Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day

Its been a sunny and dry holiday season in this neck of the woods, though there was ice on the deck this morning. I feel like I'm hibernating... sleeping in late, eating some wonderful meals, and enjoying time with family. It is good to be home for a few days with everyone around. I had a few hours free today before heading over to my folks for dinner, so went through our back gate onto the hill behind our house. I came across the rear hindquarters of a deer, primarily bones and a bit of fur near the hooves. Coyotes? A lone turkey lurked furtively among the small oaks, keeping me in view as I wandered about. There was quite a bit of haze in the air today and I was attracted to the blown out light pouring over the crest of the trees on the hill, the polka dot sky holes, with minimal detail forming a back drop for the foreground foliage patterns. Highlights on branches, some backlighting, and the range of color and value between light and shadow were the basic ingredients to work with. The sun, though quite close to the trees, just slid to the right instead of dropping down behind them as I worked, so the foreground shrub and sapling stayed in relatively the same light for about 90 minutes. For the past few months I've been painting in and around a redwood forest not far from where I live, and have been working in the shade. My hands and feet get pretty cold after an hour or so. It was nice to get out and work in direct sunlight on one of the shortest days of the year.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sierra Pack Trip

This year marks our 7th annual painting packtrip into the Sierra back country. We were a group of ten this year, nine painters and one photographer:
Terry Miura
Daniel Aldana
Paul Kratter
Sharon Calahan
Ernesto Nemesio
Timon Sloane
Michele deBraganca
Jim Wodark
Bob Watters
Terry, Timon, and Sharon have already posted reports about the trip, so check out everyone's sites to see their work and impressions. We reprised our destination from last year to Chickenfoot Lake at the southern end of the Little Lakes Valley, a glacially carved groove about 4 miles long, surrounded by high ridges and peaks on 3 sides. The trailhead starts at 10,000 ft. and climbs another 500 over 3 miles to our campsite. As we have done in the past, mules carry the bulk of our gear, and we have a cook in camp to prepare our meals, so the focus of our labors is on painting, hiking, sleeping, and... eating! Next year, its oatmeal for me at breakfast, is all I can say about that. The pack station is Rock Creek, and our excellent cook was Gene.

We hiked in on a Monday morning, and were at the campsite probably around 10:30 a.m. As the mules hadn't yet arrived, we took a hike up to Gem Lakes to sight-see. I found a new shortcut to the lakes from last year, and was able to explore the lower lakes carefully, running into a family camped on one of them. We talked for awhile, then I moved on. I met up with some of the group and we decided on the spur of the moment to hike over a high ridge to the Treasure Lakes basin, probably a mile or so aways. We traversed granite benches, and scrambled up a few areas before coming out on top of the ridge. We explored the three lakes for awhile, then hiked down the outlet, which was a lot of boulder hopping and squeezing between rock walls and willow shrubs... not a fun descent. On the way down we observed an avalanche chute that had a mass of trees piled up at the bottom. Trees still standing further up the slope only had their tops broken off, as they must have been partially buried/protected by the snow.

When we got back to camp, it was fairly late, but I had still had enough energy before dinner to wander around near camp and find an alignment of a foreground boulder and a snow glazed peak to explore.

The next morning, I hiked up to the lower Gem lakes via my shortcut, and painted near the family that was camping. They periodically would come by to assess my progress, and we would chat a bit. Other artists were within sight and earshot as well.
I did one view of the shoreline near my feet, enjoying the color range of wet and dry surfaces, as well as the added colors in the reflection of water from sky and trees.

After taking a break and eating lunch, I painted a view across the lake of part of the rocky shoreline that had a pink and pale green color, with oddly irregular sediment 'ribbons' passing through it. This may be one of those things that end up perplexing a viewer too much. It was perplexing enough to paint, but there you have it.

Wednesday already! I slept in a bit, then hung around camp, rinsed off in the frigid waters of Chickenfoot, and took a solar shower afterwords. Then I painted this view of a rocky inlet from a spot very close to my tent. I took my time, concentrating on edges, and even used one of my umbrella extensions as a maul stick, as suggested by Pat Kellner, of Best Brella. I hiked up towards Gem in the late afternoon, and tried painting a ridge to the west that resembled a pipe organ, but it didn't separate very well from the foreground. Ah well.

Thursday. Here's a typical morning study, looking a fg and bg temperature and value relationships that are specific to that time of day. Also thinking about the spill of color around fg edges that seem to occur in certain situations. The boulder is a bit silly, being practically a cube, but I went with it.

Back to Gem Lakes for another slice of shoreline that caught my eye. On this trip I tried using another color of Canson called 'moonstone'. Lorenzo Chavez makes use of it, and I wanted to give it a shot on a high keyed image like this.

I hiked over to the upper lake, where this wall was slowly going into shadow in the late afternoon, giving me an interesting foreground in a separate value range than the delicate snow patterns on the peak behind it. This was the ridge we climbed over to get to the Treasure Lakes basin on the first day of our trip.

Friday. Clouds were coming over the southern peaks early in the day. I was hiking towards Gem again, and took a slight detour towards Morgan Pass, to examine a small drainage off the trail. It ran through one of those steep meadows that John Muir has described so well, the meadow and the water both disappearing into the talus below Mt. Morgan. I explored it for awhile, and then started climbing back towards the trail, where I came upon a set of Bristlecone Pines with the peaks behind it periodically going in and out shadow. Plenty to work on, so I settled in. After about an hour or so, the clouds had built up pretty solidly, and I heard the first rumble of thunder. As I was about a mile from camp, and had neglected to bring my rain jacket, I decided to get out of there. Hiking down the trail, groups of backpackers were pulled off to the side, gearing up, and covering their packs in garbage bags. Rain began to fall in big drops, but never really poured. By the time I got near camp, the sun was out... but only briefly. Gene, our intrepid cook was putting up a big tarp to give us a dry dining area. I stashed my gear in my tent and went to help him. As we worked it got cloudy, then hail came pouring down for a few minutes, followed by sun again. Classic high mountain weather. Most of us appeared in camp in the next half hour or so, except Ernesto, who had hiked up to Treasure Lakes to paint all day. Out came the wine and the chess board, and we took it easy for a few hours, watching the clouds pass over.

It remained sunny long enough at times that 3 of us were suckered into setting up our gear. Within minutes rain began to fall.
We put up our umbrellas, and I retreated under the tarp for further protection, though I was still getting raindrops on my work.

Saturday. Painted right near the trailhead parking lot after hiking out. This is Rock Creek tumbling downhill, with a willow shrub perched in the stream, holding on. It was another great trip, with good folks, tasty food, and beautiful scenery.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sierra Buttes Workshop Report

I just finished teaching a 5 day workshop in the Sierra Buttes at the Sierra Nevada Field Campus. Great location, and a wonderful group of folks to work with, roughly a quarter of them from last summer's workshop. Most of us got together on Sunday evening for some wine and cheese before dinner in the dining hall, then headed out to a nearby lake to paint at sunset. Class officially began the next morning after breakfast. I did my first demo in camp, then followed up with a lecture on aspects of natural light that I consider important, and we were off.

I should qualify what I consider to be a demo. I'm not very capable of standing in front of an easel delivering a stream of conscious monologue on my process, while simultaneously executing an image worth looking at. Most of the sounds I generally make when I work are grunts of dismay and muttered curses. Occasionally a useful comment of some sort may emerge from my mouth, but I freely admit that I'm not a textbook of rational processes when I'm going at it. I can be struggling just as much as anyone else! So it is best for me just to paint away, while anyone is welcome to watch, asking the occasional question, as well as do their own work, based on my compositional choices, or one of their own choosing. One group fairly consistently set up near me while I painted, while others found their own spots to work. In this way, I had a reasonable opportunity to paint something at a location, and still have time to make the rounds of everyone to offer advice on their work.

This was a lively, hardworking group, which really makes teaching rewarding and fun. At one student's suggestion we began holding evening crits on the deck of the dining hall of the day's efforts. Some of the teachers and students of the other two classes (spiders, and watershed analysis) would hang around for these. Jerry Davis, the watershed instructor, started describing the water images in analytical terms which was both instructive and entertaining. Anyone who thinks science and art are mutually exclusive hasn't been to a field campus. Jerry also was the one who suggested we check out Love's Falls, which turned out to be one of the best painting locations of the week.

As the headwaters of the north fork of the Yuba River run right through the camp, I gave a lecture and demo on water the first afternoon. Water turned out to be a consistent subject matter all week.

I had the pleasure of meeting Andie Thrams, an artist whose work beguiles me. A writer, sketcher, painter, maker of books, and teacher, she agreed to give a presentation of her work after dinner one night. Afterwards we sat outside and painted in the dusk. Not quite a nocturne.... duskturne?

This was from a meadow down the road from the camp that looked west towards the Buttes. As it was morning, the view was pretty flat in lighting terms, and also lacked the atmosphere that I was figuring on, as we were painting with the sun behind us.There was a visible shift of contrast and value between foreground and background, but it was pretty mild. Still some fun textures, edges, and colors to play with.

From the meadow, we drove to Love's Falls just a few miles away. There was a short walk down a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, from which the sound of the falls began to make itself evident. There was a bridge spanning the river right over the falls, which really are a series of steps continuing above and below the bridge, though the largest drop in view was directly below the bridge.
This was a view looking downstream. Though it is the kind of subject I go looking for, this one is full of issues that need to be resolved in terms of focal point, local contrast and some shape editing. That strange ufo-like boulder in the lower right, for example... Like a lot of my work outside, it can benefit from some studio contemplation and touch up. But here it is in the 'raw', so to speak.

Much later in the day, after a lot of climbing and descending to get around to everyone, I was able to try another piece. The falls are visible beyond the trees, as is some cursory indication of the arched bridge above them. It was a challenge to see the colors in so much white water. The foreground shadowed rocks were a helpful comparative context in that regard.

We spent one morning painting towards the sun in the Sierra Valley (there's your blue atmosphere..), followed by a composition lecture in camp, then headed out to paint and swim at Salmon Lake in the afternoon. I was pretty run down after the waterfall outing the day before. Did I like any of my work that day? Nope!

On this day, the plan was to try Lower Sardine Lake in the morning, and then go back to the falls. However, once at the parking lot of the lake, we collectively decided to hike to the upper lake. It turned out to be a good choice as the water was amazingly still and clear, so both reflection and depth were visible in almost a textbook example in the absence of wind and waves. Half the class stayed there all day.

My first choice, going after the color gradient provided by changing water depth. This image was entirely reflecting sky, so my shadows in the water were blue in character. The foreground boulders took more time than I figured on, and I had to edit them to improve the composition, though it is still not a great strength in this image. It is simply less static than it would have been had I not done anything.

Much later in the afternoon after making the rounds, and a very refreshing swim. This is another 'raw' image that needs some work to bring it in better balance with background color harmony and contrast.... primarily toning down some hues and values to give them a better sense of atmospheric depth. The wind had kicked up quite a bit by then.

Our final show and tell/ crit on Friday. Everyone pinned up what they wanted to for the week, and talked about it. It is really fun to see the world through different eyes, what people choose, how they solve problems (or don't, me included!) Art is a lifelong evolution, and progress is gained through work, as well as the trial and error along the way.

That afternoon, a small group of us headed back to the waterfall to paint. This was fairly late in the day, when the entire scene was in shadow. What was bedeviling was the foreground rocks on the right as they seemed to be the same value and temperature of the adjacent water. My solution was to render more current and reflections on the left, as well as make sure the dark on the edge of the rock was sharp.

Thanks so much to the staff at the camp, and all the wonderful people who signed up for the workshop. It was a really rewarding week in so many ways.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Idyllwild Workshop

A few weeks ago, I taught a 3 day workshop, hosted by the Idyllwild Arts Academy, which is in the mountains west of Palm Springs. I had a great group of folks to work with, and we had decent weather as well. We met up Friday morning in a meadow on the campus, where I promptly stepped on a red anthill while talking to one of the participants. I can say from experience now that red ants are the "gift that keeps on giving."

My first demo piece from the meadow, mainly trying to get a sense of looking towards the sun, with a hint of atmosphere, backlighting color saturation, and some minor indication of detail in the shadows.

In order to get a bit more atmospheric depth and color we met up at another meadow in town the next morning that afforded a view of Lily Rock, a prominent local icon.

Tom and Rich in the meadow on Sunday morning. That's Julia, lurking under the umbrella on the right.

Phyllis and Jacquie find views in opposing directions.

Leanne and Jerry.

A quick study of backlit trees and some textured foliage. I would move pretty quickly on these, then pull the plug and start doing walkarounds.

Rose and Judy.

There were boulders all over the campus, completely surrounding the studio we were in, so I did a demo of one that caught my eye. This piece I managed to spend a bit more time on.

We also painted one afternoon at Lake Fulmore to get a chance to observe water, but I did no demo that day, just walk arounds.
We finished up on Sunday afternoon with a group show and tell/critique, then went our separate ways.
It was a busy 3 days, but a lot of fun and hard work. My thanks to everyone who took the class.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Explorations and Demos in the Forest

I've been teaching some classes the last few weeks at work. The last one was a 5 day workshop for lighting td's where we painted outside at different locations around the East Bay. Great fun and an energetic group. When the weather got warm enough during the week, we painted several times down in Canyon, a small, almost invisible, community in a small redwood and bay laurel forest on Pinehurst Rd.

In most locations I would scout a bit, maybe discuss possible views, then set up and paint until someone asked for help, or my 'guilt-meter' kicked in, and I would start doing walk arounds. In some classes I have taught, a group of students have watched me paint, but in this one, they were all more interested in tackling the painting issues themselves. Either way is good, but I do like to try and solve something for myself, as well as whomever is interested. A few times I was inspired by the views others had picked and tried to hammer something out to get a sense of how to express it.

It is more evident that light is in motion in the forest than in a wide open, brightly lit environment, as the sun is coming into a shadowed realm in shafts and dapples that glide across the ground, rocks, tree trunks, and foliage, with no guarantee that another spot of light will conveniently take its place.

This was painted at the turnout to the Post Office in Canyon.
I liked the juxtaposition of the solid redwood trunk on the left with the explosive, dancing light on the sapling branches and foliage to the right. The background is composed of a shaded, fern covered hillside, and then a moss covered concrete retaining wall below, bordering a road and creek.

This is a more incoherent, rapid expression of a backlit mass of foliage against a steep, shadowed slope of ferns. Amazing light
and color, crazy to paint, but it was fun to try. I don't expect these kinds of efforts to make much sense after the fact, I just want to explore what is going on. The light was really moving.

A clump of redwoods with a lot of backlit spots and regions to explore. This part of the forest was carpeted in dried foliage from the tree. Still exploring how the edges of bright light behave against a shadowed space. Is it a bounce effect? Diffusion? Is it a rich, reduction of color of the key light?
Something's going on! Research continues....

We were painting on the banks of a very shallow creek, and I had been advising a student to paint a few of the rocks in the bottom of the creek that were easily seen in the reflections of the tree trunks, as that would make the water appear transparent. She joked that she would "..rather wash dishes than paint the rocks in the bottom of the creek!" This comment, along with another student's question about deciphering complexity in such a spot, prompted me to paint a quick study of the creek, and call folks over to watch. I was fired up, and was able to babble about laying down a middle value for a shadow, putting a few lights on top, then punching in the dark values for a depiction of the stream bank. The shaft of light hitting the water had slid off to the right in a matter of minutes, but I put it back where I first saw it, referencing the value and color by looking at where it currently was. The pebbles on the bottom of the creek were more of an afterthought after laying in the reflection shapes and colors. This was a quickie, but I was motivated to paint, and it made a huge difference. The level of energy one has at any given time really has an impact on the work. The right comments from students can really get you going!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

2 From Pt. Reyes

2 weekends ago, I made a trip out to Pt. Reyes with Ernesto Nemesio and Sharon Calahan. The wind was a major factor the entire day. We hiked out to the lighthouse, as well as Chimney Rock, where we all went off trail to get out of the wind a bit, and paint a cliff. Next we drove to Drake's Beach and the wind came right with us, so we ended up huddled near a cliff, painting some rather suspect looking water at the back end of the beach. We drove around quite a bit studying other locales, finally ending up in Bear Valley by the visitor's center as the light was turning golden. Thankfully there was less wind in the valley, and I worked on a simple composition of silhouettes and grasses in the warm light. It was a good day.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Wildflowers, creeks, & the usual suspects

I've been able to take advantage of some of the better weather, as it has been landing on the weekends. 2 weeks ago I went up to Table Mountain to paint with Ernesto Nemesio and Sharon Calahan. It is an eroding mesa of lava above the town of Oroville. There were a lot of wildflowers strewn across the gently sloping plateau. Poppies seemed to prefer the southern slopes and hovered near rocks. Lupine stuck to the northern slopes, and a yellow flower that was quite small but made huge swaths of color, surrounded lava outcroppings and ran like rivers across some areas. We painted from mid morning until sundown.
Here's 3 pieces:

Mid-morning, looking south. I wandered around a long time before picking this. Its one thing to go look at wildflowers, another to figure how to compose an image with them. By looking up a small slope I could get an oblique angle to the ground to condense the colors more. Most of my wandering about was trying to find other elements that would line up with a good view of the flowers. I found some tree shapes I liked that added depth and scale, and the foreground rocky patch held some interest.

Late afternoon poppies nestling near a small bluff. I painted a couple of rocky views like this.

End of the day. More rivers of color, everything getting hit by warm light.

It was a long day, and a 3 hour drive back to the bay area, but worth it. Nice to be out painting again.

This last weekend Ernesto and I drove down to Pinnacles to try our luck with the wildflowers again. Different terrain and we mainly observed clumps of poppies in a rocky floodplain on the east side. Near the end of the day we drove up to one of the trailheads, and hiked up about a mile or so and painted a few quick views before sunset.

Chalone Creek runs across a rocky plain with clumps of poppies scattered about. I spent a long time on this, and really struggled to get the main masses corrected and refined enough to make sense, and it is still not as 'relaxed' as I would wish. I think the water is too broken up, for one thing. It was much more of a drawing and composition problem than I figured on. Needs work!

After taking a break in the shade, I tried painting what looked like a clump of rosemary growing in the middle of the extremely shallow creek. I was attracted to some of the twig arcs, the trapped shadows, the colors of the water reflecting the sky, and the rich ochre of the creek bottom. Perhaps not enough to hang a painting on, but sometimes I'll just see if I can make sense of the 'triggers' that compel me.

At the end of the day, after hiking up the trail a ways, and realizing we were losing all our light, we finally had to pick something and get to work. These last two were quickies, which was a relief after banging on the creek painting for several hours.

All the foreground light was gone, but the next range of hills remained in light for awhile. This was about a half hour's work or less. Fun to paint with no expectations after 'warming up' all day.

Lastly, here's a few 'usual suspects' painted on the route to work, a eucalyptus trunk in front of a thicket of foliage that had some interesting color on the far side of a shadowed space, and a view of the steep slopes on the east side of the Caldecott tunnel at the end of the day.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Warming Up

The days are getting longer, and we've had some warm and dry stretches in the past few weeks. I'm finally coming out of my hibernating shell to work again outdoors. Here's a few recent studies done on a weekend, or on the way to work in the morning.
These types of subjects are a familiar set of patterns and problems to resolve, but can be as humbling as a first bike ride after laying off for many months, when one is a bit slow and rusty.

It's a challenge to try and break these kinds of views down, as I don't know how to simplify enough yet, and get beguiled into painting the details... that clover and weed combo, that oak leaf and branch thang, ooh, the dappled light, etc...
Consequently, its somewhat overworked, and/or too busy, but I got enough things right to give me ideas about how to tackle this type of subject more effectively next time...

"Broccoli" in the a.m. The hills in shadow at this time of the year can be a minty green, as the sky color mixes with the grass. There is more than a hint of lavender in some of the shrubs, and the eucalyptus always feel 'red' to me in comparison.

Painted from a bank parking lot in downtown Orinda that has a very nice view of the east side of the Berkeley hills. Great views can be found in unexpected places.

Workshop Update:

In other news, both my summer workshops are filled, and there is a waiting list, so my thanks to everyone who signed up! I'm looking forward to teaching them.


Art Auction for Japan

In response to the earthquake and tsunami that has devastated parts of Japan, a Pixar colleague and friend, Dice Tsutsumi, has already helped put together an art auction, and is setting up a second one at the end of April that Pixar artists can contribute to. Please read his blog for more details, as well as the opportunity to contribute to some worthy non-profit charities to help.