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Inside Berkeley’s Maybeck-Designed First Church

First Church of Christ Scientist, Berkeley
First Church of Christ Scientist, Berkeley

The American Institute of Architects named this church one of the three finest uniquely American churches. I saw a picture of the spectacular interior and knew we had to sketch it. I contacted the architectural heritage group, Friends of First Church (see photos on their site), and one of their members was generously willing to open the church for our Tuesday night Urban Sketchers group.

She graciously gave us a tour and told us a little about the history and architecture and then we picked our spots and started drawing. The interior is sweeping and complicated, with “a pair of great crossed trusses spanning the central pace overhead.”

Interior photo from where I sat, First Church Christ Scientist
Interior photo from where I sat, First Church Christ Scientist

I tried to envision how I would get everything I wanted onto my page and then just started drawing in the left corner, working my way across the page, drawing directly in ink. I drew up until the last minute so had to add the watercolor at home.

That’s a pipe organ behind the choir loft. They’re trying to raise funds to restore it.  Everything is embellished with gilt so the room has a golden glow. The architecture and design includes many styles and periods, including Gothic, Romanesque Byzantine and Arts and Crafts.

Spending the evening in that beautiful, quiet, exquisite space was so special and we are very grateful to the Friends of First Church for so graciously sharing this jewel with us.

Landscape Oil Painting Outdoors/Landscape Painting Plein Air

Port Costa’s St. Patricks Mission Church

Port Costa St. Patrick's Mission


After gusts of wind blew dirt in my face,  a couple of trains roared by, and a bunch of motorcyle guys on Harleys rode up to have a nice morning beer at the saloon (below), I decided to move from where I originally set up in the unpaved parking lot at the end of the road in Port Costa. One of the motorcycle guys was wearing a DayGlow orange T-shirt that proclaimed, “Can you see me now ASSHOLE?!”

Porta Costa is a tiny town (pop. 250) founded in 1879 as a port for merchant sailing ships, with warehouses, saloons and hotels on waterfront wharves. A few of those original buildings are still there and (except for the church) appear not to have been painted or maintained much since then. This is the hotel that I was originally going to paint, which was originally a bordello and is supposed to be haunted:

I headed up the tree-lined street a couple of blocks and set up behind a watercolor painter from my plein air group who was also painting the church. Halfway into the painting session, automatic sprinklers turned on beside us, spattering the watercolor painter’s full-sheet painting, creating interesting textural effects on her church.  The occasional sprinkle was a welcome relief from the muggy heat for me, since water doesn’t affect oil paintings.

About the painting:

Oil on panel, 12×9″

I ran out of time before our group critique at 1:00 and didn’t get to paint in the beautiful tree that was in front of the church. I figured I could finish it from a photo at home, except that I forgot to take a picture of the church (duh!) I put in a few details from memory and skipped the tree.  The painting was done between 11:00 a.m. and 12:45 with the  sun straight overhead so there wasn’t much modeling or shadows except under things.