I’ve had this painting on my easel for about a week. There was a lot of thought put into it – an almost scary amount given my impatient, impetuous tendencies. Sky and basic colors in pale shades. From there, midtones, darker shades, and finally details. The foreground was so challenging – the cone flowers want detail, but don’t want too much. The orange ones are totally lacking in detail, and are just blobs of color. And then the buildings . . . still some perspective issues, particularly in the house on the right, but better than anything I have done to date. Dreams of summer now that spring is blooming here in California!
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!