The miracle of green always happens in the last of the year and the first of the next when the rains come and new growth begins to emerge in the hills of California. After months of dry weather and fading landscapes. color erupts almost overnight. Soon, wildflowers will begin to tinge the hills from green to orange and purple and yellow. Here, a view from the hills toward the Pacific, with the Channel Islands in view, lost in the coastal fog.
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.
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.
This morning I went out and bought plants for the flower beds, had lunch and a nap, and then decided what I wanted to paint. Rick Surowicz just posted a new video on his YouTube channel called “Waiting for Spring.” On his personal website, he posted a sketch of the study as well as a photograph of the actual barn, and his final watercolor. If you haven’t checked out his channel, you should. He has so much valuable information. When I am feeling more focused, I want to try out his two classes as they are more detailed than his YouTube presentations, although they are detailed enough for anyone who wants to learn.
This video appealed to me for a number of reasons. One, perspective. This is a frontal view, so the roof line is pretty much a straight line across the top, parallel to the top edge of the paper. I got out my ruler and made both straight horizontal and vertical lines. From there, I roughed in the trees and shadows and bushes.
The palette was pretty simple – Rick posts the colors he used at the beginning, as well as mentioned that his Cerulean Blue is PB36 as opposed to PB35 – PB35 apparently is more greenish than PB36. This would be either DaVinci Cerulean or Daniel Smith Cerulean Blue Chromium. Of course, if you don’t clean up your paints, you could have just about anything.
What I learned from this video were a few things. One, mix colors on the paper as you move along. Specifically, on the roof, I moved from one color to the next, picking up paint and working it into the paint on the paper. This gave a nice effect. Another important thing was to realize that while I have flat brushes, most of mine, if not all, are rather stiff. Painting with them at times created problems as a softer flat brush would be a better choice in some areas.
I also realized I need to sort out my brushes better – put rounds in one area, flats in another, and riggers and other specialized brushes in another. I have a stand, and perhaps I shall use that next, or else I may just get individual holders – like jars or tins – to hold specific brushes in specific areas. I continue to learn!
As I look at this painting, I can see my confidence in handling color has come a long, long way. I plan to do a few more barns in the coming week, using photos from Pixabay. This way, I can practice perspective, use my ruler, and try to paint more confidently than I seem to do when I don’t have a video to follow.
FYI, below is Rick’s excellent video:
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.
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!
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.