Commissions Under Pressure – Plein Air at Events

October 18, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air

Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Impressionist Style

May, 2014

Those who follow my blog know that I contract to paint plein air at wedding receptions at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet where my plein air paintings are shown.  I blogged about it in May, “Commissioned Works en Plein Air.” So you might think it would become old hat, painting the same setting.  But the colors are different, the sounds change, the plants change, the people are different, and most of all, the light changes, so the challenges are always there, and I must always grow as a result. If the scene feels too familiar, all I need to do is move my easel a little, or turn my head, for a new point of view. I am not so fast as to actually paint the couple on site — instead I paint the surroundings in the hour before the event, and then I take photos and sketch a gesture of their entrance or first dance or whatever scene they choose, and then I may block in the general silhouette of the couple. I complete the painting in the studio. The biggest challenge, in commissioned work, of course is pleasing the client, and that includes working with color choices that compliment or repeat the design colors of the event, and sometimes it includes altering my painting style to lean towards a particular style the client likes.

Oil painting of the bridge and garden at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, plein air preparation for painting a wedding couple's first dance

Plan A, with afternoon light

My most recent contract was a month ago, in September.  I had gotten the time wrong, thinking the newly wedded couple would be making their entrance around 5:30 instead of 7:30, so I was painting the entire back scene with late afternoon light in preparation for adding the couple when they made their entrance. I had planned to catch the couple coming across the bridge over the coy pond, placing them slightly right of center, against the spray of the green bamboo like plant that grows behind the bridge.

When the couple made their entrance at 7:30, my entire painting was wrong — the garden was now illuminated by string lights instead of afternoon sunlight. Plan B:  Start a second painting!!!  I was only minimally prepared for a nocturne, but I needed to get my painter’s sense of the location, the sounds, the vibrancy of the lights, the energy of the party. By painter’s sense, I mean that visceral impression of myself being a participant in the scene and not just an observer. I needed to be able to recall all of it, not just relying on photo references, which convey only a small part of what I try to project. I set up my little lights, one on my palette and one on my painting, and knocked out a study of the light-wrapped trees and the dance patio to help me do the job right when I got back to the studio.

2014-0920 Grayt Grounds Nocturne Study

Plan B, nocturne study

The challenges of painting a nocturne successfully include first of all, believable colors. My palette from the afternoon painting was not the colors I would have chosen if I had planned a nocturne, but I was under the gun to capture the light-wrapped trees and the energy of the gardens so I used my afternoon palette.  I don’t judge the resulting study — it has so much background energy, it looks like the place is on fire — it was perfect for reminding me of some of the feeling I needed to capture, even though I needed to figure out how to paint the light-wrapped trees better.

A little about composition… When I teach, I suggest that my students stick to the safer “rule of thirds” for the focal point, which means putting the focus of the painting on one of the intersections of the horizontal and vertical tri-sections of the painting. By putting the couple smack in the middle of the painting, I was challenged to direct the viewer’s eye. I didn’t want the eye to go straight to the center and just stay there.  I wanted the eye to circle the painting, returning again and again to center, to help the viewer look at the painting for a longer period of time. That required more attention to the crowd than I was visualizing at the actual event, and especially more attention to the figures at the outside edges, who are intended to help the eye circle, and by their body position also help redirect the attention back to center. The scene is dramatized by the blue and red spotlights that were on the couple during their First Dance.

By writing this, I am reminded how many decisions go into making a painting. When painting plein air, those decisions are made on the fly; they are more considered in the studio. To arrange for me to paint plein air at your event, contact Cheri Peebles at Grayt Grounds: http://graytgrounds.com/contact/.

Oil painting of couple dancing outdoors at Grayt Grounds in wedding reception - final piece

 

Commissioned Works En Plein Air

June 6, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air

I recently completed two commissioned assignments in which specific subjects were requested.  In the first case, a specific style also was requested.  Fortunately for me, the stylistic samples I was given, ranged from the light and airy scenes of the French Impressionists to a piece of “outsider art” which had that sort of purely expressive sense of being painted by an artist who has not had formal training.  I was confident I could paint within that wide of a range!

The location of the first commissioned piece was in the gardens at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, at a wedding reception, and my job was to paint the bride and groom’s first dance.  When I arrived to get the background started, the Forrest Williams band was setting up, and the people from Grayton Beach Catering were bustling about.  My background was blocked in when the first guests arrived, and I was enjoying the band singing “She’s as Sweet as Tupelo Honey”.  By the time the guests started arriving, my 10×8 painting was well underway, and a few of the guests would wander over and watch as I worked.  I let one of the children put some color on the bottom part.  When the bride and groom were announced and made their entrance onto the dance floor, I put down my brush and picked up my sketchpad and my camera.  After the dance, I laid in the figures on my nearly finished background and then finished the details in the studio using my sketch and my photos for reference.  Afterwards, I decided to paint another painting in the studio, making effort to paint in a more “Impressionist” style, with layers of short, patterned brushstrokes loaded with color, which was great fun.  (See also my later blog “Commissions under Pressure – Plein Air at Events”.)

Sketch of couple dancing outdoors

Plein air sketch

Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Painted en Plein Air

Plein air painting, details in studio

Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Impressionist Style

Studio painting

For mobile viewing

Sketch of couple dancing outdoors

Plein air

Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Painted en Plein Air

Plein air

Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Impressionist Style

Studio

 

The second commission was for Channing Gardner, a real estate agent, for a gift for his client.  My task was to paint the Seagrove Beach property as it was when it was purchased, before anything was built on it.  It took me two mornings to complete it, because of the changing light and the heat.  I opted for a wider format, painting it 12×24, which allowed me to include more of the coastal development to contrast with the empty lot.

Oil painting of central Seagrove Beach westward towards Seaside, showing recently purchased empty lot

June is my busiest time of year in my day job, managing my pool service business, so I was not able to join the local plein air painters yet this summer until things lightened up this week.  We met near the pond at Mystic Port, a small collection of shops and restaurants north of Grayton Beach, Florida.  I was intrigued by the fountain, but never having painted one, I gladly accepted the suggestion of a more experienced artist, to put the splash on the surface of the water and then take a palette knife and drag upwards.  I am happy with the results — I can hearing the water falling.  Other works by our group on that day can be found on our Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.520412828081717.1073741866.285985251524477&type=1.

Oil painting of the fountain splashing at Mystic Port, Grayton Beach, FL

Plein Air: Battling With Nature

June 12, 2013 in Landscape, Plein Air

Every geographic area has its plagues, I suppose.  Here in Northwest Florida, our plagues are yellow flies from mid-May through the middle or end of June, and in late summer or fall, dog flies.  I react badly to yellow fly bites, getting a huge hive within minutes.  If I put a good anti-inflammatory cream on the bite right away, I will avert a reaction.  My plein air painting backpack is stocked with a strong repellent, and the best anti-inflammatory salve I can find.  I used both today.

We painted at Eden Gardens State Park, which is just a hop and a skip from my home.  I cajoled my dear friend, Lori Ceier, into coming out and painting with us.  Lori is the producer of my favorite website for local activities, www.waltonoutdoors.com.  Lori claims not to be an artist but I think what she really means is that up ’til now, she has preferred photography to painting.

Oil painting of Tucker Bayou Through the Trees at Eden Gardens State Park

Having recently completed my training as a Reiki Master, and thoroughly convinced of the Law of Attraction, nevertheless, during yellow fly season, I still cover most of my skin with clothing and put repellent on what’s left.  I fared pretty well, until the last half hour when the frustrated flies were fairly spitting their venom.  We all stopped painting soon then, and went to the screened pavilion for our critique.  Lori took a series of Photos showing the progression of my painting, and posted them on her Facebook page for WaltonOutdoors.com.

Plein air critique is interesting.  We each put our paintings up in a row and everyone ooo’s and ahhh’s and then each artist talks about their piece, the challenges they faced, what their intentions were, etc., and then the group might offer a suggestion for this effect or for that one.  If an artist has had enough of that fun, he or she might end the suggestions by saying thank you , y’all have given me a lot of ideas, and then we move on to the next piece.  Generally though, these are what I would call “soft” critiques, in that all of the artists are so encouraging — no one ever tells you that maybe you should take up sculpture or some other art form.

I felt so brave when I was painting, daringly putting a muted purple in the trees in the background, and a bright purple in the shadows in the foreground, and painting the silhouette of the foreground tree leaves a deep red-violet.  But when I look at the painting from any distance, the purples just become dark values, not daring at all!  My intention was to paint the background trees and grasses with brighter colors and more detail, and the foreground with broader brush strokes and less detail.  I think everything turned out more or less as I had hoped, except for the color of the water.  When I put the rich red-violet trees and shadow patterns in the foreground, the water of the bayou in the middle-ground, which I had painted a light pinkish blue, became more muted by comparison, almost a light gray.

In general, I’m pleased with the overall impression of looking out at the bayou through very large trees.  The barely visible picnic tables show the scale of the trees.

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

Painting Plein Air at Nick’s

March 20, 2013 in Landscape, Plein Air

My view of the boats at Nicks

Today the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters painted at Nick’s Restaurant on the north side of the Choctawhatchee Bay.  When I first arrived, one other painter was already setting up.  I walked around the derelict boats and dinghies decorating the grounds, following the Bay beach to the inlet and then up around the aged structure of the restaurant itself, shooting photos with my iPhone as I went.  A painting could be made from everywhere I looked.  I settled on the old boats lined up in the front yard. By the time I had gotten my easel set-up and made a preliminary pencil-on-paper sketch to try to lay-out my composition, about 10 to 12 more artists had arrived.

Most boats around here are white, but the boat in the foreground was red, and that color was the element that interested me.  I painted nearly every other part of the picture first, saving the red boat for last.  But as I worked, I cursed my choice of subject matter, having once again chosen to paint boats, which I know almost nothing about.  My biggest struggle was with the shape of the boat in the background.  The cabin morphed into an odd shaped roof over what I presume might have been sleeping quarters, but which now sported a gaping hole, a mate to the hole in the deck at the back of the boat.  Its one redeeming feature, besides its mass, was the turquoise color of the bottom.

Boats at Nick's

A tiny sliver of the Bay on the far left, and a nondescript structure in the background were the only hints at the location, but anyone who has eaten at Nick’s will recognize the boats.  The sandy beach was dotted with little grasses and vines, and I took liberty with that part of the painting, bringing in a few taller grasses, to break up the large area of plain beach, and to repeat a few reds.

When we lined up our paintings for the critique before lunch, I again was amazed and overwhelmed by the talent in the group.  One of the artists made a comment that caught my curiosity.  He was expressing frustration about a car pulling up and blocking his view, after he had already mixed all his colors and was ready to paint.  I have never approached my painting that way, instead mixing my colors as I go.  I may have to watch him paint sometime, to see how that works.

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

Carving the Void: Negative Shapes

May 12, 2011 in Figurative

The model who posed for our figure drawing session at Studio b. last week returned this week.  For the past four months, we’ve had a different model nearly every session.  That has added to the challenge in that every week we have to become familiar with a different body type or different proportions.  Having the same model two weeks in a row was a luxury.

Our instructor, Heather Clements, provided a focus for us, suggesting that we run the drawing off the page, effectively cropping it in order to create negative shapes out of the negative space.  Often in the rush of trying to get the figure drawn as quickly as possible before the timed pose ends, the background, if treated at all, is merely an afterthought.  By drawing the figure so that parts of it intersect with the edge of the page, it no longer floats on the page, but instead becomes anchored.  The negative space, the space surrounding the figure, is then broken up so that it becomes negative shapes instead of just open space.  Negative shapes help the piece to read as a composition.  Art imitating life, carving the larger voids into smaller pieces makes it more manageable.

A good mat and frame can help with cropping, but it is better for the artist to have made those decisions instead of leaving it up to the framer.

The sketches included here are from this week’s session.

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

Figure Drawing with Background

August 4, 2010 in Figurative

Gulliver Park, Valencia, Spain

Live figure drawing is often very hurried, and the whole time is spent drawing only the model.  It is tempting to omit essential elements in the surroundings, because the artist always thinks he or she can draw them later.  As a result many figure drawings end up with a figure just floating in space, without context or compositional  “anchoring”.  Heather asked the Studio b. figure drawing group for a second week to continue to include backgrounds in our drawings.  She showed examples from several books, discussing different artists’ inclusion of background, or in many cases, invention of background.  One of the examples was a figurative piece, tied down similar to Gulliver by the Lilliputians, and it reminded me of  a playground sculpture of Gulliver that I had seen in Valencia, Spain, where the ties holding him down actually were hanging knotted ropes that children could climb on, and parts of his clothing formed slides and crawl spaces for them.  The children interacting with the sculpture then became the Lilliputians.  With those images in my head, I drew my own version of the figure in Lilliput.

I first drew the figure in white conte on a dusty blue charcoal paper, and then using graphite I drew the Lilliputians tying her down, with a little cityscape in the distance.  (Click on drawing for detailed image.)

I drew the next pose as it was and incorporated some of the studio behind the model, including a silhouette of one of the artists.

All of the artists worked hard on the assignment, each making a drawing that was remarkably different from the others, and each with success.

Making Stuff Up

July 29, 2010 in Figurative

This week at Studio b., we had a new model.  I get better at drawing any particular model after I have drawn him or her a few times.  The first session with a new model is difficult for me.  The week was no exception — I struggled.  And as if drawing a new model wasn’t hard enough, Heather also directed us to draw the background in our pictures, to give a sense of environment.

In my first drawings, I drew a hint of the studio room, and the drapes covering the model’s support boxes.  There was not enough time for me to draw the model with much accuracy, and also to draw the studio as well.  I grew increasingly frustrated.  So on my last drawing, I gave up with the studio background, and instead I put my figure on a porch near the ocean.  Heather is always telling us to draw what we see, not what we know.  But all I had was what I know, so my porch siding and shadows might be a little unconvincing.  It’s all part of the learning process.