Featured Artist: Shawn Dell Joyce
Shawn Dell Joyce is a Florida-based plein air painter known for glowing sunsets, bold colors, dramatic scenery, and Florida wildlife.
As founder of the Wallkill River School of Art and a plein air teacher, Shawn Dell Joyce has had a tremendous impact on the art community. Her work has been featured in publications from the Tampa Bay Magazine to the New York Times and she is represented in galleries across the country.
- Your work is heavy on oranges and blues. Is this on purpose or is it coincidental due to the nature of your subjects?
I work with a complementary palette system in pastel, where I use the complements and combine them to create the other colors in the painting. This creates color harmony, makes all the colors feel related, and makes other colors pop.
- You hold a lot of workshops in Florida and across the county. What do you enjoy most about teaching plein air techniques?
Plein air is a continual challenge; the way the light and shadows change and even the landscape itself. Tides roll in and cover your feet, wildlife appears and demands to be included, and tourists stop by to comment. Each place has its own local flavor, a uniqueness that I try to capture in the painting as well. When I teach or paint in a new city, I Google the city to find out the history, weird facts, and places. Those interest me more than the iconic views.
- Being raised in a farming family, you almost took over the family farm. If that was the path that you would have been shown, do you think you would have turned to art in some manner?
Art is in my blood and always has been. I drew pictures in the dirt with a stick before I could communicate verbally. I always sketched and drew as a child. When I worked on the farm, I also sketched and painted. I think artists have always had to have a “day job” in our culture where they earned sustenance until they were self-supporting through their art. This helps teach us how to manage our time and value our painting time more. Regardless of what I do in life, I am a painter as much as I am a breather. So, I will always be painting.
When my son was born, I was a full-time mother who painted during his naps and late at night. My life is fraught with things that keep me from painting; disabled husband, dependent relatives, moving, teaching; but I set strong boundaries to make painting time, as we all should. Painting is self-care when you’re an artist. If I don’t make regular painting time, then I get grumpy and feel off.
- With your move from New York to Florida, did any changes happen with your painting style?
I’m a place-based painter. So when I moved, EVERYTHING changed about my painting! The palette was the first major change. Gone were the Ultramarine skies with pink earth shadow at dusk and deep greens of the mountain Oaks, Hickory, and Maples. They were replaced by Phthalo blue skies and water, orange sands, warm yellow sunlight on everything, Gulf of Mexico green, and high contrast shadows. The subject matter went from farms and rivers to beaches and bayous.
I’m currently obsessed with palm trees and the beautiful shapes and colors in them. My painting style became looser and more colorful as time in the sun must be limited. You can only stand in one place for two hours or less in Florida without being cooked by the heat or eaten by colonies of ants!
- You founded The Wallkill River School of Art in 2001. Tell us about how this came about.
I read a book called the Artist’s Way with my best friend in 2000, and we got in the habit of going on “artist’s dates”, which are an exercise from the book. On one of these dates, we went plein air painting in the middle of the Wallkill River. It was low and easy to wade into. We set up easels midstream and painted in either direction. The water was cool on our feet, the sunlight dappled all the leaves on the trees, and it was utterly perfect! We both had been going through a very rough time emotionally, and that moment was healing and rejuvenating. I was hooked! I mentioned to my friend that everyone should have the opportunity to experience this connection with nature, to feel their feet square in the stream of life! She agreed, and we started a series of weekly painting classes where we met in different locations called “Landscapes on Location.” Back then, people didn’t use the term “plein air.” These classes got so popular that we would sometimes have 30-50 people showing up. Most of them happened on farms, some of the farms were organic C.S.A.’s that had public programs (like food pantries and children’s gardens). So, we partnered with them and auctioned off our paintings to the public. Artists split their sale price with the farm 50/50 and both went home happy.
The movement grew and I hired more artists to demonstrate and help with the growing numbers. We found exhibition space in farm stands, frame shops, and other non-profits for the first few years, then started to rent our own space and offer classes indoors and outdoors. We continued to bloom and blossom until we found a home in a two-story historic building that now houses the school with weekly classes for adults and children and monthly exhibits. Our non-profit went from a sole proprietorship to an LLC with four main partners, to a 501(c)3 in the course of its 20 years. None of the original founding members are still around. Most have moved and new generations of artists have taken it up as their own. It is a beautiful thing to watch something you planted as a seed, start to take root, and grow with a life of its own!
- The concept of Transcendentalism is something that has greatly influenced you. How has that transpired to your art?
The first painting I ever truly saw was Church’s Icebergs at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, TX. I was probably eight years old. My eye level was at the bottom edge of the frame and the painting loomed over me like a giant. It enveloped and absorbed me. I was chilled to the bone in the hot Texas summer. I had a spiritual experience looking at the painting. I saw God in nature and art.
Since then, I have had many spiritual experiences in the church of nature. When you see the divine in nature, you understand that there is more to the trees than meets the eye. They are constantly talking and sharing nutrients through a mycelial web that we know very little about. The world around us is richer and deeper than we can perceive and that is the essence of Transcendentalism. When I paint a bird in flight, I think of it as a desperate attempt to escape, the spirit of man defying gravity, and hope taking wing. Or as a symbol of nature fleeing the hand of man. What we paint has content and meaning beyond pigment on board.
- If you could paint in any one spot, where would you go?
Right here, right now! I moved here to paint and have been painting in the most beautiful spots in the region. I do paint in all the spots I want to paint, and some require more planning, traveling, and packing than others. Life is not a dress rehearsal. So, if I want to paint in a particular place, I make it happen as soon as possible. We have no real idea which painting will be our last, so I try to make each one count. Some of the top places I’ve painted have been Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, Cozumel, Olana in Hudson, NY, and Nature Coast of Florida. I’m currently in love with the Everglades and would paint there every day if I didn’t have other obligations.
- What do you love most about Pastelbord for your work?
I have used Pastelbord since I first became aware of it in the 1990s. I grew up in Texas and wanted to support a local inventor and woman-owned business. I was working in an art supply store in Denton, TX, where I went to college, and we started carrying Ampersand products. I immediately purchased them and fell in love.
Up until that time, I was primarily an oil painter. The surface of Pastelbord has such great tooth and texture that it really accepts the pastel in thick strokes like oil and allows a wide range of blending techniques. I switched to pastel and pursued it with passion ever since. I have taught workshops for other pastel surface manufacturers and enjoy different things about each surface. What I LOVE about Ampersand Pastelbord is that it stands up to plein air.
• I once won an award for a painting I did on Pastelbord at Niagara Falls. I stood right next to the Canadian Falls and mist covered my painting. It created tiny droplets of water on the surface of the board. They dried into a lovely pattern. If it had been any other surface, it would have buckled and warped!
• Wind is an issue when painting and paper flies off the easel and out into the river! I’ve had to “fish” pastel paper out of the Hudson River many times! Pastelbord is solid and holds tight to the easel; no clips or tape are needed! It won’t blow with the wind or move when I make a mark. It stays put!
• Pastelbord is reusable! If I really don’t like the painting (and this happens to 1 in 4 of my paintings). I wash it off and reuse the board! You can’t do that with paper!
• Pastelbord is cut to size, so framing is less expensive (all standard sizes) and I don’t have to use a backer board for my pastels. I know the materials are archival and acid-free. I just pop the board into a frame with glass already lined with spacers and turn it in for judging. This saves me time and materials during a quick draw or plein air event.
I also use larger sizes of Pastelbord in the studio. My studio work involves mostly sunsets and difficult lighting techniques. I need to layer 6-10 thick applications of color to get some light effects. The surface has the tooth for that and will allow me to softly blend these layers to get a natural graduated blend in the sky without streaks and smudges that you get with paper. I recommend Pastelbord to all my students and workshop participants.
Shawn Dell Joyce began teaching plein air classes in 2000 and continues weekly to this day. She founded a plein air school with an Arts and Agricultural mission based on the historic Hudson River School, called the Wallkill River School of Art. It still exists today as a non-profit arts organization with a mission of bringing cultural tourism to the Hudson Valley region through plein air painting workshops and events on local farms, historic sites, and open spaces. Joyce has won many prestigious awards for plein air painting and is a signature member of New York Plein Air Painters (NYPAP), and International Plein Air Painters (IPAP), and has been featured in national newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Plein Air Podcast with Eric Rhoads, Pastel Journal Magazine, Tampa Bay Magazine, and a painting in Plein Air Magazine.
She is represented by six galleries around the country including Wallkill River School in NY, Woodfield Fine Art in St. Pete, and Lakeside Inn Gallery in Mount Dora, FL. She teaches workshops in pastel and plein air techniques across the country in Staunton, VA, Olana, NY, and Tampa Bay, Florida, and is included in museum collections in the Georges Pompidou Museum in France and the Museum of Modern Art in NY.