Sierra Buttes-Yes! June WC #4

The Sierra Buttes-overcast

I thought I would venture up to the Sierra Buttes about an hour north of me. I arrived just before 6:30 am and it was overcast. This is sand pond and it was so peaceful and quiet. It was quite cold, about 45 degrees and I forgot to take an extra jacket, so I bundled up with what I could find in the truck.

My first painting 11 x 14 Arches #140 rough

Today I decided to paint as many paintings as I could because since it was quite cool out, my paint was taking forever to dry. I have many “learning mistakes” in this painting. No matter, it was my first painting and a warm-up. I had a hard time saving white for the snowy patches and yet I had this strong urge to go bold. Many times I lost my way navigating this huge mountain. I have some strange patches of color and yet it didn’t let it bother or deter me from my painting.

2nd painting 7 x 11 Arches #140 rough
3rd painting 7 x 9 140# rough

My third painting was started as more of a study of the trees at the shore-line, not really completed or serious, just a “see what happens” kind of painting.


4th painting 11 x 14 140# rough
I loved those dead white trees
Sand Pond


I had an exciting moment when I had finished my paintings and I spotted a bald eagle flying over the Buttes and coming over the pond! I was hoping to snap a few photos but I couldn’t find him in my viewer on my camera. Darn! Maybe next time.

mist over Sand Pond


No learning points this time around, I am plum tuckered out! Get out and see some scenery and if you can, paint plein air, exercise your artistic muscles.



48 thoughts on “Sierra Buttes-Yes! June WC #4

  1. We have no scenery that is remotely like this where I am — unless one looks at the Bierstandt paintings at the National Gallery. Your watercolors are really wonderful! You were so wise to just dive in and paint. How wonderful to be able to drive for just an hour and see a place that looks like that. With such beauty near you, you should “just paint” as indeed you did. Thank you for sharing the beautiful watercolors and photos.

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    1. yep, that is how I paint anymore, I can be quite timid with watercolor and I have a totally different attitude now, just dive in and see what happens 🙂 Bierstadt is one of my favorite painters of all time, I have seen 12 of his paintings at the Haggin Museum.

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  2. Those snowy mountains actually make me shiver…excellent job! The 2nd and 4rh are definitely my favorites with those mountains. The bold approach is certainly working well for you. I keep forgetting to be so bold and brave when I’m painting. I really must work on that. Meanwhile, I’ll keep admiring your paintings. The photos are gorgeous, too.

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    1. I wanted to share so much on this post but I am so tired! I had some interesting points but just ran out of steam. I’ll try to post only when I have the gas for it. Oh, you would have loved it Judith, it was so beautiful and I have been up there many times, seen it with lot of snow and ice on the pond and in the fall but this time around was one of my favorites. Being bold takes guts and it takes a little finesse but I prefer going bold rather than insipid and then trying to build it up. I have noticed when I keep building up and going back in, I over-work it. I am trying to find a sweet spot with this approach, time will tell!

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      1. Those snow-covered mountains you painted with so big and bold…and isn’t that what mountains are supposed to be? The colors were phenomenal. I think my favorite is the 2nd one (if I’m remembering the numbering correctly). It was the one that was all neutral colors without a lot of the trees at the bottom. I have a fondness for “earthy tones” in watercolor, and that painting just shouts “Here I am! Look at me!” It’s a real attention-getter — in a very, very good way.

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      2. I love earthy tones as well, understated colors. I forgot to mention in my post about a painter who I admire saying that it isn’t until he will take a plein air home, that he reassesses it and then finishes it. I thought of that when I painted that one.

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    1. I am feeling it right now…..I have had a “art itch” that I need to scratch….a lot! lol I never had such enthusiasm in years as I have had lately. Getting up early is now my thing to do so that way I can get to it! I do love it here and I have a variety of subjects that I can choose from within an hour of my house, I am fortunate. 🙂

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      1. Aww I so love that you get the art itch too, when I get it I just hunger for more hours in the day…..or wish I didn’t have to go to work( despite loving my job) equally though when I loose my mojo, I can feel quilty, lost and frustrated. I guess art is not predictable, you never know what will come out, I like that.

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  3. No wonder you are exhausted!!!
    the long drive, the paintings, the post, you need a nap! so, my fav is #4. But, all of them have something special; the immediacy and flow of the paint, Spot On!! you are on a roll. I loved these and felt a peace in them; and within me as I viewed them. Well done. 🙂

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  4. Margaret – what superb scenery and superb paintings too – strikes me that you’re working with real panache and confidence and your paintings are beginning to sing as a result! As others have remarked, I’m not surprised you’re tuckered out. At the beginning of this year I set myself a much more modest target – to try to paint something at least once a week, and to put out one post a week. So far, this is working for me. Sometimes I generate enough over a week so that I have something up my sleeve for the more fallow times. For me to try to commit to more than this, on top of work, family etc – not to mention trying to find time to paint – would become an unwelcome burden. What’s beyond question though is that your painting is flourishing and it’s great to see.

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    1. I couldn’t have worked at this break neck speed because of having a part time job and children at home and yet, I am feeling it. I am thinking of posting once a week and a compilation of my work throughout the week. I am thinking that I want to slow down and think of quality rather than quantity. My problem is a compulsion to paint! Oh my…..another story on that but it is a drive that keeps me going. I have to learn to pace myself. Thank you for your comments John, I felt confident about the painting on site but once I got home, I got insecure and grumbled about my “atrocious” paintings….hmm I think that I didn’t keep with my good attitude all the way through! 🙂

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  5. I love the mountains in painting #4. Perhaps doing as many paintings as possible in a day helped you capture the important elements of shape, color and value without getting to wrapped up in detail. I think i should try your method I tend to be a little tight and overwork my pieces.

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    1. It is so good to hear your feedback, I have a problem thinking that I don’t get enough detail and I am lacking something……I have a tendency to want to overstate everything and I am going against the stream. It sure feels good though at times it makes me a little insecure thinking that I didn’t go far enough. 🙂 it will take time to find that sweet spot.


  6. Thanks for sharing all this beauty!!! To me it looks and reads like an awesome painting experience.The 3rd and the 4th painting are my favorites. I think you don´t have to worry about the paper whites at all. Especially in the 4th painting you have achieved a level of perfection with it. The colors and washes look great in all four pieces. All your paintings breath so much and make me think i would rather like to be at this awesome place.

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  7. “I have a problem thinking that I don’t get enough detail.” “it is the process not the end product, as they say, sometimes I am not convinced though.” I think you’ve diagnosed your problem. When you were on site, caught up in working, you felt one way. When you got home and looked at the watercolors, you realized there are other qualities that you want but didn’t (as yet) achieve.

    It’s true that lots of people talk about the process, but clearly art is not about the process, it’s about the picture. I think it’s good — really good — that you’re being honest with yourself about that. The honesty is something you need to listen to. But there is another side to honesty. You want more detail happening in the watercolors, so now you need to figure out how to make that happen. There can be technical aspects to the problem (like how workable the surface is during the specific session because the paper needs to dry) and there can be an information element — that you’re still figuring out what to include when you’re working. “What do I see?” is THE big plein air question. There’s stylistic aspects. interpretive questions, too. What do you want the picture to look like? Wanting more “stuff” in the picture means sorting out how to interpret the scene as you’re looking at it and finding answers to YOUR questions.

    I recall you posted a very detailed portrait you did in pastel, and I can tell that you have a side of your personality that wants detail. So you just need to learn how to get that into the plein air watercolor and what form the detail should take. There’s not “an answer” necessarily. There’s instead a discovery. I’m sorry that you’re discouraged, but the solution is to keep working. I don’t mean “compulsive” wear-yourself-out kind of working. More of a logical, you can figure this out by working steadily, patiently and having faith in yourself kind of solution. I get the feeling that you’re a hard worker in other areas of your life. So use that pull-up-your-sleeves attitude for this, too.

    People think of “art” as an emotional rush of inspiration. But I don’t think it’s quite so romantic. Art takes work just like everything else in life. I think your discouragement is really a blessing in disguise. It demonstrates that there’s something stronger and deeper that you sense you need. So you’re just going to need to keep at it. This is evidence of growth. This is what you want! Growth is good!

    The mountain pictures have some really strong qualities — chief among them is composition. They are not “detailed” but the placement of the big shapes is really strong. There’s a kind of integrity to the design — a way that parts are hanging together. I think that’s an enormously difficult thing to teach and you have got it there. So one thing I’m thinking is that you need to figure out now how to take that same sensibility that PLACED these strong shapes into the page and put it to work on a smaller scale, filling these shapes with greater visual incident on a smaller and more intimate aspect of the image. That’s one way to get at “detail.” I’m expressing it kind of mechanically, but in fact when you do it — because you’re already showing this sensibility about the shapes and their inter-relationships, I think you can finesse and respond instinctively to the scene by just working longer in it.

    You may screw up some paintings while you’re figuring it out. People are afraid to do that — and it’s behind what a lot of people say when they talk about “over-working” something. But making mistakes gives you information. And in subsequent sessions, your visual responses will be stronger. They’re already strong. So it’s a matter of doing more of what you’re already doing. And that will happen more readily if you can push the feelings aside and use your head. I know art is supposed to be romantic, but there’s a lot that is cognitive, that’s about visual information. And you know more than you know you know.

    What do you think? Enjoy a bit of rest. Catch your breath. Enjoy the family. And decide to be logical about this. Just like you would be about any other problem needing a solution. Constructive criticism — including constructive self-criticism — always hones in on specific things. It’s not about feelings. Feelings come and go. It’s about whether the right color is sitting in the right place. Not knowing the answer is okay too. It’s honest. If you don’t know, you don’t know. You don’t beat yourself up about it. Rather, you tell yourself that you’ll figure it out. The same way you got this far, you go further.

    Everybody here is telling you these are strong. So, trust that. Now you just need “more” of the strong stuff — on a different visual scale — you’re calling it “detail.” I made a careful point to quote you because you’re the only one who really knows what you want. So trust yourself. You’ll figure it out. You saw more out there, all that stuff on the mountain. Okay, compared to that you find the drawings looking a little thin. Goodness! It’s a mountain. Nature’s a really tough babe. A tough act to follow. Bierstadt was working months on one picture! But this feeling that there should be more it’s growing pains. I think it’s fabulous.

    You’re being honest. And real art is about honesty. Way to go. I think your “compulsion” is wonderful.

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    1. Wow! amazing how you nailed what I have been truly fretting about, you are right. I am after detail but not the detail that makes it look like a perfect piece of art. I have noticed that there is a “cementing” kind of detail that brings a certain finesse and I feel like I just about have it but it often is fleeting. I am after something, yes, detail but the right kind of detail. You are so correct, people make art to be romantic, it is not. I have discovered that a very long time ago. Yes, darn it, it is a mountain and yes….it is so in my depths to think that I can go far and beyond the call of duty and get that mountain situated, a little funny but it’s true! and to boot, include that bald eagle just to give it a little flair! You are right, there is growth happening and I know it, I embrace it but when I flail out with my little artist brat attacks, it is a sign that I get a little impatient with the process that I am in. I think being tired is part of it and also a deep insecurity about my art, lol….imagine that an artist who is insecure! I really appreciate what you wrote because you see exactly what is going on and I knew it but you confirmed and sounded it back to me, thank you so much! I will rest up and get back to business. 🙂 I will rein in my compulsion within normal boundaries, at least for me.

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      1. Nothing wrong with an occasional brat attack. I just didn’t want to say, “ah, these are fine, don’t worry.” I had the feeling from what you wrote that something deeper was bothering you. I’m glad my comment mirrored your feelings some because I think those nagging doubts can be important. You should search out a way to that “cementing” kind of detail that “gets that mountain situated.” That sounds so fascinating a way to think about it.

        Being tired can throw one’s emotions out of kilter. I really do like these mountain watercolors, but whatever you don’t like about them is like a hazy map into new territory so that’s why I’ve been urging you to take the doubts seriously but not in a discouraging way — rather in a spirit that gets you ready for the next element — whatever that is.

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  8. Pingback: Sierra Buttes #2 watercolor – Yuba Gold

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