Winter in California usually brings rain. So far, nothing. The grassy hills die down to beige and brown, the oak trees are dark spots against the pale grasses. It’s a beauty of its own. Here, the beginning of a sunset casting its warmth on the peaks as the day ends.
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.
This morning I headed out to a local area filled with oak trees and trails, all of which surround a wonderful park. I brought my Olympus OM-1 with me to shoot black and white film, and I also brought my cell phone to take pictures if I found something I thought I might like to paint. Today’s painting is just that – an old oak tree in dappled light. I don’t know what it is about trees and sparkling light, but I am certainly drawn to them.
First, here is the photo I took on my phone. It was nearly noon, so the light was not optimal, but more than anything, I was interested in the light and shadows.
As I painted this afternoon, I decided to also record the steps I took as I painted. My process these days is fairly straightforward. I draw in the general shapes I want and then lay in some colors. From there I move to values. While I do this, I think about the order of the painting – where to apply paint first, what to over paint, and so on. I go back and forth. Click on one of the images below to walk through the sequence. They are not the best pictures, but you get the idea!
I found recording the steps of my painting rather interesting – this is the first time I have done so with gouache. It was a great way to look at what I was doing while letting the paint layers dry. You need to pause a bit while you paint, whether it is to think, let things dry, or just walk away and clear the mind before picking the brush up again.
I’ve also started putting paint out on the palette as I paint, but before that, I consider the colors I want to use, why, and which ones will have priority. Of course, all this is subject to change as I go along. For instance, I had planned yellow ochre to be my only yellow, but soon added Cadmium Yellow Light as I felt I needed something more bright.
Palette included zinc and titanium white, Grey #2, lamp black, leaf green, chromium green, olive green, ultramarine blue light, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow light, and burnt sienna. I had also pulled out some cadmium red deep, but decided I didn’t need it after all.
This past spring in California has been one of the most stunning I can recall. A long period of rain, extending deep into May, produced a situation in which flowers bloomed, and bloomed, and bloomed. There are still traces of colors – golds and yellows mostly – on the hills when normally the color is beige and dead. The richness of the wildflowers made the landscape, whether on the hills or under the trees, in the meadows or alongside the freeway, a wonderland of color. I am still sorting out photos and memories as sources for paintings.
This is an underpainting for the gouache painting I did today. Wildflowers under the oak trees along a local trial – lupines, wild cucumber, white and yellow flowers of known and unknown species. Here, a la James Gurney, I decided to do an underpainting using casein paints. He suggests casein as the underpainting as it cannot be picked up, as can an underpainting of gouache, once it dries. It primes the paper, too. While the smell is rather gross, the substrate it creates is stable and I rather liked using it, not just for what it did for the paper, but to lay in some values as well.
From there, I moved into remembering – thin layers to thick in gouache, building to lighter colors and thicker layers as you move along. I’ve watched a number of videos on YouTube to get a sense of the process. In particular, I have enjoyed the videos on gouache by Sarah Burns. It’s rather strange to me, but it worked out. Below is a painting of blue-eyed grass and white flowers under the oak trees in this stunning California spring.