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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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