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Painting Lavender Fields

San Diego Plein air painting of lavender fields by Ronald Lee Oliver
Lavender fields meet the sea on a gray day…

Keys Creek Lavender Farms is a great place to plein air paint in North San Diego County.  It is a difficult subject however because the landscape there is hilly and chaotic with lots of visual clutter, such as outbuildings and sheds.  My first attempts at this painting were “wipeouts,” where I actually destroyed what I had painted in the background by wiping it off with a paper towel dipped in solvent.  Eventually I decided to invent my own background (because I can do that, you know?) and paint something to suit the beautiful lavender which sloped down the hill in front of me in real life.

I chose the sea.  Hope you like it.

RLO

 

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After the Rains ~ Plein air Painting at the San Diego River

After the Rains ~ Plein air by Ronald Lee Oliver

The above painting, “After the Rains,” was completed and signed in the field on Saturday, the 9th of May 2015.  I painted this as my part of a plein air painting demo, where I was involved as part of a team of plein air painters from the San Diego Plein Air Painters Meetup Group. We were helping to commemorate the San Diego River Days Festival, which takes place each year, raising money and awareness about conserving the River and its wetlands .

This painting demonstrates a few principles of an effective plein air painting:

  • simplicity of design
  • balanced composition
  • colors and values true to the subject
  • atmospheric perspective
  • suggested (and not rendered) imagery
  • confident brush strokes
  • mystery

…the latter being that elusive quality that teases the viewers mind by allowing them to “fill in the blanks” and resolve the story of the image with their own narrative.  There’s nothing more satisfying for the mind than solving a puzzle, so I’m a big proponent of “allowing the paint to be paint” and the brush strokes to suggest form rather than dictate it.  This allows the mind to engage and play with the imagery and have a satisfying experience that provides new discoveries with each viewing.

Here’s a few pics of me at the easel, talking “plein air” during my demo.

Talking about pre-painting considerations.
Talking about pre-painting considerations.
Pointing out the Perspective of Clouds
Pointing out the Perspective of Clouds

The painting, finished and signed in the field

The painting, finished and signed in the field

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San Diego River Plein Air Painting

When life gives you lemons…paint a gray painting.

Gray, gloomy days are a real challenge for the plein air painter.  Capturing the light is what plein air painting is all about and when that light is not cheerful, colorful or dramatic, it can be difficult to find inspiration. This plein air painting was painted at the mouth of the San Diego River, early on an overcast, gray May morning.  Luckily, there were some dramatic moments where transient shafts of light momentarily peeked through the thick, cloud layer, illuminating the vegetation and meandering course of the river. These hints of color and bright reflections provided the impetus to capture that tonal difference and bring this image to life.  I knew this day would be gray, so I decided in advance to “embrace the gray” and make the best of a challenging situation.  It helped that I had previously toned my panel with a neutral gray that would support the composition.  That’s the nature of plein air–one  has to adapt and make the best of the view and the weather in a given place. Here’s the result of my effort that morning…

San Diego River Plein Air Painting

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Valentine’s Day #Pleinair Painting at Point Loma

February 14th, 2015 in Southern California.  The air temps got up to over 90 degrees in the inland areas.  I headed West, early this morning to paint at the area in Point Loma known as “Sunset Cliffs.”  It was already warm and not the least bit cold as I painted at the top of a cliff, near waters edge above the surf below…here’s a short video of the beautiful conditions and the painting I made.  11 x 14 inch oil on panel.

…and here’s an example of how it would look in a nice “New Rustic” solid wood frame by Randy Higbee galleries…

This is my "go to" frame to compliment my plein air paintings...
This is my “go to” frame to compliment my plein air paintings…
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“Mele Kalikimaka” Hawaiian #Pleinair Painting Trip

Mele Kalikimaka 2014

Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say
On a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day
That’s the island greeting that we send to you
From the land where palm trees sway…

I guess after all I was not so naughty this year that I wasn’t able to make a Christmastime excursion with my beautiful wife, Jackie, to the Hawaiian Island of Maui.

This wasn’t a “painting only” trip, so I only made time for two 11 x 14 in. panels but they were both lots of fun to paint.  Even though the Trade Winds were fierce during one of the painting sessions, I managed to finish with no mishaps.

Though probably not the wisest thing to do, I diverged from my usual painting methods on this air travel trip and was winging it (no pun intended) with a color palette and paints I had never used before. To lighten the load and simplify things for flying, I chose to go with a five color palette and used water mixable oil paints for the first time.

It was really surprising how well it all worked out!

The colors I brought along were:

Cobra© Water mixable oils

  • Primary Cyan
  • Primary Magenta
  • Primary Yellow

Sennelier©

  • Mars Black  (a warm and fast drying black without the bluish cast of Ivory Black)

Rembrandt©

  • Payne’s Grey (I find it indispensable)

Gamblin©

  • Flake White Replacement (non-toxic and creamy consistency)

Each morning of painting, I pre-mixed a very vibrant chromatic palette from the three water mixable “primaries” which produced some very convincing greens, oranges, and fuchsias, as well as deeper purples.  I was careful not to “overmix” the paint piles, leaving striations of broken color in the mixes.  A sealable “Guerilla Painter” 9 x 12 in. palette tray kept the paint fresh and protected inside my pochade while exploring for a suitable view to paint.

This color palette worked very well and much to my relief, there was no problem mixing the “oil” paints with the water miscible paints.  The Cobra paints especially were surprisingly “creamy” in consistency and were very easy to mix and move about on the panel. While painting, when I felt I needed a little more “flow,” I used a mixture of my standard recipe medium, transported in an eye dropper bottle that consisted of equal parts stand oil, turpentine, and dammar varnish.  I brought no solvents because they must not be flown over (TSA will confiscate)  and it is an extra trip to the hardware store to get some when you arrive and then there’s nowhere to conscientiously dispose of it when you leave.

Another interesting thing about creating these two paintings is that I used one single brush the entire time!  I brought my brush wallet but became so engrossed in the painting process and not wanting to waste any time in capturing the light that I worked only with a single, quarter-inch “bright” hog bristle brush. I held a paper towel sheet in my left hand and wiped the brush clean between different colored passages.  I was able to make a surprising variety of marks with the stiff but springy little bristle bright. The only other implements I used to apply or mark the paint were my finger and in some few instances I removed paint with a cotton swab, which are essentials that I always pack when I paint en plein air.

All said and done, I had a great time in Hawaii and having the opportunity to paint made the trip just that much more special.

I’d like to say to any reader who chanced here and happened to read this far…

Here we know that Christmas
Will be green and bright
The sun to shine by day
And all the stars at night
Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way
To say Merry Christmas to you!