Life Chronicled in Art

By Brie Dodson

At the LSC Christmas party that Anne Calhoun graciously hosted, many of us had the chance to see a broad selection of her work displayed gallery-style in her home. Here’s a little more about the artist behind the canvas.

LSC: What would you like to tell Sketch Club members about yourself, and how did your interest in art emerge?

Anne: My visual art practice has been a journal of sorts. Being sorely deficient in the skill of writing, I have found throughout my life that drawing, painting, fiber arts and the occasional foray into sculpture have served me well as an outlet as well as a chronicle of my time.

Anne’s plein air easel set up for work.

My interest in art began as a child. My maternal grandmother was an amateur artist. She always had a painting in the works, up on her easel in her studio/library. She also had many books on art and artists lying around. After hours of running around through her rows of giant sunflowers (a particularly vivid childhood memory) in the hot and humid heat of her garden in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I would park myself on her sofa and look at Art.

In high school I attended The Alabama School of Fine Arts and enjoyed the opportunity of collaborating with students of all disciplines – visual, dance and theater arts. When I attended the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, choosing to major in Art History was an instinctive (but probably not a practical) choice for me. I graduated with a degree in Art History and a minor in Studio Art.

After a short foray working in commercial art, I changed directions and became a Cardiac Critical Care R.N.  I spent a decade in Atlanta at Emory University Hospital working in the Cardiac Cath Lab assisting with angioplasty. It was extremely rewarding, technical and interesting work.

After my children were older, I returned to producing art.  I enrolled in classes at The Torpedo Factory. Because drawing the figure has always been what I enjoyed the most, I took several sessions with Robert Liberace, and painting classes with Danni Dawson and others. Then, I discovered Sara Linda Poly. She is a wonderful plein air painter and I was very lucky to get an introduction to plein air painting from her. 

LSC: What inspires you lately?

“Dancers” is a painting that Anne is currently working on, a work in progress.

Anne: As a child I took ballet, and am a bona fide balletomane! I continue to take ballet classes weekly, and find dancing and attending performances to be enriching and inspirational.  A ballet performance is a visual extravaganza of kinetic energy and beauty – figures in space, creating shapes – the colors, lights, costumes and of course the music that ties it all together. I’m currently working on a series of dance-inspired semi-abstract paintings.

LSC: You also do a lot of plein air work. Please describe your process, and share some tips for making a plein air session successful. 

Anne: I think that there are a few challenges to plein air painting, but actually, finding solutions to these challenges is part of the fun!

I really enjoy the physical aspects that are inherent in the activity, because I really can’t stand to sit still for very long during the day. So, the exercise that is involved is a plus for me.

The challenge of overcoming the obstacles – heat, cold, wind, rain, insects, to name a few – and to be actively “present” in the landscape and then attempt to record it all is exciting.

“Brown Bag Beauties” Oil on canvas 12 x 16

After the initial work of setting everything up, I give myself a few minutes to breathe and “sink into the place,” becoming part of the scene, not just in a visual sense, but in a tactile sense as well. Inhaling the smells, feeling the air temperature, listening to the ambient sounds and knowing that I am a part of it all, but also, apart and observing. Then I get to work and try to record the particular place in time. It becomes for me a kind of meditative experience because before I know it, it is time to pack up and go home.

“Orange Afternoon” Oil on canvas 12 x 16

I am still learning how to do all of this, but here are some tips and tricks for painting in the hotter months.

 

 

  1. Ice! There is a reason that people in the deep south drink iced tea. It’s not just to make them talk pretty! The important thing is the ice.  Make sure you have an insulated container with ice and your favorite beverage. Sip it frequently.
  2. Shade! Invest in a good umbrella. The ones that stake into the ground are the best.
  3. Pack light!  Pare it all down, then go through it and take out some more stuff until you can carry it in one trip.

I try to set up as quickly as possible when I get to a site and not spend a lot of time wandering around. Luckily, I can do this because I’m on the search committee for the plein air venues and we visit every place before our paint outs!

LSC: Can you share your equipment list?

Anne:

  1. A small pochade box.
  2. A very sturdy, somewhat heavy tripod for the box.
  3. Small panels or canvases, ranging in size from 5×7 to 8×10 with a light wash of a warm color in the amber/red/pink range done the night before.
  4. A very limited palette of paints.
  5. Small containers of medium and o.m.s. (odorless mineral spirits).

After doing a couple of quick sketches with a paint wash to nail down a good composition, I sketch the scene with a brush to achieve a sepia-tone grisaille. Next, I block in the darks and wipe away the lights with a paper towel to get a pleasing composition. I work fat over lean (texture), and dark to light (color). I always strive to match the local color before quitting for the day.

LSC: Tell us about your favorite painting spots.

Anne: My ideal painting location would be any place that has a view of rolling meadows, a small crooked stream bordered by graceful trees, a few grazing cows or sheep, the Blue Ridge mountains in the distance, on a partly cloudy day with a warm, gentle breeze. Oh, and chirping birds. These places are ubiquitous around Middleburg, Upperville and The Plains.

LSC: What have been some of your most meaningful painting experiences?

Anne: In the past I focused on figurative work, and it was my way of processing and documenting significant life events.

I found it cathartic to paint the experience. Some of these paintings hang in my studio now. One example is a painting called “The Pall Bearers,” which I painted after the death of my mother. Another is called “Effects,” which I painted while recovering from radiation therapy.

“Fuzzy Playmate” Oil on canvas 12 x 16
“Katie and Melissa” Oil on canvas 16 x 12
A drawing
“Warm Chicken” chicken wire

 

LSC: Finally, your work is beautifully framed – can you share your favorite frame sources?

Anne: I prefer plain front, plein air frames, in black with gold trim or muted gold.  I love Omega Frames but they are difficult for me to order, so I can usually find ones I like at a company called kingofframes.com  or laframe.com.

LSC: Thank you very much, Anne!

For more of Anne’s work, please see her website at http://annecalhounart.com/