November 25, 2017

Adelaida Vineyard
Adelaida Vineyard (watercolor and colored pencil on illustration board)

So I did this one from a back deck of the Adelaida Vineyards. Not exactly sure when I painted it—probably around 2000. When I was thinking about this week’s post I had been wanting to write about the amazing yellows and gold colors that were in this landscape and also in my watercolor tray. I have already done my homage to blue and the “blue blood” royalty it has achieved in my painter’s palate. I thought it time I shared my thoughts on yellow and gold, and how I have used it so masterfully through my many experiences painting fields of safflower and bales of golden hay. I had decided this piece, with the golden hills of Adelaida as a backdrop to the almond trees and grape plants you see here, the perfect painting to do that. But I should have learned never to pair art with words too early—something about what I think I want to say is bound to change. And that’s exactly what happened. I thought I would wax eloquently about my layering of Prismacolor and watercolor yellows on cold press illustration board. So, just stop already!

Here’s what changed my tune. Last Sunday I participated in a watercolor workshop (sponsored by Winsor Newton) at the CTN Animation Expo at the Marriott Hotel in Burbank. Gary Geraths and Virginia Hein, art instructors from Otis College of Art and Design, were there to show us how they use Winsor Newton products to create “on the spot” plein air watercolor paintings. Woo hoo! I got there a little early and watched a whole lot of animators, carrying books to be autographed and portfolios to be critiqued, going from building to building, building to tent and room to room (I noticed this particular movement when I went inside in search of a restroom).

Soon, Gary assembled all of us at the Winsor Newton tent and we walked to the hotel parking lot, where we were a bit apart from all the moving animators. But when I say away from the movement, I meant the movement of the people crossing in front of us to go to the various buildings and tents. There was some serious movement going on just to our right in the form of planes taking off from the Burbank airport (aka Bob Hope Airport) about every 20 minutes. It was actually pretty cool to watch commercial jets leave the ground, then a second later that very plane was reflected in the pink/amber tinted windows of a nearby building, and once that reflection moved off the windows a brief shadow was cast down on us standing there in the parking lot. Oh my God, I was in heaven!

Back to Gary. He had set up an easel in the shade (yes, it was in the 70’s) of several huge sycamore trees. (Virginia was sitting in a camp chair off to the side, peacefully painting the people and trees in front of her.) Gary immediately launched into telling us all his tricks for carrying only the most necessary items to paint anything anywhere. He had many stories and talked of many experiences he had while painting outside, all the while he painted layer upon layer of color to the sycamore trees, people and row of cars directly in front of him. He showed us how he arranges his trays of color, with the warm colors in one row and the cool colors in another. Gary referred to the lovely dark colors John Singer Sargent used to great effect in his watercolor paintings. He told us how he (Gary) had painted from moving kayaks/canoes—stashing his tiny watercolor book and paints away at a moment’s notice when they were soon to be in the rapids. Yikes! He even described getting lost once (for a day and a night) and how he only had water from his water bottle meant for painting to drink. Writing this down now I wonder if I heard him correctly. Anyway, there was plenty of water to be found around the Marriott parking lot. And his final piece was lovely—capturing just the right amount of Southern California dark and light color, leaving plenty of white spaces for highlights and rest.

So, now it’s Virginia’s turn, and she chose the exact same composition as Gary, but she included people. And the light on the Sycamore trees and space between them had definitely changed. I have taken a watercolor class from her (at the Descanso Garden) and I see her at various urban sketching venues around town. Her “on the spot” artwork is pretty amazing! She didn’t have harrowing plein air experiences to share, but instead treated us to a lesson in using layers of various yellows to capture the light of a fall day in Southern California. Virginia did a quick sketch of the scene with a golden colored Inktense pencil (I didn’t write down what exact color…), so it would soon fade into the background as soon as watercolor was added. She talked about experimenting with the transparent nature of certain colors, specifically New Gamboge. Virginia layered in the more opaque watercolors like cadmium yellow. Then going in for the kill at the end, she added fluorescent orange and line detail with her “oak” colored Inktense pencil. I think her reference to these golden colors and then golden shaded greens was of further interest to me. She said, and I think I agree, that southern CA foliage greens are more yellow and golden, not generally of a blue driven nature as you might find in the trees/plants of northern CA. And when I look back at early 20th century California impressionist landscape painters who painted in Laguna Beach, you can see that they had figured that out too. The light here in southern California is rather special and golden. And Virginia sure captured that golden essence. I didn’t even have a tube of New Gamboge. Better get on that ‘cause now it’s my turn to see what I can do with the golden light of southern California! Thanks Gary and Virginia.

Note: I kind of went a little overboard about everything except this painting and the lovely landscape I got to capture that day at the Adelaida Vineyard. And all my “carrying on” about the golden southern California light cannot diminish the joy and triumph I had creating the colors of the Central Coast of California you can actually see here. Just saying…

Oh, here’s a note about John Singer Sargent watercolor paintings: If you are most familiar with his oils, treat yourself and Google his watercolors. Done, and fade to black…

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