May oh My!


I have challenged myself to a fighting duel with watercolor for the month of May. I am excited though a bit nervous. I have been working in watercolor for at least 15 years. I have been seriously painting with soft pastel since 2000. I included a photo of a pastel portrait that I started about 6 years ago! yes that is a long time to have a painting waiting on me. It is from an Edward Curtis photo, it is definitely not my own photo. It is for myself to hang for my own enjoyment and I can’t wait to finish it. Why I am mentioning it is that I have a plan. May has been set aside to venture into watercolor solely but I figured that I might need to go back to pastel just to calm myself down. Sounds like I am projecting a lot of fear onto myself and this project, actually I am being playful and hoping to loosen up with my attitude.

As this challenge proceeds, I will be working on this portrait and I will post updates on that progress. At this point I venture to say it is at about 25% finished. We’ll see if I can get it done in May or at least in June.

My goal is to loosen up, to find my style with watercolor. As most people know who are familiar with the medium it can be very difficult because it has a mind of its own. I have always loved watercolor and I love the fact that it is unwieldy at times.

I will be including some watercolors I have painted in the past at the bottom of this post. I am not sure what my goals are other than:

  • Loosen up and stop over-working a painting
  • learn to know where to go with a painting, I always seem to start well but knowing how to proceed is very difficult for me.
  • Find my “signature” or style, not the style of artists that I admire….a style that is solely mine!
  • To loose that tightness that I have when I paint, at least a little!
  • To understand the layering from light to dark
  • Learn how to retain the white of the paper
  • To truly learn my values with this medium
  • To plein air paint more assuredly with watercolors
  • I want to learn how to be proficient in depicting water


I have included this one below to illustrate my difficulty with knowing how to proceed. I get to a point that I just give up. I don’t know where to go, what to do. It alludes me! I lost my whites in the rapids and resorted to using white acrylic, not a good idea, not at all!


Here are a few more…..

Tomorrow is May 1st but I won’t be able to start until Monday. Join me on a challenge of your own design if you dare!

Paint and a Hike

The overlook at the start of the trail

One of those days that I hastily grabbed the opportunity to paint and a last minute decision to switch the location I originally had planned to paint. Just up the road from me and newly opened this year I believe, Rice’s Crossing Yuba Rim Trail. Here is a website with info:

I woke up to cloudy skies but I was determined to go paint. I walked off from the trail and found a meadow with all kinds of conifers and brush that are now in bloom. At this time of year, Ceanothus integerrimus (deer brush) and Scotch Broom are in ample supply in this part of the country.

My scene


I realized after I had pretty much started, I forgot to show different stages of painting. I’ll have to remember next time, always a next time.

I was feeling the groove this time around. I need to work on a few areas which is pretty standard, rarely do I come away with a finished painting or satisfied. The photo is pretty close to my painting although there are some grasses that have a touch of warm tan that doesn’t show up well in this photo. The blues are a bit “too blue” and more of a greyish blue and lavender.

I decided to go for a hike afterwards and here is a few of the photos from the trail. I have never been on this before and it was quite the adventure.

I love exploring new trails and a large portion was quite shady.


flowers everywhere



The overlook and a peek at the Yuba River in the canyon


I couldn’t resist to share my hike with all of you. I think that plein air painting is more than just taking your studio outdoors; it is experiencing nature and learning to truly see it and to be thankful for such beauty.

I will be trying something different for the month of May and that is to paint entirely in watercolor. This will be a challenge because I always reach for my pastels because they are familiar and safe to me. I love watercolor and I feel that I need to take the plunge and make headway in truly learning and feeling comfortable with the medium.

I challenge all of you to take on something new to you or out of your comfort zone this month or for as long as you see fit, even if it is for a week or a day. I dare you!






Glorius Tulips at Crystal Hermitage


I wanted to do a special post that highlights a recent visit to one of my favorite places in our part of the world. Crystal Hermitage at Ananda Village is a spiritual community and retreat located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada approximately 18 miles outside of Nevada City. I have a long history with Ananda having lived within 10 minutes of the village when I was a young adult. I remember hiking up to the Master’s store to buy a soda or commune in the beautiful surroundings. Every time I make a trip to Ananda I always think back to many memories of having once lived close by. Even though I don’t share the same faith as the people at Ananda, I appreciate their spiritual search and I feel very comfortable and attuned to their spirituality.


The Crystal Hermitage is where you’ll find one of the most beautiful gardens of its kind in the foothills. It is located on the edge of a canyon over-looking a vast area that has a spectacular view and if you crane your neck you’ll be able to spot the South Yuba river.


My brother, Doug joined me on this visit and while we were there we ran into my cousin who was raised in the area. She related many wonderful stories which included our great grandparents who had a saw mill just down the road from Ananda. Marcena is a vivacious woman and she is the most cheerful, outgoing person I know. She continued the tour with us and had us laughing more than once!



Beauty and serenity everywhere! I feel that it is important to get away from the hustle and bustle of life. Dig your toes into grass or sand, walk the quiet of the woods or through gardens, see and experience nature. It is something that I feel that is easily forgotten while living in our modern society.


Apparently the gardens are open throughout the year and can be accessed except for special private events which then the gardens might be closed.




Walking throughout the gardens you will find beauty everywhere you look. I am thinking of going back and plein air painting but that will have to wait for another two weeks because of the weather. The tulips will be gone but there is much to choose from to paint.


Get out there to paint or enjoy nature where you can find it. Thank you for coming along with me to this beautiful part of the country in Northern California!


Pastel Translation to Watercolor

On this rainy Earth Day I decided since I can’t get out to paint en plein air I would continue working on a watercolor painting translated from a plein air pastel that I had done last March. Here is my pastel painting


It is as you see here as close as I could capture it with my camera except that I accidently cut off about 1/2 inch at the bottom and the whites are whiter than they appear in this photo. So I wanted to translate it in watercolor but was hoping to be looser with a washy appearance especially with the trees in the background.

I have noticed that often taking a photo of a painting, problems will jump out at you. Here is the watercolor version so far


I am having a problem with allowing the white snow to show up in shapes that look correct. Painting snow in soft pastel can be tricky but in watercolor it is a trial! That log at the bottom doesn’t look right and that little branch (two of them actually) in the upper left under the trees look too sharp and of course I don’t like them. The background behind the trees doesn’t have the depth or feeling I want. The edges of all the trees are too sharp, I want softness. I am thinking of flooding the upper half with water but of course that will bring up some paint that I don’t to be removed and I might end up with sludge.

I am determined to become more proficient in watercolor because after all it is my favorite medium and soft pastel is my second. I have painted in watercolor about 15 years but haven’t really taken it upon myself to tackle it with determination and seriousness.

I might try out something that a watercolor artist here on WordPress I follow does and that is to take many stabs at a scene to get it right. I have tried in the past at least two or three times but usually move onto a new scene and painting. What do you all think? Any suggestions?

Return to Bullards Reservoir

P1070614I decided to venture away from the river and paint at Bullards Bar Reservoir. This location is what I would say is a “spit and a holler” down the road from me. I am fortunate to live so close to so many subjects that I can pick and choose what I am in the mood for. The only exception is the desert or ocean which both are approximately 3 hours away. No actually I think that I am within 2 hours of the desert but that lies to the east of me in Nevada.

I wanted to challenge myself today with this location because when I first started out in plein air, Bullards was the closest. I have spent many days painting here both in watercolor and pastel and after a while it just seemed to get boring with an apparent sameness. So I decided to move on to other subjects and in my mind better heights.


The reservoir is about 86% capacity from the latest measurement which was about a week ago. I have seen it all the way up to the tree line and that was about 15 years ago.


Today the struggle was that I had to put aside my attitude that it will be a challenge because of that “sameness” that I had mentioned above. Sometimes I have noticed that I throw mental rocks in front of my feet by my mindset. I envisioned that the sameness (is there really?) is going to be an uphill trudge. Also, my past history of painting this reservoir so many times brings up memories of past failures. There were several successes but I often remember the failures before the success. Perhaps it is my ingrained perfectionism.

I couldn’t decide how to handle the trees especially the far back hills. Once I set in the sky and the impression of those back hills, I started on my focal point. I decided on that brightest area next to that dark shadow shape on the left. The water was constantly changing and I kept chasing the changes. Of course that can be such a never ending chase to frustration.


In times past I was the kind of painter that had to paint exactly what I see and I couldn’t imagine straying out into the realm of imagination. Today I could feel myself shifting between the two. In my attempt to push those hills back I used blue, in this photo the blue isn’t true but you get the idea. That far back rim of land probably should be slimmed down and more modeling is needed in my point of interest. It is too flat and there is a straight line which is too static and not interesting. Not bad for my second time in years to paint here and considering my angst with the location, I am proud of myself.



After painting I decided to hike on the trail. If you go back to an earlier post where I painted here in the fall of last year, you can see the difference of the water level. I am amazed how much rain we have received since then.


The color of Bullards is an amazing greenish blue that I haven’t seen in a lake before. Until next posting, enjoy spring wherever that is in the world for you all!





Easel On!


My new set-up which is different not necessarily lighter because I have discovered that my pastel box weighs a hefty 10-12 pounds loaded. My tripod was a little wobbly and I am thinking that I need to buy a tripod that can handle the weight. Those pastels are too expensive to have them hit the rocks because of my tripod breaking.

The easel that you see here is one that my daughter and son-in-law gifted me a year ago. It is lightweight and folds up into its own carrying case. A keeper so far I am happy to report. I will be looking yet for a lighter pastel box. My current box is a Heilman but the standard size that doesn’t allow for the easel attachment. I am thinking of this one also made by Heilman:


I am about 20 minutes from this location just on the other side of the Indian Valley Outpost area along the North Yuba river. I decided to get a head start on my painting before the sun hit my scene. 


The sun started creeping across the river to brighten up my scene. I sometimes wonder if my technique of late is perhaps setting myself up with paintings that are too dark. I have the tendency to not get my darks down when blocking in my painting. My only misgiving is that the dark can be very overwhelming and I end up hoping for the light. When the river is in the dark the richness of colors is so enticing and yet I wonder if I am being pulled into the dark too much. Not sure what I am really trying to get at other than this is all an experiment.


My painting and my scene. I realized too late that in order to come away with a completed painting or almost completed one, I have to paint on a smaller size of paper. I discovered too late in the game that my paper was too big for plein air. After 11 years you would think that I know this. I was holding onto this larger sized paper to use it for painting a mountain range (Sierra Buttes).

On this particular day I grabbed it not thinking that I should have kept it small. So, what you see is actually an underpainting. The paper size is about 18 x 16 inches. Much too big for what I am doing here. I typically paint on 9 x 12 sized paper or 11 x 14.


Light! Now the rush is on….painting by the seat of my pants. Odd to say that I am finding that the sun bleaches out those rich colors that I have chased in the past. Now that I start a painting in the “dark” I am becoming more sensitive to light and color. Some days it brings in some beautiful rich color but today I wasn’t able to pick out all those wonderful colors once the sun hit the river.


A close-up of a rock that I was hoping to get the perfect photo. Hard when I am chasing light, color and perfection!


I often will take close-ups of water always looking and studying it to understand how water moves or looks. In order to paint water well, you need to know it. So much so when you paint water, you are water.


Meanwhile on the Ranch

Wells Fargo Express building in French Corral 1850’s era. (photo extracted from the internet, photographer’s name was not noted)

On this particular day I decided to veer away from my muse, the river to paint at The Ranch at French Corral  I met with Matt the owner, he graciously took time out of his very busy work load to show me his ranch. The ranch is the site of a historic mining camp during the heyday of French Corral’s mining history. The creeks were running nice and full. From what he told me last year the creeks were very low if not running at all.

French Corral has the historical distinction of where it was the terminus of the world’s first long-distance telephone line in 1877. One of the original buildings in French Corral is the Wells Fargo building from the mining era of the 1850’s, (above photo). Here is a link about the history of the area:


This was my scene. I took several pictures when I first started but found few that turned out well enough to satisfy me. These photos aren’t what I liked either but I needed some type of reference photo so here we are. By the time Matt and I scouted out the different viewpoints on the property the lighting wasn’t my favorite. I should  have planned on touring the ranch one day and painting on a different day. I decided to go ahead and find a spot to paint. I was so frustrated with my painting from the start. I am not sure why other than perhaps the excitement of discovering a new place to paint and actually having a tour conflicted my painting mode. Matt also introduced me to many of his rescue horses.


I thought these manzanita were pretty awesome because they were as large as trees (at least 20 feet high). In our part of the world they are typically a bush and not a tree and they are also a nuisance . They also create a fire hazard because the wood burns very hot. We had a local who lost their home because of overfeeding their stove with manzanita.


This painting experience was not to my liking and I wiped it down at least twice! I worked the longest ever on this painting. Typically a painting session is approximately 90 minutes but usually never longer. I do believe that I painted over 2 hours on this stinker! I have since taken it home and reworked it which I never do other than finishing a painting. I hardly ever re-do a painting because plein air looseness and freshness is lost if you over-paint it.

My camera tweeked what you are looking at. The background is more moody and not so rich in coloring. The blues and blacks are more vivid here than they actually are. I struggled so much with…..all of it! Especially those darn mossy rocks! I think I was close to having a major artist brat attack with this painting. So you wonder why keep at it and why not wipe it down to use it for another painting? Well, I am trying to teach myself to proceed on with a painting that I hate or one that I am struggling with. I am hoping for some hard earned lessons. In this case:

1. Don’t be so darn hard on yourself! It is just art!
2. You can do it! just relax and don’t judge it so critically. Who can work under conditions?
3. The “ugly stage” is just a stage not a prelude to disaster.
So….what I like most in this painting are the colors in the middle ground and the background.

The areas that I like the least are the sky holes and those darn rocks. And I am good with rocks! what happened? NO clue.


Another Fine Day


I decided to take advantage of our good weather to go plein air painting. I couldn’t decide between Pauley Falls (near Downieville) or Love Falls (located north of Sierra City) and then I got to thinking that the river would be rushing with all our rains and the falls would be nothing but pure white rapids. I wanted to have some dimension to my paintings. Love Falls is actually on the PCT and I figured that it probably would be too much for me to trek out more than a half mile in snow. I decided to find a spot on the river. This area is the spot I painted about a couple of months ago and it is located near Fiddle Creek campground in the Indian Valley Outpost area in Sierra County. I was amazed in how much the river was up and roaring.

12744368_10208560808399795_3221225132208377525_nAnother photo of the area but a bit downstream. The colors of the Yuba is unique, I can usually pick out pictures of the Yuba just by the colors.

12711039_10208560797879532_2355844663532419063_oThe lighting today was amazing and that beautiful green yellow color on that rock drove me batty. Trying to capture the subtleties of color and the excitement of the rapids was mind boggling. I now realize that my cherished fall/winter lighting is moving towards spring. This particular spot I can easily get here almost as the sun rises because at 8:30ish it was in full sun. Another day for another painting.

My painting. I struggled a bit, of course, every painting session is different. Today I had to decipher the unique colors, lighting, the fast evolving scene and keeping perched on my rock without tumbling into the river. I get so involved in painting that often I forget to drink or exactly where or what I am standing on.
This scene is what I painted next. I wasn’t happy with my original photos of this area so I have this one to work from. It doesn’t show my entire scene but it will be good enough if I want to use it for a reference photo if I want to finish up my painting. Not all of my plein airs do I keep or finish. Some are scrubbed down and the paper is re-used or I set it aside and re-evaluate it later if I want to continue on with it. Often I will keep them just so I can base another painting on it. Some artists don’t consider plein air paintings to be worthy to be framed. I differ in that I feel if it works, it works and I don’t want to underestimate the quality or importance of a plein air. They exude a fresh eye and liveliness that you can’t find in a studio piece.
My second painting. I see that basically it looks undone and it lacks a good focal point. To me it is “all over the place” and doesn’t quite hit the mark. I might finish it or scrub it back down. That area in the back was so dark and it was difficult to see the elements. By the time I finished, the sun was hitting that area and it lacked interest. I love contrasts. As I was packing up, a piece of hardware on my easel broke and now I am pressed into the decision to buy a better and lighter set-up. I knew it was coming and now I have to move onto my desire to lighten up. I simply can’t patch this up because I can’t keep using bungee cords to keep my pastels in the box. They are too expensive. Anyway it is time to move onto something better. Thank you for coming along on another painting day with me.

Where in the Goodyears Bar Is….


This spot is another location where my husband was wanting to show me just outside of Goodyears Bar which is about 25-30 minutes from where I live. There are several mining claims along this road that I wouldn’t have attempted without him. Rain was in the forecast and we left early hoping to get a few hours at the river before the storm came in. The road had me so nervous my stomach was getting upset and I kept wanting to “bail out” but that is the typical reaction when I am very uncomfortable with a road. It is a running joke in the family. But I stayed the course and my husband told me that I need to get out more, I think that he is right. We arrived safely and I was a nervous wreck but ready to take pictures and this was the first one. Believe me I didn’t feel like painting after that road but I knew that we didn’t have much time because of the incoming storm. I literally told myself to get with it and get ‘er done!  


The view looking the other way. That rock was huge and this photo doesn’t do it justice. I had a hard time trying to decided which view would be my scene to paint.


There was so much to look at and I had to make a decision on my scene because we didn’t have much time. So, with an upset stomach and a feeling of not really wanting to paint, I set up my easel and got to it.


Here is my painting on the easel. I wasn’t so sure that my colors were working but I ignored my initial feelings and dove in anyway. My husband really helped me because I wasn’t thinking that I was getting anywhere with it but he was saying “it is looking like you are nailing it”. I initially didn’t feel that way and his comment gave me perspective. Today was the day for me to risk and throw out misgivings or fear. Fear of that darn road, fear of not doing well in painting my scene and the fear of not getting it done before the rain. Pastels and rain don’t mix and when I felt the first drop, I started to pack it up.


A close-up of my painting. I struggled with the lighting because there weren’t any sunlit areas to focus on and what was there was subtle which made discerning the colors very tricky. I ended up enjoying my painting experience and I was able to throw caution to the wind and I decided that I was going to make it happen. My artistic eye was coming in sooner and all was moving along as hoped for. Usually it takes up to 30 minutes for my brain and eyes to discern and really see the shapes and colors. Sometimes it doesn’t even happen and that is always frustrating. Plein air painting can be a joy or can be a trial, you never know until you are out there painting.

My trusty husband that didn’t break a sweat bringing me down here. He has to deal with roads like this all the time because of his job. I demanded that he put it in four wheel drive going back up that hill. He was so obliging, anything to keep my fears in check.

Finally back to Goodyears Bar! I was relieved. The town is very quaint and has an old time feel to it. Kate Wolf, the folk singer is buried at the cemetery here. I have yet to find out why she is buried in this small out of the way town. There is no mention that she was born here, vacationed here or had family here, a mystery to me.


Thank you for coming along with me on our little adventure out and about along the North Yuba River painting and sweating and leaving fear behind. No matter how old or young you are learning and growing is never static, I say….embrace it.

Escape to Empire Mine


On this particular plein air painting day I decided to run into town to make haste with our one day of sunshine between storms and my pick was the Empire Mine Historical Park in Grass Valley. The mine originally opened in 1850 and closed in 1956 and produced 5.8 million ounces of gold. Amazing!

I have only been on the grounds once and that was over 33 years ago. Empire Mine State Historic Park is the site of one of the oldest, largest, deepest, longest and richest gold mines in California. So with that history and beauty, let’s roll! This is the cottage that was built around 1900 with waste rock from the mine. Those shadows in the photo was as black as you see here. I was a bit nervous because I don’t frequently paint anything other than nature and figures or portraits. Initially I was intrigued and excited by those silhouettes of those statuary if that is the term.



My painting though unfinished I think it is a good start. I need to work more on the elements and knock down those blues and make it more “natural” or perhaps I will leave it as it is. I like to put my own spin on color because it is more artsy. After all it is a painting and not a photo. I had a hard time relaxing through the painting process because I am a shy painter and don’t like onlookers. I don’t mind family or someone I know but when it comes to people walking by, I am as shy as a fox! It was very disconcerting being out there on display. I have decided that I can’t stay under a rock forever and I need to stretch myself. I prefer nature and not so crisp locations such as this to paint but I can’t always paint what I know and love. When I started this painting I focused on what I did love and first of all it was the shading and feeling of what I was looking at. I allowed my imagination to run wild and let it rip. At the time I was currently reading a historical novel based in Scotland and that came to mind and helped me to relax and focus. I struggled with the background on the left and had to wipe it down once and then re-did it. Later when I viewed it at home, I felt better about the painting.

This is on Wallis paper with hard and soft pastels. I always work on establishing the darks first and then the mid tones and lastly focusing on the lighting and where it is hitting. The theme for me during this painting session was forgetting my anxieties and focusing on the job of painting. I didn’t have that right side brain painting experience, it never really took off but some days are like that. Interesting how our location, mood, fears and even the weather affects the painting experience and outcome. Aw the fun of plein air painting!

Front entrance to the Mine Cottage

This is the view of the cottage closer up and the grounds are so beautiful. My daughter, Amanda and her dog accompanied me on this painting adventure and what is exciting and fun is that this park allows dogs. In the visitor center and museum they have a water bowl for the dog visitors. You can literally bring your dog, tour the museum, walk the grounds and have a picnic. The cottage itself is off limits to dogs but the rest of the park they are allowed.  The 850 acre park has trails upon trails to hike and I am in love with this place. I hike the trails at least three times a month and I haven’t tired of it yet.

Various Mining buildings
Old mining equipment