Friday, January 31, 2014

this land

Yosemite Falls, 16 x 20, pastel on BFK
I cannot resist a national park when I travel. A month in California afforded me the chance to see three: Joshua Tree National Park, Pinnacles National ParkChannel Islands National Park, and Yosemite National Park.

I will never forget my first trip to Yosemite. I was eight years old and we went on a family summer vacation there. 

My grandmother was with us and that filled our stations wagon with: four kids, three adults, luggage, ice chests, pillows, and all manner of toys and books and other stuff for the four hour drive.

To help pass the time, my grandmother started to sing songs. Mom knew the songs and the two of them sang in a magical kind of harmony that captivated all of us kids. I begged them to sing the songs again and again so that I could learn their words and melodies and harmonies.

This week, Pete Seeger died and the media is filled with many tributes about the man and his music. Much of what I hear are the songs my grandmother and mother sang in the car on our way up to Yosemite. Maybe your family sang these songs on your car rides when you were a kid, too. "If I Had a Hammer," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," "Swanee River," "On Top of Old Smokey," and one of my favorites, "This Land is Your Land."

Rest in peace, Pete Seeger. Thank you for your great love of our country and the people who live in it and for your legacy of music. Your message of peace and beauty will live on.

Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie "This Land is Your Land." 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

learning from the plein air line up

Here are all of the "Times of Day" paintings from my time in California, painting plein air at the beach. Now that I am back in the studio, I have pinned all of these paintings to a corkboard, where I can see them all together. The line up teaches me a lot. Actually, the line up just sits there and waits for me to figure out what there is for me to learn. 

In the first piece, "9:00," I was full of excitement about being out painting plein air. I was stimulated by everything: the sky with the dynamic clouds, the shape of Santa Cruz Island out in the water, the reflections in the water, and the varied colors and shapes in the sand. This piece has no focus because I had no focus when I was painting it. The painting is an accurate depiction of my enthusiastic visual jumping all over the scene.

The second piece, "11:00," shows a little more restraint. The sand is simplified and rests at the bottom of the picture plane as do the reflections on the water. Santa Cruz Island, slightly obscured by hazy fog, is less firmly stated. In this piece, the sky takes center stage, well-deserved for its variety and value range. I can see how I settled down for this painting and I painted what interested me most about this scene.

The third piece, "1:00," is nearly an abstraction. Fog completely hid the island and formed a pinkish gray band of separation between the mid-day sky and the reflective sea. I left off the sand because it seemed less important. The cirrus clouds break up the dark blue sky expanse and the small fog band and sea bands balance out this piece. 

I was excited by the abstraction of the third piece and pushed it harder in the fourth, "2:00." I deepened the intensity of the sky as it was the heat of the day and a flatter, grayer fog hid Santa Cruz Island. I had a difficult time capturing the shimmering violets on the water surface and felt frustrated by this piece. 

The final piece, "4:00," was a challenge as all pieces are when the sun is directly in your painting view. I looked at the sky and tried to memorize what I saw and then when I looked down into my pastel box, everything was dark and nearly monochrome. My eyes were dilated by the light and not quick to respond to looking down to a shadowed box. Because I could not see well, I painted this by feeling it. I reached into my pastel box, organized by value and hue, and pulled out sticks and used them because they were where I thought the right one should be. Back and forth, chasing the sinking sun. Looking at it now, I think it is my favorite of the group. It smells of salt spray and sounds like gulls and surf.

January 2014, California beach at Rincon parkway.
It's good to be home. I am reflecting on what I learned from the above series and thinking about how I might create some new plein air situations for myself for more learning opportunities. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Here is the last plein air painting I made from Rincon Parkway, near Ventura, CA. 

As the sun set, the line between sea and sky blurred and color became the most important element. Staring into the sunset put my pupils down to pinpricks, then looking at my pastels and paper with those same eyes made everything impossibly dark. 

Yesterday I got to see Robert Burridge's show, "Soulmates" at the Buenaventura Gallery in Ventura. Click here for a photo of some of the pieces. It was like drooling over the dessert table at a buffet to see his vibrantly painted figure pieces in a row on the wall. And a tender juxtaposition to see the quiet nudes in their black and white simplicity. 

"The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see." Gilbert K. Chesterton

Monday, January 13, 2014


20 x 16, pastel on Rives BFK.

Friday, January 10, 2014

1:00 pm

20 x 16, pastel on BFK

Pleasure and wonder at what it means to stay in the same spot for many days, observing and painting the scene before me.

The fog enshrouds Santa Cruz Island and makes an exciting transition from sea to sky.

While at home, the temperatures are below 50 and the skies are gray and filled with rain, here in California it is mild and sunny. Every day starts with a walk on the beach ... barefooted. 

Life is good!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

9:00 am plein air at the edge of the ocean

My sketchbook is littered with drawings of this view of sand, sea, sky and the mysterious Santa Cruz Island. As the sun arcs across this scene, all of the elements shift importance.

I am in Southern California near Ventura, camped right on the beach. The surf marks a beat to my thoughts, actions, steps, and even my heart responds to the rhythm.

Finally, after hours of observation, I am ready to paint.

It's 9:00 am and this is how the pieces fit together.

20" x 16", pastel on Rives BFK.

Bill Evans, "California, Here I Come."