Buckwheat Chaparral, Oaks & Red Rock Cliffs, a plein air artwork

I'm ever so grateful for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy volunteers allowing artists like myself to do plein air painting in their protected wilderness.  For being a member of Southern California Plein Air Painters Association and now Vice President, I requested a date to have a paint-out in a canyon.  It is normally closed off to the public.  This is Baker Canyon off Santiago Canyon Road, it is a delicate wildlands habitat protected from urban development to allow nature to grow and wildlife to prosper.   So on a perfect Sunday afternoon with mild winds and clear skies about 20 artists were painting to their heart's content for 4 hours here.  I chose to hike up a little bit to this overview of Red Rock Cliffs that looked red-violet to mauve in the later afternoon shadows.  The backlighting of the oaks and buckwheat, wild oats and other chaparral intrigued my eyes.  I kept walking back and forth to line up a perfect composition where the wild oats and rye grass lead a path to the red rock cliffs and gnarly old oak tilted towards the canyon.  Afternoon light is so colorful pouring across the wildlands and it creates an atmosphere begging to be captured.  The buckwheat is flowering in the spring and in summer turns deep red brown and burnt orange. There were literally thousands of the buckwheat flowers bobbing in the gentle afternoon breeze.  I had to edit that and group several bushes or it would be overkill in this art piece.  Here is an image of the day when I was done on the mountain before we all had to depart this wonderful natureland. 


I later brought it home to refine in my studio, keeping as much of my original brushstrokes and shapes in there that I could.  Which I am proud to say is a lot.  It is an art in itself to make only essential corrections and enhancements central to making a plein air piece sing while keeping it's spontaneous beginnings.  When I am pressured for time out in the field of nature, my brushstrokes are loaded with thick oil paint each time and the strokes are very gestural.  I know what I need to do with color values to fill the canvas with divisions of shapes that compose the whole piece into a three dimensional perception.  And I do it fast before the light changes drastically.  One has no time to fiddle around.  In the end of the afternoon, the golden light was weaving it's color into the wilderness and I had to add it's affect.  It is a natural high to be able to paint out there.  We are hoping to schedule more paint-outs in the future. 

The price is for a framed piece in a plen air frame. 



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Gladiola Greetings, a Garden at the Gate, plein air painting

Painted in Balboa Bay front near Newport Beach, CA.   The cheerfulness of the purple and yellow glads which are also complimentary attracted me right away.  The beach house gate and lamp along with even more flowers made for such a delightful and inviting composition.  The faded brick warmed up the greens and balanced it out.  Some refinement on the painting was done in my home studio afterward. 

Below is an image of the afternoon I painted it on location.


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Cool Shade Along the Way, another in my oak tree series & thoughts

I spent half a day in the Irvine Ranch Conservancy doing plein air of the oak and sycamore groves again.  This is Limestone Canyon, only accessible along it's trail during a public scheduled day once every other month.  I truly enjoy Spring the most there, the trails are speckled with all kinds of wildflowers and there is so much green.  Here is an image of where I painted and blocked in this composition scene on location.



The reason I liked this scene is the trail that leads you through the wilderness and the airy light under and beyond the oak tree.  Of course I love oaks and this large one was beautiful with high reaching branches and draping gnarly boughs.  I had just completed my first plein air piece that morning of the midground sycamore next to the heavy oak tree on the left of the trail.  I had only 1-1/2 hours left to capture what I could on this shady large oak with shade crossing the trail.  I also liked how this composition had a foreground, middle-ground and background which if done right with value gradation, would sweep the viewer through the painting.  When painting greens I make batches of cool and warm in two darkest values and work from there as the painting progresses by adding either yellow, white, raw sienna, yellow orche or red light.  I wind up making many greens which develops the form and to keep it full of variety and life.  For art's sake I will add some form of red or orange to balance the piece, in this one I chose to put some alizarin crimson mixed with raw sienna into the distant oak to separate it from the foreground oak.  Also, in this painting I added an orange blend up front for sun burnt grasses along the trail and poppies that are dotting the field grass.  There were also these pale violet flowers, it was a perfect triad, violet, green and orange which I exercised in different values and chromas throughout the piece.  The brown-gray trunk and branches of the oak tree, the warm grays and whites of the sycamore and the intermittent gray atmospheric strokes in the background gave this a balanced natural feel. 

I've been doing a series of oak tree landscapes recently by painting on location; then going back to do more studio work which allows me to explore, experiment and grow in my artistry.  Both outdoor painting and indoor studio work is vital to my growth.  Painting a series is like an obsession at times, I feel the need to work things out until I find new ways to make unique abstractions of what otherwise would look like a copy of nature.  My goal is to give the viewer a sense of place along with atmosphere and joyful, bravura expressions of color and form.  Since there was a breeze this day, I used my more expressive brushstrokes to convey that airy, moving feeling one receives when walking along a wilderness trail.  The coolness of the shade was the significant thing that caught my attention so I gave that a center of interest.  The secondary point of interest was how the oak boughs reached out to the sycamore tree and into the sky.   I wish I could include the scent of the oaks and this special wilderness into the painting, it was palpable indeed.   Here is a closer look at the painting to view my brushstrokes and transistory passages. 

This will probably go into a gallery soon.  I'm not sure which one yet.  The price is for a framed artwork.   Or I can sell it directly before it goes into a gallery.  One has to act fast though, I realized all my landscapes were sold, that is another reason I painted a series of the oak tree landscapes. 



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Sycamore and Oak Tango, Plein Air Thoughts

On a warm spring day in Limestone Canyon I set out to paint some oak tree wilderness in plein air style.  When I got there, I walked down the trail searching for my first composition and I saw this Sycamore growing ever so closely to an oak tree.  I kept thinking of a marriage of two different trees, but just after I took the finished painting images I saw they were in a tango dance with each other.  The oak tree is bending back while the sycamore is leaning into it.  Can't you hear the violin Spanish virtuoso?  Maybe my artistic eye added a little more lean to them.  It was unconscious and I love classical violin.  Hence, it's now the title of the painting.  Trees will bend their trunks and branches to accomodate closely growing forest mates even if it's not their species.   It's natures way of living together in harmony, I just wish mankind were this way.  We can all learn to bend a little and live in close proximity without forcing our ways upon another.  I live in a Home Owner's Association that is always trying to enforce landscape trimming, it seems so petty to this nature girl. 

The view intrigued me artistically with the light trunk against the dark trunk and the sunlight in between.  I quickly placed the major shapes down and worked in the branches and the sky, then the foreground.  I was only concerned about getting that time of day down and the colors, it was morning and a plein air artist loves morning shadow with all the saturated colors.  Here is an image of the painting on location after I was ready to move on to the next painting. 


You see, I was on an open access day with limited hours from 8am-2pm and couldn't come back another day to finish.  It's in the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, gates are locked after it's over and the next open access day is in June or July.  So, I already saw another oak tree scene that I wanted to paint.  I always feel under so much pressure when I paint out here.  People are walking by going on their hikes and they will stop and comment or just keep going and comment while walking or bicycling away.  I heard a group of guys shouting "plein air, plein air" as they drove by.  It can be distracting, but I've been painting out here for 8 years and am used to it.   People generally can't believe I paint a scene in a couple of hours when they walk back and see a covered canvas where before their walk it was all white.  I told the last couple that woodland fairies painted it, not me.  They are hiding in the oak trees.  That gave them a good laugh, one must generate some humor with the crowd.  Sometimes I can't believe I did something myself, it seems the painting painted itself.  That's because we go into a zone when painting and if we follow the plein air fundamentals, it will build itself with your hand and mind, not to exclude heart and soul. 

Below is a close-up of the sunlit area under the oak tree to show you my brushtrokes.  It's abstract looking, that's what we do, we abstract from Nature and create something new in the way of art. 


The price is for an unframed painting.  A nice plein air frame will cost approx $45.  I have a supplier of good ones I recommend.  Randy Higbee, King of Frames.

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El Rancho Horse Trail, Creating Art From Nature, Plein Air Style

I was at an exclusive old Ranch camp a few weekends ago and I saw this grand old oak next to this historic trail gate.   It was such a beautiful sight it made my heart flutter.  That oak had heavy boughs draping over towards the gate and the light through the passage was very inviting. 

One thing I want to say about the California Live Coastal Oaks, they have gray-brown vines that drape downwards and the tree also flowers in the fall.  It is not green moss or lichen, instead the warm brown draping down from this oak are natural wood vines because it is a wilderness tree, not a garden tree that gets trimmed.   The flowers are red-orange brown and dry up, many times not falling off.  It's why I an drawn to these old ranch oaks, they are raw and beautiful in their natural state.  On the other hand, the light green moss draping trees can be seen up in northern CA and Mississippi, Georgia, Florida and many other states. 



So I set up to paint it plein air that morning while the cool shadows were still present.  I worked on it for a few hours, then the sunlight angle changed and I packed it up and brought it home.  The sun washed out all the morning colors by 1pm.  I at least managed to block in the major shapes and nature's colors, plus fine tune the focal area.  Here is a picture of the painting at that special location in Rancho Mission Viejo.   I got attacked and bit up by bugs the whole time I was there.   I forgot to bring bug repellant.  Apparently it was an old cattle ranch and the flies are leftovers that never left.  Ah, the things an artist must go throuh to capture the beauty of this blessed earth.  This painting was worth everything I went through to make it.


After a week I decided to place this painting on my studio easel and breathe some fresh paint into it.  All the while I was making sure I did not kill the plein air fresh paint quality, only enhance and make it an art piece.   I was very weary of even touching it at first, but I got a new set of bristle brushes by Robert Simmons, his Signet line.  So, I was aching to put them to work and I'm glad I did, what amazing brushes.  Below are some close-up images of the focal point and a detailed image of my brushstrokes.  I like to load a brush up with a color mixture and spread it in many ways across the surface to build form with colors, value and texture. 


Once I put the paint down, I do not like to dirty it, put it down and leave it.  If I feel it needs an interim color value, I mix an analogous, warmer or lighter, harmonic color on my palette before pushing into a previous stroke.  I do it with sensitivity. Every stroke is thought out to build a scene that takes you into it's space like a three dimensional realm.  In the image below, when I stroked in the gate post, that stroke stayed alone without dragging light value colors over it, it stains the linen,  you can even see the pink-red-brown under sketch in spots.  I like leaving them in places, it warms up the piece with little sparks.  If I lightened the dark value of the posts it would not lead you to that point between the posts, going into the wilderness beyond.  A dark next to a light with a strong color will take the eye right to it, that is your focal point.  I painted the trail bathed in light to also lead you in a linear fashion to the focal point. 


This impressionist painting looks much better framed at at distance, that's when all the color notes blend into each other and truly look like something you want to walk into.  But the strong strokes of color also remind you it is a work of art, not a copy of a scene.  I love creating art.


This is the gallery price with a plein air frame. 





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Moon, Clouds & Planetary Alignment, a painting from memory

For many years I have woke up in the wee hours of the morning or the middle of the night to watch the moon light up the sky.  I just haven't recorded my observations as an artist yet, until now. Two mornings ago I woke up at 5am to let the Chihuahua out to do her business.  I couldn't hep but notice this dreamy sky with the moon, planets, stars and clouds all lined up in a striking way.  I just stood there in the freezing night staring at it for several minutes, drinking it all in.  It had rained the night before and the clouds were moving by with wispy tufts floating above them.  I saw what appeared to be venus and mars near the moon that glowed in the deep ultramarine blue galaxy.  When you see something like that, you feel special to have witnessed such extraodinary beauty.  It was planted in my mind and I kept visualizing it the next day.  An impulse entered my mind to grab a small linen panel and paint my impression of it before it faded.  So, I did and it was quite remarkable how my mind could still see everything as I reacted with the brush on the panel.   I started with ultramarine blue mixed with a little alizarin crimson for the deep part of the sky and gradated the area around the moon with lighter tints of the deep blue mixture and cobalt blue mixed with white.  I experimented with light key colors for the clouds on my palette, but not immediate lighter in scale since the clouds have some mid tone depth at the bottoms.  They still have dimension.  Clouds are light vapors so the values used need to be in the lighter range.  Being at night though I didn't use any pure white.  I used a warm white to give the edges of the clouds nearest the moon the highlights.   It was a good exercise for me to paint this and I now want to do more the next time I see a nocturnal moon setting in the early morning sky.  Next one may be a little more inclusion of the earth or sea under it. 

Here is an image of the little 4" x 6" oil painting set upon my display easel, I moved the camera back so you can see what it appears like from  a distance.  Impressionism strokes blend better when you are a foot or more from the actualy painting.   I should frame this and take a picture of it from 3 feet away, it will look awesome when framed and hanging on a wall in your home or office.  It's one of those visuals that take you into a dreamy state. 

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Outrigger Calm Day, plein air art in Back Bay on exhibition at the Muth Interpretive Center

Painted en plein air 100% on location at the Aquatics Center in Back Bay.  Here is the day I painted it.  I waited until mid afternoon to paint when the cliff shadows were forming and the sunlight was softly lighting the bay.  The outriggers had still been uncovered to be taken out for afternoon trips.   When I was done, the bluffs turned yellow orange and it was so beautiful to see the light disappear as it set.   I have five paintings on exhibition/sale from now until the end of June at the Peter & Mary Muth Interpretive Center located at 2301 University Drive, Newport Beach, CA.  Here is the link to the website.  Inside the Muth is a counter with a large wall space showing the Back Bay art of three artists.  Of which I am one.    There is also an unframed artwork bin. 

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Sunkissed, a Plein Air Artwork and New Workshop

Orange orchards or let's say any orchard calls to my artist spirit to paint them.  The way the trees stand full of fruit or blossoms in the sun with a breeze blowing delicious scents and birds tweeting all around is poetry to me.   This hundred year old orange orchard has been a subject for many paintings from me.  I discoverd it eight years ago and struggled with how to best interpret these upright planes of form.  When I studied John "Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting"  I had the keys to transform the real into to the sublime in art.  The four planes of light are the sky, the sloping planes, the upright planes and the flat planes.  Each has a unique value on the grading scale.  Even though the whole book is great, these were the specific chapters that cued me into painting landscapes with trees more simply;  chapter three on 'Angles and Consequent Values' is number one to understand how to look at nature more simply so you will paint it more simply.   Chapter nine on 'Trees - How to Understand Them' helps to get into the nitty gritty of the tree as a unique growth in nature on earth's land. 

I had just taught my second workshop on the introduction to plein air and used the angles or planes of light theories from John Carlson's guide to get the idea of simple shapes across.   Although I also spoke of a million other things from experience.  Plein air style painting is anything but simple, it is very difficult to learn.   So that's what my students told me and I took 15 years learning it before I felt I had it down.   I used this orange orchard as a more easy way to introduce the angles of light that would allow them to create their first plein air painting.   First, I created this small plein air rendition of the tree in the mustard meadow to have as a demonstration piece.  This took approximately one and a half hours to complete.   That's all it should take if you are truly doing a plein air work of art from nature while capturing a certain time of the day or point of light.  Claude Monet would actually change his canvases every half an hour because the angle of light would change so quickly.   But if you put down the main masses and shadows first, the rest follows like musical chords to beautiful heights in a song and then softly fades out wistfully.  That is one of my own theories on creating harmony, rhythm and color balance.  I teach that in my workshop.    Go to my workshop page to see my next scheduled date March 21st.  It is in San Juan Capistrano, California at a wine tasting facility on a historic property.  

Below you can see the painting as I completed it on location:


Below is a picture of two of my students who are sisters and their wonderful plein air artworks created in an window of time. 

I look forward to doing this more!

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Beginning to Advanced Plein Air Workshop, February 21, 2015

A new one day workshop series to be held at Hamilton Oaks Winery in San Juan Capistrano where I also have a lot of my art hung in their wine tasting house.   I have been in there for 3 years thanks to the owner Connie Tamez, we have a great business and friendship relationship.  I have been plein air painting for at least 12 years, been in countless exhibitions, won a few awards and have sold many works of art.  I am ready to share my knowledge to give you a good jump start on creating poetic plein air works of art.

The beginning stage of the workshop will be held indoors in the 1923 carriage house where we will practice a few vital principles of art like a basic color chart, create a small orange orchard painting to learn angles of light and discussion of more elements of plein air impressionism.   Then a short lunch break (bring your own lunch) and in the midday we go into the orchard and paint.  There are flowers blooming like mustard and maybe even daisies.  It is so beautiful there!  See image at the bottom for an idea.  One on one instruction and guidance from me will be given based on your level. 


More info is on my workshop page. 


If you would like to attend, you can send me a message through my contact link,  OR leave a comment below with your email address and I will get right back to you. 


There is an option around midday to purchase a flight of wine, either red or white, $15 per flight to Hamilton Oaks with 5 small tastings.  


"Orange Grove Legacy" 14x11, oil,  plein air painted - sold


Backlit Scene of Old Orange Groves in February Afternoon Light. 

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Tidepool Discovery - Crystal Cove, Available as Prints

Depicts the scene from the Crystal Cove tidepools to the cottages.  The tidepools are a favorite spot for visitors to discover all types of marine life.  One of my favorite places to observe also and paint from.  I painted this in a more traditional appearance, old world style to capture the old feel of this historical place. 


I will be making this available as a giclee print also.  Either in 8x10 or 16x20 sizes.  The 8x10 will be $30, the 16x20, $95 on acid free specialty paper, 300 lb Moab or Hahnemuehle.    Canvas stretched prints will be a little higher.  Please click on the link, Contact to email me if interested. 

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