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Cloudy Day on the Bay, View from China Camp

Cloudy Bay, View from China Camp, oil on panel, 9x12
Cloudy Bay, View from China Camp, oil on panel, 9x12"

When I first arrived at China Camp in San Rafael for our plein air paint-out, I decided to make the dramatic, dark clouds my subject. Except that once I’d completed a quick thumbnail sketch for composition, drew the main shapes on my panel, blocked in the colors of the sky, clouds, land, water… POOF! The sun came out, the clouds blew away, and the hills that were my darkest darks were now glowing with light.

Since the scene was now completely different I put the panel away and started another small study, which I might mess with a bit and post another time.

I planned to finish the first painting in the studio, from photos I took before everything changed. Of course later when I looked at the photos, they had none of the color and drama I’d seen and felt in person. So I tried to work from memory along with the photo, and eventually just let the painting tell me what it needed.

This is the original block-in with the painting barely started. I’d put the clouds in first, but after I’d blocked in the rest of the elements, realized they were way too dark.

China Camp View blocked in
China Camp View blocked in

And this is the photo of the scene, in which the colors are all wrong, and which mostly just confused me when trying to paint from it.

Photo of China Camp cloudy view
Photo of China Camp cloudy view

As a wonderful bonus to the pleasure of being out painting on a gorgeous day, my painting group had hired plein air painter Elio Camacho to lead a workshop for us that day. I used to study with Elio a couple years ago so it was great working with him again. He is such a generous teacher and brilliant artist. Everyone had rave reviews afterward and were very pleased with what they’d learned that day.

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