyed showing her my work.  After the festival closed, she came to my home studio to see more of my work.  As I develop my skills and learn the business of being an artist, I am recognizing that every experience is another notch in my belt, each in itself valuable for future actions and interactions.  (Thank you for taking the time to visit with me, Becky Arnold.  Did you realize you were contributing to my training?)

Oil painting of Shorty's Surfside in Grayton Beach, FloridaAt right is the completed version of the painting I posted last week, the brightly colored building in downtown Grayton Beach that houses Shorty’s Restaurant.  After I got back to the studio, I realized that I had not painted the railings nearest me, or the flower pot that had attracted me to that point of view in the first place!  To paint it plein air, I had positioned myself with my back to the sun with the unfortunate result that both my palette and my canvas were so brightly lit that I was “snow-blind” for most of the morning while I painted.  It is truly a wonder that my colors turned out to be fairly close to correct!  But that’s my excuse for not painting the railing and flowerpot until I got back to the studio.

Below left is the piece I painted this week at the regular weekly Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters outing, at Nick’s Rstaurant on the Bay, west of Freeport, FL.  I worked very hard on figuring out how to make convincing pine trees, most particularly the brush strokes and stamps to use to show the so-very-important silhouette edge, and also the layering of values to show the masses of the needles.  In this part of my process, that is one of my goals, to be able to learn to quickly portray recognizable forms just by using a few simple brushstrokes.  I was not as comfortable with my efforts with the rippling reflections in the water below the trees.  I reworked them in the studio, and came up with a fair representation of the lattice-like pattern.  I was not at all successful with the muted land-mass on the horizon, across the Bay.  I painted it and scrubbed it out 3 times plein air, never able to achieve a straight and level line that I was happy with.  The horizon you see now was painted this morning in the studio.

And below right is the beginning of a painting that I started the last afternoon of ArtsQuest.  The family in the picture was watching me paint, and asked if I might be able to put them in it, since they had been watching the watercolor workshop while I was painting.  They want to see it when I finish it, so now the pressure is on!!  I had fun with this painting at ArtsQuest, letting a few of the people in my audience paint a spot of color here or there.  It was interesting how without fail, they would at first decline, but once the brush was in their hand, they would start smiling, daubing a little color or texture here or there!  I think they all will be making a trip to pick up art supplies this week!

Oil painting of the Bayou at Nick's Restaurant, west of Freeport, Florida Unfinished oil painting of Workshops at ArtsQuest 2013

I was pleased that another one of my photographs was published this week, to illustrate a story by my friend Leslie Kolovich, host of The Stand Up Paddle Radio Show, for her column in The Paddler ezine, a United Kingdom publication.  The article can be found at

Screenshot from The Paddler ezine

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

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Plein Air Painting: Accepting the Challenge

Plein Air Quickdraw from Forgotten Coast facebook page

I started weekly plein air painting in March.  I’m actually impressed with the progress I have made.  I have enough paintings to have a presence this weekend in the Plein Air Tent at ArtsQuest, the regional juried art festival held annually near my home.

But I have begun to discover how challenging plein air painting can be.  At first I thought I would merely be challenged by the chore of re-learning how to mix colors and remembering how to use brushes.   I also expected that the weather might occasionally be a challenge.  I never anticipated my canvas being covered with water or having to blot up rainwater from my palette tray.  Such was my adventure last Saturday in Port St. Joe, Florida, where I had traveled to watch the “Quickdraw” event at the Forgotten Coast Plein Air Invitational.  My best friend accompanied me, and I tied the stand-up paddleboards, onto the top of my truck, expecting that we’d have time for a little paddling after I had checked out the various artists’ methods and madnesses.  She convinced me that I should bring my paints, but I confess I did so more to humor her than out of any expectation that I would use them.

Port St. Joe Plein Air sceneI changed my mind when we drove past the scenic Cape San Blas lighthouse and down the beautiful peninsula highway to T.H. Stone State Park.  The grassy water’s edge and wading birds were mirrored in the gray water reflecting storm clouds.  There was a 40% chance of rain, but the volunteer who took my $10 entry fee and stamped my blank canvas for the event said the present rain shower wouldn’t be around for long, that it was just a narrow band.  A horn blew, and the painting began, and the rain got worse.  I painted from under the shelter of my truck’s hatch, and my friend stood on the windward side trying to shelter my work.  The rain bouncing off the top of the truck became mist and was caught by the wind,  swirling down onto my canvas and palette.  My friend got soaked and chilled for her good Samaritan efforts.

I had never painted on water-soaked  canvas before.  I had no clue whether my oil paint would even stick to the wet canvas panel.  I kept blotting my canvas with a paper towel to remove some of the mist droplets.  Puddles formed in my palette box.  My waste-bucket that I commandeered from  my cab quickly filled with rainwater pouring through the hinged seam of the hatch.

I dug in and finished my painting in the allotted time.  The 54 participating artists brought their finished pieces to the entry pavilion to be judged.  Many brought frames even.  Probably half of the artists were some who had been invited to the weeklong Plein Air Invitational, so I was privileged to see some amazing work.  Afterwards, we stopped at the first cafe outside the state park, to have a bit to eat, and we were pleasantly surprised to have the winner sit at the table next to ours.  Her name is Morgan Samuel Price.  What a treat to talk with her!!

Today the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters met in the historic town of Grayton Beach, Florida.  I was overwhelmed by the many places I would like to have set up my easel.  It was overchoice!  I opted for a couple of adjoining brightly-colored buildings with reflective windows.

But wow, what a struggle!  The straight up-and-down verticals had to be painted free-hand, as did all of the horizontals receding towards one vanishing point or another. With a general lack of knowledge of how buildings are put together, I was scrambling to make sense of the structure.  Ordinarily, if I were using a building to make art, I would print photographs of  it, and then take some time to figure out the structure before i ever started drawing it and then ultimately painting it.  With plein air painting, I generally just sketch the scene on my canvas with a big brush, and then start trying to mix colors and paint shapes.  So it can get confusing even when the shapes are simple.  I honestly did not have much fun today.  It seemed like too much of a challenge for my present skill level.  I turned out a good painting though, with a fairly good likeness to the colors.  Anyone familiar with Shorty’s Surfside Restaurant will notice that I have taken a few liberties with dimensions.  (As an artist, I’m allowed to do that, ha!)

I enjoyed seeing the other artist’s work when we critiqued at the end of the session.  Several painted the same buildings that I painted, but from different angles or from further away.

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

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Simplification in Plein Air

Photo of plein air painting in progress, Henderson Beach State ParkLast week I was unable to paint due to a hectic schedule with my “day jobs”.  This week I made up for it by painting two paintings during the weekly plein air outing of the Emerald Coast Plein Air painters.  We went to Henderson Beach State Park, in Destin, Florida.  When I woke up this morning, it was raining, and I thought I was in for a challenging day.  But by the time I got to our painting location, the sky was still very gray but all I had to contend with was a stiff breeze.  I tied my easel to a picnic table and got busy.

I had painted our coastal dunes many times in the ’80’s when I was using watercolors, so the shapes and colors were very familiar.  For my challenge, I opted for the sky textures.  It was enjoyable, and I finished my first painting quickly, by simplifying the landscape.  I resisted the temptation to exaggerate the oranges and blues in the gray clouds.  It was fun to see those same oranges and blues in the other artists’ paintings when we critiqued our work.

I’m excited about next weekend.  Our local arts association, the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, puts on a very successful outdoor juried exhibition, ArtsQuest, on Mother’s Day weekend every year.  The exhibit draws artists from all over the country.  This year, I will have 3 oil paintings in the CAA members’ tent, which will require me to volunteer 4 hours at the festival, and I also will be one of the artists’ exhibiting in the Plein Air Painters’ tent, also requiring some volunteer time, and will be painting plein air on site off-and-on during the festival.  Last year I demonstrated figure drawing, so I know this will be a lot of fun.

NOTE, 11/7/13:  I brightened the foreground considerably after deciding the first painting did not have enough impact.  The final version is at

Oil painting at Henderson Beach State Park Oil painting at Henderson Beach State Park

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

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