California is filled with open space and ranchlands; in fact, according to the US Department of Agriculture:
Over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in California. California is the leading US state for cash farm receipts, accounting for over 13 percent of the nation’s total agricultural value.
So, California is far more than rich people, Los Angeles, and movie stars. Where I live, agriculture is a major industry. It is around little towns and large suburban areas that you find ranches, for flowers, avocados, citrus, strawberries, and vegetables. Here, a view of a ranch in Santa Paula, taken from a train ride several years ago. The original photo is below.
Since I had all the pastels out from Tuesday’s class, before I straightened up the mess in the studio, I decided on another study. This time, the oak-covered hills of California. In spring, the hills are brilliantly green, often covered with wildflowers, such as poppies and lupines. As spring gives way to summer, the heat comes, and the grasses dry out. Perfect conditions for all these dreadful wildfires of late . . . Anyway, the coast can be socked in with the summer fog, but inland, the hills are under the brilliant sun. As you look toward the Pacific, you can see the “fog monster” lurking on the other side of the range.
I opened up a pad of 9×12 CP Arches and have been having fun all morning. Yesterday was a step back into the world of watercolor, and today was simply a play day to try out a few techniques. In particular, working with less water on the brush than I normally do. This is an effort to have a bit more control of the pigment on paper. Let’s take a look!
The above painting was the first one. Really a disaster! But it served as a warm-up project. In and of itself it is not awful insofar as I worked with less water from the beginning. This let me make bolder strokes as well as glazes and some wet-in-wet. The sky was my first attempt to work a rather loose sky with a much dryer brush than my norm. I worked more color into varying areas of the sky, blotting my brush on a towel before picking up the pigment.
Again, the sky was a focal point in this painting. I chose to use a yellow tinged with alizarin, diluting the pigments extensively. From there, I dried off my brush and applied the colors. The same technique with the blues. Some blending, but the result is quite what I hoped to achieve. This same dryer-brush approach was used for the foreground and middle ground, as well as for the trees. Rather pleased with this one all around.
More dryer brush work but with the addition of glazes. This lagoon was a bit more challenging as the low tide leaves behind rivulets between the miniature sand bars. My feeling about this one is rather mixed, but I think it is more because it is outside my comfort zone.
Dryer brush, glazes. These dry California hills are really monochromatic. Browns and variations thereof. Yawn! The mountains I redid after the painting was done – too pale. Sadly, I messed them up a bit.
This morning’s work was well worth doing. I spent about 3 hours altogether and took the time to think after the first painting. Warming up is a good exercise as it reconnects me to what I want to do. Practice is never perfect but it is essential to any skill.
You could spend your life exploring and drawing and painting Pt. Lobos in the Monterey area. Here is a quick study in pastels. This was a particularly difficult one to do because of the nature of the medium – messy and full of fine dust!
The distant cliffs across the waters are seen through the trees. Unlike gouache, you cannot paint over layers as successfully in pastels. More layers mean less success, even when you use a workable fixative. In watercolor masking can help as well as the fact you work from light to dark, so darker watercolor can obscure lighter washes.
In the end, the sky was a messy mush up weirdness – the white scribbles were my solution to the problem, but oddly, it did help out in the end. The sky was a flat grey, and here it gives the same flatness of color that morning.
More Malibu Creek State Park, but this time with a different twist. The water is there – in the form of misty air. In spring and summer the coastal fog rolls in, and the landscape softens as it recedes. It doesn’t bring rain, but the environment is adapted to live on the moisture. As well, the land is often green from the rains earlier in the year.
I tried to capture this with washes and glazes, working wet-in-wet as well as rewetting the paper and adding color. This type of painting takes a patient approach (at least for me) as you have to load the paper with a bit of water and/or color, and then test it for dampness if you want things to soften and blur. It is also a fun way to express very faint geological shapes in the mountains.
Finally, oak trees. I just love these trees! Here in California they are really twisty and spooky, unlike the more upright specimens in the midwest. This one in the middle of the plain is unusual, but it is there, alone and grand.
I decided to use a study by the watercolorist Vernon Nye. He caught the back country of California perfectly – the hills and trees in particular. It was a fun study and I liked it because it pointed out to me how deceptively simple the hills can seem, but they really are not. The road, too, was another eye-catcher. I have driven along a number of back-road highways throughout the state, and you feel like you are the only person in the world. The perspective was a great challenge, too. Altogether, a good study of something in my own back yard, and I can take what I learned into future paintings.
The Alabama Hills in California are stunning. Seasons are harsh and beautiful. Here, pen and ink to get away from perspective and buildings! Why is it that nature is so much easier and relaxing to paint?!
Here is the third painting in the series of three different media, this in watercolor.
For this painting, I used a piece of 16×20 Arches cold-pressed paper. I laid down some frisket to keep the paper white for sunspots of leaves and the edges of the trees. From there, multiple initial light washes to establish areas of color (ie sky, leaves, leaf mould, trunks) and from there just sort of let it happen until I was ready to remove the fisket. Once that was done, greens and darks, and finally the rigger brush for tree branches.
Each painting has it good points and bad points. Watercolor is the least forgiving of the three, but here I think I did a pretty good job as I do get a sense of the flickering light through the new leaves, and that really was the main point. This painting and the gouache are my favorites of the three.
It will be interesting to perhaps try the pastel again as I ordered a set of 25 greens and just took possession of a Terry Ludwig Darks 2 set the other day. The greens are Mount Vision and will arrive Friday. The pastel was the first in the series, and now that I am comfortable with the values of the painting(s) more, a 4th try and a 2nd pastel may prove to be a good exercise!
Yesterday I started an 8 week course in pastels. Already I am in love with the medium! Add to this, the teacher is a real teacher – she is a professional who teaches full time in an elementary classroom. She is organized, states what she expects, interacts, demonstrates, and all the things that are so important in learning something new. Some teachers just say “have at it” and you stumble along, not knowing what you are doing. Yes, experience is a good teacher, but explanations and clarity really help one understand what is going on. I am looking forward to more classes!
Here is a picture from the Malibu Creek State Park near where I live. We all had a copy of a photograph to use, and then she explained the Rule of Thirds, the Golden Mean, and explained how she changed the composition of the photo to meet the needs of the Rule of Thirds. Value studies, too, were done before even picking up a color.
We used Nupastels, made by Prismacolor. Inexpensive but very nice. I have some Rembrandt soft pastels that I will use later on, or in conjunction with the ones we have in the classroom. As I love colors and drawing, this is a perfect combination of “things” – and these pictures are not “drawings” but “paintings” in the lexicon of the teacher. I never considered a pastel a painting.
I have not been this excited about a class in a very, very long time.