When I received an email from a woman in Switzerland, asking if I’d be interested in a commission to paint the site of her wedding (the Brazilian Room in Tilden Park) as a 10-year anniversary gift for her husband I said an enthusiastic, “Yes!” We agreed I would have the painting completed when she visited the Bay Area a couple of months later so that she could hand carry it back to Switzerland.
I visited the site, took photos and we agreed I would use the one above as reference for the painting. Since I shot the photo in late spring it wouldn’t really match the colors and light of her August wedding so I also used my imagination and memory of the park in summer to capture the warmth and strong light of August in the Bay Area. Below are some of the steps in the painting process.
When I brought home today’s plein air oil painting, I spent a few minutes messing with it, tried to fix it, and then just wiped it all off. Then I painted the scene in watercolor instead (above). I’m getting really frustrated with plein air oil painting and I’m starting to reconceptualize how I might approach plein air painting in the future.
I love being out in nature looking closely at it, and trying to capture it in paint. I also really like hiking in these beautiful parks. But when I paint with oils I focus on painting and then when I leave, I’m often envious of the people who hiked past me as I stood there in one spot.
My new idea is to bring my watercolors, sketchbook and my camera and spend half of the time walking and taking photos and the other half making watercolor sketches. Then I can use those studies, photos and my memory and experience of the place to either make larger watercolors or oil paintings in the studio.
I so admire people who can make beautiful oil paintings plein air. I know that there’s nothing that can compare to seeing color and light and painting it right in the midst of nature’s glory. But maybe it’s time to accept that it’s just not my forte and focus on the things that I both enjoy and can do with some modicum of success.
My plein air group met at Tilden Regional Parks Botanical Garden this cold and foggy morning. Since I wasn’t familiar with the park I explored a bit and then decided to sketch instead of trying to drag my painting gear around the hilly, pebbly paths. Since I only had my large Moleskine and a Micron Pigma .01 pen with me, I added watercolor later at home. The May Lilly above was so sweetly but delicately scented that drawing beside it was like breathing in a dessert.
This bridge and creek was the first thing I sketched when I arrived, still arguing with myself about whether to go get my painting cart, whether to go home because it was too cold, whether to go home because I arrived late, how I should have brought my watercolors, how the scene was so complicated and so maybe I should just go home.
But as I drew, I started noticing interesting details, how dark and light shapes lined up, where one puzzle piece fit against the next, the design the water was making as it poured over rocks and down the creek, the sound of frogs and birds, and before I knew it that busy, chattering mind had shut off and I was having fun.
As I sketched this spectacular Manzanita, I began noticing how much like strong lean muscles the branches were, with their smooth, polished red surface. Then I found other human attributes: the knotholes looked like eyes while the bends in the branches looked just like elbows. This led me to consider the oneness of all things and I felt very connected to all the nature around me. During our critique at the end of the paint-out, we each take a turn showing our work and talking about our process. When I shared these thoughts someone laughingly asked what I’d eaten for breakfast! I was high on drawing, not Cheerios!
Walking to our critique, I spotted this garden kittie, having a nice nap in the buckwheat section of the garden and had to stop and sketch it. Nothing bothered this plump pussy who slept amidst the plants, little signs, wood chips and stones near the garden entrance. I added the whiskers with white gel pen.
Last Sunday it was a perfect day for hiking in beautiful Tilden Park in the East Bay hills above Berkeley with my best friend Barbara. When we came upon this scene I had to stop and take photos to use as reference for a painting, along with my memories of how the scene felt to me.
Late that night instead of going to bed I gave myself one hour to block in the basic shapes and get the painting started:
For a variety of reasons it was a whole week before I could get back to the painting. After spending this afternoon and evening with the painting I think it’s finished (or nearly so). I really tried not to lose the things I liked in the first “draft” and for once (I hope) I stopped before it got overworked.
This is the first oil painting I’ve done that I’ve been happy with from beginning to end. I know I still have a long way to go with learning (which is good since learning is my favorite thing), but I’m happy that all the studying and practicing I’ve done is beginning to allow me to get an image on canvas that I can see in my mind and feel in my heart, like this one.