Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Big Sky & Flathead Lake

After an exhilarating month in California painting and sketching, we spent
the first week of August in Montana for a mini family reunion. We rented a
charming old lake house on Flathead Lake, an incredible glacier-fed lake in the
northwestern part of the state. These blog posts are pages from my sketchbook. 

I love taking a "vacation" from creating finished paintings and enjoy filling pages with sketches, studies and small vignettes. It enables me to explore and observe. To spend time with family and still make time for art! (I have a wonderful family that understands my need to draw and paint where ever we are!)

Our house was part of a 200 acre ranch, The Winkley Ranch. The summer house was built by family members in the 1950s and it was the perfect lake house with a charming screened-in porch for morning coffee or sleepovers (the young cousins bunked out there -- it was a like camping in the trees with the sound of the water lapping onto the shore!).  Just a short walk down the path lined with pine trees and we were down at the water's edge.

The shoreline was lined with rocks to secure the beach area and boat ramp. The lake is huge (the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi!) and the weather can change from calm to stormy with whitewater waves pounding the shoreline! I loved how the colors changed in the water depending on the water's depth or the sunlight touching its surface. I loved focusing on all the subtle colors and range of hues in the rocky ledge.

From the front of our vacation spot we looked out to grassy fields, cherry orchards and further up to the foothills thick with evergreens. The clouds were incredible... it was big sky country (and it is!). I loved watching them move across the expanse of blue. I loved the colors and textures of the pine bark and the range of colors in the grasses of the old ranch land.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I filled a whole sketchbook while in California.... I love looking at my sketches and reflecting on all the wonderful encounters and experiences. I have had fun sharing them in the past few blog entries...this is the last set of sketches from my California sketchbook.

My daughter's passion for horses brought us to California -- to Monty Robert's Flag is Up Farm in the town of Solvang north of Santa Barbara -- where she is working on becoming a certified trainer. You can read more about Monty's program and his wonderful work with horses and humans... seeking positive connections and success through non-violent methods and learning the language of horse. http://www.montyroberts.com
I always have my sketchbook with me and enjoy sitting in the center courtyard area and watching all the activity while waiting for Caroline to finish her day's work. The ranch is lovely with rustic barns, beautiful gardens, mature trees and, of course, amazing horses.

The atmosphere is inspiring to watch the horses and see people from all over the world come to work and learn about Monty's methods of training.
It is thrilling to see my teenage daughter find her passion and pursue her goals for a lifelong career. And it has opened up opportunities for me to be able to paint and sketch in such a beautiful spot in California's Central Coast.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sand & Surf

I filled a whole sketchbook while in California.... I love looking at my sketches and reflecting on all the wonderful encounters and experiences. I thought I would share a few over the next few blog entries.

One Friday evening I picked up Caroline and Lucia (a student from Germany who was also taking the training courses at Monty Robert's ranch) from class and we headed south on Highway 101 for a beach excursion. The ocean is just a thirty minute drive from Solvang. It was Lucia's first time to see the Pacific Ocean and a nice opportunity for new scenery!

It was surprisingly chilly with a strong wind but the girls were determined to get in the water. They ran right in and jumped into the waves. It was a short swim and after bundling up with every available towel and sweatshirt we had brought we sat and enjoyed a picnic dinner. The sea gulls stayed very close... determined to make their case for a morsel or two.

Afterwards, the girls went beach combing and I stayed to paint the panorama in front of me. Large wispy pink clouds rolled in off the ocean and hovered over downtown Santa Barbara in the distance. Huge flocks of pelicans zoomed overhead and swooped down into the ocean. The surf crept up the sand and began to form a channel in front of me that opened to a tidal pool to the left. Kids were having fun watching the water carve away the sand.

Caroline and Lucia returned from their walk and had fun taking picures jumping in the channel.

I finished the painting and then we packed up to go. But not before Lucia stopped to fill an empty soda bottle with sand to bring home to Germany for her little girl. A souvenir from a lovely evening at Refugio Beach.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Horses, Friends & Celebrations

 I filled a whole sketchbook while in California.... I love looking at my sketches and reflecting on all the wonderful encounters and experiences. I thought I would share a few over the next few blog entries.

My daughter and I were introduced to Agapito and Adrianna on our first week in Santa Ynez. While we watched our friend's lesson with Agapito, I sketched his barn. After seeing the sketchbook entry, he asked if I would like to do a larger painting and, in exchange, he would give my daughter some lessons.

People come into your life for a purpose... and you connect in a such a way that you feel as if you've know each other a long time. Such, is this encounter. I feel so privileged that Caroline and I met this special couple. I love how a simple entry in my sketchbook introduced us to new friends and experiences.

Over the next four weeks, we spent many days on their farm enjoying the sweeping views of the valley - vistas of vineyards, wheat fields and the mountains in the distance. Impromptu barbecues and wine tastings (from wine made on the farm) were special. Caroline rode many horses, took trail rides through vineyards and even learned how to herd cattle on horseback! She learned so much. Agapito's daughter Monet became Caroline's special new friend... what a sweet girl and quite a talented little rider! I enjoyed doing this little sketch of her as she ate lunch with us one day.

Towards the end of our visit we were invited to celebrate Adrianna's birthday. What an amazing party that evening! We gathered in the large wine making room in the back of the barn made festive with balloons and the warmth of family and friends. Isabelle and Jose set up tables and filled them with trays of amazing homeade Mexican dishes. Bottles of wine were uncorked and music filled the room.
Everyone from small children to adults joined in to sing happy birthday to Adrianna.

As the sun started to dip behind the distant hills, some left the party to go on a
twilight trail ride. Others stayed behind and enjoyed the music and the company of
friends old and new. It was a memorable night. 

I so enjoyed creating these two paintings for Agapito and Adrianna.
Thankful for our special times together in the Santa Ynez Valley.

"Agapito's Cows," plein air watercolor, 12 x 9

"The Perfect Spot," plein air watercolor, pen & ink, 14 x 11

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Color & Texture

There are 20 different species of oaks native to California. The oak trees in the Santa Ynez Valley are referred to as Valley Oaks, or by their scientific name Quercus Lobata. They are incredible specimens and their shape and form varies, making each tree unique.
I fell in love with their texture and color, which changed throughout the day. In the early morning hours they took on silhouetted shapes against the morning fog and as the sun rose in the canyon hills the shadows cast from the trees became one with the mass of the foliage above it. By mid-day, the light penetrated and revealed the interior branches and they appeared light and feathery. And at day's end, the oaks took on a more solid shape and the low evening light illuminated the massive trunks.
I was particularly inspired by their connection to their surroundings. I loved how the sprawling limbs of this oak framed the view of the vineyards and canyon hills beyond.
The contrast of the cool hues in the shadows and the vibrant warm tones where the sun pierced through the foliage captured my interest. As I sketched and painted birds popped in and out, perched on branches low and high.

This view caught my eye as I was driving along Refugio Road just outside of Santa Ynez. I stopped and got out to look. The tree loomed out over a steep hillside that led to meadows below. Standing by the roadside I felt as if I were soaring with those branches. The closeness allowed me to survey the bark... it had massive chunky ribs that were as hard as iron. The crevices were deep and snaked their way along the curving branches.
I never tire of drawing them... looking at them. These Valley Oaks are an integral part of the character that shapes this special place... The Santa Ynez Valley.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Visitors - Old & New

It was my last week in the Santa Ynez Valley in California and I was itching to get out and paint. What a nice surprise to get a call from a local artist Marietta and an invitation to go sketch at one of her favorite spots, "The Mills."
We piled my gear into her car and set off for the town of Solvang to a road on the outside of town behind the Mission Ines. We parked and would hike the rest of the way. The mills are currently being restored and are part of a historic preservation project and accessible only by foot and with permission of the Trust. Marietta had permission to paint on the property and I was so excited to see where we were headed.
We hiked along newly-planted olive groves and headed into a wooded area with a small creek running through it. All I could see was bright sun beyond the darkness of the wooded creek bed. We walked through the shallow part of the creek and up into the sunlit hills.

At the rise of a small embankment the clay tiled rooftops came into view and then the full view of this amazing structure. Two small buildings with uniquely shaped holding wells for water all built by hand with clay and rock. Amazing. Especially when you realize they were built in 1820 by hand. 

Built by the Mission Santa Inés in 1819, this water powered grist mill was constucted to increase agricultural production in the valley. Two stone reservoirs were built in to the natural slope of the hill with these incredible stone retaining walls.

A second mill was designed by an American, John Chapman from the New England area. Chapman was sailing towards Hawaii and captured by the Argentinian pirate Bouchard and then forced to go to the Central Californian coast where Bouchard and his men raided Spanish settlements. Chapman was captured in the Refugio Canyon raid and sentenced to the firing squad. His life was spared and he was sentenced to a lifetime service at the Mission Ines in the Santa Ynez Valley.
It was there that he brought his knowledge of the New England textile industry and worked with the mission workers and indians to build this second mill.
This fulling mill created tightly woven woolen cloth by removing the excess lanolin and forcing the woolen fibers to interlock. It was a mill process that he had seen while growing up in the Boston area. This new technology was a huge advancement to the settlers in this region.

What a unique history -- and a great story. 

What an amazing spot -- sketching and painting these humble structures with an amazing panoramic view of the Santa Ynez mountain range and fields. It was a surreal experience.
Looking out across the fields was an old barn bathed in the evening sun. I worked quickly to capture the light and colors.

I was so grateful to Marietta for showing me her special place in the Santa Ynez Valley. We had a great evening of sharing and sketching... she remarked how good it was to be reminded how lucky she is to live in the valley. Indeed.

You can read more about these historic structures and the preservation work being done by the Santa Barbara Historic Trust at http://www.sbthp.org/mills.htm