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Plein air and a Bubble Level?

Afternoon at North Torrey Pines Beach
Afternoon at North Torrey Pines Beach

Painting on the beach is always nice–even if it is in the dead of Winter, which in Southern California, is not so bad, after all.  It was about sixty degrees fahrenheit with a breezy wind of about 15 knots.  I was glad I had a nice, windproof jacket on while I painted but I never felt cold.  Here is a view of my easel at the end of the painting session:

French easel of Ronald Lee Oliver on the beach.
French easel of Ronald Lee Oliver on the beach.

It can’t be seen in the photo but below the roll of paper towels is my trash bag, which must have had a hole in it because I chased errant wasted paper towels down the beach at least five or six times, maybe more.  Memo to self…make sure you use a bag with no holes next time.

A handy bubble level
A handy bubble level

This easel set was achieved with the use of my trusty bubble level, which I always keep handy, inside the toolkit area of my French Easel.  I place it on the top edge of the canvas, when I secure the easel and tighten all the adjusting screws and knobs.  This assures that even though the easel may be a-kilter, the canvas itself is perfectly level.  When done with the level it goes right back in storage. This may not seem like a big deal but I think it really helps to get the proper perspective on canvas and to ensure a level horizon line.  I believe a tilted canvas can lead to a wonky painting.

This painting is an 11 X 14″ oil on stretched canvas and is for sale.  It received praises of high approval by beachgoers and the other artists on the beach. If you like it, feel free to contact me and we’ll make it yours.  Here is a nicer look at it–but alas–it looks so much nicer in person 😉
Contact Ron:

North Torrey Pines Beach
North Torrey Pines Beach


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Flat Rock Plein Air Painting at Torrey Pines State Reserve

Torrey Pines Sunset

Yesterday afternoon, I returned to Torrey Pines State Reserve and hiked from the lower parking lot to the place known as “Flat Rock,” which is at the South End of the park, right on the beach. You can get there via the “Beach Trail,” which descends from the upper elevation of the park–or you can hike the mile or so down the wide sand beach (at low tide).

They say the best artists have to suffer for their work and boy I sure did, carrying the full French easel and a five gallon bucket with my supplies, drinking water, brushes, paints, mediums, palette knives, etc. I plodded along to my destination, knowing I had a limited time to paint before the returning tide would make it difficult or impossible to return via the beach. I definitely did not want to hike up and out of the park. When I got to the site and framed up my subject with a viewfinder, I took this little video:

Here is the finished painting. It looks so much nicer in person 😛Flat Rock at Torrey Pines State Beach



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Razor Point Trail en Plein Air

Razor Point Trail at Torrey Pines State Reserve

Here is a plein air piece I did last Sunday near dusk in Torrey Pines State Reserve.

Painting like this requires anticipation of lighting effects and incorporating them into the work before they happen. There just isn’t enough time to paint this before darkness falls. Of course, I could use my battery operated music stand lights to illuminate my canvas and palette but since the State Reserve at Torrey closes at seven–right about the time this light fills the scene this time of year, this is not an option. To work beyond that time would risk the park ranger locking the gate and leaving my vehicle stuck in the park overnight! In this case, the knowledge of what the scene would look like three hours after I started the painting allowed me to represent the light at the finish of the painting.



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April Morning at Torrey Headlands Plein Air

April Morning at Torrey Headlands

18 X 24 Oil on Cradled Panel

This is really large for a plein air piece with this much detail. I wanted to get at least one larger painting to choose from the possible entries for the “Art in the Pines” plein air competition, which happens May 4th in the Torrey Pines State Reserve. If you get the chance, you should go. It’s May 4th and 5th in the parking lot at the visitor’s center up at the top of the park. There will be a free shuttle-bus that transports visitors from the lot at the bottom up to the art fair, where over 100 artists, photographers, ceramicists and textile artists will display and offer their work for sale. The Plein air winners will be anounced at noon. So, it’s a great chance to enjoy the park, hike the trails, and see some amazing art!

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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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Torrey Pines Plein Air

Here is a shot of my easel as it stood after completing, “Highway 1, Torrey Pines,” which is available for purchase in the gallery. Following is shot of the completed painting.  This was a fun outing and I had to hike in quite a distance to set up here with a full french easel and a five gallon bucket with supplies.