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Plein Air on the World’s Most Beautiful Beach

Dr. Steven Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach, rates the best beaches in the world every year, using 50 criteria. Grayton Beach, Florida, has been Number One at least once and in the top ten several times. That would be no surprise to anyone who has seen this beach. The reflective white quartz sand consists of small grains with a texture as smooth as sugar, so fine that it crunches and squeaks underfoot like very cold snow. Under the blue sea of the Gulf of Mexico, the white sand bottom reflects turquoise, punctuated by an emerald streak where the sand bar offshore rises to within 10′ of the surface. On days like last Wednesday, you would never know that those same waters could house the fury of a hurricane, like the one last month that destroyed most of Panama City, Mexico Beach, and Port St. Joe, the destruction starting a mere 20 miles east of Grayton Beach. Continue reading Plein Air on the World’s Most Beautiful Beach

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Why Not Just Take A Picture? Why Bother With Plein Air?

By all means, take a picture with your camera!

With today’s technology, we are taking photos every day, and some of them are really good. But why isn’t that enough for the plein air painter? Why not just paint from the photograph? I’ll try to answer that.

First of all, even the best cameras don’t pick up the values and colors exactly right. That’s why every good photographer is an artist, both with their composition of the scene and with their use of photo-editing software afterwards. But certainly we can do many of the things in the studio that we do en plein air, can’t we? Like re-composing, and leaving certain things out, or moving a tree a smidge to the left in order to provide contrast behind the focal area? Well yes, except that we are working with changing light, so we also have to make a lot of decisions on the spot, and try to mix colors right the first time.

But here’s a big difference. Imagine yourself driving down the highway, seeing some pretty scenery, and stopping to take a picture. Years later, or even days later, maybe even hours later, you are looking back at your photos, and you wonder what it was that made you snap that photo, what it was that caught your eye, why it was significant, why it impressed you enough to stop the car.

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And Now, a Thirty-Day Challenge

Collage of the 30 Paintings in 30 Days artwork

Artist and art marketing guru Leslie Saeta periodically offers a 30-day challenge, to paint 30 paintings in 30 days. Since I managed to complete Mary Gilkerson’s Five-Day Challenge, I thought I’d give this one a whirl. Eventually, there should be 30 paintings on this blog post, and I will also post to Instagram at @JoanVienotArt and to Facebook at Joan Vienot Art. The 30-day challenge will start February 1, 2018 and will run through the first couple days in March.


The 30-Day Challenge is now complete, and I am happy to say that I managed to paint every day! It’s not so hard, if it is a priority. Granted, many of them are small, just 6×6, but I made each one of them count as a learning experience. At the same time, I had scheduled 5 workshops during this 30 days, so it indeed was a period of learning. Probably the most difficult part of it was posting to my blog and to social media — that took a minimum of 30 minutes each day, and if I wasn’t careful, I could find myself stuck on social media for another couple of hours, catching up on friends’ activities and generally being entertained by the mishmash of news and minutia one finds on Facebook. Below are my 30 paintings.

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Goals, Objectives, and Challenges for the Coming Year

It’s about time to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions again. I prefer to think of it as setting goals to pursue, or objectives I would like to attain, or even challenges I am setting up for myself. Somehow I feel less threatened by those words than by “resolutions”, which seem to me to be things that I resolve NOT to do, like eating a carton of ice cream in one day, versus goals, objectives, and challenges which are things I plan to work towards. Here are some of mine:

  1. Paint every day either plein air or in the studio, for 30 or 60 days, maybe longer. To do this, I plan to have a palette and brushes ready all the time, in my studio, as well as in my plein air backpack. I have ordered a whole bunch of 6×6 panels for this effort. I can use larger canvases, which I keep on hand all the time, but for this goal to be achievable, I want to be able to finish my daily painting in just 30 minutes, so it makes more sense to use small canvases.
  2. Learn to paint shapes common to our local landscape. Or to paint them better. Shapes such as, palmettos, palm trees, blue herons and other shorebirds, tugboats and fishing boats and pleasure boats, paddlers, waves and choppy water, clouds, live oaks and scrub oaks, sand dunes, twisted dune pines, etc. If I spend a week on each of those subjects, that covers at least 2 months, without even considering that nothing is carved in stone, fortunately for this easily distractible artist, where every shiny spot of light cries out to be captured, now!
  3. Learn to simplify, simplify, simplify!
  4. Figure out what appeals to me about paintings I admire, and then practice that — compositional design, color combinations, contrast, development of focal area, etc.
  5. Practice putting people in some of my paintings. Participate in the upcoming figure painting sessions to be held every Friday at the Cultural Arts Alliance’s Foster Gallery on Grand Boulevard in Miramar Beach, Florida. Learn how to use the “Zorn Palette” to create skin tones (cadmium red light, yellow ochre, titanium white, and ivory black).

Continue reading Goals, Objectives, and Challenges for the Coming Year

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A Wedding, Three Workshops, and Two Paint-Outs

The last 8 weeks have been amazingly busy.

Oil Painting of Brian and Megan Robertson's First Dance
Brian and Megan’s First Dance

In September in my capacity as the 30A Wedding Painter, I painted a commission en plein air

Plein air painting of first dance at wedding, unfinished
Unfinished, en plein air

at a wedding, oils on stretched canvas, 24×20, finishing the details in the studio. The plein air painting captured the basics, but I needed to tie the composition together better in the studio, which made it quite a bit more formal, and I corrected the proportions of the figures. I scumbled the chandelier, which I had greatly exaggerated on purpose because it set the tone for the scene, and I softened the white curtain behind the couple to create a glow around them, with the foliage creating a heart-shape over their heads.

I enjoy painting at weddings. It is a command performance, so I have butterflies when I first start, but they disappear soon after I start painting. Typically I have contact with the bride’s mother or the bride or couple as much as a year ahead of time, which gives me plenty of time to find out their relative heights, the location of the venue, their colors and styles of clothing, their flower colors, etc. I have a page on my website dedicated to event painting called Weddings, Etc.

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Community Awareness and Art Marketing for Plein Air Painting

This fall I am investing my time in cultivating my community’s appreciation for plein air painting, as well as promoting my own work. Many people in my community have never heard of plein air painting, so that is taking extra effort. My local arts association, the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, is very supportive. The CAA will be adding a plein air paint-out to our existing Flutterby Festival at Watersound Origins here in Santa Rosa beach, FL, in November. I will be teaching a one-day workshop the day before the festival, the lesson being effective shape-making to start a plein air painting in a way that will offer a high likelihood of success.

Art marketers say that 20% of your time as an artist should be spent on marketing. I am spending more than 20%  of my art energy right now, but I expect it to level off. I actually had intended for last year, my third year of plein air painting, to be my marketing year. The transition and adjustment after selling my pool service business took more time than I had anticipated.

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Went to a Garden Party, en Plein Air

Sometimes our local group of plein air painters receives an invitation to paint at an event. When that happens, usually 4 or 5 of us will show up, and it is always fun. The garden party today, at Clay30A, was no exception. It was the 5th anniversary for the Seagrove Beach, FL, nursery and gift shop. I meant to arrive an hour early, because the party was only scheduled for 2 hours in the afternoon, and I wanted a head start. Alas, somewhere I lost an hour, so I arrived right after the party started. Several fellow painters were already hard at it. The business is a cornucopia for plein air painting – brilliant light and color and contrasting dark shadows galore. I often bite off more than I can chew when we (the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters) paint here, so today I purposefully chose a simple subject, pots of flowers hanging from a tree. I correctly guessed that the sun would be starting to hit the flowers by the end of the party at 5:00, which was when I would be ready to paint the light. From when I started at 3:00 until then, I was busy with simple shape making and background colors. At the end, I was pleased with my result, so I gave it to the owner to thank her for inviting our group. To our surprise, she gave each of us a sweet card and gift. I am so grateful to live in such a classy place! Below is my painting. There was one change I made after shooting this photo — I removed the pot hanger I had started to paint in below the lowest hanging pot on the right. I decided that it would be difficult to identify, and that visually it would be less confusing to have the pots just hanging from the tree.

Oil painting of hanging impatiens at Clay30A nursery and gift shop, Seagrove Beach, FL

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The Practice of Plein Air Painting

We “practice” yoga, we “practice” meditation. Plein air painting is “practiced”. Like yoga, and like meditation, plein air painting is performed, hopefully, with increasing awareness and perhaps with increasing skill, but I don’t know of any painter who thinks their practice is “perfected”. Even though a plein air painter might occasionally paint the best painting of her or his life, the next painting still begins with the proverbial blank canvas. I paint weekly with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters. Actually, I coordinate the weekly sessions, sending out the location to the email list of 240 people, and meeting the group of 2 to 15 painters who might show up. We paint for 3 hours, and then have a soft critique, followed by lunch at a local restaurant. The social aspect of the weekly get-togethers reinforces my practice.

In January, it was foggy for one of our sessions, at Turkey Creek in Niceville, FL. By the time we finished, the fog had lifted and colors had appeared, but initially my scene appeared to be monochromatic. I used a different approach for this foggy scene. Normally when painting en plein air, the darks are laid in first. But to create the atmosphere of light through the fog in this painting, I painted the light brownish-gray sky and water and the very light value background shapes, layering the darker, closer shapes on top.

Oil painting of the dunes at Henderson Beach State Park

The last week of January we painted at Henderson Beach State Park in Destin, Florida. The Florida Panhandle coast from Panama City to Pensacola is covered with sugar-white, fine quartz sand from thousands of years of erosion carried down to the Gulf of Mexico by the Apalachicola River. The white sand picks up reflected color from everything around it, and sometimes the compliments of those colors are sensed by the viewer. The sand might appear pink next to the green foliage topping a dune, or warmer and yellower near cool shadows.

The next week we painted at Camp Helen State Park, which is on the Walton County / Bay County border. The park contains hardwood live oak and pine hammocks, marsh ecosystems, and sandy beach. I hiked out to a view of the dunes, where I could just make out the skeleton of the old pier. I was challenged by the puffy little clouds covering most of the sky, with a little blue peaking out just here and there.

The first weekend of February, I drove two hours east to the village of Apalachicola to meet up with my friend Lynn Wilson, owner of On the Waterfront Gallery and President of the Artists of Apalachicola Area. Lyn is sponsoring monthly Weekend Warrior painting workshops, and this weekend was the first, taught by Atlanta artist Debra Nadelhoffer. I took the workshop both to learn and also to observe the logistics, since Lynn has invited me to teach the workshop in May. Debra likes to paint the sky with different colors of the same value in order to impart the shimmer or movement of the air that she sees. I painted the above painting, and later was painting on a new canvas, trying to learn how to paint the blinding glimmer of sunlight on water, when passers-by stopped and asked to purchase the above painting. The following paintings were also painted in the Nadelhoffer workshop, as I tried new color combinations, and exaggerations of color.

After returning home, I painted with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, and found myself experimenting with color temperatures in order to enhance the feeling of space and mood. I did not finish the painting (below) and did not keep it, satisfied with what I learned in the process.

All of these paintings are available for purchase. Contact me for information, using the form that comes up when you click on the painting.

 

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Out with the Old, In with the New: From 2016 to 2017

2016, A Year of Recognition

An art career doesn’t happen overnight.

When I received my degree in Fine Art, I imagined that I would be a fulltime artist by the time I was 40 years old. Instead, I was completely immersed in a growing pool service business, with hardly enough time to produce the occasional donation of art for charity. It would be another 15 years before things would change.

In 2007, with the economy slowing to a crawl, my business growth stopped and I found myself with a good deal of free time. I began producing art every week and I started volunteering for the local arts organization, the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, helping to organize and produce art exhibits. Soon after, I became a member of the Board of Directors. I began painting en plein air in 2012, and in 2015 I volunteered to be the coordinator for the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters. Finally, in late 2015, I sold my pool service business, and I began pursuing my art career more diligently.

And now it is the end of 2016. What a year it has been! I continue to serve for the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, and I continue to coordinate the weekly gatherings of the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters. Here’s my year in review:

In January, the Sunshine Art Center / Beach Art Group produced a solo exhibit of 55 of my paintings, honoring me for winning People’s Choice Best in Show at the Local Color Plein Air Paint-Out in Lynn Haven, Florida, which was held last fall.

Also in January, all 3 of my entries were accepted into the Southeast Regional Juried Art Exhibition at the Mattie Kelley Art Center at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Florida, and “Western Lake with Umbrella Trees”, my 12 x 24 plein air oil painting, won 3rd place.

At the end of January, I was the featured plein air painter and workshop instructor for the Florida Chautauqua Assembly in DeFuniak Springs, Florida.

I was the February Artist of the Month for the Freeport Art League, displaying work at the City Hall in Freeport, Florida.

In mid-February, I got my left thumb repaired, CMC arthroplasty, which gave me a new thumb joint. I practiced with watercolors while I had use of only one hand, which was less messy and a fun return to my years fresh out of college.

In the spring, I received a phone call from Joe Taylor, from the Forgotten Coast Coalition in Apalachicola, Florida, telling me I would be one of six artists selected from across the state to be a “Florida’s Finest en Plein Air” Ambassador for 2016 until May of 2017. That recognition gave me a good deal of credibility among other artists and attendees of the annual Forgotten Coast En Plein Air Invitational in Apalachicola. I also gained immeasurable experience teaching the fifteen one-on-one plein air painting lessons as an Ambassador.

In June, I coordinated an exhibit of works by the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast.

I continued my weekly painting excursions with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters through the summer, and was the luncheon speaker at the Arts and Design Society in Ft. Walton Beach in July.

In the fall, I taught two more plein air painting workshops – one in Panama City and one in Santa Rosa Beach.

Also in the fall, I competed in the Bagdad-Milton Plein Air Paint-Out near Pensacola, Florida, where I was honored to receive Best in Show for my 12 x 24 oil painting “Anticipation”.

A month later I was asked to be the judge of the Alabama Plein Air Artists’ Gulf Shores Paint-Out Quickdraw, which allowed me to demonstrate my expertise in evaluating art.

The final honor for the year was being juried into the Foster Gallery, a co-op of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, which exhibits 15 select artists every quarter.

I was the November Artist of the Month for the Freeport Art League, displaying work at the City Hall in Freeport, Florida.

Also in November, I had my right thumb repaired, CMC arthroplasty, the same surgery I had on my left thumb in February. I practiced working with pastels instead of oils, for 5 weeks while my right hand was immobilized, using my left (non-dominant) hand. Pastels are great fun, a welcome addition to my repertoire. I was surprised that using my left hand was not the nuisance I anticipated, just another challenge.

The events of this past year have improved my reputation as an artist, and have given me the confidence to set more ambitious goals. In 2017 I will be making a strong effort toward marketing as I continue to strengthen my painting skills.

My dream is to be able to travel and paint, and I have begun to realize that dream. In August I traveled with local painter Rebecca Perrott, to Arizona to take a workshop from my favorite instructor, Morgan Samuel Price, and in October I traveled with two other local painters, Theresia McInnis and Deborah Scott Mason, to North Georgia for a short week of plein air painting in the Blue Ridge area. In February I will travel with Apalachicola painter Lynn Wilson and a number of other painters to New Zealand for a week of plein air painting and adventure, on Plein Air Magazine’s Publisher’s Trip.

Plein air painting comes with many challenges which include the changing light, the weather, insects, and even by one’s own fitness. Sometimes I think I must be crazy to enjoy it so much. But after years of burning the midnight oil managing a business, which thankfully paid the bills, but did not nurture the soul, I am thrilled to be well on my way in this new career, the career I dreamed of!

It is my joy is to share the beauty I see.

Below are recent paintings. The first painting is the first one painted in oils with my new thumb joint, post-surgery, a bitter cold day. Eden Gardens State Park is one of our favorite locations to paint. It was decorated for the holidays, but I was sufficiently challenged to just get a bit of the structure, my primary interest being the intense color of the resurrection fern growing on the live-oak trees.

Oil painting of the mansion at Eden Gardens State Park in Pt. Washington, FL, painted en plein air

The next painting below was painted on a warmer day, outside the Foster Gallery at the Market Shops at Sandestin, Florida, where I was accepted as one of the 15 artists to show work this quarter. It is a small painting, only 6×6, but as is usually the case, something I had never painted before.

Oil painting of pansies, painted en plein air
Pansies is available from my store. Click the painting for more information!

The next week we painted the Western Lake Outfall at Grayton Beach, Florida. The coastal dune lakes of our county are a rarity, being found only in a few other places in the entire world. When a coastal dune lake accumulates enough rain run-off, it breaks open and the overfill flows into the Gulf of Mexico, and tides then exchange saltwater with freshwater in the lake, until the beach builds up and closes off the lake outfall again. The outfall was flowing on the day we were there. When I say we, I am talking about the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, a group of avid artists meeting weekly at various locations, to paint en plein air. On this day, the sky was completely overcast, and the entire scene was muted shades of gray, except for a coral strip of sky between the clouds and the Gulf waters. Halfway through our morning painting session, the blinding sun came out, and suddenly the entire scene was in color. The smarter painters set their first canvas aside and began another painting. The rest of us fussed and fumed our way through, perhaps relying on a photo or two to quickly finish our paintings before our memory gave out.

Oil painting of the Western Lake Outfall in Grayton Beach, FL, on an overcast day, painted en plein air

Last week we painted at the Destin Library. Beautiful gardens and landscaping surround the library. Unfortunately, we had a hard freeze the weekend before, so many of the camellia blossoms has dropped off, but on one bush new blossoms had opened since the freeze, and that bush begged to be painted.

Oil painting of the camellias and grounds at the City of Destin Public Library, Destin, FL, painted en plain air

Yesterday I was nominated to post a painting a day in the 7-Day Artist’s Challenge on Facebook. The first day I shared Thistle Bloom, which I will be giving away out of my display at the Foster Gallery where I am one of the juried artists exhibiting through February 25, 2017. Today I shared the painting below. This 12×24 oil painting was done almost all en plein air at Twin Oaks Farm last September. When we first got there, the early morning light was beginning to warm the chicken sheds and the rolling fields, and the sheep were just waking up.

Oil painting of the chicken sheds, chickens, sheep, and rolling fields at Twin Oaks Farm in Bonifay, FL, painted en plein air

Click on any image for purchase information.

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Adjusting Again – The Election and then Hand Surgery

Last February I had surgery on my left hand to reconstruct my thumb joint (CMC arthroplasty), and in November, the day after Election Day, I had the same surgery on my right hand. ( I mention Election Day because the surgery the day after the election meant that I could go through the next few days on pain medication, a relief on several levels.) I had opted to have my left hand repaired first, in February, even though the right hand was worse, so that I could know the level of disability I would have and be able to project the recovery time more accurately. The adjustment I made in February was to change from oil painting to watercolor painting, so there would be less clean up. I blogged about it under the title Adjust, Adapt, Accommodate — Painting Through Challenges. But this time, my right hand, my dominant hand, was immobilized, so I had to use my left hand express myself. Handwriting left-handed is difficult to say the least. By the time I finish writing anything, I have totally lost my enthusiasm for whateverit is I am writing about. And controlled brushwork is nearly impossible. So I switched to soft pastels, which are pure pigment, pressed into chalk-like sticks. The support I am using is 12×9 fine grit sandpaper made for this purpose. I’ve tried to keep my compositions fairly simple, being quite challenged both by the medium and by having to use my left hand. I’ve painted 3 times in the 4 weeks since my surgery. The rest of the time has been consumed with recovery, Thanksgiving holiday, and installing my part of the exhibit at The Foster Gallery, which i mentioned in my last post.

The first painting, at our weekly plein air painting session at Watercolor, Florida, was incredibly enjoyable, as I sat beside a large grouping of butterfly bushes that were sparkling with at least a hundred monarch butterflies, visiting during their annual fall migration to Mexico.

Soft pastels painting of monarchs on butterfly bush, painted en plein air at Watercolor, FL
(Created using my left hand, with soft pastels on sanded paper.)

The second painting was a respite from a football game that was being cheered by my Thanksgiving week hosts and their other guests. I wanted to convey my impression of a tree I had seen a few days before. I had a photo to remind me, but I wanted to portray the feeling of awe that I had when I first saw the tree. It had turned completely red, and was dropping its leaves, but all the leaves on the ground were pink, instead of red. I did not investigate to find out why — I guess they were falling face down, so only the pink backs showed.

Soft pastel painting of a red tree with pink leaves underneath, an impression of a scene in Murphy, NC
(Created using my left hand, with soft pastels on sanded paper.)

And the third painting was again with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at our weekly painting session, this time at The Gulf Restaurant in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. I chose the view of Brooks Bridge crossing from Okaloosa Island to FWB, and I stopped painting when the first raindrops started falling. A tornado touched down not too far from us and a waterspout scared people as it crossed the Choctawhatchee Bay. But it was calm where we were.

Soft pastels painting of Brooks Bridge from The Gulf Restaurant on Okaloosa Island, painted en plein air, looking towards Ft. Walton Beach, FL
(Created using my left hand, with soft pastels on sanded paper.)

Next week I will find out if I can take of my brace to be able to hold a paintbrush again.

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