El Capitan Part III

More photos as the painting progresses. I didn’t work on it a much yesterday, but continued today, although I am painting on it only 2-4 hours a day. I have put in most of El Capitan itself and the surrounding cliffs. The top half of the painting is 2/3 done. Once most of it is complete, I will add scattered clouds, etc, and give some parts more definition.



My palette here consists of: Ultramarine Blue, Cobolt Blue, Quinacridone Red, Cadmium Red Medium, Cadmium Red Dark, Sap Green, Transparent Iron Oxide, Cadmium Orange, Yellow Ochre, and Cadmium Yellow Medium. I occasionally use other colors, but this is my primary palatte.

I usually mix a combination of Ultramarine Blue and Quinacridone Red to form a purple. I also mix Cobolt Blue and Cadmium Red Dark to get a rich gray.

El Capitan Part II

I am continuing to work on the El Capitan large painting. The sky and distant hills are about 75% complete. I generally work an area until it is about 2/3 to 3/4 complete until the entire painting is covered. Many times I don’t have to go back or add to a particular area, but once I judge the work as a whole, can add detail, adjust values, adjust color, etc. to make the entire painting work. Below is the painting at the current stage, plus a closer look at the top half…



The quick snapshots above seemed to wash out a lot of the color, but hopefully you get the idea.

El Capitan

It has been quite awhile since I have done a large work. During this economic downturn, I have concentrated more on smaller pieces which tend to sell better (I am not an artist mercenary, though!). In August, I finished a painting of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley from 4 Mile Trail. The gallery owners were so taken with it, they said I should do a similar large painting. I actually had a larger piece started some years ago, but wanted to paint on a gallery wrap canvas, so I started a new one from scratch. This is the painting I did then–

El Capitan, Yosemite

With the larger piece, I wanted to zoom in on El Capitan just a little more as I wanted the size of the canvas and the massive granite edifice to ‘overwhelm’ the viewer. Of course any painting of El Capitan pales in insignificance to the real experience!

I will chronicle the stages as I progress through the painting on this weblog, as many always express interest in how a painting develops. I started with a small, quick color sketch on a 8×10 panel just to get the colors I wanted. I then sketched and blocked in the painting on a 48×36 canvas, which is below. I did not do a very detailed sketch/block in as I can work off the small color sketch, plus know El Capitan with all its cracks and crevasses fairly well.


You can see the small color sketch in the lower left of the picture above. Since I already have a color sketch, and know the subject matter, in this case, I generally paint from top down, distant to near.

Painting in the Gallery

James Harold Gallery in Tahoe City, CA, invited me to paint in their gallery this weekend and to show new paintings. They have been carrying my work for many years and I usually do some kind of summer show. I decided to go up to Lake Tahoe on the prior Thursday, drop of some paintings, then paint in the area on Friday. My wife wanted to go and when I checked motels, found out Reno (about an hour away) was at least half the cost of staying at Lake Tahoe. My wife’s brother was planning on going to Reno that weekend, so we all booked rooms at the El Dorado. Roger, a family friend decided to join us.

After dropping several new paintings at the gallery, we all met in Reno. That evening we had a great birthday dinner for my sister-in-law at Roxy’s right in the hotel.

Friday, I drove to Virginia City which is only about a 45 minute drive from our hotel. I had painted here last year, but didn’t finish it. Virginia City is the site of the famous Comstock Lode, at one time, one of the richest mines in the world. For a time, it was also the home to Mark Twain who worked for the local newspaper. If you are ever in the area, it is a wonderful place to visit as the historic old buildings have been restored.

I don’t paint architecture much, but needed to practice. After driving around town for awhile, I found some old un-restored buildings downhill from the main drag. Below is my easel and the scene–

virginia city

It was so dry and hot, the oil paints, which usually stay wet for days, were drying right on my palette! The painting didn’t turn out great, but I am learning.

Saturday, I painted in the gallery all afternoon. Rather than paint something from scratch, I brought a larger studio painting I was almost done with and finished it. The painting actually started out as an acrylic painting from years ago and was only half complete. After sanding it down and re-prepping it, I recently painted completely over the acrylic in oils, and then finished the rest in the gallery.

The scene is from a hike I did years ago down Four Mile Trail in Yosemite Park. The trail starts at Glacier Point and steeply winds down into Yosemite Valley. The views all the way down are spectacular, and is a ‘must do’ if you ever get the chance.

yosemite painting

yosemite painting

Here’s a picture of Your’s Truly with some of my work on display.

donald neff gallery

That evening, we enjoyed the “Le Grand Cirque” show at the El Dorado.

Sunday, I headed back to the gallery, and painted an 11×14 from scratch. Since fall was coming, I did a fall color scene from the Eastern Sierras, around the Virginia Lake area. My iPad came in handy as I could flip through hundreds of photo studies until I found one both me and the gallery owners liked.

painting in the gallery

fall aspense

After the demo, it was a long drive home, arriving late Sunday night.

Millbrae Demonstration

Last night I was honored to present a painting demonstration to the Millbrae Arts Association. It is a small, but lively group. I was told to expect about 10 people, but 17 actually showed. Prior to the demo, Sherry, the president mentioned it might be good to do a snow scene, which is what I did.

I won’t go into all the details, so below are a few shots during the meeting. I did a snow scene of the Truckee River, which is one of my favorite subjects in the past.




Below is a snapshot of the painting, which I finished probably in about 90 minutes–

Truckee Winter

James Harold Gallery Show

Just returned from 4 days at Lake Tahoe. James Harold Gallery kicked off a solo show which will last most of the summer. The theme for this show is gallery wrap paintings. Gallery wrap means the canvas wraps around the support frame and has a 1 inch side. This side is painted so a frame is not required. I did a number of miniatures, diptychs, and one large painting for the show.

I won’t go into a blow by blow of my trip, but will include just a few snapshots below. The best news is as I arrived Sunday, a collector was already purchasing one of my paintings!

Sunday afternoon was a reception, and I painted in the gallery. Below is me with some of the new paintings. This was actually taken today just before I left and I had on my painting garb–


It was sunny and warm the entire time. Monday, I hung around the east shore doing a little painting, but mostly just taking snapshots for future painting studies. Although a bit windy, Lake Tahoe colors were in their splendor–


Tuesday, I drove to Virginia City for possibly a change of scenery to paint. Virginia City is the site of the famous Comstock Lode, at one time, one of the richest mines in the world. For a time, it was also the home to Mark Twain who worked for the local newspaper. If you are ever in the area, it is a wonderful place to visit as the historic old buildings have been restored–


Here is the scene I decided to paint looking down on part of Virginia City–


The sun was so bright, I had to huddle in the shade behind my car rear door in order to judge colors correctly–


After an easy morning & one last visit to the gallery, I headed home this afternoon.

At Stanford, The Results, Please

My previous post was about an outing at Stanford yesterday with Scott Loftesness. This post will be less confusing if you scroll down and read it first.

Scott processed several HDR images, and I picked the lighting which matched what I was painting, as the clouds were rolling in and out at times. Below is Scott’s final image, which has been scaled down for web display–


Just as a comparison, below is my painting again–


In the HDR photo, it seems the lighted areas of the tower were a bit darker, the color more saturated, and warmer (more reddish) than what I painted. The shadows were about in line with my observations. Although I usually apply more gradient (a gradual value and color change to a particular area) to enhance whatever I am painting I didn’t in this work. You will notice, however that Scott’s image had more gradient, for example the shadow area is lighter at the top and darkens toward the bottom.

I am rather confident on the value accuracy of my painting, and the photo of it shown, at least on my monitor, matches the actual painting. I imagine Scott could adjust the HDR image somewhat, but would probably have to go on location with a computer to match it exactly.

There are no winners or losers here, just observations. The HDR process produces beautiful and stunning photographs. However, I think to accurately capture values and color, painting from real life still wins out.

Scott added a bit to his blog about the day, which you can read here. He also posted more pictures, particularly of me painting, here. This is by far the most anyone has photographed me painting!!

At Stanford

A former business associate, and now friend, Scott Loftesness is also a pretty good photographer. Some time back, he was playing around with HDR photography. Here are a couple pictures from one of Scotts blogs, with the before and after.

Before HDR Processing–

With HDR Processing–

An old axiom of artists and painters like me is that painting is ‘better’ as photography cannot capture the true range of values the eye sees in one picture. In photography the darks are always too dark, and the lights too bright. When an artist paints on location, they paint what the eye sees as it adjusts to the lights and darks of a particular scene. I think HDR processing may have thrown that old axiom out the window!

We decided to get together for a ‘shootout’ where he would take a photograph, I would paint and compare the results. I mainly wanted to see how the values and color would match. We met at “The Quad” at Stanford University. After a stroll around the area, we decided to just shoot one of the the entrance towers.

Below are a few shots of the area–



A photo of Scott during our stroll–


Scott got his shot in and I commenced painting. Just being around Stanford in the cool morning air was a treat in itself. Hardly anyone was around. Here are a few shots of the painting spot.


Scott sent a picture he took of me–


Here is my easel–


The day started a little overcast, but soon the sun was out–


Here is the final painting which took about an hour–


I wasn’t trying to make a ‘world class’ plein air, but rather trying to capture the correct values to compare to the HDR process. As soon as Scott is finished with his HDR photograph, I’ll write another post or two comparing the two.

Landscapes Through Time

Landscapes through time

David Dunlop’s PBS series is a must see for any landscape painter. I have been recording and watching this series, a blend of art, history, travel, science, philosophy, and technique.

First, David discusses who, when, where, how and why they painted. Next, he places his easel at the same place that the artists set their easels and paints that famous landscape himself in the style of the artists, explaining each step of the process, including artistic, technical, optical and perceptual insights – and revealing techniques and secrets of the masters.

Davids enthusiasm is infectious. Don’t miss it!