I recently purchased a drone, and fittingly my first flight was by the same hill Montgomery sailed down more than a century ago. I had been contemplating buying a drone for quite a few years, so finally got a DJI Mavic Pro, a portable compact quadcopter, and rated one of the best in the industry. It is small enough to fit in the saddlebags of my Harley, but has all the features of top end professional drones.
Here is a short video composite of my first flights at Montgomery Hill. Yeah, I know it’s not like the stunning drone videos you probably have seen, but it’s a start!
So why am I writing about drones in what is primarily an art weblog? Well, besides just being lots of fun, I have some ideas on incorporating drones into my art. So stay tuned, and Drone On!
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.
Most of you know my son lives and works in Maniwa-shi, Japan, a town in the mountains of Southwest Japan about an hour from Okayama. I recently visited him again, for the third time. He had moved to a new location since my last visit, so I was anxious to explore around his apartment in rural Japan for painting practice! It also happened to be cherry blossom time, so was anxious to see that!
On international trips, I usually take a small acrylic paint set. Acrylics are water soluble, and dry in minutes, so they are easier to travel with than oils. Since you cannot take turpentine on a plane, if you want to paint oils, you have to find a place to buy it after you arrive at your destination. Here’s my setup on the road—
I won’t turn this post into a travelogue and go into all the details of the trip, some of which I posted here on Facebook, but concentrate on the painting in this blog entry. In retrospect, I wasn’t satisfied with most the paintings on the trip except the last day, but here goes anyway…
My son’s new place is a little further out of the central town area, mainly surrounded by rice fields. There is a Shinto Shrine close by, so I did two paintings there on different days.
These are not the main shrine, but other structures in the courtyard. Although it was a relatively small shrine, I could have done quite a few paintings in the little nooks and crannies of this small area.
We decided to visit Osaka, the second largest city in Japan, and about a 4 hour bus ride away. Our hotel happened to be right by Dotonburi, the most famous district and party spot in Osaka. We kept quite busy around Osaka and a side trip to Kyoto, so I didn’t have time to paint except for one day. On that day while the others shopped, it was pouring rain, so found a place under a bridge on the river to paint. I also don’t usually do urban scenes, and it was a bit smelly as you know what people do under bridges in party areas…even in clean Japan!
The piece was going nowhere, but as it got darker, the lights started coming on, and I put them in as my focal point which helped brighten things up.
Upon returning to Maniwa, the blossoms were still not out, and due to the rain and cold, they kept pushing back the projected blossom open date. I did find one close to my sons place, so painted that…
I set my paints up in the conduit on the side of the road
So far I was not really satisfied with any paintings done the the trip and we only had a few days left. We spent the last part of our trip in Okayama. One trip was to Kurashiki Bikan, an old historic district near Okayama. It was a scenic spot, and I started a painting while the others shopped and looked around. There were just a few blossoms, so did a painting of a bridge in the district. We got there late, and I didn’t have much time, so the painting only got about half done.
One of the Three Great Gardens of Japan is called Korakuen (Koraku-en). Located in Okayama, Japan, it was built in 1700 by Ikeda Tsunamasa. We saved visiting Korakuen Garden until the last day so-as to catch the blossoms. Although they were not in full bloom, there was enough to paint, so did a painting in the morning, and one in the afternoon.
The morning painting is shown at the top of this blog entry. Here are a few pictures of the area–
The blossoms were not fully open yet so I painted the trees a little fuller with blossoms imagining what they will look like.
The afternoon painting was a little more interesting scene and turned out pretty well, but could use some touchup later.
Painting in the garden
Painting in the garden
I attracted quite a crowd in the afternoon
I attracted quite a crowd in the afternoon
Too soon we had to depart for home. I left all the paintings with my son in Japan so he could show them to friends and students.
“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.
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.
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.
Refining the underwater rocks
Putting in the left shoreline
The above water rocks
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.
“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.
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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The world’s first true plein air selfie**. No mirrors or photographs were used in painting this self portrait of me in the landscape, but it was painted on location by myself, actually looking at myself. It is certainly the first hi-tech plein air selfie!
Most artists in their lifetime paint at least one self portrait which takes many forms, usually an actual portrait, or for some landscape artists, themselves in the landscape. One of my favorites is Norman Rockwell’s triple self portrait–
I generally don’t paint people, so have never attempted any self portraits and really had no great desire to. What prompted me to do this was my son, Justin, and, well, maybe a little hi-tech fun. Justin has always wanted me to do a self portrait, so last year as he was jetting off to Japan to teach English for several years, he made me promise to do a self portrait, at least a landscape or something with me in it, sometime in the next year or so. So to fulfill a promise, here goesâ€¦
So, how did I do this? No photos. No mirrors. Alone. Itâ€™s all in the latest hi-tech gear. I used a a GoPro camera, and an iPad. The GoPro camera is a high definition video sports camera taking the sports world by storm with it’s crisp videos of surfers, skydivers, skateboarders, divers, high flying drones, and just about any other sport you can name. A GoPro was used to record the time-lapse video in The Painting of TwentyFive: Where Redwoods Thrive. The videos produced are amazing, with a whole new class of amateur and professional videography emerging. You can see a lot of more them here.
The tiny GroPro camera itself has no viewfinder or LCD screen, but you can control and see through the lens live via an iPhone, iPad, or other smart phone, tablet, etc. transmitting via WiFi (a wireless network).
I effectively was using the GoPro as a remote closed circuit high definition camera. The GoPro camera was set on a tripod at the scene and basic viewpoint to be painted. Since I was to be in the scene, I first scoped everything out setting my easel up where I wanted to be in the scene and had to move the easel back and forth a bit during the painting. Below are a sequences of pictures to show you from different cameras how I did it.
Click on a thumbnail to open up a larger picture and slide show.
This is the basic scene I am going to paint of Calabazas Creek.
Here is a shot of the scene showing the GoPro on the tripod in the foreground and my easel set up where I want to be in the painting.
A picture taken by the GoPro as I was posing to make sure everything looked OK.
I then moved my easel back to paint the landscape part of the scene. You can see the GoPro on the tripod, and my easel by my ‘easy chair’.
Here is my easel with the landscape part of the scene almost complete. I have left the sketch of me unpainted so far.
I then moved my easel back to where I want to be in the painting.
I then proceeded to paint myself using the iPad to view through the GoPro. This is a shot from the GoPro.
Here is the painting on the easel nearing completion. A little touchup in the studio is in order.
The creek is Calabazas which I also painted in ThirtyOne: A Setting Sun. The previous painting was a tonal sunset right by the bay, but today’s painting reflects how pretty this little creek is, channelled to the bay. The creek was still running in spite of the severe drought. The location is close to Hwy 101, Mission College, and the Mercado shopping area. As I was finishing, a group of locals walking the trail stopped and mentioned how they and their kids had grown up in the area, playing along the creek, and how much the Calabazas meant to them. I can see why.
So, what next? Drones with GoPro cameras are all the rage…hmmm…a plein air from a drone? Naaa.
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I am currently out of town attending to my late father’s estate, so there won’t be any new works for several weeks. In the meantime, I prepared this post ahead of time just to keep things going.
When I first started this project, it was just a simple idea to paint the creeks and rivers of Santa Clara Valley, AKA Silicon Valley, and was debating whether to even tell anyone about it, at least publicly, until the year was over. After all, I might end up with a lot of terrible paintings! I never realized it would develop like it has. Along the way, I started researching and writing about a lot of the interesting history and other little known facts of the locations I was painting. The cutesy rhyming titles just sort of happened.
I thought I would answer some questions posed to me over the course of the project so far.
How long does it take you to do each painting?
Most artists loath this question, and many artists retort with what Picasso reportedly once said “It took me forty years to do this painting”. The idea is that the painting is the expression of forty years of experience (or however long you have been painting).
I don’t mind answering as it relates to this project. Virtually all paintings are done in under two hours. Most are done entirely on location with little or no touchup afterwards in the studio. In a few cases, I have worked on a painting later in the studio, and each time indicate it on my blog along with the reason why.
The two hours of actual painting, is only the tip of the iceberg. I spend many more hours, probably 6-8 in researching, exploring, writing, photographing, traveling, etc. for each actual painting finished.
How do you find your locations to paint?
After living in the San Francisco Bay area for 35 years, I am fairly familiar with all the waterways, especially in the Santa Clara Valley. However, I usually spend quite a bit of time with Google Earth and other resources to find access points, etc. A lot of the creeks are fenced off with limited access points. You might notice I have painted behind chain link fences in many instances. Driving around exploring also helps a lot!
I also keep finding new resources on the internet. For example, I just now found the Santa Clara Water District has a set of Google Earth ‘layers’ which maps and names every waterway in the valley, from rivers all the way down to underground drainage culverts. They also have a historical overlay where you can see how a stream ran before mankind diverted and reworked the landscape.
What materials are you using?
I generally have a fairly traditional palette of colors, mostly using Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Quinacridone Red, Cadmium Red Medium, Sap Green, Transparent Iron Oxide, Cadmium Orange, Yellow Ochre, and Cadmium Yellow Medium. I occasionally use other colors, but this is my primary palette. I generally stick with Gamblin oils, but have other manufacturers in my paint box occasionally.
For brushes, I generally use Silver Ruby Satin brights and filbert sizes 6-12. In fact am still using the exact same two brushes I started with, a bright and a filbert size 8.
My easel is a Soltek. I have other outdoor equipment, pochade boxes, etc but this is my primary easel.
Finally, why are you doing this?
As stated in my weblog introducing this project and on my website, there is so much natural beauty we miss, even in the urban life. Silicon Valley is thought of as being some big industrial complex grinding out computer chips and software, but it’s not. It used to be called the “Valley of Hearts Delight” for it’s lush agrarian landscape, which for the most part has been paved over. I have been painting the area for years, and thought by formalizing it into a project, more attention could be brought.
Although I have not yet pursued anything, I hope to show the entire collection at some local venue when the year is up. The above montage of 14 of the 24 works so far gives you an idea of what the exhibition might look like. If current progress holds true, I will have many more than 52 paintings by the end of the year. There are just too many good places to paint!
That’s all for now. I’ll be back soon with more paintings.
The 2nd Annual Plein Air Convention was held in Monterey, CA this year. I missed the first convention last year in Las Vegas, but since Monterey is only 90 minutes from my home, certainly couldn’t miss this one!
I registered for the convention quite awhile ago, but then a month ago they added me to the ‘faculty’ to do an acrylic painting demonstration on the Expo Hall Demo Stage. Although I do most of my finished paintings in oil, I do take acrylics on travel trips, especially international excursions. Plein Air magazine had published an article about it last year, so I decided to just expand on the concept. At any rate, it was quite an honor to be in the same venue with some of the top plein air and traditional artists in the country.
Arriving Wednesday, the convention got off to a great start that afternoon, and didn’t slow down the entire time. It was non-stop lectures, demos, eating, meeting, vendors, and just fun. I won’t go into all the events and demos, as you can find them here, but every demo and lecture was top notch.
There seemed to be so many things going on, it was difficult to pick and choose which to attend. A few that stood out in my mind was James Gurney’s (Dinotopia author) totally entertaining lecture on opening night, where he gave about a semesters’s worth of art lessons in an hour. Also, demos by Gil Dellinger, CS Mundy, were a hoot. Brian Blood gave away his secrets on painting fog, and Ken Auster did a 52×52 inch painting in 90 minutes. The portraits painted by Michelle Dunaway and Jeremy Lipking were amazing.
My demo time slot on Saturday morning was only 45 minutes, but the prior special event went 15 minutes over, so I only had about 35 total minutes. I didn’t get far in the actual demo, but mainly answered lots of questions from the audience. I did finish the painting later in the Expo Hall, so those interested could watch and then see the finished product.
Here are a few pictures during the demo. You can click on any picture to see a larger version (Thanks, Sam for providing the photos!)–
Demoing at the convention
Demoing at the convention
Demoing at the convention
I finished the demo painting in the vendor hall.
Below is the finished painting–
That afternoon, the entire group went to Asilomar for lunch then painted in the area, mostly on Asilomar Beach. It was quite a ‘trippy’ experience to see hundreds of artists painting together on the same beach! If there were a Guiness World Record category for this, we certainly would hold the record!
A few shots of the crowd–
Hundreds of artists painting at the beach.
A Guinness World Record!
I was a little tired from standing, painting, and answering dozens of questions most of the morning, so took my chair, semi-relaxed, and did a small 8×10 oil of the beach. It was quite windy, which put a chill in the area, but everyone toughed it out like good plein air artists–
The next day, Sunday morning, many also met along the wharf in Monterey, where in places they stood shoulder to shoulder painting. Here are a few shots of the crowd. The first picture shows James Gurney, author of the Dinotopia books sitting and sketching–
Sitting in the middle is James Gurney, the author of the Dinotopia books.
Painting shoulder to shoulder along Monterey Wharf
Painting shoulder to shoulder along Monterey Wharf
I did another painting of the Monterey Wharf area. Here is me by the easel–
And the painting–
I soon had to head home. April 15 was the next day, and time to finish up the tax returns!
The producer of the show, Eric Rhoads (publisher, Plein Air Magazine) mentioned afterwards they are still looking for a venue next year. I’d recommend going for anyone interested in Plein Air painting. It was absolutely wonderful to meet and talk with some of my art ‘heros’, all of whom were very generous with their time and advice. Hope to see everyone there next year!
I was invited to do a demo at the Millbrae Arts Association in Millbrae California last night. I demoed for them several years ago a snow scene along the Truckee River near Lake Tahoe. They asked me to do a water scene, sildenafil so I decided to paint the Merced River in Yosemite Valley with Sentinel Rock in the background using a study painted several years ago for a commission piece. Allotted about 90 minutes actual painting time, ailment covering a 16×20 panel is a challenge! We did manage to get the basics down of how to paint reflections and other water subject techniques.
Below are a few pictures of the event…
The Millbrae association is a small, but friendly group, and it was a fun and great opportunity to spend an evening with them!