“I have only a desire to paint what is my own – wholly and completely from within – along with the offerings of the earth and her daily miracles of color and light. When I begin a painting, I take inspiration from a beautiful light, color, form or texture and then continue working through observation. But the painting soon takes on life of its own. More often, I end up choosing exaggerated and unexpected color relationships and compositions that reflect my emotional response more so than what I’m seeing in front of me. I find it much more satisfying to be guided as much by my imagination and memory as my eyes.”
Her work is continually influenced by her traditional background and the “plein air” experience, setting up her easel and capturing the immediate mood or drama of the moment. Many of the classical masters, as well as contemporary master plein air painters, have had a strong impact on her work. Jo’s curiosity, sincere appreciation of the natural world and desire to experiment with strong composition and design, have led her on an exciting journey with huge canvases and large brushes.
“I feel it is essential for the artist to experiment and try new techniques. This is how we grow, and let’s hope we never stop growing! I enjoy going back and forth between mediums, especially when creating small studies. The exciting colors and textures that many times happen accidentally during this exploration process, are invaluable to the creation of larger works. The looseness and spontaneity of watercolor provide tremendous inspiration for my oil paintings. I am not interested in describing every detail, I want the viewer to feel like they are walking right into the scene, participating in the moment, feeling and experiencing all that their imagination will allow.”
Jo Ridge Kelley was born in High Point, North Carolina, and raised on a dairy farm in the Quaker tradition. Surrounded by colorful hills and meadows, creeks and ponds, there was a bountiful natural world just outside the screen door. Jo escaped the household chores whenever she could to head across the pasture to sit by the creek and observe nature firsthand, many times sketching in her sketchbook. As a teenager, she studied painting with an excellent local landscape oil painter. She began painting on a regular basis and sold her first paintings. Jo attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where she earned a degree in fine arts and art education. She taught drawing and painting at the high school level for several years and continues to teach painting workshops in oils and watercolors from her Waynesville studio and en plein air (out in the open air). Her work has been featured in several regional and national publications, including American Art Collector magazine.
The original paintings by Jo Ridge Kelley are held in private and corporate collections throughout the country and across the globe. She enjoys creating large commissioned paintings of our mountain landscape, waterfalls, lily ponds and coastal scenes. She recently completed a huge canvas in oils of Whitewater Falls (72″ x 40″), for a new home on Balsam Mountain Preserve. A large horizontal painting of Cold Mountain (18″ x 72″), just off the easel, will also grace the walls of this elegant rustic home. “This is what I love to do and feel very passionate about” says Jo. “Bring the beauty and energy of nature inside, where you can feel the essence of the place, beside the water or sitting on a mountain top drinking in the inspiration. I want to share the joy of my experience being out there! My paintings tend to make people happy and give them peace…and that is a good thing. For me, it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
I asked Jo some questions for artists to artists and here are her answers:
What is on your palette? What colors do you use?
Plein air is very limited- mostly Gamblin colors:
Cool and warm of each primary
Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Blue, Quinacridone Red, Cad Red Lt, Cad Lemon, Cad yellow Lt or Med, Warm White and Titanium White and perhaps Transparent Oxide Red
Gamblin Solvent Free Gel
In the studio I sometimes add Cobalt Blue Lt, Cad Orange, Cobalt Teal
What are your favorite materials to work with, including surfaces, brushes, mediums, paints, etc. ?
Best Quality Belgian Linen- Oil Primed or Cradled Wood Panel
Painting Knives, Putty knives, Window Cleaning Blades, Rubber Tipped Tools, stiff cards, hog bristle brushes, Rosemary Brushes-Ivory series and Sables
Who have you admired and perhaps been influenced by through your years studying painting?
So many of the old masters have enlightened my journey, but Sorolla, Monet, Van Gogh, Levitan and Klimt are definitely at the top, as well as, others like Matisse, Hofmann and O’Keeffe!
What do you feel are your strengths?
Color thrills me and I’ve had a good color sense and ability to mix whatever I needed since I first started making paintings back in the seventies
What are you working on now in your own journey as a painter? What challenges you?
I am currently working on a series of loose abstracted landscapes and florals with heavy impasto and intense light. Good shapes and dynamic composition and value patterns are my constant challenges.
Is there anything that you would like to share with the group that you feel strongly about? What have you learned that you think would be a benefit to most artists that paint plein air that might not be commonly discussed?
Starting out with a very strong Notan I feel is most important. You’ve got to capture the viewer’s attention with leading lines and a pattern of light and dark. Develop those values and stick to them, referring back to your thumbnail sketch/notan to make sure you are staying on track with your design. The little tool designed by Peggi Kroll Roberts for Plein air Painters which includes red glass to read values, a mirror and a composition finder, is invaluable to me….handy in the studio too!
What would you intend for the outcome of your demo? What do you hope participants take away from their time with you?
I hope my demo will encourage fellow painters to paint with confidence. Take the time to work out a strong design and be bold with color mixing, application, and have fun with experimentation. For me, each and every painting I create is an experiment. I let the painting tell me what it needs once I get the initial block in down. This requires that I slow down and stand back, think, and then respond with confident expressive brushwork or knife work, fingers, etc.
Being “out of doors” drenched in natural light and pushing paint….that’s my life and I’m very grateful!