Joanna Barnum

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.


Residency and Receptions

Catoctin Mountain National Park

I have been accepted to participate in the National Parks Artist-In-Residence program as a resident artist at Catoctin Mountain National Park near Thurmont, Maryland.  I only found out about two weeks ago, so it has been a bit of a whirlwind preparing!  I will be in residence creating a body of plein air (landscapes painted directly from life) watercolors from May 2-May 14.  I leave in less than a week!  I’ll be presenting a free public program at the Visitor Center on May 8, 1-2pm.  It will be a brief demo and discussion of my plein air painting process.

“What the #!@* is Plein Air Painting”
I am delighted to be one of the 35 artists included in the inaugural exhibit of plein air painting at the brand new Ken Karlic Artist Studio & Gallery on Main Street in Bel Air, MD.  The opening reception is May 6 from 5-8:30pm.  I’ll be making a special trip back from Catoctin to attend.  Stay tuned for more news about workshops, classes, shows, and other events hosted at Ken’s new gallery- I’m sure there are big things ahead, and I’m excited that he is bringing more art to Harford County.

Art, Wine, & Dine in Bedford Springs, PA
I’ll be one of twelve guest plein air painters invited to paint at the “Art, Wine & Dine” weekend on May 20-22 at the beautiful Omni Bedford Springs Resort in PA.  “Wine, fine food and art: the perfect trio for a fabulous time at Omni Bedford Springs Resort. This year, we debut our Art, Wine & Dine event which showcases local artisans, wine purveyors, Resort culinary offerings and even an art auction, all with the lush Allegheny Mountains as the canvas. You’ll leave feeling like an expert. With this package you’ll get the VIP treatment: VIP Reception Friday night, Wine and Food Pairing Class, Wine and Paint Class, and VIP Art Preview Reception.”

Baltimore Watercolor Society Mid-Atlantic Exhibition
My painting “Outer Space” (below) has been juried into the Baltimore Watercolor Society’s Mid-Atlantic Exhibition at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown, MD.  The show will be on view from June 9-July 16, with a reception on June 26 from 2-4pm.

Personal reflections on teaching watercolor

Last month, I ended a several year long stint teaching watercolor through Carroll Community College to a wonderful group of seniors at the North Carroll Senior Center.  I’d grown quite fond of the group, but the commute from Harford County to Carroll County was wearing on me.  I’m at a crossroads now with my teaching where I’m in the process of working out new classes and workshops in watercolor that I hope to offer here in Harford County, starting in the Fall- either out of my home studio or somewhere else nearby.  I wrote this post on my personal Facebook page with some thoughts I had about my teaching experience so far, and I’ve decided I’d like to share it here so that I can archive it in a more accessible format:

As I teach my last few class meetings in Carroll County, I’ve been doing some philosophical reflection. I’ve found that the following is true of the students who progress the most. It does not necessarily matter how much experience or “talent” they start out with. I think these things are probably true of any skill, not just painting.

Students who progress the most…

-Paint a lot, in and out of class.

-Listen to criticism and process and implement that feedback, rather than arguing with it or making excuses.

-Are not afraid to take risks and “fail” in the short term, while trying out new skills and ways of thinking. They understand that a “failed” painting is experience brought to the next one, and is not a waste.

-Ask questions and have a curious outlook. Research and study from other sources besides me and then share their new discoveries and ask questions about what they’ve read or done elsewhere.

I’ve also learned a few things about teaching.

-My biggest job, aside from the fundamental concepts to be taught, is to help my students learn to be fearless. Some come to me fearless, but many need to learn to be. Fear of failure, ruining the painting, trying something difficult, trying something new and different when they’ve gotten used to doing things one way…fear is a major obstacle.

-I have to take control of the classroom and schedule. I can’t allow myself to feel “bullied” or rushed by students who don’t want to wait their turn, or who have their own ideas about the plan for the day.

-I have to accept that everyone has their own goals and not everyone actually WANTS to improve or be pushed out of their comfort zone. In a community mixed level class, like the one I’ve been teaching, there are some students who are there to get out of the house, be around people, and who don’t care about getting a lot of work done, or who are happy following the same methods they always have…they don’t have goals beyond that and it’s OKAY, as long as it’s not a distraction for other students. I try to leave the door open for them to try more, without making them feel unwelcome by pushing too hard. In some class environments, this might not be appropriate, I have to gauge based on the purpose of the class and the needs of the students.

-Some students need the same ideas repeated over and over again in the same or different ways to really get it.

-Students need help becoming their own best selves as artists- not in-training versions of me.

-I don’t have to pretend to know everything about everything. But if someone asks a question or needs help with something I can’t answer with confidence, we can discover the answer together. I should make sure they know that in many cases, there is not a single right way of doing something, and different artists might have vastly different, equally valid approaches.

A Reception at TruAx Custom Frames, April 2

I hope you can join me at a reception at TruAx Custom Frames this coming Saturday, April 2.  I will be showing still life work all painted this winter from life, both acrylics and watercolors.  I have been experimenting with different modes of observational expression that I might carry over into other series of work. Originals will be for sale in a variety of sizes, and prints will also be available.

I will share the space with glass artist Chris McIntyre.

The reception is Saturday, April 2, from 6-8pm at 4715 Harford Rd., Baltimore, MD in the Hamilton/Lauraville area.

Tam Lin

This Fall, I took a wonderful book illustration class with Jonathon Scott Fuqua at the new Baltimore Academy of Illustration. It was an excellent opportunity to update my picture book portfolio.  I’ve been working on a picture book retelling of the classic Scottish ballad of Tam Lin, which I’ll be pitching to publishers as an author/illustrator.  Meanwhile, I highly recommend BAI to artists at any stage in their careers.  There is something for everyone.

(Click the square thumbnails to view the full images)



Cityscape, BWS, & AARP

I was so pleased to be awarded “Best Watercolor” for my painting “Sliding Shadows” by juror Philip Koch at the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association’s Cityscape exhibit.  It was on view at the Peale Center over the past few weekends- the first contemporary exhibit to be on display in the historic building since it closed to the public in the 90s.  The Peale Museum first opened in 1815, and was the first purpose built museum building in the country.

My painting “Stargazing” also received an Honorable Mention at the current Baltimore Watercolor Society member show at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House in Columbia, MD, on view until December 12.

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for my free public watercolor demo on November 23, 7pm, at the Parkville Public Library and for the reception for Plein Air Painters Under 40 at Still Life Gallery in Ellicott City on December 13.

Last month, I had the incredible privilege of being commissioned through the GMMB agency to paint several portraits for AARP’s “Portraits of Care” project, focusing on the role of family caregivers in America.  Earlier this week I was able to attend the reception for the project at the Hart Senate Building on Capitol Hill.  I was able to meet a family member of the subjects of one of my portraits, which was really wonderful.

Here I am with Melanie Smith, granddaughter of Patricia & Bob from Sevierville, TN, the subjects of one of my portraits.