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!!

Across the Rubicon

From the introduction to my book “Plein Tahoe“…

A masterpiece of nature and the crown jewel of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Lake Tahoe is one of the most spectacular in the world. From the Native American word meaning “big water”, Tahoe is the second deepest lake in North America, known for the clarity of its water. The pristine deep blue water against the panorama of the surrounding mountains is unequaled in the world.

I have been showing at the James-Harold Galleries in Tahoe City for around 15 years, and make regular trips to the area to paint and drop off new paintings. I have even driven my Harley-Davidson Road King there, painted for a number of days, and dropped the newly created works off at the gallery.

Hal Slear, the gallery owner, and I have been talking about a little show of miniatures for a number of months, but schedules hadn’t worked out, but finally I just had to do a fall color trip in the area, so here we go!

Thursday
Took off in the morning to drive to the Lake and of course, the worst traffic was just getting out of Silicon Valley! After arriving at the Lake and driving around a bit to check out the fall color, I headed to DL Bliss State Park and one of my favorite places to paint on the lake, along the Rubicon Trail. My plan was to do a time-lapse video of the painting process. I have done these before, most notably “The Painting of TwentyFive: Where Redwoods Thrive” which you can see here. I used the same home made GoPro camera setup, so look for a video soon of the event.

Below are a few pictures of the afternoon. (Click on any thumbnail to see a larger picture.)

Much of painting plein air is deciding what to put in, but more importantly, what to leave out! At the time, I was undecided on including the larger tree on the right so didn’t put it in. Later on, I touched the painting up on Saturday while in the gallery, so put the tree in. Here is the final piece, which I finished a couple days later in the gallery —

Across the Rubicon, 8x10, oil on board, plein air
Across the Rubicon, 8×10, oil on board, plein air

Note this isn’t the greatest depiction of the painting as it was taken with my cellphone camera, but hopefully you get the impression.

After checking into my motel in South Lake Tahoe, I was so exhausted, it was a very early bedtime for me!

Friday
Friday we were expecting rain almost all day, and it did, so outdoor painting was not in the plan. I drove around the lake, enjoying the stormy weather and stopped by the gallery to drop off the batch of new miniature paintings for the show. I took a few pictures, and here is a panorama from the Sand Harbor Boat Launch

Stormy Tahoe
Stormy Tahoe

Saturday
We advertised my presence from 12-5pm to paint in the gallery. There was a break in the storm on my hour drive there, so just had to stop and take pictures of the next storm front coming in—

Storms a comin'
Storms a comin’

I liked a little 5×7 nocturne I did of Lake Tahoe for the show, so decided to do another larger one for my demo in the gallery. I almost finished it between talking to customers and other passers by, and well, just taking my time!

Harvest Moon over Tahoe, 8x16, oil on board
Harvest Moon over Tahoe, 8×16, oil on board

Long time friends, Clark & Elaine Hockwald are full time RV-ers and they had been staying at Lake Tahoe for the last 6 months so we arranged to meet at the gallery, and then have an early dinner. I have known Clarke since I was about 11, and Elaine from college days. They have a wonderful weblog about their travels which you can find here.

It was their choice for the dinner location, so they picked an excellent nearby place, Christy Hill, which was right on the lake. It was a fabulous dinner and we sat for several hours just watching the stormy lake, dining, but mainly telling stories from old times, and a few recent happenings! The Moroccan Lamb I had was just delicious…and I will be looking for a similar recipe!

Dinner with Clarke and Elaine
Dinner with Clarke and Elaine

It was a long drive home at night through the pouring rain, but we all made it safely!

Sunday
I was scheduled to be in the gallery from 12-3pm, so drove back through the rain around the lake. I finished yesterdays nocturne painting and had enough time to do another small one, so started a 5×7. Another stormy Tahoe scene was in my mind, so I used a picture I had taken just the day before as a study. With a palette of already mixed colors, everything ‘clicked’, and I knocked it out in no-time.

Storms a comin!, 7x5, oil on board
Storms a comin!, 7×5, oil on board

Around 3:30, I headed home in pouring rain, taking over an hour longer than normal.

So, if you are in Tahoe the next month or two, stop by and see some new Donald Neff miniatures! All the paintings depicted in this weblog entry are now on sale in the James Harold Gallery. I have priced these to sell over the holiday season, and a number are already gone, so it might be time to add one or two to your collection!