FAQ – The Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley

Index of FAQ Topics

  1. First, why are you doing this?
  2. How do you find your locations to paint?
  3. What materials are you using?
  4. How long does it take you to do each painting?
  5. Have you ever abandoned or not completed a painting in the quest?
  6. Will you really paint every creek in Silicon Valley?
  7. Are the paintings for sale?
  8. How do you take the photos of your paintings?
  9. Are the paintings going to be exhibited somewhere?
  10. Are the paintings going to be publicized?
  11. Finally, what is your favorite painting?

If you have other questions, don’t hesitate to email me at donald@donaldneff.com .

First, why are you doing this?

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. 

My goal is to help citizens more appreciate the wonderful variety of little scenes below freeways, around back alleys, and behind fences we hardly notice in the rush of modern life; plus raise awareness in preserving our creeks, waterways, and other natural areas.I have been painting the area for years, and thought by formalizing it into a project, more attention could be brought.

When I first started this quest, it was just a simple idea to paint the creeks and rivers of Santa Clara Valley, AKA Silicon Valley, and was undecided on 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. Citizen groups also began contacting me, including those who work on cleaning up the creeks and waterways in the valley.

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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 and using “Street Level”, I can get an idea if an area is closed. 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, 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.

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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 used the exact same two brushes I started with throughout much of the quest, a bright and a filbert size 8.

I am using exclusively Raymar Oil panels, all 8×10. I generally tone my panels with Transparent Oxide Red prior to painting.

My primary easel is a Soltek. I have other outdoor equipment, pochade boxes, etc but this is my primary easel.

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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 around two to three 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 several hours of actual painting, is only the tip of the iceberg. I spend many more hours, probably 6-12 in researching, exploring, writing, photographing, traveling, etc. for each actual painting finished. I think I spend more time writing the weblog entry than the actual painting!

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Have you ever abandoned or not completed a painting in the quest?

Yes, so far I haven’t finished two paintings, and set aside one finished painting. I might go back and finish the two unfinished before the quest is over. 

The one painting I set aside was to be Thirty: Chavez Legacy. I originally painted from the San Antonio Street Bridge, but wasn’t totally satisfied. After going back to the studio, I looked at some photos I took of the area, and the scene just looking from the other side of the bridge was much more interesting, so went out the next day and painted it, which is the one I eventually used!

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Did you really paint every creek in Silicon Valley?

In short, no. When I started the quest, hadn’t really identified all the creeks in the area, and after a little research turned out to be more than 60 named in the Santa Clara Valley Water District Maps. Further research showed there were even more than that. The geographical extent of “Silicon Valley” is also not well defined but I stayed mainly in Santa Clara County, and what is called the “South Bay”.

Although my initial statement was to paint a different creek in Silicon Valley each week, some of the major waterways such as Coyote Creek and the Guadalupe River were painted a number of times. This was partly because of the drought and some creeks never really ran, plus the main waterways had much more accessable and scenic areas.

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How do you take the photos of your paintings?

In the beginning during this quest, to quickly get the paintings photographed, I simply used my iPhone 5s. After the first few paintings, realized this might have been a mistake, and should have taken more time and use a better camera, lighting, etc. For consistency sake, I continued to use the iPhone, and adjust the picture as much as possible to match the original. After the quest was complete I went back through the collection, and then photographed them again for the book.

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Are the paintings for sale?

Currently, no. I am keeping the collection together and hoping to find an appropriate local venue to display them in their entirety. I have made no decisions after that on what I will do with the collection.

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Are the paintings going to be exhibited somewhere?

Santa Clara County is exhibiting the entire collection in their public lobby during the month of May 2015. I continue to seek other venues in the area, or nationally, possibly a traveling show. (If anybody reading this can help in this endeavor and/or interested in showing in their area, please let me know.) I will notify via the blog, email, and other media when events are scheduled.

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Are the paintings going to be publicized?

A book about the entire quest is out. It includes all the paintings, photographs of the locations, along with edited versions of the weblog information about each painting. A calendar, notecards, etc. might also be made available.

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Finally, what is your favorite painting?

I have no favorite, per se, but if you haven’t been following my weblog all along, it takes awhile to read all of it, so here are a few of some interesting pieces to pique your interest.

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