I had a great time painting this last week up in Sonoma County for Sonoma Plein Air. I am fortunate to be able to participate in this event, and have done so for 9 out of the 10 years it has been in existence. I have met many artists who have not only become friends, but provide a great stimulus and camaraderie throughout the week over impromptu group dinners, discussions about our work and ideas about painting. Being able to see the scope of their weeks efforts on the day of the show is humbling and inspiring. I learn plenty simply by observing what others have chosen to paint, how they handled it, and for the repeat participants, witness their continued growth from year to year. We all evolve in some way. I have to also mention the generous hosts and patrons of the community who support this event through volunteer work, providing housing for the artists, and buying the art. It really is a well run event in a beautiful part of the world, all to provide funding for art education in the public schools of the county. Bravo to the organizers and patrons for making this work so well, year after year.
So that is one way I come out of this week: grateful to be a part of something that has given me so much back for the effort I put into it. From the 'effort' side of the coin: Getting up before sunrise on many days, driving around looking for places to paint, trying to stay out of the sweltering heat of Monday and Tuesday, dealing with a foggy morning on another, spending one whole day painting on the coast, and coming away with three 'dogs' to show for it, worrying about having enough pieces for the show, etc. I find it to be a real challenge to be consistent in the quality of my work, and this week was no exception. Here's a few pieces that made the cut with notes:
Painted on Monday afternoon up in Sugarloaf State Park. I've painted up here before in previous years, often to get out of the morning fog that filled the valley. On this occasion, I headed up there to sit in the shade of the creek that runs through the park to stay cool, as the temperature was around 100°. I did two paintings in the park, this one, and a failed experiment to paint a view between the trunks of a tree revealing a stomach shaped image of foliage in light and shadow. The creek was familiar territory. While the dappled light was moving across the creek bottom, the reflection stayed put, so I had some visual structure that wasn't going to run away from me. I've learned that the smaller the spot of sun light hitting any object, anywhere, the quicker it is likely to move somewhere else. Its primarily a matter of scale that this 'illusion' exists. For example, if one were painting a shadow cast on the grass of a football stadium from the grandstand, the volume of light area is quite large, and it might take a shadow an hour or more to cover up the region of light. A sun dapple on the other hand may be only a few inches across, and is in constant jeopardy of being obliterated in a matter of minutes due to the rotation of the earth.
I had exited the park, and was driving out Adobe Canyon Road, when I saw this curve going into the late afternoon sun. I stopped the car and studied it, back-tracked to a parking spot, then hiked back along the road. It was visual stimulus that I couldn't pass up. I had a couple of such accidental encounters during the week, and made me realize that a lot of my planned efforts did not yield results as fresh as the unexpected ones. The light and shadow masses combined with the gradating color hues were the structure of the image. It wasn't about painting individual leaves at all. On the advice of my artist friend, Paul Kratter I chose this piece for the Friday night auction, where it sold and also picked up an honorable mention award for Artist's Choice.
Another chance encounter that made me stop and paint was this view between two buildings near the plaza in the center of town. I got up before sunrise to paint the dawn light on the hills with the plaza in shadow. While I got some decent color going, my buildings needed a lot of work to be presentable. I'd have to come back another day to finish it. Meanwhile, I was wandering down the block and saw the early morning sun illuminating this little alley space behind a wrought iron gate.
My hosts for the week had a koi pond right outside the cottage I was staying in. I had walked past the pond on the way to my car numerous times and kept imagining I would paint it, but was always headed somewhere else. We had fog on one morning, which kept us from running out to paint, so stayed in, prepping work for framing... trimming, signing, photographing... another part of the process of doing a show like this. Meanwhile the pond was beckoning right outside the window.... paint me! I painted the first one as a gift for my wonderful hosts. After it was done I realized someone might actually buy it, so the next morning I tried another one, which happened to be sunny.
The afternoon light this time of year has a specific warm softness. By soft I mean not as bright. The sun is lower in the sky, so attenuated by more atmosphere which also changes its color. Combine that with the brown hills of fall and there's a specific palette one could see every afternoon, rolling towards the western horizon. The rows of eucalpytus windbreaks along many roads allow these sorts of gap views to work with.
Painted later the same day, doing some half hearted scouting on the way back to the cottage. I ran into another painter at a location I had painted at in past years. We chatted a bit, and I hopped out and plowed into a quick view of the sun blasting through an oak across a field. This fleeting golden light to the right of the oak I consider the province of the artist Christin Coy, who has painted many wonderful views in such light.
One of the many eucalyptus trees planted in windbreaks alongside roads throughout the area. Each one unique in its gesture, colorful bark striations, and unkempt manner. Paul Kratter is quite a master of painting trees, and advises designing and pruning if necessary to get them to look presentable in a painting. I think he's right! This painting came together fairly quickly, and I credit Paul's wisdom as part of its success, as I left out several prominent branches and bark debris in favor of a more unified form defined by light and shadow. One could do a whole series of these. Hmmmm... Something to consider for next year.