Taking Flight

My intentions after coming back from the New York watercolor show and after completing my big commission were to spend the summer creating many new paintings for the upcoming studio tour and make some blog posts.  But…the universe had other plans for me.  Just as Spring was ending I broke my wrist, which made my summer plans nearly impossible. I had to give priority to healing if I was ever to paint again.  Now that I am on the road to recovery (but not quite up to painting) it’s a little easier to type, so I decided to share my inspiration for my paintings with you.

I have always loved the beautiful patchwork of the quilted farmlands and delta area of the Sacramento, California area.  The meandering river across the agriculture and the velvety rice fields as seen from the air are amazing.  I started painting this view to capture the feelings it evokes for me; a natural beauty that is fragile and ever changing depending on drought, season, time of day and human influences.  I sought out small aircraft pilots to take me up so I could gather photos to paint from.  I’ve had some wonderful experiences and met some interesting people.  Taking flight is almost more fun than creating the actual painting!  I have had some memorable flights in some historical planes including a  1940’s Piper Cub.

Piper Cub

Piper Cub

 

Aeronca Champ

Aeronca Champ

Recently I flew in an Aeronca Champ, which was a WWII training plane, owned by a family of pilots.  It was originally purchased to commemorate a family member’s 60th birthday who had flown the same kind of plane in WWII.   I heard some wonderful stories and family history as I flew with the pilot, and felt honored to be a passenger.  I learned that during the war the tandem passenger seat behind the pilot was often removed so that an injured soldier could be slipped feet first into the tail and transported to safety.  To think that this very plane may have saved a brave soldier was very humbling.

RadioTV tower

The tops of those radio towers were fascinating to see from that perspective!

We left out of a tiny private airport on the Sacramento delta late in the day so that I could get the long shadows that add some drama to my aerial paintings.  My task was to get some good photos to use for a large commission I was starting.  The challenge was that the ranch I needed to photograph was below five tall radio/TV towers.  We needed to carefully fly around the towers and their many wire cables.  I was also trying to include the river, small town of Walnut Grove and the iconic landmark, Mt. Diablo.  I had to put my trust in the pilot that he would get us back safely and just enjoy the ride.

Town of Walnut Grove

Walnut Grove, CA

We flew over the Sacramento River, the towns of Walnut Grove, Locke and Isleton, farmlands, pear orchards, marinas, bridges, dairy farms, wildlife preserves and breached levees.  The vegetation was beautiful and varied.  There were rows of trees and crops, manicured homes, gardens, fields, wild delta areas with patterned islands of cattails and marshlands.  There were labyrinths of man made duck hunting ponds and sloughs choked with beautiful water hyacinth.  There was a lone boat gliding past a string of tiny delta islands shaped like teardrops floating like gems on a necklace.  All the while Mt. Diablo was watching us.  It’s no wonder pilots love to fly over the delta – the view is breathtaking!

Oxbow Marina (2)

Oxbow Marina, Isleton

One of the many memorable sights was the Oxbow Marina in Isleton.  It is a big loop on the river where there is a marina of boats and a resort.

Pear pool

Pear shaped pool

Nearby was a home with a pear shaped pool!  The steps into the pool was the stem of the pear.  It was obviously owned by a pear farmer.

Bridge to Nowhere

Bridge to Nowhere

A surprising sight was the “Bridge to Nowhere” where long ago the levees were breeched. The land was allowed to be reclaimed by the river and is filling in with marshland making beautiful colored circles of vegetation in various sizes.  The bridge once led to other farms, but now it’s a dead end to the water if one attempts to cross.

Sacramento River

Sacramento Delta

Bridge on Steamboat Slough

Bridge on Steamboat Slough

I captured some great photos from that flight, which allowed me to complete my commission (shared in an upcoming post).  My painting that was accepted into the American Watercolor Society Exhibition was from the same flight.  If you look carefully in the lower right corner of that painting you can see the little airport I flew out of.  The painting, “Diablo’s Delta” is currently touring the US for the next year in the AWS Traveling Exhibition.  View my “Upcoming Shows” to see if it’s coming to a city near you.

Many thanks to my winged friends who share their passion with me and let me take flight with them so that I can share my passion with you!

Note – all photos are copyrighted by the artist and may not be used without permission.

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Painting the Deckle Edge

“Delta Sunrise” is inspired from a photo I took while flying over the Sacramento River in a 1940’s Piper Cub.  It was an amazing ride, as the pilot had the window open so I could hang out and get photos.  We were so low it felt as though I could almost touch the tree tops!  The passenger sits in front with the instruments, while the pilot sits in back.  It was an odd feeling that left me wondering who was flying the plane.  We took off and then landed in a bumpy field.  I took over 500 photos to paint from and the trip has been my most memorable flight yet.  Many of my recent aerial paintings have been from those photos.
Step 1

You can see that I started with a wash in the river and the sky.  While the sky is still wet I dab tissue to pick up the paint and create the clouds.  Since I don’t stretch my paper and I like to paint to the deckled edge, it is very difficult to do a wash in the sky and river.  I have to be careful not to rest the edge of the paper on the table or it will cause a bloom or backwash where the paper dries at a different rate.  In this painting I had a very difficult time because half the paper was wet and flimsy around the lower three edges.  Typically I pick up the paper and manipulate the wash by moving it around in different directions and upside down, but that was impossible with half the paper dripping wet and flopping!  I hadn’t planned ahead and almost lost the painting because there was no where to hold it as the washes blended and dried.  The lesson learned was to tape my paper on the underside to a piece of foam core board just smaller than my paper, but with an area that I can hold so that the paper can be manipulated while wet.  I also learned to use some small wooden blocks to set under the edges of the paper as it dried to hold it away from the table.

Step 2

I started adding the landscape washes and building up the layers.  I still wasn’t sure if I wanted another wash on the water, so I waited until there were more washes and details in place.

Step 3

I added in more details and started painting the reflections.

Delta Sunrise

In the completed painting you can see where the shadows and reflections really bring out the depth of the painting and ground the viewer.  I love placing the shadows last as the finishing touch.  I was happy that I kept the lower half of the painting all water without the river bank, as I think it really draws the viewer in and gives the feeling I had while I was flying.  I hope it conveys this to the viewer.

“Delta Sunrise” is my painting that was selected for the 148th American Watercolor Society International Exhibition in New York and will be showing at the Salmagundi Club in April.  There are over 1600 entries every year from around the world and only about 150 are chosen by the jury, which consists of five judges that must concur on the selections.  Entries are submitted digitally and each artist is only allowed one entry.  It’s a rigorous process that doesn’t allow the judges to discuss the entries until after the selections have been chosen.  They continue to go through the entries until all the judges concur on the total paintings needed.  After the selection, entries are then shipped to AWS and judged for awards by three additional jurors.  I have entered this competition numerous times and have lost count of the number of times I’ve been rejected.  Then in 2013 I was thrilled to get a call that not only was I accepted, but I won a top award!  It was very exciting!  I kept expecting to get another call saying it was all a mistake!  So imagine my excitement when I was notified that I was selected to be in the show this year.  No award, but getting into this prestigious show again is a thrill!  I hope if you are in New York in April you will stop in to see this amazing watercolor show.  It will then travel around the US to several cities in the next year.

New aerial landscape painting progress (inspired by flying in a Piper Cub)

Stage 2 - new aerial watercolor landscape painting in progressHere is my new watercolor painting in progress.  The inspiration for the image is from when I went flying over the Sacramento River and farmlands in California.  I flew in a 1940’s Piper Cub plane, which can fly very low (about 75-100 feet) and can fly slow (about 75 mph). It was perfect for taking photos to paint my aerial landscape paintings.  I got to sit in the ‘front’ of the plane while the pilot sat behind me.  It was quite an experience because I was looking out the front window and the instrument panel was in front of me with the controls moving on their own.   It felt like no one was flying the plane!  The pilot kept the windows open so that I could hang out a bit and get some good photos to use for paintings.  I made sure to hang onto my camera!  We flew over herds of cattle, vineyards, rice fields and orchards.  We also flew close to a wind farm near Rio Vista.  My favorite part of the flight was flying low over the Sacramento River.  It felt as though we could touch the river and boats.  We even flew over a draw bridge.  

 

You can start to see the shadows of the painting being layed down, which is starting to give the painting some depth.  We were flying very early in the morning so the trees created long shadows on the river, which gives some great contrast and drama.  As I mentioned in the first post the layers of watercolor paint have to be built up from light to dark, so the shadows still have more layers to be added, as do the trees and bushes.  At this stage the painting looks a bit flat, but there is some suggestion of depth developing.  I will probably leave the right side of the a painting blank until I finish the left side so that I can determine how dark the tree shadows over the river will need to be.   It’s already looking very different than the first post image.  Stay posted to see the progress!