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.



10 thoughts on “Once Upon a February

  1. Richard D Daugherty

    I find myself doing something similar with photography – pushing or pulling the colors and tones to meet my personal interpretation of the actual scene, rather than being literal and letting the camera tell me what it should look like. Thanks for sharing your insight and method. I am inspired!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Teresa Pence Baribault

    Beautiful Margaret…..I love you work. The colors, lighting and technique amaze me. I hope more people will see your talent and how gifted you are. Wishing tons of positiveness!!. You are my favorite artist.

    Liked by 1 person

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