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Inspiration Point, Tilden Park

Inspiration Point, Tilden Park

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Oil on panel, 9×12″

Sunday was my plein air oil painting class in Tilden Park and we met at Inspiration Point in Tilden Park in the Berkeley Hills. On a clear day you can see far into the distance from this site. Unfortunately, when we arrived at 9:00 a.m. the fog was so thick we could barely see halfway across the parking lot. Our teacher, Elio Camacho, had planned to start class by doing a demo — an expansive vista on a large canvas. To try to accomplish something until the fog cleared, he had us set up our easels facing the alleged view and get ready to paint. I enjoyed the idea of randomly picking a spot with no idea what I’d see or paint.

At 10:00, after delicious coffee and treats from Peets Coffee generously brought by a class member, Elio did an amazing small demo of the sun glaring through the fog above some nearby trees. Happily, just as he finished the fog lifted and we got to work.

This time I remembered to take a photo of the scene before I got started so that I could finish the painting at home:
Inspiration Point, Tilden - Photo

I started with compositional/value sketches in my sketchbook using gray scale Copic markers to get an understanding of the scene:
Value sketches and notes in sketchbook

After I started painting, Elio came over and gave me some tips which I also jotted down in my sketchbook. He showed me how the turning edges of hills have a small cool edge at the very top that helps keep them from looking flat, then a warm area where the light hits them and and then cooler again between the hills. He also pointed out that in this case the water was darker than the hills. I never did get the hills painted as light as they should have been. He also suggested I try working with a limited palette and put more paint out to work with. It felt very freeing to remove half of the colors on my palette.

I did a charcoal sketch on the canvas (toned the night before with a thin wash of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber acrylic paint) and then started blocking in the darks. Elio suggested that next time I use thinned paint to draw with since charcoal can get into the paint and create problems.
Charcoal sketch on toned canvas

This is the stage just before I decided to stop painting on site. I was getting tired and starting to just stick paint here and there without a plan.

Inspiration Point, on site stopping point

The paint was fresher and juicier at this stage. I think it got tight and overworked in the finished painting because I was painting wet paint on top of partially drying, sticky paint (oops…should have waited until it dried).
I’m pleased that I’m doing better with composition and learning something every day. I still have a long way to go when it comes to values, color temperature, and more painterly application of paint. It’s frustrating to know what I want but not the skill yet to apply it. But I can see progress, both in my ability and understanding, and I know that it will all come together one of these days, as long as I keep practicing.

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