Sunday, August 28, 2016

Summer Workshop in the Sierra Buttes

I've been teaching up at the Sierra Nevada Field Campus in the Lakes Basin for the past  7 summers, and feel very fortunate to be able to do so. We sleep in a forest on the headwaters of the north fork of the Yuba river, and have easy access to the vast Sierra Valley, as well as numerous lakes, waterfalls, and meadows. Plenty to observe, paint, and ponder. Though we re-visit many of the same locations, each year is slightly different, due to weather, water levels, and every artist's temperament.

Here's a few of the demos I did during the week, with some notes and observations.

We painted in the Sierra Valley twice during the week. The location is about a 20 minute drive from the field campus, on the east side of Yuba pass.  It is a great location to study atmospheric color shifts, as well as a range of foreground and mid-ground elements... barns, trees, fences, etc. Here is a demo I did on the second trip down there. The owner of the property we were painting on had graciously given us permission to work in the relative shade among a cluster of trees, which made it more comfortable for everyone.

Not surprisingly, we study water. The north fork of the Yuba river runs right through the campus, in the form of a boulder choked creek, alternately tumbling and winding its way down the grade.

Setting up to paint at Love's Falls, a few miles downstream from camp. The river is much bigger here.

One evening we painted up on Packer Saddle, which is a ridge on the northwest shoulder of the Sierra Buttes. This is a spot where we hauled our telescopes to every night to observe when I was taking an astronomy class up here about 10 years ago. The Pacific Crest Trail also runs along this ridge. The trees  here are more exposed, which is reflected in the amount of snags and deadfall. The silvery trunks of those trees in shadow beautifully reflect the the range of color in the sky. The study below was  painted later in the evening, as the light was getting warmer.

Another spot we re-visited was a meadow at the top of Yuba Pass, enjoying the range of greens, wildflowers, small, crooked aspen, and the textures of grasses.

One source of fascination in the meadow was the color of the white Yarrow flowers in shadow and light, and how close in value the color of the flower in shadow was to the sunlit grasses, as shown below.

As always we close out the class by pinning up the week's work on the wall of the dining hall, and talk about it. In fact, we had several show and tells throughout the week, as participants are apt to learn as much from, and be inspired by each other's work, as they can from the instructor alone.

Thanks to all those who joined me this summer. You were a great group, and I hope to see you next year, when we can renew our investigations into light and color in the mountains.

And for those that are interested in an upcoming weekend workshop in Pt. Reyes, check out the workshops link on the right. I still have room for a few more students.


Unknown said...

Hi Bill, I've been following your work for a while now and have recently decided to shift my focus from animation to lighting.

Aside from yourself and a few photographers, I have struggled to find other artists who express light in such an atmospheric manner.

I was wondering if you had any artists/resources that you may advise as a good source of study or potential influence.


Bill Cone said...

HI Ryan, Thanks for the note. I think you can find a range of imagery by artists, living or long gone, that represent light in some compelling fashion. The internet is your ally in this regard. You might take a look at Pinterest, or just use google images to search for art by medium or subject... nocturne, landscape, etc. I know that sounds incredibly broad, but it may reveal the scope of whats out there, including artists you'd never heard of before.

I was inspired to go out and paint in part by looking at Sargent's watercolors as well as Clyde Aspevig's field studies. When I was doing lighting studies for some of the films I've worked on, I've referenced the work of Russell Chatham, Georgia O'keefe, Maynard Dixon, Mary Robertson, Edward Hopper, Ansel Adams, and Andrew Goldsworthy to name a few. If your working in film, its fine to look at other filmmakers, but really helpful to use photography and fine art as an inspirational resource, as it has a long and rich history to draw from, which it sounds like you're already doing. Once you get past the first tier of artists you learn about in Art History classes, you'll find there's a whole slew of great artists and work that can inspire and inform. I suggest working your way through movements and regions to see what catches your eye... California impressionism, the Russian impressionists, Hudson River School, etc. Interestingly, more than a few of the early and mid-century Southern California painters worked in the film business... Emil Kosa, Lee Blair, Millard Sheets come to mind. Don't neglect Sorolla!

Also one more thing, which you probably already know, but looking at black and white photography and film shows just how critical value is to atmospheric light and mood. Take a look at the recent polish film Ida. It is gorgeous and compelling.