Yes, Commissioner!

“Morning Light on Half Dome”, 22×28,oil on canvas

Awhile back, a couple from the bay area, Van and Kathy, visited Yosemite and saw one of my paintings hanging in the Yosemite Renaissance show at the Yosemite Museum.  The painting, titled “Misty Sentinel” can be seen here. They liked my work, so made an appointment to come by the studio and look at more paintings.  They ended up purchasing 3 paintings, and mentioned they might want me to do a commission.

Van had hiked and camped all over parts of the Yosemite back country, from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley, including a trek to the top of Half Dome.  What he wanted was a morning view from Glacier Point, Yosemite as a reminder of his trekking.

Below is a diary of our journey together to create a painting. At each step of the way, I would email a photo to them so they could give their input as we progressed.

We started out by trading a number of photos to nail down the location, perspective and view he wanted.

I sent him this composite of several photos I took quite a few years ago of Glacier Point. You can see Nevada Falls in the middle right. Van wanted a view which showed both Vernal and Nevada Falls.

Van then sent this view closer to what he wanted, which showed both Vernal and Nevada Falls.

Van and Kathy cut out some cardboard to see what size painting they wanted, and put it up on the wall it will hang. We decided on a 22×28 canvas.

To get the view correct, I first did a pencil sketch and emailed it to them. He wanted to show a little bit more of the cliffs on the left and right, so I erased that part, and redrew just the sides resulting in this sketch. Since I had to push in from the sides, the scene is not exactly correct to perspective. I also wanted to bring forward the falls on the right, so made them a little more pronounced than what you might see in real life.

We were in the process of selling our home so my studio was crammed full of storage boxes and no room to paint.

So, I set my portable easel on the side of the house by the trash cans to do a small color study.

Van was very discerning on what he wanted, which was a view at around 10:00am, so I did a rough color sketch to see if I got the right mood and general colors correct.

The next step was to transfer the sketch to the full size canvas. I usually do this freehand, and don’t use grid marks, but in this case used a grid to ensure all elements, especially Half Dome were in perspective according to the approved original pencil sketch.

In the meantime, our house sold and we didn’t have to keep it quite so ‘staged’ for potential buyers. It was the start of the rainy season, so our solarium sun room became a temporary studio.

Next is a color block-in with one color, a purplish hue from a mixture of Ultramarine Blue and Quinacridone Red. The underlying purple will give the entire painting a warm undertone.

My palette consisted of the following: Cobalt Blue, Thalo Blue (just for pure sky), Ultramarine Blue, Quinacridone Red, Cadmium Red Deep, Sap Green, Transparent Red Iron Oxide, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Orange, Hanson Yellow Light, Quick Dry White.

The next step is a continuation of the block-in putting in a little more neutral grays and refining the drawing. The gray is a varying mixture of Cobalt/Cad Red Deep.

Van wanted lenticular clouds, so those were sketched in.

I now start to refine from the sky down to the distant mountains, and start putting more color in the valley to the right.

Detail of the ‘Little Yosemite Valley” area at this stage.

I now turn my attention to Half Dome, the star of the show, and start to detail it continuing to use the Cobalt/Cad Red gray and the purple mixed with various amounts of white to detail the cliff. I also begin to add Yellow Ochre, and Hansen Yellow Light for the trees both in sunlight and shadow.
Also, Van wanted more lenticular clouds over the distant peak, so put those in. I also start placing some morning fog and other wisps of clouds here and there.

The foreground is next, where I place the trees, and continue to work all over the canvas adjusting accordingly.

Continuing the foreground and adjusting.

Several times during this stage, I let it dry, and then put a coat of Liquin over the background mountains to isolate the layer and thinly paint in more atmosphere in the distance.

Detailing the foreground and adjusting.

At this stage, I made an appointment with the the collectors to deliver the painting, and for the next several days made minor adjustments prior to delivery.

The night before delivery of the finished piece, something still bugged me about it, and my wife suggested more green and brighten up the foreground. I also didn’t like the straight line. on Half Dome’s shoulder, so broke that up to make it more like a ragged cliff. This was done the morning before the delivery, so it was still a little wet.

Here is the piece as I delivered it to the collectors. Please note throughout this diary, the painting was photographed in various lighting, and although I tried to correct it in Photoshop, sometimes it just was a little different.

Upon arrival at the collectors home, Van asked for a few changes, as it is really hard to judge a painting by online photos.

I touched up the sky a bit, and also downplayed the foreground taking out some of the highlights so the eye would tend to go to the distant peaks and valleys.

Here is another picture of the piece in their home. Since it wasn’t framed yet, we propped it up on a few open drawers

Doing commissions can sometimes be a hit and miss, trial and error process until both the artist and collector are satisfied. When the collectors first saw the piece in real life, they said it did not look quite like the pictures I had been texting and emailing online, even though I tried to send as accurate photo of the painting I could. After touching it up a bit at delivery time, though, it seemed they were pleased, at least I hope so!!

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—


Note: for email followers, if the video is not showing, click here.


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

Drone On, Artist, Just Drone On

John Joseph Montgomery, who some have called the ‘father of aviation’, did many of his flight tests on a hill in the Evergreen area of San Jose, over a century ago, predating the Wright Brothers flights. Montgomery Hill Park, behind Evergreen College stands as a monument to his efforts. I wrote about Montgomery and previously painted near where his historic flights took place in “The Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley” year long quest you can read about here.

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!

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

Painting in Japan

Korakuen Morning, 8x10, acrylic on canvas
Korakuen Morning, 8×10, acrylic on canvas


 
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—

My acrylic traveling kit
My acrylic traveling kit


 
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.

Shinto Shrine 1,8x10,acrylic on canvas
Shinto Shrine 1,8×10,acrylic on canvas

Shinto Shrine 2,8x10,acrylic on canvas
Shinto Shrine 2,8×10,acrylic on canvas

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.

Dontonburi, 8x10, acrylic on canvas
Dontonburi, 8×10, acrylic on canvas

Dotonburi
Dotonburi


 
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…

Maniwa, 8x10, acrylic on canvas
Maniwa, 8×10, acrylic on canvas


 
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.

Korakuen Afternoon, 8x10, acrylic on canvas
Korakuen Afternoon, 8×10, acrylic on canvas

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.

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.


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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Painting the Rubicon, Lake Tahoe


Enjoy this short painting expedition video at Lake Tahoe, California. This is a time lapse video of an 8×10 oil painting from the Rubicon Trail in DL Bliss State Park by artist Donald Neff.



 
The time lapse was filmed by a GoPro camera, and other photos taken with an iPhone. 4113 separate photographs were used in making the time lapse portion.

Edited with Final Cut Pro on a MacPro cylinder.
Music courtesy of freeplay.com.

You can find out more about painting Lake Tahoe that and other days in my last weblog here — http://www.donaldneff.com/blog/across-the-rubicon/

Forty: Plein Air Selfie


Continuing the ˜Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley™ year long quest.

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Plein Air Selfie, 8x10, oil on board
Plein Air Selfie, 8×10, oil on board

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–

Norman Rockwell Triple Self Portrait
Norman Rockwell 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 goes…

So, how did I do this? No photos. No mirrors. Alone. It’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.

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.

Justin, this one is for you!

Everyone have a great Fourth of July!


Click this link for a map of all painting locations along with each painting.
Click on this link for a Pinterest catalog of all paintings so far.



**If someone disputes this, please let me know!

***Email subscribers may not see all pictures. Just click on the title for a link to the online version.

A Brief Hiatus


Continuing the ‘Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley’ year long project. (Click here for complete info.)

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The Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley
The Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley

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.

I am using exclusively Raymar Oil panels, all 8×10.

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.