Announcing, the World’s First…


Stop the presses! Call Guiness Book of World Records! The world’s first plein air drone selfie painting has just been created! Enjoy this short video including some spectacular scenes from the California coast, and then read about the adventure below—


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A lot of you know I purchased a drone several weeks ago, and have been practicing around the south San Jose area. I have been contemplating getting a drone for a number of years, and when I painted the world’s first plein air selfie for “The Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley”, mentioned it in jest as an idea. My drone is a DJI Mavic Pro, and considered one of the best consumer quadcopters in the business. It also folds up so can be easily transported. I wrote a little more about it here.

There is an ever growing patchwork array of rules and regulations for drone owners, particularly where you can fly. I agree with most of it…you can’t fly in national parks and wildlife refuges, close to airports, over stadiums, etc., but leave it to California to spoil the fun with more and more regulations. There are online websites and apps which are good resources on where its legal to fly, plus the DJI drone app also keeps track of where you are and tells you if you are in a no-fly-zone. Much of the California coastal waters from Morro Bay to San Francisco are off limits because it is a marine sanctuary, but if you don’t fly over the ocean, are generally OK.

 
The Pigeon Point Lighthouse area on the San Mateo Coast had some places I could fly, close to the road, and the cliffs were not too high in case I needed to get to the beach. I am a little paranoid about crashing such an expensive instrument, or coming down in a place inaccessible, so have been flying in open areas where there are no fences, etc.

We had a sunny day between two storms here in Northern California, so I headed out to the coast and the lighthouse. What a beautiful day! I was expecting it to be a little cold, but soaking in the sunshine just warms you up. Winds were light which helps in piloting the drone.

I set everything up, my easel and paints first, then the Mavic Pro. I also mounted a GoPro video camera on a tripod to record everything from the ground.

The basic setup
The basic setup

Upon launching the drone, I flew it around a bit to find the perspective I wanted for the painting. This drone has a live video feed to smart mobile devices such as iPhone, iPad, etc. I then sketched in the scene by looking at what the drone was seeing through my iPad. I actually did not have the drone in the air a lot while painting. Besides conserving battery life, it was easy to see the values and colors quite well from the ground. I just needed the drone to get the perspective, and to see what I looked like from about 20 feet up in the air. From there on, I basically painted as normal en plein air, but taking the drone up a few times to recheck my drawing, etc.

Some plein air purists may scoff since I used an iPad for part of the process, and a bit gimmicky. The only thing I actually used it for was to get the scene from an aerial perspective and to see what my backside looked like. And so what if it is a little gimmicky! If you can have more fun while having fun, I say go for it!

I was there a little over three hours, about half that actually painting. Every once in awhile, I couldn’t resist taking the drone up and around the area to record some amazing video.

 
Late afternoon, I headed down the coast and made a few quick stops and quick flights to record the amazing California coast near sunset. You can view these in the video above.

All-in-all, I was musing on the way home, this was one of the best painting day-trips I have experienced in a long time!

Almost finished painting on the easel
Almost finished painting on the easel

I touched the painting up just a bit in the studio, and here is the final result…

First Drone Selfie, 12x16, oil on board
First Drone Selfie, 12×16, oil on board

The Cambrian Period

Perkins Park,16x20,oil on board
Perkins Park,16×20,oil on board

The Cambrian Artists League invited me for an ‘encore’ demonstration last Saturday. I had previously done a demo for them several years ago, and they wanted more. I did a snow scene for the last demo, and they wanted a seascape this time.

I chose as my subject a scene from Perkins Park in Pacific Grove, CA. In the spring, the ice plant blooms there and the entire park is covered in a blanket of reds, pinks, and purples. I had painted there last year for the Carmel Art Festival, and in fact lately have been doing a painting in the park for the festival every year as they always sell. I have wanted to do a larger studio piece of the same scene.

Here are a few pictures near the end of the demo. (Click on the thumbnails to view larger pictures)


Here is the painting after about two hours of demoing…most of the major elements were at least blocked in…

The painting at the end of the demo
The painting at the end of the demo

Thanks, Cambrian Artists League! It was a fun morning with a lively bunch of artists!

I later finished the piece in the studio, pictured above. As usual, a painting is never completely finished until it goes out the door, but will set it aside for now.

How To Do a Painting in 143 Seconds

Enjoy this short video of a 90 minute demo I did for the Society of Western Artists reduced down to about two minutes.  After watching this, it seemed I was turned around talking to the audience as much as I was painting!


You can also read about this demo and a revolutionary new painting technique on my weblog here.

A Revolutionary New Painting Technique

A Revolutionary New Painting Technique

AKA How Not to Transport a Painting
AKA A New Type of Street Art
AKA Society of Western Artists Demo

The story starts at a demo I did for the Society of Western Artists in San Bruno, CA, last Saturday.  I never thought in a few hours I would discover a new painting technique not heard of before.

Four years ago I did a demo for them of a snow scene along the Truckee River and they wanted me to do another snow scene.  I had recently been doing a number of miniature paintings for the holiday season, and a number of misty mini’s of moody, misty, seascape, landscape and Sierra scenes, so decided to do a larger, 16×20 misty Yosemite scene of Sentinel Rock in Yosemite Valley, CA

It was a great two hours of demoing, technique, and jokes with a lively crowd constantly peppering me with questions. Here’s a few pictures during the demo– Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture


I am usually not crazy about my demo paintings, but this one was turning out well, even though it was only half done, so I was anxious to complete it back in the studio. Here is a picture of the piece as I was nearing the end of the demo–

Original painting near end of the demo (courtesy John Barrow)
Original painting near end of the demo (courtesy John Barrow)

After loading up, and heading out for the hour drive home, as soon as I entered the freeway, realized I had left the wet demo painting on top of the car!  I pulled over, and it was gone!  So, I turned around, went back, and found the painting face down in the middle of El Camino Real, the busy main boulevard.  It was in the middle of the lane and didn’t look run over, but one corner was damaged. Here is a recreation of the scene with the painting in the road.

Recreation of my painting face down on El Camino Real
Recreation of my painting face down on El Camino Real

…and the painting now looked like this:

My demo painting was now a snowstorm!
My demo painting was now a snowstorm!

The asphalt had gouged out spots all over the surface and my misty Yosemite painting had turned into a snowstorm!  I just accidentally discovered a new way to paint snowstorms!  What a great new technique! Just do your painting, then go out and rub it on the road! Asphalt probably works best, but maybe I can try cement streets also!

To top it off, a copy of a Neff original, even though half done, is now in the asphalt of San Bruno, albeit a reverse image.  Maybe I should charge them?!?

All tongue in cheek of course, and I actually don’t recommend you transport paintings this way!


So now, the decision is: 1) pick out a few pieces of asphalt, trim the bad corner off, leave it as is and finish it; 2) paint back over it; or 3) start a new painting.  The corner was damaged enough I started a new painting since at most a couple hours painting time was lost during the demo.  Here is the new painting at about the same development as the demo was before the snowstorm–

The new painting at about the same  completion as the demo.
The new painting at about the same completion as the demo.

I spent the next few days finishing the painting —

Misty Sentinel,16x20,oil on board
Misty Sentinel,16×20,oil on board

So now, what do I do with the original snow storm painting? Any suggestions?


BTW, we are planning on producing a short video of the demo as SWA videoed much of it, so stay tuned!

Valle Del Sur

Pacific Calm, 24x12, oil on canvas
Pacific Calm, 24×12, oil on canvas

I was invited by a long time painting friend, Steve Wise, to do a demo at the Valle Del Sur Art Guild in Morgan Hill, a town about 10 miles south of San Jose. I have painted this area many times including during the Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley.

Steve asked me to do either a seascape or lake scene, so I chose a seascape. Recently, I have been doing a series of vertical water paintings, so picked a seascape to start for the scene. As usual with these demos, there is not enough time to do a finished painting, but I tried to finish off certain portions to demonstrate various techniques in painting seascapes.

It was a small, but lively group, and seemed like questions were coming once a minute as I tried to paint. Steve is quite the art historian, and kept things lively with his historical quips.

The painting is the tenth ‘vertical water’ painting series and from the same general area as the fourth in the series found here. The narrow inlet is along the California Coast in Garrapata State Park just south of Carmel, and close to Big Sur.

I forgot about taking pictures until almost the end of the demo, so here are a few–

Getting into the painting
Getting into the painting
Getting intense
Getting intense
The painting as far as I got during the demo.
The painting as far as I got during the demo.

Thanks, Trudie, for some of the photos!

I later spent a few hours in the home studio finishing the piece.

Hear Me Roar

The roar of the churning surf,
the crash of the waves against the hardened rocks,
the gurgling of the wave as it dies on the shore,
the crackling bubbles as the wave ebbs,
the gusts of salty wind,
the keow of a soaring gull,
the misty spray in your face is…
 
indeed sublime.
 
–Donald Neff

"Hear me Roar", 24x12, oil on gallery wrap canvas
“Hear me Roar”, 24×12, oil on gallery wrap canvas

Standing by the Pacific Ocean, or for that matter any ocean, just before, right during, or just after a storm is akin to looking God in the eye.

  
This scene, my sixth in the “vertical water” series, could be almost anywhere in the world, but is along Sunset Drive on the Monterey Peninsula, California, during winter when the storms churn up the Pacific waters. Historically, the area was one of the first settled on the west coast, and Monterey was the first capital of California. The area, including nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea (Where I usually participate in the annual plein air festival), is a mecca and center for artists and writers, going back a century or two.
  


Here’s a few pictures of the painting in development. Click on each photo to see a larger version


   
When I was getting close to finished, I realized the painting looked too ‘busy’, so took out some of the splashes and flattened the water a bit. I also darkened and grayed the water as it was too light.
  
I keep coming up with lots of new ideas for vertical water paintings, so stay tuned! You can subscribe to this weblog by entering your email on the sidebar.


 
Oh, one last thing. I was on a Harley ride when I took the photos I used as studies for this painting. Here is my bike, along with my riding buddy Pete’s bike by the surf.
Along the Monterey Peninsula
Along the Monterey Peninsula

The Tahoe Elephant

“To breathe the same air as the angels, you must go to Tahoe”
–Mark Twain

Lake Tahoe with its deep blue crystalline waters, aqua shallows, edged by boulder strewn shores, and surrounded by serrated mountain tops is the crown jewel of the Sierra Nevada mountains.


"Thunderbird Lodge", 24x12, oil on gallery wrap canvas
“Thunderbird Lodge”, 24×12, oil on gallery wrap canvas


Fifth in my ‘vertical water’ series, is a view of Lake Tahoe…one of my frequent subjects since I exhibit at a nearby gallery, James Harold Galleries in Tahoe City, CA. This view showing a glimpse of Thunderbird Lodge, is a bit of a hike off the east shore road, Hwy 28, and off any beaten trail. I did a plein air piece right by here which is featured in the title page of the book Plein Tahoe.

Built in 1936, Thunderbird Lodge, or the Whittle Estate, is located on the east shore of Lake Tahoe. George Whittle, a somewhat eccentric, reclusive, playboy millionaire inherited his money, and with some of it bought up 20 miles of Lake Tahoe eastside shorefront, then built the lodge. He unwittingly became a conservationist, as most of this property now is fairly unspoiled shoreline and National Forest owned by various government agencies.

So what about the elephant? Whittle kept an elephant (along with other wild animals and birds) at the estate in a custom made pen and house. Mingo, his 600 pound Sumatran pachyderm, was a memento of spending his youth at the circus, and it is rumored he used to fly it back and forth to Woodside, CA (his other estate) in a seaplane! There are other myths that Mingo drowned in the lake either by falling off a barge or a seaplane crash. With the cold water, it is rumored there is a preserved elephant at the bottom of Lake Tahoe. Don’t drink the water?!? None of this has ever been verified, of course!

Thunderbird Lodge is currently owned by the non-profit Thunderbird Preservation Society. It is now a popular tourist attraction, with public tours by reservation, hosting weddings, corporate functions, and other special occasions.

A detailed history of Whittle and the lodge can be found here.

   
Once again, I took a few photos of the development of the painting. I originally was undecided on whether to put the lodge in. Once I decided to paint it in, of course it became the story! Click on each photo to see a larger version. Email subscribers may have to click on the above title to see them.



   
Oh, here is a picture of Mingo, and one of the lodge from another viewpoint. Click on each photo to see a larger version. Email subscribers may have to click on the above title to see them.


Comin’ At Ya!

The waves come crashing in, pounding the narrow walls, rushing in and out creating thunderous sound. With sea spray in your face, there is nothing like standing on a bluff over the thrashing waves…especially in Big Sur, California!


Coming' at Ya, 24x12, oil on gallery wrap canvas
Coming’ at Ya, 24×12, oil on gallery wrap canvas


   
Nothing like momentum! First it was Kako-no-ike in Japan, then twice in the high Sierra Nevada Mountains with the Mighty Tuolumne. and Tenaya Lake; and now the California coast. This is the fourth ‘vertical water’ painting recently done, and now becoming a series. This narrow inlet is along the California Coast in Garrapata State Park. Just south of Carmel, and close to Big Sur, it is my favorite place to paint along the coast. I usually do one or two paintings there for the Carmel Art Festival each year.

I painted this more alla prima (all at once), which didn’t take as long as the last two water paintings. Those last two, I let dry several times so I could glaze over the water. Below are a few snapshots of the progression. Click on each photo to see a larger version. Email subscribers may have to click on the above title to see them.



 
and here is the actual scene…
Garrapata Inlet
Garrapata Inlet


   
I ran out of this size vertical canvas(12×24), so just bought three more. I still have a number of ideas for more vertical water paintings…stay tuned!

Soaring in the Sierras

Tenaya Outlet, 24x12, oil on gallery wrap canvas
Tenaya Outlet, 24×12, oil on gallery wrap canvas

“Up and away to Lake Tenaya, another big day, enough for a lifetime.  The rocks, the air, everything speaking with audible voice or silent; joyful, wonderful, everlasting, banishing weariness and sense of time.  No longing for anything now or hereafter as we go home into the mountain’s heart.”

John Muir – “My First Summer in the Sierra”

One of the easily accessible alpine lakes in the high Sierra, Tenaya Lake is also one of the most spectacular. Named after Yosemite Ahwahneechee Chief Tenaya, it is nestled in a granite basin surrounded by soaring granite domes, peaks, and lodgepole forests. Along Hwy 120 (Tioga Pass Road), it is also a sports destination with hiking, swimming, and boating.

What a magnificent scene! I regularly return to it both physically, and in my art doing plein air and studio paintings of the area. My last painting of the Tuolumne River is not far away. Of course one of the main attractions is the unique Polly Dome which dips into the eastern part of the lake, and a controversy of the 1958 Tioga Road realigning. It is considered one of the most scenic routes in all California and one of the most outstanding park roads in the entire National Park System.

This scene is where Tenaya Lake starts to empty on it’s western side into Tenaya Creek, and eventually flows into Yosemite Valley where it joins with the Merced River.

This is the third recently done, of what I am dubbing my “vertical water scenes”. I resurrected an old technique used often when painting acrylics, of painting the water from ground up, and then glazing over the top until you get to the surface. Of course it takes longer with oils as they have to dry between coats. Acrylics dry within minutes but oils can take up to a week to dry to the touch. I used Liquin in this instance as a glazing medium and to speed up the drying time, and also to put a glossy glaze on the water. A space heater in my studio also helped!

Here’s a few pictures as the painting progressed in the gallery below. Click on each photo to see a larger version. Email subscribers may have to click on the above title to see them.



Here’s a couple of photos of me on a recent trip trip there doing a plein air piece…Click on each photo to see a larger version. Email subscribers may have to click on the above title to see them.


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Plein Air vs Studio Paintings

Most of you know I paint frequently en plein air, that is outdoors on location. All great landscape painters paint from life, at least occasionally, because you just can’t get true results by just using photos. Photographs skew the values, that is the relative darkness or lightness of a color, making shadows too dark and sunlit areas frequently too light. They can also modify the color to varying degrees. Most good artists can tell when a painting is done strictly from photographs.

I don’t often translate or re-paint a studio work directly from a plein air work, but on occasion do just that. Below are a few examples.


The first is of an inlet in Lake Tahoe, on the NE part of the lake close to Incline Village, Nevada.


The scene I was painting
The scene I was painting


Here is the plein air piece–
"Tahoe Inlet", 9x12, oil on board
“Tahoe Inlet”, 9×12, oil on board


and the work done in the studio–

"Tahoe Inlet", 24x30, oil on canvas
“Tahoe Inlet”, 24×30, oil on canvas


I later used the studio piece for the cover of my book “Plein Tahoe”, which you can purchase here.


The second example is of Santorini, Greece. As the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, the Greek island of Santorini is one of the most spectacular in the world. Many scholars believe the eruption spawned the legend of Atlantis. Fira and other towns cling to the cliff overlooking the sea-drowned caldera left behind.

I visited there on a cruise in 2006, and did several studies overlooking Fira and the multicolored cliffs soaring a thousand feet above the caldera. What a spectacular view and setting!

Below are pictures of the scene, my small plein air study in acrylic, and a large studio painting in oil I did later. I made very few changes from the original study to the studio piece…it wasn’t necessary to improve on the scene!


Santorini, Greece
Santorini, Greece


“Santorini”, 8×10, acrylic on board, plein air


“Santorini”, 28×22 , oil on canvas, studio


If you are a landscape artist, be sure to actually visit and paint the landscape in real time!