The Blank Canvas series of interviews with professional artists who generously share their art experience and insights with the Master Oil Painting community

Welcome to the Blank Canvas Series. We interview professional artists so they can share their insights with the Master Oil Painting Community. What artist would you like to hear from next?

Today’s Featured Artist: Joe Anna Arnett

Joe Anna Arnett oil painting flowers plein air with her Soltek easel.

Joe Anna Arnett oil painting flowers plein air with her Soltek easel.

Joe Anna Arnett was featured in the January-February (2017) edition of “Art of the West” magazine. She has been in more than 40 art publications since 1987. She was also invited to the 12th Annual Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational and the Acadia Invitational Exhibition (2017). We now have her oil painting video that teaches how to paint stunning lilacs.

Q: What made you decide to live in an artist community like Santa Fe, and has it had any noticeable impact on your career progression?

Joe Anna: Santa Fe was a natural choice for me and I have been grateful for that decision for the last three decades.

I lived in New York and worked as an art director for Young and Rubicam Advertising. My work was mostly creating ads for television. In winter, our outdoor shoots were done mostly with Los Angeles film crews. There were times when I would spend weeks and weeks in Los Angeles. We didn’t shoot on weekends, so I would hop on a plane and go to Santa Fe to visit my sister who lived there.

Commercial Work done for Merrill Lynch by Joe Anna Arnett before her full-time oil painting career

Commercial Work Joe Anna Arnett did for Merrill Lynch

Living in a community that is so friendly to the art world has been a great advantage. The galleries here are wonderful. People come to Santa Fe with the purpose of looking at art. It really is an art destination.

The support is wonderful. We have one of the best art supply stores – Artisan is their name if you visit Santa Fe – it rivals stores in New York.

Drawing groups meet several days a week. I draw with my wonderful group every Tuesday afternoon and really enjoy keeping my drawing skills sharp.

Being a professional artist in Santa Fe is a very typical job. The business community here is accustomed to us. In some other communities around the US, when you say you are an artist, they still wonder what you do for a living.

Lilac Gate by Joe Anna Arnett

Q: You paint some of the most gorgeous flowers and still life arrangements in the industry. What drew you to plants instead of figures or wildlife painting?

Joe Anna: First of all, thank you for the kind compliment.

When I studied at the Art Students League in New York, we drew and painted the figure, and sometimes an occasional still life.  I did study landscape painting there.  My landscape teacher, Robert Maione would have his class meet in Central Park and he would do his critiques there.

But we only went out in the late spring and early fall.  Winter was miserable so we did figures in the studio. So, my training was more focused on studio art.  My early professional paintings were very heavy still life paintings, with a somber palette.

When I left the League, I didn’t have a studio big enough, or funds available to hire models.   Painting still-life subjects was simply more convenient.  I loved landscape painting, but I was just not as comfortable in the genre.  I had begun to sell the still life works and it built from there.  I wasn’t painting flowers at first but

several momentous things happened very soon after I moved to Santa Fe that changed that.  The best ‘momentous thing’ came when I met, fell in love with, and married James Asher.

Rose Cantata - oil painting by Joe Anna Arnett

Rose Cantata – oil painting by Joe Anna Arnett

He began to plant flowers for me. The first garden he dug for me became the peony garden – peonies are just too beautiful to resist. Lilacs grew around our neighborhood and were always so tempting. (Members, click here to watch the amazing video in our library showing the entire process of Joe Anna painting lilacs)

As I added flowers to my still life painting, my choice of colors brightened and my style began to change to a bit more of a relaxed approach.  In many ways, I am still going in that direction even after all these years.

Painting flowers was then and still is so much fun. I believe that I am still evolving and I hope that continues.

Pale Peonies is an oil painting by Joe Anna Arnett of light purple peonies and leaves done in a loose painterly realist style

Pale Peonies – oil painting by Joe Anna Arnett

Q: If you were starting out today, knowing what you know now, would you still pursue commercial art first as a career and then transition to fine art – why or why not? And would you recommend attending art schools or ateliers similar to the Art Students League? Many of our members are working to become professional artists.

Joe Anna: If I were starting out knowing what I know today, I doubt I would start in commercial art. My career in advertising back then seemed like a necessity.

When I graduated from the University of Texas, I had to earn a living right away. There was no time to develop as an artist and no money to do that anyway. And fine art was not representational art in those days.

I never really enjoyed non-objective art so I just assumed that I wouldn’t make it as a fine artist. In a way, my timing was perfect. By the time I had the confidence and the savings to leave advertising, the art world had changed and representational art was coming around in popularity and acceptance.

I was also more mature as I started to re-train as a fine artist, and I knew how to manage myself. Advertising taught me so much about business and marketing and I will always be grateful for that knowledge. I use much of what I learned in those days in my business life today.

As to the type of training I would choose today, I believe that I would still choose to go to an atelier if I could. I studied for several years at the Art Students League after I left advertising. I went full time and then followed that up with another year of part-time while I worked free-lance as an art director. That extra money, I knew, would be needed to launch a career.

Wandering Wildflowers is an oil painting by Joe Anna Arnett of a woodland landscape with scattered yellow, orange and pink flowers.

Wandering Wildflowers – oil painting by Joe Anna Arnett

But full time is not possible for a lot of artists and relocating in order to go to one of the good schools may not be possible. There are some wonderful alternatives available today that were not available to me in those days. There are workshops with gifted artists as well as some online training that I think is excellent. Truly, good instruction today can come right to your computer.

I think that there is great value in a very concentrated, focused workshop with someone who has solid teaching experience. And I like the idea of going away for some workshops. You are not tempted to just run and pick up the dry cleaning and no one expects you to make dinner.

I think there is value in online learning, but the presence of an artist you respect to guide you in person is such a great experience. These different ideas can be mutually supportive.

Having said that, I would caution that artists avoid becoming workshop junkies. I see this a lot. The thought exists, “If I take this workshop from this artist, and then that artist, and another, and another, I’ll become the artist I want to be.” Not so. The workshops are good but there is no substitute for the time you spend in your own development. You must resolve to do work on your own. You must take what you learned and apply it, and spend time with that knowledge, making it your own.

I see, all too often, that artists think they can become a professional as long as they take enough workshops. It just doesn’t work that way. Self-motivation, the quiet time spent with your own focused concentration, and experience are imperative.

When an artist asks for my advice, I often tell them that they must enjoy their own company. Art as a profession really is a bit lonely. You have to spend the time on your own, applying what you have learned. Your best instructor is looking at you in the mirror every morning.

Yes, do great workshops. Yes, explore the valuable on-line tools, but know for sure that you are in for many hours on your own, developing who you are as an artist.

Breakfast with Roses is a scrumptiously colorful oil painting by Joe Anna Arnett of a still life with painterly flowers, toast, jam, and other table settings

Breakfast with Roses is an oil painting by Joe Anna Arnett

Q: With such enviable honors as your PBS show, inclusion in the Prix de West, teaching through numerous books and workshops, and becoming one of the best-known floral painters in the world, what do you consider the foundation of your success?

Joe Anna: Thank you for the kind words.

My foundation is just that: foundation. At the league and in self-study from those days through today, I have focused on learning and applying the strong foundational principles of art. I have written these things and I live them.

Jim and I will be driving and look at a scene and one of us may say something like “nice contrast”, “good values”, “nice color world”. If anyone listened to our conversation and was not versed in the language of art, they would think us crazy.

Once, walking down a village street in France, we both stopped in our tracks, staring at a wall. People began to stare at us. There was nothing on the wall. We were both admiring the perfect ratio of the way a shadow from another building split the space.

I separate success in art and success in business. I think that is a healthy way to compartmentalize my life. Art is art. Business should have no place in the creation of art. But I don’t want any other job, so I have to be good at the business side of this profession.

My time in advertising did help me with this. I try to separate my time painting from any business concerns. Of course, it can’t be pure. Nothing can. I do have to think about business, but I try to keep it in balance.

There are deadlines, and obligations, commissions and those sorts of things and we have to meet those commitments. I try to do the things required for business after I lose good painting light. I spend many late nights on those tasks.

Being very organized really helps. Things like a good accounting system, a good data program for keeping up with inventory, clients, sales, and location of the works.

Be professional in all your practices. Your galleries must trust you. Solve more problems for them than you create. Be professional with your clients. This is a huge topic and one I am asked often. By the time I cover the things I think necessary to be successful, most artists have dozed off. Or they are thinking, “I’m an artist. I’m not going to do all that.” But you have to learn good business practices if you are going to do this for a living.

The rest of the answer is that art, as a successful profession, is just a lot of really hard work and very long hours. I work six and a half days a week and never have enough time to do all I would like to do.

Art as a life-sustaining profession is a huge commitment and not for the faint-hearted. You have to want it and be willing to do what it takes.

If your goal is something else, then fine. Doing art for the sake of enjoying the process is wonderful. If you don’t have to make a living at it, that’s even better. But if you want it as your profession, you had better get comfortable with long hours and the total commitment.

Rose of Yesterday is an oil painting of yellow roses and rich bluish green leaves painted by Joe Anna Arnett

Rose of Yesterday by Joe Anna Arnett

Q: You have inspired so many artists over the years. What artists have inspired you?

Joe Anna: This is a long list and I keep adding to it. I will just name the few at the top.

At the league, I studied with David Leffel. He is an inspired teacher and divine artist. I don’t want to paint like David, but he gave me a wonderful foundation. My personal direction, over the years, has changed to a desire for looseness, a mystery, and a more impressionist approach.

Robert Maione gave me a great foundation in landscape painting.

For inspiration in flower painting, Henri Fantin-Latour is my absolute all-time hero. A rose has never been painted the way he did.

I would expect that we all put Richard Schmidt on our list. Or as Matt Smith calls him, “The Divine Richard”. He is. I never had the privilege of studying with him. I often wish that I had

Sargent is also one who is on most of our lists along with the amazing Sorolla.

The contemporary British artist David Cutis is one of my favorites. I got to meet him in England a few years ago. We at one time in the distant past showed at the same gallery in London. We had time to have a brew at the pub and reminisce. What a wonderful artist and really nice guy.

My list changes every day. With Facebook, I see paintings all the time that I admire.

Aspen Sunflowers by Joe Anna Arnett

“Arnett has written articles for The Artist’s Magazine, American Arts Quarterly, ART Ideas and Australian Artists Magazine and has been featured in The International Herald Tribune, Southwest Art, Western Art Digest and the North Light books, Painting with Passion, The Best of Flower Painting, The Best of Flower Painting II, The Complete Oil Painter and Sketchbook Confidential II from North Light Publishing. “

You can find more information about Joe Anna, her workshop schedule, and see many more images of her beautiful flower and landscape paintings here:  Joe Anna’s Website

Joe Anna with her husband James


Facebook: Joe Anna Arnett Fine Art

Be sure to comment and thank Joe Anna for sharing her talents and insights with us!

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