TwentySeven: Korakuen

Continuing the ‘Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley’ year long quest.

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Korakuen, 8x10, oil on board
Korakuen, 8×10, oil on board

One of the Three Great Gardens of Japan is called Korakuen (Kōraku-en). Located in Okayama, Japan, it was built in 1700 by Ikeda Tsunamasa. Korakuen means “garden of pleasure after”, which is a reference to a saying attributed to Confucius—explaining that a wise ruler must attend to his subjects’ needs first, and only then should he consider his own interests. Once a playground for the elite, in 1884 Okayama Prefecture took Korakuen over and opened it to the public.

In 1957 Okayama and San Jose became sister cities. San Jose built it’s own garden in 1965, called the Japanese Friendship Garden, patterned after Korakuen, and in 1966 it’s koi ponds were stocked with koi sent from Okayama. Although koi live over 50 years with some reports of over 200 years, unfortunately in 2009 a virus wiped out much of the koi in the gardens.

A video from 1958 of San Jose Mayor Doerr visiting Okayama gives you a little idea of the friendship and culture in years gone by….

Although I have only been to Okayama twice, just passing through on a Shinkansen (bullet train), the city has become a little more of personal interest to me. My son has been teaching English there in four different grade and junior high schools for much of the past year. He has had a wonderful time soaking in the Japanese culture, making new friends and loving his work, which he calls getting paid to play with school kids all day.

I decided an artificial stream is still a stream, and what better place to paint spring blossoms than a Japanese Garden, so painted the waterfall in the Japanese Friendship Garden. It was a beautiful spring day as the rains had just cleared and there was certainly a freshness in the air!

Click on any picture to view the full size–

I painted the scene basically as is, almost entirely in shadow, however added a little more blossoms which were all around me in the garden, except right by the falls.

I will be at the Plein Air Convention in Monterey next week, so there won’t be any new Creeks paintings for awhile. I am on the Faculty once again this year, and will be out demoing plein air painting for attendees around the beautiful Monterey Peninsula. I’ll try to do some weblog entries about the convention while there.

TwentySix: Home of the Airships

Continuing the ‘Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley’ year long project.

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USS Macon and Hanger 1
USS Macon and Hanger 1

Covering 8 acres, the size of 6 football fields, Hanger 1 at Moffett Field has always been a marvel to see driving by on busy Highway 101. Moffett Field was commissioned in 1933 as a Naval Air Station and over the years has been the base for airships, maritime patrol craft, NASA Ames Research Center, Satellite Control Network (AKA ‘Blue Cube’), and a host of other activities. An aerospace industry grew up around it in the towns of Mountain View and Sunnyvale. Moffett is now a joint civil-military airport.

A relic from the past, Hanger 1 was built in 1933 to house the airship USS Macon and is one of the worlds largest freestanding structures. Two other hangers nearby, appropriately called #2 and #3, are some of the world’s largest freestanding wood structures. currently, Hanger 1 is going through a restoration, removing asbestos and other dangerous materials.

Stevens Creek originates in the Santa Cruz Mountains, flows through the towns of Cupertino, Los Altos, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View. It flows by and empties into the San Francisco Bay right next to Moffett Field. On the other side of the creek is the world headquarters of a company called Google and a smaller company called LinkedIn. The Shoreline Amphitheater is nearby, one of the main concert venues in the bay area..

Of course, if you use the internet, you know who Google is. Their buildings (called the Googleplex) occupy blocks and blocks of buildings adjacent to Moffett Field. Recently, they have leased much of Moffett, and taken over the restoration of Hanger 1.

Click on any picture to view the full size–

I did the painting on a pedestrian bridge over Stevens Creek. Another sky painting, in front is Moffett Field with Hanger 1 on the left. The large building on the right is the intake for the worlds largest wind tunnel. Hanger 1 is a little hard to see in the photos as it currently has it’s outer skin removed and looks like a silver skeleton. I wanted to paint it as it usually looks, so put the skin back on.

Home of the Airships, 8x10, oil on board
Home of the Airships, 8×10, oil on board

As painting number twenty-six, this marks the halfway point in this quest, at least as far as the number of paintings. I am about 6 paintings ahead of schedule and will probably do more than the original 52 painting goal.

Coming up:
We are getting a series of Pacific storms, so am going to scout around for some of the smaller, seasonal streams. Also on the agenda, Chavez and Korakuen.

TwentyFive: Where Redwoods Thrive

Continuing the “Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley” year long project. (Click here for complete info.)

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Where Redwoods Thrive, 8x10, oil on board
Where Redwoods Thrive, 8×10, oil on board

One of the most beautiful and unique trees in the world are the redwood trees of the west coast of North America. The native habitat of Sequoia Sempervirens is only in the Northern California coastal forests ecoregion and several miles into Oregon. The redwood Hyperion Tree in Northern California is the tallest tree in the world. It’s close cousins, the Sequoia only grow on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains and the General Sherman Tree is (arguably) the largest in the world by volume. When I bought my house in 1984, six redwoods were planted, and due to various reasons only two remain.

Twentyfive was painted in the Redwood Grove Nature Preserve in Los Altos by Adobe Creek. Los Altos is one of the more affluent bedroom communities of Silicon Valley.
Click this link for a map of all painting locations.

14 mile long Adobe Creek originates in the Santa Cruz Mountains, flows through the cities of Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, and Palo Alto. It is joined along the way by three seasonal creeks in Los Altos Hills, Moody Creek, Purissima Creek, and Robleda Creek.


The two founders of Adobe Systems lived along the creek and named their company after the waterway. In the 1980’s, Adobe revolutionized the printing business by teaming with Apple Computer and producing the first desktop publishing system. The rest is history, so they say. Adobe’s fingerprints are all over technology today… the PDF (Portable Document Format), Photoshop, Flash, Dreamweaver, to name a few. Virtually every image and every web page you see is touched by an Adobe product.

About the painting, although it is supposed to run year round, and we have had recent rains, Adobe Creek was virtually dry, so I used a little artistic license and added some water, although I am debating about taking it out. BTW, This is the third redwood depicted in this quest, the other two are Seven and TwentyOne.

Coming up:
A new twist for this quest…hint, think GoPro. Also, the afternoon’s painting where no art has gone before…think blimps and Google. On the upcoming painting schedule: Chavez and Korakuen.

A Brief Hiatus

Continuing the ‘Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley’ year long project. (Click here for complete info.)

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The Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley
The Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley

I am currently out of town attending to my late father’s estate, so there won’t be any new works for several weeks. In the meantime, I prepared this post ahead of time just to keep things going.

When I first started this project, it was just a simple idea to paint the creeks and rivers of Santa Clara Valley, AKA Silicon Valley, and was debating 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.

I thought I would answer some questions posed to me over the course of the project so far.

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 under two 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 two hours of actual painting, is only the tip of the iceberg. I spend many more hours, probably 6-8 in researching, exploring, writing, photographing, traveling, etc. for each actual painting finished.

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. 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, I just now found 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.

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 am still using the exact same two brushes I started with, a bright and a filbert size 8.

I am using exclusively Raymar Oil panels, all 8×10.

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

Finally, why are you doing this?
As stated in my weblog introducing this project and on my website, 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. I have been painting the area for years, and thought by formalizing it into a project, more attention could be brought.

Although I have not yet pursued anything, I hope to show the entire collection at some local venue when the year is up. The above montage of 14 of the 24 works so far gives you an idea of what the exhibition might look like. If current progress holds true, I will have many more than 52 paintings by the end of the year. There are just too many good places to paint!

That’s all for now. I’ll be back soon with more paintings.

Twentyfour: Roger, Let’s Soar

Continuing the ‘Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley’ year long project. (Click here for complete info.)

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Roger Let's Soar!, 8x10, oil on board
Roger Let’s Soar!, 8×10, oil on board

I had been planning this painting location for quite some time and this is the original lead in to this weblog entry which I was just about to publish…

What was once the 1800’s Rancho Potrero de Santa Clara and later onion fields, gradually became a landing strip for the budding aviation industry after World War I. In the late 1940’s the city of San Jose turned the private airfield into a municipal airport and in 1948 Southwest Airlines was the first to commercially fly passengers.

The Guadalupe River originates in the Santa Cruz Mountains, flows north right through downtown San Jose, continues by and forms the northeastern border of what is now called the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airportalso known as SJC. The river continues on north and empties into San Francisco Bay. It is the southernmost major U.S. river with a King salmon run.

After writing the above prelude, I googled “King Salmon Guadalupe” and the name Roger Castillo kept popping up. He is tirelessly dedicated to cleaning up the Guadalupe River to enable the King Salmon to spawn. My goal in this project is to make everyone, everywhere appreciate the little spots of nature around us whether in a big city, the suburbs or even the countryside. What better way to do that than dedicating this blog entry to Roger, the “Watchdog” of the Guadalupe, who appreciates this waterway for more than just the scenery. You can read about him here, and check their website out here. Incidently, Roger is the one who discovered mammoth bones along the river some years ago.

Anyway, about the painting–I wanted to paint the Guadalupe close to the airport, so walked across a field to the northeast corner of SJC. Click this link for a map of all painting locations. Since it was an airport, I also wanted to make this a sky painting as we have had some beautiful skies with the series of Pacific storms hitting the bay area. We had a wonderful sunset the evening before I did this painting, and I wasn’t sure what skies the next day would bring, so just in case made some color notes. Painting sunsets en plein air is tricky as right after the best part, it becomes too dark to paint! You usually have to make color notes, and then finish the painting another day. I ended up basically combining the prior day’s sunset with the location today.

Looking at the painting above, the overpass in the background is Highway 101 (AKA Bayshore Freeway), and the airport is immediately behind that. It was hard to see much of the airport from my vantage point so just indicated a few buildings, the one on the left being the parking garage for terminal A. I set up on the Guadalupe River Trail & right behind me was the office complex for some company called eBay. The airplanes were taking off toward the south, a little unusual for this airport, so I put one soaring in the distance.

Twentythree: Fi-na-lee! Quimby!!

Continuing the ‘Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley’ year long project. (Click here for complete info.)

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Finally! More streams are running! We are in the midst of another series of storms bringing rain to much of parched California.

I have been patiently waiting for this particular creek to start running, as it is very special. The creek is dry much of the year, but flows once we start getting winter rains. Since moving to my home of 30 years in the Evergreen area of San Jose, I have driven by this spot near my house thousands of times (by calculations, easily over 9 thousand times). Each time I tell myself it would make a great little painting…but never painted it. I was too busy painting the Sierras, Lake Tahoe, Big Sur, Yosemite, and other ‘scenic places’ to sell in the art galleries who represent me.

This spot was the genesis of the idea to start this project to paint the Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley. Right at the corner of bustling Capitol Expressway and Quimby road, across the street from a major shopping mall, surrounded by tract homes, smack dab in Silicon Valley suburbia, is this little scene. It’s not spectacular, but with proper treatment, as good as scene as you can find to paint. Click this link for a map of all painting locations.

It’s Thompson Creek, and about half a mile from painting number One: It Begins. I painted it between two major storms hitting San Jose. The skies were gorgeous and again, besides painting the creek, wanted to include the stormy skies.

As soon as I started painting, a young Chinese couple came by inquiring about my painting, so they accommodated me by taking a few pictures.

You might notice some pictures have water running, and some don’t. Thompson Creek was a raging torrent for a few days, then the day I went out to paint, was dry again. I had to use my recollections from the day before to paint the water. While I was painting, a maintenance crew was walking the creek checking for what I don’t know. My guess is there is some flow control upstream, but not sure where.

Finalee, Quimby, 8x10, oil on board
Finalee, Quimby, 8×10, oil on board

As I was painting, it looked like the next front was coming in, loaded with rain, so I finished the last part in the studio. The next day, writing this, I drove by Quimby and Capitol, and Thompson Creek was again a raging torrent.

Twentytwo: The Tall Stick

Continuing the ‘Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley’ year long project. (Click here for complete info.)

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In 1769 Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola hiked over a small range of coastal mountains, saw a beautiful bay, and camped under a giant redwood tree on the banks of a creek in order to explore the area further. He called the tall redwood tree El Palo Alto, which means ‘tall stick’ in Spanish. The land is now called California, the mountains are now called the Santa Cruz Range, the bay is San Francisco Bay, and the creek named San Francisquito Creek. Years later a town would spring up in the area named after the landmark tree, Palo Alto, and a famous university called Stanford started. You can read more about Palo Alto history here.

El Palo Alto in 1875.  Note how much of a landmark it was in the old days.
El Palo Alto in 1875. Note how much of a landmark it was in the old days.

I did painting number Twentytwo under the same 1,035 year old redwood tree Portola camped, which still grows along the bank of San Francisquito Creek. It is also right next to El Camino Real, where the original “Kings Highway” passed connecting California’s 21 missions. Incidently, paintings seven and eight were painted in Portola Valley, named after the explorer.

Palo Alto could be called the birthplace of Silicon Valley. Growing up together with bordering Stanford University, the town of about 64,000 residents has fueled the high-tech industry with it’s garage startups galore. Many books have been written about all the startups and other high-tech companies in the area, so won’t go into that here.

As mentioned, I did the painting right under the historic “Palo Alto” redwood tree. Click this link for a map of all painting locations. A plaque from 1926 is there commemorating the historic place. A train trestle was built within feet of the tree and Caltrain rumbles up and down the peninsula carrying passengers to and fro. I wanted to try to capture the tree, trestle, and creek in one small horizontal painting, no small task, especially considering the creek is in a ravine about twenty feet below. I finally settled on a partial composite view of all three with just glimpses of each element.

The Tall Stick, 8x10,oil on board
The Tall Stick, 8×10,oil on board

The painting turned out to be an almost abstract quilt work of steel girders and organic material.

I did the painting last Monday afternoon after Twentyone: Baylands Fun, but felt this deserved a separate blog post. I also wanted to touch the trestle up a bit under different light and after drying a bit. Prior to this quest, I don’t think I have ever painted a train trestle, and so far there are three in the collection!

Twenty: The Trestle Charity

Continuing the ‘Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley’ year long project. (Click here for complete info.)

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Willow Glen Trestle
Willow Glen Trestle

1921 was the year the trestle was built. In it’s day the rails carried cargo wrapping around the southern end of San Jose and up over the trestle I painted in number Seventeen: The Eggo Team.

Although the railroad tracks are long gone, it has stood the test of time until recently when the San Jose city council voted to tear it down and put in a new steel trail bridge for the Lost Gatos trail system. Citizens rose up and are demanding the trestle be kept and restored. I agree. The 90 year old trestle is solid, and the Friends of the Willow Glen Trust have now sued the city to stop it’s destruction. You can find some local reports and opinions here, and here. They also have some Facebook pages here, and here. There is a charity event coming up on February 22.

For the last year or so I have wanted to paint the trestle, and figured I better do it now if it is torn down. So here is number twenty in my Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley. I visited the site about a year ago, and along the creek, it was pretty junky, with a few homeless encampments nearby. This is only a few miles from “The Jungle”, the largest homeless camp in the US. I’ll save commentary on that for another day. Today, most of the junk was gone right around the trestle I think from volunteers cleaning the area up.

A few pictures. You can now click on a thumbnail, then scroll directly from picture to picture—

Here’s the painting–

The Trestle Charity, 8x10, oil on board
The Trestle Charity, 8×10, oil on board

For better effect, I took out about half of the pylons, otherwise it would have looked like a jumbled mess. This is the only painting I did not complete entirely on site. With some of the noise coming from the homeless camps, I felt a little unsafe being there all alone, so finished about half of it in the studio. My heart goes out to the truly homeless, but many are drug addicts or other problems, and the camps can be dangerous places.

Oh, almost forgot…that’s Los Gatos Creek!

Click this link for a map of all painting locations.

Addendum. Oops…forgot to mention the Save the Trestle website here.

I Sure Picked the Best Year

Well, it seems I picked a really good year to paint the streams and rivers of Silicon Valley! So far we are in the biggest drought since California became a state! With the rest of the country drenched in snow, we have had no appreciable rain so far this winter, and things are as dry as I have ever seen.

I planned on painting some of the smaller creeks which run mostly during the winter and spring, but of course none are running yet. Hopefully we will eventually get some rain so it is a wait and see situation, but dry creeks are still creeks, and can be just as compelling a painting without water. I have been compiling a list of places to paint since starting this project, and I will never get to all of them, drought or no drought.

As a side note, I spent the first part of the week in Tyler Texas sleeping on a roll away bed and living in a hospice room with my ailing father, who passed away Tuesday night. No paintings will be forthcoming this week nor possibly in the next week or two. I am plenty ahead of schedule.