San Diego has some great places for the plein air painter to park their easel and capture the beauty of nature with brush and paint.
One of the best places in the county is the nature reserve at San Elijo Lagoon, between Solana Beach and Encinitas. The lagoon and tidal estuaries meander East to West from the inlet at the coast. The tidal flow extends inland for almost two miles, flowing under the I5 Freeway before eventually ebbing to a stop in Rancho Santa Fe. I painted at a place along the Rios Avenue Trail, which is on the Southwest side of the Lagoon, on a peaceful, foggy, October morning. I can recommend the many locations at the lagoon as a places one could return to again and again and find something new to paint, each time.
Here are some photos and video I took to share with you. You’ll also see my completed painting at the bottom of this post.
Birds and jumping fish break the stillness now and again…
Here’s a short video that gives a 360 view.
Here is the painting after about an hour and a half of painting, when I decided to take it home. I made a few small touches and corrections back in the studio.
…and here is the finished piece, “Rios Trail at San Elijo”
Plein air painters have many different surfaces to choose from on which to create their art.
There is duck canvas, linen, canvas panels, linen panels, birch board and many other choices for the outdoor artist. I’ve tried many of these and have come to my own conclusion and method that works best for my process. That’s why I like to use gessoed and oil primed hardboard panels for painting plein air. Some of the benefits of using panels instead of canvas is, they’re portable–you can carry many in a panel holder when travelling–they won’t tear or dent, and they never have the issue of sunlight coming through the back like you can get when you use canvas outdoors.
I made a video that shows how I prepare inexpensive hardboard panels with gesso and oil primer. They make a great surface to paint on. You might want to try using the methods I’m goint to share to see if you like painting on them as much as I do. Here’s the video if you’re interested:
San Diego has some great places for a plein air painter to set up their easel and create fantastic landscape art. One of my personal favorite places to paint en plein air (a French term that is universally used to describe the process of painting at an easel in the open air to capture a sense of light and place) is at the San Elijo Lagoon Interpretive Center. There is a very well maintained trail and boardwalk that puts the painter in a beautiful setting with a minimal amount of hiking effort.
Here’s a video I took, early on the spectacular April morning of this plein air outing. You can see my easel, parked and ready to go–the 20×16 inch canvas, primed with a purple-grey undertone.
It really is such a wonderful place to paint, the problem is in selecting a composition from the many choices presented. An interesting sinuous pattern created by the meandering estuary caught my eye and I decided to park my easel to find a composition that included it.
I focused on a particular part of the view that I thought would make for a pleasing result…
Of course, I did’t paint exactly what is in the framing box above, because while it is a pretty view, it is a photograph and not a painting. As an artist painter, I have license to arrange and to subdue or emphasize elements to fit my impressionistic depiction as I choose to frame it on the canvas. It is this personal expression of omission or embellishment that makes painting an impressionist art, and not a craft. Another artist, standing next to me, would bring their own interpretation to the very same view and create an image entirely their own. Successfully finding this balance between representation and impression is the great joy and challenge of painting in the open air.
Here is how the painting looked when I decided to stop, take it home, ponder it for a few days and finish in studio.
…and here is the painting after several days of rumination and the finish in the studio.
San Elijo Morning ~ 20×16 in. oil on canvas by Ronald Lee Oliver
In mid-December, my wife, Jackie and I were fortunate enough to visit the island of Maui, Hawaii, once again. We stayed in an intimate little oceanfront condominium in the Kahana area of West Maui. The balcony or “Lanai” of the second story unit was literally within spitting distance of the ocean, which lapped against a seawall down below. The sea turtles could be seen, munching on sponges growing on the rocks. I took some video with my phone–have a look:
It was a great and relaxing stay. Christmas was coming soon and there were Hawaiian Christmas songs on the radio and lots of Holiday spirit, which was very nice. Once again, I traveled with my painting kit and was able to find some brief time to paint. On an early Sunday morning, I hiked afoot from our rental condo about a quarter mile down the lower Honoapiilani Road and found a public beach (all beaches in Maui are public beaches) that offered a nice view of a small bay and the island of Molokai, across the Lahaina Roads Channel. The day was overcast and threatening rain (it only rained once during our stay and that was at night), so the typical bright Hawaiian color palette was a bit muted. Here is the quick little painting that I came home with:
It was tough to leave and come home to the mainland. Once back, however, after the holidays I’ve got back to painting with regularity. Here are two of my most recent–first, one I call “Blue Agaves,” which was painting on location at the San Diego Botanic Gardens in Encinitas, California.
I’ll be painting with some well known California plein air artists in April in a quickdraw competition at the same Gardens–stay posted!
Here is one done last Saturday in Del Mar, which I am calling “Penasquitos Lagoon from Del Mar Bluffs.” This one is 16X20″ oil on canvas. You can see the fantastic view of the Penasquitos estuary from my easel set in this photo:
…and here is the full image of the painting:
It’s good to be back home and into the rythm of the new year.