Saturday, April 20, 2013

A touch of Japan in the Santa Cruz Mountains

"Kotani En"
11" x 14" Watercolor
My view

"The Shapes of Kotani En"

Mid-day view
Sylvia received permission to paint in a private garden in the mountains above Los Gatos and Saratoga. She knows the person helping to restore the old property, a California Landmark, Kotani En, said to be one of the most authentic Japanese gardens in the US. We drove up a single lane mountain road -- I am always amazed at the properties hidden up in the coastal mountains. We used three of our cars to ferry 23 people to the site from the main road.

The property served as a wealthy man's country place beginning in the 1920s. Unknown to the owner, the cook he hired was an architect from Japan, unable to practice his profession with the discriminatory California laws at that time . When he saw Mr. Takashima sketching a Japanese garden for the property in his spare time, he sent him off to Japan to hire artisans and to meet with the big wigs. The Emperor of Japan and the folks at Kyoto donated many of the rocks and trees, including that 300 year-old evergreen in the left of my first painting.

The current owner has had the place since the 80s. Unfortunately, a gorgeous koi pond and waterfalls took a huge hit in the 7.1 earthquake centered just miles away. It has never held water since. The part of the property we saw had the owners home, a tea house, a temple, and another small building, plus these lovely plantings and rocks.

I loved the shapes and honored them with simplicity. I was especially taken with the evergreen against the flaming red of the old Copper Beech tree. Later I moved to paint a red maple amidst the rocks and ornamentals.

This was indeed a very special paintsite. We gathered after lunch to view paintings that people cared to share -- it's always the artist's choice.

Artists at work

The unveiling at 1:15

Some of the artists taking a break

You can read about the day from other perspectives and see some of the art on our SCVWS paintsites blog.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Plein Air in a Private Garden

"Spring in the Garden"
11" x 14" watercolor
My model

Artists in the garden
Lovingly capturing nature in all it's glory

Artists at work in the front garden

Artist rendering a beautiful piece of work

The unveiling -- the garden and artist captured on paper

The Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society (SCVWS) has over 400 artists representing all levels in their art journey from novice to professionals. Join this watermedia organization and you automatically get 400 teachers, as you can learn from all of them. We are blessed with many generous members. Jane Kwant invited our paintsites group to paint in her garden. Jane herself is an award-winning watermedia artist who largely paints florals from her garden. Take time to check our her beautiful art.

We live in an area where water is very precious, so Jane redesigned her yard with plants that need very modest amounts of water. She has done this in a very natural way, sometimes describe as an English garden approach. There is no formality here. Many volunteer perennials grow where they sprouted.  Jane removed the grass from the yard totally, and even received reimbursement for many of her front yard plantings from the water district.  The effect is both calming and beautiful. Jane has gotten me thinking about my front landscaping.

We had a picture-perfect spring day, a blessing I count as my sons in Vermont endure sleet and snow. This paintsite was announced just this past week, but about 20 artists participated, a great turnout. Jane served us tea, coffee, fresh oranges, and brownies. The warmth of the spring sun and the smells of the garden made for a perfect setting.

I settled myself in front of a lovely section filled with deep burgundy Irises and  contrasting yellow/orange California poppies. Both of these florals are high on my favorites list. I like to focus in on my subject, rather than paint the broader landscape. Though most people do sketches, I like to come away with a frameable piece -- as you can imagine, I am often not  successful -- I tell myself, "And that's okay." This piece was about half done when I left and I knew it needed more contrast in values.

I used an Annelein Beaukenkamp approach, doing lots of negative painting for the greenery. Annelein taught a very popular workshop for us, though I studied with her in Vermont in a one-day class during a visit to my family in 2009. I was heading in the evening for my weekly session with my Southside Art Club, so I gave parts of my work a real scrub with a sponge under running water and set it in the sun to dry. Counter to what people often say, you can change your mind in watercolor as long as you've used mostly non-staining colors and really good paper. I then worked a couple hours doing the push and pull with my values. This morning, I softened a few edges to complete "Spring in the Garden."

When we gathered at lunch, those of us who wanted displayed their pieces. I had photographed an artist because I thought that would make a great painting. Guess what, someone beat me to it! I may still create my own version. I took time to tour Jane's gallery of works in her home. She was recently very inspired by Ken Hosmer in an SCVWS workshop. He has some interesting teaching materials on his website. Ken does value sketches with markers and paints his darks first -- a method I want to try.

Here are a few floral photos from the garden.

California Poppies

Clematis (I think)

Check our the SCVWS paintsites blog for finished pieces by some of the artists.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Plein Air at Santa Teresa County Park

"Spring in Santa Teresa County Park"
14" x 11" watercolor

"Ancient Rocks"
Santa Teresa County Park
9" x 7" watercolor
The real rocks

Santa Teresa County Park
April 4, 2013
Plein Air was a special treat for me because I live at the base of Santa Teresa County Park, a new location for the watercolor society Painsites group. The weather was damp, cool, and windy, so just four hardy souls showed up to paint. Two of us live in the neighborhood. We usually have to travel to the sites which tend to be north of us. We are on the southeast end of San Jose where country begins. I love the location because we live in a large city, but we are snuggled up to open country. The Park is a treasure with a golf course at the base, two blocks from the house.
Three of us took cover in the group picnic shelter and sat at a table to paint. The photo shows what I painted first -- you don't see it here because I tried a wet-in-wet approach and it simply would not dry. Thus, I turned 90 degrees to my left and painted the Santa Teresa Hills  using much less water. I like the simplicity of the piece. By now it was lunchtime and we were chilled. We were ready to pack it in for the day when the sun began to shine. We decided to linger, so I turned another 90 degrees and painted the old rocks. I think at some point that morning, all four of us painted the rocks. Eventually you can view some of our work on the paint sites blog.
We got to talking about the wildlife. On the way up the hill, we saw a large flock of turkeys. There were many birds around. We also have deer, wild boar, coyotes, and bobcats, none of which we saw yesterday. Today, though, my gym buddy and I were walking around the area near the gym and our heart rate went up when we met up with a large coyote sauntering through the parking lot of a high tech building and crossing the street. He stopped and looked at us in a pretty unconcerned way and we gracefully retreated.