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.



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!

A Lower Tuolumne

The Tuolumne, 24x12, oil on canvas
The Tuolumne, 24×12, oil on canvas

 
I am revisiting the Tuolumne River in the eighth of my ‘Vertical Water’ series. I previously painted it in the second work of this series you can read about here.

This scene, is just a few hundred yards from the other painting, but even later in the year, and right by the Hwy 120 bridge in Tuolumne Meadows. One of the largest high-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada, dome studded Tuolumne Meadows is a sub-alpine section of the Tuolumne River in the high country of Yosemite National Park. It is a mecca for outdoorsmen, fishermen, campers, hikers, rock climbers, and people who just want to enjoy the outdoors. It is also a center for those who want to horseback or backpack the high Sierra Nevada Mountain range, often called “The Range of Light”

 


Here are a few pictures of the painting developing. Click on a thumbnail to see the full picture…


 
 
Well, how about some selfies in the studio!

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?

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!

Drenched

Most of you know California is getting drenched, and much of the rest of the US is getting heavy snow. I ventured out today to check a spot I painted three years ago Christmas morning, along Coyote Creek, to see what it looked like. You can read more about when I painted it December 25, 2013, on my weblog here. The creek was low, but flowing nicely, and looked like this–

My easel painting Coyote Creek by Hellyer Park
Painting Coyote Creek under the Hellyer Road Bridge

Here is the plein air painting I did that day–

Christmas Day, 8×10, oil on panel

A year later it was bone dry (This photo was taken just a few miles upstream November 1, 2014)

Coyote Creek
Coyote Creek

Today it looked like this…

Coyote Creek 1/9/16
Coyote Creek 1/9/16

    
You can still see some of the fall color I painted in the upper left, and the trees on the right are in about 3-4 feet of water.

More rain is on the way, so hopefully I can check out some of the other creeks which were dry just a year ago!


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!