My Five Minutes of Fame Is Extended!

A fabulous story about the 2018 Tennessee Watercolor Society Exhibition has just been published in Nashville Arts Magazine. The author quoted curator Terri Jordan of The Customs House Museum in Clarksville TN (about an hour from Nashville), the host site for the Exhibition. Her words about my painting Eat Chicken are so complimentary! Also in the article are lots of comments – specifically about my painting – from the show juror Lian Quan Zhen. I'm so delighted with what was written that I've extracted text from the story (below) to share my happiness with all. Click this link for the entire online story.

….Painter Judy Lavoie won Best in Show for her 22″ x 30″ painting Eat Chicken, which possesses an incredible luminescence created by colors that gleam like opals. "Clearly, it is just a magnificent piece," says Terri Jordan [Curator of Exhibits at Customs House Museum and Cultural Center], of Eat Chicken. "It’s just such a familiar scene that it’s a pleasing piece, but then you get up close and start looking at how talented Judy is with her use of the medium, the flow of color to color. She’s a very confident painter, and I think that comes out in her use of color. It’s just beautifully done."

Lavoie painted the piece by using only three primary colors—Winsor & Newton’s Antwerp Blue, Winsor Red, and Winsor Yellow—which she chose because they blend well into bright secondary colors rather than into muddier browns or grays. To achieve her desired aesthetic, Lavoie employed a variety of techniques, including masking, pouring, drying, and finally, direct brush painting. It was her first time to paint what she calls “farm critters” up close and, obviously, she chose wisely.

The exhibition’s juror was Lian Quan Zhen, an international watercolor artist and instructor whose own paintings are Impressionistic in style…. He says, "If they paint what they see, it’s just like a photo; it’s what they see. But if they paint what they want to see, they put a personal touch on the painting."

Zhen is also attracted to paintings, such as Eat Chicken, that use color in a creative fashion. "Sometimes color is boring, as with cows," he says. "With Eat Chicken, you never see cows in real life with that much color, in general. You almost have to be drunk to see those things! It’s a creation; this is not just a simple copy."

Every juried piece in the show is by an artist who has mastered the medium and watercolor techniques. But that alone isn’t enough to take the top prize. Zhen was also looking at composition, as with Eat Chicken, which maintains a strong design through the use of the farm gates for framing and the slightly off-center cow as the subject that grasps the viewer’s gaze. Then, of course, a painter must imbue his or her painting with life.

"They must capture the essence of the subject," Zhen says. "Like the cows: You can almost talk to them and they want to talk to you. There’s life in them. This is a higher level. This means you captured the spirit or the essence of the subjects."

Most important of all? Zhen says that any painting that wins Best in Show must have a specific style that is distinct to the painter. "The Best of the Show is personality," he says. "When people look at paintings from the masters, they don’t even need to be told, ‘This is da Vinci’ or ‘This is Renoir.’ They recognize the personality. So, above all, is personality. Sometimes painters can be very high level, but they lack personality...."

Bree in Heaven

This dog portrait is unlike my usual "head-shot." My friend Jenny messaged me with a photo, sadly saying her daughter-in-law Lindsey's dog Bree had just died at age 15. She asked if I could do a painting from the photo, as a surprise for Lindsey. I was grateful for the opportunity and eager to tackle the interesting pose.

Unfortunately, the backlighting which helped to capture a dramatic pose simultaneously knocked out the details in the shadows. The photo was small and low resolution, adding another challenge to working from it. I was especially concerned depicting Bree's eyes, since they were nearly indistinguishable in the photo; I saw from another photo Jenny supplied that Bree's eyes were big, brown and soulful… and an important component in bringing life to my painting.

In the reference photo, I also liked the contrast between the soft out-of-focus background and detailed foreground. The asymmetric arrangement with the dog off to the right made for a pleasant and unusual composition. So I decided to stay true to the reference photo in my portrait, and we selected a 16" x 12" canvas.

The work in process shows how I started with the background shapes and colors, blending them softly to look out of focus. I do this by dabbing Golden acrylic glazing liquid on the still-wet fluid acrylics painted on the canvas, using a stencil brush. As usual, I painted Bree's eyes early on, interpreting from the second photo. I applied foundation colors for her black and white coat, using a lot of blue tones in the shadows, with some purple, magenta, grey and light brown tones also. By studying the reference photo in Photoshop, I was able to pull out more details, and thus added lots of texture in areas of curly and straight fur. I sent Jenny a copy of the work in progress and she said it was so beautiful it made her cry. "She will love it," she said, "It definitely captures Bree's essence." Yahoo, I was on the right track!

The soft areas of green and yellow gave nice contrast to the colors elsewhere. Plants in the left foreground were important to balance Bree on the right, but I didn't want the growth to steal attention from the dog. I kept the colors neutral, with bits of white highlights, and kept details to a minimum. In the end, I spattered some of the same colors over the bottom left quadrant of the painting.

When Jenny reviewed the painting in its final stage, she said "So perfect!  I love it because she looks like she’s in heaven. She will treasure it, Judy." Jenny couldn't have made me happier, and her words helped me with a perfect painting title, "Bree In Heaven." My portraits of my own dogs who have died, as well as those I have done for others, bring happiness and wonderful memories of their unconditional love. I hope this painting of her beloved Bree will help Lindsey fill some of the void in her heart.

Oh Lonesome Me

I've just completed one of two commissioned pet portraits I've been creating simultaneously. This one is of my 'god-dog' who is named Lonesome. He is the most timid dog I've ever met, always slipping off to the security of his dog bed when guests are at his house. My husband Rick took it as a personal challenge to convince Lonesome that it was safe to let Rick get close. It took a little while, but they eventually bonded. Our eldest doggie Ellie Mae truly broke the ice, and Lonesome acts playful and happy when they are together. After a few introductory visits, Lonesome now enjoys staying at our house when his folks are away, and we love having him here. And he always seems very relaxed in the presence of our three fur babies.

I struggled to get some good reference photos for the portrait which Kathy and Jim requested, and Kathy provided me with some she had captured of him. We finally narrowed it down to one with Lonesome looking straight at the camera. Before I got started on the painting, we were at a friend's gathering and I took more photos of Lonesome. I finally got what I considered an ideal shot, with Lonesome's beautiful brown eyes intensely observing the happenings, in an apprehensive and interesting pose. With the background eliminated, I knew I could capture his personality from this photo.

After sketching on my canvas in pencil, I selected a blend of peach, blue and grey tones for the background, accenting the colors I'd use to paint Lonesome. I like to paint eyes early in my pet portraits, since it makes my subject come to life. Lonesome's fur was a particular challenge; his gorgeous brindle coat is a mixture of many colors of hair. You can see how my initial hues on his face include lots of blues and tans, with touches of pink. With acrylic paints, unlike transparent watercolors, I can apply light over dark or dark over light… and I did both to get the effects I wanted. I enjoyed creating the leather collar and shiny hardware, along with the dangling red tag.

I have a few old bristle paint brushes which I've chopped away at to make them irregular, as the photo shows. These help me apply paint strokes which simulate the texture of hair. Also, to paint fine lines of fur and whiskers, I sometimes switch from a paintbrush to an old Speedball nib pen with diluted color, as shown below. I used this technique with strokes of white gesso, also with black acrylic paint in Lonesome's fur. I use glazing liquid mixed with my acrylic paints to make them transparent, then I can layer dark tones over light. For example, after completing the painting to the stage shown in #3 above, I decided the white fur along the top of Lonesome's mouth opening was too stark. So I mixed a tiny bit of Carbon Black paint with glazing liquid and painted over the pure white line of hair. This resulted in the mouth still being defined by a light area, but the transition was softener when the white became a pale grey. Gradually I was able to build up Lonesome's coat to capture the coloring and the softness of his coat.

Whenever I do a commissioned painting, I complete it to the point where I feel it is finished, then I let my patrons take a look. With acrylics I can alter the artwork if requested. Once I have final approval, I sign the art - in this case I did it with white gesso on that Speedball pen nib, then with glazing liquid mixed into Paynes Grey (a dark blue) after the gesso had dried.

If I've painted on a "gallery-wrapped" canvas - one which has the canvas fabric stapled on the back of the wood stretchers vs. on the sides - I apply an opaque coating of black or another dark color on the sides. This way the painting can be hung without framing, if desired.

Acrylic paintings have a microscopic porous surface, which can pick up dirt and dust over time. I routinely seal my acrylic painting. At least 24 hours after my last application of paint, I coat the surface with 3 clear layers. The first is an isolation coat, which is a clear coating between the paint surface and the top varnish. The isolation coat seals the absorbent areas of the acrylic to create an even surface for the next step, the varnish. I mix my isolation coat using Golden Artist Colors brand Soft Gel diluted with water in a 2:1 mix. I paint the isolation coat on the acrylic surface with a wide brush, evenly moving the brush across the painting horizontally, then vertically, being careful to avoid leaving brush strokes. I can check for streaks or uncoated surface areas by looking at the painting at an angle. When the isolation coat has dried for several hours, I similarly brush on a coat of varnish, fixing Golden Satin Varnish in a proportion of 40% water to 60% varnish. After this dries, I apply a second coat of the same mixture. Varnish makes the surface dust-resistant and it is removable with ammonia, when and if necessary in the future. The isolation coat helps the varnish from being absorbed within the acrylic painted surface, protecting the painting if the varnish is ever removed. Some of the acrylic paints I use go on a bit more glossy, which I notice with Carbon Black. These finish coats create an even sheen to the whole painting surface.

Every so often I'm asked what is my favorite subject to paint. I love painting a wide variety, but if I was restricted to only one I'd choose dog portraits. Each one is as unique as the lovable creature it portrays, and I know I am bringing joy to the owners with my work.

Making Ordinary into Beauty

"Best In Show" is an award I never expected to attain from the preeminent Tennessee Watercolor Society, but it all happened last week. At the opening of the 2018 Biennial Juried Exhibition, my painting "Eat Chicken"  came in first place! I was already honored to have only one of sixty paintings chosen for the show (173 were submitted by 101 watercolor artists from the 250+ membership and non-members.) These exhibitions illustrate the finest watercolors in the state of Tennessee, so I am totally bowled over by my award.
The juror was renowned international watercolor artist and author Lian Quan Zhen. I contacted him a few days ago to ask for his feedback on selecting my painting  – I've learned not to be shy when it comes to life's big events. I was delighted when he kindly replied to my query, saying "Your painting is the Best of the Show because you are not only mastering the techniques, but also making ordinary into beauty, as well as a unique personal style." A fellow member of the Watercolor Society who was on the committee to assist while Mr. Zhen judged the artwork prior to the show opening told me that it was obvious to her that he quickly earmarked mine as the top prize winner in his process. In assigning prizes, he mentioned he was looking for those which illustrated 'strong personality.' I heard he also said that the caliber of the Exhibition is that of a national competition, which is a fine compliment for all of us Tennessee watercolor artists. He messaged me to "Keep up with your good work and you should enter paintings like this to national and international shows."

The 36th-Year Biennial Exhibition is displayed prominently and beautifully in the galleries of the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center in Clarksville, Tennessee. The show continues there through July 27, 2018. Following the Main 2018 Exhibition, thirty juror-selected paintings (including mine) will travel across Tennessee to three gallery venues: August: West Tennessee Regional Art Center (WTRAC) in Humboldt TN, September: Sycamore Shoals Visitor Center Gallery in Elizabethton TN, and October: Association of Visual Arts (AVA) in Chattanooga TN.

You can read more about my inspiration and techniques in creating "Eat Chicken" in this blog. If you have a chance to see the Tennessee Watercolor Exhibition in person, I highly recommend it. View all the award paintings from the Exhibition online, all the exhibited paintings alphabetically by artist, and photos from the exhibition opening weekend events.

Read below for more information about the juror, the Exhibition, and the Tennessee Watercolor Society. The award catalog can be ordered for $20 by contacting Pat Patrick, 245 Audobon Woods Rd, Clarksville TN 37043. My painting is on the cover!

But Wait, There's More…

On the same weekend as the Exhibition opening, I had six original paintings exhibited in the Spring Show of the Art Guild of Tellico Village TN. The show included paintings, fiber art, wood carving, pottery, jewelry, mixed media, and other types of work, with 49 artists participating. It is the first time I participated, and I was enormously impressed by the professional presentation by this active art group. The Friday opening was a fun "Meet the Artists" event and I thank my friends for coming and supporting me. Over 900 people viewed the 3-day show. One of my paintings "Red Bug" sold at the show, which is always fantastic and helps support my habit. Another, "Grandpa's Fiddle Break," won the People's Choice Award for Best Watercolor. Then I sold two of the paintings which had been in the show during the next week. Yahoo… I need more weeks like this!

About the Exhibition Juror:
Lian Quan Zhen is a sought-after Chinese watercolor and painting artist and teacher in the US and abroad. He is an international published artist and one of the most popular authors of North Light Books. He started sketching and painting in his childhood and continued while practicing medicine as a family physician in Canton Provence, China. After immigrating to the US in 1985, he got a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and Master of Architecture Degree from MIT. Zhen’s art teaching credentials include Berkeley where he taught watercolor outdoor sketching for eight years; watercolor and Chinese painting workshops nationwide in the US, Europe, Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas,China, South Africa and Australia.

About the Exhibition:
The Biennial Exhibition is held on even years, and its opening venue rotates to different areas of the state. Members of the Tennessee Watercolor Society (which number over 250 currently) and non-member artists who reside in Tennessee are able to submit one or two paintings, adhering to the artists' and paintings' eligibility requirements - such as the specific media, painting surface, max and min dimensions, and other specifications. Any reference photos used for the painting must have been taken by the artist, no part of the painting can be done in an instructional workshop, the painting must have been done no more than 3 years earlier, and other requirements.
   The initial entries are submitted digitally as high resolution jpg files. A renowned watercolor master is chosen - usually years in advance - to select the exhibition paintings from these digital files, most often numbering 50 or 60, depending on how many the host location can display in their gallery space. Artists are notified by email about being accepted or decline; no more than one painting per artist can be included. Until the 2014 Exhibition, an artist could have two accepted into a show, as mine were in 2010 and 2012. Bylaws changed this rule, which allowed more artists a chance to be included.
    Accepted artists receive specific instructions about the matting, framing, and instructions for shipping or hand-delivering the accepted painting during the week prior to the show's opening. Once the paintings have arrived been checked for adherence to all the Exhibition requirements, they are assembled at the show venue. The juror arrives to judge for awards, seeing the paintings in person for the first time. Most often the Watercolor Society has arranged for the juror to stay and present a watercolor workshop for the next 3 or 5 days, with members and non-members signing up for about two dozen sought-after slots to learn from the master.
   On the Exhibition weekend, the Watercolor Society presents a slate of art-related activities, including vendor demos, silent auction, reserved dinners/luncheon, and other festivities. Award winners are finally announced at the Exhibition's opening ceremonies and public reception, which is always an exciting time. Volunteers member of the Tennessee Watercolor Society from the hosting region put in tremendous effort with all aspects of the show .They are also the primary ones responsible for coordinating the prizes, soliciting the cash and merchandise from businesses and individuals. In 2018, twenty awards were presented from among the 60 accepted works of art, and the awards ranged from $250 to $2500 and totaled near $20,000. Among the awards are often "purchase prizes," which means the donating party provides a cash prize (around $1200 in recent years) for which it receives ownership of the painting chosen to receive that award. In order to give exposure to the Exhibition throughout the state of Tennessee, the juror also selects about 30 paintings from those in the original show which travel to 3 or 4 other venues in other regions of the state in the months following the closing of the main show. It's all very exciting, and the Biennial Exhibition presents a spectacular look at the amazing artistic watercolor talent in Tennessee.

About the Tennessee Watercolor Society
Tennessee Watercolor Society was formally organized in 1971, with the purpose of elevating the stature of watercolor and educating the public about watercolor's significance as a creative permanent painting medium. Its purpose was further defined as encouraging the interest of painters in all water media by programs, competitive exhibitions and workshops.

TnWS is a statewide organizations, currently with over 250 members. The biennial juried exhibitions rotate around the state through 5 defined regions, and about half of the exhibition is juror-selected to hang in several locations around the state during the months after the hosting venue ends its showing. In alternate years, a juried online exhibition is held.


A Special Invitation

For those of you who live near me in East Tennessee, mark your calendar for a special art event. Please join me at the Art Guild of Tellico Village's 20th Annual Spring Art Show. Six of my original paintings will be included in the show, along over 200 two- and three-dimensional fine art pieces by members of the Art Guild. Paintings, photography, pottery, fiber arts, fused glass and other works will be exhibited - for show and sale. This popular Mother's Day weekend event attracted nearly 1000 people last year.

The "Meet the Artists" Opening Reception is on Friday, May 11, from 5 to 8 pm, with music and free refreshments. Attendees will be given the chance to select and vote for their 3 favorite artworks for the Peoples Choice Prize, to be awarded on Sunday. The exhibition is also open Saturday, May 12, from 10-4, and Sunday, May 13th, from 8-2.

This show is at Tellico Village Community Church's Christian Life Center (see directions below). For this special event, the Art Guild transforms the Center into a large gallery space, with the artwork beautifully lit and professionally displayed.

There are several terrific restaurants in the area, if you want to make a night of it on Friday or combine your art viewing with Mother's Day lunch on Sunday. Where you turn onto Ritchey Road, continue straight ahead; on the right is Thai Bistro, then Lorenzo's Mexican Grille (I've heard good reviews of both). If you prefer to continue further west on Hwy. 444, try the Tellico Yacht Club's Blue Heron Restaurant, or - one of our favorites - Tanasi Grille. Further down Hwy 444 to Hwy 321 is Calhoun's Restaurant. Too many good choices.

I hope I'll see you there on Friday evening!

DIRECTIONS: From Hwy 411 in Vonore, TN, take Hwy 72 W to Hwy 444 (the entrance to Tellico Village communities). Follow Hwy 444 for 2.2 miles, then turn onto Ritchey Road, on the left (at the signs for the Community Church, Playhouse and Library). Take the immediate 1st right onto Irene Lane, and follow it to where you see the big Christian Life Center building on the right. There's lots of parking on the left and beyond.