Adventures in Plein Air

New Orleans is blessed with perhaps 10 perfect days, weather- related, each year. On one of those gorgeous mornings in April, I trucked down to the French Quarter and began a watercolor study at one of my favorite locations: the 1200 block of Royal Street. Actually, most streets in the French Quarter are my fave spots....but I digress. This perfect April morning, I set out to paint 2-3 very small watercolor studies, to get back in shape. I found my spot in the shade, across the street from a beautiful window box planter, saluted on either side by ancient aquamarine shutters. Watercolor is the type of medium that can be very accommodating, but she/he also demands regular and repeated attention and practice. Like preparing for a triathlon every day. Skip a few days, and the muscle memory needs a bit of refreshing. So it was this April morning.

I painted happily and obliviously for a while. Someone stopped to ask me something, perhaps directions, and as I changed my focus to look at him, I found that I had no words. No, it wasn't a stroke. It was as if I was enveloped in a thick gauze and it took a few moments for his words to penetrate that haze. I forget what he wanted. Not three minutes later, a second gentleman stopped. He looked at my study, walked six feet away, and brandishing a very sophisticated and large camera shot several photos of the same subject I was painting. He turned, facing me and triumphantly declared "Done!".

All I could do was laugh quietly. My visual concentration had already ebbed, as I wondered at the mystery of the creative process. I had been in no hurry, save that the light would give me about 2 hours before shifting radically. And that time frame was quickly coming to an end. Some days you work hard and nothing happens worth keeping. Other days, everything flows smoothly, before it rains. Most days, it's a good idea to suspend judgement on the merits of the work until a few days, sometimes weeks, have passed. Moreover, after analyzing all the difficulties inherent in Plein air painting, and any other painting or sculpting for that matter, I've come to accept the fact that it's really about enjoying the process and results are the icing. 

In the process is the real joy. 

Let me know what you think. 
Cheers, Joan


"Evening on the Marsh"

  Oil on linen canvas, 18 x 24 inches, $2800.00 Now available from the artist's studio. Call (504) 914-     4152 email at art at joandagradi.com, for more information.


"Southwest Memories", oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches
Last winter and through spring, I spent most of my painting time working on a series of oil landscapes, 24 x 30 inches or larger. I've painted hundreds of small landscapes, but painting in a larger format requires a slightly different set of skills. Occasionally, I have been able to paint a large landscape directly, plein air. From painting for so many years, I have a back log of ideas and inspirations that I'd like to explore in either oil or watercolor. The painting on the right is from a memory of a landscape near Apache Junction in Arizona.


David Levine, 1926-2009

I'm sorry to report that David Levine, master watercolorist and political caricaturist without peer, passed away on December 29, 2009. Check out David Levine Art for more info. Memorials are posted online at D.Levine Dot Commie . Remarkably ego-less, with a penetrating gaze that seemed to look through you, Dave Levine was not only a profoundly inspiring artist with an extraordinary wit, but will also be remembered as a generous and empathetic human being.


Random Art Thoughts 1

"Cranberry Glass and Blue Cup", oil, 10 x 8 inches

As a practicing, professional artist, I often think about what actions encourage productivity versus what actions tamp down and limit creativity. There is no end to self-help improvement advice offered to artists, replete with templates for writing an artist statement, connecting with collectors, blogging, designing a web page, entering shows, publishing Giclee prints and even step by step sales instructions on how to respond at a show when someone says "I love your work". It's easy to get lost in the details.

When I first began this journey, I frequently visited the National Gallery of Art, not far from the Capitol, in Washington, D.C. There I saw a small Chardin still life of a few rabbits, a simple composition so quietly powerful that I still feel the sensation in my gut remembering that first encounter. The painting drew me in, captivating my sight. Nothing else existed in that moment. I again had a similar sensation while copying the Juan de Pareja, by Velasquez, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Truly, I felt that the painting was alive; I could have sworn that I saw Juan take a breath. Three years ago, while in a doctor's waiting room, again I was able to completely dive into a painting, this time a reproduction of a Winslow Homer watercolor. For a brief moment, I was able to transcend all the worries and problems attendant with caring for an ill, elderly loved one, and completely see a world through Homer's eyes.

No doubt, creating fine art remains a great mystery. Somehow, art happens. Is there something in the artist's intention that dictates the final product? Does entering a show help one to create great art? Does winning an award help one to create great art? Looking into the writings of some great ones like Degas or Vuillard might offer insight. New post, next year....