Lands End, Golden Hour

Last Sunday was a beautiful day for walking, and the far western edge of San Francisco (known as “Lands End“) was striking the last hour of the day (“Golden Hour“). A couple of things attracted me to this scene: the light, subject (Monterey Cypress trees, my favorite!) and the shapes made for an interested composition.


Lands End (Golden Hour) – Oil on Linen – 8×10


Below, you’ll see the reference photo.  Notice I edited out a few things. An artist’s ability to edit his own ideas is an incredibly key skill. A work that tries to communicate too many ideas, ends up communicating nothing.  Any Project Runway fans out there?   You hear the judges warning contestant designers about editing their own ideas all the time. It’s evident when a model comes down the runway whether or not the designer is able to focus on a single, powerful idea, or whether they’re show-boating, and throwing in every technique they’re capable of.

The Golden Gate Bridge is one obvious omission.  I tried putting it in, but, it didn’t work. As a man-made object, it drew a lot of attention, and it’s too small and not a good shape or position to be the center-of-interest, so why lead the eye there?  Second, if the scale of the painting where larger (this is an 8×10 study), I may have been able to get it to work, but at this size, it’s difficult to paint a structure like that and maintain the loose brushwork.  I would have had to use a small brush, and the texture alone would have detracted from the texture in the rest of the painting.

I really like the photos I took that day, so I’ll definitely paint more, larger works in this vein.

Big Sur

Just south of the art town Carmel lies Big Sur, probably the most majestic meeting of land and sea in California.  It’s been painted by many artists over the past 100 years. Unfortunately, it’s also been scared by the recent fires this summer.  I don’t know what the area looks like today, and am a little hesitant to go back.  How’s it changed?  if you live in the area, chime in, let us know…

This painting presented a number of challenges. I needed to represent three areas of distance: foreground, middle ground and distant background. This required careful control of values and color, especially hue intensity and temperature. As objects recede, a number of things occur, and you generally need to push each of these aerial perspective principles a bit to get your image to read well in the two-dimensional space of canvas. First, colors change, generally getting cooler (as the layers of moisture in the air add blue), but they also change by hue, getting less intense.  The level of intensite is different, depending upon the color: Yellows drop off first, followed by red, then blue. In addition to getting cooler then, they also loose hue intensity in that order (yellow, red, blue).
The second big change is values: values come closer together as space recedes.  Even so, you must keep your light and shade areas distinct, ie, all objects in light must be lighter than all objects in shade, and vice versa.

Given these general principles (follow or break them to meet your needs–do what works for you), the color of the ocean was particularly challenging. It was very intense, so more difficult to show recession in space.  As you can see, the blue of the water here is the most hue rich of everything else in the painting, and yet I needed to represent both foreground and distant water surface area.  The distant area is slightly lighter and duller, in this case. I’m not sure it reads well as distance, but let me know what you think.


Big Sur – Oil on Linen – 11×14


Lands End, San Francisco

Sunday was warm, clear and little wind, so a great day to paint the coast.  I wandered over to an area I like generally referred to “Lands End” (here’s a Google Maps aerial view).

On days with clear sky, you’ll notice that the shadows are quite blue as the sky color reflects directly on shadowed flat planes.  This was really easy to see on this day, particularly since the white water provided the perfect platform for viewing clearly the color.  One art teacher used to have us place a white piece of paper on the ground, part in shadow, part light, to judge the color of shadows and light that day. The other observation I had was the color of the light, and again, the white water played the role of that white paper on the ground.  The color of light was yellow, and of course as the afternoon progressed, it picked up more orange (I finished this in about an hour).

Painting a single monolithic object is a challenge compositionally.  I certainly didn’t want to place the large rock in the center of the canvas.  I used the “thirds approach“, and so placed the center of interested at roughly the verticle and horizontal thirds of the canvas.  Once I’d decided on the lower right, I needed to balance the space out with other rocks.  Luckily, the lower left rock was actually there, but I improvised others.  I dulled out and simplified the top half of the painting to provide a neutral backdrop for the lower half center-of-interest, high-saturated colors.

Another challenge here was the fact the rock was multi-colored.  I couldn’t really tell whether the top was white from “bird contributions”, or weather it was a different type of rock.  Probably the former. With the top half white, and the bottom warmer earth colors, I needed to ensure the light and shadows read properly.  So, the shadowed side of the top of the white rock had to read as white in shadow.  I needed to keep it just slightly darker than any of the planes in light. I also needed to ensure I didn’t duplicate that color with the white water shadow color. I’m always very careful not to repeat two color/value combinations in a painting for different objects.  It doesn’t (rarely) happen in nature, so it shouldn’t here. The shadow side of the white rock is a dull, blue violet, whereas the white water has more saturation and color variation.

Seal Rocks Beach, San Francisco – Oil on Linen – 8×10


I am headed to Russian River today for the weekend, and hope to get some painting done along the coast, or who knows, maybe figures around the pool at the RRR!

Asleep (Green Room).

This is just a little figure study I did from a photo book.  I am looking forward to painting live models in the next few weeks when David returns from Latin America.  Painting the figure is by far the best way to learn to draw. I drew the figure a year with charcoal and newsprint before I first picked up a paint brush, in 2001. Drawing and values are the foundation of representational painting.

If you are interesting in purchasing, email me an offer.

Asleep (Green Room) – Oil on Linen – 12×9″


China Town Market

Looking through my reference photos last night, I can across photos of China Town, here in San Francisco. I did paint a plein air piece there a few months ago, but wasn’t that happy with it. It can be difficult for me to simplify while out doors (the distractions: weather, tourists, pressure for time with the changing light, etc).  Being able to simplify and absorb the essence of a city scene is a critical skill.

One artist that does this particularly well is William Wray (see here, here and here). Like William, I’m a fan of the Russian painters, particularly Nicolai Fechin. His brushwork is amazing. Maybe, someday, I’ll paint with that level of confidence. He combines that with his ability to see the beauty in any urban scene.

In any case, this painting is one step towards my goals to be a better painter. In light of that, I’m happy with it.  Enjoy!

China Town Market – Oil on Linen – 8×10


Working on Manuel

Even with David (the artist I share models with) out of the country, I decided to continue my painting of model Manuel–without him present. Of course normally, this is a huge “no-no”, but I was focused on the background, so I think it’s looking good. Might just call it done, and work on something else next time I paint him. To compare, this is the original image, and here’s another study completely.

Manuel (Front) – Oil on Linen

Camille Przewodek Workshops

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I often study with Camille Przewodek, a fantastic plein air colorist painter from Northern California. I recently chronicled my workshop experience with her in Kauai (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). She’s a great teacher, and has such a unique perspective on color, I can highly recommend her. You’ll learn things about color you just won’t learn in a typical workshop.

There are still spaces remaining in Camille Przewodek’s final 2008 workshops — Sept 15-19 and Sept 29-Oct 3, in Petaluma CA.

Click here for the flyer.

Enjoy! Let me know if you sign up.

An afternoon at Rodeo Beach

It was a beautiful day yesterday. I packed my car with my easel and Gracie, and headed over the Golden Gate from San Francisco to Marin. At the end of Mitchell Road, you’ll find the Rodeo Lagoon and Beach, all part of Fort Cronkhite. This fort was built in haste at the start of World War II, for an enemy that never came (hmm…that sounds familiar).

This beach is normally extremely windy, so it’s a rare day I can set up here to paint. Just a simple painting that I hope captures the day. Enjoy! This painting is available in my online store for a special price, $100 (includes shipping).


Backlit Bluffs (California Coast)

I painted this from an image in my library. I believe it was taken in San Luis Obispo, during one of their plein air events.  I’m really enjoying a focus on large shapes where I can focus on color, value and design.  I’m also getting looser with my brushwork, which is another skill I’m honing.


Backlit Bluffs (California Coast), Oil on Linen, 10×8″

The painting adventures of Ed Terpening