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.

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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.

Uprooting

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