Fire, Water, and Ice

Merced Reflections, 16x8, oil on panel
Merced Reflections, 16×8, oil on panel

I was accepted into the Yosemite Renaissance show this year, so went to attend the opening reception with a short visit to Yosemite Valley. Of course, I’ll use any excuse to visit Yosemite, as if I need one!

The art reception went well. The show is very eclectic with everything from abstract to photography to textiles to sculpture. It was a strong show, and my painting was probably the most traditional, quiet painting there…which is fine with me!

If you plan on being in Yosemite Valley the next few months, be sure to stop by the Yosemite Museum to see the show!

The weather forecast kept changing, but as it turned out, it was clear sunny weather the entire time, but cold! Upon arrival to the valley, I started the above painting, but after recently recovering from a mild case of pneumonia, didn’t want to push it, so only got about half done and finished it when I got back to the studio. I wanted to do a plein air piece which would fit in my recent ‘vertical water’ series, so did a painting of Yosemite Falls reflecting in the Merced River. This is the ninth in the “vertical water” series, but so far the only plein air piece and a little smaller than the others which you can see here.

I recently wrote a weblog entry about the Firefall I saw while there, so won’t revisit that which you can read here.

The remainder of the visit I just walked and drove around soaking up the scenery.

Here is a short video of the trip. I had posted some pictures to Facebook, and got a lot of comments on how clear the water is, so much of the video is of the water in the valley.



Firefall!!

During my adolescent years growing up in Pasadena, CA, we used to make trips to Yosemite National Park, camping in both the valley and the high country. I remember well, while camping in the valley we would shuffle out in the dark to the middle of a meadow to watch the Firefall. It used to be called the parks most famous spectacle where each evening during the summer months, a huge bonfire was built high above the valley at the edge of Glacier Point. At 9pm the glowing coals were pushed over the edge creating a luminous glittering waterfall of fire tumbling some 3200 feet. Here is a picture I gleaned off the internet —

In 1968 due to a variety of reasons, the Firefall was discontinued. However, today, there is an even more wonderous and totally natural Firefall. Each year for a week or two in February the setting sun beams up the valley and illuminates Horsetail Falls, and when conditions are perfect, it glows orange and red for a brief time. It’s hit and miss because the sky must be relatively clear, and there has to be enough flowing water in the falls. Due to the drought in California there has been no Firefall the last five years.

I happened to be in Yosemite Valley for an art opening, so was anxious to see it if conditions permitted. It was quite a crowd…hundreds of photographers and nature enthusiasts were out. The park service accommodates everyone by blocking off one lane of the road for about a mile of parking. I got lucky and there was an empty parking spot right by the best viewing area.

Of course, I have seen many pictures of it over the years, and always thought the photos had to be enhanced or touched up. Not so…I wasn’t disappointed. The falls were just glowing a bright orange for about 10 minutes. It was like someone hung a giant glow stick over the edge of the cliff. Below are photos taken with my iPhone which are not touched up or enhanced in any way.

Bucket List — Check!!


Stay tuned as I am working on a short video of my quick visit to the valley, along with video of the Firefall, plein air painting, lots of running water, and other wonders.


Just starting to glow.
Just starting to glow.

Really getting going!
Really getting going!
Going strong
Going strong
Almost over
Almost over

Flooded!

All of you have by now heard about the flooding in my hometown of San Jose around Coyote Creek, the largest watershed in Silicon Valley. During my year long quest to paint “The Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley” I did 18 paintings in the Coyote watershed, and 5 of Coyote Creek itself. That was also during one of the worst droughts California experienced in years. Now Coyote Creek is above flood stage.

Today, during a break between storms, the creek has subsided a bit, so I did a mini-tour of some of the locations I painted from San Jose down to Anderson Dam in Morgan Hill. Below are pictures before, now, plus the painting I did at the time. I also included a couple videos and a link to the original weblog at the time of the original painting.


Christmas Day – Coyote Creek in Hellyer Park
The original blog post — http://www.donaldneff.com/blog/eleven-christmas-day/

 
Then:

My easel painting Coyote Creek by Hellyer Park

 
Now:
This is a picture from the bridge, the creek is up to the top of the banks…way over my head from where I originally painted…

Coyote Creek at flood stage
Coyote Creek at flood stage

 
Now:
A short video from the bridge…

 
The original painting:

Christmas Day, 8×10, oil on panel


Thompson Creek
The weblog entry is here — http://www.donaldneff.com/blog/two-three-woz-way/

 
Then:

Along the banks of Thompson Creek

 
Now:
Thompson Creek was much fuller, but not overflowing.

Thompson Creek
Thompson Creek

 
The original painting:

Thompson Creek 8×10 oil on board


Evergreen – Fowler Creek confluence
The original blog post about man’s first controlled flight — http://www.donaldneff.com/blog/sixteen-the-evergreen/

 
Then:
You can’t see much of the creek as it was just a trickle–

My easel towards the end of the painting.
My easel towards the end of the painting.

 
Now:
Not flooding, but lots of flow–

 
The original painting:

The Evergreen, 8x10,oil on panel
The Evergreen, 8×10,oil on panel


El Toro – Coyote Creek Below Anderson Dam
I wasn’t able to get to the original painting location as it was roped off and guarded by park officials. I was able to get fairly close, though.
The original blog post — http://www.donaldneff.com/blog/thirtysix-el-toro/

 
Then:

 
Now:
Water from the spillway is flowing into the Coyote Creek channel

Water from the spillway flowing into the Coyote Creek channel
Water from the spillway flowing into the Coyote Creek channel

 
Now:
A short video just downstream from the original painting location…

 
The original painting:

El Toro, 8x10, oil on board
El Toro, 8×10, oil on board

 
 
For those concerned, I live in the Coyote Creek watershed, but up in the hills enough to avoid flooding!

Leaving Milford Sound

Leaving Milford  24x12 oil on gallery wrap canvas
Leaving Milford 24×12 oil on gallery wrap canvas

 
Milford Sound, a fiord in Southwest New Zealand, has been called by some the eighth wonder of the World. The spectacular area of Fiordland National Park is unparralleled in the world. The remarkable glacial carved natural environment features spectacular tumbling waterfalls, glistening stunning fiords, ice-carved valleys with rivers, ancient rainforests, shimmering lakes, soaring walls of granite, and snow-capped peaks. The Maori native culture called this area “Te Wahipounamu”, or “place of the greenstone”, and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I visited Milford Sound on a cruise ship in February 2013. We had been sailing in and out of the fiords of Fiordland National Park all day, including Doubtful and Dusky Sound, but Milford was the icing on the cake. For those who have visited Yosemite Valley, it was akin to sailing a cruise ship right into the valley. With spectacular glacier carved sheer rock faces of almost 4000 feet on either side which lead to mountain peaks of almost 5000 feet high! It had been a fairly cloudy and gloomy day, but the cloud cover was high enough to see the mountain peaks all around. Occasionally, a spot of sun would hit, as depicted in the painting.

 


One of my favorite spots on a cruise ship is on the promenade deck right at the stern above the wake of the ship. Here you can hear the churning of the propellers in the water as it splashes and bubbles producing wonderful colors of aqua, greens, grays, and blues.

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


 
Here’s a few pictures from the day, plus a few of Princess cruise ships in Milford Sound from the internet. Click on each photo to see the complete larger version —


 

Some of the photos above I used as studies to make the painting which is a composite of several pictures. Probably one of the more unusual paintings I have done, I have often thought about doing some cruise ship wake and other studio paintings from the decks. I have plenty of material to work from and done occasional plein air pieces from the deck of the ships, as we are avid cruisers…perhaps a new series?

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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The Mighty Tuolumne River

"Low Water on the Tuolumne", 20x16, oil on board
“Low Water on the Tuolumne”, 20×16, oil on board

The Tuolumne River is one of the mightiest rivers in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Flowing for 149 miles, it drains a rugged watershed in the high Sierras, and flows calmly through Tuolumne Meadows before cascading into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. The river, captured by Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, provides water and power to the City of San Francisco and the SF Bay area prior to merging with the San Joaquin River in California’s Central Valley.

This painting is from a study in late September when the river is low, close to the Tuolumne Meadows Campground. The river flows over solid granite, through deep pools, and waterfalls as it meanders through Tuolumne Meadows. As usual, I will have to put this away for awhile, and in a few weeks look at it again to see if it is really finished!

Kako-no-ike

"Kako-no-ike Pond, Korakuen", 24x12, oil on canvas.
“Kako-no-ike Pond, Korakuen”, 24×12, oil on canvas.

One of the Three Great Gardens of Japan is called Korakuen (K?raku-en). Located in Okayama, Japan, it was built in 1700 by Ikeda Tsunamasa. Korakuen means “garden of pleasure after”, which is a reference to a saying attributed to Confucius explaining that a wise ruler must attend to his subjects’ needs first, and only then should he consider his own interests. Once a playground for the elite, in 1884 Okayama Prefecture took Korakuen over and opened it to the public.

In 1957 Okayama and my home town, San Jose, became sister cities. San Jose built it’s own garden in 1965, called the Japanese Friendship Garden, patterned after Korakuen, and in 1966 it’s koi ponds were stocked with koi sent from Okayama. Although koi live over 50 years with some reports of over 200 years, unfortunately in 2009 a virus wiped out much of the koi in the gardens.

This is a painting of Kako-no-ike, one of the ponds in the garden, and the eighth in my Japan studio series. I visited Korakuen January 2015 while visiting my son who has been teaching English to school kids in the area the last three years. I didn’t have time to do any paintings there, but this is my second studio painting of the garden. You can see all my Japan paintings, both en plein air (on location), and studio paintings on Pinterest, here.


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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!

Playing Outside

Thomas Jefferson Kitts brought to my attention a short video about teaching plein air painting to kids. This made me a little nostalgic as I used to go out and paint way prior to the current plein air renaissance and even before it was dubbed ‘plein air’. When my parents gave me an oil paint set during my high school years, the first paintings I did was outside of the lake by where we lived. I searched through all my old photos to see if I had any of me painting prior to going full time in the early 2000’s while I had a day job as a computer software developer. Heres what I found.

The first two are painting in the snow (sorry for the quality, but they are old Polaroids) probably around 1979, and I think around Strawberry, California along Hwy 108.


plein air painting in the late 70's
plein air painting in the late 70’s

plein air painting in the late 70's
plein air painting in the late 70’s

…and some in Yosemite in the early 90’s.


plein air painting in the early 90's
plein air painting in the early 90’s

pleinairhistory-2w

pleinairhistory-1w


Here is the video–


A Thanksgiving in Japan with a Wise Teacher

It was a year ago that I spent a few weeks in Japan and Thanksgiving with my son, Justin, who has lived there over three years teaching English to school kids. He works and lives in the mountainous town of Maniwa. I have visited him several times, and cannot get enough of the Japanese countryside. Yes, of course the cities are where most visitors go and great fun, but after awhile, to me, the big cities start to blend into the same.

 
Well, this blog entry is not about Thanksgiving day, but about one day at a school where Justin teaches…a day I will never forget. Justin rotates around a half dozen schools teaching English from Kindergarten through grade school.

The Kusakabe Elementary School principal was interested in meeting me, so I went with Justin in his car to the school for his teaching day. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay the entire day sitting around a Japanese school, and it was a little too far to walk home, so figured I was there for the day. After the first hour I didn’t want to leave!


Kusakabe School
Kusakabe School


It was a drizzly cloudy day.

As soon as we arrived, the principal was expecting me, and he and some teachers royally greeted me. In Japanese schools, upon entering, you take your outside shoes off, and put your inside shoes on. They have slippers for visitors, so I ‘slipped’ into those, and followed the principal to his office. We sat down in some sofas in front of his desk, and chatted a bit, somewhat in English with Justin doing a little interpreting.

A few teachers came to greet me, and before you know it, I had rice paper, ink, and a Japanese brush in front of me and everyone expecting a ‘masterpiece’. Whoa! Japanese art such as this simplifies everything into just a few strokes. I am so unfamiliar with this, I just brushed out what I had seen the day before, Kamba Falls…and it didn’t turn out well.

 
The first class of the day Justin taught was pre-school. I have never seen such a lively bunch of precious little kids eager to learn. Justin taught a few words for the day…banana, ice cream cone (can’t remember all exactly)…he put them in a song, talked, continually interacted with the children, and invited me to to come up and draw pictures of the words he was teaching on the board.

I was so impressed by one student confined to a walker, seemingly the happiest of all. I didn’t know his condition, maybe palsy, but all the other kids just constantly came over and embraced and loved him.

Watching those kids with all their enthusiasm was one of the sweetest and lovely things I have seen in my life, and it made me realize why Justin loved to live and teach there.

 
After that, I went to a number of other grade school classes with Justin, but after an introduction, and a little talk, I would exit the class.

I wanted to go paint the Asahi River close to the school, so walked a few blocks with my acrylic travel kit, found a bench by the river, and started to paint.


Asahi River
Asahi River


Like I said, it was an inclimate day, and it soon started to drizzle and found it impossible to continue.


Paint kit by the Asahi River
Paint kit by the Asahi River


Heading back to the school, I asked them for a couple chairs to sit and finish the painting outside under the eves. Almost the entire time, I was surrounded by school kids asking me all kinds of questions in a few English words, using gestures, but mostly unable to communicate.

I finished the painting under the eves of the school, and at the end of the day, presented it to the principal as a gift to the school.


Asahi River, 8x10, acrylic on canvas
Asahi River, 8×10, acrylic on canvas


School was soon over, and all the school kids lined up to be dismissed to go home. The principal wanted me to stand with Justin as he spoke to the student body eager to go home. I had no idea what he said for about 10 minutes as he held that little 8×10 acrylic painting up over his head for all to see. Occasionally there were oohs, and aaahs from the kids, with everyone looking at me, and I just grinned and nodded not knowing at all what was being said.

Justin later told me what the principal said, in summary and paraphrasing —

Art is a universal language which we all can see and appreciate, and even though Mr. Neff can’t speak our language, and we can’t speak much of his, Mr. Neff brought an expression which we all can relate, enjoy, share, and bring us together.

 
I kinda like that principal!

   
EPILOGUE

The school framed the painting, and it now hangs in the entrance by the shoe racks.


Kusakabe School Entrance
Kusakabe School Entrance


Kusakabe School Entrance
Kusakabe School Entrance