Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sonoma Plein Air

I spent last week painting up in Sonoma County for the Sonoma Plein Air event, which I have been fortunate to attend for the past 8 years. It is a wonderful event for the artists, and hopefully for the residents and patrons who so generously put up the artists in their homes and guesthouses, while we roam about the valley and paint. The weather was less than ideal for the 5 days we were allotted to paint, with rain, drizzle, wind, overcast skies, being predominant. Thursday was the lone exception to that. You should also take a look at the blogs of Terry Miura and Robin Purcell for their perspectives on the week. You might also check out the work of Paul Kratter on his website and you'll be able to see some of his work for the week. Here's a few of the pieces I did with some notes.


The sun often rose into a diffuse cloud cover, which softened and attenuated the light considerably in brightness. I abandoned another painting to start this one, when I realized I wasn't going to get the lighting I was expecting.



Scenes of this sort are common to the lower end of the valley, as the land is sectioned into vineyards and small dairies, bordered by roads and windbreaks of Eucalyptus trees. The weather during this week was rather dynamic, so whatever lighting situation one might begin a piece with was unlikely to be there midway through it. A lot of my work was done in the rain, or a combination of direct light and overcast, which lent my work a patchy quality, as well as a rather grey nature, as is represented in this image. The most interesting thing about this piece for me was the visit of a very large king snake, which came slithering towards me, flicking it's tongue, and eventually disappearing under the mat of dead grass a yard from my feet into a hole, perhaps in search of a meal.




This was painted up at Sugarloaf State Park, a few miles north of Glen Ellen. I have visited it the last few years when I come up to paint, as it is often sunny when the valley a thousand feet below is shrouded in morning fog. Adobe Creek runs through the park, carving a small channel, and exposing a range of boulders and smaller rocks. There are other types of views as well, but I have a fondness for boulders, water, and foliage patterns, which this view had in abundance.



I had spied a small waterfall when driving up to the park, and went back in the afternoon to paint it.



Also painted at Sugarloaf Park, trying to leverage my success of the previous day. Instead, the light was gray, and I went looking for qualities that compelled me to paint. This is a fragment of a landscape... really only a few square feet in area, but I liked the contrast in the shadows below the beautiful hues of the mossy root, the gradient of greens on the grass, as it curved upwards from the gully to face the sky, as well as the tones on the rock. Even the dead oak leaves started to interest me with the way they broadcast their orientation to the sky through a compressed range of value and temperature shifts. In such a small portion of nature, all sorts of subtle (and not so subtle) cues were operating about light and form, the only exception being atmosphere. But why would it be any other way? The 'rules' apply regardless of scale... there's the lesson!

27 comments:

Francisco J. Hernández said...

superb ! .. I am also feel attracted by similar small corners of rock and vegetation.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

All still beautiful pieces, even despite the rain and grey. Well done!

Bill Cone said...

Francisco- Thanks! I'm still working on composing the small stuff. I may try some more vertical compositions next.

Michael- I didn't put up the 'greyer' ones! Thanks for the comment.

Kendra Melton said...

Simply gorgeous! I would have been so scared of that snake, yikes.

Bill Cone said...

Thanks Kendra! I was at first apprehensive, as I don't know my snakes. All I did was look for rattles, and when I didn't see any, I just got very curious. The snake was totally focussed on its own 'mission'.... didn't even seem to be aware of me a few feet away.

robin.purcell said...

The Hill one is my favorite.....rattlesnakes have a very triangular head to fit in the venom, so any snake with a narrow head is Ok.....I am probably wrong, but that's when what I go by.....

Timon Sloane said...

Interesting how in succession the pieces seem to get more and more intimate (moving from vistas to intimate portraits). Beautiful work.

Alina Chau said...

Stunning!!

Cadmium said...

Bill, I bought a set of prismacolor soft pastels 12 after seeing your work. I love pastels but how do you compensate for the lack of value and blending that you get with watercolor or oils? I found myself frustrated with not being able to mix colors I can get so so easily with my gouache paint.

Bill Cone said...

Happy Memorial Day, everyone.

Robin: Thanks for the snake tips. Some other cues to look for besides rattles.

Timon: I have learned this last year to appreciate some of the smaller 'vistas' at close range.Thanks for your comment.

Alina: Thanks.

Cadmium: Dark values are a struggle (at least for me) in this medium, though there are those that seem to push things darker than I do rather effortlessly. I think the abrasive surfaces that one can get on some papers and boards probably help this. I'm still using Canson Paper, which has a limit to the amount of pigment one can pile on. So you might try other surfaces to see if that works better for you.
As far as mixing color, you have to learn to think a bit differently with this medium regarding strategies of color. The potential 'advantage' of pastels is that color are pre-mixed! That's why you have all those little sticks in your box.... warm and cool, dark and light, saturated, muted, etc. Granted, if you have only a small set, you will immediately notice that you're missing certain colors. You either have to substitute the color you see with the closest one in your box, go buy more colors, or try and mix
the color you want. The common pitfalls of mixing colors is that one smears away to get the proper 'blend' and consequently loses all control over edges. This is especially problematic if one is trying to mix colors for two adjacent forms, leading to a very mushy looking result. Believe me, I've encountered all these issues in my own work, and see it time and again with the student's I've had.

Learning to substitute the color you wish you had with something that will do the job is actually part of the fun and challenge of the medium. You can also use 'broken' color as a way of nudging color in the right direction. By that I mean you can make solid marks of different hues in the same area, and your eye will blend them at a certain distance. Learning to think in terms of comparative color, as well as values and temperatures will help make your job easier. Imagine that the colors in your box can play a specific role in any given image, and your job is to assign them correctly...
The boulder in shadow, the grass in light, reflected warm light in the shadow, etc.
Comparative thinking is simply looking at any shape in your image and comparing it to the shapes around it, as to which one is brighter, darker, warmer, or cooler.
It gets you out of thinking color mixing formulas that are derived from paint, and looking for the relative differences between elements of your image, and what you have at hand to express those qualities.
I guess this is beer drinking talk... geez. Short answer: Buy a few more colors that you 'know' you don't have, and get out there and do some new pieces, and don't go overboard trying to exactly mix a specific color that you see. Learn to substitute something you have instead.

You give up a certain amount of 'exact' control in this medium for the speed of having colors pre-mixed, the paradox being that you rarely have the exact color that you're looking at in nature. I've learned that it is the correct relationships of values and temperatures that is more important than the exact reproduction of any given hue.

Also, Terry Ludwig makes a box of dark values you might find useful, as does Schmincke, and perhaps other manufacturers as well.

Alexander said...

really nice color ...is normal in you......Xd.
You have a really beautifull pieces in your blog.

Good work. !!

Cadmium said...

Thank you so much, it really helped a lot. Time to pull the canson back out.

abhishek singh said...

some of it is so subtle, how do you transform this on paper,
it's more than magic to me :)
in awe:)

Bill Cone said...

Abishek: There is no magic involved. Learning to see color instead of objects is probably the most challenging aspect of painting. That, and putting in the hours, will yield results! It is work, but work one hopefully enjoys.

kanishk said...

The Hill one is my favorite....

Steve sculpts critters said...

Beautiful, lovely stuff!
And you're someone else who can't help putting pictures of snakes on location in your art blog too!

Bill Cone said...

Steve- Snakes get my attention.

Steve sculpts critters said...

Me too.
I LOVE 'em!

Bill Cone said...

Steve- I don't know if I love 'em, but when they're slithering towards me, I take note of it. Frankly, the snake didn't really seem to consider me... I just happened to be near its' meal is the way I look at it.

RT said...

Your palette sure captured the weather you describe! The top painting of the hills is a masterpiece!

Aaron said...

Ridiculously beautiful work. So inspiring! thanks for the bit of information about the medium. Great work.

Gracia said...

Incredible work in here!! nature looks beautiful in your pastel paintings!! awesome!! :)

Annes Stevens said...

I just wanted to say thanks so much for giving such a thorough response to Cadmium's question, it was really interesting to read.

Coincidentally you described a discovery I made when I was out pasteling at the weekend. It suddenly dawned on me that I shouldn't be trying to replicated the exact hue that was in front of me, but rather try to interpret the overall feeling of the light and colour. Once I'd realised it, it seemed so obvious!

But it really helped reading what you had to say as you verbalised it much more coherently than I was able to in my head, so thanks very much!

loriann said...

Beautiful work. It's interesting to see the difference in handling between the grand and intimate scenes.

michaelamos said...

Looks like a beautiful spot and a great event. Really enjoyed your waterfall piece. The colors and textures within the rocks look great.

Anonymous said...

Hello....My name is Ann Malmlund and I just found out that my name has come up on the wait list for your class in July. I am not a pastel artist but have painted for a long time and wonder if you would be open to a novice pastel painter in your class. I have used oil pastels for some time. I very much admire your work and would like to learn from you. I have a slight handicap with a bum hip and so am able to walk/hike up to one mile with rests but that is all. Would that hold your group up ? I hope you can get back to me soon as I have only 3 days to accept the class before the next person in lane is offered the spot. . I can be reached at amalmlund@ca.rr.com. I am retired from the LA branch of the company you work for. Thank you for your help with this. I look forward to hearing from you.

s e b a s said...

Genial!!!!! :)