A Visit to the Baltimore Museum of Art

Black Friday is not yet upon us, but the holiday season is well underway in my studio.  I have been busy working on holiday portrait commissions and preparing prints and cards to drop off at the Gift Cellar in Baltimore.  If you’d like to commission a portrait or other work as a Christmas gift, please get in touch with me by December 1.

This week, I enjoyed a break from painting in the studio at the Baltimore Museum of Art.  I serve as the Baltimore Watercolor Society’s newsletter editor, and in this capacity, I was invited to a media & hospitality preview reception of the BMA’s reinstalled American Art collection.  I just finished up writing a short blurb about the event for the BWS December newsletter.  I thought I would share it here as well.


On November 18, I had the pleasure of attending a media preview of the Baltimore Museum of Art’s (BMA) newly reinstalled American art collection. I was joined by Sharon Green, Baltimore Watercolor Society’s Mid-Atlantic Chairperson.

We were invited to enter the Dorothy McIlvain Scott American Wing via the newly reopened Merrick Historic Entrance, and enjoyed a tour of the collection led by David Park Curry, Senior Curator of Decorative Arts, American Painting & Sculpture. Curry discussed how the collection was arranged to create a dialogue between painting and the decorative arts, allowing guests to understand the stories and themes within the collection, while also creating their own personal stories of discovery. For example, a portrait of Mary Sterett by Charles Wilson Peale is displayed above a silver dish she once owned. In some cases pieces are grouped by time period, and in other cases, by theme. The Habre de Venture Parlor room features painted American furniture ranging from the Federal style “fancy furniture” made in Baltimore around the turn of the 18th century to Modernist and contemporary pieces, offset by the walls of the room itself, which were relocated from a colonial Maryland house to the BMA in the 1920s and maintain their original paint finish. The Beaux-Arts style of the central BMA building, designed by notable American architect John Russell Pope, encourages visitors to meander between the gallery rooms in a non-linear way, forming their own relationships with the collection not dependent on a strictly historical viewing.

Of course, during the tour we had our eyes peeled for examples of water media that might be of special interest to the BWS membership. Curry explained that the lighting in most of the American Wing is not conducive to the preservation of works on paper. Only two watercolors are currently on display. A View of the Port of Baltimore, 1835, by Nicolino Calyo shows a familiar view looking Northwest toward the Baltimore harbor from Locust Point. In the “Tiffany and Friends” gallery is a rare watercolor by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Algerian Shops, c. 1872, is a light filled market scene, which demonstrates a continuity of vision with Tiffany’s better known decorative glass work on display in the same gallery. Also of interest is 1944 Interior with Flowers by Milton Avery. Although this particular piece is an oil painting, Avery received First Prize for his watercolor work in the Baltimore Watercolor Club’s (the founding name of BWS) 1948 National Watercolor Exhibition hosted at the BMA.

Although not a “water media destination,” the American Wing at the Baltimore Museum of Art is well worth the visit– there is plenty of inspiration for any artist or art lover to enjoy. While you are there, also visit the Contemporary Wing, which re-opened in 2012. And we can look forward to renovated African and Asian art galleries in 2015, as the last phase of the BMA’s ongoing 100th Anniversary Celebration. Entry to the BMA is free. Visit http://www.artbma.org for additional details to plan your visit.

Joanna Barnum, BWS Newsletter Editor


Two experimental portraits done in fluid acrylics on Arches rough, as part of a friend’s “Aquavember” challenge.  Some are using the challenge to paint in watercolor every day.  I’m trying to use it to get in some personal work in addition to client work, and experiment with ideas and materials I’ve been interested in trying, but keep putting off because there are always other things to do.

I won the set of Golden fluid acrylics as part of an award I received at the BWS Mid-Atlantic exhibit over a year and a half ago, and hadn’t gotten around to trying them.  I like how saturated the color is with just a little bit of paint- I think they’d be very useful for experimenting with larger paintings.  With watercolor, when I work big, I sometimes struggle to mix enough pigment in to get a strong color, or feel like I’m always running out of what I mixed.

In addition to trying the fluid acrylics, my other goal was to explore the interplay between abstraction and realism.  I wanted the backgrounds to have a more active abstract sensibility to them than just the plain color washes I tend to do, and I wanted the feeling of the faces merging with/emerging from that background.  Before I started painting, I masked out most of the faces, but left some areas bare, where I allowed the background painting to flow into the shadow areas of the face.  Then (after everything was completely dry) I removed the masking fluid, and painted the face using a more careful approach.


Spoonflower is a great “print on demand” custom fabric service.  You can upload images to create your own fabrics as well as offer them for sale to the general public.  I’ve added some new designs to my Spoonflower shop that can be purchased as a variety of fabrics, wallpaper, and wrapping paper- the test swatches just arrived. Visit the shop to see previews of what larger cuts of fabric would look like.  http://www.spoonflower.com/profiles/joannabarnum


Portraits from Life

Working from a model from life is a traditional part of an artist’s training and practice.  I try to make time to visit local open life drawing sessions every so often.  I do most of my portrait commissions from photos for the sake of convenience, but there is something unique about the process of painting a subject from life, and it keeps an artist’s observational skills sharp.

Here are two portraits I painted yesterday, at the Howard County Center for the Arts and at Zoll Studio- each one took around an hour and a half (with breaks for the model).

I am happy to offer commissioned portraits from life to my local clients, at my studio or in your home.

Why choose a live sitting over a photo?  Neither option is “better,” each is unique.  Using a photo reference allows the artist to capture a fleeting expression, or the memory of a special time or place.  The artist can spend a long time creating a carefully controlled finished piece.  For a live sitting, the subject must pose for an extended period of time, so the expression and pose is usually relaxed/neutral.  The artist must be efficient, capturing the most important aspects of the person’s likeness and spirit in a shorter amount of time.  This can lend the finished piece a sense of immediacy and intensity.  Sitting directly for the artist can be a special experience for both the subject and artist, connecting them to a longstanding artistic tradition dating back to the work of the old masters.

If you choose to sit for a live portrait, you will need to be able to hold a relaxed, comfortable seated pose for 20 minutes at a time.  You should plan for about 2 hrs 30 minutes total time together, including breaks between sittings. You may bring an adult companion to keep you company, but please do not bring unsupervised young children, as you will need your undivided attention to pose.  Children as models must be old enough to sit relatively still and calm.  Live portrait sittings of pets are generally not recommended.  Please note that a friendly dog does live at my home studio- if you have allergies or fears, we can meet in your home.

Pricing is similar to my standard options, but only available in certain sizes.  Please inquire for pricing, process, and size options for painting multiple subjects together.

10” x 14” watercolor- $250 – one subject

12” x 16” watercolor- $300 – one subject

10” x 14” graphite- $150- one subject



Baltimore Painted Screens

A friend asked me to participate in painting a screen for a project being run by the Southeast Community Development Corporation in Baltimore. I was assigned a home owner in the Highlandtown neighborhood to work with- I’ll be painting her screen door. These are two mockups based on her ideas, Deep Creek Lake, MD and the Chesapeake Bay with blue crabs. The screen has a crossbar in the middle, so I tried to integrate that into the composition for the design. The client has chosen the Chesapeake Bay image, so stay tuned for updates of the actual screen painting.

I’m excited to be involved in this, as I’ve always wanted to try Baltimore screen painting. For those not from our region- screen painting is a regional folk art that was popular in many Baltimore neighborhoods during the early 20th century. A screen painted with a pretty design on the outside allowed homes to have their windows open, letting in the breeze, but prevented those on the street from seeing into the house.