The Learning Curve

I always find it interesting that I don’t know what I don’t know until I’m faced with executing something for which I have not expected the unexpected.  This past year presented me with a big one of those challenges, and in more ways than one!

I received a commission to do a large painting to hang in the main room of the library at a college.  I was given free reign in my subject choice, with the caveat that the director would approve my choice (or not, of course).  I walked through the different floors of the library, enjoying the paintings of fellow artists. Many of these lovely paintings were of Florida woods and vegetation. I then went back to sit in this particular room where students and teachers were reading and studying, remembering my own days in college libraries and how full my head would be.  I can remember looking up and feeling as if my eyes were seeing countless pictures, words and numbers even though I was looking at blank walls.  That is when I received my inspiration.  I decided to paint a vista that would allow someone to look up and be taken along a flowing channel into a peaceful, wide open, natural space that is familiar to those living here.  That is how I feel when I look at the channels in the marshes of Florida.

painting of Florida marsh by Mary Jane Volkmann

I purchased and prepared my canvas and dove in. As I progressed I realized that I was struggling with issues of lighting.  I paint in an enclosed porch area.  It is a delightful space with a bank of windows facing east.  In the morning the light is natural and cool, but in the afternoon there is a lot of light bouncing off the green leaves, bleached wood and a cement slab outside the windows, so the color in the room becomes very warm and yellow, showing the colors I had paint differently than I think I have painted them!  This is easy to adjust when painting smaller canvases, but there isn’t much space to move around a large canvas and be able to stand back from it to see it.  I changed the lights in the room to counter balance the effect of the temperature shift, but because of the dimensions of the room parts of the painting were lighter than others, so I found myself subconsciously compensating and in the process, undermining the effect I was trying to achieve!  I began carrying my easel and painting in and out of the studio until finally I felt as if I had taken the painting to a sweet place with which I was happy.

The next challenge was trying to photograph the painting.  Thankfully we have digital photography or I would have spent a lot of money trying to get a decent photograph.  My camera doesn’t know what to make of my paintings, however.  It thinks it is really smart, so it ramps up the contrast or blasts the color, leaving me very frustrated. Above is about the best result I could achieve without hiring a professional photographer!

The sweet news contains three little anecdotes.  1.  The frame they chose delights me.  2.  After delivering the painting I happened to tell the library Director that while I was working I kept thinking about some of the lines from the poem “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry.  It turned out to be her favorite poem! She had a plaque made and it is now hanging next to the painting.  3.  A friend came to our house to see the painting, thought for a while and then he said to me, “I’ve driven hundreds of times across bridges over these marshes and this is the first time I am seeing them.”  I smiled.

painting by Mary Jane Volkmann hanging at Santa Fe College

Here is the poem:

poem by Wendell Berry

Greetings to all!

Mary Jane



Would you like to join a painting class in the mountains in spring?



MAY 1 – 7, 2016

John C. Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, N. Carolina

spring subjects for Mary Jane Volkmann's painting class at the John C. Campbell Folk School in springflowers to paint during Mary Jane Volkmann's spring painting class at the John C Campbell Folk School

What do you love about spring? Have you experienced it in the mountains of North Carolina? The flowers have begun to burst open in joyful colors, the birds are singing, the air is fresh and the world is alive! Would you like to paint it?

Come join us at the peak of spring for a fun class at the John C. Campbell Folk School! It’s a great place to celebrate life, to make new friends, experience all kinds of arts and crafts being created and to relax and try something you have always wanted to do.

        Mary Jane Volkmann's spring painting class at the John C Campbell Folk Schoolspring plein air painting class taught by Mary Jane Volkmann

I’ll help you capture your chosen subjects on canvas to take home and enjoy for years to come. We will paint outdoors “en plein air” and in the studio, discovering ways you intuitively express your creative voice. We will use simple color palettes and learn to capture the essence of what you love in the world around you in spring, whether flowers, clouds, mountains, trees, the lovely spring landscape or the dew on wet grass (just to name a few….). The choice is yours and I will be there to help!

Any questions? Feel free to ask! Come celebrate spring and enjoy painting it!

Follow this link to learn more and to register.

        plein air painting class taught by Mary Jane Volkmann at the John C Campbell Folk Schoolenjoying painting at the John C Campbell Folk School

We hope to see you there!

Spring Robins at John Campbell Folk School

                                                                                                     ~ Mary Jane



Painting Workshops

It’s been a busy season!  Following on a painting demonstration and one day workshop for the Art Guild of Orange Park Art as well as a demonstration of acrylics used like watercolors for the Citrus Watercolor Club, I recently taught a two day painting workshop with my friend and colleague, Kathleen Wobie. Kathie and I have painted and taught together for years.  Although our styles are completely different, we work from the same principles of art.  We find our different viewpoints to be a real asset to our painting workshops in the sense that we are able to offer different perspectives to those attending.  This, in turn, seems to attract participants with a wide array of painting styles and mediums, further enriching the experience for all attending.  Painting workshops are a great opportunity to rekindle inspiration, hone visual observation, develop new skills and make new friendships and associations.

artists at work at painting workshop taught by Mary Jane Volkmann and Kathleen Wobieartists at painting workshop taught by Mary Jane Volkmann and Kathleen Wobie

The subject of this particular painting workshop was Color and Dimension.  The workshop was held at the Windmill Gallery in McIntosh, Florida, overlooking Orange Lake.  This was a great opportunity to observe and paint the nuances of light and color which create a sense of distance in one’s paintings.  We also studied objects in perspective, measuring and painting them in their relationships to other objects in the visual field.

artist at painting workshop taught by Mary Jane Volkmann and Kathleen Wobie

Spending two days at the same place is a perfect way to experience the changing light and atmosphere.  Each breeze, each change in humidity and each passing hour bring exciting challenges of a new range of colors and light to capture on canvas!  Here are a few examples:

observing colors and light in the early morningclouds in the changing skies

observing colors of the early afternoonafternoon color

Note the changing color of the water, sky and vegetation during the day, as well as the differences one observes in looking off into the distance.  It was delightful to watch the different paintings which were created by everyone under these varying and constantly changing conditions!

artist painting at workshop taught by Mary Jane Volkmann and Kathleen Wobie

artist at painting workshop taught by Mary Jane Volkmann and Kathleen Wobieartist at painting workshop taught by Mary Jane Volkmann and Kathleen Wobie

I will be busy with a few more workshops in the fall.  The details will be posted here soon, so if you are interested or know someone who might be interested, please let me know!

Now it’s back to the easel for some summertime painting!


Painting Workshop: Color and Dimension!

I am excited to announce the next in a series of workshops I am co-teaching with my friend and artist colleague, Kathleen Wobie:

a participant in a painting workshop taught by Mary Jane Volkmann and Kathleen Wobie

 Color and Dimension

A Painter’s Guide to Distance and Perspective in Painting

May 16 -17, 2015

McIntosh, Florida

Registration and $75 deposit by May 8, 2015,  see details below

view to orange lake for workshop taught by Mary Jane Volkmann and Kathleen Wobie in McIntosh, Florida

In this workshop we will be focusing on creating a sense of space, depth and mood in painting, whatever one’s choice of style or expression.  We will be doing this by delving into aerial perspective, studying what happens to color at different angles and as it recedes into the distance as well as by observing and painting objects in their relationship to each other.  We will be using limited color palettes for mixing every conceivable color.  We will be working from a studio space at the top of a hill with great views down to Orange Lake as well as, upon group request, in the charming century town of McIntosh, Florida itself.   Space is limited and the workshop is filling, so if you are interested, please contact us or email or

painting workshop instructors, Kathleen Wobie and Mary Jane Volkmann

Kathie and I have taught and painted together for 11 years.  We have completely different styles in painting but work from the same principles of art.  We find that in teaching together we are able to give expanded perspectives to our workshop participants which they have find freeing and helpful.  Our workshops are not geared towards producing a particular style or product. Our goal is to add new tools to the box of understanding and skills of each of our workshop participants.   We celebrate the flow of individual expression and try our best to facilitate it, knowing that diversity creates a rich and delightful garden of art.

color and dimension painting workshop taught by Mary Jane Volkmann and Kathleen WobieJoin us for a fun weekend painting workshop in beautiful McIntosh, Florida! 

Learn new skills and make new friends (human or critter)!

fun things happen at painting workshopsfun times at painting workshops


The Color of Water

the color of water, photo by artist Mary Jane Volkmann

I recently received the most wonderful gift!  One of my artist friends, Linda Blondheim, and I were invited by a mutual friend to spend a few days painting on an island in the Gulf of Mexico.  Painting water and being around it thrill me, so the opportunity to have an artist residency where I could live for a few days surrounded by water was just what the doctor ordered for an increase of artistic inspiration.  Sharing the experience with another artist deepened the experience.  Several times a day we walked around the island to study how the light, wind, weather and time of day were affecting the color and reflectivity of the water.  Twice a day we each went off to paint which afforded us another chance to intimately observe and experience our individual choice of subject matter.

As usual, I took lots of photographs. (I refer to them for lessons in my workshops as well as for my own use in the studio.) I have compiled a selection to share with you.  They show conditions of water such as: how light, dark or how flat it can look; how many colors are reflected on it; the color changes dependent on the stillness or choppiness of the surface; how seemingly mercurial the surface can become under different conditions; the changing horizon which ranges from invisible to lighter than the sky to darker than the sky (sometimes all in one view); and, naturally, what happens at sunrise and sunset. The camera adjusts automatically for that one, which I don’t know how to fix, but the concept you will recognize!

I hope you enjoy this album.  If you enlarge any of the photos you can also start a slide show to see the photos in progression.  Otherwise you can select any of them just to look at one or more particular images.

Thank you, dear Patsy, for this wonderful gift!


Painting a Portrait

portrait painted by Mary Jane Volkmann

I just finished my first commission of 2015: a portrait.  As many of you know, I love painting interesting faces from our garden of humanity.  It is an unfolding process of inner and outer communication.

Painting someone I don’t know let’s me wander a bit further than I can when I work on a specific person. A slip of the brush can bring out an interesting nuance or expression I hadn’t intended but which harmonizes well with my thoughts at the time.  My imagination constantly drifts in wonder as to what forces have shaped the person and I question myself about what my own life might have been like if I had been born into another skin, another family, country, culture, climate or economic class.  I wonder what the person has seen or experienced in the course of his or her years.

While I may ask similar questions while painting a specific person, whether known to me or not, I have to be stricter in my portrayal, remembering that this is someone who is well known to those who see him or her daily and who is dearly loved by them.  What do they see that I don’t? What do I see that they don’t?  My challenge is to overcome the technical frustrations and challenges while striving to grasp, understand and capture a reflection of something of the inner essence of the person I am painting.  I believe it is only that which makes the painting come to life.

At the end of the process the painting is delivered and my studio wall is noticeably empty.  I smile.  I’ve been on an amazing journey.

~Mary Jane



Workshop Invitation: Landscape Painting on Location

Workshop Invitation: Landscape Painting on Location

The weekend of February 21-22 I will be teaching a landscape painting workshop with Kathleen Wobie at Paynes Prairie State Park in Micanopy, Florida.  Kathie and I have been teaching together for 11 years but have not held a Florida workshop in some time.  It’s a great time of year to paint spring beginning to show its bright colors within the structure of the landscape.  The birds are active and the weather can be lovely.  So if you are interested in a beautiful spot to gather your paints and easel, please see the attached flyer for a description of the workshop and come join us!  A $75 deposit by February 17 will hold your place!     

contact us for more information

Landscape Painting Workshop by Mary Jane Volkmann and Kathleen Wobie

It promises to be a fun workshop and a great weekend!

~ Mary Jane


Plein Air Painting Class and Juried Portrait Show

perfect place for a plein air painting workshop taught by Mary Jane Volkmann


John C. Campbell Folk School,  Brasstown, North Carolina
Sunday, Oct 12 – Saturday, Oct 18, 2014

Would you like to spend a week in the mountains of North Carolina painting outdoors?  There is still time to register for a plein air painting class I will be teaching at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina.  Nature cooperating,  I’m hoping for the peak colors of autumn with which we can grace our canvasses.  In any case, the air is always fresh and fragrant with the scent of pine and mown hay and the birds will serenade us as we paint.  Make new friends, learn new skills and enjoy a week of relaxation and creativity!

As for the class itself, we will revisit those basics of successful painting and learn to work with quickly changing light.  We will experiment with limited palettes and learn about the nuances of acrylics while using different mediums.  There will be plenty of time for individual and group discussions and, of course, for stories and laughter.

subject matter for plein air painting class taught by Mary Jane Volkmann

There are plenty of vistas at the Folk School and an abundance of subject matter for every taste and style of painting.

Click here for more information and to register for this class.


The Thomas Center Galleries, Gainesville, Florida, until September 20, 2014

There is still time to catch the juried portrait show at the Thomas Center Galleries in Gainesville, Florida. The show presents over 100 works from both emerging and established artists.  It was curated by Anne Gilroy who has done a fabulous job of selecting works of a wide variety of styles, creating a fascinating show.  I am honored to have a portrait on display.

Follow this link for more information, including a map and telephone numbers.

While I’ve enjoyed the summer with our spectacular, towering Florida clouds, I am looking forward to the cooler weather and more comfortable outdoor painting.  By the way, it’s almost time to start thinking about those special holiday gifts, so if you are interested in commissioning a painting, do contact me.

Best wishes!

Mary Jane



The beckoning of spring

Here in north central Florida, spring is bursting out in a riot of color and an orchestra of birdsong.  The weather is fresh and the outdoors beckons!  I recently taught a plein air painting workshop in Odessa, Florida.  I am always fascinated by the different subject matter which intrigues artists as well as the diverse styles of expression of each painter.  Looking at the variety of their paintings reminds me of the diversity of the natural world. (Contact me if you are interested in a painting workshop).

painter at plein air painting workshop in Odessa, FloridaPainting at Odessa, Florida

As I teach and move between painters I walk miles, but this gives me the opportunity to really look at the world around me, noticing all those little things which might otherwise escape my attention. I took a day last week to walk around our own little garden, taking pictures of those wonderful signs of spring.  I’ve shared some of them below.  I’m heading out next week to explore and paint before the weather gets too hot and buggy.  Meanwhile, I’ve  finished a new painting and have several more taking their turn on the easel….

Azaleas blooming in Gainesville in March

Eagle keeping watch near the nestFlorida dogwoods in bloomCamellia opening in MarchSpring VioletsLoropetalumBarred owl in the treeOvenbird at suet





Refining the focus

Mary Jane Volkmann painting at  Epcot

The daunting process of downsizing is underway.  Many things have made their way into new places: paper shredders, donation centers, garage sales, dumpsters and others’ hands. This raised the question: however did we accumulate so much stuff? Which raised another question: however did I get so busy?

During the months we took up residence in Germany we lived in a large, lovely and sparsely appointed flat.  We had no nicknacks or trinkets, no decorations and no curtains.  We could hear footsteps above and voices below in the interior echo.  I had a spaciously empty studio room full of natural light and took time to study the world outside the large windows.  I explored and hiked, honing my observational skills.  I felt somehow renewed and keen to paint.

In sifting through my papers I came across a note I had written at that time.  I remember the moment well.  It was just before daybreak and it was cold.  The upper part of the sky was robed in a grey blanket.  I turned my chair to face the view, steaming coffee in hand, when words started running through my head. Snatching up a pen I wrote:

Hesitant dawn on a day of high grey
One solitary puff of cloud sailing across the sky
Speeding towards the dawn, breaking free of the bank above.
Colors undecided, waiting for their cue
Halt ~ a streak of crimson in the corner of my view
Sudden and swift the colors burst upon the breeze!
Birds begin their calling, darting from the trees
Soaring, dipping, singing with delight,
Circling with abandon, rejoicing, free in flight.

I smiled. This life review we call downsizing is just the ticket to refining the focus!

observation point, Kassel

Stay tuned and have a wonderful year ahead!

Mary Jane Volkmann