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Inspiration Point, Tilden Park

Inspiration Point, Tilden Park

Oil on panel, 9×12″

Sunday was my plein air oil painting class in Tilden Park and we met at Inspiration Point in Tilden Park in the Berkeley Hills. On a clear day you can see far into the distance from this site. Unfortunately, when we arrived at 9:00 a.m. the fog was so thick we could barely see halfway across the parking lot. Our teacher, Elio Camacho, had planned to start class by doing a demo — an expansive vista on a large canvas. To try to accomplish something until the fog cleared, he had us set up our easels facing the alleged view and get ready to paint. I enjoyed the idea of randomly picking a spot with no idea what I’d see or paint.

At 10:00, after delicious coffee and treats from Peets Coffee generously brought by a class member, Elio did an amazing small demo of the sun glaring through the fog above some nearby trees. Happily, just as he finished the fog lifted and we got to work.

This time I remembered to take a photo of the scene before I got started so that I could finish the painting at home:
Inspiration Point, Tilden - Photo

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Dahlias after Painting Class

Dahlias in Oil

Oil paint on gessoed mat board, 12×7.5″

Sunday was my first plein air oil painting workshop with Elio Camacho and it was fabulous! Elio is not only a wonderful painter, but he’s a fantastic teacher — so energetic, enthusiastic and generous in sharing everything he knows (which is a lot!).

Although Elio covered a huge amount of artistic territory in his conversations with us, what really sunk in for me at this session was the importance of temperature (warm vs cool colors) and value (dark vs light) and how to use those relationships to paint the effects of light in the landscape.

To better understand this concept and practice seeing color temperature, he suggested doing a still life of all yellow objects as homework so I painted these dahlias from my garden (after scrubbing all the nasty aphids and ants off them–ick!). Yellow is a good color to practice with because there are many yellow pigments from cool to warm and dark to light and you can successfully lighten it with white, unlike red which turns pastel pink when white is added.

Since I started this journey to learn oil painting, I’ve read many books, watched a dozen oil painting videos, and received wonderful support from my online painting mentor, Nel. There were so many concepts, “rules”, and techniques that I understood intellectually but in class they came to life! Seeing the process demonstrated and being able to ask questions each step of the way was great.

And even better was having Elio checking on me every 15 minutes or so during the three hours I was painting. He demonstrated what he meant when I didn’t understand; he recommended I quit dabbling– put down a stroke and leave it; he showed me how to hold my brush correctly and at what angle, so I was putting paint down without scraping it off at the same time (hold the tip of the brush and keep it at a low angle to the canvas, not perpendicular as I was doing). So many things just clicked.

The painting I did in class isn’t worth posting, though it had some nice moments along the way. Now that I know how to hold my brush properly and understand the importance of the direction of the brush stroke, and am learning to see color temperature and value better, I’m can’t wait to start my next painting!

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Wax On, Wax Off (Breathe In, Breathe Out)

Rose in a Jar

Oil on panel, 12×9″

The title of this post refers to words from the 1984 movie Karate Kid and also my process in this painting except for the painting it would be more like “Paint On, Wipe Off (Breathe!) Paint On, Wipe Off… ” (click on “Keep Reading” below to see photos of the steps). I’m not happy with the front flower but I’m ready to move on to the next painting. With each one I learn so much more, including how much more there is to learn!!!!

I had two main goals for this painting/learning experience:

  • Think in terms of “Whole Canvas”
  • Keep trying to understand how to work with oil paint so that I’m taking advantage of its wonderful qualities rather than fighting them. (I’ll keep trying!)

In my many years of watercolor painting, I worked hard to capture what excited me about my subject. I often worked close focus without much background, or just using the lovely white of the paper as my background to set off the glittering glass or glowing flowers I was painting. If the composition didn’t quite work out–no problem, just crop as needed with a mat and frame.

In oil painting the background has to be an integral part of the painting–you can’t just leave the glaring white of the gessoed canvas as your background. And you can’t crop a stretched canvas or panel like you can paper. I was struggling with this concept and finally it clicked. It’s just another way of seeing and, like peeling layers of the onion, the haze peeled from eyes and I could see that a painting is not subject & background — they fit together to complete the picture, just as night completes day. While an object that interests me enough to paint it is the focal point, I need (for now) to think of the PAINTING as the subject.