California Plein Air Landscape – Fallbrook Fan Palms

Fallbrook Fan Palms
12 x 12″
oil on canvas panel

I have been so busy this past week that I just woke up and realized that I haven’t posted in awhile, and I’ve had a hard time getting painting time in.

The show is going well at Gale’s and I had a wonderful turnout for my reception. Many thanks to everyone who stopped by to see my work and say hello. So many friends, family and collectors – it was a day to remember. Special thanks to our children who drove down from Palo Alto for the weekend. We celebrated every moment, and enjoyed seeing UP on Saturday night. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t miss it.

Monday morning we took my entire show down at Gale’s to make room for her annual Taste of Art show – this year benefitting Pasadena’s Ronald McDonald House, which provides housing for families visiting sick children. I donated a painting of the Casita Del Arroyo Garden, and was delighted to discover that the same couple bought it who bought one of my bridges last year. It was a great party – delectable appetizers and drinks, and good cheer all around for a good cause. Tuesday morning we rehung my show, which will continue now through July 10.

Now I’m framing 25 additional paintings to take to Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens this Saturday and Sunday, June 6 and 7, in Claremont for the Art in the Garden show and sale. This is the third annual juried event and I’m happy to be participating for the 2nd time. The gardens are at 1500 N. College Drive if you live in the inland empire and would like to come say hello. I’ll have original oils and watercolors, framed and unframed, as well as prints and cards.

Because things have been so busy, I am posting a plein air painting that I did in late April, but I haven’t had time to get it photographed. Three or four stately fan palms bordered a path through an open grassy ara. The late afternoon light wrapped everything in a warm glow.

Pretty soon I’ll be back in the groove of everyday painting again. I miss it, but I have to take care of business, too.

California plein air landscape painting – Wildflower Hills

California Wildflower Hills
9 x 12 plein air painting
oil on linen panel

See more of my landscapes here

A few months ago, after keeping an eye on the wildflower reporting sites, we took a trip up into the foothills of the western Sierras. The online sources were right – they really were really spectacular this year. I started this painting on site, and have been waiting for the opportunity to touch it up in studio before posting here. Among the challenges at this location was a storm system that cast ever-changing shadows over the golden hills. One minute the foreground was in light and the background in darkness. Five minutes later it was the reverse. At the point of laying in my darks I decided to go with the cloud shapes on the distant hills and leave the foreground hill bright, and then to paint it that way no matter what nature was doing.

Next week, after my show is hung this Saturday at Gale’s Restaurant in Pasadena, I should be back to painting and posting regularly. There are just too many details to take care of right now.

Karen Winters California Impressionism New Works Show at Gale’s Restaurant, Pasadena

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’ve been preparing for this event for some time.
So, if you’re in the LA area and would like to see my work in person, I invite you to come to my show of California impressionist fine art.

Place: Gale’s Restaurant
Address: 452 S. FairOaks in Pasadena, California
Dates: Sat. May 16 – Friday, July 10
Reception: Sunday afternoon, May 31, 4-6 pm.


California plein air oil painting – Days End in Fallbrook


Days End in Fallbrook
California landscape plein air painting
11 x 14 oil on canvas

At the end of the first day of Libby Tolley’s workshop, which was held in the classroom, I was excited to get outside and find a location to paint. All day the temperatures soared into the high 90s, maybe even 100 degrees, and we were all relieved to paint and practice indoors. As evening came, it had cooled off enough to be tolerable. But on top of that there was a brush fire nearby which filled the air with smoke and gave the sky a warmer than usual color. The color combination was irresistible.

What attracted me to this scene was the beautiful eucalyptus, and the layers of color and foliage disappearing in the smoke back to the distant mountain range. On any given day, the scene may have looked entirely different. A little earlier in the year and the foreground grasses would have been green. On a fire-free day the atmosphere would not have provided the interesting sky effects of warm and cool, intermixed. In the morning, everything would have been lit from the opposite direction. This is one of the things I love about plein air painting – the practice of capturing a very specific moment in time that may never occur again.

While I was there, next to a curb on a culdesac where no houses were built, a man who lived nearby hailed me with a wave and I told him what I was doing. He and his sons came over to watch me paint for awhile, and then I packed my things up. It turns out he’s in the agricultural business and knew a number of places to paint where there are reflective pools of water. Like I’ve said before, I think I could be in the middle of the wilderness and still draw a crowd. It always happens and because I’m a social person, I don’t mind sharing my love of painting.

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.

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.)

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.

Solstice Canyon Plein Air Landscape Oil Painting

solstice canyon malibu oil painting
Solstice Canyon, Malibu (on the bridge up the trail)
9 x 12
oil on canvas

Click image to see a larger, higher quality picture

Saturday I had the pleasure of going with a group of painting friends to Solstice Canyon, a park in Malibu in the Santa Monica Mountains. When we woke up in the morning (early) it was very dark outside and I came to realize that it wasn’t just our daylight saving time change – the sky was heavily overcast. I debated going or not going, because I generally prefer to paint spring scenes under beautiful clear skies. But I decided to go paint anyway, thinking that maybe it would be a 2-panel day. One before the burnoff and one later.

As it turned out, the overcast skies never really cleared, but there was something about the silvery look and cool blue light that really appealed to me. And it’s a look that I might not have gotten on a typical sunny Malibu day.

In the earliest spring, only a few of the trees had put on their new foliage so a great deal of light came through to illuminate the ground. I can imagine that with a full summer canopy only patches of warm, brilliant light would appear. This is what I love about plein air painting. Even when you have painted a scene before, it’s never the same twice. The weather is different, or the time of day, or the season, and each of those factors interact to create different looks and moods.

Here’s a work in progress shot