plein air

Plein air in old town Fair Oaks

It finally happened. It fiiiiinally happened...I went out to paint. I spent some quality time with my painting tools and myself. It was nice. I forgot how nice it can be to stand for hours in the same spot, in solitude (not counting the curious passersby here). To slow down and breathe. To really look.

11 x 15" watercolor on hot press paper. Click on the picture to buy.

11 x 15" watercolor on hot press paper. Click on the picture to buy.

Sometimes, I paint fast. I become hyper-alert and decisive and just slap it on. But this time, I was in the mood for some observation and for slow pen lines. I felt refreshed, even though I got very little sleep the night before. In short, I want more!

Maybe I will do the Plein Air at the (California State) Fair this year, now that I'm in Sacramento and all. I did one at the county fair a couple of years ago and it was fun (albeit not very competitive). I even got a first place ribbon and a symbolic monetary award, which almost covered my entry and parking fees.

San Bernardino county fair. Watercolor on paper, not available.

Day 24 - Casa Del Desierto (Barstow Harvey House)

Finally done with this painting! I started it on a plein air outing over a week ago and worked on it in tiny pieces of time since. It even went through an ugly stage (which is normal, particularly for paintings done in multiple sessions) and through a husband-critique stage (that's how you know it's getting serious ;) ). I

Watercolor and ink on hot press paper. Original sold. Prints and cards available.

A few progress photos:


First step: completed drawing at the plein air session. By the time I was done drawing, it was getting close to sunset and windy, so I decided to do the painting part at home.


Here, I am beginning to lay first washes. The paper is hot press, so I'm getting some nice blooms!


I have some white areas left here but most of the painting has a layer of paint. Evaluating if the contrast between the white columns and dark spaces between them is too dark. So it is. Also, not crazy about the foreground.


One step further: I toned down the white areas and lightened up the shadows between columns. I also decided to separate the far right side of the building from the background by darkening the tree area. The foreground got another wash of gray-blue to tone it down and ground the building. Brick detail on the left side and a bit of cleaning up in the shape of the columns and bottom of the building.


At this point, I got a feeling that my problem with the foreground might be because it was also too large. I began thinking about the best way to crop it.


Final, cropped version. The foreground is significantly darker and quieter. I took off some of the paint first, by wetting the area with a soft brush (to agitate the paint and make it liftable without damaging the paper) and blotting with soft tissue paper (like Kleenex). I repeated the process once or twice. Then, I covered the area with a fairly uniform wash of mixed gray (French Ultramarine + Quinacridone Red + Quinacridone Gold).

And that's the story :). I think I've lived in the desert for too long (4 years!), because I am beginning to find cool things about it and even like some of them...

If you would like to see an excellent virtual tour of the Barstow Harvey House, watch this:

Day 6 - Plein air by the Mojave River

Today, I went on a plein air paintout with a couple of local artists. I chose a location fairly close to home, where Highway 66 crosses the Mojave River. Beautiful place with a lot of different subject matter. I spent most of my time painting the view below, though the resulting painting is "unblogably bad." I don't have much plein air experience (at least, compared to my in-studio experience) and still get easily distracted and overwhelmed with visual information when I paint outdoors. However, I keep trying and I'm sure I will be making blogable plein air paintings more often :)


Another view I painted was of a couple of Yuccas. If you don't live in the desert, chances are, you don't know what those are. I didn't. These are also called Spanish Dagger, which adds a touch of drama...The painting below is not completely finished (I added light background wash at home but didn't take a picture of it yet). I spent maybe 15-20 minutes on it and was a lot happier with it than my first painting, which took 1.5-2 hours.

22 x 15" Watercolor on hot press watercolor paper.


....And I also dropped my pastels and, when I was about to pick them up, I noticed that they looked all nice and colorful, randomly arranged on top of the gravel, almost like an idea for an abstract, and I had to take a picture. So there you go :)


Day 9 - A Landscape with a bit of Fauve

First of all, a note to my blog subscribers. I had several people unsubscribe in the last week, most likely because they don't like getting an email from me every single day. If that is the case with you, please let me know before you unsubscribe. I can change the frequency of the updates you would receive. So, if daily dose of me is too much, but you would still like to hear form me once a week or once a month, just say so! 

Also, once the current 30 Paintings in 30 Days project is over, I will definitely not blog every day. So hang in there :) 

Untitled. 15 x 11" Watercolor on paper. Sold. Buy prints here.

This colorful landscape (or abstract?) is another fruit of my outing yesterday. I'm not sure what to call it yet.. . I feel that the better I get at expressing things visually, the worse my verbal ability gets. Or maybe it's about using up too much creativity on painting and not having anything left when it's time to choose a title :). Who knows? Anyway, I'm looking for your suggestions and impressions! Thanks in advance.

Day 8 - Under the Fig Tree Plein Air Watercolor Painting

I went to the University of California Riverside Botanic Gardens to get some plein air time this morning. It's a bit of a drive for me (everything is a drive when you live in the middle of nowhere...) and it was hot. I was exhausted after just three hours. But I do like painting from life (as opposed to painting from photos) and most of the time, it's worth the drive and the discomfort. I had another artist with me, Barbara Parish, and we had a good time chatting and learning about each other. Barbara and I met through my High Desert Art Meetup group.

"Under the Fig Tree" - 11 x 15" Watercolor on paper. $95. Buy here. 

I spent the first hour figuring the place out and walking the trails (which get pretty steep, by the way!) And looking for a nice shaded place with a view. This area with large leafy trees fit the bill, so I set up my easel and got to work. The painting above was the second one I did at that location. I will post the first one tomorrow.

Plein Air Paint Outs

Plein air, in case you aren't in the secret circle of those who know, is a fancy (French) way of saying "outdoors" - as it relates to painting. In the last five months (right before I found out I was pregnant - though I haven't made the connection until now) I've been a lot more proactive about getting out of the house and going somewhere to make art. I started a Facebook group and, recently, a group to involve other local artists. It also led to an ongoing series of figure drawing sessions at the Burning House Art Studio in Apple Valley - but that's another topic worth a few more blog posts :).

While I am not new to plein air painting, it has been a long time since I pursued it with any intensity. Even now, doing it a couple of times a month is not really that intense - but I am enjoying it a lot and want to do more. I'm hoping it's possible with three little kids...we'll see. The projected arrival of kid #3 in early November has given me the momentum to start the groups and organize events. Probably because I know it will be tough to do anything for quite a while after the baby is born. So...the plan is to have fun and wear myself out so that I'm sick of art and am ready for a break from it. Or something along those lines :)

I wrote about our first, Oro Grande Sketch-out before. After that, we went to the Buddhist temple in Adelanto. The place is in the middle of nowhere (as is anything here, I suppose...this IS the middle of nowhere ;)) and it surprised me with beautiful architecture, a sculpture garden and what seemed like hundreds of birds (see video below and's beautiful).

At the same sketch-out, I met Kate of Katesfolkart , a wonderful local artists who paints scenes from the middle-of-nowhere I mentioned above and makes it look good :) She is now one of my most consistent sketch-out buddies.

I'll try to write a bit about every sketch-out we've had so far, so keep an eye out for more reports :). For now, some of my sketches from the Buddhist temple outing: