Monday, December 26, 2011

Elephant Seals near Piedras Blancas

Just south of Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, and 4 miles north of Hearst Castle is a Northern Elephant Seal rookery. December and January are prime months to visit because that's when the babies are born. We drove down there this morning from Carmel and had a wonderful visit with these interesting animals.

Elephant Seals were almost hunted to extinction in the late 1800s, but in 1990 two dozen seals came to this beach and eventually a rookery was established and now several hundred babies are born here every year.

The bulls arrive as early as November just waiting for the females...

and practicing their fighting techniques. (These are younger males.)

The pregnant females start arriving in December and the first babies are generally born around the middle of December. The mothers nurse the babies for only 4 weeks, after which they mate and then they slip into the ocean to eat. They don't eat at all while waiting for and nursing their babies.

The babies will teach themselves how to swim and fish, but the rich milk the mothers provide has plumped them up to 300 pounds which sustains them while they are learning. The docent told us that the pup above is only a couple of days old.

While all this drama is happening, the old males just snooze and wait for Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Just before Thanksgiving a friend of mine asked if I would paint some grapevines over the arches in his entry area. It sounded like a fun project, so I said yes and took some measurements and made some patterns. Then I enlisted the help of Teen2 and we did the work the day after Thanksgiving.

We started by spotting in the medium brown for the branches and popping in some highlights. Then we started on the medium green in the leaves and added lowlights and highlights. Lastly we did the grapes starting with the midtones, then the lowlights, then the highlights. Somewhere in there I painted the cast shadows which really helps to make it look realistic.

Teen2 was a lot of help, but the best part was just working with her and getting a chance to talk without all the usual interruptions. And I didn't have to worry about her messing it up since she's a great artist. Thanks Teen2!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Late Season Roses

California's second spring is well under way with lovely cool mornings and afternoons in the high 70s. And the roses are getting their second wind. Look at this beautiful bud I found yesterday. With a little cropping and tweaking it could make an interesting abstract painting, couldn't it?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Plein Air Painters and the Allure of Water

What would you do if you had a beautiful fall day and a view like that? Well, if you belong to the Plein Air Painters of America, you'd paint it! And that's just what they did here in Stockton on October 15th.

Above you see just three of the more than twenty painters who participated. The building with the red gable and the water tower in the background were a popular view.

Above you see George Strickland's painting.

And this is West Fraser's painting. I like that big sky with the swirly clouds.
Below you see his painting finished, and framed, and waiting for a buyer.

Here is Don Demers' painting. As you can see, across from our downtown waterfront there was a wealth of subject matter for the painters.

This painting was my favorite of the day. It's by Kathleen Dunphy.
Below you see it framed and waiting for me to find $1500 to buy it. {sigh}

There were lots of other great paintings, but I couldn't manage to capture all of them. If you would like to see more, visit the Haggin Museum. The exhibition will be on display until January 22, 2012.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Transparent Objects

So I'm taking this beginning painting class at the local junior college and we've met, maybe 21 times, and I'm amazed at how quickly he pushes us along. We've covered color mixing, shading, perspective, environments, landscapes, the human form, portraits, and now transparent objects! And he's having us build and stretch our own canvas from scratch.

Thursday while he was helping half the class with their frames, he handed out bottles to the rest of us and told us to paint them. I am pretty happy with my effort, but sorry that it ran off the top of the paper. Oh, did I mention we paint on white butcher paper? With house paint? And NO pencils? He wants us to get in there and paint - not draw. He also wants us to mix all our paint on the paper from our basic colors: white, yellow, red, blue, and black. But that's where I drew the line and I brought a plastic palette from home. For this painting I premixed the purest green I could make, a darker bluish green, and a lighter yellowish green. Then I squinted and blocked in the dark tones and shadows. Next I blocked in the medium green and blended it into the darks, and gradually worked my way up to the lighter colors. Next I painted the table top and the background, then went back to the details like the label, the stopper and the wires. He's definitely pushing us, but golly I'm having fun and I can hardly wait to see the next challenge.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Morning at the Watefront

In conjunction with their current exhibit, our local museum recently had a plein air painting event. Over 20 members of the Plein Air Painters of America came to our downtown waterfront and created paintings based on the theme "the Allure of Water". I had previously attended a plein air painting event and enjoyed it immensely, and now that I've tried plein air painting, I just had to watch the pros again.

I decided the best way to learn from the experts was to watch one artist from start to finish and take photos as he painted. When I arrived several painters (who had started early) were already well into their paintings, but this painter was just setting up. His name is Ray Roberts and he is from a nearby town. I soon realized that he was the painter who made my favorite painting from the event two years ago.

The event was sort of like an auction. If you liked the painting (and could afford it) you put your name in the artist's box. When the paintings were all done and displayed they chose the lucky buyer from the box, but you could still change your mind and pass on it allowing the next person picked to buy it.

Here is Ray's preliminary wash and rough in.

He brought a palette that already had lots of paint mixtures on it so he was able to quickly block in the value and color masses.

He was attracting all kinds of attention and I felt good that I had picked him to watch. He gives workshops, but I got a FREE one!

His paid model would pose for about 20 minutes, and then take a 5 minute break.

I must have taken a walk, because the progress is very evident here. He had been painting for about an hour and a half at this point. I think this was about where he said, "What am I going to do with that railing?" He did simplify if considerably, but he has an official artist license, so he can do that sort of thing and get away with it.

After two and a half hours, the painting was done, he paid his model, packed up his equipment, and carried his painting down to the auction site.

Next post I'll show some of the other paintings.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Coming Along Nicely

I was able to work on my painting a little bit this weekend. Here's how it looks now. Darn, it's hard to get all those gold leafed balls in straight lines! And I can see now that the ones up on the top of the door where there is lots of shade are a little too bright, but I can fix that later. This type of painting where there is strong structure and perspective seem easier for me than paintings with lots of random vegetation, so we'll try more like this for now.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Plein Air Problems

The Lord of the Manor suggested that we drive up into the Sierras Saturday and do a little plein air research and/or painting. It sounded like a great idea to me, so we set off at 6am armed with coffee, folding chairs, the camera, 5 canvases, and all my painting supplies. We drove leisurely along stopping to take pictures of interesting scenes and finally ended up at Bear River Reservoir where we settled on a nice spot in the day use area. We had shade, a picnic table, and gorgeous view and beautiful weather. I sketched a view and started painting, but BIG PROBLEMS! There was a little breeze, and almost before I could get the paint on the canvas it dried. And there was no going back to pick up any previously mixed colors. What a mess. I almost completed one painting, but stopped after an hour and a half. I figured since I had taken a photo of the scene I could finish it later back at the studio.

So I pivoted around about 90 degrees thinking that the canvas would shield my paints from the breeze and started a second painting, but really it was no better. I struggled along for 45 minutes, then finally threw in the towel. What I really needed was oil paints.

We drove up to Silver Lake and had lunch, then continued on to the Hope Valley where we took more photos. That valley is gorgeous with long views of the distant mountains and the Carson River winding through it. It's a popular fishing and hiking spot. In the winter there's cross country skiing, sledding and cozy cabins. In about 2 weeks the trees will start turning; maybe we should go back then and capture those fiery colors.

So Sunday afternoon I found some oil paints and decided to just copy an Impressionist painter to get a feel for the colors and style. And OH MY! what a difference the oil paint made. I was actually able to mix a color and have it be there to use again any time during the session. Here's the painting I made. Nothing great, but still, I felt successful.

Then last night I sketched out a photo I'd taken in China and started painting it. Again, the oils are sooo much better. I'm pretty sure if one isn't painting frantically to avoid drying colors, their work will be much better. I have high hopes for this painting. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, September 30, 2011

I tried one of the new Dynamic blog formats this morning for about 15 minutes. Perhaps some of you saw it. I immediately missed my favorite blog links and my categories, so it was back to the old format for me.

Anyway, here is the Lake Tahoe painting that I reworked yesterday. I don't think the colors photographed accurately. I'll have to work on that, but I like the painting a little better now.

And here is one I really like. I took the photo that I used for inspiration while we were driving down the highway early one morning. The fog was creeping over the hills and the sun was making the spring grass glow. Loved the atmospheric feeling.
In other news, our critique at school was very interesting for me because I'd never experienced one and I realize now that I've got to learn a new language to properly contribute anything of value. Every field has its lingo, right? Now I'm off to study the rule of vertical placement, atmospheric perspective, cast shadow, and implied horizon line.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Finished Landscapes from School

We finished our landscape paintings at school today. That's my first one above. I think I spent about 7 hours on it over 4 sessions. Overall I'm pleased with it, but I still see lots of room for improvement. Thursday we do our critiques where we stand up in front of the class and talk about our paintings and how well we accomplished the goals of the assignment. That should be interesting.

Because I finished my first painting quickly, I did a second one too. Some things are better in this painting, but some areas could use more work. Although I've got 4 hours in this painting, it's only 18"x24" where the first one is 36"x24" so this one looks almost finished with less time.

Here is my easel setup. It's basically an old camera tripod that a fellow traveler gave me when we were in China. (Apparently he had too may souvenirs and needed space in his luggage.) LOM made a little table that hooks onto the front two legs and a bar that threads onto the camera mount. The bar has sliding clamps to hold paintings up to 36" tall. I hang my carryall from the tripod with an "S" hook to help weight it down in case of wind. When I break it down everything (including paints, brushes, paper towels, and a water jug) fits into that blue bag except the canvas. Thank you LOM for making such a nice easel. It has worked flawlessly every time.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Do What You Love

Back in May I posted about the Holstee Manifesto and how I was having trouble with even the first idea: This is your life. Do what you love and do it often. I did in fact post a copy of the manifesto by my desk, and after looking at it for months, I have made a positive first step; I am taking a painting class at the local Junior College!

I've always enjoyed painting. First it was watercolors in High School, then for many years it was Sign Painters One Shot and screen printing ink, then faux painting and craft paints when I had small children. But NOW I want to try plein air painting. I did paint a landscape in oils about 10 years ago, but then we started remodeling the house and that was the end of that. I painted it from a photo in a book about England, and I was pleased with it at the time, but now I can see all kinds of problems with it.


Since I had never taken a painting class at college, I had to start with Beginning Painting. I felt a bit like a Kindergartner the first few classes because he had us working on large pieces of white paper just mixing paints and shading basic shapes, but he has pushed us along fairly quickly and last week we started plein air landscapes.

I walked over to the campus one day to scope out various locations and I took a few photos. Then I came home and painted the landscape you see below. I like some things about it; like the dramatic lighting on the tree trunks, but I still see areas that could use some help. This was a nice location but so far from our classroom that I chose not to use it for my assignment.


Then we started on our landscapes at school and it was a whole different ballgame! Painting en plein air is so much more difficult. First of all the light keeps changing and if you're not extremely careful, you'll be chasing the shadows the whole time. Secondly, you must contend with the sun in your eyes, or on your skin, bugs, passersby, equipment problems, and landscape maintenance issues. One student, upon returning to her spot after painting for two previous sessions, found an entire tree gone! What a learning experience.


Then one evening I tried another small landscape from a photo. This is along the Li River which we visited in 2008. Although it was misty, the colors weren't as flat as I've depicted them here. As you can see I'm still struggling with colors.


So I've developed a routine: work on the plein air landscape at school during the day, and paint a small landscape from a photo in the evening. Above is Lake Tahoe from a photo I took a few years ago. I see ALL kinds of problems with this painting, but I learn something from every painting I do. And I can always slop Gesso over the bad ones and repaint them.


Here is the landscape from school after two sessions. I've since done one more session and it's almost done. I'll try to share that next week, but in the meantime, check out this plein air painting I did this morning. Talk about hectic! It was very early and the sun was coming through the first clouds we've seen in ages creating that wonderful rosy glow. I thought I had everything all set up and I started painting the sky frantically to capture the colors before they changed. Whew, I got it, but then I needed to clean my brush to start the shadows and Dang! no water. But I had a cup of tea, so guess what I used to clean my brush. Yep, I used my tea and continued to race along capturing the bluish shadows and grey leaves of the oak tree. Just as I was finishing up, the sun peeked through a hole in the trees, so I dabbed that in there too and called it quits. Although plein air is much more challenging, it is also much more satisfying. You really do get a sense of atmosphere that just can't been rendered from a photograph.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lolita Costume

Teen2 is getting ready for a picnic, and {shockingly} she is applying makeup!

You can look up Lolita on the Internet, but basically it's a style of dressing up that uses modest Victorian style clothing with ruffles, petticoats, bows and cupcakes. Teen2 recently got into it and she just made this skirt, blouse and bloomers. And now she is off to the picnic with her cupcakes. Have fun Teen2!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

June Blooms

I wandered around my garden yesterday taking a few photos of what was blooming. The hydrangeas are looking lovely...

as are these petunias that LOM planted in the hanging baskets and several pots around the yard.

We have about 40' of star jasmine along our driveway and it is in bloom right now, so the whole garden is full of its sweet perfume.

And this pretty blue flower is on the endive that I let go to seed. It started out as a spring salad mix, but I left some of them too long and this huge flower stalk developed from the endive. Its blue flowers remind me of bachelor's buttons.