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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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Old Mission (Padre) Dam Painting Demonstration

Old Padre Dam

a photo essay

I and two other artists will be doing live demonstrations of plein air painting techniques–free to the public.  The demos will take place at the annual San Diego River Foundation “River Days,” celebration this Saturday, May 14th in the Mission Gorge Regional Park at Old Padre Dam. The demos happen 8:00am to 11:00am. Here are some “clickable” photos I took on a showery May morning to urge you to come out and see the beautiful setting of the park and learn a bit about how to create scenic art in the open air.

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La Jolla Coast Walk ~Photo Essay ~ Easter Sunday 2014

Anna's Hummingbird ~ Coast Walk, La Jolla
Anna’s Hummingbird ~ Coast Walk, La Jolla

Happy Easter, All!

I took the camera and telephoto lens out today and made a visual diary of my stroll along “La Jolla Coast Walk,” which is a short but scenic trail along the top of the cliffs above the La Jolla Caves.  It was overcast, which is typical of La Jolla, early in the morning.  The sun doesn’t come out there until about 11:00 am, or later, if at all.  I was able to get some interesting shots, even in the diffuse light. They’re there if you have the patience to look for them.


Hint: Click on the first image, upper left, then use the navigation arrow in the viewer box to click through the slide show.
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La Jolla Oceanfront Photos

La Jolla Cove, Bird Rock, the Cave Shell Shop, and the Oceanfront walk are a great place to spend an early Saturday morning in San Diego County.  I went there yesterday with my camera and recorded some images.  Here are a my favorite selections from the photos I took.
La Jolla Bight Overlook
La Jolla Bight Overlook

The geographic configuration of the La Jolla Coast is such that you can’t really call it a peninsula but it does jut westward from the coast to the North, creating not quite a bay but what I would call a “bight”–the La Jolla Bight.

Above the Roost at La Jolla Cliffs.
Above the Roost at La Jolla Cliffs.

Various species of pelagic birds make their home and spend time away from ocean foraging on the rocks and cliffs of the La Jolla Peninsula. Recently, the city spent lots of public money trying to wash the guano off of the cliffs because it makes the area smell like the sea.  The cleanup operation left pools of a disgusting dark sludge instead of the bleached white guano…oops…anyone else have any bright ideas?  The rocks in the photo above have not been “cleaned” yet but are slated for “phase two” of “Operation Poop-be-gone.”

A Distinguished Pelican Rests after Breakfast
A Distinguished Pelican Rests after Breakfast

This fellow seemed displeased that I had the audacity to get close while he was trying to digest his morning repast. He did not fly away, however as I was using a telephoto lens and did not have to get too close.

A Balmy September Morning on Oceanfront Walk in La Jolla.
A Balmy September Morning on Oceanfront Walk in La Jolla.

It is a beautiful area, especially early before it gets too crowded.  Get there early (around 8:00am) to find ample parking, which can be hard to find later in the morning.


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Ramona Grasslands Redux, Plein Air, Clearing Haze

original oil painting, San Diego plein air, Ramona, artist, Ronald Lee Oliver

I’ve been so busy with updating websites and social media profiles lately while also working on paintings in the studio so I haven’t had many opportunities for outdoor plein air painting.  Don’t get me wrong–there have been opportunities–just none that really piqued my interest.  I’ve enjoyed painting at the Ramona Grasslands Reserve in the past so when the local painters group suggested it, I made the time to be there for some painting fun.

Here’s a map of the area if you’d like to visit sometime.  It’s a great place to hike, walk your dog, ride either a  trail bicycle or a horse (no motorized vehicles allowed) or to go and do some art!

Map to Ramona Grasslands Preserve
Map to Ramona Grasslands Preserve

There is an ample parking lot and if you get there early (the gate opens at 8:00 am) you’ll get a choice parking spot.  Later on the horsey set arrives and their trucks and trailers fill most of the spaces.

The sky was socked in and grey as I drove up the 67 past Mt. Woodson, which is near the Grasslands Preserve.  However, It steadily cleared as I hiked around looking for a vista to paint until it finally wound up a gorgeous, sparkling, clear day.  In season, there are standing ponds but in late Summer/early Autmn, before the Fall rains come the ponds can be completely dry and caked with cracked mud.  There are a couple of loops to hike on and the trails are very well maintained.  The Preserve is fenced in its entirety and is an open cattle range so you can expect to see some of the bovine type roaming about.  I got some photos of them today, before I started painting:


…and there were several of these little guys, some of which were hiding in the grass… you can just see the head of one on the right side of the above photo.


Eventually, I found a view I liked and wanted to paint.  I brought only a small 12X12 cradled birch panel to paint on because I thought it was so overcast, I’d rather do a small one but as I said, the day cleared up very nicely.  Maybe I should have brought a larger canvas or panel.  Here is the place I set up my easel–you can see how nicely maintained the trails are…

Panoramic view of easel set by Ronald Lee Oliver
Panoramic view of easel set by Ronald Lee Oliver

It’s not all open sun, either. There are some nice shady places with wooden picnic tables within easy hiking distance.  All in all, I really recommend the place, especially after the rains or in the spring when everything is emerald green and glistening with dew in the early morning.

A view of the painting on the easel in the unfinished state.
A view of the painting on the easel in the unfinished state.

Here’s an iPhone photo of the little painting I walked away with.


Clearing Haze, 12X12 inch oil on cradled birch panel by Ronald Lee Oliver
Clearing Haze, 12X12 inch oil on cradled birch panel by Ronald Lee Oliver

Ronald Lee Oliver is a self taught artist creating plein air, studio, photography and digital art in Southern California. Original and print versions of Ron’s art can be purchased online.



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More from Torrey Pines

It was a busy weekend but I did get out to the Torrey Pines Natural Reserve early Saturday Morning. I didn’t paint but hiked over most of the trails in the park and took some photos. The weather was very overcast and grey, so I opted to do the camera work, smell the flowers, sage and chaparral and reconnoiter for potential compositions that might work with the paint brush.

Here is a shot of the Isomeris arborea, or commonly named “Bladderpod” bush, with the characteristic pods. They say the pods are edible but spicy hot…I haven’t tried them:

Isomeris arborea

…and here is a photo of some unidentified (at least by me) shrub with pretty little flowers the color of pink coral…

Tiny Flowers

…eventually I made my way down to a view of the beach and “flat rock.” Bet you can’t guess why they call it “flat rock.” 🙂

Flat Rock, Torrey Pines

While hiking up and out of the beach area I saw some really lovely flowers and shrubs growing in the sand…

Beach Walkers at Torrey Pines

…and the exceptionally pretty flowers of the Sand Verbena that must be very hardy to grow where they do…

Sand Verbena

It was a good morning, despite the cold, overcast and drizzle.

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Art in the Pines ~ Plein Air Competition

Art in the Pines is a yearly plein air painting competition which takes place in the Torrey Pines State Reserve, here in San Diego County.  A jury selects artists who are allowed access to the park to paint for a full month (April) and then submit their best painting for competition in early May. The park is particularly beautiful this time of year and has lots of blooming wildflowers.

Torrey Wildflowers

Torrey Pines, is one of my favorite places in San Diego and I have visited it probably a hundred times either hiking, jogging, swimming or surf fishing on the shore, so the subject matter is something I know very well.  I was fortunate enough to be juried in as a competing artist this year and will be completing several paintings over the next few weeks, so that I might have a good one when it comes time to submit the work for the competition. I went out to the park yesterday, with my camera, my easel and painting supplies.  I chose the area of the park called the “Guy Fleming Trail.”  The trail is about a 2/3 mile loop that wanders through the chaparral and Torrey Pine forest…

Torrey Pine Forest Panorama

skirts by the sheer cliffs which drop down to the State beach below…

View from Cliff Top

…wanders through some spectacular rock formations…

Torrey Sandstone

and loops back to the starting point.

I had hiked the trail the day before, scoping out areas that would make good compositions for a painting and decided on a scene that depicted yucca trees on a steep slope, catching the light from the setting sun. This is an unusual view of the park and one that I think may catch the eye and inspire the judges, who probably see lots of the same-old-same-old.


So I set up my easel on the trail, out of the way of the hikers (many of whom shared words of encouragement about the painting as they walked by), and went to work.  I had pre-toned the canvas the night before so I wouldn’t have to waste that time when I was ready to paint.

Easel Start

…and here is a little video I took and a picture of the completed painting.  I like this one quite a bit. So far, it’s a good start for the competition. I hope to get in at least four or five more paintings to choose from.  I hope you like it!

Evening Yuccas

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Hacienda Carrillo, Plein Air Paintout in Carlsbad, California

Yesterday started with another bright and beautiful, Southern California, morning. A little chilly (34 degrees) at dawn but nothing compared to temperatures some other parts of the country are experiencing in Mid-January. Got to paint in a new locale (for me) up in the Carlsbad area of San Diego’s North County. The Leo Carrillo Ranch is a 27 acre historical park that preserves the early California adobe architecture and landscaping. It has very nice walking trails and colorful botanical gardens, as well as preserved and restored buildings from the long working history of the Rancho. It was last privately owned by Hollywood actor, Leo Carrillo, who was friends with many of the A-list stars of Hollywood’s golden era. For example, Clark Gable was a friend who often vacationed with Leo at the Ranch. Here is the brand logo and motto of the Rancho: carillo_logo …and here is what part of one of the trails looks like… carillo_pillar …and a little farther down the trail… carrillo_trail …and these guys are roaming all over the place, I must have seen thirty or forty of them… peacock IMG_0078 …I found a view that made a nice composition for the canvas (in this case a 12 X 12 cradled gessobord panel)… cropview …so I set up my easel and painted it, which came out like this… hacienda_carrillo I received many complements on this one by passers by and fellow artists at the park. For now, I’m calling it “Hacienda Carrillo,” but if you can come up with a more compelling name, let me know and I’ll consider it. Here is a link to this one at my online gallery:

All in all, a great day for painting outdoors.

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Winter Swell, Cabrillo

I got out for a plein air session last week-end. Had been sick for some time with a nasty flu that left me with a persistent nasal drip and cough. It was good to get out and the day was absolutely gorgeous. I’ve been meeting up with a painters group that uses online social media to designate places to have painting sessions. This morning, I was the first to show up (as usual), and I arrived early at the Entrance to Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma in San Diego. It was a crystal clear and chilly December morning. As I drove into the park and headed down the hill to the lower parking lots where there is access to the tide pools, a magical thing happened…

…a Peregrine falcon swooped down not more than five or ten yards in front and to the left side of my slow moving truck–and without flapping soared down the hill about three feet off the blacktop pavement…it was almost skimming the tops of the buckwheat and sage bushes at the side of the road, leading me into the park. It was so magical, I was laughing as I drove behind my escort. I followed it all the way to the bottom of the hill–nearly half a mile. What a great way to start the day.

When I parked, I got out with my easel and bucket and took some photos as I went…I’ll share them with you…

First I got out and took a photo of the view from the parking lot…

Then, I walked down the trail a ways and saw this…

and this…

and I painted this…

which came out like this…
(apologies for the phone photo)

And then I packed up, hiked back to my truck and drove out of the park but had to stop and take some shots because it was just too beautiful to resist…

looking West…

…and looking East…

A very quiet and emotional place.

What a great day it was.

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Papaya Perch

This little guy caught my eye as my wife and I were walking down to D.T. Fleming Beach Park, in Kapalua, Maui, USA.  Rain clouds were moving in and the early morning colors were lit in a moody light. I had my telephoto lens on and was able to frame up a good shot.

The papayas were out of reach or they would have made a nice breakfast.

The papayas would have been nice but we had some really good, Maui grown pineapples instead.  Here’s a tip a Hawaiian worker in the produce section of a Mauian supermarket gave us: Pineapples never get “riper” after they are picked–if they are not sweet when picked they will never get sweeter with shelf time.  He also said that the best pineapples have a golden color and the leafy stalk on top should be dry and not lush or green.  Since taking this advice to heart we have not been disappointed with our pineapple selections…now you know!

Maui Gold!