Lyford House Tiburon

Lyford House

Lyford House, Tiburon, ink & watercolor 8 x 5″

My plein air group had a lovely day painting at the Lyford House in Tiburon. Since we had a workshop leader doing a demo that day I brought my sketchbook instead of plein air gear, knowing I wouldn’t have time to do a full painting.

I focused mostly on the drawing, trying to capture this very complicated Victorian home. The Lyford House was built in 1876 as the main residence of a nearby dairy farm. It was barged over to its present site, an Audubon Sanctuary, in 1957 after conservationists saved it from being torn down.

The site is surrounded by some of the most expensive real estate in the country, with an average price of $3.5 million but with many homes for sale in the $18 million to $35 million range. I wish I could have visited the lavish Mediterranean-style villa next door that I was spying on through the bushes.

Painting Pt. Bonita Part I: Watercolor

Point Bonita, watercolor, 7x5" in journal

Point Bonita #1, watercolor, 7x5" in journal

When I got frustrated with painting from life last month, I took a break and experimented in working from the same photo in different media. First I did the sketch above in my journal from the photo below which I took at Point Bonita in the Marin Headlands last year.

Point Bonita photo cropped to 9x12"

Point Bonita photo cropped to 9x12"

I took the photo during a very cold and windy plein air paint out where I did a plein air sketch (posted here) and planned to eventually paint the scene in the studio. As you can see, I did what I call “imaginating” (a combination of imagining and exaggerating the colors I see in a photo or a scene) instead of rendering the photo as is.

Point Bonita, Watercolor, 12x9"

Point Bonita #2, Watercolor, 12x9"

After I did the little journal painting at the top of this post (which I like very much), I tried it again  4 times bigger on a 12×9″ Arches watercolor block (above). It was fun to get back to painting in watercolor on something other than a small journal page. I didn’t use any masking on either of these, just painted around areas I wanted to stay white.

I enjoyed working larger on a watercolor block–I could work at a slant, mix juicy washes, and not have to worry about trying to keep the pages flat and the journal open. I’m falling in love with watercolor painting all over again.

Stay tuned for the oil and oil pastel versions tomorrow.

Marin County Fair Sketches

Poultry Tent Medly, ink & watercolor 7x5

Poultry Tent Medley, ink & watercolor 7x5

When Cathy and I visited the Marin County Fair to sketch I was experimenting with sketching on pieces of paper instead of in my sketchbook as I wrote about here. Later I pasted the sketches into my journal. Above is a medley of chickens of various kinds along with one of the 4-H girls sitting at the “pet a chicken” table.

Boy with his chicken: matching hairstyles?

Boy with his chicken: matching hairstyles?

I asked this sweet boy if he intentionally styled his hair to match his chicken and he looked at me like I was nuts and said, “No.” The best part of the fair for me is seeing the kids who show their animals and win prizes for how well they present them.

Cow Parts

Cow Parts

I made numerous attempts to draw cows, trying to figure out their shapes, and finally sketched one I liked plus a few parts (head and butt). I had no idea their feet had two toes(?). Amazing what you don’t see when you don’t really look.

Shangri-La Chinese Acrobats

Shangri-La Chinese Acrobats

It got really hot so we went into the air-conditioned theater on the fair grounds to see the Shangri-La Chinese Acrobats perform. I tried sketching in the dark, adding color later. They were amazing. The sketch, not so much.

Hanging Teddy Prizes and Tilt-a-Whirl

Hanging Teddy Prizes and Tilt-a-Whirl

For the last sketch of the day we sketched from the midway. I sat on a ledge on the back of one of the game booths in the shade of the hanging teddy prizes. I cooled off a little more than I expected: I didn’t realize until it was too late that I was sitting in a puddle of water.

Cathy’s sketches of the day were fabulous (as always) and can be seen on our Urban Sketchers blog here.

Marin Headlands: Water-Soluble Oil Painting Experiment

Marin Headlands oil painting, 5x7" on Gessobord

Marin Headlands oil painting, 5x7" on Gessobord

I got inspired to try water-soluble (aka water-miscible) so researched which brand had artist quality paints made with real, archival pigments that performed most like regular oils. From my reading, Holbein Duo Aqua Oils was the answer.

I bought 3 colors (Cad Yellow, Napthol Red, and Ultramarine Blue) and white and gave them a go with this happy little painting above from a photo and watercolor sketch. I really, REALLY enjoyed working with them.

Indeed they worked exactly like oils, but with no solvents, no odor, and brushes clean up with water! To thin the paint you can use a little water or Duo Linseed Oil. The consistency was nearly perfect but I used a tiny bit of water because I like my paint smooth. Next time I’ll try the oil.

After working with the Golden Open Acrylics for several months I became frustrated with the way they dry darker and how sometimes the paint gets tacky or dry in minutes (outdoors) and other times stays sticky for days.

When I paint, I like trying to match the colors and values I see, so I’m disappointed when I paint with Open Acrylics and the painting dries to look completely different. Supposedly they only shift 10% but I just don’t seem to be able to guess right when mixing (and don’t want to have to guess!)

With the Duo oils I loved being able to mix colors and have them not change, and to not worry about the paint getting sticky during a painting session. I spent about 2 hours on the painting above last night and  it’s still wet today. And, because I could clean the brushes with a swish of water while I worked, I only used a few. Clean up was quick and easy, with a little Masters Brush Cleaner for the brushes and a spritz of water and a paper towel across the palette.

Holbein Duo paints are more expensive than the other water-soluble brands because of their higher pigment load and use of more expensive pigments. Their prices are about the same as regular artist-quality oil paint. From my research and my first experiment with them, they’re worth it. I’ve ordered a few more colors and look forward to trying them out for plein air painting too, where I think they should be ideal.

P.S. I know you can use regular oils without any solvents, and that you can clean up regular oils using walnut oil followed by soap and water. But it means painting with thick paint and spending even more time in the clean up process.

Wow! Was it Windy! Pt. Bonita, Marin Headlands

Pt. Bonita Lighthouse, Marin Headlands, watercolor

Pt. Bonita Lighthouse, Marin Headlands, watercolor

Sketching at Point Bonita in the Marin Headlands yesterday it was so windy that I could barely hold my sketchbook and all my photos were blurry because my camera was being blow around so much. At one point my watercolor palette blew right off the ledge on the old fort where I perched while another painter’s table blew away from her. I wore several layers of clothes, and had my head wrapped in ear warmers, a hoodie, a jacket hood and over that tied a bandana over most of my face so only my eyes were peeking out.

View from Pt. Bonita, Marin Headlands

View from Pt. Bonita, Marin Headlands

I didn’t even try to set up an easel although others did, finding shelter in one of the old forts. I wasn’t thrilled with these or my other sketches but I was pleased that I’d made the effort to go and enjoyed the gorgeous scenery. I’d love to come back some time when it’s not windy, but I’m not sure if there is such a time.

The area is fascinating:
One of the most unique areas in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Marin Headlands covers various types of histories from the Miwok Indians to the Military. Included are historic Fort Barry and Fort Cronkhite, the NIKE Missile site and other military installations and fortifications, dating from 1776 through the Cold War, and the 150 year-old Point Bonita lighthouse. Other attractions include varied hiking trails, dog friendly Rodeo Beach, and astonishing views of the coast and San Francisco. The explosion of wildflowers in the spring and raptor migration in the fall fill the headlands with year round excitement.

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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