An Artist who excels in oils and pastels
The Interview : Barbara Jaenicke
(Rachna Singh, Editor, The Wise Owl, in conversation with Barbara Jaenicke)
The Wise Owl Talks to Barbara Jaenicke, an Oregon based artist who excels in oils and pastels and is influenced by the impressionist style of painting. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1986 from The College of New Jersey, majoring in Art with an emphasis in Advertising and Design. After an early career spent in advertising as an art director and in corporate marketing communications, she turned her focus to fine art in 2002.
Barbara has exhibited her works in prestigious Galleries across USA. Her award highlights include 2nd Place overall in the 2022 Pastel Journal's Pastel 100 Competition, Silver Medal in the 2019 OPA Western Regional Juried Exhibition; 2nd Place in the 2018 AIS National Juried Show as well as the People's Choice award in 2014; multiple wins in Plein Air Magazine's Plein Air Salon competition including June 2022 (Third Place), September 2021 (Best Water), August 2021 (Best Landscape), January 2021 (Best Western), August 2017 (Best Water) and April 2014 (2nd Place); and multiple BoldBrush awards including First Place in November 2019, Best of Show in March 2015, and many Finalist awards. She has been featured in numerous art publications including Pastel Journal, Plein Air Magazine, Fine Art Connoisseur, Artists Magazine, and Southwest Art, and has served as a contributing writer for some of these publications. Barbara is also a popular workshop instructor throughout the US, teaching workshops coast to coast each year.
Thank you so much Barbara for taking time out of a busy schedule to talk to The Wise Owl. We are delighted to talk to you.
RS: For the benefit of our readers please tell us what attracted you to fine art. What were the influences in your life that encouraged you to walk the creative path?
BJ: Drawing and painting were always a favorite hobby of mine as a child. Although I can’t say I was especially good at it from a young age, I enjoyed it and had a strong desire to better my skills. My path skewed a little away from fine art once I was into my college years when I steered it toward a career in advertising as an art director, which I chose so that I could have a more secure income right after college. I enjoyed that career very much, and although I didn’t have much time for fine art during the long hours I worked in that career, it still challenged my creative energy. After about a decade, I shifted my career to corporate marketing communications. One reason for that decision was so that I could get my hours down to a more normal 40-hour work week which allowed me more time for fine art. And I did indeed begin taking drawing and painting classes once again at that time! I later realized that my marketing career also provided me with valuable training for managing the business side of my current career as a fine artist.
My transition into fine art was a gradual one, as it tends to be for most of us in this field. When my son was young, I was no longer working a corporate job and I was able be at home with him. During this time, I squeezed in painting hours, and I also began teaching drawing and painting around his schedule, and it all progressed from there.
RS: You are a specialist in oils and pastels. What made you gravitate towards these mediums?
BJ: My first art ‘love’ was actually drawing. I spent a lot of time drawing as a teenager (mostly pencil, but also charcoal, and pen and ink) and gradually began painting. Although I dabbled in various media, my grandmother was an oil painter, and so that medium seemed like an obvious choice since I could always see her finished work throughout my childhood home. In my late teens, most of the paintings that I did were oil paintings, and I took classes in oil painting outside of high school and college throughout those years.
I was also introduced to pastels as a teenager, back when the medium was very different than the pastel supplies that are available today, so I can’t say that I loved the medium back then. But when I tried pastels again once I immersed myself back in fine art many years later, I loved the feel of the very soft pastels on the sanded surface papers that were now available, and I was excited to realize how I could combine my love of drawing with the ‘painterly’ effects I could create with pastel.
Once ‘hooked’ on pastels, I worked almost exclusively in the medium for almost 10 years before I had a yearning to also work in oils again. As I studied the works of other artists, I began to gravitate toward oil paintings, and the effects one could create with paint and a brush. As I started relearning to paint oil, I found that it helped if I first created a study in pastel, and then worked from the pastel study to create the same image in oil. I did this for many years until I gradually became equally proficient in each medium.
Now, when painting outdoors (often referred to as “plein air”) I work only in oil, and I sometimes bring the plein air study into the studio and create a pastel piece from the oil study. I generally find that it helps my understanding of color when I further explore a painting idea in the alternate medium.
RS: Your works are predominantly beautiful winter landscapes. They are so realistic that they make the viewer feel he/she has been transported to the winterscape. Our readers would be curious to know what it is about a winter landscape and snow laden hills that appeals to your creativity. Also how do you create such realistic landscapes?
BJ: There are two aspects to why I love painting snow scenes. First, I simply love being outside in the snow (as long as I’m bundled up!). Even as a child I enjoyed playing in the snow. I’ve always loved all of the sensory stimulation that goes with it…the sound of the crunch beneath my boots, the feel of it as I carve a path through it when I walk, and there’s even a crisp smell in the air that I love just after a fresh snowfall. But the visual element of snow is the second aspect of why I love to paint it. When snow is added to a landscape, I have more contrasts to work with in my painting. Value contrasts (darks vs. lights) and temperature contrasts (warm vs. cool colors) are heightened in a snowy landscape. In a non-snowy landscape, often sunlit clouds or water can create similar contrasts, but snow has a reflective quality that often extends the value scale a few notches within the landscape. Another quality of snow that makes it an ideal painting subject is that when it blankets subjects such as tree boughs or rocks, it provides additional edge contrast (hard vs. soft edges) that I can use to further enhance the ‘painterly’ quality of my work.
Having mountains surrounding the area in which I currently live also adds the elements of distance, height, and shape variety to many of my paintings, which provides me with even more opportunity to create visual drama in a painting.
Regarding how realistic my work appears, ‘realism’ isn’t actually my goal. Instead, I’m always striving to capture a genuine sense of light. Since I work in a ‘painterly’, impressionist style, my work is very edited. In other words, I don’t include lots of small details in my paintings. Instead, I paint in a style in which I imply those details. It’s the dynamic sense of light that often makes viewers think that the subject matter is more defined than it actually is.
RS: You sometimes describe the intent for your landscapes as ‘poetic’ and also title your instructional materials ‘Painting the Poetic Landscape.’ I found that extremely charming but also a little bit intriguing. Could you elaborate the term (poetic) for our readers in the context of your artwork?
BJ: Poetic refers what I’m expressing about the subject in the painting, rather than having the painting serve merely as a literal, copied snapshot of the landscape subject. One analogy often used with this painting objective is for the artist to paint a poem, rather than a novel. In other words, I want to edit my subject down to only what will convey a singular special moment in time, and it has more to do with the effects happening upon the landscape than the landscape subject matter itself.
Before beginning a painting, I’ll always pinpoint a specific visual message about my subject. For example, it could be something such as strong light skimming across the tops of a mound of rocks, in which case all other elements within the landscape, besides the light on those rocks, would be treated as only a supporting role to this main visual message. To enhance or subdue various elements within the landscape, I’ll use edges, contrasts, and several other skills that will manipulate my image to bring the focus toward or away from my main message.
RS: Could you please share your creative process with our readers/viewers. From the time an idea inspires you to paint, to the time you execute your idea on a canvas.
BJ: My initial imagery comes from either reference photos that I gather (often while hiking) or from painting plein air studies on location. When I gather images while hiking, especially when hiking for several hours, much of the inspiration results from being immersed in the landscape and really absorbing what’s impressing me about the subject matter and my response to it. I usually like to work up a study in the studio very soon after such hikes while the imagery and experience is still fresh in my visual memory.
But before I even get started at the easel, I always first figure out my composition in a small thumbnail sketch. I work out the shapes, proportions and value structure (relative lights and darks) in this small format, usually boiling it down to only about 5-7 varying sized shapes, to see if I have a design that will work in a painting. I find that a beautiful photo won’t always make a good painting. I always first make sure the composition has good ‘bones’ that will translate into a strong composition. When I begin my painting, whether oil or pastel, I always first work from my thumbnail sketch to block in just those initial shapes and values first. When painting outdoors, I do a very quick sketch to figure out just the essential ‘nuts and bolts,’ but in the studio I spend much more time on this preliminary stage.
RS: Have you faced any challenges as an artist? Tell us a little about how you have navigated them.
BJ: Hmmm...where to begin with that question! My answer could really go in many different directions. There are many challenges, but I’ll address a couple of basic ones. First, developing strong painting skills (strong enough for a professional career in this field) is a challenge that never gets easier for any artist. The more you improve, the more improvement you realize is still to be tackled. Another challenge is to manage this career well enough to derive a full-time income as a fine artist. It involves many business and marketing skills (which translates into lots of time in front of the computer), as is the case for most anyone who’s self-employed. I’m thankful that I have a background in marketing, which has helped me navigate how to promote my paintings, workshops, and instructional materials. For either of these challenges, patience and time management are key!
RS: Are there any artists (traditional masters or contemporary painters) who inspire and influence you? If so, why?
BJ: There are many but I’ll pick just a couple of each. Two of my favorite historical masters are Edward Harrison Compton and Claude Monet. Contemporary influences include Clyde Aspevig and Richard Schmid. All of these art heroes of mine accomplish superbly my ultimate goal of capturing a genuine sense of light in the landscape, and they all do it with such an edited amount of information contained in the painting. There’s no extraneous brush strokes or detail that doesn’t need to be there. Their use of details is restrained so that they stay focused on a clear, poetic visual statement about their subject.
RS: You are also a well-established instructor and have been giving lessons coast-to-coast in the United States each year. What quick advice would you give our artist viewers about how to improve and evolve their skills in the oil and pastel mediums?
BJ: There are many art organizations these days, both online and those that hold live competitive exhibitions, which can be an excellent resource for artists. You can often find local groups, too, which are a great place to start for beginners. I’ve leveraged such resources as much as possible throughout my painting journey.
For artists who take classes and workshops from instructors, it’s always good advice to try the methods being taught by an instructor exactly as demonstrated. I often have students who take my workshops but still want to paint in the same manner they always have, in which case no growth will occur. If you want to better understand how an artist/instructor paints the way he or she does, you must try what they teach. It seems pretty basic, but surprisingly many students push back when presented with new methods and ideas.
And most importantly, it takes a huge amount of practice and patience at the easel. Even after lots of instruction, any artist must then take it from there and figure out the rest of it at their own easel. Just as with learning to play a musical instrument, the instructor basically shows you how and what to practice, and the rest is up to you.
RS: Our readers and viewers would be eager to know if you are working on an exhibition or may be a coffee table book of your works, which would surely be a collector’s item. Do share details.
BJ: Yes…to both!
I’ll be part of a three-person show at Mockingbird Gallery in Bend, Oregon (USA) this April (April 7 – 30, 2023). The show will also be online on the gallery website at www.mockingbird-gallery.com. I’ll have a dozen of my newest works in this show. Most will be oils, with a few pastels.
I also have a book in the works, currently in production. It will compile about two dozen written lessons for oil and pastel. The lessons are each a step-by-step demonstration with progression photos and detailed explanations for painting a particular subject or improving a specific skill. Most of these written lessons are also available individually on my instructional website, www.paintingthepoeticlandscape.com (indicated on the website as “Written Tutorials”), where I also offer instructional videos. Along with the lessons, the book will also feature added content that’s not on my instructional website.
Those interested in learning when the book is available can sign up to receive my newsletter at my website (www.barbarajaenicke.com) where you can also view more of my work.
Thanks very much for allowing me to share a little about my painting journey with your readers!
Thank you so much Barbara for speaking to The Wise Owl. Here is wishing you the best in your creative pursuits.