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.
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 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.
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…
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.
I thought some of my loyal fans would appreciate seeing a work in progress or “WIP,” as named by artists in the social media world. This most recent painting is a large, 40 x 60 inch representation of a breaching whale, off the coast of Maui, Hawaii.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Hawaii several times over the last fifteen years or so and many of those times have been lucky to be there (well, actually I planned it that way) during whale breeding season, which takes place in the calm and relatively shallow, inter-island waters during the months of December through April. If you ever get the opportunity to visit Hawaii, I recommend this time of year. The whales know what they are doing by being there then! It is absolutely beautiful, not too hot, and the occasional rain shower will have rainbows busting out all over!
On one such visit, Jackie and I stayed in a second floor, ocean front condo with a Lanai that nearly overhung the water’s edge. The massive humpback whales would spout and breach sometimes not more than 100 yards from our patio or “Lanai” as it is called in the islands. We could watch them while laying in bed. This and the many other instances of whale sightings and tours over the years, inspired this painting. Here is the first photo installment of the WIP. Unfortunately, I didn’t get photos of the earlier stages, so you can see some work has already been done:
The entire surface of the canvas is “toned,” i.e. painted with an undercolor–in this case an orangish tone that is a mixture of transparent orange and iron-oxide, oil based paint and natural turpentine. I did this because I knew that much of the finished painting would be in the cooler, blue-green end of the spectrum and the orange underpainting would make for a vibrant compliment where it peeked through the colors of the finish. This creates a visual vibration and harmony that is pleasing to the eye. Many beginning painters put colors directly on a white canvas and will never achieve the stimulating effect that a complimentary underpainting can help to achieve. I’m also using a very large, round, Chungking, white boar bristle brush to apply the paint very quickly. You can see the size of the strokes, which look like stripes.
It’s best to get the canvas covered in paint so you can see the relationships between the major elements before attempting to refine them. Here, I’ve added the Ocean water and more of the land mass in a very loose fashion, not trying to force much representation at this stage. I’m allowing the orange-ish undertone to peek through, all over the canvas–even in the ocean water, which is kind of counterintuitive–who would think that you’d want orange, of all colors, to show up in your ocean water?! The water looks good so I decide I won’t try to fuss with it too much from here to the finish. This was my approach for the entirety of this painting–lay down the stroke and if it looks good, don’t fuss with it!
At this point, I’m laying-in the suggestion of the whale’s anatomy and blocking in the dark mass of the structures and scenery on the shoreline. These dark colors will act as a foil for the later brush strokes in lighter values that will suggest foliage, trees and buildings.
Now, I’m mixing various colors and laying in strokes all over the canvas with cleanly loaded brushes. I’m not smearing the paint around, rather, I’m laying in the colors and values I want, quickly and with resolve, then leaving the strokes alone. I have several brushes going with different color families and not intermixing them, which can create “mud” on the canvas. Clean brushes, loaded with clean, appropriate color, keeps the painting clean. An example of a refinement is the suggested changes in depth of the water at the right, with lighter values of ocean colors that indicate the sunlight reflecting off a shallower bottom or reef.
Now, I’m working more slowly, taking time to contemplate the next steps, making sure that I don’t do anything rash or stupid that will mar the end result of the painting. If I do make a mistake, I wipe it off and correct it quickly. I’ve laid in the under tone for the hotel on the right, which will reflect the waning light much the same as the whale does but with less intensity as it must recede in the distance.
This shows two of the brushes used in the painting of this work. I Used seven different brushes for this one and these were the largest. The brushes used were rounds, flats and one filbert, which is a flat with a tip rounded in one dimension.
And finally, here is the finished and signed piece. Over the last several days of work, I contemplated refinements and added them judiciously to gain the finish shown here. You can see the chaotic nature of the splashes have been refined with strokes of color from a large flat brush; the clouds softened and blended, sometimes with a finger, rather than a brush. Many of these well thought out refinements, applied, achieve a completed painting that evokes the spirit and beauty of the Hawaiian Isles and one of the most exciting sights that can bee seen there.
…and so now that you’ve seen the “anatomy of a painting,” I hope it hasn’t spoiled the magic for you. If you’d like to see a larger image of “Lahaina Ballet,” click on the image and you will be taken to a new page. If you’d like to see the painting in person and up close (I recommend it!), it will be on display in the State Street gallery window at the Westin Emerald Plaza Hotel in Downtown San Diego from July 5th through the 13th.
I sure do and that’s why I was excited to paint at the Flower Fields in Carlsbad. They are fifty acres of ranunculus flowers that are grown for bouquets. Every spring they bloom in a riot of color and the fields are open to the public for a fee. There were lots of people there today as I painted and many of them stopped to chat, comment and ask questions about the painting.
Here is another look at the fields…
and some of the workers that cultivate and harvest the flowers…
I decided that I would attempt to represent a view from the higher elevations of the fields, which slope down hill to the nursery area and the City of Carlsbad, below. You can see the Pacific Ocean from up there so I thought it would be a nice overall impression of the fields. This next photo is close to what I wanted to put on the panel–I brought another 16 X 20. I like the size because of the freedom it brings but it also brings responsibility to fill the space, which takes more time (usually) than a smaller painting. Here’s the view…
…and here’s me, in the act of applying colored oily stuff to a piece of wood. This photo was taken by a nice fellow named, Rob who promised to email them to me and he did. They were in my mailbox before I got home! Thanks Rob!
…and finally, here is the painting as it stands (unfinished) when I decided to pack up and head home for a late lunch (pizza!). I think it has potential to be a very nice piece. I just have to work out the middle distance, which in real life had lots of jumbled retail structures. I’ll try to simplify it and still represent an impression of the scene. Let me know what you think!
When I finish it, I’ll post it up here and share it with you all. As always, you can click on the gallery link at the top of my blog and see finished works that are ready to show and are for sale.