Having a Field Day

Artist Adriana Meiss enjoys painting with pastels on location.

The scenes painted in pastels by Syracuse artist Adriana Meiss invite you in. When you’re there, you’re not only in the meadow, down the road, by the brook, or past the garden gate, you’re also in the mood she creates. And that’s her goal.

“When I see a place to paint, it may not be beautiful but I can make it so by conveying a feeling like ‘tranquil’ or ‘mysterious,’” she told me in a recent interview. “I consider myself a representational artist, but I don’t try to copy nature.”

She sees her landscapes as only partly in focus. The important elements are in detail; the rest are less clear, as if viewed through a luminous haze. It’s what I like about her paintings.

“I’m happy with what I’m doing with my art today, but I want to take it further,” she says. “It’s a journey, and I don’t know where I’ll end up.”

The journey began in her native Costa Rica, where Adriana always enjoyed doing art. As a career, though, it barely crossed her mind. Scientist-explorers like Jacque Cousteau captured her imagination, so at the University of Costa Rica she earned her bachelor’s degree in biology before taking two semesters of art. Her interest in conservation brought her to Syracuse, to the School of Environmental Forestry, and when Adriana graduated in 1991 – married then, with a baby daughter – she and her husband settled there.

“Life has a way of turning plans around,” she noted. Rather than leave her family to save a forest somewhere, she became certified as a science teacher, but then taught Spanish online for many years. In 2001, she rediscovered pastels.

“I like the vibrancy,” she explained. “With pastels, you can use the whole side of a stick to make big strokes with lots of color. The secret is layering it to get the effect you want. Packaging peanuts are perfect for blending, but I also use my fingers and the palms of my hands. It’s not the best way, I know, because of chemicals in the pigment, but I try to be careful.”

Pastels also allow her to complete a painting quickly, making it the perfect medium for creating en plein air, Adriana’s specialty. Artists who work outside have to be fast to capture changing light and color, and in some cases, even their subject. A car in the foreground of a scene she was painting in Canandaigua last summer drove off before she was finished!

But Adriana is a practical problem solver, and in the case of the escaping vehicle, she moved her own car to its place. You can find that story and more on her blog adrianameiss.blogspot.com. A competent and prolific writer, Adriana posts often about tricks she’s learned, the progress of her painting, and inspiring locations.

“But mostly, it’s about my own journey and how I deal with aspects of my work,” she says. “I like to post when I’m having trouble. Most artists have trouble with their paintings, and when they do, they may put them aside like I do. When my pile of troubled paintings gets too high, I revisit them to see what can be reworked. Sometimes I have a solution after several months have passed, so I like to write about what was wrong originally and how I solved the problem.”

About the winter, Adriana laughs. “I keep telling myself that I’m going to paint outdoors, but I don’t do it! Maybe this will be the winter!”

Right now, she is reworking her problem paintings with the help of photographs, creating tiny-format studies that she sells at arts & crafts shows, and creating larger-format work that she submits to competitions. “I cannot paint in 18- by 24-inch formats and larger outdoors,” she explains; something about the logistics of carrying an easel, paint supplies and surfaces up and down the hills and through the fields of the Finger Lakes.

“Compared to what I paint in the studio, what I paint outside turns out slightly different, but I would not say one is better than the other,” Adriana says. “For plein air, I like to capture the freshness of the moment. That’s what makes it so special.”

A member of the Onondaga Art Guild and the Adirondack Pastel Society, Adriana has won many awards in local and national shows. She is represented by The Pat Rini Rohrer Gallery in Canandaigua and Gallery 54 in Skaneateles. Visit her website, adrianameiss.com, for more information.


by Tina Manzer