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.


Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Very nice field work, Bill! You raise the bar for what all of us teachers should be doing for our demos. Thanks for sharing.

Erik van Elven said...

Thanks for sharing indeed, I always love your work.

Sonya Johnson said...

Wonderful work, as always, and fun to read about the workshop experience. I hope one of these days to take one of your workshops in the Sierras.

barbara islais creek said...

A wonderful week in the Sierra's with Bill and fellow artists. It was my first plein air experience - a steep learning curve for me. Takeaways - patience, perseverance and the option to toss the pastel over my shoulder when I was stuck and started to scribble. Favorite spot - upper Sardine Lake!

Carolyn Jean Thompson said...

Thanks again Bill! It was an amazing week painting with you. I learned so much and it was great to visit new, exciting (almost back-country) places to paint. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and humor with us! My new mantra is "I will paint more BOLD!" (but I still like painting flowers....)

Bill Cone said...

@Michael and Erik: Happy to share. Thanks for your comments.

@Sonya: Thanks. I may teach one in Colorado one of these years. Otherwise, come west!

@Barbara: Thanks very much for taking the workshop. It was a great group of people. Nature is the big lure to offset the challenges of working away from the studio.

@Carolyn: Hey, you can paint bold and subtle in the same image. Paint all the flowers you want. Just build the house before you put up the wallpaper! Thanks for putting up with me.

Julia Lundman said...

This sounds like a great trip! I've never been to this location - looks amazing!

All of your paintings are so beautiful. I especially love the camp site painting and of course your water painting with the gradient you mention - so gorgeous! I bet the ones you said you didn't like so much were still pretty good, too. :)

I really really really want to go on this trip next year!

Happy painting!

Ida M. Glazier said...

A wonderful , long post ! It was such a great week, lots of art, lots of great things to try to paint, and to see Bill's Demo's, and be out there actually with Bill Cone painting!!! Well, unbeliveable, really. All the people there were just great as well, also the BestBrella lady, Patty Kellner. I think we all had one! I really met some wonderful people who love art, and work very hard learning and getting better.

Anonymous said...

what a lovely log book,so tasty and gorgeous;thanks for sharing;it's so interesting,this workshop experience and amazing "la découverte" ! lola

Anne said...

You have to love the Sierras for providing interesting compositional choices! Looks like you had a great week. I don't know what I will find in Julian at the end of August, but I will look for the pattern and the atmosphere, thanks to your great teaching.

Cmichaudart said...

wonderful rocks and thanks for the explantions of how you solved some common problems.

Rona said...

This is so amazing. I hope I will be able to take one of your classes some day soon.

Jody Regan said...

Great job on the still water and rocks; wonderful setting and result. So much atmosphere in your work. Thanks.