A plein air study – granite rock group

Sketchbook, rock study

From time to time I’ve mentioned that I keep an industrial-strength watercolor sketchbook with nature studies of trees, geology, animals (occasionally) and other features of the natural world. Because the focus of this blog has changed to reflect my evolution into a full-time painter, I have stopped posting those studies. But recently I’ve joined .a group of nature sketchers on a group blog, so I will be posting some of those studies here as well. And, of course, I’ll continue to post new paintings daily, or as often as I can.

This is a study of some granitic rocks in cool morning light. The gentle morning light made the gray rock look violet, which was a beautiful complement to the yellow green spring grass. I did this study to learn more about how rocks can have several types of shadows, depending upon whether there is a hard or soft edge. This sort of observation is very useful to a plein air painter, whether one works in an impressionist or realist style.

For those of you who get this blog in an email, you may notice that these sketchbook posts will have the words “nodp” at the bottom. That is a secret code that tells the Daily Painter software not to post these entries to dailypainter.com because it’s not a painting for sale. So if you’re wondering what that phrase means, now you know.


Fallbrook Landscape Oil Painting – Morning Breeze – by Karen Winters

Morning Breeze (Fallbrook, California)
16 x 12″
oil on canvas

As the week progressed in Fallbrook, the weather cooled and large clouds would appear every morning. This painting, inspired by my visit there, depicts a view looking eastward across a small creek that helped irrigate the ranch where we were painting. Clouds are among my favorite subjects to paint and in this case they are the primary interest.

If this painting is dry, I might be bringing it to the Montrose Art Walk this Saturday on Honolulu Avenue in Montrose. I can’t promise, because it may not be dry enough. But on the other hand, at a plein air event, the patrons buy paintings at the end of a QuickDraw event, and they are soaking wet, painted just an hour before. So I might very well bring this one along.

Fallbrook Country Road – Plein Air Study

Fallbrook Country Road
Plein air oil sketch
9 x 12 oil on canvas laid on board

Eucs, palms, oaks, sycamores. I’d have a hard time deciding upon my favorite California tree.

This time, eucs are featured. and it turned out to be one of my favorite on-location oil sketches from Libby Tolley’s workshop. It was late top-light, about 3 in the afternoon, before the sun made its final descent. The hillside was starting to go into shadow, but the warm light was still touching the tops of the brushy shrubs here and there. The eucs are getting the kiss of the sun on their heads but shortly afterward became more sidelit. What attracted me to this scene was the warm glow of light striking the grass at the base of the eucs. I thought that it gave an interesting way to show the trunks that are usually hidden in shadow.

This is a transitional season painting. There still remains some spring grass, especially in the irrigated pasture, but the non-irrigated fields are turning the gold so characteristic of California in the summer and fall. The warm light of the day creates cool shadows – and I like the way the gold of the grass complements the shadowed blue-violet. The suggestion of fence posts adds a bit tot he composition, but I didn’t want to paint them so stiffly and regularly that they became a barrier. Just enough to let you know it’s a fenced pasture, no more.

If you’re in LA, this Saturday I’ll be showing paintings at the Montrose Artwalk, May 2. I’ll be near the bowling alley.

Lean on Me – Fan Palms – Plein Air Oil Landscape Painting

“Lean on Me”
9 x 12 oil on canvas panel
(Fan Palms in Fallbrook, CA)

This friendly palm twosome caught my attention on Wednesday morning at the Libby Tolley workshop. Our assignment was to find a composition that interested us and to paint it in two hours before the light changed. The week got progressively cooler, with atmospheric mornings and more brilliant sunsets. Capturing the quality of cool morning light was one of the many enjoyable challenges we rose to. This painting represents the moment where the morning fog is just starting to burn off, when the sun catches the edge of the palm fronds. Close to the ground the mist still hovers and swirls. But higher up, the clouds are breaking up to reveal a brilliant blue sky.

More palms in other workshop paintings to come …

What I love about workshops – going somewhere new to paint – meeting other artists and making new friends – getting immediate critiques and suggestions about one’s work “in the moment” – the fun of experimenting and trying new solutions to common painting problems – seeing how other people paint a similar scene – feeling tired but satisfied at the end of the day.

Morning at the Ranch – Libby Tolley plein air painting workshop

Morning at the Ranch (Fallbrook) by Karen Winters
8 x 10 inch
plein air oil painting on canvas panel

This past week I had the pleasure of spending five days in a plein air painting workshop with Elizabeth (Libby) Tolley, who is a remarkable central California coast painter. The curriculum for each day built upon the day before, taking us from a demonstration of how she sets up her palette and mixes accurate color quickly to the uses of a quick-drying medium for underpainting. There’s too much detail to share it all here, and besides, it’s all in her North Light book Oil Painter’s Solution Book If you’re serious about improving your plein air painting, it’s a must-have.

On Monday of the first day, the temperatures were in the 90s by early morning, so instead of going on location and sweltering, our demo was done in the classroom at the Fallbrook School of the Arts. On the second day, we went out to a rural location and were given an hour to do a small painting exercise for mixing greens. This painting was the result. Composition wasn’t the primary goal here – identifying the color and getting it down was. I did touch this up a bit back in the studio to add some details and refine some brushwork, but I didn’t change it much.

Libby is an excellent teacher as well as a gifted painter. She’s clear and precise in her instruction, well-organized, flexible in the face of changing conditions and very down-to-earth in her teaching style. No question is off limits and she is generous in sharing her knowledge.

More about the workshop (and more of my on-site studies) as the week goes on.

Valley Girls – Landscape oil painting – Cows on ranch in Central California

Valley Girls
8 x 10
oil on canvas on birch panel


This painting is the result of a test of a new panel I’m working on – a very fine canvas, primed for oil painting and then attached to a birch panel with acid-free archival glue. I didn’t have time to get out today so I used some reference sketches and photos to compose this peaceful scene of a valley in central California.

Although I like the “spring” of stretched canvas, these panels are very light, portable and good for plein air studies.

As I painted this, it started to have sort of a folk art feeling, so rather than fighting it, I just went with it and had fun with the process.

California Plein Air Farm Painting – Peaceful Valley – Karen Winters

california plein air farm oil painting

Peaceful Valley Farm
9 x 12 inches
plein air oil painting

Last week I noticed that the theme on the Creative Construction blog was “farm” and that jogged my memory of this farm study, painted last fall, up around the Santa Ynez Valley. I don’t know the location since we were driving around without a GPS. So I found it in my archives and put on a few finishing touches and here it is.

Today my project is to make canvas panels for a workshop I’ll be attending in Fallbrook the week after next. Someone asked me recently about the importance of study in painting. I think that it’s essential to be a perpetual student, either literally, as in taking classes and workshops, or self-study by learning from nature.

When I’m riding in the car with my husband, if we’re not talking, I’m constantly observing and making mental notes about the landscape. It might be the color of the clouds when the light is coming at a certain angle, or the value difference between the light-struck part of a bush and the underbrush on a bright day. I might think about how I’d mix a certain shadow color that I see on the hills, or the sort of brushstroke I’d use to convey the softness of a field of grass vs. the roughness of a broken stump. We are not just painters when we sit or stand at the easel. We are painters every moment of the day (and sometimes, when we are asleep, too.)

Radiant Roses at Descanso – Rose Garden Paintout and Sale

Radiant Roses
14 x 18 oil on canvas

Unless someone claims it before next weekend, this painting will be among many others for sale at Descanso Gardens in the Rosarium, April 18-19 from 9am to 4 pm.
Each of Descanso’s featured artists has been invited to bring 6 rose-themed paintings for display … and many of us will also be in the rosarium painting in the garden.

I will be there all day Saturday and until early afternoon on Sunday, so if you’re in the area, please stop by and say hello. I’m probably going to be leaving Sunday around 2:30 because I have a workshop I’m attending the coming week. But my paintings will remain at Descanso until the show closes.

This painting features what I believe are grandiflora roses. I didn’t see a tag but I’m going to guess that they are the AARS 2008 rose of the year “Dream Come True.” The interior is yellow but the outside of the petals are a magenta which looks red under warm light and more pinkish blue in the shade.

Because you know how I feel about color (and lots of it) I opted to use the full range of colors that these beauties reveal, showing some of them spotlighted by the sun, and painting others shyly bluish in the shade. I’m hoping that someone will find a place for it in their dining room or a sunny bedroom.

This year I added three new roses to my garden: Traviata, Christian Dior and Radiant Perfume. It will take a while for them to bloom, but look for their sunny portraits here in coming months.

California Poppy Landscape with Oak Trees – Karen Winters

Poppies on the Hill
11 x 14
oil on canvas
SOLD, but I have more poppy paintings

Interested in a poppy painting?
Click this link to write me.
See more of my paintings on my website

See more of my wildflower paintings here

I can’t think of a landscape more quintessentially Californian than spring’s poppy covered hillsides – and when you add oak trees it’s downright iconic. In this painting my objective was to capture the feeling of the radiant hillside, crowned by sprawling oaks. The Fresno Bee reports that this is one of the best years for wildflowers in a long time. I don’t know why – we haven’t had an abundance of rain, but whatever conditions brought about this abundance, I’m glad.

More California spring landscapes to come …

Central California Plein Air sunset creek painting

Twilight Creek
9 x 12 plein air painting
oil on canvas

Because the light was certainly fleeting, this is my entry for illustration Friday’s theme: fleeting

Not too long ago (pre-crash) when my husband and I were on a weekend trip to see the wildflowers north of us, we saw this view at the end of a long day. Although I was tired from painting and taking pictures of the ephemeral bloom, I saw a ribbon of light by the side of the road and felt that I just “had” to paint it. “Stop the car!” I yelped to my husband. (he’s used to this – he knows what it means.) The sun was already down and I knew that I had 20 minutes, at best, before I wouldn’t be able to see the colors on my palette. (And I don’t have a hat light yet – that’s on my wish list for nocturne painting.)

So while I squeezed out some fresh paint on my palette, my love set up the Yarka on uneven ground and I started blocking in the big color shapes, aware that it was changing by the minute. When I got home I refined some of the tree shapes and the river curves, and touched up some of the canvas areas where the paint was too thin. Overall, I am very satisfied with this field study, which I might use as a reference for a larger painting, as I often do.

Plein air paintings tend to be very loose – and those that happen under changing light conditions are the loosest of all. It’s one thing to do a painting with three hours of pretty even mid-day sun … but it’s another to try to paint a scene post-sunset. But I think that’s part of the charm of it – it’s a very quick impression – colors mixed on the fly and laid down (for better or worse) with decisiveness. It’s like trying to catch “lightning in a bottle,” to quote Leo Durocher. Pretty near impossible, but fun to try.