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Commissions Under Pressure – Plein Air at Events

Oil painting of Hunter and Meredith dancing outdoors at Grayt Grounds in wedding reception - final piece
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:

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


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Plein Air Painting on a Road Trip

Last Friday I drove a friend, Leslie, up to Birmingham for her doctor appointment, on the condition that I could paint before we left the next day.  To my pleasant surprise, she wanted to try painting too!

I had brought my usual plein air backpack and paints, but in my vehicle I also keep a Guerrilla Painter kit, which is a small box containing oil paints, palette, brushes, and everything else needed for spur-of-the-moment painting, for times when something just has to be painted but catches me without my full backpack.  So I set Leslie up with that kit.  I toned our canvases a light orange, and while they dried, I laid out Leslie’s palette, with a good dollop of each of the primary colors, plus another hue of blue, and also white.  A little linseed oil and some solvent completed the set-up. We were at Oak Mountain State Park, and we picked a view of the lake with a sweet cove in the foreground, lush greens everywhere.  I stopped painting every 20 minutes or so to reassure Leslie who seemed ready to throw away her efforts every time I turned around. She stayed with it until to her surprise, she finished her first plein air oil painting!  I always find myself a little surprised too, at the end of nearly every plein air session, to have a finished painting, or very nearly finished, after 60, 90, or 120 minutes of such struggle, such searching for the right colors and strokes to express the truth that I see.

And afterwards, as we were driving back home, we found ourselves in that frame of mind that comes only after that intense focus, that blissful sense of the present moment, when nothing exists except the immediate which becomes intensely magnified by its undistracted singularity.  The scenery we were driving through was more beautiful.  The rolling hills and green roadsides were in high definition and “Technicolor”.  It was what I now recognize as that ecstatic state of awareness brought on by plein air painting, similar to meditation or any other pastime requiring sincere concentration.

Below is my finished painting from this adventure at Oak Mountain State Park, and another from Boggy Bayou State Park in Niceville, FL, where I met up with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters 2 weeks ago.

Oil painting of the lake at Oak Mountain State Park, Birmingham, AL

Oil painting of the trees and cast shadows at Fred Gannon Boggy Bayou State Park, Niceville, FL


But sometimes a painting is not finished, usually due to the light changing, or bugs biting, or weather threatening. Below are 3 unfinished studies, one of the spring at Ponce de Leon State Park, FL, one of a cedar at Camp Helen State Park, and one of the multi-colored leaves of some potted plants in front of the gazebo at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet.

Ponce de Leon, study Cedar at Camp Helen, study Grayt Grounds, study

As always, most of my paintings and images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

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The Present Moment — A Showing of My Art

Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet to showcase local artist Joan Vienot Nov. 2 – 17

“The Present Moment” show features landscapes painted in oil

A story by Lori Ceier, Walton Outdoors,

Artist Joan Vienot painting plein air at Grayt Grounds. Her work will be featured Nov. 2 – 17. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

A one woman show of works by Walton artist Joan Vienot will be on display at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet in Grayton Beach Nov. 2 – 17, 2013. Opening night is Nov. 2 from 5 – 8 p.m.

Cheri Peebles, owner of Grayt Grounds is excited about the show.

“My idea is to have a coffee house that is diversified and a service. Featuring local artists is good for the community and neighborhood,” said Peebles.

Joan Vienot’s history of making art in Walton County goes back to the first gallery in Grayton Beach who showcased her watercolor paintings of the dune lakes, Bay, the Gulf, and all things that grow and flourish along the coast. Her passion for the natural beauty of this area has led her to become a fine art painter. Vienot’s outdoor paintings done ‘en plein air,’ in the moment, capture the beauty we recognize as the paradise we live in here in Walton County.

The show will feature her plein air style 8”x10” oils on canvas offered in an affordable price range. There will be between 40 -50 works on display.

“I paint what I see, in the moment, which is reflected in my preference for figure drawing and plein air painting.  The greatest pleasure for me as an artist is the capture of the present moment, a little piece of Now, or at least my impression of the Now.  When painting on site outdoors, or figure drawing, the scene or the pose is very likely to change during the process of drawing or painting it.  I enjoy that hurried pace, the rush of the capture, the challenge of the media, and the ongoing quest for quick mastery.  In each case, the subject must be portrayed in fairly general terms, with only enough detail to lend unique identity and a little atmosphere.  I must forgive myself for a bit of inaccuracy in favor of conveying the essence of the subject in an abbreviated period of time, rarely doing much correcting when I return to the studio, preferring to let my interpretation of the moment stand on its own,” said Vienot.

Below find a sampling what you may see at Vienot’s show:

Clement-Taylor-Park-1 Grayt-Grounds-at-Monet-Monet-1 Grayton-Bch-St-Pk-1
Morning Bayou Pompano-Nicks-Restaurant Port-St.-Joe-Mist


joansmAbout Joan Vienot
Vienot has a BA in Fine Art from the University of Northern Colorado. In addition to teaching art to high school students, she is involved as a volunteer for the arts in Walton County, serving on the board of directors for the Cultural Arts Alliance and co-chairing the A+Art Committee for CAA, which showcases member artists’ work at the South Walton Center of Northwest Florida State College.

Recent exhibits and publications:
• Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters booth at ArtsQuest 2013
• Scenes of South Walton, 2012, Honorable Mention for “Aster Reflected,” at Hidden Lantern Gallery
• CAA Directors Show, 2012, Bayou Arts Center
• A Passion for Art, 2012, A+Art, Northwest Florida State College
• Figure It Out, 2011, Studio b
• Photography for The Stand Up Paddle Radio Show: published in The Paddler ezine, and Standup Journal

To learn more, go to