Paint it or Mine It


In my neck of the woods, recreational mining is an activity that is very popular. There is a prevalent hard-rock and placer mining enterprises in the area such as The Original Sixteen to One Mine, and The Ruby Mine to name just a few. Mining history is very rich throughout the Sierra foothills.

On my plein air ventures, I often will paint on a mining claim or run into miners doing their thing. I had the great fortune of meeting one on this cold November day while I was packing up to leave. I was given permission to take his photo and to post it publically.


This spot is located between Indian Valley Outpost and Goodyears Bar in Sierra County. When I arrived, it was very cold but thank goodness I was dressed warmly with many layers of clothing. I was carrying my newly found “paint when it is shady” technique. I wondered if I was carrying it too far especially when it was so cold!

What I love about plein air painting is the wildlife that I often see or spook. In this case, I spooked a large buck who made a warning sound that I have heard before or similar to a black bear! At first I was thinking it was a bear but I then realized that it was a deer and he was scooting fast. As I approached the river bank I saw a rather large river otter and he disappeared under the rocks. It certainly was starting out to be an interesting and exciting day.


I decided to paint this scene. The colors in the rocks and river were as dark and rich as you see here in my photo.


At this point I decided to go find some sun, warm up, cheer up! After being in the shade and cold it was starting to get to me. I am not a moody person but for some reason it was affecting me and I needed to go take a walk and see where the sun was coming in. I am pleased with the rocks and the water but I need to finish up the background. At this point the eye bounces off as though there is a barrier present. No worries, plein air is usually not finished in the field anyway.



SUN! It didn’t take long and I had sun shining on the river. I decided to finish up my painting later in the studio and start my second painting of the day.


The painting on my easel. I loved what I was seeing but all that light and excitement was changing so quickly! I had to get a move on it. I call plein air painting, “painting by the seat of your pants”. You barely have time to think or plan, just react and hope for the best.


My painting for now. I did finish it later in the studio. I gave more shape to that large rock in the upper left and the smaller rocks on the bottom. I didn’t want to touch the cascading water over those rocks. I think I am learning what to finish and what to leave alone. If I were to make that area, the focal point “better” I might have inadvertently lose my plein air freshness.

Just another day on the North Yuba river somewhere in Sierra County.



Frosty November Morning


I am excited because I am about 5 or 6 posts away from being current! I have a few spots lined up for the next several weeks, I am hoping that the weather will cooperate with me once I do get out there. Well, now to when and where this particular morning was. In November of last year, obviously and at Fiddle Creek campground which is in Sierra county and of course, guess the river? The North Yuba! I promise you that I’ll be venturing a little further out from the river just to liven things up.

Fiddle Creek campground is not just a location for summer fun but also there are about 3 or 4 mining claims. I often run into miners who are mainly recreational miners and not the true blue old time miners. Our neck of the woods, gold mining is quite common and part of our history. There are several hard rock mines that are still in operation and a few of them my husband has worked in. Another story, another time.

Back to art! I loved how the mist was coming off from the river and how cold it was and frosty! Winter is coming (well then it was). Seems odd talking about the past when it is spring right now.


With the light coming around the bend, I was set and raring to go! This time I wasn’t able to lay in my darks and get all the elements down as fast as I had hoped because I should had been on the site about 30 minutes sooner. Part of the problem was that I used rubbing alcohol to wash down my underpainting and it was slow to dry because it was too cold. I had to wait at least 20 minutes before I could start my painting.


I struggled with this because by the time my underpainting dried, I had more light on the scene than I wanted. I was caught between two different lighting modes and I was conflicted. Odd how just 20-30 minutes can really make or break a painting situation. I think that because I preferred the “light around the bend” over what I ended up with, I was unhappy with what I saw on my easel. I ended up fussing with it to the point of hating it. that whitish spot on the bottom left is the camera and not in the painting.


I learned quite a bit from this experience:

  1. I love frosty, misty mornings with sun just lighting my scene, because I love it!
  2. Plan on giving even more time to arrive, set-up and hit the painting sooner with time to spare because of unseen situations.
  3. Don’t use rubbing alcohol in cold situations.
  4. keep with the lighting that you are currently dealt with and not with lighting that you prefer.
  5. Don’t disallow a painting that speaks for itself, after all regardless, it depicts a moment in time.
  6. Loosen up! It is just art and not a life or death situation.
  7. Have fun and don’t be so critical.

Shady Business on the North Yuba

With my discovery of starting a painting in the shade, I scurried up to the North Yuba to plein air paint once again. The day for this excursion was on October 31, 2015, I am getting current! well, almost! I hope to get up to speed soon. I might be posting every day in order to start current postings.

This spot on the North Yuba is between Indian Valley Outpost and Goodyears Bar in Sierra Co. I live about 25 minutes from here, not bad living so close to my favorite painting locations. As you can see, it was dark.


I like having the extra time to set up because plein air is a “by the seat of the pants” experience and I cherish a breather now and then. Not having to hurry because of the optimum light is passing you by is a real treat. Problem with this particular morning it was quite chilly. I was amazed by the colors of my scene, the blues, purples and that large bank of bushes across the river were an unusual reddish color. My dilemma was to distinguish between the subtleties of all the colors and to choose the correct values.


I struggled with this painting and I decided to stay loose and more abstract and also to punch up the color. The background gave me fits and I decided to retain the busyness and yet push it back with colors that were hopefully worked. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that the river on that top section on the right side is not set down properly and rises rather than being anchored down. I actually decided to work it later in the studio and of course I ended up fixing it too much and now I have a stylized painting rather than a plein air. Sigh… happens every time I decide to make the painting better (in my mind) or finish it later.

I am wanting to learn when and if I should finish a painting or simply leave it alone.  I truly consider a plein air valuable not just for a reference but as a sellable item. Obviously this is sometimes not the case and it is better left alone. I am in a constant learning curve in this area.


Light is coming! what a glow! I always get excited about light, just like a little kid.


Now that I had light hitting the river, I decided to paint one more painting. This time I used rubbing alcohol and using a brush, I swiped in the darks on my paper which was a small 9 x 12 section of Wallis paper and using my pastels, I went with even more of an abstract view and very loose. This is a miracle for me, the person who strives for perfection and the “correct” color. I envy those artists who can let their imagination fly. I have to work hard at it and my way of working hard at it is to pretend I am one of those artists and I fling my arm in there and don’t think about it.


My photo here doesn’t show the blues of the high lights in the water correctly, so keep that in mind. Those blues are rich and more of a cobalt blue. I tried looking for a better photo but I couldn’t find it. Once I framed it I of course found areas that bug me. I don’t care for that very exact line of white rapid smack dab in the center of the painting and I still wonder if my painting is too dark. Some day I hope to be completely satisfied with a painting, like I said, someday that will happen!

Very interesting, you know how I chase light and wait for it, drool over it? Once the sunlight hit that large bank of reddish brush, the color totally washed out and my scene was more beautiful in the shade rather than in the light. The rocks turned dull even with shadows present. The only time that I liked what I saw in front of me (with light) was what I captured in my painting.  And here….in this photo!


Of course once I am ready to pack up I see a beautiful scene like this one and than I am left wanting more! Never satisfied am I? Plein air is always different each time I venture out. Sometimes it is frustrating to the point of tears, yes I have cried! Some days it is heaven and you want to sing and dance. I would suppose if it was perfect each and every time you venture out to paint, it would turn into a boring experience. I have decided that I need to embrace even the bad days, after all, a good day is always around the corner!


Who is Afraid of the Dark?


Often when I go out to paint in the great outdoors, I chase light and color. My focus often without really thinking about it, is the sun! I rotate around the sun I suppose. In the past I wouldn’t budge out the door to go paint unless there is sunlight. The fact that my favorite lighting is when there are clouds and sun barely peeking through. I am sure that there is a term for this kind of lighting and if you can enlighten me, please do. I think it is the special glow that makes the colors go “pop”! Now with that being said, I still ventured out only if the day is sunny. Even though I like the lighting found in part cloudy days, I won’t venture out because I like the assurance of a clear, sunny day.

All habits now and then need to be broken. Like most people, I have a difficult time venturing away from what is safe, secure or what I have deemed”tried and blue”. I have been pushing myself in areas that I know keeps me safe and stagnant. In general, I like to explore new ideas, new locations and new attitudes but when it comes to art, I find this stops short. You may ask why? Like most artists, their paintings are tied to the self esteem, am I good at painting? Do people like my paintings? The list goes on and on. For myself, venturing out is hard because I am stepping away from what I feel confident in. For the past two years maybe more, I have been trying to give my static attitude and approach a big heave ho.

Last October of 2015, I ended up once again on the North Yuba to paint. I often find that finding the right time for a particular spot on the river is often difficult because some places the sun hits the river at 8 am, sometimes not till 10 am! I decided that by 8:30 am  I would be set up by the time the sun was just hitting my scene. I was wrong! I was off at least over an hour or so. It was dark, no sun and I was thinking that by the time I was completely set up, I would have sun. No. Then a lightbulb went off in my head (sometimes it happens!) and I would start painting all my darks and shapes and by the time the sun hits my scene, I would be ready! What a novel idea!


This photo doesn’t show how dark it actually was but you get the idea, no sun directly shining on the mountains or trees in the background. I was able to lay in all the darks and the shapes and got a wonderful start on the painting. Before long there was light!


I love this new technique because when I proceeded to put my lights in I didn’t have to rush because my painting was already 75-80% finished by the time I focused on the lights. Since then I have used this technique at least 5 times and it has worked except a few times where the sun beached out the colors and the subtleties of the scene were lost. Now I prefer starting my painting in the “dark” rather than when the sun is shining brightly. I am beginning to understand why I chase light and color. It is exciting and beautiful and I use it as a catalyst for creativity. I have learned that it takes a quiet, observant eye to properly discern colors that are obscure in the dark of a scene.

Learning is never a done deal in the world of art and creativity, be willing to be shaken loose from a safe and seemingly secure artist stance. I now challenge you to do something this week that will put you in an area of discomfort. Remember that discomfort is just a feeling, it doesn’t mean that failure is just around the corner. Don’t be afraid of the dark and don’t be afraid of not knowing where you are  going! It is an adventure!

Here is my painting on the easel and then lastly, my painting up close. I finished up my painting in the studio and it turned out beautiful.



This painting is on PastelMat paper and I used various hard and soft pastels. The location is approximately 2-3 miles north of Goodyears Bar in Sierra Co. in California.


Once Upon a February

Once upon a Friday ago I decided enough of this gloomy weather, up to Sierra County I go! For those of who are new to my blog and catching this post as your first, I am first going back in my plein air painting memory before posting brand new adventures. I do believe that I need to hustle because optimum paintings days are almost upon me! Plein air is simply painting the outdoors taking your supplies to your scene. I am in love with the outdoors and in particular the river.

This particular day was in the dead of winter and in 2014. I live about 20 minutes from this location and you wonder where in Sierra county? Fiddle Creek Campground in the Indian Valley Outpost area. There are numerous campgrounds in a two mile stretch of the road. The campground was closed which is advantageous for me because I can pick and choose my spot to paint all to myself. The problem with the dead of winter you have to look for something to brighten or heighten your scene.


Just around that corner of rocks is where Fiddle Creek comes into the North Yuba. February can be rather stark, colorless and the only foliage is found on the evergreen trees and shrubs. As I was struggling with the lack of color and interest. The problem with painting in an environment that I paint often, my interest level can wane if the conditions or scene is right, at least in my eyes. Often what some people would be thrilled to see, I find it mundane because I have seen it and painted it many times.

While standing there feeling uninspired, I had an idea that sprung up. Why don’t I push the colors (or lack of color) and use my imagination? After all, I am an artist, right? Of course! I literally threw off my reservation, my attitude and I felt this surge of determination come shining through! Once I got beyond the ho hum of my scene and pushed aside the fact that the colors out there in front of me were lacking, I found color! I found color in my mind’s eye, my artist way of viewing the world. In this case, a quiet part of the North Yuba in Sierra county.


I found an excitement that rose up once I started venturing out away from my usual “paint exactly what I see” approach. The colors were rich, that alder tree sprung to life and I literally felt energized! I know that from now on I have to recall this approach and attitude because what I painted was lively, colorful and insightful. Yes, insightful….February isn’t so dull after all! By the way, this painting was painted on salmon color PastelMat with soft pastels; Rembrandt, Great American, Union and a white Sennelier.


My painting! you wonder why did I leave the salmon color paper peeking through? It gives the painting life, a vibrancy and also the color helps realize the rocks and the bottom of the river. I decided not to bring the rocks in the foreground to a completion. The bottom right rock does have more detail because it helps anchor the painting. Next I darken the blues in the top section to bring out the trees and to push background further back. There is a danger of overworking a plein air to a stylized look if you try to complete it too much in the studio; this is my own personal opinion and I am speaking from experience. I want to work on being able to maintain the plein air look if I decide to complete a painting once I get home. This is something that I will be working on in the future because typically these plein air paintings are small, approximately 9 x 12. I have painted larger (12 x 16) and I find that it is near to impossible to complete a painting. I would like to experiment with starting a painting on a larger piece of paper and then complete it back in the studio using my photo references. We’ll see if I would be able to retain that special plein air style.



Perspective is Everything

On this fine rainy day I thought I would share some thoughts about art and rather than  focusing on a past plein air excursion, I will share one of my watercolor paintings. In this post I would like to share my thoughts on creating in general. Well, actually more like what I have been experiencing lately with painting and creating. I have been taking the bull by the horns and decided to get out there and try to sell my art. I am fortunate to live in the country and the closest “real” town that provides any shopping or culture is approximately 22-24 miles away. With my daughter’s prompting, I decided to put my artwork in a local store who handles arts and crafts of local artisans. Being shy and living away from excitement that a town and culture can bring, this was a BIG step.


My “meet the artist” affair held at the shop was very nerve-wracking and eye opening. I have to admit that I was very disappointed at the lack of interest and the only people who talked to me were the family members and friends that showed up! Now this was difficult for such as a person as myself because I am shy and I often go through doubt about my art and my abilities. Can you imagine?! The days after my “meet the artist” gala, I sank into a depression of sorts. I have had many, many days if not months of depression in the past because of my art. I initially got past this disappointment and pulled myself up and carried on. Is art about making money and becoming known or is art about creating and expression? My answer to my own questions lifted me up and out of that depression.

Being a Christian artist I can’t afford to stay in the dumps for too long. Art is far more than making paintings or expression. For me it is a day by day exploration of self and my faith. For me the two are intermingled. Who knows what went wrong….perhaps nothing did go wrong! It is all in the perspective and that is what I need to focus on, what do I really want from my making art? That is part of the struggle. For whom am I trying to please or to impress?


Take for instance this watercolor painting that I did a few years ago. I painted this thinking of Agate Beach on the north coast of California, my favorite place to vacation. When I look at this painting, I can almost hear the gulls, the wind, the surf. Do I really care if someone likes it or not? I love it! Is the value of this painting for me in how it is received by others? Their comments or their silence? Ultimately art is our view of the world, our expression of what is meaningful to us, the artist; not the admiration or the reception it garners.

I have decided that I simply carry on! Feeling depressed or sorry for oneself doesn’t push forward to any heights at all of any kind. It is a matter of perspective. I will trudge on with a step that keeps to the path of my own desires, my own vision, my own perspective that is heightened by my faith and trust in God. So carry on!