Francis Stone Mansion- Calistoga, CA - A new plein air oil painting

I painted this in front of the closed down 1886 stone house originally built by James Francis.  It is just off the downtown of Calistoga, Calif.  I`ve admired it`s Second Empire style for years, so I had to paint it.  Here is the painting after I completed it on location:


I really enjoyed painting this in the morning hours.  The light cast at an angle over the mansard roof dormers forming shadow designs.  I edited out the fence, it didn`t seem right to include it.  I feel sorry for this house, it was a hospital for decades after the first two owners died.  It`s the only stone building in the Second Empire style in Napa County.  I bought a few lottery tickets hoping I`d win so I could buy it.  I didn`t win, I guess it`s not meant for me.  It is for sale for a cool million, but it will take another million to clear out the fallen debris and save the stone facade of the house.  This is one of those paintings that you feel an urgency to paint before it`s gone, the house that is.    So, I want to add this to my family collection.  I can paint another one if you would like to commission me to do so.  I plan on going back up there in a month or so.  

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Francis Stone Mansion- Calistoga, CA

I painted this in front of the closed down 1886 stone house originally built by James Francis.  It is just off the downtown of Calistoga, Calif.  I`ve admired it`s Second Empire style for years, so I had to paint it.  Here is the painting after I completed it on location:


I really enjoyed painting this in the morning hours.  The light cast at an angle over the mansard roof dormers forming shadow designs.  I edited out the fence, it didn`t seem right to include it.  I feel sorry for this house, it was a hospital for decades after the first two owners died.  It`s the only stone building in the Second Empire style in Napa County.  I bought a few lottery tickets hoping I`d win so I could buy it.  I didn`t win, I guess it`s not meant for me.  It is for sale for a cool million, but it will take another million to clear out the fallen debris and save the stone facade of the house.  This is one of those paintings that you feel an urgency to paint before it`s gone, the house that is.    So, I want to add this to my family collection.  I can paint another one if you would like to commission me to do so.  I plan on going back up there in a month or so.  

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Sundown at Grgich Cabernet Vineyard

On a mid-September afternoon I set out to do a plein air painting of a Napa Valley vineyard.  I had been staying overnight in Calistoga, California at a campground for a few days.  I was going to paint a vineyard in that town.  The sun sets earlier in Calistoga because the mountains are higher, so I drove down towards the valley more.  I already knew where I wanted to paint, Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford.  Many times I have visited this Cabernet vineyard just off to the right of the old stone cellar building.  It was time to paint it.  The afternoon sunlight was fading fast, so after I asked an employee if I could paint out there, I set up quickly.  I made a pencil sketch first to set the composition, made some descriptive notes and dove into action on the linen panel.  In my notes I wrote, "Brightly sunlit vines, aisles are in shadow.  It is a plethora of greens with violet Cabernet grapes."

Knowing that the sun wasn`t waiting for me, I used a large brush and blocked in the whole area of the canvas.  

I used warm and cool greens that I blended on my palette.  I blocked in that rectangle of warm orange to yellow green on the side of the building to keep those colors intense, the sun was blazing on that side.  It was dancing across the vine tops making the leaves seem to move upwards catching the rays.   The aisles between the rows of grapevines were in deep shadow but warm in color.  Rich soils here.  The Cabernet grapes looked almost black in the shadow, I knew I had to add a wee bit lighter value of blue-violet to them later.   Just for the sake of art.  The hills behind were turning various shades of color, it was hard to nail down just one hue with that veil over it, so I made cooler adjustments of blues and greens as the light went lower.  Before I knew it, the sun had set and I felt I caught the feeling of it all good on that canvas.  The crickets began to chirp loudly and mosquitoes were hovering over me.  I had to get out of there, it was getting dark.  I made a little film of it first. 

I uploaded the short video to my Youtube page, click here to view it.  My voice is a little deep, I was worn out!  I also called it St Helena, it is Rutherford. 

Here it is completed on scene:


This is a very expressive piece of art.  I thought maybe I could do some more refinements on it later, but as the next day began and I looked at it, I made up my mind to leave it alone, it has a pure essence to it.  It is natural in it`s creation just like the vineyards there.  I like the purity of expression in a plein air work of art, all of an artist`s thoughts, emotions, visual perception, state of mind, focus and upbringing go into it.  I was raised around the Napa Valley and have a great reverence for it, for it`s land, history, people and climate.   As a young girl I would run down the rows of vineyards with my brothers and sisters in the Carneros, Dry Creek and Redwood Creek regions.  Good memories.  By painting the vineyards now, I can reclaim that youthfulness and be part of the nature that surrounds me. 

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Majestic Eucalyptus and Pinot Noir, a new plein air piece

Painted 100% en plein air near an old ranch property that I used to live at in Napa Valley.  It was once almost all cattle land, now vineyards.   I do remember some vineyards there as a teen.   There are giant eucalyptus trees in this region, the breadth of the trunks of some are enormous.   This is one of them.  I painted her on a lovely sunny and very windy afternoon last week during a special trip I took to Napa.   Here is an image of the painting after I completed it on location:

I liked how the light contrasted brightly on the grapevines and wild oats against the shade of the tree. What may have been poison oak growing around the base of the tree shined bright red-orange in the late afternoon sunlight.  The wild growth on the eucalyptus and falling bark added so much interest.  The wind was kicking up some dust coming from the north or right side of the painting.  I edited the split of branches in the upper trunk to come down a bit more so I could include it in the painting.   These trees along an old road that is closed down are over a hundred years old and I remember walking through them forty-five years ago.   I keep wanting to revisit them every time I am in Napa since I admire them so much.    My future intentions are to paint a large studio work featuring several of the trees along the road.  I may have to go back to do a larger workstudy of that first.  No complaints from me to have to visit Napa Valley again. 


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Rushing Tides, a new plein air seascape, abstracting the scene

A couple dozen of artists showed up yesterday morning at the Montage Resort to have a paint-out.   I picked this spot for the clarity and colors of the shoreline seawater along with the brilliant warm colors on the bluff.   There is so much happening in this location for an artist that one has to squint to see what truly pops out as a high contrasting focal point.   The fast approaching tide chose it for me when it rushed ashore towards the sunny orange cliff.   A long cascading group of shrubs grew downs towards the sea at that point.   I can thank Nature every time for showing me where to put my focal point.   Vivid magenta bougainvillea dotted the bluff for more high contrast in this area.   So, I set up my composition to portray this scene based around these natural elements.  I added more magenta flowers in the end to accent that bluff with a little more color for the painting`s sake. 

I`m so attached to the sea, I become emotional when I see the varying colors in the water along with the white water do it`s dance on the shore.   This rushing tide was fingering it`s way so rapidly and with great force, it hit the base and would crawl up even.  I have been experiencing this offset tide lately, in fact this whole summer as I spent many days on the beaches of southern California.   They say it is due to the hurricanes that were offshore on the coast of Mexico.  My husband says it is Global Warming.  That`s alarming.  All I know is that when I was painting on the shore this summer, I have been nearly wiped out by them several times.   My art equipment is getting rusty now from that salt water.   I`ve been knocked down hard just taking beach walks in the shallow water when a sneaker wave rushes ashore.  Today I was glad I was high up on the bluff.  But it has been a fun, fun summer anyway. 

Here is an image of the painting after two hours on location:



Here is one of those tidal rushes I`m talking about.   Beach people were squealing as the cool water got to them, I did that too this summer!



My artist friends with SOCALPAPA (Southern California Plein Air Painter's Association) had a quick draw which meant we had two hours to paint a scene plein air style.  It is very stressful to an artist to cover the canvas, refine and complete a work of art in that short time.  I felt like I was a race horse coming in last.  Although I did the deed in time, I felt later that I needed to refine it and adjust the painting into something more.  Certain areas needed to be brought out more and some needed softening while others needed to be more atmospheric and cooled.  Many edges had not been met and there were large empty areas.   So, I took it into my art studio at home later that night and worked on it a few more hours.    The most important thought running through my head the whole time was not to overwrite the underpainting completely.  Only address the areas that I could see were too crude.   I worked the whole time while making interval glances  at the reversed painting in a tall mirror behind me.  It helps me to view the piece that way immensely.  Anything that is 'off ' will pop out.    After awhile I usually get a feeling and hear a voice that says it is done, there`s no more adjusting to do without overworking it.   It`s important to listen to what is going on in your head.   I can hear it`s done, it`s done several times before I actually put down the brushes.   I`m working on that with each painting, knowing when to quit.   I get better and better all the time.   The key point is to keep that capture of feeling I had when I was there painting the glorious scenery.  A second and I think even more important key point is to abstract the scenery into a work of art, not paint the scene like it is before you, use the elements of art to recreate it.  I believe I did in this one. 


 The price is with a frame.  CA sales tax for California residents is 8%. 

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Dreamy Morning, a Catalina Island - Avalon Habor plein air seascape

I painted this on location in Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island, Tuesday August 26.   I arrived the day before to do an art show, got up early the next morning and found this scene to be especially nice.  It had a mixture of cool shade colors with the early warm sun accents of light on the casino building`s edges.  The bows of the boats sparkled in the morning sun.  Reflections of the sun-kissed casino columns danced on the harbor water which was waving up and down.  I felt I was in a dream.  There was a heavy ocean swell due to a hurricane down in Mexico, it wasn`t bad yet on this morning.  Except for a sneaker wave that would splash against the rocks around the harbor.  They were due to become worse later, so I knew I had time to paint and enjoy the clear, sunny weather. Funny thing is the swell was acting up but the sky stayed blue due to the hurricane turning a hard left towards Hawaii.  So we never saw clouds from it. 

I almost always begin my oil paintings with this burnt orange blend over my bare linen panel and wipe it to a dry patina before painting in color.  That way, if there are unfinished edges, which in plein air painting, it is a given, this warm color will show likes sparks of light instead of bare white.  I lightly sketch in my composition with the same burnt orange color that I make from Alizaron Crimson, Cadmium Yellow and a touch of Chromatic Black, sometimes a dab of Ultramarine Blue.  Since the light is changing rapidly, I do not waste much time on the sketch, it is only to position my major shapes upon the panel with minimum detail.   I make an indication of where I want my focal point to be, in this case the rear/stern of the smaller boat and the bow tip of the larger boat.  The water bouncing through the space between the larger and the smaller boat has an interesting mix of color abstractions in various shapes and values.   That area is also off-center in the right-lower thirds.   I`m too busy to measure for the Golden Mean, I just divide my panel up into thirds and then mentally note that there are 9 equal squares within the thirds.  You can see the dot shaped markers I place in each third on the edges of the panel.  I then wipe some off especially near the sky later, otherwise if it dries it can show through my light blue sky.  I move so fast painting that sometimes my third markers stay and can be seen in the final painting.   A secondary focal point is the upper balcony of the casino with the colorful flags.  One area lead into the other quite nicely by alignment.

Next is the blocked in painting, I filled my panel with the major shapes in a poster-like layout.   I was not being picky about meeting edges, just very picky about values and color, geometric shapes and atmospheric perspective. 

In a couple of hours I had added and adjusted major areas into more of an interwoven piece.  I was just about done, but I had to leave.  I was part of the Summer Art Series,  Shops at the Atwater put on by LPAPA and the Catalina Island Company.  I was supposed to be demonstrating that morning.  I chose to finish this piece in the lobby of the Shops at the Atwater later.  A man wanted to buy it right there, I told him I think it needed refining, so I gave him my card.  Another man sent his wife to see what I was doing from a boat in the harbor. He was going to buy it if it was his boat!  It wasn`t, but I took pictures of his boat after that. 

Here it is completed in the nice lobby entrance to the Atwater Shops.  The indoor light makes this appear more washed out, but I worked on it for an hour maybe to tie up very disconnected edges and leave other edges alone.  I also added trims on the building and boats, flag poles and dashes of color in strategic spots.  I did not overwork anything, to keep it fresh looking with the initial shapes brushed in still being intact and not brushed over again.    Done!

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Hitching Post at Hamilton Oaks, a small plein air landscape

This old house is a 1923 farm house in San Juan Capistrano that is now a wine tasting business called Hamilton Oaks San Juan.  It also hosts a lot of weddings.   I felt it was the right time to paint the rear of the home where the weddings are held.  I made a couple of strokes of paint under the dark wood arch to indicate a bride and groom figure standing there.  This combination of orange orchard, craftsman style home, water tower and landscaping is so quaint, so country. I am going to paint more of these, this is the first.  It is framed and on view at Hamilton Oaks now.   Here is an image of the framed painting and how it appears in the sitting room.   The third image shows it when I was painting it on location.  Someday I may get commissioned to paint live during a wedding there.  That would be exciting!





It began to get very cloudy when I was painting it, although it was sunny when I started.  So, I took this painting into my home studio and brightened it back up again with a blue sky and a big white cloud.  I used a reference images that I took on location when it was sunny.  I added more highlights ad accents too, it really cheered up afterward!

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Tracks of Life - at Salt Creek Beach, from plein air to studio painting

Comes framed for $350, $300 without a frame. 

I began this painting on location at Salt Creek Beach where I have walked many times with my dog for the past ten years.  I have done some swimming here too.  I have started to do a series of it, especially showing the lifeguard stands.  Being summertime, the lifeguards have their work cut-out for them.  They have to keep a sharp eye out for distressed swimmers or ones who are heading for deeper waters without being old enough.  I was a lifeguard back in upstate new York during my college years, I feel the brotherhood kinship towards them.  The lifeguard trucks make several trips throughout the day at these stands.   I enjoy the colorful appearance of the stand/structure and how the lifeguard overlooks the beach from his or her station.  At a certain time of the later afternoon, the tracks become shadowed enough to pop out their trails.  Also, the heat causes a marine layer to develop out at sea along the horizon, it is a favorite time of the day there for me.   The sun turns the sandstone bluffs more of a yellow orange and the sandy shore becomes buttery with violet-blue shadows.  This beach is very beautiful with many tourist folks from the Ritz Carlton and St Regis Hotels above taking walks along a shoreline path.  The locals like myself love to walk their dogs or just be a couple going for a sunset walk.  That`s where I was painting from with my Chihuahua, Dolce, sitting by my side.   Here is a picture of the painting after the sun went down where I started it on location.  This is what we call a block-in of the major shapes of the composition.  Although I began to elaborate more on my focal point to capture it. 

 When I arrive at a scene and like what I see, I set up my easel and began to do a thumbnail sketch in my bound sketchbook first, then I do a rough oil sketch on the panel.    I used to draw the oil sketch in detail, but I do not anymore due to time restraints, that light is moving fast and I want to give the actual painting process the most of my time and energy.   Here is all I do for a quick sketch to position my focal point, which was the lifeguard stand.  Then I draw lines to indicate positions of the bluff and shoreline, horizon... They can change during the process too. 


From looking at the background of the bluff and shore, you can see how the mid to light value yellow-orange, yellow ochre of the bluffs differ from the lighter value sandy shores.  Also how the blue-violet shadows cast so beautifully on a late afternoon.  See how brilliant the afternoon sun makes this scene look!  The sun was to my back right. 

I worked on the lifeguard stand first in the painting because sometime between 6pm to 7pm, they close up the windows and take everything down.  I wanted to capture the liveliness of an occupied stand on scene before I went any further into the surrounding areas.  Below is a detail of the lifeguard stand:



Life is a beach in the summertime!

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Bishop Creek & Jeffrey Pines, Plein Air Painting with Steps

Painted 100% on location at Bishop Creek Park in the Eastern Sierras on a warm July morning.  I am adding a few more images below of the steps of the painting.  Here is the painting when I completed it on location:


I at first do my oil sketch in a red-brown to arrange the subject matter.  I have to do that or the painting will not proceed in an semi-orderly fashion.  There`s always room for shifting things, taking out things or changing angles.  I liked the horizontal flow of cool creek waters behind the warm vertical Jeffrey Pine trunks as sunlight streamed in from beyond.  At 9am the light was on the right side of the painting but within half an hour it shifted over to the left side, so I changed my focal point.  Better choice as it had more interest flowing over a big red granite rock  and had a shady cove there. 




Above is the part where Charles Hawthorne calls it right,  "The weight and value of a work of art depends wholly on it`s big simplicity - we begin and end with the careful study of the great spots in relation to one another.  Do the simple thing and do it well.  Try to see large simple spots - do the obvious first.  When you go out and paint and things mean only spots of color to you, you have your painter`s eye with you."   "See if you can`t simply put down spots of color and let the results take care of themselves.  You have got to be able to see these spots come together without outline and let the outline come after.  Look to the center of color spots and don`t be particular about where the edges come together." 


Here is the link to Charles Hawthorne`s book on Amazon, approx. $7 in paperback. 


This was a complicated scene so I had to think simply and not get into any detail or try pulling the color/value/shapes together until the canvas was nearly covered with my approximate color notes in varying shapes, say about 75-80%.  I kept thinking about how the shadow shapes connected into a design when midvalue color notes were added.  The colors of the creek were gradually layered in from shadow shapes to highlights.  But, at first I put strokes of pure white titanium down where I wanted the lightest white of the creek to shine, then added slightly lower colors into it, carving the creek into a flowing shape, very careful not to obliterate or muddy the purest white.  

In the last part, I pulled the blank parts of the canvas together with neutral colors that faded the background a bit, to give a sense of depth and atmosphere.   I softened those shapes to recede, but I did not blend them totally.  Plus I made a foreground pull together with warmer neutrals since it was sunshine on dirt.  The trees were cleaned up around the edges and straightened, interwoven into the creek and background, then warmed up on the trunks. 

Below is my location on the side of the road that is very less traveled, my Chihuahua, Dolce, taking a nap while I painted.  Life doesn`t get much better than this morning when all turned out well. 

Dolce my great companion and best friend on her favorite towel.  She`s a good girl. 


Adios Amigas! 

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Sunset with Marine Layer at Salt Creek Beach

I painted this plein air piece onsite at Salt Creek Beach in Orange County, California.  It`s right down the hill from me.  I went there on the eve of the 4th of July.  I go there often.  We have been having great summer weather lately except for the marine layer that sometimes wipes out the sunset.  Fortunately on this day the fog kept back until right at sunset so I was able to paint a vivid orange sun as it truly looked.   Towards sunset, the lifeguard stand closes up and stands in dark shadow against the high color skyline.  Nearby cattails are also in cool shadow with the tips towards the sun glowing in light.  People are lined up out on the shoreline for the day until the sun sets.  The sand turns from golden colors to cool mauves,neutrals and violets.  Monarch Beach peninsula is a distant bluff in gray.   The sea was calm this day without big waves.   I was holding back on painting my sky until the last 15-10 minutes to wait and see what glorious colors would appear.   It is like magical color bursts almost every time.  Then I began feverishly mixing batches of a crimson, blue-violet and gray to build the marine layer puffy clouds with the halo of cream and buttery light hitting the tops.   Then I stroke in the orange and yellow orange as the horizon becomes a blaze of warmth.  Colors change so rapidly at sunset, I lay it down and leave it pretty much alone to capture a moment.  I add final tints of colors to give it some highlights but not overdo it as the colors at sunset are actual down in the scale of values. 

Here is the spot I picked to set up and I brought my Chihuahua, Dolce to keep me company.  She takes her nap in the Radio Flyer wagon while I paint.  I feed her some white chicken breast first and some water so she`s comfortable enough to sleep.  She also gets a little walk first to chase lizards and tire herself out. 

Dolce loves to be with me anywhere.   I love the beach and so does she.

Dolce, my Chihuahua napping, I keep her tied just in case she sees another dog, she loves to run after them!



After the sunset, it tends to get dark quickly and people leave.  I usually run into the ocean to cool my feet off after standing and painting.   It`s always a good day spent when I paint until the sun goes down.   I`m so happy when the day is done and another sweet painting is created.   I went back the next day on the 4th and began yet another painting of beach goers and the lifeguard stand.

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