Plein Air Magazine) from Sept 2020
Plein Air Magazine from fall 2018
This 8 page article can be scrolled through using the arrows – visible when you roll your cursor over them – at the bottom of the article.PAMOctNov18-Katz
Today was one of those brightly sunlit and windless days in San Francisco where the air was so crystal clear that you could see the Farallon Islands that are 30 miles offshore. I headed for Baker Beach and started painting as the light began to fade behind the cliffs. A perfect plein air afternoon.
Here’s a photo of my painting near completion, taken while still on the easel. Oil on canvas, 9″x12″. Click here to see other photos from this afternoon.
Getting starting and blocking in…
Behind me, the Golden Gate Bridge, began to glow as the sun was setting.
This is a view I’ve wanted to paint for a while and this afternoon got a chance to do a small painting of it; Pacific Ave at Divisidero in SF, looking east towards downtown and the East Bay hills. I got to stand in the street, taking the parking place of a car, which gave me a view that included Mt Diablo (peeking out on the left) and the TransAmerica Pyramid. I love the pastel colors of San Francisco and had fun painting them on this clear, warm day, until, of course, the cool ocean breezes started to blow in.
Oil on linen, 6″x 8″
I found myself on this familiar corner again late this afternoon. Had fun sliding paint around this smooth, small board until the light was failing and I was painting from memory. I’ll call this one: “Steep Grade Ahead – Trucks Not Advised”. The name is bigger than the painting, but it’s what the sign says. Oil on board, 5″x7″
My last painting of the Alameda paintout (Frank Bette Center for the Arts), painted today at Ploughshares Nursery on Main St in Alameda, a non-profit nursery where 100% of sales supports housing for formerly homeless families. In addition to a wide variety of CA natives, this nursery specializes in plants and practices that are environmentally friendly and they offer both job training and educational programming. A truly great place. AND they’re growing these giant, 300-lbs pumpkins right now. Couldn’t resist!
Our show and sale is tomorrow! Saturday, August 2nd, 10 – 6, at the South Shore Shopping Center on Park & Otis in Alameda. I guarantee you it’ll be a great show! Such good work produced by the artists this week.
Sunflowers and Giant Pumpkins, oil on linen, 8″ x 10″
The Frank Bette Alameda Plein Air Paintout painters were generously invited to spend the day at one of the yacht clubs on the island. I arrived in the early evening and painted up on the club house balcony, overlooking the marina and the Oakland hills beyond.
Today’s second painting: Wings on the Bay, oil on linen, 6″ x 8″
This afternoon’s painting, along the sandy hiking trail on the southeastern edge of Alameda island. To the one side are houses with incredible views of the Bay and San Francisco; to the other side are marshes and the Alameda Bird Sanctuary.
There are a number of topnotch painters in this event – I’m humbled by their work, as well as inspired. It will be a great plein air show on Saturday at South Shore Shopping Center (at Park & Otis streets). 10-6.
Along the Shoreline Trail, oil on linen, 9″x12″
It’s not easy being a plein air painter. This evening I stopped by the Dragon Rouge Lounge, sat down at a small table on the terrace, ordered a Tiger beer and some spring rolls and took out my easel, paint and brushes. There in front of me was the wonderful Park St Bridge. It was a delight to paint it as it turned a dazzling green in the setting sun.
Park Street Bridge, oil on canvas, 9″ x 12″
Excited to be back in the city painting cityscapes. Today was a warm and brilliant day in San Francisco. I stood on the corner of Hill and Sanchez streets and faced east, towards the Bay, Oakland and beyond. See Mt Diablo there behind the palm tree?
View of the Bay from Noe Valley, oil on canvas, 9″x12″
Today’s another hot one. This morning I drove north about 25 miles to Fort Bidwell, CA, a charming, pastural enclave close to the Oregon border, lined with Victorians, white picket fences and the old Army fort (no longer used) that kept the Indians at bay. I was feeling sleepy and not very ambitious and was about to turn around for home when this distant ranch set against a mountain of pastel colors presented itself. There were hundreds of cows in these fields, but when I pulled up and got out of the car, those that were in front of the scene ran off. Since they appeared jittery, I decided to forego including them in the painting and instead focus on the simple and peaceful pastel scene that presented itself. Half way through the painting, the cows were apparently convinced that my iPhone and easel weren’t going to hurt them and started to wander back over. But their boss, Big Bull, was having none of it and wanted to make sure they kept moving. He inserted himself between me and them, kicked up some dust and started bellowing. Any thoughts of putting the cows into the painting at this juncture quickly passed. But I did have an audience on the other side of the road; those cows were in a different pasture and apparently not beholden to Big Bull.
Pastel Pastures, oil on linen, 8″ x 16″. Click here to see the cows and Big Bull:
All of a sudden they decided it was okay to come see what I was up to:
That is until Big Bull arrived on the scene:
My audience across the road:
It’s July 1st and like clockwork the temperature soared to 100. I drove 10 miles south to Mary and Roger’s ranch, where only last week I painted dramatic storm clouds while keeping warm with multiple layers of clothing. The weather swings wildly in this place, but it seems that summer is now here to stay for a while.
This scene says summer in Surprise Valley to me: fields of ochre, pink and pastel vermillion, the cool green/grey of the sagebrush and the distant dark silhouettes of populars, cottonwood and pines against the vibrant blue/purple of the Nevada mountains. I took one look and set up my tripod.
Summer’s Palette, Surprise Valley, oil on canvas, 12″ x 16″.
A lethargic day, as my recent rather hectic painting schedule caught up with me. The weather turning hot didn’t help. When the temperature started to cool this evening, I sat out on the lawn in front of the house and did this relatively quick little sketch of the fading light on the Nevada mountains to the east. Oil on linen, 6″ x 8″.
The “playa” here in Surprise Valley refers to the desert part of the Valley; more specifically to the dry, prehistoric lake beds that run up and down the length of the Valley floor. We – my friends Barbara, Ray and I – drove far out onto Middle Lake this evening. Barbara and I painted; Ray read, went exploring and critiqued our paintings. I didn’t expect the riot of vibrant greens, ochres, yellows, purples and blues that awaited us and grew ever more brilliant as the sun began to descend. What a stunning, peaceful place! I could paint out there for weeks and never want for new subject matter.
Late Light on the Playa, oil on linen, 11″ x 14″. Click here to see more pics of our desert adventure:
Barbara and me setting up:
Ray & Barbara:
Me painting, followed by Ray exploring:
It was an honor to paint this historic building today in Lake City (Surprise Valley). Built in the late 1860s, it’s one of the oldest buildings in California. It survived as a mill until the 1960s, but by then was barely holding on to its much diminished operations. It’s one of the symbols here in the Valley of the relative prosperity that is now long gone. These days Lake City is a tiny, but charming and bucolic hamlet of ranches, old barn and farm houses; the signs of a more vital era are all but gone.
Arriving this morning to paint it, I was fortunate enough to meet the new owner of the mill and the property it sits on, who invited us into his garden to paint the building from a better vantage point. He and his wife moved to Surprise Valley recently and he is currently engaged in restoring the mill, which has been falling apart. Lake City and Surprise Valley will be much enriched by his efforts.
The Old Flour Mill, oil on linen, 11″ x 14″
It’s becoming clear to me through the painting I’m doing here in Surprise Valley – through the subjects and compositions I’m choosing – that, for the most part, I’m trying to express the sense of vast, wide open space here, the grandeur of this sweeping landscape, its power and majestic qualities. These are some of the words that come to me. But only now – after being here almost a month and observing what is “speaking” to me in the landscape – what I’m trying to say in paint is clarifying for me. I may not have fully succeeded yet, but it’s reassuring to know what that is.
Passing Storm Clouds, oil on linen, 16″ x 20″
It was windy, cold and drippy this morning. I set up my easel on the driveway outside the back door, but it started getting drizzled on. So I moved it under the overhang and painted the view of the foothills draped in fog. I had a small panel painted dioxazine purple, which I thought would help set a moody tone. I had to paint fast – really fast – as the light kept fading in and out, the fog lifting and resettling. A good exercise and opportunity to study value and color.
Summer Fog on the Foothills, oil on linen, 9″ x 12″. Click here to see my set-up:
My set-up under the entrance overhang:
I went back today to this favorite corner of the Valley; the hay was freshly mown and the scene appeared very different than the last time I painted it only ten days ago. The air was redolent of hay and cow manure. Red winged blackbirds hopped around, alighting on the roughhewn fence posts. A flock of sheep to the north lamented or expressed their joy or gossiped…a symphony of “baaa”ing in a range of dissimilar voices. The rancher in his hay tractor worked each row, back and forth, moving slowly but progressively towards us from the far corner of his field. Storm clouds begin to gather above the snow capped Warners to the west and approach high overhead, threatening the bright morning sun. The cows – ever curious – came over to say hello and try to figure out what we were up to.
On my way back to the house, a red tailed hawk flew high across my path. A deer, sitting under a tree on the side of the road, started as I drove by. Shortly after I reached the house, the rain began to gently come down.
Freshly Mown Hay, oil on linen, 9″ x 12”. To see pics of this morning’s painting adventure, click here:
The Warner range, storm clouds gathering:
An inadvertent selfie:
Roughhewn fences reaching towards infinity:
A friendly visit from the curious cows:
It’s the time for cutting hay, baling it and storing it in hay barns. I came across this scene today of one such barn and freshly cut hay. The flies were buzzing as I painted. In a distant field a pair of Sandhill cranes strolled lazily. After a while they exited the scene, but their eery “space ship”-like calls occasionally pierced the silence. Cows the size of ants grazed in a field even further away. The owners of the ranch stopped by to see the painting. All is well in Surprise Valley.
Hay Harvest, oil on canvas, 12″ x 16″
Surprise Valley has been wonderful not only for the chance to paint this inspiring landscape, but for the visits with friends and the getting to know new friends. This weekend Sooz & Kevin and Kazy & Max are in from the Bay Area and today we’re celebrating Sooz’s birthday. This morning shortly after dawn we ventured out to see what was afoot and “a flight” (and included Bullock’s orioles, a deer couple, wrens in bird box and ready to feed their young and lastly a jackrabbit); this was followed by a birthday breakfast, the first seasonal Cedarville farmers market and a tour of an amazing local vegetable and fruit garden. Tonight the celebration (of birthday and being here!) moves to my friends Barbara & Ray’s ranch. Here’s what we saw on the nature walk and other photos from today.
The Cedarville Grange sponsored garden tour:
My friend Jeff’s visit overlapped a little with this weekend’s group. Before that, he and I spent our time painting the landscape and touring around this amazing valley; of particular note a drive into the Nevada desert, where the lupine and sunset photos were taken.
My friends Tobey & Phillip were the first visitors to arrive a couple weeks ago and we had a blast “doing” the Valley: painting, walking, dining, kibitzing and, as with all my visitors, having a great time with Barbara & Ray.
Barbara and Chalice, Ray’s horse Rascal, Tobey painting at the house and the nearly full moon on an evening walk:
Fortunately I’ve still got a couple of weeks of Surprise Valley ahead…
The pointed thing at the top/front end of some barns was used for lifting hay into the loft. Sometimes pulleys are still attached to them. They’re also known as Widow’s Peaks and Hay Hoods. This barn is at Sophie & Lynn’s farm in Lake City here in Surprise Valley. Rumor has it that someday it’s the future home of the Lake City MOMA.
Crows Beak Barn, oil on canvas, 16″ x 12″
My friend Barbara March supplied the title of today’s painting, taken from one of her poems of the same name. This morning’s painting was done at her and her husband Ray’s ranch in Cedarville. Rows of these giant old poplars line the main road in front of their property and the drive up to their house and stand majestically in the landscape.
Barbara and Ray are both writers and produce the annual Surprise Valley Writer’s Conference, four days of workshops and presentations in fiction, literary nonfiction and poetry, taking place in Cedarville this year, September 11 – 14.
The conference is one of two main events produced by their group, Modoc Forum; the other is the Plein Air Painters’ Workshop led by Jean LeGassick. To learn more about both, check out www.modocforum.org.
Ode to a Centenarian Poplar, oil on linen, 12″ x 24″.
To read Barbara’s beautiful poem click here:
Ode to a Centenarian Poplar
O gothic pile in repose,
you rotting castle
of life in death throes.
Sneer at the saw’s
sorrow, keep us safe
from wind and fire.
Transparent cuckoo clock;
wing, steeple, spire,
you dead top,
a mighty mass
a goose in a basket of feathers
sits in your broken spindle.
You haven’t always behaved well,
trees fall on cars,
green antlers are,
but your patience to map
these thousand green wings,
is your angry privilege.
The wind gusted this morning. So much so that when I walked away from my easel for a few moments, I turned back around to see the whole set up crashed to the ground. My painting, which I thought had been going well, was lying in the dirt and covered with it. But no getting us intrepid plein air painters down! After some scraping and cleaning and moaning and scraping more, I was back in business. Today I took out the largest panel I’ve ever painted with “en plein air”. Now I don’t want to paint small again. Into the Valley, oil on linen, 16″ x 20″. Check out my daily Surprise Valley blog here:
The sights and sounds of Surprise Valley were around me and my friend Jeff as we painted this morning. The cry of Sandhill cranes and the song of willets, hay bails being transported along the road, the baaaaing of hundreds of sheep as they emerged into the field, a herd of cows laying under some willows and an old rancher whose family has been in the Valley for over a hundred years and who talked to us of mustangs, antelope, ravens, coyotes and wolves. Behind me, the Warners in snowcapped splendor. Click here to see the more photos:
Oil on canvas, 12″x16″
Me, at my easel and Jeff, the cowboy painter:
Most people I know in CA, and everywhere else, never heard of Surprise Valley. Even if the intrepid traveler were to come as far as Modoc County, in the northeastern corner of the state (one of the least populated counties in CA) and then as far northeast as Alturas, the county seat, another mountain range (the Warners) would be one more hurdle to get over to arrive here. But once crossed, the pass through the Warners winds down into Surprise Valley, a surprise indeed for those who make the trip. Here below: a momentary encounter with a deer as the sun sets on the Nevada mountains. Click on this link to see a small photo journal of the first part of my monthlong painting retreat here in the Valley:
At an altitude of about 4000 ft, the valley is a mix of high desert (miles long prehistoric dried, sandy lake beds) and the ranches and farms of the small, sparsely populated agricultural communities that dot the landscape running from the northern Oregon border and south along the western mountains of Nevada. Surprise Valley is nestled between the two ranges, the Warners to the west and the Nevada mountains to the east.
Farms nestled below the Warners and a full moon over the Nevada mountains:
A mix of old barns, herds of cattle, pickup trucks, horses, sheep, sagebrush, Victorian architecture, cowboy hats, lone pine trees, tractors, century old stately poplars, haystacks, steam geysers rising from the desert floor, and the small town, Old West friendliness of those who live here characterize Valley’s special feel. The gentle presence of deer, perching hawks, the eery “spaceship-like” sound as giant flocks of Sandhill Cranes cross the sky, the flash of a magpie’s black and white and the dash of a ground squirrel across the road are some of the many magical details that cast their spell:
Peonies and pickups
Rascal, a sweet, elderly quarter horse.
Barns, pines and snow capped peaks
The house where I’m staying nestled in the foothills of the Warners and Modoc National Forest:
Steam coming out of the desert floor at dawn:
A little fawn crosses the road:
More coming soon…
From hot & smokey, we went to chilly & windy. Cumulus clouds accumulated as the morning went on. Two red-tailed hawks frolicked overhead and a lone deer became curious about what I was up to. But then she saw Rascal, my now good friend (who happens to be a quarter horse), who hung out with me this morning as I painted. He had been napping in the field not far from me and as the deer approached he raised his head out of the grass. At that point the deer decided either that my easel and I weren’t all that interesting after all or perhaps that she needed to attend to something else instead. In any case, she turned and exited the scene. Rascal and I went on contentedly in our morning pursuits. Oil on linen, 12″ x 16″.
Check out the morning’s events in photos on my Blog:
My friend Rascal:
A deer remembers she had something else she needed to do:
A red-tailed hawk soars overhead:
I took a break today from going out to paint and instead simply opened the door of the front room, set up and went to work on today’s painting. I could never get tired of the constantly changing and ever breathtaking views from this room, facing out towards the Nevada mountains. Morning in Cedarville, oil on linen, 12″ x 9″.
I drove north out of Cedarville today with a painter friend to try to escape the smokey air coming from the south (caused by nearby wildfires) and obscuring the otherwise pristine blue of the Nevada mountains. Eventually we turned off the main road and were compelled to stop and set up upon sighting the distant farmsteads up against the Warner range and out beyond the ever present sagebrush. The sun blasted and the temperature soared. Good thing it wasn’t windy and we could use umbrellas. Oil on linen, 9″x 12″.
Barbara and Ray’s beautiful Cedarville ranch is about my favorite place to paint in Surprise Valley. It’s got everything: mountain vistas (of both the Warners and the Nevada mountains) including snow capped peaks, vistas out across the valley floor, majestically giant old poplar trees, green lawns, views of barns, a horse and these poppies that light up so brilliantly in the sunshine. Can’t wait to go back there and paint the peonies that are coming into bloom. Just off the easel…Barbara & Ray’s Poppies, oil on linen, 9″x 12″.
I went to pick up fresh, organic veggies this morning at a nearby farm belonging to a couple who sell them weekly to whomever signs up. Their gorgeous farm is set high above the valley floor, looking out to the Nevada mountains. Sophie and Lynn, the owners, are both artists and Sophie is a wonderful landscape painter. I ended up staying all day and doing two paintings. They’ve got lots of sheep and two sweetheart shepherd dogs, one of whom, Babycakes, became my best friend and hung out with me all day. Here’s one of the two paintings I did there, which I’m calling Irises and Pussy Willow. 8″x10″. Click through on the this link to see my other painting from today, one of Sophie Shepherd’s (!) stunning plein air pieces and Babycakes!
The Little Red Tractor. 9″x 12″. I’m not really drawn to tractors and thought I’d never end up painting one. But I could resist this red!
One of Sophie Shepherd’s stunning plein air pieces:
As I was painting this morning, a pickup truck pulled up and a young man in cowboy hat got out to check out my painting. As we shot the breeze, with his three regal horses prancing about in the field on the other side of the road, he pulled out some chewing tobacco and proceeded to tell me about how the fields in the Valley used to be much greener at this time of year before the drought and how the farm business was that much better accordingly. And about the mountain lions he’s seen right down on his property in recent months (maybe connected to the drought) and how his horses have had some run-ins with them. And about a bear seen casually walking along some field. I’ve entered a different world here and I’m loving it! Oil on linen, 8″x16″
As I was finishing this about 8:00 pm tonight, two deer leapt across the scene and disappeared into the sagebrush. As I was cleaning up, the mountain continued to glow brighter with a pinkish-orangey tone and as the sun receded behind the mountain behind me, a blue shadow started creeping up the mountain. The Valley is Alive, oil on linen, 8″x16″. (It’s a high tone painting, but the photo is a tad light.)
The day started very early; the sun came up shortly after 5:30 am. A soft breeze, some doves cooing and the world coming alive. This was my first plein air sunrise painting – and it was an exercise in speed and quick brush work. Whether or not the result is great, it was an awesome experience…hoping to do many more! Oil on linen, 8″x10″
I was up very early this morning to catch the first light and shadows. Pulled on my clothes, and went out into the crisp morning air, filled with a fresh breeze and chirping birds. This was always my favorite time of day and I made myself a mental note to see it much more often from now on. I stayed on the property once again to paint this sunlit scene, which I’m calling Setting Out. Oil on linen, 8″x10″
Here’s an image of my easel “in situ”:
is Surprise Valley for plein air painters. So many incredible scenes to paint, hard to know where to begin on this first day here. There are endless beautiful potential subjects, even just around the property. And that’s where I stayed today, setting up on the driveway and facing toward the eastern edge of the valley and the mountains in Nevada.
Here’s a photo of the house I’m staying in this month. Check out those incredible black locust trees hanging over the house, which perfume the air all around them.