Category Archives: Painting nature

Bypassed

Bypassed. ©2014 Stephanie Benedict.
Bypassed. ©2014 Stephanie Benedict. 9” x 12”, oil on board.

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.

I’m glad to know places like this still exist.

Pray for rain in California this year.

Baywood Artists Paint Point Reyes

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.

Point Reyes Poppies by Tim Soltesz.
Point Reyes Poppies by Tim Soltesz. Oil. 18 x 24. At Point Reyes Wild.

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.

Malakoff Diggins, Again

Here’s a painting I did last summer: a small one of Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park . This is “the diggins,” where 19th Century miners used large hydraulic cannons to was away the mountainside in search for gold.

The place fascinates me: beauty in destruction.

Malakoff Diggins by Stephanie Benedict
Malakoff Diggins ©2013 Stephanie Benedict. 6″ x 12″, oil on panel.

Paintings from Colusa NWR

Now that they’re dry and photographed (and signed), here are the two paintings I did at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge two weeks ago. The first one, Snow on Snow Mountain, was done in late morning, with the sun over my left shoulder.

Stephanie Benedict, Snow on Snow Mountain
The marsh in the morning was clear and cold, with a north wind blowing. To the west, in the Coast Range, Snow Mountain had a fresh dusting of snow. Snow on Snow Mountain ©2013 Stephanie Benedict. 8″ x 6″ oil on board.

The second, Light on the Water, was done mid- to late-afternoon. The light that day just kept getting better and better—except that, as the sun moved west, it reflected more and more off the water. Eventually, I couldn’t look at the scene without getting blinded by the glare. Surely a small price to pay for getting to spend the afternoon listening to ross’ geese, greater white-fronted geese, several kinds of ducks.

Light on the Water, ©2013 Stephanie Benedict
The afternoon sun reflected gold on the marsh waters. Light on the Water, ©2013 Stephanie Benedict. OIl on board, 8″ x 6″.

I even got a new bird for my life list: white-faced ibis. How cool is that?

White-faced Ibis ©2013 Stephanie Benedict.
These guys are fairly common in the Central Valley in the winter–I’d just never seen one before.

Painting at Colusa NWR

I recently had the chance to paint with friends at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, thanks to a Plein Air Painting day sponsored by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Linda Merchant en plein air at Colusa NWR
Wildlife artist Linda Merchant painting at Colusa NWR.
Stephanie Benedict painting at Colusa NWR
Here’s me painting at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. I’d left my hat in the car–silly me. Photo by Linda Merchant.

The refuge, located about an hour north of Sacramento, is one of a complex of refuges in the north valley that are the winter home of thousands of migrating waterfowl. In my humble opinion, these refuges are the jewels of the Valley—and, therefore, one of the best places to spend a sunny February Saturday.

The group was limited to about 12 painters, most of who stayed close to the parking lot and the viewing platform. My friends Linda Merchant, Rhonda Egan, and I ventured a bit farther afield: perhaps a quarter-mile down a hiking path near a second viewing platform, where we could stand out of the wind and see the marshes and the Coast Range to the west.

Here’s the deal with plein air painting that many non-painters don’t realize: just like photographers, painters like early morning and late afternoon light. Mid-day light, with the sun high overhead, is the harshest and, for painters, the flattest, because the shadows offer their least contrast at that time. It’s not impossible to paint mid-day: it’s just better earlier or later.

So the three of us painted both morning and afternoon pieces: the first, done late morning; and a second later in the afternoon, after the official ending time of the event—but with light that just got better and better. The two photos above show two paintings done from almost the exact same spot, looking in different directions, at different times of day. The first shows the snow on Snow Mountain, almost directly west, in late morning. The second is late-ish afternoon, looking southwest. This one is a kind of contra jour (“against the day”) because I was looking almost directly into the sun.

Thank you to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for having this plein air painting event!