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Adjust, Adapt, Accommodate – Again

My life began taking a radical turn in a new direction a year ago while I was taking a course mentored by Dr. Michelle Gordon. The misfortune of having my official “launch” as a serious artist foiled by the pandemic in 2020 had stalled me, and Dr. Gordon’s program proved to be a good reset. The segment on healthy thinking included a fun exercise, visualizing my ideal day. I knew where this was going to go — if I could picture my ideal day, then I could start living it now, at least the parts that could immediately be put into action!

I pictured living in a grand house on a grassy cliff with giant windows looking out to sea. The view from the side windows would be the rocky cliffs receding into the distance. There would be a path down to the beach so I could easily transport my plein air painting supplies on my electric cart. The gorgeous scenery would provide infinite inspiration. Art exhibits, live theater and the symphony would be in town a mere 10 or 20 minutes away, and my daily routine would include a walk on a trail near the road. Evenings would be filled with laughter and camaraderie of small gatherings of fellow creatives sharing dinner with me, the meal prepared by my award-winning chef of course. To cement the visualization, I got out a slatted, cradled wood panel that I had picked up on a whim, and I painted the imaginary view from my house looking out to sea, and a few weeks later I painted the view I was visualizing through the side window, the receding line of cliffs. Without my knowing it, the mysterious wheels of change were already starting to turn, as I was being pulled towards my visualization. On one of my walks near my home in Northwest Florida I even caught myself experiencing the happiness of being in that ideal place — one part of my road actually was lined with the same type of grasses I imagined would be on the path through the grassy cliff!

Visualizing my ideal home: “View from the Grassy Cliff”
Visualizing my ideal home: “Side View from the Grassy Cliff”

I had no idea where this coastal cliff might be, but that detail did not matter. What would be fulfilling to me was to be in an area of exciting, endless inspiration to paint. After living for 40 years on the beautiful but flat Emerald Coast, I hungered for more dramatic landscape, scenes with a lot of angles and contrast; water crashing on sharp rocks would fit the bill. I spent a lot of time looking at the US coastline on Google Maps, looking for rocky shores with easy access, and then image-searching those areas. Northern California is supremely beautiful, as is the Pacific Northwest. But then I looked at other factors, like climate, wildfire and wind. I have vacationed on the jaw-droppingly beautiful coasts of Maine and Nova Scotia, so I started thinking more and more about New England, even though the winter might be unappealing.

Meanwhile, back to reality… A dearly departed friend used to say, “When uncertain, chop wood and carry water.” In other words, maintain routine, do your chores. For me, the chores that needed doing were necessary repairs on my house, postponed until I retired from my non-art career, and now it was time to take care of them. So, with the experienced guidance and support of my real estate friends Kim and Keen, I repaired and renovated my house and my studio and had the slightly wild-looking yard cleaned up. My contractors re-shaped the trees, graveled the driveway and carport, installed a water feature for my geothermal heat-pump, and replaced a few aging appliances. Kim and Keen then sold my house for me and my dream became a possibility.

That dream has evolved — I would like to spend the next productive part of my life learning to paint gorgeous scenery in different parts of the country — first maybe two years on the rocky coastline in New England, and then maybe a couple of years painting the spires and arches around Moab, and then possibly northern California or the Pacific Northwest, and perhaps down around Sedona or north to Glacier National Park, just letting my heart call me to the next beautiful place to paint. Or I could fall in love with the first area I go and decide to put down roots, who knows! Colorado will always be home because my family lives there, and I grew up there.

And now, just one year after visualizing my ideal life, here I am, in Maine. Actually I am here for only two months, January and February, to test my tolerance for the worst of the winter weather before I commit to moving here, and to do recon on longterm rentals. I’ve been staying in South Portland, Maine, for the month of January, exploring the scenic coast here and enjoying a little of what this sweet area has to offer. If you follow me on my personal Facebook Page, you know that I have not found winter to be a deal-breaker. February will include a widening of my circles as I look for longterm rental options. Next week I will drive up to Acadia National Park. At the end of February, I will return to my apartment in Florida to gather up my life. On the way home I will look at the coast of New Hampshire and then Cape Ann in Massachusetts.

Stay tuned to follow my adventures in this giant, intentional upheaval of my life.

And, if you have a home on a grassy cliff overlooking the sea somewhere, I would be happy to discuss house-sitting for you, if my cat Rafiki approves!

Photo of Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Rafiki

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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 2

Florida’s Finest Ambassador and Artist-in-Residence

“Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.” ~John Muir

I was honored to be invited to be the Artist-in-Residence for the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air this spring. My artist residency is split into two parts over three weeks. I spent 4 days on the Forgotten Coast of Florida last week and I will spend another 3 days there again next week, continuing to study and to paint the 2019 theme for Forgotten Coast en Plein Air, which is “Recovery in the Natural Environment” relative to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael in October of 2018. My personal approach to this project focuses on Hope.

I am hosted by a sweet couple, George and Maggie Jones on Cape San Blas, just a few miles south of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. They didn’t see much of me while I was there last week because I was out every day, observing, painting, photographing, and absorbing, from first light until sunset.

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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.

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Presenting at the 2019 Florida Chautauqua Assembly

Joan Vienot discusses student work at the end of a plein air painting workshop at the 2016 Florida Chautauqua Assembly.

This week, January 24-27, 2019, the city of DeFuniak Springs in Northwest Florida will again host the Florida Chautauqua Assembly, a 4-day educational program which this year is themed “A Journey Into Main Street America”. Displays and exhibits will surround the the nearly circular spring-fed lake in the center of town, and presentations will be given at local churches and at Northwest Florida State College Chautauqua Center. I am a member of the volunteer faculty, tasked with giving a presentation on the subject of plein air painting.

Titled An Affair with Plein Air – Painting from the Outside In, my session description states “the practice of painting scenes from life, outdoors, is the biggest art movement in history, and it is happening now! Accomplished artists find that painting outdoors, in the changing light and under changing weather conditions, rapidly improves their perception and artistic decision-making, and this carries over to their studio-practice. Beginners and non-artists find increased levels of present-moment-awareness, satisfaction and serenity akin to the benefits of meditation.

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Plein Air on the World’s Most Beautiful Beach

Dr. Steven Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach, rates the best beaches in the world every year, using 50 criteria. Grayton Beach, Florida, has been Number One at least once and in the top ten several times. That would be no surprise to anyone who has seen this beach. The reflective white quartz sand consists of small grains with a texture as smooth as sugar, so fine that it crunches and squeaks underfoot like very cold snow. Under the blue sea of the Gulf of Mexico, the white sand bottom reflects turquoise, punctuated by an emerald streak where the sand bar offshore rises to within 10′ of the surface. On days like last Wednesday, you would never know that those same waters could house the fury of a hurricane, like the one last month that destroyed most of Panama City, Mexico Beach, and Port St. Joe, the destruction starting a mere 20 miles east of Grayton Beach. Continue reading Plein Air on the World’s Most Beautiful Beach

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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 as follows:

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A Month of Adventure: Estes Valley Plein Air and Blue Ridge Mountains Paint-Out

I spent half of August and half of September on a month-long adventure of travel and plein air painting. Two weeks were in Colorado at the Estes Valley Plein Air event where I painted almost every day in beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park near the town of Estes Park, Colorado. And one week was in the spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains, near Blue Ridge, Georgia. I completed 11 paintings.

It was an honor to be juried into the Estes Valley Plein Air event, which was sponsored by the Art Center of Estes Park, and managed by the very capable team of Lars and Kristi. I opted to drive, instead of fly, from Florida to Colorado to reduce expenses. I had a cabin to stay in while I was there, thanks to the generosity of my friend Dr. Cynthia Reedy, but while traveling to and from, I tent-camped. I used love being in the great outdoors, “roughing it”. By camping and driving, I saved a $500 flight and a $900+ car rental and probably at least $500 in motels. I also saved the trouble and expense of shipping my frames and canvases and tools and equipment. I did buy new tires before I left, which I paid for by instructing a course for the employees of the business I had recently sold. Even so, except for the fact that I have family in Colorado, traveling this distance for an event is worthwhile as a business venture only if sales are generated.

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Why Not Just Take A Picture? Why Bother With Plein Air?

By all means, take a picture with your camera!

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.

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From Plein Air Studies to Studio Painting

Last week I completed a painting of the early morning light on part of the hogback [rock formation running along the front range of the Colorado Rockies] at Devil’s Backbone Open Space at Loveland, Colorado, a Larimer County Natural Resources Park. I blogged about painting en plein air there 6 weeks ago, “A Quick Trip to Colorado, Paints in Hand“.

I am a believer in painting only what you experience. There is the occasional commissioned painting of someone’s scene from their own photo, or their dog or child, but I feel more strongly about the scene if I actually was there and I think that I make a better painting when I have a memory or feelings about the scene.

This certainly was true with Devil’s Backbone First Light. I blogged about looking one whole morning for the part of the hogback formation that I had remembered from my childhood, and about going the next day to Loveland to another part of the hogback with my sister and brother-in-law to hike, and then hiking it myself with my paints the following day while the sun was coming up, painting all morning, and hiking the trails again that afternoon with both sisters and their husbands and a couple of the grandkids. I was filled with powerful memories of the scene, made more significant by spending time with family there, and I had my 3 plein air studies, and my iPhotos. Only my memory held the actual lighting I wanted to portray — the photos were much less colorful than I remembered or than my plein air paintings indicated, but they provided better value comparisons and better perspective. My plein air works provided truer color, and the time spent painting en plein air imprinted certain details on my memory. If I had merely photographed the rocks, and not painted en plein air, I would not have remembered the yellow-green of the lichen and the pinks and lavenders of the sagebrush, and the tufts of grass growing between the rocks on top of the hogback.

I was thrilled to realize just how much the process had helped to make the painting. Below is Devil’s Backbone First Light, followed by the three studies I painted en plein air.

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