Blues in the Woods

Today we drove up into the Angeles Crest National Forest to hear some music at Newcomb’s Ranch Inn … the only restaurant/road house in the vast national forest. Specifically, we drove the 45 minutes or so from our home to hear bluesman Barry “Big B” Brenner. We met Barry several years ago when he played at a restaurant in our town, and since that time we’ve enjoyed his music at sites all over Los Angeles – from a barbecue joint in Monrovia to a cajun restaurant in Toluca Lake to an outdoor concert at a golf course. His rare appearances at Newcomb’s Ranch Inn are worth the drive. Barry has said on numerous occasions that his mission is to introduce people to traditional blues and the blues legends that are the foundation of so much treasured American music. With his 6 string, 12 string and National Resonator guitars, he serves up a rich mixture of delta slides, Piedmont rags and Texas stomps – including numerous original songs. My favorite songs in Barry’s repertoire include “Deep River Blues,” “San Francisco Bay Blues,” and “Step it up and Go,” – but everything he sings is excellent. If you like blues, visit his site at the link above and give a listen … And if you’re in LA, get on his mailing list to find out where he’s appearing.

Barry was taking a set break when we arrived, but when he returned to play, I pulled out my sketchbook and did a painting of some of the pines and chapparal that grow on a hill behind the inn. This time, I didn’t make any attempt at composition, I just painted it like it was … a brilliant cerulean sky with fair weather cumulus, constantly changing light, pine trees clinging to a bare granite cliff, thickets of manzanita and mesquite and clouds of blooming ceanothus. More paintings of spring in our local wilderness will be posted this week.

Blues, sunshine, fresh air, a new watermedia sketchbook recommended by Roz Stendahl, my waterbrush and paints … and my dear husband to take me there and enjoy it with me. I can’t imagine a better start to a 3-day weekend.

Edited to add: I thought you might be interested in seeing what the scene actually looked like. This was a snapshot I took of that hillside. You can barely see the corner of the roof of the building in the foreground. The trees were about 30 yards or so away.
What I found interesting was my perception (above) that I just painted it like it was. I see now that I must have been improvising quite a bit, but I wasn’t really aware that I was.


  1. shelly mcc
    May 27, 2006

    This is a beautiful painting. Great stuff!

  2. Laura
    May 28, 2006

    What an idyllic day! Your sketch is perfectly lovely—you just let go with color and brushstrokes and had at it! I love the flow downward from left to right. The shadows are so well done, too!

  3. lin
    May 28, 2006

    FANTASTIC, Karen!! Love how your colors just ‘spark’!

  4. Stuart
    May 28, 2006

    Agreed, I just love the textures and atmosphere!

  5. Kate (Cathy) Johnson
    May 28, 2006

    WOW. You are just getting better and better with these fresh, expressive landscapes. It’s wonderful…

  6. Nel Jansen
    May 28, 2006

    I enjoy your work so very much, thanks for being a faithful poster. What I’m really taking away from your art is the seeming ease of your compositions. You must have done so much of it, thinking about the compositions, that now it seems almost second nature. Your comfort with watercolors is also really apparent. This is the payoff for the practice, practive, practice! You are an inspiration. Nel

  7. Frank
    May 28, 2006

    Karen I think this is one of your strongest pieces. I like the natural feel of it, the wonderful use of color and the rendering of the items that comprise an interesting subject. I know that doing people is difficult but my experience is that what to include and to exclude makes natural settings as difficult. Nice going. Glad you enjoyed the Blues!

    May 28, 2006

    you have successfully captured the beauty of the woods.

  9. Robin N
    May 28, 2006

    I agree I think this is a very strong piece of yours. Maybe the idea is not to think too much. The diagonal that has gracefully made its way across your paper, holds it all together.

  10. pink
    May 28, 2006

    Barry’s music is really good for your painting! This is fantastic! Great harmony and depth of field. Nice brushwork too. Wow, keep this up and by the end of this long week-end you’ll be da Vinci.

  11. Jana B.
    May 28, 2006

    Hi Karen,
    This is beautiful. The colors are so rich and vibrant and the watercolor so juicy and free. I like the way the the trees have individual personalities and gestures, with the foreground tree sort of defiantly holding it’s own on the side of the hill. I look forward to reading your posts. I’m wondering if the new sketchbook is the Aquabee Deluxe. I love those–they take ink and watercolor well. If not, I’d like to know what it is…it certainly seems to be working well for you and I need to order a new wc sketchbook. I’ve added you to the links on my new blog ( Thanks for the ongoing inspiration! Jana

  12. Karen
    May 29, 2006

    Thank you, everyone for your kind and thoughtful comments and encouragement. I really appreciate your observations; it helps me to see through fresh eyes.

    It’s true I didn’t think as much about this as some things I’ve painted. And in this particular case there was a limited angle of view as I was seated facing Barry, so I tried to make the most out of what was there.

    I find everyone’s comments and reactions very interesting, because this is one of the first outdoor sketches in which, at one point, I held the sketchbook at an angle and started splashing the the paint on rather than being ‘careful’ with it. I’d seen artists do this in demos and I’d tried it occasionally in experiments, but not in the field.

    Robin and Pink, you may be right that the music helped get me out of my ‘thinking’ mode and into more of an expressive mood. I might need to take some music along on field trips, which I think my husband would enjoy!

    Jana, this was painted in a book called “The Great Canadian Sketchbook.” The paint doesn’t float on it as well as on Aquabee Deluxe, but the pages are large, smooth and opaque and I think I’ll be content with it.

  13. Sioux
    May 29, 2006

    Oh, Karen, this is breath-taking!!

  14. Katherine
    May 29, 2006

    This came up on my screen looking very impressive – there’s something about the unity in the colour scheme. And when you said you painted it like it was that is indeed was what you did if that is how it felt – how you saw it, interpreted through your own eyes – a unique vision. And besides photos lie!

  15. Donn
    May 29, 2006

    It seems like everyone has said it all! It’s really great, refreshing, and loose. An outstanding painting.

  16. Susan
    May 29, 2006

    Karen, how lovely, free and freshly coloured this beauty of yours is. Thank you again and always for delighting us so consistently.

  17. Cin
    May 29, 2006

    just beautiful Karen, love seeing the difference between the photo and wc, the colors you saw are much improved over the camera!

  18. Diahn
    May 30, 2006

    I think your “improvisation” is absolutely beautiful, Karen. You’ve captured the light and shadow so beautifully,
    and given the scene a sweet serenity. I loved seeing the photo, too – really accentuates your artistry!

  19. Ann Fortenberry
    May 30, 2006

    I like these two sketches, but especially this one, Karen. Your take on it and your memory of it move me much more than the photograph, and it reminds me of my own memory of a place I visited daily as a very small child. We called it The Sandbank because the town trucks came here for sand and slowly undercut the hill, leaving a tree like yours, hanging on by its toes. It was full of bits of sparkling mica and colorful rocks, a place that my memory improved as did yours. When I visited it as an adult, I saw how I had created a magical space to return to in my memory and dreams.
    Thank you for the trip back.

  20. Karen
    May 30, 2006

    Cin and Diahn,
    Thanks for the feedback on the painting as well as including the photo of the ‘real’ scene. I’ll keep including them since it seems that you all like that.

    Yes, that’s exactly what that was like. The hillside had been excavated no doubt to make room for the restaurant and parking lot. Those remaining trees were clinging to dear life, but the sun made such nice patterns on that bleached and eroded soil. I’m glad it gave you a trip back as well.

  21. Margaret
    June 2, 2006

    Goodness this one knocked my socks off too…the first Angeles forest one was great but this one…love the composition, the colors, the trees…great job!

  22. Kathleen Marie
    June 5, 2006

    I think this is one of my most favorite watercolors of yours so far… lovely. :)

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