As any professional artist knows, creating art is not a lackadaisical pursuit. It requires dogged determination, persistence, dedication and discipline. Barbara Courtney Jaenicke (JAN-i-kee), as you will soon learn, possesses all these qualities in large measure. Even her response to these interview questions, and providing needed materials, was timely and handled like the true professional she is. “I never like having projects hang over my head for too long if I can help it”, she says.
Painting for her is much more than just a job, it’s a passion, maybe even an obsession…and yet she’s also a dedicated wife and mother. I asked how she does it, and I also wondered what she’d be doing if she wasn’t an artist. “I’d probably still be working in marketing communications, but if we didn’t need the income, I’d adopt a second child and be a full-time mom.”
That marketing background has served Jaenicke quite well in advancing her fine art career. She regularly participates in well publicized national shows; keeps a good, continuous online presence through her blog, website, and Facebook; writes and/or participates in articles for art publications; and maintains a small budget to advertise her pastel workshops in the Pastel Journal.
Hmm, did I mention dogged determination, persistence, dedication, and discipline?
It’s with great pleasure I share with you this special interview with Barbara Courtney Jaenicke.
What’s your studio/working environment like in Bend, Oregon, and what prompted the move from Georgia to Oregon after 23 years? Although the move has caused me to downsize my studio space, the surrounding landscape scenery more than makes up for it! I still have a studio in my home as I did in Georgia, but my new studio is now in an upstairs bonus room rather than a daylight basement as I had previously. Much of the space in my old studio was used for teaching, and since most of my teaching now is out of town, I don’t seem to miss the space.
There’s an area right in front of my new neighborhood that faces the mountains and also has clusters of large, beautiful ponderosa pine trees. I love being able to just walk my gear out there, set up and paint. And there are so many other gorgeous painting spots just a short drive away. My family and I love to hike, which has been a great way to explore the area and scope out good painting locations.
Because of the landscape scenery I found myself desiring to paint over the past several years, I wanted to move from the southeast to a colder climate (in search of snow!). For many years I was stockpiling reference photos from Minnesota when we visited my husband’s family each winter. When my in-laws made the decision to move from there to Bend, Oregon, I had some leverage to convince my husband and son for us to join them! The timing was right in various ways for all three of us, and we had no family or other ties keeping us in Georgia. We moved out there this past May, right after my son finished his very last day of elementary school, and all three of us love it here!
As a wife, mother, and a very busy professional artist, what’s a typical day look like for you? My son is in middle school, so I help get him ready and off to school, then get myself to the fitness center in my neighborhood for a workout. Shower, then breakfast and coffee while I catch up on emails, respond to Facebook messages/comments and other items on the business side of things. I try to be in the studio by about 10 am, sometimes a little later if there are additional business items that need my attention. Except for a short lunch break, I’m usually in the studio until about 6 or 7 pm.
If it’s a plein air day, the workout may get ditched if I want to catch the early morning light. But I especially like the late afternoon/early evening light and sometimes spend the morning in the studio and afternoon outside painting.
I normally find myself back on the computer in the evenings, but since my desk is in our family room, I still get to spend time with family. My husband has been a stay-at-home dad in recent years, and has taken over many of the household chores which allows me additional painting time, and also makes it easier on us all when I need to travel.
How has your more than 10 years in the advertising industry benefited you as a fine artist? Although I didn’t have much time for drawing and painting during those years as an advertising art director, the work I did every day had me refining my eye for composition. I was constantly working up “comps” that had to fit headline, art (photo/illustration), text and logo…I had to come up with the best design that allotted the most eye pleasing proportions for each, and fit them into a rectangular shape. I still work this way when I design a landscape painting. I’m always looking at it in terms of the most eye pleasing proportions and arrangement of shapes. I also worked with writers to come up with creative concepts for ad campaigns, which I think gave me a great foundation for stretching my creative skills in general. My career after that in marketing communications was a great benefit for me now in managing the business side of my art career.
You hold Signature memberships in Oil Painters of America, American Impressionist Society, and the Pastel Society of America; what are the benefits of belonging to such organizations? I think that continuous involvement to an artists’ organization that represents a certain medium or style of painting helps to identify that artist as a serious professional within that category. From a more practical, business standpoint, when an artist strives to have work juried into the shows organized by these groups, it gives the artist great exposure. From an educational standpoint, many of these organizations host seminars, demos and workshops in conjunction with these shows, which provide excellent learning opportunities for attending artists. An added bonus is the social camaraderie experienced at these shows.
The words “art” and “artist” tend to be generic terms used to describe creative people and their creations; what’s your definition of these words? They certainly are broad terms. And they tend to require a certain amount of explaining when I tell people what I do for a living, versus if I were, say, an accountant. For me personally, art is a vocation, a passion, and a little bit of an obsession. I think an artist can also be defined as someone who interprets beauty for others to enjoy.
You are an excellent painter in both oil and pastel; what are the considerations when choosing one over the other? I appreciate your phrasing of that question! Several years ago my work in oil was greatly lagging behind my pastel work, since I had worked in pastel almost exclusively for many years. When I started trying to work more in oil, I would often paint a small study in pastel—figuring out all of the artistic problems—and then paint another in oil from the pastel study. In this way, pastel seemed like my first language, and I would figure out what I wanted to say in pastel, and then translate it into oil. I feel like I’m finally at a point where my work in pastel and oil are about equal. I don’t think I really reserve certain types of subjects for one medium or the other. I enjoy working up a study in one medium and then taking it larger in another medium, constantly going back and forth between the two. I do, however, prefer working in oil for field studies … it’s just a little less cumbersome hauling a few tubes of oil paint and a lightweight paintbox rather than a heavy pastel box full of many small pastels that are always vulnerable to tipping over. I can also more easily wear warm gloves in cold weather while holding a brush vs. grasping a small piece of a pastel.
What is the value of working in both mediums. I’ve begun to understand color—and more importantly, color temperature—much better as I’ve moved back and forth between the two. Learning to mix color in oil has taught me loads about better color choices in pastel, and referencing some of my previous color choices in pastel for certain subject matter has helped me to better visualize what color I need to mix in oil.
“No painting is ever easy for me. Each one challenges me to create that magic that goes beyond just a painting of a thing”
Why are you an artist and specifically a landscape painter? It’s difficult for me to put my finger on that one. Maybe it’s just a voice inside me that longs to be heard. But I was once told about something I did when I was a child that may shed some light on my artistic inclination. When I was a toddler, my sister (a few years older than me) and I were visiting my grandmother’s home. She had one of those crystal chandeliers that captured the afternoon light in that special way which scattered beautiful prisms of color sparking throughout the room. My sister used to dance around the room when she saw this. When I saw it for the first time, I tried to capture it in my hands and take it with me, but then cried when I realized it was gone. So I think it must be in my nature to have a strong desire to capture a beautiful moment in time. Although I do also enjoy painting other subject matter occasionally, I love hiking and the outdoors, and that’s where I most often find the beauty that I want to capture on canvas.
“My goal for any painting is to develop a clear, concise visual statement about the landscape.”
Do you concern yourself with defining a concept before beginning a painting, and if so, how do you determine it? Yes. My goal for any painting is to develop a clear, concise visual statement about the landscape. When I begin planning out a painting, while I’m working out the composition, I determine what’s special about it. Sometimes it’s something that strikes me when I’m there at that location, and sometimes I search for it when I’m back in my studio. This helps me to know how to organize my composition, edge treatment and color palette in such a way that I can create a special moment in time rather than replicate the landscape view.
Do you have specific compositional rules you always adhere to? Like most artists, I generally avoid dividing my compositions down or across the center, or even too near the center. I know some artists can make that work, but I like compositions that have a nice variety of large and small shapes, and staying out of the center is more conducive to including a large dominant shape. For a lot of my landscape work, one of my first decisions is regarding a high horizon or low horizon. If I want extra drama in the landscape, I’ll push the horizon placement to a more extreme spot. I also loosely follow the rule of thirds for a focal point, but more as a starting point rather than a “must.” Instead, I’m more concerned with placing “eye catchers” in carefully planned areas of the composition to move the viewer’s eye into and throughout the painting.
Please organize these words in order of importance: color, framing, technique, drawing, composition, edges, value, concept. With the possible exception of technique and framing, I think all are equally important. But if I must: drawing, value, composition, edges, concept, color, technique, framing.
What type of preliminary work do you do in preparation for a painting…studio and plein air? In the studio I take lots of time to scrutinize my reference photos, cropping them in various ways to explore compositional options, often cropping in a completely different way than how I composed in my camera. I also explore thumbnails, dividing the landscape into about five shapes that have a variety of sizes. This gives me the “bones” of my landscape painting and maps out exact placement and size proportions. I’m also careful to prepare my thumbnails to the exact proportional size as the size I’ll paint. I initially paint 8×10 or 11×14 studies before I choose one to go larger.
In the field, my objectives are different. I’m not a fast painter, so the light changes too much for me if I start with preliminary sketching. And even though composition is crucial to me in my finished studio work, when I’m outside, capturing light, values and temperature is the goal. So I normally skip the thumbnail step outside and get right to it. However, I normally select my plein air subject by identifying a good variety of shapes that can result in a strong composition.
How much of your work is done in plein air? Right now about 10-20 percent of my painting time is spent outdoors, but just a portion of that work becomes finished work or goes further in the studio. A lot of my plein air work is merely exploration and practice to better understand the landscape. I still wipe down a lot, and I give myself permission to do so in order to push myself to explore.
What are the difficulties incurred when enlarging a plein air study into a work done in the studio? What techniques do you use to overcome these difficulties? I think the difficulty is in maintaining the spontaneous look of a painting that was quickly captured on location. I’ve found it to be fruitless to try to paint an exact copy when enlarging a plein air study in the studio, especially with trying to duplicate quick, lively brush strokes or other mark making when painting to a larger size. I instead try to discern what is special about what I captured in the study and focus on translating that into a larger, more finished version. There are often some compositional corrections I like to make in the studio, so I’ll usually map out better placement of major shapes as I normally do in the studio.
What qualifies as a plein air painting? Since I haven’t been pursuing the plein air competitions, I’m probably not well versed on what most plein air artists know to be the generally accepted rules on that. I guess I’ve personally always considered plein air painting simply as something that just makes you a better landscape painter. I often touch up my plein air work in the studio, which many artists consider a no-no. But I find that my eyes get fatigued quickly outdoors and I often have trouble seeing correct values and temperatures in my painting outside. Making those adjustments shortly after I get back in the studio, while the correct image is still fresh in my memory, is something that works for me.
For those desiring to try plein air painting, what advice do you have for them? Plein air painting can be as exhilarating as it is frustrating. Just expect that your first time out there will likely only result in realizing better stuff to bring next time. And for a while after that, just get out there and paint. Focus more on learning to see the landscape rather than painting a masterpiece. Like anything, it takes time to feel comfortable out there, but worth it if you want to really understand landscape painting. Joining a local plein air group that paints regularly is a great way to stick with it, and to also stay safe when painting in remote areas.
“My personality is neither especially buttoned up or flamboyant … it’s somewhere in between, and I think so is my artwork.”
What factors determine one’s unique artistic style? I’d say it probably begins with the artistic styles to which an artist is attracted. Although artists may be impressed by a variety of styles, we usually have our favorites, and naturally want to emulate those favorites to a degree. I imagine our personality may also have a say in our artistic style. My personality is neither especially buttoned up or flamboyant … it’s somewhere in between, and I think so is my artwork. I suppose the rest is just in our DNA..
You are a popular workshop instructor; what are the three most important things you want your students to take away from your workshops? A better sense of composition; a better understanding of value, temperature and chroma; more thoughtful, deliberate mark making.
Whom have been your greatest artistic influences, and why? I try to continuously absorb artistic influences by viewing good artwork every day. So there are many. I’d love to be able to say that I’ve had the opportunity to visit many art galleries all over the world and rattle off many historical artists whose work I’ve seen in person. But I haven’t. Truthfully, I’ve learned of some of these amazing artists through various online resources and even Facebook. One such artist is Edward Harrison Compton, whose work I admire, especially his snow scenes. Of the current artists out there today, I have a long list of my favorites. Among them are Richard Schmid, Clyde Aspevig, Matt Smith, Kim Lordier and Marc Hanson. I began following Marc’s work when I was painting the landscape in Minnesota where I would visit each year, which wasn’t far from the area he was painting, and have had the fortunate opportunity to study with him as well. What I particularly admire about all of these artists is their ability to clearly capture a special moment in time within the landscape in a way that feels real, but is exceptionally well edited.
What advice do you have for those that are seeking gallery representation for the first time? First, make sure you’re ready. You’ll want to have a solid body of work with a consistent style at a level at least equivalent to the work already represented in the galleries you’d like to approach. You’ll also want to have already promoted yourself and your work (as I mentioned in my answer to the earlier question about marketing) so galleries will already know who you are before you contact them.
Thank you, Barbara, for a great interview. I’m convinced we’ll be hearing much more from you.
To view more of Jaenicke’s work, www.barbarajaenicke.com
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE