Yosemite & The High Sierras, 2015

This past July, I went with my family to the fabulous Yosemite National Park, Lake Mammoth, and Bodie. It was a family trip that was packed with activities and endless inspiration all around. Yet we were surprised when the hot, dry heat suddenly turned to RAIN, THUNDER, LIGHTING, HAIL, and SNOW! In fact, the Tioga Pass had to be closed one night due to snow and slick conditions along the windy, high elevation road.

The weather curbed my painting time since my pastel kit would have melted if gotten wet. I regretted not having brought my oil kit, which can work in any weather. Because of the weather, I managed to sneak in just a few studies, mostly under the threat of rain or the watchful eyes of aggressive squirrels and scrub jays looking for a handout.

One hot, semi-rainy afternoon in Yosemite I went out a long the Mirror Lake trail. I was completely blown away by the massive moss covered granite boulders and pine trees everywhere. 


The scale alone is impressive! 


I stopped along the way off the path in a quiet spot from the huge crowds on the trail, spreading out my pastel kit on my oil cloth picnic blanket only to be visited by two squirrels who came right up to my backpack and sniffed around. 


On another day out we all went along the Vernal Falls trail, which is mostly uphill. It was fortunately a bright, hot, sunny day with great light. On the way back down the trail I climbed up some rocks, found a nice spot and painted this quick 45 minute study. 



I ended up spending more time along the Mirror Lake trail since it had great views of the North face of Half Dome.


This view (above) is the base of Half Dome, while the painting below is a study of the entire North face of Half Dome, a different view of the usual one we see in photos of the park. 


After a full week bike-riding, playing, hiking, and laughing around Camp Curry, we left to make the long drive up to Mammoth Lake, stopping at the historic gold rush ghost town Bodie. A massive thunderstorm was on it's way, making it impossible to do any sketching.

We eventually made our way to a cabin deep in the Mammoth Lakes area near Lake Mamie. We took a shuttle up to the Mammoth Adventure Center, where I found some a-frame chalet style cabins I wanted to paint. 


Just as I was finishing rain drops started to hit the paper, and I raced to cover it all up. 


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What I missed in plein air time I made up for in art viewing.  Hanging on the walls of the famous Ahwahnee hotel is a collection of gorgeous Gunnar Widforss watercolors that are worth checking out, along with the collections of Native American baskets, stained glass windows and hanging textiles. 

The Ansel Adams Gallery on the Yosemite grounds is really more of a store but underneath large prints of his work hanging on the walls, beautiful books, prints and postcards of his work can be bought there. 

I think my favorite art viewing place in all of Yosemite was a small gallery that contained a collection of paintings by 19th and 20th century artists who painted around the valley floor after the landscape was designated as protected by Abraham Lincoln. 

Below is a painting, "Yosemite Valley, Winter" by William Keith (1838-1911) that I looked at for some time. I am always amazed at how little detail an artist can get away with and still create a landscape that says everything it needs to. It also made me really want to visit the valley floor in snowy winter!


The brushy strokes of the trees are so simple. I've painted tons of trees and I have yet to achieve the gesture of one that is as effective as these trees in this snowy landscape.


Careful gestures of the figures and horses - not too much over modeling.



On a plaque next to this Thomas Moran painting (below) was this description:

Thomas Moran joined the Hayden Expedition to Yellowstone and traveled at his own expense to record the landscapes along their route. His paintings and the photographs of William Jackson were used to persuade Congress to protect Yellowstone, much as Carleton Watkins' Yosemite photographs had been used in 1864. He continued to interpret western landscapes - including Yosemite and the Grand Canyon - throughout his life, often on a grand scale. His daughter donated many of his works to the Yosemite Park after his death, and these pieces are now part of the collection of several national parks. 



This Andreas Roth (1872 - 1949) painting impressed me up close when I looked at his brush work. "Inspiration Point, 1933. 


Again, groupings of trees painted with simple masses. I love the negative painting in the shadow areas that create the look of tree trunks too. You see that a lot in watercolor but I've not seen it in oils very often.



I love the washy transparent masses of trees in the distance against the more opaque foreground tree. Works so well.


The watercolors of Gunnar Widforss (1879-1934) are always amazing to me for just the technique alone. The description says they were painted on pebble mat board. It seems the focus of Widforss' work was texture of things like trees, plants, rocks, almost pattern like in their treatment. "Halfdome in Autumn", 1923




Frederick Schafer (1839-1927), "Morning in Yosemite Valley, Cal.", 1887



At first this Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) painting, below, appeared to both my dad and I a bit overly dramatic, but when I looked at it further I began to appreciate the masterful vignettes within the larger painting.  "Night at the Valley View", 1864






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When we went up to Mammoth we stayed at a little cabin that had a nice porch area. On a few showery days my nephews and I sat out on the porch drawing and painting in our sketchbooks. What a cool experience to spend in sketching sessions with your own family. Nothing could be more fun!


Thanks for reading!


Monterey Bay Aquarium/Color Studies & Sketches

Jamie and I recently went on a trip down the coast to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of my very favorite places in the world. We both brought our drawing, sketching, and painting supplies, including my new samsung tablet. Because most of my color sketching was going to be done inside the aquarium, I carried around my tablet in my messenger bag and took it out when I saw something I wanted to study.

As mentioned in my previous post, the primary reason I purchased the tablet was so that I could do a lot more color studies of interior lighting in situations where it would be difficult to take out my usual paints or pastels, places like restaurants, cafes, aquariums, museums, unusual interior lighting situations. Boy am I glad I did. Each time I would sketch from life in the aquarium, I would take a photo before I left. When I would look at the photo later, I noticed a HUGE difference - the camera most of the time did not capture the lighting effects I observed, and if it did, the spirit of that light was completely lost, subdued, or just not there. What an amazing learning experience!

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Below are a few of my digital studies. I also did numerous pencil and watercolor studies of the animals in the aquarium, and a few pastels from up the coast. I will post those next week.

 The Kelp Forest. So glad I brought my noise canceling headphones for this one. There were deafening crowds of pre-teens on a field trip with their school. You never know what will confront you when plein air sketching - I highly recommend headphones if you sketch in public places. 

I liked the presentation of this display so much. The blue light spilling from the water and the  yellow-green reflections of the kelp were gorgeous. I felt the design stood well on it's own.

The sketch above is downstairs looking into the Sea Otter display, sea otters mostly spending their time up above water and only occasionally diving below. I noticed this perch watching people as they went by and thought it was funny...

Some sketches went faster than others. This one in the Deep Sea Exhibit was done in about 30 minutes. It was at the end of the day and just seemed to flow. I figured out a composition and story as it evolved in front of me. 

Of all the subjects I studied in the aquarium, this jellyfish display was absolutely the most difficult. I sat across from the display on the floor against a wall in almost total darkness. My eyes had adjusted to the dark, but when I looked down into the bright computer screen of my tablet, my eyes would adjust to that brightness, so that when I looked back up again at the jellies, I had to give my eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness again. VERY tough! I spent a good two hours trying to capture the light of the tank. Wow, what a learning experience this sketch was! 

A Couple of Plein Air Digital Paintings

For awhile now, I've been trying to come up with an easier take-with-me-everywhere method of plein air sketching. I have full plein air kits for pastels, oil and watercolor, but often I find that even though I keep one of these kits in the trunk of my car, I usually don't feel inclined to bring it all in to a restaurant, coffee shop or on an afternoon trip downtown. I wanted something MUCH more lightweight and accessible - and the iPad has been it.

Here is a sketch from a recent day trip to the ferry building in San Francisco, a busy tourist-heavy area of the city. 

My main objective with iPad sketching is to mimic plein air oil paint using the alla prima technique, direct painting, as opposed to more labor intense methods. The idea is to work quickly on site and get it all down in about an hour or so of working. That means everything from gesture, composition, hue, value relationships and light relationships.

About the hardware: I have yet to find a stylus I am completely comfortable with; I am currently using the Wacom Creative Stylus. I am not keen on recommending it, however, because it feels like painting with a giant crayon. I unfortunately purchased the Wacom Creative Stylus 2 and found afterwards that it is not compatible with many painting apps, including Procreate. A few friends have given good reviews of the Jot Adonit Stylus, which is far cheaper and compatible with a lot of apps. 

In the Procreate app, I created a set of swatches in the color picker that are the standard colors of my basic oil painting palette, plus a few white convenience colors so that I don't have to constantly mix the same color over and over. Using these swatches helped me in getting a similar look to traditional paintings, although I think I could still fine tune the set. 

In addition to that, I am still trying to refine my brushes to find a working method that mimics traditional brushes. Procreate provides a set of brushes that you can then customize, but  I have yet to find some that are to my liking.

Latest Tree Studies

These days my life is pretty busy. While I have a few long term projects I'd love to finish (my unfinished/unpainted animation collaborative assignments mostly), they have been put on hold for a few months. At work I am concepting on a new game in development, which is a lot of fun, but also often means a 24 hour turn around on visualizing an idea. I've worked late nights and weekends for about a month now, leaving very little time for any personal projects. So for now its back to my very long term and much more slow paced relaxing art project, tree studies.

All of these I usually create in about 1-2 hours. They are all in places about town, usually areas where my boyfriend Jamie Baker and I can sit comfortably away from too many people. We've been to Golden Gate park, the Presidio, Stern Grove and Lake Merced. We even went on a trip down to Palo Alto where I work and did a tree study in the parking lot one Saturday. Fun times!

Here is my latest batch.



Palm trees in the Presidio. It was a bright sunny day. We set up camp right across from the Disney Family Museum - a great place!



Ok, so this is not exactly a tree study. I painted this in oil, a medium I haven't used outside for awhile. I think the darks in this are too rich. I'm working on keeping them a little more luminous.



pastel study of some redwoods in Stern Grove. 



Another oil study of some buildings in the Presidio. If you aren't familiar, it is a former military base located right next to the Golden Gate bridge. Quite a spectacular base, certainly gives West Point a run for its money!



Little palm right next to the DeYoung museum in Golden Gate park. Pastel study.


A quick oil study of a huge palm on the manicured lawn of the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. 


This is a grouping of trees in the parking lot where I work, Disney Interactive, in Palo Alto. I think the red tree might be a Japanese Maple, but I'm not certain. It was difficult to paint since I only have a couple of red pastels in my kit. Probably will get a few more soon.

I am also working on Sundays on a long term more tightly rendered still life painting, which I posted about below. Hopefully in the next few weeks I'll be far enough along to post some progress shots. 

Thanks for stopping by!