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Forgotten Coast en Plein Air 2019: Part 5

Florida’s Finest Ambassador and Artist-in-Residence

This is the final post of a 5-part blog (scroll down for earlier posts) about my experiences this spring as Artist-in-Residence and as a Florida’s Finest en Plein Air Ambassador for the 2019 Forgotten Coast en Plein Air, the invitational event held annually in the communities of Mexico Beach, Port St. Joe, Apalachicola, Eastpoint, St. George Island, Carrabelle, and Alligator Point, in Northwest Florida. These coastline communities together with Panama City and all points northward, encompass most of the area of Florida impacted by Hurricane Michael on October 10, 2018.

As Artist-in-Residence, my last tasks were to help hang my work at Cal Allen’s Coastal Art Gallery in Carrabelle, FL, and to give a formal talk about my work at the public reception on Tuesday of event week. I had the day off from my Ambassador duties that Tuesday, which allowed me to visit for the first time, St. Teresa and Alligator Point, at the easternmost edge of the Forgotten Coast. Alligator Point reminded me of the coastal communities of Seagrove Beach and Dune Allen when I first moved here from Colorado in 1980. Many of the roads of St. Teresa and Alligator Point are dirt, and the coastal live oak trees form a thick brush starting low to the ground at the top of the dune, the tops thickly arcing upwards to form a dome over the squatty, single story houses with low roofs, which is smart design for windstorm areas. One street in Alligator Point was closed due to erosion, and I had to detour for a few blocks. I could see more severe erosion near the “neck” of the peninsula, if you want to call it a neck, similar to the erosion at the Stump Hole on Cape San Blas. It is my understanding that barrier islands become islands when the peninsula is eroded through the “neck”.

I had met a resident of St. Teresa in one of the ANERR classes I took during my residency, Mary Balthrop, and she suggested I stop by the FSU Marine Rsearch Lab in St. Teresa, and that I ask one of her former colleagues to give me a tour, so I did. What a bonus! Durene showed me the damage the facility sustained and what they were doing with the amount of recovery funding they had received from the university to date, but she also showed me some of their research projects, which I can’t share because the conclusions are not yet published. That was very interesting to me, because in my younger years I toyed with the idea of a career in marine biology.

For my presentation that night, I spoke of the cycles of nature in constant flux, and presented the hope I found in each situation, from the breach in the peninsula nearly closing already, to the pitcher plants and underbrush coming up from the ashes of the Eastpoint wildfire, the students from Marquette High School in St. Louis, MO, coming to make living shorelines and plant sea oats and do other projects to help the community, and the animals returning, attired in breeding plumage, proof of reason for hope. I talked about the scarped dunes, with the roots of the sea oats and smilax and other flora exposed. I mentioned my amazement that one exposed rhizome was 11 feet long, with root balls every 12″ or so, ready to sprout new sea oats at each root ball,. The exposed roots seemed to me to be a metaphor for the people of the area, their character roots exposed, digging in and digging themselves out, one foot in front of the other. I shared something that happened when I visited Peru, to hike the Salkantay Trail over Apacheta Pass and down to Machu Picchu — I remembered the pack-trains of horses, and how the pack driver would look each hiker in the eye, and say “Buenos Dias”, to each of us individually. Since Hurricane Michael this was the first time I had seen this in the United States, where strangers are paying such close attention to each other, asking you how you are, and how your home is, and looking you straight in the eye when they ask. Normally we bump into each other and barely say “Excuse me”, but people who are solidly grounded seem to be more connected to each other and to everyone they meet. It’s humbling, as an “outsider”, to be greeted so directly and with such caring.

When I finished my presentation, one woman said that her perspective had changed during my talk, and she found herself more hopeful. What more could I ask!!!

(I posted a snippet of unedited, raw video of my presentation in my last blog post.)

A great deal of clean-up has taken place since the storm last October. But there still are mountains of debris on the roadsides of the communities, and in rural areas the marsh grasses are covered with debris. Most places are navigable although there was that detour I had to take in Alligator Point, and there is a long stretch on St. Joseph Peninsula where only one lane is open while the other lane is still being reconstructed, each direction of traffic controlled by a stoplight at both ends.

Massive destruction is everywhere. The few undamaged buildings seemed to be miracles, and suddenly you realize you are looking through the windows at sky on the other side where there should have been a roof or a wall. It is a disappointment our US Congress has failed to approve the much-needed federal funding to help the communities get back on their feet, as of this writing, now 7 months after the storm. Normally federal funds are approved within the first month. No city or county has the funding to survive a Category Five hurricane. Consider if you had to repair or rebuild your city’s infrastructure from the ground up, including the sewer systems, while also having to pay for massive debris removal and rebuilding essential structures. The area needs federal assistance — if everyone reading this each could call their legislators, it might help. Each party is blaming the other.

Even so, the 20 invited professional artists were able to create incredible beauty at the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air. The various collections can be viewed at this link:

The four Florida’s Finest en Plein Air Ambassadors were tasked with providing 2-hour one-on-one introductory plein air painting lessons. I was scheduled to teach 3 lessons a day between 9am and 6pm, for 5 days. That translated to teaching from 9am-11am, 1pm-3pm, and 4pm-6pm, 15 students, 15 lessons, 5 days.

All supplies and equipment are provided for the Ambassadors’ introductory plein air painting lessons or “Painting Stations”. Some of the students were accomplished studio painters who did not have much or any plein air experience. One student had not painted since elementary school art class. Some others were novice plein air painters and brought their own equipment.

The weather cooperated, for the most part providing beautiful light for plein air painting. Each day we were assigned to a different community. Mexico Beach was hardest hit by Hurricane Michael, and our location was at the tourist welcome center near the boat canal, which is now housed in a trailer, the building destroyed. There was very little shade anywhere, and it was a hot day, so we set up in the shade of the trailer. Mexico Beach was in the path of Hurricane Michael’s eastern eyewall, so beauty was non-existent. Bulldozers had scraped up debris and then afterwards had smoothed out the land again. The trees were stripped lifeless. A pond remained in the distance, but I did not want to get close enough to be able to smell it. So I asked my student to use her imagination. I asked her to think of the scraped foreground as a field where a crop might have grown. Rows of grass were coming up at the edges of the bulldozer’s shovel tracks. I asked my student to think of the trees as if they were merely dormant, like in the dead of winter. By doing that, we were able to present the scene in a beautiful way, despite the chaos and noise around us. Below is my demo.

Mexico Beach Returning to Life

The afternoon sun eliminated every bit of shade at the trailer, so for my afternoon students, I set up underneath the bridge where US 98 crosses over the canal. The boat dredging the canal was not nearly as noisy in the afternoon as the nearby generator was during our morning session. For our subject I focussed on an outcropping of palms in the wall of the canal, quite bedraggled from the storm but with new green growth. Below are my demos from the afternoon sessions in Mexico Beach, 9×12 and 6×12.

Mexico Beach, under the bridge by the Welcome Center

My other locations were in Port St. Joe and Eastpoint, and 2 days were at the Millpond in Apalachicola. One of my students selected this more complex scene to paint in Port St. Joe.

The paintings at the Millpond in Apalachicola were simpler compositions, varying only slightly, but the lighting changed as the day passed.

Scipio Creek Day 1
Scipio Creek Morning, Day 5
Scipio Creek Afternoon
Scipio Creek, Dinnertime

It was an honor to be invited to be an Ambassador again. I had served as an Ambassador in 2016 as well as this year. Two of the other Ambassadors also were second-timers, Ruth Squitieri and Cathy Berse, and one was here for the first time, Theresa Grillo Laird. As an instructor, it is difficult to cover very much information in a two-hour lesson, just the basics of starting a plein air painting, so my efforts were aimed at getting a paintbrush in the student’s hand as soon as possible, after showing how to choose a scene and how to crop the scene before starting to paint. In each session I painted the same scene as the student, staying one step ahead of my student, offering tips and suggestions each step of the way. I started all lessons with a value study sketch and showed them a photo app I find useful for checking values, and then we toned our 9×12 canvases and started painting.

During the whole week, I and the three other Ambassadors each displayed five plein air paintings in The Joe Center for the Arts. We were honored with a reception for our exhibit along with the reception for the exhibit of pre-hurricane paintings showing things the way they used to be.

The oil paintings I selected for my Ambassador wall, each available and for sale, were the following:

Oil painting of a boat in a grassy yard with the play of light under oak trees on the waterfront of a bay
Anticipation, 12×24
Blue Heron at Dewey Destin’s Seafood, 9×12
Play Day at the Club, 11×14
Eden Azaleas, 14×11
Marina Light, 9×12

Being an Ambassador is a grueling schedule, so I was a zombie for the week afterwards attending Plein Air South, an educational conference for plein air painters, following the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air. I served as a volunteer at PAS, which kept me active and engaged; otherwise I might have slept the whole week. The world-renowned faculty included David Boyd, Jr., Greg Barnes, Anne Blair Brown, Bill Farnsworth, Mary Garrish, John Guernsey, Kathleen Hudson, Christine Lashley, Larry Moore, Vicki Norman, Kathie Odom, Lori Putnam, Iain Stewart, and Dawn Whitelaw, and the keynote speaker was Quang Ho. What a treat, not just to rub shoulders with so many of these greats, but to actually know most of them and call many of them my friends!

And that wraps up this series of 5 blog posts. The experience has changed me and has put my fledgeling art career on a steeper trajectory. I finished all responsibilities for my business on May 1 last year, so the first of May marked my first full year as a full-time artist. Onward ho!

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Forgotten Coast en Plein Air 2019: Part 4

Florida’s Finest en Plein Air Ambassador and Artist-in-Residence

The work I produced during the Forgotten Coast artist residency and the month following was hung at Cal Allen’s Coastal Art Gallery in Carrabelle, FL, last week with the help of the Carrabelle Artists Association. I gave my presentation at the event reception on Tuesday. Then the collection was moved to the event wetroom in time for the collector’s dinner last night and for the event gala tonight. The wetroom is at Ft. Coombs Armory at 66 4th Street in Apalachicola, FL. I have one space and all the rest is filled with the most amazing and beautiful works the 20 invited artists who painted this week. What a show!

A huge thank you goes to event chair Cheryl Ploegstra and her team of volunteers and the board of the Forgotten Coast Cultural Coalition, producers of the event.

Here is a raw, unedited video of my presentation – thank you Karen Weir-Jimerson for sharing it with me! And below the video are the image notes I posted with each piece, in a close approximation of the order in which I talked about them, if you play the 25-minute video as you look at each piece.

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Forgotten Coast en Plein Air 2019: Part 3

Florida’s Finest Ambassador and Artist-in-Residence

An exhibit of paintings by Joan Vienot, Artist-in-Residence, Forgotten Coast en Plein Air
I have been back and forth all spring between my Santa Rosa Beach, FL, home and Mexico Beach, Port St. Joe, Cape San Blas, St. George Island, Eastpoint and Carrabelle, as the 2019 Artist-in-Residence for the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air, and finally the event has arrived. My paintings are hung, and everyone is invited! Many of my paintings are scenes you may recognize. The one in this invitation is from the wildfire area in Eastpoint. I will be posting my residency paintings in Part 4, along with a short description on each, as to why I feel it was on message for my assigned theme, Recovery in the Natural Environment, which I subtitled Hope.
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Forgotten Coast en Plein Air 2019: Part 1

Florida’s Finest Ambassador and Artist-in-Residence

Every year the Forgotten Coast Cultural Coalition hosts a plein air painting event, inviting twenty professional artists to paint the area of Northwest Florida known as the Forgotten Coast. It includes the communities of Mexico Beach, Port St. Joe, Cape San Blas, Indian Pass, Apalachicola, Eastpoint, St. George Island, and Carrabelle. On October 10, 2018, the Forgotten Coast was hit hard by Hurricane Michael. The City of Mexico Beach was decimated, and the surrounding communities also were heavily impacted. The theme for this year’s annual Forgotten Coast en Plein Air event will focus on the natural environment as it recovers from the impact of the Hurricane.

Florida’s Finest Ambassador

I am happy that for the second time I have been selected to be a Florida’s Finest en Plein Air Ambassador for the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air event. Every year, four to six Florida artists are selected for this honor. I also served as an Ambassador in 2016, so I know it to be a big job, some of the hardest work but also some of the most rewarding work I have ever done. It involves mentoring artists new to plein air, one-to-one, in two hour sessions, 3 sessions a day with a different artist each session, working with 15 artists over 5 days. The program is underwritten by Duke Energy, with all tools and materials supplied.

In the past, participating painters have been charged only $25 for what I would estimate is a $200 private lesson when you count supplies and equipment plus the compensation and housing provided to the Ambassadors. Watch the event website for the opening of registration for the “Painting Stations”:


I also am honored and deeply humbled to be invited to do the artist residency for the event. Residencies traditionally have been offered only to an invited professional artist, and not to Ambassadors. Being an artist-in-residence for the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air means that I will be housed there for a week this spring, to observe, learn, and paint scenes relating to the event theme focusing on the natural environment as it recovers from the impact of Hurricane Michael. In particular, I will be looking at mitigation efforts including the installation of living shorelines, planting sea oats, erecting sand fences, mitigating the combustible fuel overload in the forests, and restoring the longleaf pines.

I will be observing the work of the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast which is managed by Franklin’s Promise Coalition. For background knowledge, I also have scheduled a walking tour on St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, and I will take two workshops from the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, one on Oyster Ecology, and the other one a Bay Estuary class.

My residency is split into two parts. The first four days are this-coming week, and the last 3 days are in the first week of April. I will be observing, sketching, and painting en plein air, and in the month following, I will be refining some of my plein air works and also producing some studio works from my observations. If you are interested in painting with me, or observing, the Artist’s Field Day will be all day Wednesday April 3, 2019. At the end of the bring-your-own-lunch day will be an informal critique and wine. (!!!) Contact Cheryl at for details. In early May I will present my residency work at the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air event, at a reception at Cal Allen Gallery in Carrabelle, FL, Tuesday May 7 at 6:30 pm Eastern Time.


On Monday of last week I drove over to Cape San Blas and St. George Island to take a look at some of the areas I have painted. Driving through Mexico Beach is still such a shock, even though a great deal of the storm mess and destruction has been swept clean. Seeing blocks and blocks of land where homes used to be, is something I can’t get used to. I drove on to Port St. Joe, to Salinas Park which is on the way to Cape San Blas. The marsh on the Bay side looks healthy, but the Gulf side of the park surprised me, a big cut coming all the way from the Gulf to the parking area at the southernmost boardwalk.

The inlet to the cut had filled in, leaving a large tide pool, and the county had bulldozed sand to form two dune-like mounds to restore the geography. The concrete floor of the pavilion next to that boardwalk was sloped and askew where the current of the storm surge had eroded the dirt from beneath it. A truckload of inmates were clearing debris from the park. I was disturbed to see green branches on the ground where still living pine trees had been removed along with the dead, but I confess I have no knowledge of how soon the living trees will die anyway because of saltwater inundation.

The rock-hardened curve of the road on the Cape was one lane, repairs and reinforcement being done. That road certainly would have been completely washed away if it hadn’t had a barrier of big rocks 5′ high. I saw some of those boulders washed all the way across the road, resting in the marsh.

Inside T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, everything looked pretty typical for a barrier island hit by a storm, the foliage wind-burned and some pine trees snapped in half, until I got to the first beachfront boardwalk and restroom just past Eagle Harbor. There ahead was the 1000-yard breach in the peninsula, where the Gulf of Mexico washed through to St. Joseph Bay. I parked and walked out on the large sandy area bordering the south side of the channel. It is an awe-inspiring sight, imagining the power of the storm to move that much sand. I have been told that Mother Nature is filling in the channel already, that it was 35 feet deep when the breach first happened, and that now you can wade across at low-tide, though that is not advised because of the dangerous currents.

The island part of the park is still closed, dangerous with storm debris, broken buildings, exposed utilities and what-not. On the opposite shore from me was an oddity: a tree that had been buried in the dune was completely exposed, the branches balanced on top of a massive tap-root still holding it erect. Who knows how old that tree was. I expect it will provide stability for the new dune when one forms there. I returned following the eroded face of the dunes, past a second place where you could see how the dune eroded into the start of another cut, which would have further widened the breach but instead left a large tide pool. The sand is already collecting in front of the dunes and on the sea oats that are already growing up from their rhizomes deep under the wind-swept beach.

Below are images of a couple of scenes I painted last spring in 2018, and at right, the site where I was standing when I painted them, now a wide breach in St. Joseph Peninsula.

You can learn more about the damages in the state park in this article.

I drove over to the recently reopened St. George Island State Park, and found the scene of another one of my paintings, the massive dune I had painted no longer there, the beach scoured flat. A park ranger, Assistant Manager Lance Kelly, was very gracious in taking time to talk to me about their efforts to re-open the park. He said Hurricane Michael was so strong that a good deal of the dunes blew over to the other side of St. George Island, actually widening the island a bit. He told me how resilient the sea oats are, sending up new leaves even after being uprooted by the storm, run over by bulldozers, and plowed into the long hills of sand the rangers put between the road and the beach to encourage the start of new dunes.

Below is a scene I painted there on SGI last spring in 2018, and at right, the vast emptiness now where that massive dune used to stand.

On my way back off St. George Island, I stopped at East Hole (ANERR Unit 4), and walked out to the Apalachicola Bay shoreline, where I found bordering the marsh a wide stretch of new sand about a foot deep, tossed up onto the shore by the wave action in the Bay. No doubt this was some of the gulf front dune sand the ranger had been talking about. A pair of blue herons were fishing a short distance from me, signaling spring nesting coming soon, continuing the cycle of life on the barrier island.

This is the first of a five-part series on my experiences as a Florida’s Finest Ambassador and an Artist-in-Residence for the 2019 Forgotten Coast en Plein Air.

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Just Plein Fun and Other Autumn Adventures

This post will have to be more pictures than writing — everything has been moving so fast I haven’t taken enough time to reflect on it all! First, of course, the effects of Hurricane Michael are still heavy upon my neighboring communities, along the coastal towns from Panama City to St. George Island and further, and all points north of there. The fundraiser started by Larry Moore and managed by Denise Rose and team, “Operation Fundstorm”, begun with the hope of raising a mere $10,000, actually raised over $117,000! More than 200 artists donated paintings which then were auctioned online over the course of one week, with 100% of the proceeds going to provide hurricane relief on the Forgotten Coast. I am thrilled to have been a contributing artist, with “Seeing the Light”, at left.

The first week of November, I hung 20 of my paintings at Artful Things in Niceville, FL, where they will be exhibited through December 2018. That same week I also was juried into the Foster Gallery at the Ruskin Place Artist Colony, in Seaside, FL. I have 14 works showing there, through the first week of February. The Foster at Ruskin is the second branch of the Foster Gallery, an artist collective organized by the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County. Upcoming dates are:

Friday, December 7th, The Foster Gallery at Ruskin Place Artist Colony, 201 Ruskin Pl., Seaside, FL 32459, 1st Friday Art Walk, 5pm – 8pm.

Thursday, December 13th, The Foster Gallery at Ruskin Place Artist Colony, 201 Ruskin Pl., Seaside, FL 32459, Opening Reception, 5pm – 7pm.

Saturday, December 1st, Artful Things, 1087 John Sims Pkwy E, Niceville, FL 32578, Open House , 11am – 4pm.

And finally, I have been invited to again serve as a Florida’s Finest en Plein Air Ambassador for the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air which is based in Port St. Joe. Florida’s Finest Ambassadors teach 15 2-hour one-on-one instructional sessions to people who are new to plein air painting. Those 15 sessions are offered over 5 days, 3 per day. I served as an Ambassador in 2016, so I know the drill — it’s a fairly grueling schedule. Normally 6 artists from across the state are selected to be Ambassadors. Since the area just suffered a hurricane, the event may be scaled back a bit, but I know there will be at least three Ambassadors this year.

My weekly Wednesday painting sessions with my local group have yielded a number of studies over the summer, pictured below.

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