Posted on 3 Comments

An Ideal Day

Oil Painting of Pelican on Providenciales

I have set a goal this year, to make a transition in my life, to live at least two days a week as an artist by the end of this year.  It may happen lot sooner than that.  It all started when I decided to hold myself accountable for not yet having made the leap.  Frankly, I’ve been fearful that I would not be able to support myself with my art, a legitimate concern up until this point, since I have been sporadic in my production of art.  To support my fear, I have used every excuse not to be more prolific, or in many cases, to go days without sketching or painting.  My most frequent excuse is that I do not have time.  Guess what — I do have time — I’ve been less than truthful with myself.  I simply have chosen to use my time for other purposes, instead of for producing art.

I hired a coach, to give me suggestions and feedback for making progress towards my goal.  One of the things she asked me, was what an ideal day would be like for me. I described waking up rested, taking some time for meditation and then working out or paddling or doing some other fitness-oriented activity, followed by a visit to a gallery or some other “artist-date”, and then painting all afternoon, probably plein air painting, followed by a cultural event in the evening, perhaps a play or dance theater or a musical performance.  But then I thought to myself, about a week later, that if I had described that as my ideal day, then why had I not ever had an ideal day, and I realized then and there that I was lying to myself, because I have had unscheduled days before, but have not ever done all the things that would make up an ideal day.

So when one of my best friends called last week and asked another friend and me over for breakfast on Sunday, and I declined because I had other tentative plans, I instead invited her over to my art studio on Saturday because I intended to paint.  She is a writer, so I asked her to bring her paper so she could write while I painted.  She offered to bring breakfast.  Meanwhile, Saturday brought incredibly bad weather with it, and another friend decided to cancel a trip to see a client, and instead came over to my house to wait out the rain and to work on a drawing she was making.  So the morning found the three of us in my studio, painting and talking and solving the world’s problems.  I made a small painting of some young bananas growing on a tree that I had photographed on North Caicos a few weeks ago.  At left is the sequence of development.

I cannot describe the creative spirit that filled the studio while we talked and worked.  I was in awe of the circumstances that brought us all together, and the energy of the dynamics.  Both friends left around midday, and I took another half-hour or so to finish my painting, before going upstairs to get my house ready for the evening activity.  I had invited 6 friends to participate in “The Art of Seeing” class which Ponce de Leon, FL, artist Mary Moses teaches through her gallery, HRMagoo.  I still needed to trim the legs on 3 of my stools so everyone would be comfortable at my art table, and I needed to go to the deli to pick up the supper wraps I would be serving.

Mary brought a friend with her, guitarist/artist/singer/songwriter Sharon Johnson, who played her guitar and sang while the rest of us learned the Art of Seeing.  Mary demonstrated, toning a plywood board with charcoal and then showing us how she picked out shapes and faces from the patterns in the wood grain, and then developed them.  We all dove in, everyone in the group helping each other “find” shapes in their panels, with a good amount of laughter, all inspired, often awed, always positive, and occasionally raunchy, and all in all, a lot of fun.  The time flew, and we all had a great time.

I think I probably could continue to work on my panel, but I am surprised and happy with what I did so I may just call it finished as is.  It is not at all like any art I have ever made before, and it is uniquely my own, in that I drew the shapes and faces that for the most part I alone saw, and in my own way, without pre-planning the composition.  I found a number of faces on my panel, including a few aliens and a horse and two elephants and a covey of birds.  I assign significance and meaning to it which no doubt would alarm my some of my friends and family and perhaps cause them to look askance at me, so I’ll leave that unexplained for now, and settle for letting you do the interpreting and drawing your own meaning from it.  It is below left.

I would say that this day qualified as an ideal day.

I painted the pelican, below right, a couple of days later, using a reference photo from my vacation on Providenciales in January.

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

Posted on Leave a comment

The Ruins at Coba

I spent a week in Mexico in mid-December.  Ruins from ancient civilizations fascinate me, and the ruins at Coba were no exception.  A boy there drove our big tricycle-tour-carriage to one of the pyramids, Nohoch Mul, one of the few in Mexico that visitors are still allowed to climb.  Nohoch Mul is the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula, 138′.  At the top, you can see out over the Mexican jungle to other points breaking the treeline in the distance, which I presume are other pyramids.  There was a structure on the platform at the top, with a short doorway which was screened closed.  The walls inside were black, like many fires had been burned inside.  It felt spooky, and I wondered if sacrifices had been made there — maybe some spirits were still hanging around.

Our tricycle guide took us to some of the other structures, including a round temple-pyramid and a Mayan ballcourt.  After we finished our tour, we realized there was another, smaller ball court, near the entrance to the area.

I found the ballcourts to be particularly fascinating.  I could almost hear the cheering for the teams of players trying to pass a ball through the stone rings in the center of the sloped side-walls.  The game was played recreationally, but also ceremonially when it is thought that the captain of the losing team gave up his head.

One of the rings was broken at the second ball court, and its jagged edges and sharp shadow shapes intrigued me.

As often happens when I am first starting a painting, the initial paint-drawing frustrated me and I almost quit.  There was very little color to the ruins — just the black, white, and gray of the rocks and mortar.  But I didn’t want to make it a black-and-white painting.  Near-black, and gray can be made from many colors.  I wanted the areas lit by the sun to be warm, and the shadows cooler, so I chose an orange tint for the sunny rocks, and I used cobalt violet mixed with orange for the shadowed areas.  Where I needed it to be even cooler, I added a little viridian green.  The broken stone ring was the obvious focal point, being so very different from the planes and shapes of the rest of the structure.  To bring even more attention to it, I added a warmer gray to its shadows, with more orange.  The shadows cast from the ring are in sharp contrast to the sunlit area, as opposed to the shadows from the trees overhead, which have soft edges.

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

Posted on 4 Comments

Laguna de Siete Colores Adventure

After completing the Artist’s Way Workshop led by Joyce Hogue at A.Wickey Gallery, I think I need to start over and really read every word of every chapter of the book.  There were so many times I would read something and think, Oh, yeah, that’s not really about me or my life, when really there is a lot more truth than I was comfortable admitting, descriptions of ways that I sabotage efforts to create art.  Most especially I realized that I am not exactly being truthful when I say I don’t have time to do my art.  I took a good look at how I spend my time, and I noticed that I seem to be able to take off on a 5- or 10-day adventure at the drop of a hat, so it is absolutely untrue that I do not have time — it’s merely that I have not been scheduling time for my art.

So this-coming year, I resolve to expand my definition of myself, this time as an artist, as well as an adventurer.  Oh, I’ve been calling myself an artist my whole life, but when I am honest, I realize that time-after-time-after-time, I have resisted when it comes to actually producing art.  Sometimes it is the inertia of couch-sitting that holds me back, sometimes it is thrill of unknown adventure that I would rather do, sometimes it is the attraction of friendship and companionship, and sometimes the aggravation of bills or work commitments, but I am realizing that just about any excuse not to produce art has resulted in greatly limiting my artistic output.  If I really want for my dream of being a full-time artist to come true, I will need to quit ignoring the call of the paint and to start producing finished works.

At the very least, I will have an additional 3 hours of empty time every week, when I have been attending the 12 sessions of the Artist’s Way Workshop. Last week one of the participants hosted a party for us all, at her house.  Our assignment was to make a small gift using a quote form the Artist’s Way book.  I made and framed a 3×3″ watercolor of an orange, above right, with the quote that “sometimes we shake the apple tree, and the universe delivers oranges.”  This quote is significant to me, in that so many times in my life, I may have had a wish, a dream, or set an intention, and events come to pass which meet and exceed that intention in ways very different from how I had imagined.

I missed class the week before, while I was in Mexico at a retreat called Laguna de Siete Colores, named for Laguna Bacalar, in the southern Yucatan.  I was there to shoot promotional photography for The Stand Up Paddle Radio Show and for Undertoe Mexico Stand Up Paddleboards, the producers of the retreat.  The paintings at left are all oil on canvas panel, and this series is from the sunrise at Tulum, our first morning in Mexico.  Sunrise is always inspirational, and the colors are so warm and bright in the first hour after sunrise, the “golden hour.”  I plan to paint many more from this adventure in Mexico.

My present intention is to review and refresh my skills with painting, since I have only just begun oil painting late this year, after about 30 years of making drawings and watercolor paintings.  My goal is to join up with the local group of plein air painters, who paint every Wednesday morning.  I am limiting my work on these practice paintings to only 2 hours at most, so that I develop a faster and looser style of painting, which is more practical for plein air painting, due to rapidly changing light and weather conditions.

I have found that my brushes are pretty sad, so I have ordered 4 new ones, and also a new tube of titanium white,and new oil painting medium to make my paints more workable and to help them all dry more quickly and with the same degree of gloss.  I’m still pretty stingy with the paint, not mixing big enough batches of each color, which is forcing me to remember which tubes I used and in what quantities in order to get each color.  So far the color mixing has come back to me fairly easily, and I very much appreciate the fact that oil paints dry pretty close to the same color that I mix, as opposed to watercolor paints, which always dry more muted and lighter in value than when they are wet.

I usually post photos of my paintings on Facebook on my Joan Vienot Art page as soon as I finish them.  The tern painting was very popular, selling the same day I posted it.  Contact me if you are interested in any of my paintings.  Since they largely are practice pieces, I am maintaining reasonable pricing.


Finished piece: Whispering Statue

Around one month ago, the Artist’s Way workshop assignment was to open a book, and select a two-word phrase, and make a piece of art out of it, or write a poem, or whatever mode of expression we chose.  When George Harrison did this, he wrote the song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” after seeing the phrase “gently weeps” in the first random book he picked up.  I didn’t actually open the first book I picked up, but instead selected the title of a Nancy Drew mystery, The Whispering Statue.  I selected for my inspiration a piece of concrete yard art in my own yard, a gift from a dear friend, a statue of St. Francis of Assisi.  Below is the progression of the painting.  The statue stands next to my birdbath.  Click on any of the images for a larger view.

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



Posted on Leave a comment

Opening the Floodgates

A good friend of mine is preparing to backpack the Appalachian Trial.  Last month, over the long weekend after Thanksgiving, I accompanied her on her “shakedown” trip where she tested a lot of her new gear and her cooking methodology.  We camped on her mountain property near Mount Pisgah, near Brevard, NC, Jane in her fancy Hennessey Hammock, and me in my REI quarter-dome tent.  Having backpacked through the Smokies and in New Hampshire, I know that much of any backpacking experience is consumed with ordinary survival — food, clothing, and shelter — and this trip was no exception, with nighttime temperatures in the low 20’s (F).  Jane cooked on a lightweight backpacker’s alcohol-fueled stove, and I had my minimalist pan support with dry Esbit fuel, to rehydrate and heat our dehydrated food and make tea.  But we weren’t that far away from town, so even though we were “roughing it”, our evening meals were accompanied by good wine.  Each evening we would go for another walk, as if our mountain trail hikes had not provided enough exercise for the day, and then we would talk in between handfuls of “gorp” for dessert (good old raisins and peanuts) before crawling into our sleeping bags for the night.

The mountain imagery was overwhelming.  Jane is a fine art photographer, so spending time with her doubled the opportunities for the mountain splendor to imprint on my soul.  If there is a simple purpose to producing one’s art or vision, it may simply be to point out the beauty/order/harmony we see and to share it with those who might not have noticed.  I learned a lot about the limitations and capabilities of my iPhone camera.

I came home with my head and heart overflowing with the mountain colors and shapes.  Having only recently begun my return to oil painting, I was surprised to find myself wide awake and compelled to paint at 4:00 the very next morning after we got back.  By compelled, I mean that there was no option not to paint — it felt like a dam would break if I didn’t get an image made.  This happened twice in that week following our adventure, forcing me to focus my sleepy eyes 2 hours earlier than my usual wake-up time.  I painted the 8×10″ canvas panel very quickly, finishing before showering and leaving to be on time for my day job.  Above are my paintings which of course contain the colors and memories of my experience more so than the photographic references below.

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

Photo reference

Photo reference


Posted on Leave a comment

Oil Painting with Jan Bennicoff

Jan Bennicoff, Demonstrating

Yesterday I attended Jan Bennicoff‘s oil painting workshop at the City Arts Cooperative in Panama City, Florida.  The day before, I packed up my supplies from the list she had distributed, which I have been gathering over the past 6 months or so in preparation for my plan to start plein air painting.  I had signed up for this introductory workshop as a review, since the last serious oil painting I did was in college, dare I tell my age, almost 40 years ago.  I loaded a couple of small canvases, 11×14, my brushes, my new lightweight easel and palette, paper towels, and some containers.  The solvent, medium and the paints, were provided at the workshop for a mere $5.00 supplies fee.  The workshop was free to members of Panama City Artists.

Jan set up a still life of melons, and she began her demonstration by making a line drawing of the subject using a brush and a dark color, red in this case. She instructed us to then paint from dark to light, that is, to paint the dark colors throughout the entire painting first, covering all of the canvas, and afterwards painting the lighter values.  She helped us to see the different colors, shapes, and values in the subject from our individual viewpoints, and gave tips on how to execute them, and how to mix the colors.

While painting, I found that I need to buy a few better brushes.  Some of the brushes I have that are the perfect size for how I want to use them, are a little stiff in the bristles, so that putting another color on top of an area of wet paint results in the bristles scratching off the other color.

I didn’t have too much trouble drawing the subject onto the canvas, even though I haven’t practiced contour line drawing in a while.  I’ve been practicing figure drawing, focusing on light/shadow, and defined vs. lost edges, rather than all contours.  I worried about the composition from my viewpoint, which was nearly split in half, with only a small area of a tray overlapping the right hand masses with the masses on the left.  Jan helped me see the shadows and highlights that would also help tie the two halves together, and I repeated some of the watermelon reds in the orange pieces of cantaloupe, and added some oranges into the red watermelons, to also help tie the two together.  To make the colors brighter, I heightened the background contrast, deepening the blue-brown until it almost became black.  I liked the end result, especially considering I completed it in just a little over 2 hours.

I have always been of the opinion that things are more interesting when a little is left to the imagination.  I know that my tendency is to try to be exact with my art, but the painting style I want to develop will be a little looser, exact only when absolutely necessary to define an essential element.  This will require me to assume that my audience can “read” the painting without me describing every little detail, a leap of faith on my part.

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

Posted on Leave a comment

Overlap Between Media – Drawing and Painting

This week I started setting up my studio for painting.   It’s been a long time since I did any significant painting, especially in oils, which is what I intend to use, for the most part.  I have some ancient paints, which I think will be adequate while I re-acquaint myself with color mixing.

I well-remember the elements and principles of composition.  After all, I taught art in a high school for 3 years.  The introductory course focussed on the elements and principles of design:  line, shape, size, position, color, texture, and density, and harmony, balance, and rhythm.  But color can be immensely complex.  Within that single element are hues, values, intensities, shades, tints, compliments, keys, analagous, primary, secondary, warm, cool, transparent, opaque, permanent, tertiary, and my goodness, stop, I’m already intimidated!

I had done most of the corrections of my drawings in the main part of my house, and my studio was just recently renovated, so it was not set up at all.  I carried the studio furniture into the new space — easels, taborets, drafting tables, and desks.  It feels very strange in there with nothing on the walls yet, and the tables and easels are empty.

My only injury was a bad whack on the top of my head when the post of my big easel smacked into a dropped ceiling and stopped me in my tracks.  (Note to self.)

I still attended the weekly figure drawing session at Studio b.   Our model this week had been in Europe this past fall.  She told me she had shown my website posts all over Europe, which pleased me hugely.  I have no idea how many people actually read my posts, or how long they spend looking at my drawings.  My webmaster is counting it all, but I haven’t asked him what the numbers are.  At this point, I am just happy to share the process.  Below are two warm-up drawings with multiple poses, and two longer poses.

 Click on any image for a larger view.


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