View from the parking lot of Matanzas Creek Winery in Santa Rosa, CA.

Lavender Garden and Vineyard

Lavender Garden and Vineyard

A gorgeous day was spent with Joanie and Wakar, painting at the winery.  The mounds of lavender were not in bloom.  They looked like scoops of blue green ice cream, maybe a mix of pistachio and blueberry.  The steep, rolling hills of the Sonoma Valley take my breath away and renew the pleasure of plein air painting.

This trip has been quite different from the one I planned.  My life is like that, always full of surprises.  If the surprise isn’t a good one, I do my best to transform it into something wonderful.  Just like a painting that has lost its way, the solution often brings the experience to a level beyond what it might have otherwise been.

Painting:  sketched lightly in pencil, followed by watercolor and areas clarified with pencil after the watercolor was completely dry.

As I carried my backpack and suitcase to the car last Thursday morning, the light of my flashlight was not aimed at the dining table where the watercolor travel kits, replenished with fresh paint, and travel brushes lay ready to be packed.  They are still on the table ready to be packed.  Fortunately, I had several tubes of paint packed for teaching the workshops.

Pill Box Watercolor Palette

For $1.67 I picked up a pill box organizer at a local drug store in Mountain View.  I used the hinged caps and the spare well for a bit of mixing.  It’s not the best, but it works.

Cloud Pruned Juniper Tree

My day was spent drawing and painting the cloud pruned Juniper trees near Hangar One at Moffett Field.

Taking a break from reality

It’s difficult to be serious when looking at such Seuss-like trees.

Cloud Pruned Juniper Tree

Sketchbook drawings:  Drawn en plein air first with fountain pen filled with Noodler’s Black Ink, followed by watercolor using a small waterbrush.  BFK Rives paper

We lost power long before the tree hit the house.

Strong winds at 3pm

Throughout the night the wind sounded like a locomotive on a loop around our house.  Sometime around 1 am, a different sound was heard above the howling of the wind.


We are fortunate that the tree fell as it did, taking hardly more than the gutters along with it as it fell to the ground.

Hurricane Sandy retreats from Polt Mountain

A reminder of the power, the fury and the beauty of nature……

October on the Wicomico River in Maryland is perfect.  I don’t have to wear a bee keepers face mask to protect myself from mosquitoes!

Wicomico River, oil painting, en plein air

The colors are simultaneously muted and bright once the mist has lifted from the water.

Plein Air Oil Painting:  5″ x 5″ color study on gessoed birch panel.

I’m using a photo, converted to black and white to help me find a solution to a design problem in one of my current watercolor paintings.

“Oak Leaves and Earth Sphere”, 22″ x 30″ watercolor

The painting began with a pencil sketch of  oak leaves dancing in the wind just prior to last night’s storm.  When the rain came, I moved inside, mixed some colors and combined brushwork with tossing of paint to get things moving on the paper.  Eventually the sphere appeared.  Before I can determine the colors and values of the leaves ( most of which you can’t see in the photo ) I need to determine my basic value shapes, the shapes that will be seen from thirty feet away.  I like the strong diagonal line in the top half of the paper and I don’t want to lose any of my lights by simple throwing more paint and hoping it works.  I’ve printed six copies of the black and white photo on a sheet of paper.  I’ll use a pencil to try different value patterns and choose one to work from tomorrow.  It feels great to be working larger again.

“Oak Leaves and Earth Sphere” in progress

I’m also happy to be playing with orbs again.

I hated it.  I worked all day yesterday resolving issues on a painting I hated.  Why?  It wasn’t painterly.  Even before my first cup of coffee I had paintbrush in hand.

(left)- before, (right)- after

It boiled down to marks and edges.  I was overly focused on larger shapes rather than the smaller shapes that made up the larger shapes. There was little to none when it came to variation of edges.  I had not orchestrated the transitions between shapes allowing for subtleties of rhythm.  Darkening the value of the bottom right corner helped.  I’m still not crazy about the results, but I feel more confident that I will stay aware of painterly transitions when I set up my easel today.  Maybe I’ll tackle the cornfield!

Final version (I hope!)

If I feel the urge to go back into this one again, I’ll scrape it off instead.

Wildflowers, Detail, oil on wood panel

I am much happier with the marks.

Painting, 10.5″ x 18″ oil on wood panel, en plain air landscape

I’ve downloaded a photoshop app that allows me to snap a photo of my painting and change it to black and white on my phone.  This is incredibly helpful while painting en plein air.  I can tell immediately when values aren’t working well.

I painted Bob’s wildflower meadow a week ago.  The clouds were driving me crazy.

Original version of plein air oil painting

Before I could make any changes I had to wait for the oil paint to dry.  The sky already had a nasty green tint to it.  My original plan was only to clean up the sky and correct the cloud issue.

First Four variations

My plan usually changes.  With each stroke, new resolutions had to be found.

Next three variations

After the last resolution I have decided to move on …… whew …… I learned more from working my way through all these variations than I would have if I had started over eight times.  With each change, some elements improved and some nice passages were lost.

Comparison of first and final version of the painting

As always, the most important lesson is that paintings will go more smoothly, with more opportunity to play with color if I resolve the light and dark shapes FIRST!

Final Version of the wildflower meadow, 10.5″ x 18″ oil

I posted a bumbled, morning sketch on the Creative Color blog this morning.  The second try had its own set of bumbles, but here it is.

Before darkening the shadow and background trees

Darkened shadow and background trees

A bit bizarre, but fun.  The color scheme was dictated by the Color Scheme Game, Analogous with Split Complements, Yellow / Green as dominant color.  The spotchy shape on the right was already on the sketchbook page.  This is one of my recent, handmade, coptic bound sketchbooks that I have made using paper from rejected watercolor paintings.  I was terribly intimidated by the mark as I began the ink drawing of the trees.  After a few minutes I warmed up to it.

Here are a few more samples of pages yet to come:

Sketchbook pages from discarded paintings

Sketchbook pages from discarded paintings

I’m sure that I’ll find myself collaging many of the pre-painted pages.  I can’t imagine what else I might be able to do with the one above.  Maybe by the time I come to it in the sketchbook I’ll have enough experience with the painted pages that I’ll go ahead and keep drawing with my pens.

All of the images are ink and watercolor.

In every painting, especially a large mural, there is one keystone element that unifies the whole, bringing all parts into harmony.  In the case of our landscape of trees, a 12 foot wide wall mural, the keystone was the far left tree in the second cluster from the right, shown below.

A cluster of trees

Sorry for the poor photograph.  It is extremely difficult to photograph the mural.  Hopefully Xochitl will have better photos on her camera and I can post them at a later date.

We thought we would finish in about two hours on Monday, the day most people were attending parades and enjoying barbeques with family and friends.  The keystone tree demanded far more of our time.  We finished at five o’clock, just in time to allow to clean up the dining room, put everything back in place and let our client’s family enjoy the holiday.

Left side of finished wall mural

The mural looks gorgeous.  The beautiful finish of the latex paint made the struggle worthwhile.  To the very end, it refused to dry as predicted.  Every time we thought we had it tamed, it challenged us.

Xochitl adding last few touches of paint

Xochitl and I work well together in spite of our different approaches to art and to painting.  the finished mural is a unified work of art.  It is not apparent that two, very different artists, worked side by side from beginning to end.

I was happy to wake up this morning and have the day to myself to catch up on all that had been left undone during the last three weeks of mural painting.  In spite of being happy to get back to my regular abnormal schedule, I am already looking forward to another wall mural.  I must be crazy.

Landscape of Trees, Monochromatic color Scheme, 12 feet wide, latex paint.

I felt as if I had swallowed one of Alice’s funny pills when I found myself drawing and painting on a twelve foot wide span of wall rather than a 5″ x 5″ wood panel.  I adore painting large….. the larger the better.  I have not fear of blank walls. They cry out for illusions of space, expansion of landscape and sometimes for pure fantasy.

First stage of Dining Room Wall Mural

To add to the Alice in Wonderland experience, the paint is not what it seems.  The plan is to create a ghost image similar to the landscape view from the client’s back patio.  The darkest dark will not be much darker than the value seen in the image above.  The paint dries at least three shades darker than it looks when applied to the wall.  As we paint tree trunks over  the mass of background foliage the trunk looks to be much lighter than the foliage.  As it dries, the trunk totally disappears when it becomes the exact same value as the foliage.  Slowly it becomes visible again as it dries darker than the foliage.  Quite the challenge!  We paint ….. and then we wait.   We paint …… and then we wait.  We laugh at the absurdity of it as the mural begins to take form as if by magic.

We are using latex paint, light and dark variations of the exact wall color.  This is the first collaborative mural project that Xochitl and I have done together.  Though our personal painting preferences are quite different, we are both flexible enough and skilled enough to meet on common ground, bringing our strengths together.  We work well as a four armed artist.  I can be on a ladder, unable to judge where the branches should be painted with my invisible paint, with Xochitl acting as the eyes and brain of the artist directing my hand left, right, up or down.  We are already looking forward to working together on more murals …. the bigger …. the better.