The Bracebridge Dinner is an extravaganza and theatrical performance in Yosemite Valley’s Ahwahnee Hotel dining room during the month of December. A tradition since 1927, for a few weeks, the grand dining room is transformed into a Renaissance scene of Bracebridge Hall patterned after Washington Irvings writings. The four hour event includes a stunning array of singers and actors who tell the story of Lord Bracebridge and people of his household. A number of the cast are from the San Francisco Opera company. All this happens during a 7 course feast. The Wall Street Journal noted in 2006: “Bracebridge is, without much doubt, the country’s, if not the world’s premier Christmas dinner.”
So what does this dinner have to do with this painting?
From the “estidyo tou pre Bay la ” is the first large painting done in my new studio.In December 2017, as my birthday present for that year, Josie and I treated ourselves to the Bracebridge Dinner.It had been on my bucket list for decades, however it was so popular, attendees were chosen by lottery.Recently, however they changed to normal first come first serve reservations. It was bitter cold our entire stay in the valley and was feeling a bit under the weather, so didn’t paint, but on a morning walk in the valley came upon this scene, and have been wanting to paint it ever since.
The scene is close to Swinging Bridge on the path to Yosemite Lodge where we were staying.Once again, am not sure I am completely done with this painting, but will set it aside for a few weeks to see if I want to change anything.
Since April 2020 I have posted on Facebook a painting each day as a brief diversion from the lockdowns and other bad news this year. Neglecting my weblog, I’ll post in the coming days some of my better posts.
Ping-ponging back and forth between the mountains of Japan and California, here is today’s offering from the studio brig. Many years ago, I hiked down the 4 mile trail in Yosemite National Park. This is one scene I encountered, however changed the lighting and clouds for artistic license sake. I hope you are enjoying my daily diversions from the bad news these days.
One of the spectacular views in the world is Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. The point offers a superb view of several of Yosemite National Park’s well-known landmarks, including Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Liberty Cap, Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, Clouds Rest, and Yosemite’s high country. It is a must do if visiting Yosemite National Park. I just completed a new commission of the Glacier Point view, but maybe a little backstory first…
We started 2020 with a move to a new home in Marina, CA, not far from Monterey and Carmel. Due to last minute flooring problems with the new house, we had to change our plans and put all our stuff in storage and stay in temporary housing for almost a month. Well, we finally made it to the new place, and then the virus stuff hit!
The last painting I did at the old home was a commission piece and the subject of my last blog. Recently I posted a photo of that painting on Facebook, and another long time collector wanted one similar. So, the first painting I did in the new place is another commission piece of the same scene. Kind of like bookends to our move. I won’t make a duplicate of a prior painting but in order to be true, you can’t change the features of Half Dome, the falls, and other landmarks, but you can change the viewpoint, make it different in mood, skies, time of day, lighting, etc.
I don’t really have a studio set up yet as we are planning on building an outbuilding for the studio, so I set up in the garage. The contents of my old studio is still in boxes, some of which you can see in the first picture below.
Below are some pictures of development of the painting. This might look a little familiar as it seems a rerun of my last blog post!
I used my plein air easel in the garage to do the painting. Since the light is poor, I only could paint during the day under natural sunlight.
The block-in. I wanted to limit the foreground to give the viewer an idea of the over 3,000 foot drop off to the valley below.
I do another block-in starting to indicate the local color. Most of the sky is completed in one sitting so-as to keep itsoft, fluffy, and loose.
Continuing by painting the far mountains and Upper Yosemite Valley, including Liberty Cap. Also developing patterns of sunlight and shadow.
Starting to work on and define Half Dome
Further defining Half Dome and the bench it sits on.
Here is further definition of the shadows and lit areas. I am also working out how much of a foreground to put it.
Putting in the foreground. I am wanting to show the drop-off from 3200 feet to the valley floor.
More foreground definition.
The bottom left looks a little empty, and I need something to bring the eye back into the painting, so I keep adding trees to the drop-off.
The final painting is at the top of this weblog entry. I always seem to want to keep on working on a piece but then it starts to look overworked, but I think I stopped at the right level here.
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!!
The opening reception was Friday, February 22 this year, so I arrived a day early, Thursday afternoon.Lodging prices in Yosemite were quite high for winter season (possibly because the Firefall is getting ever more popular), so for the first time, I elected to stay outside the park in El Portal, which is right at the entrance.
After checking into my motel, I headed into the park. A series of recent snowstorms had hit the area, and it was like driving around in a winter fairyland. I wouldn’t have much time to paint, so just drove around for a few pictures, then headed to the Firefall.I won’t go into that experience here, as I posted a weblog entry you can read here.If you haven’t seen my short Firefall video, you should watch it:
I won’t go into detail on my visit, but it was very cold, barely getting above freezing most days, so my painting activities were a bit limited.Plus, with all the recent heavy snow, many pullouts and parking lots were unavailable, and those available quickly taken up by the unusually large winter crowds.
Here are a few pictures from the trip. Click on the thumbnails to get a larger picture and description.
The Firefall and me
A classic view of Half Dome
From Tunnel View
Painting Bridalveil Falls
Bridalveil Falls study.
A study of the Merced River as it tumbles out of Yosemite Valley.
Painting Cathedral Rock. It was so cold, didn’t get very far on this one.
Painting Cathedral Rock. It was so cold, didn’t get very far on this one.
I stopped by the Yosemite Railroad exhibit in El Portal for the first time. In the old days, this is the way you got to Yosemite.
My work hanging in the museum
My work hanging in the museum
Yosemite Renaissance 34 will be on display at the Yosemite Museum from February 23rd through May 5th, 2019. The Museum Gallery is open daily 10 am to Noon, and 1 pm to 4 pm. The 2019 Traveling Exhibit will be displayed at the following venues. We will confirm specific dates and times as they become available.
Kings Art Center, Hanford, CA. (June through July)
Carnegie Art Center, Turlock, CA. (August through October)
Gallery 5 at Gallery Row, Oakhurst, CA (October through November)
About the show, I have entered from time to time, including winning an award at their inaugural event 34 years ago. The best part is having a painting hanging in the Yosemite Museum for a number of months! It’s also a good excuse to visit the valley…as if I ever need one!
The show is very eclectic with photography, sculpture, and paintings from traditional to modern interpretations. Yosemite Renaissance 34 will open February 22, 2019 and will run to May 5, 2019. The exhibit will then travel to several other California art centers.
AKA Bracebridge Bucket List
AKA You Win Some, You Lose Some
The Bracebridge Dinner is an extravaganza and theatrical performance in Yosemite Valley’s Majestic Hotel’s dining room during the month of December. A tradition since 1927, for a few weeks, the grand dining room is transformed into a Renaissance scene of Bracebridge Hall patterned after Washington Irvings writings. The four hour event includes a stunning array of singers and actors who tell the story of Lord Bracebridge and people of his household. A number of the cast are from the San Francisco Opera company. All this happens during a 7 course feast. The Wall Street Journal noted in 2006: “Bracebridge is, without much doubt, the country’s, if not the world’s premier Christmas dinner.”
I have long wanted to attend the Bracebridge Dinner at the Ahwahnee (recently renamed the Majestic Hotel) in Yosemite Valley. In times past it was so popular, you could only get in by lottery, but now can just make reservations. My wife had never heard of it, so educated her a bit about it, and we decided it would be my somewhat extravagant birthday present.
We booked a package deal, two nights at Yosemite Lodge, the Bracebridge Dinner, and a portrait package, for Wednesday Dec 13-Friday Dec 15, with the dinner on Thursday night.
Monday night prior, I woke up in the middle of the night with what appeared to be a mild case of food poisoning. It continued into Tuesday, and I was afraid I was coming down with something, so took it easy all day. I didn’t want to miss this as it is all prepaid with no refund, and quite pricey! By Tuesday evening I was doing better, and Wednesday morning felt pretty good, so we made our way to Yosemite Valley arriving late afternoon, and checked into Yosemite Lodge.
Thursday morning, I originally was planning on painting, but was still recovering a bit from whatever hit me Monday night so I didn’t want to sit in the frigid cold. The big dinner was tonight and I did’t want a relapse, so just a morning walk was in order. Josie joined me in the 40 degree cold for a walk from the Lodge to Swinging Bridge. Click on the below thumbnails for larger pictures–
Sentinel Rock. If you look close, you can see Josie on Swinging Bridge.
Josie on Swinging Bridge
Josie and Cathedral Rocks.
Donald and Cathedral Rocks
Half Dome over the Merced River
I have been to Yosemite dozens and dozens of times, and I have never seen it this deserted! We encountered not one person on our mid morning walk!
That afternoon, I drove over to the Majestic to get our tickets, and they also gave us two souvenir menus for the event–
I also drove around the valley and took more pictures–
It’s a formal affair, so after getting gussied up, we headed to the Majestic late afternoon to get our portrait taken, and wait to be seated.
The coat check girl took our picture
Waiting for dinner in the lounge
At our table were couples from the SF Bay area, Chicago, and Orlando. I won’t go into a lot of detail about the four hour feast, as there is a good write up here which was similar to our experience. We sat at the very back, facing the stage. This is actually a good seat in the house as we were right by the entrance where the performers would enter and exit, plus much of the action was right by us.
No pictures were allowed during the dinner but we could pose with the cast members afterward. There are lots of official pictures on the above mentioned websites.
Josie with Andrea Fulton the director of the show
Josie and the Minstrel
Me and cast members
Josie and cast members
It was about everything I expected. The performers, costumes, vocals, and everything else was spectacular. The food was wonderful, and was reminiscent of a nice cruise ship dinner, although slightly better. There were lots of courses, but they were all small portions spread out over hours, so by the end of the evening, was just full enough.
Friday morning, once again I passed on painting as it was even colder, below freezing, so took a short walk prior to packing up and heading home. I didn’t get any painting done on the trip, but gathered a few photo studies which would make good studio paintings.
So, I won with the Bracebridge Dinner, but lost on the painting endeavors!
If you are seriously considering going…my overall impression is, if you can afford it and Yosemite fairly accessible, it is a once in a lifetime event to do. It is not for everyone, as it attracts an older crowd and most younger people may not enjoy it. If you are interested in going, the weblog found here is very informative, plus many of the comments are worth reading.
Enjoy this short video of a 90 minute demo I did for the Society of Western Artists reduced down to about two minutes. After watching this, it seemed I was turned around talking to the audience as much as I was painting!
You can also read about this demo and a revolutionary new painting technique on my weblog here.