Bay Area Parks Drawing Ink and watercolor wash Landscape Painting Places Plein Air Sketchbook Pages

Lost on the Way to China (Camp)

Sea Breeze, Grounded Boat at China Camp Village, ink & watercolor 5x8"
“Sea Breez”, Grounded Boat at China Camp Village, ink & watercolor 5×8″

I think I broke my record of getting lost when I went to a paint out at China Camp. The first three times I apparently confused my GPS when I entered my destination as cross streets and it delivered me to three different neighborhoods in San Rafael instead of the state park. Finally I arrived at the 15 mile long park but missed the turnoff to our painting spot and drove all the way through and out the other side into yet another nice San Rafael neighborhood.

Plein Air Painter and the Old Pier at China Camp Village, ink & watercolor, 5x8"
Plein Air Painter and the Old Pier at China Camp Village, ink & watercolor, 5×8″

At least the road through the 1,514-acre park offers beautiful views of the San Pablo Bay waterfront, a salt marsh, and meadows. At China Camp Village where I made these sketches, there are many remnants of the 1880s Chinese immigrant shrimp-fishing village of 500, including one lone, 85-year old surviving resident who was going to be evicted when the park was to close July 1 due to budget cuts. 

Bay Area Parks Landscape Marin County Oil Painting Outdoors/Landscape Painting Photos Places Plein Air

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.

Landscape Life in general Oil Painting Outdoors/Landscape Painting Plein Air

China Camp & Two Surprise Parties

Old boat on rails at China Camp State Park

Old Boat on Rails, Oil on panel, 9×12″ (larger)

Blazing hot sun on the beach made plein air painting a challenge Sunday at China Camp State Park, an historic site where Chinese immigrants lived in a shrimp fishing village in the 1880s. It is a fabulous place to paint, with a small ghost town and old boats, (many with Chinese lettering) beautiful views of bay and marshland and hiking and biking trails that go for miles.

I was painting with the Benecia Plein Air Painters, a wonderful group of painters led by Jerry Turner. Many painters stayed until sunset, capturing the sunset and late afternoon glowing light. I painted from about noon until 3:30 (minus a break for a suprise birthday party lunch for Jerry) and after a little splashing around in the water, headed home to the fog belt to cool off.

I’d been given my own surprise birthday party the day before by my wonderful neighbors. I was completely stunned and delighted to find all my dearest friends and family and coworkers standing there throwing confetti and yelling Happy Birthday!

What a feast my neighbors made for me, with all of my favorite traditional Mexican foods that C & A are famous for, plus a beautiful cake and decorations galore. Their backyard was covered in balloons, and signs and banners and a banquet’s worth of delicious food.  What a special birthday treat!

One of my party favors was a purple hat that says “At my age, Happy Hour is a NAP!” I love it! My yearlong birthday celebration continues….