Autumn has come to the Sacramento Valley. We had our first rain of the season last week, a welcome break from the heat and the smoke from the wildfires around the state.
Rain here also brings fog. Not the thick kind that comes in on little cat’s feet, then silently moves on, as Carl Sandburg wrote of fog along the coast. We get tule fog here—or anyway, we used to. Tule fog condenses close to the ground and doesn’t move much. It can make driving treacherous.
But it also can add a blessed sense of moisture to a dry landscape, especially early in the fall, when the land is parched and the rainy season is new.
It was on such a day that I went out to Conaway Ranch, in the heart of the Yolo Bypass, on a Yolo Art & Ag adventure. There, amid the levees and fields used for grain and I don’t know what, I found a marshy spot turned bright red with the season. Actual tules filled the lined the marsh, and, as the fog lifted, I saw birds overhead: egrets and herons and blackbirds and geese. I felt I’d stepped back in time, to a land before European settlers changed California. I kept expecting to see a herd of tule elk and a grizzly bear, animals that once lived in the Valley but are gone now. Or maybe I’d been transported even farther back, and should look out for saber-toothed cat and wooly mammoths.
Weekend visitors to Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, California, have a treat in store for them. Through the end of this month, the exhibition of paintings by the Baywood Artists is on display at the Red Barn Classroom near the Visitor Center. Over 50 paintings of tule elk, pelicans, horseback riders, surf, fog, and the water and land of Point Reyes illustrate some iconic—and not so iconic—scenes. The show is a benefit for the Point Reyes National Seashore Association, the primary nonprofit park partner organization created to raise awareness and funds for education, preservation, and resource protection of the National Seashore.
The show is a treat. From Tim Soltesz’ largish painting of fog rolling in to Christin Coy’s teeny views of the marshes, the works showcase the many aspects of Point Reyes. While most of the works are oils, some are other media: watercolor, pastels, graphite. Something for every taste and price range. And, even better, I hear the show is selling fairly well—nice to hear, because the sales benefit not only the artists but the land.
It’s this choice to use their artwork to support conservation efforts that so impresses me with Baywood Artists. Well, that and the high quality of their artwork! For three years running they have chosen the Seashore as their focus. You can see from the images that they spent a lot of time at Point Reyes painting. Some of the works are from a mountain summit, which means the artists lugged their easels and paints and canvas up some trail to get those images! It’s a dirty job, I know, but someone’s gotta do it, right? All the better for us, the viewers, and the lucky people who take those paintings home.
Point Reyes Wild is on display weekends only through the end of September 2014 from noon to 5:00 p.m.
I’ve been experimenting with caseins recently. I got some after I read the amazing James Gurney’s posts and watched his videos about the paints. (I rather wonder how much sales of caseins spiked after he blogged about them.) They’re fun!
They’re a bit like gouache, in that they are an opaque, water-soluble medium, but they seem to me more flexible. You can thin them to do washes, or use them fairly thickly. They dry to a soft matte finish. But they’re also sort of like oil, in that you can mix them wet-into-wet if you work quickly. Gurney calls them “oils on steroids,” but I’m not sure I agree. I think they’re more like gouache on steroids. But they also share a feature of acrylics: they change value once dry, generally turning darker. Since values are something I struggle with, and therefore focus on, I find the value shift annoying.
But, not enough to stop me from playing more with them!
Posting will be intermittent the next few weeks. I’m trying to finish up some larger pieces for a show, and to get ready for some trips.
I finally got myself to Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park to paint last week. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for some time, and we got a relatively cool-ish day so I packed the car and drove the two-plus hours from my house. (Far nice than this weekend, which is another scorcher*.) As I drove up into the foothills on ever narrower roads, I kept thinking about the truth behind Sacramento’s big claim to fame: it really is just two hours from anywhere. The weekend before, I’d driven two hours to San Francisco.
Malakoff Diggins is the site of the largest hydraulic mine of the California gold rush. Huge water cannons were used to literally wash away the soil overburden and expose the gold beneath. It’s a terribly destructive process that washes away mountains, leaving badlands behind.
Today, Malakoff Diggins is recovering, sort of. The mining generally ended in California in 1884, after a legal battle with farmers downstream, where the sediment washed down from the mines changed the rivers and caused flooding**. In the intervening years trees have grown where there is soil. The valley floor is covered with marsh, even in this dry year. The mountains of course will never regrow; there will always be scars from what the humans did here.
But those scars are both fascinating and beautiful. I’ve long wanted to paint the scene, so I set up my easel in the shade of a Ponderosa pine. The air smelled of pine and manzanita. I sketched for a couple of hours. I didn’t intend to do a complete painting; I just wanted to record the colors for reference.
Now, I’m back in the studio working on the painting. It will be 30 x 40. Here’s a shot of the underpainting, done with acrylic paint mixed with gesso. This is actually my favorite part, probably because I really can’t mess it up yet. The only down side to this is that I have to wait overnight to start the oils, because I need to let that gesso dry thoroughly, and I’m eager to work on this one. I’ll keep you posted on the progress.
What hidden gem of a park is close to where you live?
*I talked to a friend who is actually is a weather forecaster in the Navy reserve. He thinks that the next few decades will be notable for NOT having a “normal” weather, but rather by increasingly chaotic weather patterns. He may be right–the system cannot stabilize while we keep pumping energy into it. I think that we all need to get used to this extra heat.
**But it’s still practiced in other places around the world.