Art theory Landscape Oil Painting Outdoors/Landscape Painting Photos Places Plein Air

Port Costa Bull Valley Restaurant, Plein Air Plus

Port Costa Bull Valley Restaurant, Oil on panel, 9x12
Port Costa's Bull Valley Restaurant, Oil on panel, 9x12

When we gathered for our critique on the patio outside the funky Warehouse Cafe, a biker bar at the end of Port Costa‘s main road, I thought I’d gotten my painting of the Bull Valley Restaurant off to a good start. It was a sunny Saturday and the quirky local residents of the little town had been very welcoming, chatting and joking with the plein air painters.

Just as the critique was getting started the old lady bartender turned up the rock and roll so loud that we couldn’t hear each others’ comments and suggestions. Someone went in and asked her to turn it down and she sneered, “This is a bar. We play rock and roll!” Although some of our group had bought lunch and beer (served in mason jars), I guess we weren’t exactly their preferred clientelle.

Their usual patrons continued to roar in on their Harleys and wanna be Harleys. Some were dressed in full leather or raunchy heavy metal t-shirts and black denim. At least half of them were over 50, the guys paunchy and bald and the women, with their dyed thinning black hair, looked “rode hard and put away wet” as I’ve heard it said.

Anyway, back to the painting. As you’ll see from my initial sketch below, my perspective was even further off than it ended up in the finished painting above.

Port Costa-WIP 1
Port Costa-WIP 1

I’m always amazed how often my eyes fool me. Sometimes I’m sure a line slants one way and then I hold up a pencil to check and the line slants in the completely opposite direction.

This is the point when I stopped painting on site, planning to finish at home from photos.

Port Costa 2
Port Costa WIP 2

Once home I realized that I had a serious perspective problem with the way the roof  line and the line where the building meets the ground were parallel to each other instead of coming towards each other to finally meet at a vanishing point. I worked on the painting for a couple of days and thought I’d fixed it (blind to what was in front of my face from seeing it for too long).

When I shared what I thought was the final painting with some artist friends, they generously pointed out a few things that needed adjusting, including continuing perspective problems. Below M. added lines in Photoshop to demonstrate for me how I’d gone wrong with the perspective. It’s so great to have that kind of support!

Port Costa Perspective
Diagram showing how the perspective should have been
In the end I decided I’d taken this painting as far as it needed to go and moved on to the next project. But I promised myself that next time I’d pay more attention to perspective.

Here’s the original photo of the scene.

Bull Valley Restaurant original photo
Bull Valley Restaurant original photo

7 replies on “Port Costa Bull Valley Restaurant, Plein Air Plus”

Holy crap! (as some might say). Jana, you have struggled with oil; you have shared those struggles;some of us have told you what you need to do…all I can say(as a lousy oil person) is : this time you have come so close you are in the final straight.
This painting is closer than any other you’ve done (Remember, I am no expert!) And, with the witty words, is a real boost for others still struggling.
I wish I had your “anatomical equipment.” It really IS all about having fun, isn’t it?


Wow Diane! Thanks so much for huge encouragement! It means a lot to me! I haven’t figured out yet what “anatomical equipment” of mine you were wishing you had. I’m usually the last one to get jokes and puns, so it’s probably just me being dense, but I hope you’ll explain a bit. I do feel like I’m getting the “how” and “what” of oil painting and beginning to find MY way with it (not necessarily the “right” way, whatever that is, but a way that works for me. Jana


you mentioned how easily your eye can fool you…I’ve gotten in the habit of scanning my first sketches into my computer…it seems the mistakes just leap out at me and I have no idea why. I used to just leave them alone a week or two and get the same result, but the scanning is faster.
Isn’t perspective wicked?


Wow, Jana, I think this turned out really well. You make theplace look much more appealing than you make it sound.


Thanks Sherry. Actually the building I sketched was not the place where we met for our critique with all the bikers. The Bull Valley Restaurant seemed like a pretty normal place (although the town is pretty odd and probably the restaurant was too). The Warehouse was at the end of the road, and that’s where we met after we painted around the town. Jana


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