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.
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.
My local arts organization, the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, FL, produces an annual exhibit called One Size Fits All. The Call for Art stipulates that art is to be produced on 10×10 cradled wood panels 1.5″ deep. Participants can submit two panels, using either side, creating any kind of art or craft that they want. The panels will be hung at the Foster Gallery at the Market Shops in Sandestin, and will all be offered for sale for the low price of $125. The Gallery will take 40%. The artist may hang another panel in place of the ones that sell. Most of the artists who produce art for this show, put in far more value than $125, just for the fun of coming up with something creative and new. This year I produced two antiqued photo transfers and today I painted a third panel, a beach landscape, en plein air.
I was painting with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at our weekly outing this morning. Our location was Beasley Park, on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, FL. The sky was dark, but the sun was peaking through, highlighting the grasses on the dunes. Three or four old fence posts wandered up the dune, and a mockingbird perched on top of the nearest post. The scene was exquisite. The sun played with the scene off and on all morning, and painting was a delight from the beginning to the end.
Below are my three panels for 2016 One Size Fits All. I will turn in two, and have the other ready when one of the first two sells.
Below are pieces I have done for One Size Fits All in years past.
January 11 – March 11, 2016: Solo exhibition, Panama City Beach, FL. Beach Art Group is presenting an exhibition of oil paintings by Joan Vienot, winner of People’s Choice Best in Show at the 2015 Local Color Plein Air Festival paint-out. The exhibit will be displayed at Palms Conference Center in Panama City Beach from January 11 to March 11, 2016. Meet the artist at the reception, February 7, from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. Call Helen Ballance at (850) 541-3867 for other viewing times. http://www.beachartgroup.com/exhibitions–events.html
January 29-30, 2016: Florida Chautauqua Assembly Plein Air Painting Workshop, Joan Vienot, Instructor. This workshop will provide new insight to accomplished painters, and courage for the beginner, with focus on simplification of subject matter, using value and intensity to create believable composition, and enhancement of color through temperature relationship. Joan will instruct in oil painting but all media are welcome. An optional half-day pre-workshop, January 28, 2016, will help the painter decide how to choose a subject to paint en plein air, observing the changing light and shadow, practicing “thumbnail” sketching, and planning interesting compositions. http://www.florida-chautauqua-center.org/assembly_2016/art_program_2016; Supply list at https://www.dropbox.com/s/vqk9u2fuzxe8n38/Workshop%20Description.pdf?dl=0. Joan also will be displaying a few select paintings in the Chautauqua Art Show. 1/31/16 addendum: 10 plein air painters enjoyed 2 beautiful sunny days of instruction! Click here for a photo of her demonstrating.
February 1-29, 2016: Joan will be the Freeport Art League Artist of the Month, displaying paintings at Freeport City Hall during the month of February, at 112 FL Hwy 20, Freeport, FL 32433. https://www.facebook.com/FreeportArtLeague/
I hope you can spend some time at one or more of these events! There’s nothing like actually seeing the art in person. I try to take good photos of my work for this website, but a camera cannot ever completely capture the intensities and true color relationships the way that the human eye can. I look forward to seeing you! ~ Joan Vienot
The clouds were threatening when I arrived at our painting location last week, at Baytowne Marina in Sandestin, Florida. The rain was predicted to come later, but I had driven through a good shower on the way over from my home in Point Washington, and I was pretty sure we were going to get another one. The marina waters were glassy flat, beautifully reflecting the docked boats. It reminded me of my experience the last time the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters painted here, in early September. That day was beautiful. Overwhelmed by the geometry of the boats and the reflections, I painted the subject with only squares, triangles, and lines (at right).
Photos of the marina before the rainstorm
But last week the weather was not so nice. After shooting a few photos of the marina, I took a walk along the shoreline boardwalk only to have the rain start. I returned at a faster pace and found a blue triangular tarp stretched over a kiosk, for shelter. It leaked. The shower only lasted about 15 minutes, and the trees were still dripping when two of the painting group, Ed Nickerson and Celeste Jones, came strolling up warm and dry. Clearly their shelter was superior to mine. Judy Dewar joined us, and we had a wonderful day of painting, critiquing, and lunch afterwards at the Baytowne Marina Cafe, which was the subject of my painting, below.
I enjoy photography, and every once in a while I play with photo app’s on my iPhone. Below is an example I posted on our group Facebook page to promote the location
It’s been a hectic two months. I will summarize with pictures.
In early November, I painted with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at Bruce Cafe. We also had painted there last May, but I didn’t finish that painting. After we went back and painted there in November, I realized I just needed a few more dashes of color to finish capturing the essence on the May painting, so I finished it in the studio. Below are both paintings.
The next week we painted at Alaqua Animal Refuge. I had a lot of help from the young horses there. (Click on images for a larger view.)
Click painting for purchase information.
Early the next morning, very early, at 3 AM, I got up to get ready to help Helen Ballance with a television interview for the 2015 Local Color Plein Air Festival in Lynn Haven, Florida, an hour drive from my home. Paris Janos, WJHG Channel 7, was at Roberts Hall to talk with Helen about the festival, and I was one of two plein air painters providing color by painting during the multiple interview spots. It was dark when I started, so for the first time ever, I started with a black canvas. I struggled — the streetlight was stronger than my palette lamp. Things improved when first light hit the bank. Below is my painting, and my own part in the interview is at http://www.wjhg.com/news/newschannel7today/headlines/Color-Plein-Art-Festival-346679182.html.
The actual paint-out and festival was two days later, at Roberts Hall in Lynn Haven. To my pleasant surprise, I won People’s Choice Best in Show, which included a check for $300 and a solo show at Palms Conference Center in Panama City Beach in late January and February, 2016. Below is a [glare-y] photo of my painting a shot of how I look after an afternoon of competitive plein air painting, ha!
Working on a new map for the hiking trails for Friends of Camp Helen State Park (watercolor and lots of graphics work);
Painting en plein air, completed in studio, at a big wedding reception (can’t post a pic yet, because it’s still drying — the owner gets to see it first);
Starting a little arthritis maintenance which may slow me down a little next year 😥 ;
Agreeing to teach a 2-day Plein Air Painting Workshop at the Florida Chautauqua Assembly January 29 and 30, 2016, with a half-day pre-workshop on Selecting a Plein Air Subject, details at Joan Vienot Plein Air Workshop;
I’m also pleased that my three submissions to the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County’s A+Art “One Size Fits All” have sold. Below are those images — two using photographic transfer onto the 10×10 panels, and the third a plein air painting floated in the 10×10 panel reversed, using it as a frame. The photographic images remain available if you would like a print.
When I take an art workshop, it provides a wonderful break from the full-time management of my pool service business and an opportunity to fully immerse myself in my art. I counted this week as a 6-day vacation, first participating in the two-day Destin Festival of the Arts (Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation) on Saturday and Sunday, then attending a Bill Farnsworth workshop through the Apalachicola School of Art Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and finally, painting with Mary Erickson on Thursday.
The Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters had a booth in the Destin Festival of the Arts, with 6 painters representing the group. I enjoyed interacting with the festival-goers, talking to the other artists in our booth, and plein air painting one morning. A lot of work goes into a festival booth. Marian Pacsuta and her husband erected the tent, so it was fully assembled with ProPanels and wind-weights already in place by the time the rest of us arrived to hang our art on the curtain hooks Marian provided. She had a small table set up, covered to the ground with black spandex cloth. I had made some flyers explaining our group, and some group business cards the day before, so those were on the table along with artists’ business cards and a clipboard for folks to sign who wanted to receive the weekly notifications of our painting locations. To make sure the booth was manned at all times, I had scheduled the 6 participating artists and two additional artists helping, in two- and three-person shifts throughout the festival. At the end of the second day, we all converged to pick up our art and take down the tent, a feat accomplished in a mere 20 minutes. Many of us painted en plein air during the festival. I arrived early on the second day and had an uninterrupted block of time to paint my scene en plein air before festival goers came, and then I was able to add in a few people.
At 5:00 the next morning I jumped in the car to drive the two-hour trip to Apalachicola for the Bill Farnsworth workshop. Bill is one of the featured “plein air ambassadors” of the Forgotten Coast En Plein Air event in Apalachicola. I had seen and admired his work, so when the Apalachicola School of Art advertised his workshop, it was an easy decision to sign up. The workshop was billed as Field to Studio, but the 20 mph winds and rains of the remnants of Mexico’s Hurricane Patricia were emptying out on the Gulf Coast, so we just painted in the studio using photo references that Bill had brought. His demos seemed to build from silhouetted shapes to high contrast to color, first completing much of the detail of his focal area before progressing to the less emphasized parts of the composition. The first day I painted the trailered oyster boat on the left, from a photo that Bill brought, and the second day I painted his photo of a blue truck at a seafood business.
At the risk of losing my momentum here, a little rant about artistic ethics: It’s not right to pass off a painting of someone else’s image as your own. Photography is an art in itself. If someone else shot the photo, they made the compositional decisions, and probably did some post-processing. I encourage everyone to always make sure you disclose that you used someone else’s photo reference, and give him or her credit. I know there are an abundance of images available on the internet, and some artists, even recognized artists and instructors, merely download an image from the internet and then paint it. Some artists even copy other artist’s paintings, and call them their own! I’ve coordinated exhibits where artists signed a statement of ownership when their work is clearly a copy of someone else’s work! Explaining rejections of art due to ethics is difficult when people do not have the same values. Don’t get me wrong, there is a world of benefit in copying someone’s painting, especially a Master. I never learned so much as in one semester in college when I made it my assignment to copy drawings by recognized Masters, from daVinci and Michelangelo to Degas. But it’s wrong to call it your own art, without crediting the artist or photographer. I’ve even had friends download my photos from Facebook and then re-upload them without giving me credit, instead of using the convenient “share” button that Facebook provides. OK, enough about that. So I do sell my workshop paintings that used someone else’s photo, to recover the cost of the workshop, but I always disclose it and would not enter them in an exhibit or competition.
Finally, on the last day of Bill’s workshop, the sun came out and the winds died down and the birds sang! We had opportunity to paint en plein air in the morning and again in the afternoon after Bill’s demo. I tried hard to remember Bill’s focus on relative temperatures of color, as well as relative values. I painted an old but still living tree, and I painted the St. George Island lighthouse and museum.
The day after Bill’s workshop, I took a bonus day away from work, since my staff had handled everything well in my absence, my only concern being when my office manager used the words “creative accounting” to explain how she resolved a cash-flow situation, oh dear.
We found Mary at sunrise Thursday morning, and watched her deftly capture the pink and orange light on the clouds and the dunes. I decided to paint on some 4×6 miniature linen panels that I had bought by mistake, intending to buy a different size, and only 5, not 50! I painted 3 studies of the wildflowers in the changing light over the course of the day.
Last year I took my first workshop in plein air painting. I had been painting weekly with the local plein air group for about 14 months when I took that first workshop with Morgan Samuel Price. But I found each day of this year’s workshop even more challenging than last year. According to Morgan, that is the painter’s life. She says that a plein air painter just keeps finding more and more challenges. The more experienced they get, the harder the challenges they find for themselves. Sigh, I thought this was supposed to get easier!
What an amazing group of artists in this year’s workshop! Lynn Wilson, Carol Drost Lopez, Becky Anderson, Charlotte Hope, Nancy Smith Crombie, Patricia Irish Richter, Brenda Anderson, Sherry WetheringtonA, Mary Wain-Ellison, Glenda Coleman, Karen Snider, David M. Jones, and I: thirteen of us. One of the best parts about the workshop was the critique session held each day at the end of the day. We would line up our efforts, even if it was just a few brushstrokes, and Morgan would discuss each and every painting, directing her comments to that artist but for the benefit of us all. This was addition to her amazing morning teaching and demo sessions, and our afternoon practicing painting en plein air, all making for a superb workshop for beginner and advanced painter alike. Blessed with infinite patience and superb focus, Morgan is able to work despite the constant distractions of the excited artists milling and buzzing around her, cameras clicking next to her ear. Below are a few shots of her working. You can click on any of the images to see a larger view.
I had confidence to be away from my pool service business. I had worked long hours the weekend before the workshop, to clear my desk, plus I have a fantastic crew in the field and a wonderful office staff. On Wednesday my staff decided to show me what was happening there in the office, with a series of photos that even Tamra’s store helpers (her two dogs) had a part in. Here’s the worst one, Tamra Thomas, Margaret Bush, and Brenda Osborne. Clearly they do not have enough work to do.
The city and area around Apalachicola is such a scenic place, with the historic buildings, working waterfront with shrimp boats galore, oystermen, grottos and lagoons — it is heaven for painters. The home of Forgotten Coast en Plein Air, you often can find an artist or photographer at work.
Below are some of my works from the workshop with Morgan Samuel Price. Daily critiques were at a set time. Work had to be halted then if we wanted to hear what Morgan had to say about our progress. Click the photo for a larger image.
On the last day I was captivated by a thistle in bloom, so after I finished my landscape, I captured the pink of the flower by using a tint of color I had not ever used before, quinacridone magenta, which turned out to be perfect for painting thistles and I believe also should make painting azaleas easy. I am finding I generally prefer to mix my colors instead of using specialty pre-mixed tubes, but in this case I was very pleased with the chroma.
I shot the photo below using my iPhone.
Contact me if you are interested in purchasing work from this page or any of my online galleries.
See the next post for the weekly paintings done just before and after this workshop.
Today I loaded my painting backpack into my pickup before daylight, had my coffee, checked the news, and then started driving to my intended painting location when raindrops started falling on my windshield. I prefer fair-weather painting, and even better, I much prefer sunny days. So today I changed my plans, and instead, scouted a new location. There used to be a causeway over Oyster Lake, one of the rare coastal dune lakes found here. It regularly used to flood, and it prevented free flow from the marshy headwaters. So the county removed and replaced the causeway with a footbridge, and the view of the shallow marsh from the footbridge is unbeatable. I took a few photos, with plans of returning.
A good plein air painter can find something interesting and beautiful in just about anything he or she looks at, but it’s nice to paint things other people instantly find beautiful too, at least if I want to sell my work. So I always have an eye out for typically beautiful landscape scenery. This location was the mother lode. I took shots from several different viewpoint, a few in black-and-white to make note of the values that the camera “saw”. I make note of that because the camera never sees things the way a person does, but it “takes good notes” when I am in a hurry. I rarely return to the studio to paint, prefer the immediacy of plein air painting.Taking photos merely helps me remember places I want to go back to.
Don Demers, one of my workshop instructors last week, tongue in cheek, said “Plein air painting creates bad drivers.” He explained the hazard, that as a practicing plein air painter, one could be driving along and become mesmerized, staring at the shape or color of something, perhaps even something so interesting as the shadow of an underpass. We all laughed of course, but I recognize the truth of his statement. After practicing plein air painting for 8 days, I can’t look anywhere now without noticing wonderful value contrasts, delicious color intensities, and patterns of light leading my eye through compositions waiting to be painted.
The first workshop I attended was by invitation. Twelve painters were selected to be in the “pilot” course for the Apalachicola School of Art Plein Air Academy. Master plein air artist Don Demers is designing the curriculum, and Joe Taylor of the Apalachicola School of Art is planning the logistics. Together they will come up with a course to be offered as professional development for the advanced plein air painter. Don spent a good bit of time talking with each of us, as well as offering constructive tips with our paintings. Of most practical value to me was his suggestion to set intention before starting a painting, and then to stick to that intention. He suggested we draw “thumbnail sketches” of our intended paintings first, studying the value relationships and evaluating whether the composition would work as a whole, before we spent 3 hours painting it. Some of my sketches progressed into paintings, some were mere studies of shapes or ideas discarded as perhaps too complicated or logistically difficult (the one above left required me to stand in an ant pile; the one above right was too complicated for my limited knowledge of fishing boats).
I learned something about photography after doing one such value study, and that is that my iPhone camera does not see the light the way I do. In fact my camera hardly picked up the power of the light at all. Here’s a comparison:
I completed two paintings and a couple of studies in the Plein Air Academy workshop. Integrating what I am learning is always difficult — there has to be a period of intense, grinding focus, because painting is for the most part so visceral, and newly learned information so very intellectual. I found myself completely exhausted by the end of the first several days. I must have had every muscle in my body tensed as I tried to incorporate what I was learning. I literally came home, ate supper, and went straight to bed, for the first 3 days.
Here are a few of my paintings from the Apalachicola School of Art Plein Air Academy workshop.
Typical page of notes
Over the next few days I attended the Forgotten Coast En Plein Air event workshop with Greg LaRock and Ken Dewaard. I wish I could remember everything they said. It was fun to watch the different approaches of two accomplished artists. Both were very strong on compositional tips. LaRock often mentioned ways to lead the viewer’s eye through the painting, and Dewaard pointed out subtle color changes to look for, like the change in the tint of shadows depending on how much of the sky color they might be acquiring, or how much of the color of the ground. Hopefully I absorbed a lot of it, even though I can’t recite it. Below are the paintings I produced during their workshop. In the first one, my challenge was to make the pile of rubble, mostly chunks of concrete, look interesting, like a rocky shoreline. The paintings of the boats and of the shirts for sale both challenged me to simplify.
I actually had energy to paint a few small studies outside of class, the last several days, below. Apologies for shooting the photos slightly crooked!
NOTE: light added to 2nd painting above, at https://joanvienotart.wpengine.com/?p=7003
And now back to my day-job! But the shadows of those underpasses are starting to look mighty interesting!!