Featured artist: Justin Vining

Indiana Dunes National Park, 5x10, gouache on Ampersand Aquabord


Justin Vining is an Indianapolis-based artist, specializing in landscapes and cityscapes. Justin studied Art Education at Purdue University and taught elementary art for three years. Following his tenure as a teacher, Justin attended Valparaiso Law School, where he rekindled his love for creating between classes and clerking. Shortly after graduating and passing the bar in 2010, Justin decided to pursue art full-time and hasn’t looked back.


The Natural Bridge in the Red River Gorge, 8x10, gouache on Ampersand Aquabord


Q: Originally an elementary art teacher, you decided to go to law school. However, after passing the bar, you decided instead to open an art gallery/studio space. How did you get back into art while you were in law school?

A: Going into law school as a non-traditional student, late into the first semester I needed to do something else besides be in the library, so I picked up a paintbrush. I made about 7 paintings over the course of a few weeks. I quickly sold those paintings to my classmates. Long story short, I hit repeat, hit repeat again, started doing shows, learned about Facebook advertising, and by the time I had graduated in 2010 I had sold over 400 pieces in 3 years. Being a full-time artist was quickly looking like a possibility. I did what I thought was the smart thing and got a job after law school, but it was not very long there before I quit to pursue art full-time. I have lived off painting since the summer of 2011.


Fort Wayne Skyline, 8x10, gouache on Ampersand Aquabord


Q: Why plein air painting?

A: Plein air painting found me. As a former elementary art teacher, for years I built my business with whimsical paintings very much inspired by that time. In 2014, in an effort to return to the fundamentals, I thought I would do exercises in observational painting. That spring I took my French box easel around town and started painting. I quickly fell in love. Plein air painting felt so pure, so natural, unforced, and honest. I quickly fell in love with plein air painting. It was so different than how I spent years painting, that I was curious to explore it more. Now, over 6 years later, I still sometimes create more whimsical work, but plein air painting has become central to my artistic practice.


Dewart Lake Winter Sunrise, 5x7, gouache on Ampersand Aquabord


Q: Your style has changed over the last several years. From your whimsical older work to your current plein air style. Tell us a little bit about this.

A: Most artists spend a lifetime trying to find a recognizable style that is uniquely theirs. I accidentally fell into mine early on and had no idea how rare that actually is. Having a law and business background, when I became a full-time artist, I actually didn’t enter the “art world” as I now understand it. Because my style and background were so different, for years I created and sold work on an island. I was so blindly naive to how other artists drove success, and in hindsight, if I knew then what I know now, I should have been a lot more scared. But because I wasn’t, I just kept driving forward. When I started transitioning away from the whimsical work and into a more traditional style, I just applied the same business principles that drove my early success. I experimented with pricing and discovered where people gave me money for this new work. It didn’t take long before I discovered a whole new art world I really didn’t know existed. For almost 6 years now, locally I have become friends with all the plein air painters and am even the Vice President of our state’s organization. But nationally, I still have been flying under the radar.


Q: Do you prefer painting on a busy street or somewhere quiet? Why?

A: Depends upon my mood. Some days I love to be in the thick of it, the middle of a farmers’ market or sporting event. But sometimes, there is nothing better than on a hot summer day, finding a babbling creek, taking my shoes off, setting up my easel right in the middle of it, and sinking into a painting for hours.


Q: Your live paintings include the Indy 500, Indiana State Fair, Indianapolis Colts Game, Indiana Fever Game, and Indianapolis WTHR News. You seem to enjoy life in motion and are said to be addicted to painting. What do you do in your downtime?

A: Addicted to painting is correct. I just finished a stretch where I painted 129 paintings in 80 days. Loved every moment!! Just before that, we took a COVID vacation to a remote cabin in the woods near Asheville. It was not a painting-focused trip, yet I still made 18 paintings in 3 days. I often paint more on vacations than I do in my day to day. Outside of painting, my wife and I have two labs which we take on tons of walks. I LOVE playing chess. I’ve logged 10,000+ games on chess.com over the last 15 or so years.


This Morning's Sunrise Over the Back Fence, 5x5, gouache on Ampersand Aquabord


Q: You have a style where the viewer can identify the piece as yours. Was this something you were aiming for? Or did it happen naturally?

A: Definitely accidental, but I feel lucky for it. I did get some really good advice early on though from a more successful artist friend with a distinct style. She warned me about getting pigeonholed. She said that her collectors only bought work that was styled in “her” way. Any time she experimented; she did not find success selling that work. Even early on, I tried to make my consecutive solo shows vastly different from each other, I kept my buyers on their toes. I think it’s for this reason, I can completely shift styles and still find success in selling. As I move forward in my career, I plan on continuing to just follow my heart and create work in whatever direction I wander.


Southern California Sunset, 5x7, gouache on Ampersand Aquabord


Q: Having done everything from passing the bar, teaching elementary art, learning embroidery, creating an 800 sq ft painting, owning your own gallery, to being on HGTV. What is one thing that you still wish to accomplish?

A: For almost 10 years I have used what I call “data-driven selling”. Since 2011, I have experimented with pricing, captured the sales data, analyzed it, and used that information to price future shows. In the last few years, I have not just analyzed my own sales, but also my competition in the Indianapolis market. I just opened my most recent show (online due to COVID) and sold 100 out of 129 paintings. The last major show I had in person before COVID, we sold 65 of 96 paintings. In September, I hosted my first major group show that included many national artists. In preparation for that show, I created a 9-page market assessment to share with those artists, essentially empowering them to position their artwork for success. We sold 40 paintings by 25 different painters in that show. I was super pumped about that. All of this to say, I’ve never really tried to position myself in the art world, rather, I am just an artist painting and selling in the real world. I believe this business model is completely replicable and at some point, I would love to mentor others in finding financial success as full-time artists.


Vining Gallery | Indianapolis, IN


Q: With your new gallery space opening early in 2020 and having to cancel your grand opening due to the pandemic, how did that change your plans or goals for the space?

A: No long-term plan changes, I still will host workshops, teach, and host openings in the space. BUT, the biggest surprise from COVID was online sales. I built my business online from 2008-2012, but when Facebook changed the EdgeRank algorithm in September of 2012, it crushed my business. I realized I put my eggs all in one basket and it was a basket that ultimately, I could not control. That is when I shifted my focus to being entirely local. Almost 10 years later, I still fly under that national radar and have been completely focused on cultivating my local collector base. That said, a year into COVID, I just had my first major show released online only. About 30% of those sales were not local. That surprised me a lot. I did not expect to ship so much artwork away from Indiana as I have not really tried to cultivate buyers elsewhere for years. The success of that show has definitely made me consider incorporating some type of online aspect to any future opening I host.


Hazy Sunrise in Brown County, 6x6, gouache on Ampersand Aquabord


Q: Finally, what do you love the most about Ampersand Aquabord for your work?

A: For the way I paint, I think Aquabord has the perfect balance of absorbency vs. lift. Working primarily in gouache, I can lay down initial transparent layers like watercolors and quickly move to layering paint right on top without lifting the earlier layers. So those initial layers will stay down while painting, yet, if I mess up an entire area, or just want to “wipe” a painting, with a clean wet rag, I can bring the panel almost all the way back to white. So, it has a lot more forgiveness than a traditional watercolor paper. I also love that it is rigid. I can varnish my paintings and present them like oils.


Artist Bio:

Justin Vining is an Indianapolis-based artist, specializing in landscapes and cityscapes. Justin studied Art Education at Purdue University and taught elementary art for three years. Following his tenure as a teacher, Justin attended Valparaiso Law School, where he rekindled his love for creating between classes and clerking. Shortly after graduating and passing the bar in 2010, Justin decided to pursue art full-time and hasn’t looked back.

Originally from a small farm town in Indiana, Justin finds inspiration from American regionalist painters and WPA-era public works. In his progress as a full-time artist, his artwork has evolved from bright, whimsical watercolors and acrylics to more classical oil scenes. In his exploration of oils, he’s begun working en plein air and exploring more muted, natural tones. In 2021, Justin plans on continuing his exploration in oils, balancing this newfound love of plein air painting with his studio work. To see more of Justin's work, visit his website, gallery, or Instagram.


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Comment by Kathi Packard |

Do you have a catalog of paintings?

Reply by Ampersand

Please reach out to Justin Vining at www.vininggallery.com for more information on his paintings.

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