Summertime…and the living is easy. And that means hanging out at the beach be it by the sea, lake, or river. There’s something about water especially warm, gently moving water that shifts our inner spirit. When I think about being at the seaside, in my mind up pop the wave paintings by Jeanne Rosier Smith.
I happened to pass Jeanne in the hallways of IAPS back in June and casually called out, “I’d love you to write a guest blog – are you up for it? And if so, can you manage to get it done for July?” Happily Jeanne said, “For Sure!” AND she came through even though she only had about a month to put it together!
Here’s a teaser to show you an example before we get to Jeanne’s post:
Jeanne Rosier Smith Bio
Jeanne Rosier Smith studied Art and English at Georgetown University and later received her PhD in English from Tufts University. Her home and studio are in Sudbury, MA, where she is learning to love painting snow in winter, when she’s not escaping to the beach. She is a member of the Copley Society and the Salmagundi Club, an IAPS Masters Circle member, and a signature member of PSA, CPS, and PPSCC. You can see more and catch up on her blog on her website.
Jeanne also has a series of 3 DVDs coming out on painting seascapes. The first one – The Anatomy of a Wave – is now available in DVD and will soon be available as a download through F+W.
Jeanne Rosier Smith: Tuning in – How I learned to find my voice by listening to it.
Just before graduating from college with a degree in biomedical marketing, my daughter shyly confessed to me she’d realized she wanted to switch gears entirely, and go to grad school to become a science teacher. I was thrilled. It seems switching gears is a family tradition, and she was brave enough to make a change early. I earned a PhD in English, and spent 10 years teaching in universities before finally figuring out that I’d be much happier as an artist.
I have painted ever since I can remember. When I studied abroad in Nice, France during my junior year of college, I had to fit all my belongings for a year into one suitcase. I chose art supplies over clothes, and covered my dorm room walls with paintings. In graduate school, any free moment was spent at my easel. When my three children were very small, my Mother’s Day request was always time to paint. Now that I’ve listened to all those signals and changed careers, every day is Mother’s Day.
In 1998, shortly after my youngest son was born, my uncle, a high school art teacher in western Massachusetts, sent me a portrait box of 48 Nupastels with a note: “You might enjoy these.” He could not have known what a profound affect this gift would have on my life. Once I touched pastel, I was immediately hooked. It seemed I was finally able to express what I needed, in the way I wanted. Although I had been painting for years, pastel felt like a revelation. The medium fit my personality. Not one for delayed gratification, I like to work quickly, and I intuitively know what colors I want. Pastel offers me a banquet of color at my fingertips and the promise of myriad beautiful layers of visual combinations. The mix of painting and drawing appealed to my skills and training.
I played with those Nupastels for the next two years, along with a set of Winsor & Newtons I’d received as a birthday gift. I did not have the time or budget for classes, so those pastels and Elizabeth Mowry’s wonderful book, Painting the Four Seasons in Pastel, were my training. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Elizabeth’s book. She advises beginners to make friends with their pastels, spend time with them and get to know their individual quirks. Though I’d always loved art, the ease with which I took to pastel allowed me to start thinking of myself as an artist. I discovered a facility for portraiture which brought me commissions and interested students, and allowed me to think of switching careers.
Eventually, I had the luck to land in a portrait class taught by Rhoda Yanow (PSA Hall of Fame 2017 honoree) for my first pastel class. Rhoda was tremendously inspiring and encouraging, introduced me to real soft pastels, local openings, and the Pastel Society of America (PSA).
My continuing education in pastel was self-directed. Since you can’t take the PhD out of the girl, I looked to the experts in the field and studied their sources. Richard McKinley mentioned he learned about landscape from John F. Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting and Kim Lordier recommended Arthur Wesley Dow’s Composition and Edgar Payne’s Composition of Outdoor Painting. Reading those helped me feel grounded and gave me historical perspective.
Surprising as this may sound, the most important factor in my continued development as an artist has been my teaching. For seventeen years I have taught ongoing classes, the past ten in my Massachusetts studio. By continuously improving, my students have pushed me to dig deeper and go further, forcing me to articulate my process and expand my understanding.
My seascape series began nine years ago, as a class demo in a series I taught on water. One day I thought it would be fun to paint waves, so for my three Tuesday classes, I did three 8” x 8” demos. All three demos quickly sold at a gallery I’d recently joined on Nantucket—which was great encouragement to paint more waves!
I grew up vacationing with my family in Ocean City Maryland and the Outerbanks of North Carolina. I was a competitive swimmer, and spent my time at the beach, a week or two each summer, in the waves, body surfing, playing ‘jump or dive’ with my cousins, staring at the waves and deciding whether to jump over or under, or ride one in to shore. After a day of bodysurfing, I loved closing my eyes at night: I marvelled at the sensation that I was still being rocked by the sea.
Maybe this visceral connection to the waves explains why the subject grabbed me so when I completed those first three studies. Since then, I’ve painted literally hundreds of seascapes—but each one feels fresh and exciting. The tides are always changing, and the light, seasons, air quality, and time of day all effect the mood of a piece. It is a different challenge every time.
Like many people, I associate the ocean with the best family memories. The rhythm of the surf and the power and vastness of the coastal landscape soothe small human concerns. If I am working in the studio, whatever I have on my easel is a meditation: if it’s a portrait, I am in quiet dialogue with the model. And if it is a seascape, it is a day at the beach.
Recently I’ve noticed that being known for a particular subject has some surprising pitfalls. It creates expectations in the minds of other artists, judges, or collectors. I love painting seascapes—and I also love painting the beautiful New England countryside where I live. I occasionally love to paint food, and portraits. I’m starting to experiment with abstracts. Why not? Everything is the same, isn’t it? Line, shape, color, value, design.
When I hear surprise or dismay from a competition judge that I didn’t enter a seascape in a particular show, (or, that I DID—and they wished I’d gotten out of my ‘comfort zone’) I don’t let it sway me. It’s impossible to predict a judge’s wishes. If I enter a national competition, I try to focus on choosing the best work I have available at hand, at the time, for that show, and also on the pleasure of being in the show. Entering to win awards or impress a judge is a losing proposition: it’s best to focus on things one can control, rather than putting too much stock into a system which insists there must be one ‘best’ in a show of amazing work.
As a working professional I have come to understand the importance of directing my work appropriately for different markets. I have one inland gallery for most of my landscape work, and two coastal galleries that primarily handle seascapes. Right now, since I earn my living as an artist, my galleries come first, so that’s where I direct my time and energy.
Let me share with you a bit of my process for planning a painting. I begin with a photo reference, often cropped, zoomed in to reveal the best dramatic shapes. Next I create a thumbnail sketch on toned paper, using black and white charcoal pencils. The white charcoal is a great tool for wave sketches, as it allows me to design the foam purposefully. I often jot words next to the sketch, which clarify my visual idea, and sometimes suggest my title. Believe me, after hundreds of waves I’m always looking for seascape titles!
This photo was taken very early morning after a storm, the best time for catching waves!
My thumbnail sketch emphasizes the foam angling back toward the illuminated focal point: the translucent water in the wave’s crest.
The underpainting includes none of the foam: that goes on in later, dry layers. Colors are local, strokes move in the direction of the water’s movement. My goal is to capture accurate value, color, and water movement in the underpainting.
Next, I layer on background color and begin to lay in the lights, to create movement and volume.
Last, I add the threads of foam in the foreground, and with a toothbrush charged with wet white pastel, create liquid splash in the highlights.
This painting was created as a demo during an opening at Cecil Byrne Gallery in Charleston this spring. Unlike a formal large group demo, gallery opening demos allow me time to both concentrate more on the painting, and also chat in a more informal setting with gallery collectors, making for a fun evening and a finished piece.
Sometimes that still small voice inside is so hard to hear above the roar of everything else: family expectations, self-imposed doubts, the expectations of our peers, societal assumptions. As my art life has grown over the years, I’ve learned to trust that inner voice more and more, and to understand that nurturing my artistic instinct is the surest path to success. Inspiration is primary, audience is secondary.
When choosing what to paint, I go for what inspires and excites me, and trust that I will be able to find an audience for it. For me, that choice is seascapes about 50% of the time right now. I always want to feel like I’m expanding and experimenting and playing in my work. A sense of adventure is probably the most important thing I try to bring with me into the studio every day.
Wow – I loved reading about and seeing Jeanne Rosier Smith’s artistic journey! Thanks so much Jeanne!!
By the way, for those of you living in the Orleans, Massachusetts area, Jeanne is currently working on a new series of seascapes for a solo show – “Heat Wave” – at Gallery 31 Fine Art, 17 August – 7 Sept 2017. Grab the chance to see her paintings close-up and in person, then feel free to report back here.
In the meantime, Jeanne and I would love to hear your comments!! For instance, which is your favourite painting here and why? Or how about telling us what you think of the idea of moving beyond what you’ve become known for? We look forward to hearing from you!
Until next time,
Books mentioned by Jeanne:
PPS. I just HAD to share this!! I have a couple of pastels in the current issue of Pratique des Arts Pastel issue. That’s cool for sure. But guess what totally blew me away?? One of the pieces is on the COVER!! That was a seriously awesome surprise 😀
And guess what? Jeanne Rosier Smith has an article in this issue!
This is a FANTASTIC magazine. I just wish there was an english version for those of us not so great in the french language.😜