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Rios Trailhead at San Elijo Lagoon

Ronald Lee Oliver

Saturday, October 1, 2016

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.

A panoramic view of the Rios Trailhead at San Elijo Lagoon.
A panoramic view of the Rios Trailhead, looking East at San Elijo Lagoon.

Birds and jumping fish break the stillness now and again…

Lifting fog on a mild October morning.
Lifting fog on a mild October morning.

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.

16x20 Rios Trail at San Elijo
16×20 Rios Trail at San Elijo

…and here is the finished piece, “Rios Trail at San Elijo”

Ronald Lee Oliver
Rios Trail at San Elijo Lagoon, 16×20 oil on panel

 

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Oliver #Pleinair Paintings Showing at Solana Beach Library

Four of my San Diego plein air paintings are showing at the Solana Beach Library in Encinitas.  The art will be on site June 11th through August 3rd, 2016. There is a reception open to all on Saturday, July 16th at 2:00 to 4:00pm.

All four paintings are plein air works, in 16×20 inch landscape format.  Each is identically framed in solid wood with dark, espresso color, red distressed undertones and a gold liner.  They look very elegant in these frames!  Click on an image in the slideshow below to learn more about that painting and to see larger images.

Santa Inez at San Elijo, San Diego plein air painting by artist Ronald Lee Oliver.San Elijo Morning, San Diego plein air painting by artist Ronald Lee Oliver.Batiquitos Clearing, San Diego plein air painting by artist Ronald Lee Oliver.Pala Valley below Palomar, San Diego plein air painting by artist Ronald Lee Oliver.
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San Diego Plein air at San Elijo Lagoon

San Elijo Morning ~ San Diego plein air painting with studio finish by Ronald Lee Oliver

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.

Ronald Lee Oliver plein air easel

I focused on a particular part of the view that I thought would make for a pleasing result…

Selecting a Composition

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.

San Elijo Morning ~work in progress

…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

San Elijo Morning 20x16 in. plein air by Ronald Lee Oliver
San Elijo Morning ~ 20×16 in. plein air by Ronald Lee Oliver

 

 

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Plein Air at Point Loma

It was a beautiful, early Fall morning for plein air painting in San Diego at the coast.  The area known as Sunset Cliffs Natural Park has many places for recreation, among which is plein air painting.  There is no limit to the choice of subjects found there.  If you come to San Diego to paint, I definitely recommend this as a good place.

Here’s a pic of my painting kit on site.  That’s a 16×20 on the easel. I like that size for plein air because it allows lots of freedom for brush movement, though it is a large space to fill in one session.

The "block in" stage after about a half hour of painting...
The “block in” stage after about a half hour of painting…

…and here’s a short video I made after I finished…you can see the light has changed as compared to my composition on the canvas.

…and of course, here’s the finished piece…

Pappy Point at Sunset Cliffs

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Rapt in Solitude …a Plein air Reverie

Rapt in Solitude ~ 16x20 plein air oil on panel
Rapt in Solitude ~ 16×20 plein air oil on panel by San Diego Plein air artist, Ronald Lee Oliver

In the quiet, early morning at the river bed beside the still waters that remain after a long California drought, I park my easel in the sand bar at water’s edge. An egret with feathers as blindingly white as a snow drift in alpine sunlight, wades and forages with patience and resolve, searching for morning victuals.  Suddenly it stops and peers down a long and lethal beak at some creature that stirs, just below the surface. For perhaps a minute, the bird is motionless, stoic and rapt in solitude as the ripples slowly recede and the surface of the water returns to glassy calm. The egret, unperturbed, with flapping wings, jumps and flies. I hear the air rushing through the feathers as it beats past and glides down the riverbed, beyond the dam, disappearing into the lush shade of the forest canopy.

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Working Swiftly in Plein Air Painting ~ San Elijo Lagoon

An evening plein air painting at San Elijo Lagoon
An evening plein air painting at San Elijo Lagoon 11×14 in. oil on panel

One of the challenges of plein air painting is working within a limited budget of time. The interplay of a moving sun and fleeting clouds make swift work integral to capturing the scene.  A changing scene may force the painter to work from memory, which is not as accurate as direct observation.  And after all, really, who has the stamina (or is it the lunacy?) to paint for hours out in the elements?  Thank goodness, most of my plein air painting sessions finish in under two hours, before I can become dehydrated and sunburnt.  I completed this 11×14 inch plein air painting of San Elijo Lagoon in about an hour and a half. Having a pre-toned (a neutral gray) substrate helped the work to go quickly because there was no “white space” to cover and the toned background filled in the gaps in the superseding paint layers.

My goal in painting in plein air is not to make a photo-realistic depiction of the scene but rather to suggest something truthful, with expression but that also looks good when framed and hung on a wall.  Plein air painting provides the added benefit of being stretched by new challenges but also keeping the “chops” tuned for studio work.

The San Elijo lagoon and nature center is one of the great places in San Diego to visit at twilight. Either early in the morning or in the evening before sunset, hiking the well maintained trails and boardwalk there is a peaceful and fascinating experience.  You will see the play of the wind on the surface of the tidal waters and the fronds of the grasses in the marsh.  Reflections of light, dance, shimmer and change with each breath of wind. The silence is ocassionally broken by the cry of foraging birds or the sudden splash of fish jumping out of the water.

San Elijo Evening 11×14 oil on panel

image

by San Diego Plein Air Painter, Ronald Lee Oliver

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Padre Dam Plein Air Outing

Padre Dam is the first Dam built in California by Catholic Missionaries.
Padre Dam is the first Dam built in California by Catholic Missionaries.

San Diego has a past that is inextricably linked with the Spanish colonization and works of the Catholic Missionaries that established the first outposts of Western Civilization on the American continent.  In Santee, California, about five miles from Lakeside, CA where I live,  is the site of the first water collection system created by the Spanish Missionaries.  Known as “Padre Dam,” it is now a ruin that is part of the Mission Trails Regional Park system. This dam provided water for agriculture which supported the established Mission de Alcala, about three miles to the West, where the missionaries and the indigenous people interfaced.

The dam, with its water and pools makes a picturesque subject and provides some green relief in this long period of drought we’ve had in Southern California.  Even in the hottest part of this dry year, there is still a trickle of water that flows here in the San Diego River–a river that originates in the Laguna Mountains that rise to just over 6000 feet, some 25 miles to the East.

This plein air painting was finished early in the morning while the air was still cool and the shadows were long.  The temperatures rose above 100 degrees fahrenheit later in the day and it was good to finish this 11 x 14 inch panel before it became truly miserable.

I painted quickly to capture the colors and light of the moment, as well as a sense of place.

I’m quite happy with the result.

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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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Some Recent San Diego Plein Air Paintings…

I’ve done a few paintings in the last weeks that I’ve yet to post on this blog, so here they are.  These were painted on site around San Diego County, mostly with the San Diego Plein Air Painters group , of which I’m a member.  I’m also a member of the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association — LAPAPA, as well as the Southern California Plein Air Painters Association –SOCALPAPA and the San Diego Museum of Art Artist’s Guild — SDMAAG.

Batiquitos Looking West ~ plein air oil painting by artist Ronald Lee Oliver
Batiquitos Looking West ~ 11 x 14 in. plein air oil painting by artist Ronald Lee Oliver
Batiquitos ~ plein air oil painting of Batiquitos Lagoon by artist Ronald Lee Oliver
Batiquitos ~ 12 x 12 in. plein air painting by artist Ronald Lee Oliver
Osprey Rock ~ 11 x 14 in. plein air painting by Ronald Lee Oliver
Osprey Rock ~ 11 x 14 in. plein air painting by Ronald Lee Oliver
Coronado Anchorage ~ 11 x 14 in. Plein air painting by Ronald Lee Oliver
Coronado Anchorage ~ 11 x 14 in. Plein air painting by Ronald Lee Oliver

 

 

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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!

 

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#Pleinair at Santa Fe Trolley Depot in San Diego

I painted en plein air recently in a place that has always intrigued me with it’s dramatic architecture, interesting shadows and reflections and of course the famous red trolleys–that is, at the San Diego Metropolitan Transit system’s Santa Fe Depot at One America Plaza in downtown San Diego.  Here’s a pic of the architecture which previously won an “Orchid Award” in the annual San Diego Architectural Foundation review of San Diego developments and construction projects which either effuse the elegance of an orchid…or the stink of an onion.

The arch of the Trolley weather port at Santa Fe Depot.
The arch of the Trolley weather port at Santa Fe Depot.

I arrived early…before 8:00am and set up my easel in the traffic island at the center of the intersection at Broadway and Kettner.  It was a great place from which to paint and provided the perfect vantage of the trolleys coming and going. Painting the trolley itself was done in fits and spurts as one trolley would leave but another would arrive in minutes and for the most part, with a few exceptions, was identical.  Here’s a pic of my easel, with two trolleys in the station in the background…

Easel and painting of Ronald Lee Oliver
Easel and painting of Ronald Lee Oliver

It was interesting to paint with the traffic rolling by and when the traffic would stop, folks would gawk out the car windows, inquisitively at the patently unusual sight of a crazed plein air painter in the middle of traffic, wearing a big, Guatemalan palm leaf, cowboy hat, pacing to and fro, wielding a long, paint laden brush like a picador, stabbing at a canvas as if it were a snorting bull trying to gore him. Many pedestrians walking by gave the big, “thumbs up” and commented that I was making a beautiful painting, which is always encouraging.  Here’s the result of the morning’s effort–a 16 x 16 inch oil on stretched canvas, titled “Rolling Through.”  Whether it is an “orchid” or an “onion” or the bull won is in the proverbial eye of the beholder…

Santa Fe Trolley Depot as painted by California artist, Ronald Lee Oliver
Santa Fe Trolley Depot as painted by California artist, Ronald Lee Oliver
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Hawaiian Floral Seascapes!

Like the ocean?  Like Hawaii?  Like flowers?  Why not combine all three in a series of Hawaiian Floral Seascape paintings!?  I’ve been working on just this feat, recently and really enjoying the process. It allows for the play of some bold, complimentary colors and the challenge of arranging a pleasing composition.  Here is a composite of four, recently completed panels (12×12 in. oil on deep cradled birch).  I haven’t run out of flowers that are suitable for this series, yet, so there may be few more forthcoming!

Hawaiian Floral Seascapes ~ Original Oil Paintings by Ronald Lee Oliver
Hawaiian Floral Seascapes ~ Original Oil Paintings by Ronald Lee Oliver
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Lae O Na Kohola (Cape of Whales)

Lae O Na Kohola (Cape of Whales) 24 x 24 in. oil on canvas
Lae O Na Kohola (Cape of Whales) 24 x 24 in. oil on canvas

On the Northwest side of the Hawaiian island of Kaho`olawe is Ahupu Bay, whose Western point is called Lae O Na Kohola, or Cape of Whales. There, the great leviathans return in yearly consort to make connections with one another. To win paternity. To begin Maternity. To give birth and protect the newborn.  To establish lineage and once again venture Northward to the yearly feeding grounds, where they will fatten to return again and renew the cycle.

Here, I’ve depicted one of the majestic Kohola, or humpback whales, breaching in the fiery dawn of a typical Hawaiian sunrise.  Here is a detail section from the larger painting:

kahola_DETAILLR
Detail from Lae O Na Kohola (Cape of Whales) by Ronald Lee Oliver

This painting was achieved in one session, or “alla prima,” an artsy Italianate term for “at once.”  It requires that the artist have a good idea of where they are going before they first lay brush to canvas.  I toned the canvas with a mixture of transparent orange and burnt sienna the night before, which allowed it to dry and act as an underlying accent color.  The overnight drying time ensured it would not smear and mix with the strokes of color placed on top. Most of the colors in the upper layer are transparent oil paints, as opposed to opaque tints, which allows for a certain depth and serendipitous atmosphere that can’t be achieved with the opaque pigments.

This painting is 24 x 24 inches and is framed in a complimentary black frame with matte and glossy accents.

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Pua Akala (Pink Hibiscus)

Pua Akala (Pink Hibiscus) 12 x 12 in. oil on deep cradled panel by Ronald Lee Oliver
Pua Akala (Pink Hibiscus) 12 x 12 in. oil on deep cradled panel by Ronald Lee Oliver

Another in my series of Hawaiian Floral Seascapes.  Seen just about everywhere in Hawaii but like a younger daughter, the Pink Hibiscus must always be subordinate to the elder, yellow hibiscus which is the State Flower of the Islands  …she is just as delicate and beautiful though.

This is in the same format as some of my other Hawaiian floral oil paintings, which are all in the 12 inch square format on 1.5 inch deep, hardwood cradled, birch panels, suitable for hanging with or without a frame.  This colorful series of paintings brightens any space with a vibrant, tropical splash.