Joanna Barnum

Luminous Portraits Workshop in Bel Air, MD

I have a workshop coming up on April 22!  Find out more or register here.



SCBWI Conference

I’m excited to be attending the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators conference in New York for the first time!  I’ve spent the past few months organizing my printed portfolio for the showcase, and creating a dummy book based on Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” poem.  I thought I would post some of the newer narrative illustration pieces I’ve done over the past few months here, as I add them to the portfolio section of this site.  The first two are samples from Jabberwocky, and the three after that were created for the Folio Society’s illustration competition based on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.

And this guy here is Krampus.  I didn’t include him has part of the portfolio for the children’s book convention, because he’s kind of scary, but this illustration was done for Faerie Magazine’s recent Winter issue.



Holiday Portrait Commissions

A reminder that December 1 is the deadline to place orders for portrait commissions needed in time for Christmas!

If you are local and can pick up in person from Abingdon, MD, I may be able to accept some last minute orders, depending on work load.

Also, please come shop a selection of  sale prints, note cards, jewelry, and originals at the Authors & Artists holiday sale at the Bel Air Armory on Main Street on Saturday, December 3, from 10am-3pm.  I am trying to clear stock of items that came back from consignment locations this year, so there are deals to be had!

The James Webb, again

I got to talk to Outdoor Painter’s “Plein Air Today” newsletter/blog about my experience painting the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA Goddard!

Here also is a collected post from NASA about some of the art projects coming out of the event.


NASA Plein Air

Today’s experience attending the James Webb Space Telescope artist event at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD was incredible!  23 artists from different disciplines and parts of the country were selected from those who applied.  There were artists creating in all different media, including painting of many different styles, printmaking, jewelry, sumi-e, and even poetry and songwriting.  Some folks from the “How Stuff Works” network were also present (I recognized Holy Frye of the “Stuff You Missed in History Class” podcast by her voice alone! What an unexpected fun meeting.) We had a few hours in the observatory overlooking the clean room where the James Webb Space Telescope currently resides to create art from life and take notes and photos. The time from the call for entries to the selection and the actual event was quite short, because NASA’s social media team didn’t know for sure until the last minute when there would be a day where the mirror of the telescope would be in the upright position and easily visible.

We also heard from a few different scientists who are working on the project.  James Webb will be the successor to the Hubble telescope.  It is larger and more powerful.  Because of the time it takes light to travel through space, James Webb will actually be able to look “back in time” and see the moments right after the big bang, which we have never been able to do before.  The main mirror on the telescope is made up of gold-plated beryllium panels, which are light and strong.  It is designed to fold up like origami for its trip into space in 2018.  You can read more about the James Webb Space Telescope on NASA’s site. 

I was able to create a “plein air” painting from life of JWST in about two hours.  It’s a 22″ x 15″ watercolor painting.  Capturing the hexagonal mirror sections and the subtle parabolic shape of the mirror, as well as a sense of the scale of the telescope, was a challenge.  It was also rather emotional being able to paint something that is such a huge technological feat, and which will show us things we’ve never seen before.  As one of the scientists put it, JWST will “answer questions we have not yet thought to ask.”

I’ve decided to make my painting available to freely share and publish under a Creative Commons license with attribution. I have a high resolution copy available upon request for print publication. I am also selling signed prints of my painting through my Etsy shop.
























It was also possible to take a “selfie” IN the mirror of the JWST from the observatory! At the end of the event, many staff members were lined up to do so, since the mirror being in the upright position is a special occasion.





James Webb Space Telescope NASA and Inktober

I feel so honored to be selected as part of a small group of artists visiting NASA Goddard tomorrow to view and be inspired by the James Webb Space Telescope. I’ll be doing a painting and sketches of JWST from life, and then creating some additional illustrations about the experience. You can look for the hashtag #JWSTart on Instagram and Facebook tomorrow to see what the artists in attendance are creating! I am so excited about this incredible opportunity.

“Inktober” and “Drawlloween,” the drawing challenges I was participating in on Instagram for the month of October are officially over.  I really enjoyed the experience of quickly creating something new each day (or in some cases, planning ahead to do the drawings I needed in advance).  I flexed my quick thinking and quick drawing muscles, generating new ideas and new compositions that are exciting and unexpected to me.  I also connected with a lot of new Facebook and Instagram followers by posting new work every day.  I’m hoping to keep the mojo going by choosing a new personal challenge for November- each day, I’m going to work on concept and compositional sketches for a personal picture book interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.”  You can follow along on Instagram, or check back here at the end of November for a gallery of sketches.

Here are all my Inktober drawings.

Harford Plein Air reception this weekend, and more

This week, I’ve been participating in the second annual Harford Plein Air competition, hosted by the Center for the Arts.  This is the first year the event was juried, and both local and national artists are participating.  The ticketed preview reception and awards ceremony ($20) is tomorrow night, Friday, October 14, 7pm at the Liriodendron Mansion in Bel Air, MD.  On Saturday, you can view the exhibition for free from 2-5pm.  If you come earlier on Saturday, you can watch the juried and non-juried artists compete in a “quick draw” event on Main Street.  Artists will complete paintings live from 9-11am, and then there will be a judging and sale of the quick draw work from 11-1pm.  Visit the link above for more details.

Next week is the opening for the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association’s “Cityscape” exhibition at the historic Peale Center in Baltimore.  It is a juried collection of plein air paintings depicting the urban environment, completed this year by artists throughout our region.  Two of my scenes of Baltimore will be included.  There is a ticketed ($50) reception on Friday, October 21 at 5:30pm.  The exhibition is free and open to the public on October 22, 23, 27, 29, and 30.
















October is a month of daily drawing challenges in the world of social media.  On Instagram, I’ve been participating in “Inktober” and “Drawlloween,” posting new Halloween-themed drawings in pen and ink each day.  Artists from around the world are participating, following either the official prompts for the events, or coming up with their own themes for the month.  It’s been fun, because it’s motivation to draw a lot, and to play with ideas and techniques I might not make time for otherwise.  I’ve already come up with something I want to expand into a full illustration for my portfolio.  I’ve also been connecting with a lot of new artists online as a result.  If you want to see the new work posted each day, you can follow me on Instagram or Facebook.  (I’ve also been posting my plein air paintings as I finish them, and other works in progress) Or, you can check back here at the end of October, when I’ll post a full gallery of the 31 drawings on this blog.

Hard to believe, but it’s time to start thinking about holiday shopping if you want to commission original artwork.  December 1 will be the final deadline for standard portrait commission orders shipped within the US for delivery by Christmas.  However, if you’re located abroad, want extra time to frame your gift, or want to commission something a little more complicated, please order sooner.  If you’d like to purchase ready-made artwork or prints, you can always check out my Etsy shop, or you can visit me at the Authors & Artists Annual Gift Sale in Bel Air, MD on Saturday, December 3.  I’ll be selling a selection of prints, originals, note cards, and jewelry featuring my work.  Some of the locations where I consigned my work closed this year, so I’m trying to clear out some of my ready-made inventory, and I’ll have sale items not available online!  I also plan to have a bargain bin of older unframed artwork that needs to get out of my studio and find good homes.

Did you make it to the end of the post?  Here’s “Escape Velocity,” a self-portrait I finished recently.







Catoctin Mountain National Park, Artist in Residence, May 2016

During May of this year, I was selected to be an Artist in Residence at Catoctin Mountain National Park.  Many of our National Parks have their own AIR programs- each is a little different, as they are all administrated separately by the parks or by associated organizations.  The Catoctin residency is managed by the Catoctin Forest Alliance.  I was given lodging for two weeks in a cabin at the historic Misty Mount camp ground, and given free reign to make work based on my experience at the park.  In exchange, I donated one piece from the residency to the park.

It has taken me a bit of time to get the work from the residency scanned and organized to post online, but it seems fitting that I finally get it all up the day after the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service.  This Saturday, August 27th, there will be a 100th anniversary celebration at Catoctin, and I will be attending to drop off my donation painting, and to talk a little about the AIR experience.

I’ve tried applying for several AIR programs over the past two years, and this was my first time being selected as a resident artist.  I was glad that Catoctin is fairly convenient drive from home- it seemed like a good introduction to the residency experience.  I wasn’t sure what it would be like being mostly alone in the woods for two weeks.  I was able to visit home twice during the residency.  I spent a lot of time alone, but also met many wonderful rangers as well as the volunteers who serve as hosts for Misty Mount.  During my normal life as a freelancer, I spend a lot of time to myself, and enjoy my solitude, but going days on end without much personal interaction is certainly a different experience.  I did have internet access on my smart phone, and cell phone service, which provided a bit of company- it is difficult to imagine a more remote AIR experience where even these things are not available, although I hope to do one some day.  I had a lot of time to work, to think about my work, to think about life, to read, and to experience nature.

It also rained almost constantly for the duration of the two weeks, which made working as a plein air watercolorist very challenging.  I took advantage of any break in the rain I could.  Sometimes, I painted while sitting inside the hatchback of my vehicle, or under overhangs at various park buildings.  Even with an overhang, the humidity makes watercolor difficult.  Using the heat in the car to help dry out paintings helped a little.  So this element was frustrating, because I constantly felt like I could be getting a lot more work done, and working a lot better, without the additional challenge from the weather.  I felt a bit beaten down at times.  A couple of times, I retreated inside the visitor center, and painted the taxidermy owls on display.

However, despite the weather, I learned a lot.  In most of my previous plein air work, I tend to focus on man made structures, or the contrast between these structured elements and the natural world.  I’ve found completely organic scenes very challenging to paint.  It’s easy for the forest to dissolve into an overall texture.  One must make very conscious decisions about creating a focal point through intentionally controlled contrast and selective detail- just mindlessly painting what’s there quickly leads to total chaos.  By the end of the residency, I felt like I’d learned to handle this type of subject matter more successfully.

In total, I painted around 30 pieces, but they weren’t all successful as finished pieces.  Here is a selection of the best work.




“Naiad,” 22″ x 30″ watercolor on 300lb cold press Arches paper.  I’ve done a few pieces at this full sheet scale recently, and I’m enjoying the exploration of the larger format.  I recently applied for a grant to offset some of the cost of framing large pieces like this, so that I can possibly do an exhibition of large scale portrait work during 2017.

In September, I’ll be participating in the unjuried Chincoteague Plein Air event.  The one day display and sale of work created for the event will be on Saturday, September 10, from 6-9pm at the United Methodist Church Social Hall in Chincoteague Island, VA.

I was pleased to be selected as a juried artist for the second annual Harford Plein Air Festival in my home county. The work created during the week well be on display at the Liriodendron Mansion in Bel Air, MD.  The ticketed Collector’s Preview Party is Friday, October 14 at 7pm and the Public Gallery Sale is Saturday, October 15, 2-5pm.

I was also excited to receive my contributor’s copy of Splash 17: Inspiring Subjects, The Best of Watercolor from North Light Books recently!

Technical difficulties

For a brief interval today (6/30/16) e-mails sent to were bouncing back.  The problem has been resolved.  If anyone tried to reach me during that interval regarding an urgent illustration or painting matter, please know that I am alive and well and freelancing and able to be reached ASAP!  Please e-mail me again, or feel free to call me at 410-428-3432.  Sorry for any inconvenience.

Here’s a new painting for your trouble!  A portrait of my greyhound, Zephyr, 22″ x 30″ watercolor on 300 lb cold press Arches paper.