Autumn isn’t typically Sacramento’s best season. Most of the native trees don’t turn the brilliant colors you see in colder climates; we don’t have sugar maples or beech trees here. Oh, some of the newer subdivisions have planted Chinese pistache and liquidamber trees, which put on a nice show. But many of our trees are quieter in color.
I decided to sketch some sycamore leaves, to see if I could capture the very subtle colors of the leaves as they lose their chlorophyll and turn first yellowy green. (They then just fade into a kind of gray-brown, and then fall off the tree.) It made a good exercise both to try for the subtle changes and to practice my watercolor technique. I added the pencil later, to try to get some of the texture of the leaves.
In the comments below, let us know what autumn is like where you live.
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.
People here in Sacramento, California, learned a new word last week: “pyrocumulus.” It’s a type of cumulus cloud that can form over a wildland fire when conditions are right. Well, conditions were right on September 17 when the King Fire more than doubled in size in one day. (It’s called the King Fire because it started near King of the Mountain Road in Pollock Pines, about 60 miles east of Sacramento.)
produced by the intense heating of the air from the surface. The intense heat induces convection, which causes the air mass to rise to a point of stability, usually in the presence of moisture…
Pyrocumuli contain severe turbulence, manifesting as strong gusts at the surface, which can exacerbate a large conflagration. A large pyrocumulus…may also produce lightning. A pyrocumulus which produces lightning is actually a type of cumulonimbus, a thundercloud, and is called pyrocumulonimbus.
One person from Calfire said in a news report that the clouds can collapse quickly, too, sending embers out in several directions.
Conditions in the Sierra Nevada foothills are so dry, after three years of drought and almost no snow last winter, that the fire just took off, increasing from about 28,000 acres to over 70,000 acres in one day. The winds shifted in the days after the pyrocumulus, slowing the fire’s expansion and sending smoke out over the Sacramento Valley and the foothills. Still, in less than a week the fire burned more than 80,000 acres (or 120 square miles) of forest, as well as a number of homes.
After decades of fire suppression in California, the forests are thick with brush (where they haven’t been clear cut). It will take crews from Calfire and the US Forest Service weeks to put this fire out. The worst part? The fire was apparently deliberately set. A man has been arrested for arson.
Fire is part of the natural cycle in California. People who live in the foothills know it could happen in any year, dry or no. And we could manage the forests better, leave the oldest trees, which are most fire-resistant, and either burn or cull the understory more. The forests used to burn every decade or so. But we can’t really let these fires burn now—there’s too much fuel. Just like the King Fire.
Do we also have climate change? I think so, though no one can say for sure yet. National Geographic speculated on this recently.
Have you been affected by fire in the West? Have you seen a pyrocumulus cloud?
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.
The Irvine Museum has an interesting show up this summer: Then and Now: 100 Years of Plein Air Painting. It’s an exhibition of early California Impressionist paintings paired with contemporary plein air paintings. Many of the paintings are from private collections. The viewer can compare and contrast the techniques, the subject matter, or the sizes of the paintings. The museum offers little commentary on the matter, which is refreshing, so the observations are entirely those of the viewer. Here are mine:
The older paintings are often larger than the newer ones. 16 in. x 20 in., 20 in. x 30 in., or even larger, are not uncommon sizes for the California Impressionist paintings. The newer paintings are more frequently 12 in. x 16 in. or smaller.
The earlier paintings are often more carefully painted, with more precise strokes and harder edges than the newer ones. Many of the newer ones are very think paint applied very quickly—not slapdash, but also not carefully controlled. The influence of the intervening century of abstract painting, perhaps?
The color palettes of all of the painters are similar. Few if any blacks, no strikingly different color ranges such as illustrators might use. The individual pigments might be different now from a century ago, but the range of colors are similar. And in this show, mostly California colors and light.
While this is a nice exhibition, and an interesting conceit, it’s also true that none of these paintings represent the best work of the earlier artists, and probably not the contemporary painters, either. I don’t mean these aren’t good paintings—they are. A couple of them are very good indeed (take special note of the Ken Auster painting of houses near the beach). But not every show can be full of masterpieces.
In fact, as I think about it, these are plein air paintings. A plein air painting can only be worked on for a couple of hours during the day, or the light changes too much. I suspect the larger early pieces were painted over a couple of days, at the same time each day. But they’re not studio pieces, which can be worked on for longer periods.
And maybe that’s part of the point of the show: that plein air paintings can be nice, even very good—but they are rarely masterpieces.
Then and Now: 100 Years of Plein Air Painting runs through October 2, 2014.
Have you seen the show? What did you think? Do you like plein air painting?