Jeanna Shepard

Painter Joni Bergen spends her winters in an old New England farmhouse in central Massachusetts, complete with a large and paint-filled studio she calls Two Crows.

But summer? Summer is for the Vineyard, where she and her husband Thomas Andrew own a distinctive Camp Ground cottage abutting the Tabernacle. The couple has been coming to the Island for more than 25 years, first renting a house near the Cottage Museum for many years and then finally purchasing the cottage they now call home in 2009.

Joni and Thomas stretch their time here as long as possible, arriving as soon as the water in the house can be safely turned on and leaving reluctantly when it’s time to admit that the house — and the ocean — are too cold for comfort. An avid Inkwell swimmer, Joni’s days begin and end with a swim at the beach, with painting and house projects filling the middle part of the day.

These boxes are Joni's palettes, fitted with plate glass so that she can use a razor to scrape paint from them. Jeanna Shepard

Maybe you’ve walked through the Camp Ground one day and seen Joni painting in her “studio” — otherwise known as the second-floor balcony. You might notice that the outside of the cottage features soffits covered with scenes she has painted from The Wizard of Oz.

Inside, reaching the second-story aerie means stepping up the narrow cottage stairs and walking through a bedroom where Joni’s all-white cat Felix is likely lounging on a bed, doing his best to blend in with a gesso-prepped board on which Joni will soon be working. Out on the balcony, Joni has her easel set up overlooking the street. She's got a birds-eye view of all the summer visitors wandering through the Camp Ground.

Occasionally someone will yell up at her something like, “Do you do plein-air painting?!”

Joni works in traditional oil paint on hardwood panels. Here favorite brand is Sennelier, made in France since 1887 and used by the Impressionists. Jeanna Shepard

“The best thing about my studio,” Joni says, “is that I get to be a part of the action and energy but separated by a story. It’s quiet but also connected to everything.”

Though Joni paints on her balcony, her subjects are not what she sees from that space. When she’s here, the Island is what she paints — all of it. She’s always on the lookout for new subjects: house interiors and exteriors, landscapes, vignettes and Vineyard scenes she can approach with her own point of view.

On one late summer day, Joni’s painting in progress features colors, shapes and textures that swirl into a Vineyard landscape — a stone wall in the foreground, a windswept tree painted with soft strokes that hint at movement taking center stage, and a dynamic cloud-studded sky dominating the top.

She is drawn, she says, into “taking something that might seem ordinary and inviting the viewer to look at it in a new way.”

And all she needs to accomplish that can fit handily on the narrow balcony of a Camp Ground cottage.

Janet Newton is minister of Unitarian Universalist Church in Vineyard Haven.