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

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!

A Free Gift to You

"Reflections in Ellery", 18x24, acrylic on panel
“Reflections in Ellery”, 18×24, acrylic on panel

Here is a gift to all my followers. I have provided a hi-resolution image of the painting “Reflections in Ellery” on my website which you can download and print. (all the images I usually upload are low resolution). This beautiful lake is right at Tioga Pass, along Highway 120, just outside Yosemite National Park, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains high country. The painting was featured in the book “How Did You Paint That?: 100 Ways to Paint Seascapes, Rivers & Lakes”

1. Just click on this link, or copy and paste it into a web browser–

http://www.donaldneff.com/neffellery.jpg

2. Right click on the picture, then save to your computer.
3. Open the picture on your computer, then print.

You can alternately print it out directly from your web browser, although it might distort the printout unless you choose ‘Landscape’ option when printing.

This gift will be available only through the holidays, so if you want a copy, don’t delay!


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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–


From Small to Big


Early Snow, Yosemite, 15x30, oil on canvas
Early Snow, Yosemite, 15×30, oil on canvas


 

Some may recognize this painting…but it’s new! I painted a small version, 6×12, several months ago for my miniature show, and posted it on Facebook. It’s also part of the logo picture above. I liked the mood and composition, so decided to do a larger, 15×30 version. Other than adding more detail, and a little more color to the bridge, the paintings are essentially the same.

About the scene–
There are eight beautiful and historic stone bridges in Yosemite Valley, most of them spanning the Merced River. This is the Clark Bridge, just after a snow storm. The Clark Bridge was built in 1928 with a span of 75.5 ft (23 m) over the Merced River and right by the Upper and Lower Pines campgrounds, where I have camped dozens of times over the decades.

  
Here is the small version, 6×12, oil on canvas. This version is currently available at James Harold Galleries in Tahoe City, CA.


Early Snow, Yosemite, 6x12, oil on canvas
Early Snow, Yosemite, 6×12, oil on canvas