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Reconnaissance in New Orleans

Oil painting of potted blooming geraniums and rosebush on steps to shotgun house in New Orleans, painted plein air
I woke early the first morning of my visit, and painted this little 8×6 oil of the potted geranium and rosebush on my host’s front steps in first light. I gave it to them as a thank-you gift.

Having such wonderful hosts made my visit to New Orleans earlier this week so very easy.  My intention was to see how plein air works were displayed in fine galleries.  Bill and Saramae Dalferes welcomed me into their home and Saramae chauffeured me up and down Magazine and Julia Streets to galleries we knew to carry plein air works, as well as a few more along the way.

(Because I write my blog as a record of my progress, it becomes a notebook of sorts, if anyone is wondering why I link so much.  Some of my links are to give a thank you to people or places which have given an experience to me; I link others so that I can go back and look up people or places I don’t want to forget.)

Saramae Dalferes is the career coach who helped me make the transition to becoming a full-time artist 2 days a week, a year ago last spring.  (Her email address is in the last paragraph, below.)  Saramae helped me identify the roadblocks that were keeping me stagnant, and then, once identified, helped me to remove them by changing the way I think and speak, by removing words that limited me.  One of the biggest changes was effected by using a relatively simple tool, a calendar.  When I put my future painting dates on a calendar, they are 99% certain to happen.  If I don’t, then they are about 10% certain, even today, and back then, 0%.

Saramae had finished a lot of research before I even arrived last Monday.  A few galleries were open Monday afternoon, but Tuesday was the day to remember!  We started at the Cole Pratt Gallery where the assistant director of the gallery, Cristin Cortez, graciously and expertly talked to us about every artist in the gallery.  We had specifically gone to see the works of Phil Sandusky, a prolific plein air artist and author of New Orleans en Plein Air and New Orleans Impressionist Cityscapes as well as many other books.

But I was thrilled with all of the work displayed at the Cole Pratt Gallery.  I especially enjoyed Denyce Celentano’s Everyone At The Beach Drives The Same Car, and Susan Downing-White’s Songs for the Gulf Coast Ballad. The front gallery held an exhibit of exquisitely impressionistic landscapes by John Stafford.

The plein air works by Sandusky were presented in wooden shadow box floater frames, which display the panel or canvas all the way to the edge, where the “reveal” of a standard frame hides about 1/4 to 3/8″ around the edge of the painting.

We stopped at the Garden District Gallery where we met the director Jim Adams, a fascinating guy whose wife, gallery owner Patti Adams, was showing amazing works with a number of other artists in the front gallery exhibit, “Drawn – Exploring the Line”. Jim and Patti also play for the symphony there in New Orleans.  We had gone in to see plein air paintings by Elayne Kuehler, but apparently that show was over.  She has a drawing in the “Drawn” exhibit.  As an aside, it puzzles me why drawings command prices that are so much lower than other media, even though they may demonstrate far superior technical skill and expression.  Carol Peeble’s work is a perfect example, an amazing large piece selling for only $1200, her 50% probably including the expense of the framing.  (I do not begrudge the gallery’s share, the gallery having all of the overhead expenses as well as advertising — the relatively low price of the media probably has more to do with an archaic perception of drawings being less permanent, bu with today’s archival materials and presentation, that no longer is true.)

Saramae also took me to the Soren Christensen Gallery where the director brought us plein air works by Libby Johnson out of the back room where they were waiting to be hung for an upcoming show..  The Jean Bragg Gallery of Southern Art was displaying a number of plein air artists, but when I asked how artists were selected, the director said that they were partial to local artists showing work painted in Louisianna.

We happened upon the Callan Contemporary Gallery, which had eye-popping optical illusions by James Flynn, and in a back room we discovered a piece by Sibylle Peretti, Holding Birdsfrom her show there last April, which completely blew me away.  72″ wide, it included a fantastic drawing floating underneath thick engraved, smoked plexiglas, with imagery created over the drawing, and feathers underneath and other feathers engraved and silver-leafed within the plexiglas.  No plein air works at the Callan, but what a visual feast!

The rest seems like a whirlwind — Betsy Stewart at Octavia Art Gallery; Lemieux Gallery, where Margaret Tolbert’s impression of a spring felt like home to me; at Guy Lyman which is showing many plein air paintings, in the back room sitting on the floor, a beautiful ink and conte drawing of a Dancer holding her ballet shoes, by Wilfred R.E. Fairclough, $1200; glassworks artist Dale Chihuly at the Arthur Roger Gallery, works priced from $40,000 to $225,000, and last but not least, the stillifes of Amy Weiskopf, small works priced generally $6000, framed in beautiful shadow box floater frames that looked like they were made of bronze, with no visible seams at the miter joints.

My plan last year was to begin plein air painting and regain my long dormant skills as a painter, intending to become a full-time artist at least two days a week.  This year I have been taking as many workshops as I could afford, sort of a post-graduate refresher course in painting techniques and style, and next year I intend to focus on marketing.  The purpose of the trip to New Orleans this week was to get ideas my subconscious can mull over for next year, while I trek onward with this year’s goals.

Presently my plein air paintings are shown at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet in Grayton Beach, Florida, and my figure drawings are at Bohlert Massey Interiors in the Village of South Walton in Seacrest Beach.

If you want to contact my career coach, Saramae Dalferes, for her help with your own aspirations, her email address, given with her permission, is sedalferesatyahoodotcom, which I have translated out of standard email address format to discourage spam.

Below are a few other images from my visit.

2014-0616 Magazine Street iPhoto of the extreme shadows of the ferns growing out of the Garden District Cemetery wall in New Orleans App'd iPhoto of the lamp on the shed in Bill and Saramae's backyard

Value sketch on toned paper, Whole Foods on Magazine Street, New Orleans

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Scenes of South Walton, 2012

A local group focused on environmental and growth issues in the mostly rural community where I live, in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, is called South Walton Community Council.  Missioned especially with protection of our fabulously beautiful, pristine environment, relative to development and community growth issues, SWCC also puts on a Back-to-Nature Festival every fall.  Last year for the first time, Hidden Lantern Gallery partnered with SWCC to produce a juried art show called Scenes of South Walton, comprised of art inspire by the local natural setting.

Aster Reflected

I decided to enter a few of my photographs this year, and I was pleased to receive notice that my work had been accepted.  I usually shoot photography for fun, for Facebook, and because I love the process of capturing images.  If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know that I also shoot for Leslie Kolovich of The Stand Up Paddle Radio Show, but working for her is so much fun I hardly call it work.

Being a visual artist, of course, line, shape, size, position, color, texture, and density, all of the elements of composition, and repetition, harmony, and unity, the principles of composition, factor into my artistic evaluation of any of my photographs.  Ultimately, though, my chief interest in my own photography, is the play of light over the forms.  I rarely do much with post-processing, primarily enjoying the act of shooting the photo much more than the infinite tweaking that can happen after the image is on the computer.

Tree Frog

To my pleasant surprise, one of my pieces was selected for Honorable Mention.  There were works by 12 other artists and photographers, all of whom I consider my superiors in craftsmanship, experience, and sheer expression.  But my pieces do have impact, and the piece I submitted that received the Honorable Mention, “Aster Reflected“, also has enough of an abstract element to be just a little confusing.  It is a photo of an aster hanging out over the creek, and perfectly reflected in the creek.  Actually, the reflection is a more distinct image of the flower than the actual flower, which is over-exposed.  The confusion comes from there being such a perfect reflection of the aster, stems, and leaves, in contrast to some pine straw and debris that is just floating on the surface without any reflection.  When you look at it, you have to stop to figure out why there isn’t a double image of everything, how there could be just a single image, unreflected, mixed in with all the double imagery of the reflections.

Water Lily

The juror, KC Williams, didn’t mention the composition when she talked about my photograph, but instead discussed how it clearly represented an image that could be found in South Walton.  She actually talked quite a bit about each piece she that she had chosen, and also about the superb craftsmanship and artistic expression of all of the works in the show, but when mine was announced, I was smiling too wide to be able to listen.

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

Juror KC Williams is Director of the Galleries at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, and she along with the Director of the South Walton Center of NWFSC, Julie Terrell, facilitate the exhibition of Cultural Arts Alliance members works through the A+Art Committee, on which I serve as co-chairman.

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Great Paintout at Grayton Beach

On Saturday I joined at least 16 other painters at Grayton Beach State Park, in Grayton Beach, Florida, to participate in the local effort for the Oil Painters of America 8th annual Great Paintout.  It was my first try at plein air oil painting in perhaps as much as 30 years, but something I have been intending to do for a long time.  I have occasionally painted outdoors using watercolors or sketched with pencil or ink, but the last time I remember painting the landscape with oils, plein air, was while on a camping vacation in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1978.  That day, so long ago, was memorable for being so hot and buggy.  By contrast, Saturday was the perfect day for plein air painting, being shaded by the park pavilion, and virtually bug-free.

So what’s the big deal about plein air painting, you may wonder.  En plein air is French for “in open air”, a phrase used to describe painting an outdoors scene “from life”, while actually looking at it, in the often changing light and weather conditions.  It requires intense concentration and awareness, and is much more challenging than painting from a photographic reference in a studio.  It appeals to me in much the same way that figure drawing appeals to me, because time is a limiting factor, so one must work fairly quickly, finishing or very nearly finishing the painting in one session.  For that reason, and because I felt so out of practice, I chose to paint on small 8″ x 10″ canvas boards.  I managed to make a passable effort on two boards.

To a certain extent, this was a trial run for me, to see how my equipment worked, and to start remembering how to paint.  I used just 3 brushes — two to paint with and a third one to sign my name, and a palette knife to scratch out some bush branches.  The brush I used for most of both paintings was a Winsor-Newton #6 round, sable, I think.  It worked better than the stiff bristle brushes I used a month ago in my first effort at returning to oils, in the workshop I blogged about on September 9. My new Coulter System easel and palette/box that I purchased last summer worked like a charm.  I used my 35-year old Grumbacher “Pre-tested” and Rembrandt oil paints from my days doing demonstrations as a high school art teacher.  My oil painting medium is about that old too, and while the paints are still good, I’m pretty sure the medium is degraded.  The paintings I did Saturday are dry today, one day later, but the painting I did a month ago in the workshop, in which I used more medium, is still a little sticky.

The sand dunes at Grayton Beach are made of  sand is so fine that it crunches underfoot like dry snow, and it even looks like snow in the bright sunlight, thanks to the clear crystals of quartz that make up the majority of its composition.  The scrubby oak bushes and half-buried scrub pines round over the tops of the dunes, shaped away from the Gulf of Mexico by the salty seabreeze.  Palmetto bushes and dune marsh grasses dot the lower dunes, fringed this time of year by various yellow wildflowers that some of us locals refer to collectively as goldenrod.  I never got around to painting as much as I would like to have, never adding in the finer details of shadows and sea oats.  I might go back in and put in those details, but the photos I have posted here are exactly as I finished on Saturday morning.

After we painted for about 3 hours, we all got together and looked at each others’ works, and we ooo’d and ah’d before giving feedback.  It was an excellent critique, with the masters of the craft commenting on areas of paintings that worked well, and areas that were challenging, and even discussing compositional tricks, like pointing out places where something in a painting might need to recede, made difficult by being light in value.  (Typically, light shapes and colors tend to advance, and darker forms recede, in a picture plane.  That can be overcome by muting or graying the lighter colors, shapes tending to become less bright as they recede, the way that we see things.)  Everyone was kind to me, not being critical at all, but I admit that I gave fair warning, protecting my vulnerability by explaining that I had just returned to oil painting again about a month ago, and that this was my 2nd effort in 30 years.  That was a fairly clear request to cut me some slack, I think.  The regular plein air painters go out every Wednesday, so if I start coming regularly, I’m sure they will feel more free to make helpful comments, and I will not be so scared to hear them.

Shane McDonald

Some of the artists who were there have their work online:

Becky Perrott

Charlotte Arnold

Rosalyn O’Grady

Margaret Ann Garrett

Jeanette Brooks Sherritze

Nancy Nichols Williams

Melody Bogle

Velda Dougherty

Shane McDonald

Matt Craven

And I wish I had the names and websites of the others there — if you read my blog and know the others, please email me with their names, and I’ll include them.

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