Every now and again a place calls you, and you know that your life is changed by what you have seen and heard and smelled – a total sensory experience that nothing will ever equal. Returning to it may destroy the memory or add to it. Here, I think returning to the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve will only add to the experience.
We headed out to have a short 3-night vacation up in Monterey, California. We visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, probably for our 4th time, as well as Point Lobos for the very first time. It is unparalleled. Tall pines, rugged coast, water, rocks and cliffs, pines and cypress, and history all combine to create a world into which it would be so easy to stay immersed in, never to return. The area of Monterey is stunning, with many beautiful and historical areas to be explored, such as Carmel, the city of Monterey itself, Pacific Grove. An abundance of parks and preserves are available to all.
I brought my art supplies with me, but couldn’t sit still. I had to keep exploring, along trails with rocks and roots and staircases, and easy paths lined with views of trees and meadows and plants not found in my neck of SoCal. In particular, the pines and cypress caught my attention, but so did the rocks and water and cliffs. I expect there will be a lot to draw from as I took a lot of pictures, most taken with care to composition and color.
Here is an old pine tree standing against the sky. It’s dying as it’s old, wooden branches attest, and yet it still bears needles and reaches to the sky. I fall in love with trees such as this – if they could just tell their tales! I used my home made iron gall ink with a very fine pen nib on Bee watercolor paper.
I cannot believe I haven’t posted anything since the last few days of August! Life has been filled with family activities, horrible heat, and other things that take up time like sewing and reading and cooking and a photo safari. However, I could not stay away! Surprising how much I miss my daily forays into paint and color, and especially gouache! (I really need to get back into watercolor – more in a tad about that.)
Trees again. Cypress trees have their own character – they invite sweeping brush strokes with a flat brush, or a tapered one. Movements of the brush match the movement of the wind it seems. Where cypress trees live along the California coast is usually windy, foggy, and often cold, and these trees rise like ghosts out of the mist. They are quite eerie.
We are heading out to Monterey for a few days. I havene’t packed any gouache, but a small watercolor palette and a sketchbook for out-of-the-house experiences. I hope I take the time to paint or draw, and catch some flavor of where we will be. Along with my sketchbook I am bringing a camera (or two, or three, or . . . ? Anyway, the idea is to enjoy some time off while the other half is on vacation – our road trip was sidetracked by a water leak a couple of months ago.
Farms in California are a bit different than what I remember as a kid in the Midwest and out on the plains. The land along the coast is gentle and low lying. The ocean brings in mist and fog, creating at times a dreamy, otherworldly quality that is soft and ethereal. Fog comes and goes, scenery appears and vanishes. Colors can be pale or deeply rich depending on light and cloud.
For some time I have considered the possibility of doing two studies for each painting, one in watercolor and the other in gouache. Today’s painting is exactly that. I took the same study in gouache (yesterday) and painted it in watercolor. It was a really interesting experience!
First, I am doing all these studies in a 7×10 sketchbook. The paper is not really good for really wet watercolors, but is very nice for gouache. Knowing this, I kept my paper as unsaturated as possible, but also worked to use wet-in-wet where I thought necessary, such as in the sky and fog bank, but being very careful about the amount of water I used. In other areas I did small, quick forays into wet work, but kept it to a minimum while allowing for bleeds, or coming back to work a bit more, such as on the right side where the grasses are in contrast to the road (lower right side).
Problems continue with depth. The middle ground hills and the ones against the fog are muddled into each other. While I made things simpler in the distance, the colors remain the same in intensity. Atmospheric perspective needs a bit of boost in this one.
Look forward to more of these studies.
The California coast depends on the fog that rolls in from the Pacific during the late spring and summer – and other times of the year, probably – for its ecology. Plants collect the damp of the fog as a primary water source, and at times it makes the coastal areas, and inland valleys, rather damp and dreary.
Here, we call it “May Grey” and “June Gloom” and “The Fog Monster” – and believe me, when you live in a coastal city in July, and the sky is cold and damp, you cannot help but agree with Mark Twain when he said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
You see the coastal fog rolling over the foothills toward the inland valleys. I tried to simplify my palette and fields of color to suggest distance. The sun is coming from the viewer’s right, so I also worked to make it evident on the distant hills. I used a lot of dry brush in the foreground, and basically worked from top to bottom so that the distant layers would be overlaid by the middle and foreground. The only thing that wasn’t quite in that sequence were the fence posts. Once they were established, dry brush to represent grasses was employed.
Even though summer is moving through July, soon into August, the rains we had over the spring are still leaving waves of color in the hills of the California back country. Usually at this time of year beige is the predominant color, and in really dry years, a dark dirty brown. This summer is a delight of colors – pale compared to spring – with wildflowers still hidden amongst the grasses.
Where I live, in the dry hills of the Central Coast of California, clouds are really, honestly a rarity. Most days the sky is a clear, steady blue. In the fall and spring, and sometimes into the summer, though, the seasons shift. The rainy season brings in moisture, clouds form, and the sky suddenly has a life of its own. In May and June, the coastal fog moves in, and sometimes you have a competition or a dance between the two – soft, cool fog close to the ground, and clouds at higher altitudes. As the fog breaks up, you see the blue sky and clouds above the shifting fog.
This is from a photograph I took a long time ago when I first started doing digital photography. A small group of us would get together to go for an easy hike, many times in the evening. Hummingbird Trail is where the original photo was taken, admittedly way over-processed in HDR, but the intensity of the colors held true. I tried to capture this in my painting, along with the shifting fog and clouds. I also tried to work on distance by applying a light glaze of a dulling blue grey wash to the distant hills, as well as decreasing details to indicate perspective.
Clouds are so much fun to do in watercolor! Who is to say your clouds don’t look real? There are so many mysteriously beautiful in the natural world, but few are as shifting and as ephemeral as clouds.