Yesterday I went out for a bit of a hike, through one of my favorite trails, the Chumash Trail. Last year we had massive fires, and what I saw was the remnants of that fire. Burnt mountainsides, devoid of brush and the usual cover (like poison oak!). Bare and burnt oak trees, rocks. So many things were revealed by the fire as plants were burnt away.
Sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it? Here in California, much of our landscape and plants are fire-dependent, meaning that fire is a normal part of the season. With the drought and firefighting measures – like not letting entire neighborhoods burn down – brush becomes overgrown. With a drought, you have kindling.
Now, with everything burnt away, new growth is beginning to emerge. Flowers, weeds, leaves on the oak trees. I was able to hike into an area that I normally avoid – too much poison oak and a lot of rattle snakes. It is along a creek into a narrowing canyon. And, sitting on a rock, listening to birds and the sound of water, I looked around. That is when I found the first-ever Miner’s Lettuce I have seen in this area. I took a picture, and this is what I painted.
A perfect spring morning!
Still working on my buildings! And in the process I realized I am dreadful when it comes to both depth of field and perspective. If you look at the roof of the building centered in the sketch, the line for it is much, much steeper than the building adjacent to it. The same with its door. It was that steep angle of perspective I was trying to follow – and failed. I have a few books on perspective – time to dig them out and study them quite seriously. I don’t think it will be that difficult, but I need to learn a few tricks. On the other hand, I am rather pleased with the sense of shadow and sunshine . . . there is still hope!
Or, maybe, The First Day of Spring?
I have been breaking out of my safety zone and moving on to using more expensive paper and larger sized sheets for painting. Also, another is to use a somewhat limited palette, working to create colors by mixing in different strengths and blends. Ultramarine and cobalt blues, burnt sienna and burnt umber, a dash of sap green. Other colors include a mix of cadmium yellow and red, and some of Daniel Smith’s Primatek Sodalite (a black) for the road.
As always, there seems to be a lack of depth in my painting, despite my efforts . . . or maybe the road is not properly proportioned for its curve?
There is nothing like knowing Spring is nearly here, and see hints of emerging from the snow.
This is by far the painting which took the most time to produce. There was – gasp! – actual forethought and planning done. Can you believe it? Does that mean I’m progressing or something?!?
Anyway, what I did was consider what I wanted to see. I also thought about some things I have observed other watercolorists do, namely underpainting. I also have been reading and seeing many painters lay out light colors, in a general way, move into medium washes with perhaps more detail, darker areas, and finally the details. This is what I did, but, before painting, I put down a lot of frisket in the shape of dots. Then, the first pale layer of wash. Between the third and fourth photos, I did more frisket. Dots again, but I also used a toothbrush for splatter, and drew lines over the green washes, to retain colors. Then the fourth layer. At that point I stopped for the night.
This morning, I rather knew what I wanted to do. I laid down a pale wash over the grassy areas of quinacridone gold and sap green. It was necessary to pull the grasses together. Finally, I removed the frisket and did a bunch of details complete the painting. Total time – about 5 hours! All of it was fun, and not a lot of frustration. I think because I took time, and because I am less “serious” about my stuff (knowing it won’t be what I envision) really helps.
Below, a gallery of the steps I took in the painting, if you are interested in the process.
Hummingbird sage – salvia spathacea – is a member of the salvia famnily, and is found throughout the woodland environment of California. It’s smallish – about a foot tall – and has dark green leaves and the most complex little flowers with the strangest shapes. Spring is always around the corner when they appear, In a drought-ridden environment, such as ours, salvia plants add a lot to your garden. This particular sage may or may not appeal to the gardener on a practical level – propagation is not only by seeds, but underground rhizomes, which could become a bit overwhelming.
With clear blue skies and temperatures in the 70s, spring has arrived! I packed up a watercolor book, pens, a couple of cameras, and myself – off to the local botanical garden to finally get a look after weeks of rains and closure. I was not disappointed. Flowers in bloom, hordes of butterflies as I haven’t seen in years (lots of flowers = lots of butterflies), people. The air was fragrant from the new growth everywhere, but in particular was a clump of daffodils beneath an old olive tree.
I sat down on a rock, and did this sketch, saving the colors until I got home. I also took a lot of pictures – digital and film – for reference. People stopped by and made conversation, a dog or two came to sniff. Nature, while beautiful, is also capable of irritation – the baby flies were a bit annoying and I wonder if I should put on some DEET to keep them away.
For months I have been thinking about drawing in the garden. It changes daily, and with the seasons. This is the first drawing of this project, which will be ongoing. I’ll be adding it to the page My Other Lives page above. (For now – WordPress seems to be having issues adding pages!)
Happy Spring everyone!
Another landscape, another limited palette. For this painting I used ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, burnt umber, sap and cobalt greens, a splash of raw sienna. 9×12 Fabirano Artistico.
I wanted to see if I could convey a good sense of depth, moving from the foreground with warmer colors to the distance with more neutral and greyish colors. Contrast, too, was considered for eye appeal, leading lines, depth.
If you look at the grasses in the foreground, you can see grass blades. I used a very dry flat brush to accomplish this, sometimes using a lighter green and brushing upward, or darker green to brush into the lighter green. Negative painting!
Negative painting is easy in concept – paint dark paint around a lighter object – but hard (for me at least) to put into practice. You can see what I mean above – the light trunks are depicted by darker colors painted on either side of them.
The one above is the simplest, and nicest. In the upper flowers, I found myself shaping the orange of the Peruvian Lily into the yellow above it to create the shape of the flower. The same with the darker colors against lighter ones.
Below, a gallery of what I did the other morning – most are rubbish, but the concept is what I was working on, not producing a beautiful painting for all to enjoy!
Painting requires practice, as does anything you wish to master. It can be rewarding and frustrating as hell. The key is to be aware that progress is made with each step, even if you don’t see it or feel it. It oozes into your brain and muscle memory.
Ooze, ooze, ooze.
We have had a lot of rain this year in California, and throughout both ends of the state. North and south. As a result, the hills are a brilliant lime green, and when the sun hits just right, it’s hard to believe our once beige state has blossomed into such beauty. The wildflower bloom is beginning, from the desert to the high Sierra. Cacti, poppies, lupines, and so many other flowers await our eager eyes.
Well, it is winter, so snow shows up for some reason. New snow is so nice – but old snow is dreary, especially as winter begins to lose the charm it had at Christmas! Slushy, mushy, grey, dirty, muddy.
I decided to make up a scene – with buildings both wooden and brick, with telephone poles, and the grey mist of a city beyond. As a painting by itself, it’s a failure, but adding a few lines helped it out a bit. People will appear when the weather clears . . .