Saturday, November 20, 2010

Picchetti Winery

Picchetti Winery barns and farmhouse
View of a distant vineyard in fall colors
This week's sketches are from our Hike and Sketch up at Picchetti Winery. There is a little hiking trail from behind the winery, out along the hillside, with great views of the surrounding hills. The day was perfect - a little cool in the shade, but lovely in the sunshine.Bridge over a dry streambed
Foggy view of the distant Almaden hills

Picchetti Farmhouse

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Asilomar, Sept 23rd

The CA coast is gorgeous at this time of year. Today's visit to the Point Pinos area of Monterey was a fun day of painting and enjoying the spectacular scenery. It can be intimidating to paint huge panoramas, so I started with some little brush pen sketches to get a feel for the place.

We set up on the beach and looked out over the sea. On turning round I was grabbed by a view of some ice plants cascading down over the rocks. Above was a beautiful blue sky with the occasional seagull hovering in the sea breeze. I thought it would make an interesting painting, but of course the seagulls don't hang around so it will have to be a studio painting. I did some sketches of the idea and took photos of the birds.

We lunched overlooking the golf course, then moved up to the Point Pinos Lighthouse. This quaint little building looked very paintable, but as I started my composition sketch I quickly realized I was way too close to the building. The dark green rectangle was supposed to contain the whole lighthouse! Feeling overwhelmed by the task, I moved on to a cute little shed behind the lighthouse which nestled amongst some interesting trees. I was conscious of making the shed (my focal point) slightly off to one side, but the shed had other ideas when I started drawing and plonked itself right in the center of the paper. Darn! Despite this I was really pleased with the way it came out (see top of page).

Later we moved further along the coast to where a sea lion had spent the day sunbathing on a big rock out at sea. It seemed like a picture perfect opportunity, but he was quite far away. I did two sketches, the second using binoculars. My last painting was an attempt at the crazy rocks which line the coast here. Rocks are quite a challenge!

The Presidio, September 19th

Last week we had an impromptu trip up to San Francisco. The idea was to sketch the views at the Presidio and visit the CA Watercolor Assoc. exhibition at the Officers Club. The Presidio was a bit fog bound when we got there, so the views were not extensive! However, we were undeterred and found plenty to paint. The exhibition was very instructive. We had fun critiquing all the paintings and picking out our favorites.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Villa Montalvo

The plein air painting has been sadly neglected of late, and I only have one painting and a sketch from this week. Despite early fog on my side of the valley, Villa Montalvo had glorious sunshine and blue skies. I've painted the house before so I wandered down to a new area - a little cactus garden. A small group of children were painting in the area too and had wonderful big sheets of paper and watercolors to play with. They spent more time wandering around than painting, but they were quite enthusiastic. One young lady looked at my painting and said "its coming together nicely"! She may be right, but I had to leave before it was complete and now I must finish it as "homework" i.e. it will stay in its present state forever! I liked my quick brushpen sketch more.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stevens Creek Park

Today we enjoyed perfect temperatures and views of the turquoise waters of the Stevens Creek Reservoir. We had the company of ducks and kayakers, and a soft breeze rustling the leaves. In my relaxed mood, the distant clank and rumble of the diggers and trucks in the nearby quarry was just another kind of music on the breeze.I started with a couple of sketches with my brushpens, then launched in with my watercolors. I was pleased with the colors I made, but my watercolor composition is a little disappointing. I was intending to put some ducks in - maybe that would help it.Just before left, I was attracted to the contrast on one of the picnic benches, so I did a quick sketch of the lights and darks.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Goldsmiths Seeds, Gilroy, July 8

I'm slowly getting back into the swing of plein air painting after my trip to Alaska. These are from our visit to Goldsmiths Seeds in Gilroy. Goldsmiths was taken over in 2008 and the new company name, Syngenta, is now prominent - which doesn’t sound quite as wholesome. This was borne out when we had set up for painting looking out over rows of pretty flowers towards the hills and a couple of colorful barns. An employee came over and asked us to move as they had just sprayed the flower beds behind us with pesticide and they didn’t want us to get sick!

There were plenty of flowers on the other side of the property though so most of us lugged our stuff over there and painted. The day had started off cool but cloudy skies soon gave way to clear blue. I prefer a little cloud in the sky, its just too boring to paint a plain blue wash for the sky!

Plein air painting is now down to twice a month, so in theory there won't be so much to post. However, I am seized with the desire to do some studio painting - so we'll see it that happens!


Its been so long since I posted that I'd forgotten my password. Thank heaven for post-its! Here, finally, are my sketches from the Alaska trip.
We began our journey on the overnight Coastal Starlight train from San Jose up to Seattle. The journey takes 24 hours and our accommodation (a roomette) was a little small, even for someone my size! It was hard to sleep, so I was wide awake at 4:30am and, sketchbook in hand, waited for it to get light enough to draw.
The passing landscape was quite magical - evergreen treetops silhouetted against the sky and the Sacramento River glimpsed as a silver torrent rushing through the blackness. Above Venus shone brightly in the dawn sky. Later, pink clouds appeared over the snow capped peaks of the Cascade mountains.
Rail stop at Klamath Falls
Seattle Space Needle from our hotel room as the sun was setting, Olympic mountains just visible in the background. I sat on the bed and managed to get my paints out for the first time.
The following day we boarded our ship, the Golden Princess, in Seattle and set off for Alaska. On the cruise I discovered that I have sea legs -well at least for moderate 10 foot swells! I enjoyed the ship much more that I thought I would. Even with 3000+ companions on board its still possible to get away from everyone if you so desire. The food is amazing and you could easily eat yourself into oblivion! (very quickly I realized I had to curtail my eating or I would have needed a whole new wardrobe by the time we got to Juneau!)
We visited Juneau and saw our first glacier - the Mendenhall. This was a magical moment. Nothing can prepare you for the size, force, and sheer beauty of a huge sheet of ice scouring its way over the mountains. We didn't have as much time as I would have liked to explore, but I managed a quick painting, sat at the feet of all the tourists at "photo point". I loved the milky blue of the meltwater lake and the floating icebergs shed by the glacer.

There were Arctic Terns nesting in the Lupins below me and they were performing amazing aerobatics above my head. I had my paper towel tucked in my coat pocket for easy access and when I had finished painting I realized that I had put more paint on my coat than on my sketch. I had to dash hastily to the restrooms and wash it off before rushing to catch the bus back to Juneau.

Our next port of call was Skagway for a trip to the Yukon. I only managed one tiny scribble in my diary as the coach stopped for 10 minutes at some roadworks. The landscape out there is achingly beautiful and the environments so varied. We traveled over the mountains on the Klondike Highway through rainforest, Alpine, sub arctic tundra, boreal forest and even past the smallest desert near Carcross. Our return journey was on the White Pass Railway, a narrow gauge railway that clings to the mountain side giving tremendous views of the valley and its waterfalls.
Next day we stayed on board ship and floated around Glacier Bay. We got our fill of the massive glaciers there and watched playful seals lounging on ice floes and humpback whales spouting off in the distance.Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay. The striations and colors of these huge walls of ice are beautiful. I wished I'd had time to put paint on the paper.

Ketchikan sketched from the ship

Ketchikan (2 page spread) drawn from the ship as we were casting off

Well, what an amazing place Alaska is. I enjoyed my trip there so much and would go back in a heart beat. Photos and sketches just don't do it justice.
Since getting back I have been reading about Alaska and the gold rush. I loved Jack London's "Call of the Wild", and "White Fang". I am now reading John Muir's "Travels in Alaska" recounting his exploration of Alaska in 1879. He traveled thousands of miles in a canoe with native guides and climbed the peaks and glaciers, mostly alone, in search of knowledge about the flora, fauna, and geology of the area. His descriptions of the landscape are beautiful.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Showers at Fremont Older

We had a hike and sketch planned for today - the weather turned out showery so it was just Jenny and I, two hardy souls! It was worth going out though. The colors were beautiful, both in the sky and landscape. We've had so much rain that there are still flowering bushes and loads of wild flowers blanketing the hillsides. We stopped a couple of times to do very quick sketches. I wanted to paint, but our pen sketches got splashed on, so paints were out of the question. Then we went up to Hunters Point. We stayed up there for an hour and ate our lunch - probably not a wise idea as we got very cold. The panoramic views there are wonderful though. I did a couple of paintings. I worked wet in wet and splashed on the color very quickly before it could get rained on. I was very pleased with the way I managed to capture the hills disappearing into the mist in the first one. (top)The second one came out more abstract. The light was just hitting a road down in the valley and it provided an nice white line in the landscape. When I got home I thought the sky could do with some more work, so I softened some of the blooms and the hard edges. In the event I think I ruined it. So, abject lesson there, keep it fresh and leave well alone!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Alviso moon, Capitola bulldog

A week in which I get mooned and have my portrait drawn...
Today's paintings are from Alviso on the bay. It was peaceful in the immediate vicinity, but off in the distance a big hole boring machine was thumping its way into the earth and workers were clustered around a truck with a crane. The marshes here are very colorful. There were lots of flowers still about because of the continuing rains and the tule reeds are tipped with orange. Flowers are great, but beware of "blooms" in your paintings - I was fairly happy with my colorful painting until I looked closer at the sky. Is that the Alviso "moon"?! Yikes! I'll have to go back and do something with it. Closer to the bay the water was beautiful - the waves had a golden look to them. I was attracted by the storage silos and various small industrial buildings near the water. The hills still have a green blush to them where they haven't quite dried out yet. Another month will see an end to that.Capitola
On the weekend I went down to Capitola to meet up with another artist and do some sketching. The day was glorious and Capitola was bustling. I'm not a people person really, so my sketches make it look like we were pretty much alone out there! I did a quick sketch from the end of the esplanade looking at the cliffs. Then I turned around and started a painting of the beach view with the cliffs and the pier. I continued drawing with my brushpen on the watercolor paper and actually like the feel of that. The drawing was in light blue, so not too scary looking. While I was painting I turned out to be the perfect subject for another artist sitting on the grass to sketch!Unfortunately I was talking the whole time I was painting, so it didn't turn out too well in the end. There was also a lady with a bulldog right in front of me and I so wanted to draw the dog. I got my sketchbook out and put it on my lap, under the watercolor. Then when the dog stayed in one position for a bit I scribbled a sketch, then when he moved I went back to my watercolor. Talk about multitasking! Daft idea all round. The bulldog was definitely the best bit though!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud - Hike and Sketch at Sunol

Flag Hill, Sunol

Ever hiked in a pair of mud overshoes?! It was a little sticky underfoot today up at Sunol after all the rain we got yesterday. We started our short hike on the Hayfield Road trail. This was NOT a road by any stretch of the imagination today. We slipped, slid and squelched up the hill through the ooze. Every few yards stopping to scrape the mud off our feet, and a couple of inches off our height! I have to say though that the vistas were well worth it. After a short slog up Hayfield we were stopped dead by the staggering view of Flag hill. Its green undulations crowned by rocks and pierced by stony ribs just begged to be painted.Further up still we came across a small herd of cattle. They lay about on the crest of a hill like so many cud chewing rocks. Blue hills in the distance created a perfect backcloth of pastoral serenity. The cows eyed us with disdain as we all set up our painting gear opposite them. Throughout our day the skies were alternately blue and cloudy, making for interesting color combos in our paintings.Our original plan was to go to the top of Hayfield than via Cave to Eagle View Road, but time spent grappling with the mud put us behind and instead we cut across on a narrow trail to Indian Joe Creek trail. This narrow trail proved even worse for mud than Hayfield, having been well churned up by the cows. Little pockets of slick mud and cow manure had to be dodged without falling down the sheer drop! Our arrival at the babbling brook of Joe Creek was greeted with relief and celebrated with lunch and more sketching. We saw the promise of a drier trail to return on.The dry trail was drier in some ways, but we did have to cross, and recross, the stream numerous times. Our last stop was to try and and capture the running water of the stream with fallen trees in it. I ran out of time on my painting and will have to finish from memory. All in all a wonderful day out in a beautiful landscape.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Mirror Lake at Yosemite

We just had a wonderful few days in Yosemite and were lucky enough to arrive after a terrible snowstorm so that we could enjoy the snow without really having to deal with it too much. On our arrival there was still a lot of cloud and gloom about which made for some atmospheric views of the valley.Lunchtime Sketch from the Meadow
Day One: There was a lot of ice and snow on the smaller trails so it was hard going in places, especially as my new walking shoes had no grip on the ice. The weather couldn't have been nicer though - glorious sunshine and increasing temperatures, which meant that the snow melted very quickly throughout our visit. We had lunch overlooking the meadow, Washington Column and the Arches. There was water cascading down the rocks all over, and the waterfalls were flowing well. I did this quick sketch as we sat in the sun eating our sandwiches. We hiked over 10 miles the first day.Sketch for watercolor

On Day Two: We had an abortive trip to see the Mariposa Grove - which you can only get into if you arrive early in the morning as they have very little parking (Duh! why even make it a highlight of the park if no-one can go there! That's twice we've tried to see it and been turned away.) In the afternoon we went to Mirror Lake and had lunch. I set up with my paints, did a brushpen sketch first, then went on to the watercolor at the top of this article. I was sat right on the shore and every now and then a warm breeze would blow by from somewhere. I got totally absorbed in the scene in front of me and had no idea of how much time passed. Keith and Steve had decided to hike the Mirror Lake trail as far as the huge rockfall which has now blocked it. They came back with aching limbs, so I'm glad I decided to paint!
I did another quick sketch at Mirror Lake then we went and ate at the Ahwahnee Hotel. This involved another hike, but we were glad we didn't try to drive as the hotel road was being dug up and there was a huge line of cars waiting to go in and out. By the end of the day our old muscles and joints were protesting the miles of walking we'd done.Keith panning for gold

On Day Three: we drove up to Columbia for a little gold prospecting. I've found the perfect way to keep two old guys happy for hours!