Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Plein Air Iris Pond

Iris Pond - Plein Air in Golden Gate Park. 9 1/2" x 12" / 24cm x 30cm Pan Pastels on Buttercup color ClaireFontaine PastelMat coated pastel card. The link is to my Etsy listing. Plein air in Golden Gate Park has been my goal from the day I first decided to move back to San Francisco. Heck, it's been a dream of mine since I first read about San Francisco and wanted to move there back as a kid. Yesterday, I actually made the trip.

A local artist friend Reba whom I met on WetCanvas met me in front of the De Young Museum. We didn't have far to go to find a wonderful spot to paint. A small memorial garden right next to the museum had paths running everywhere and a gorgeous natural planting in the central island in a round pond. Mallards swam in the water along with a turtle.

 I did three pages of sketches, took 300+ reference photos and painted the best plein air scene I have ever done in my life. The composition almost planned itself.

Both of us noticed the balance of the area around that big rock. Reba's painting focused more on the water lilies and she has a larger area of water and rocks under water in hers. I focused on the stone and the irises planted next to it, though I moved most of them to the left of the rock replacing a clump of different plants.

Unlike all my previous attempts at plein air, I took command of my painting. I moved elements freely to strengthen the composition. I left out plants that I thought were beautiful and could have painted in detail. I have reference photos of them for later paintings anyway, I wasn't there to imitate a camera. I was there to paint from life and that's what came of it - a bold, big, loose, colorful painting that almost painted itself. I spent three hours entirely with the Pans on it.

I had meant to use stick accents for small details but the corners of my Sofft sponge gave a better look to the irises. Otherwise I might have tried to detail them as if I waded right up to them to do a flower macro. I could do that on another trip. Some of the same irises were planted in long grass near the garden, so I could roll up close to them and paint just the flowers the way I used to. But that's not why I went plein air.

I can find flowers in people's gardens, window boxes, supermarket stands easily enough. It's the outdoor landscapes shaped and maintained by the incredible gardeners at Golden Gate Park that I went there to paint. I could go back every day for years and not run out of new things to paint. I could spend a lifetime just in that park.

There's a buffalo enclosure so if I want to do something with a cool Western theme, I'll roll out there sometime for life studies of bison. I remember the Japanese Tea Garden had that intensity - thousands of wonderful views each worthy of a painting every time I moved or turned my head.

In some ways Golden Gate Park is like copying masters. Other creative minds and souls went into crafting the beauty I visited to paint. The whole park is a massive collaborative work among architects, gardeners and donors.

I have yet to visit the botanical gardens or the pond or streams but the paths run everywhere. I've got a map of it now and both of us definitely plan to do this again. We might get into a habit of painting out there regularly as well as visiting the great museums in and around the park.

 I've finally achieved a lifetime goal. This was one from the "bucket list" of things to do before I die - paint plein air in Golden Gate Park. It was so fantastic that I can't resist doing it again and again for the rest of my life. Meeting a good online friend and hitting it off so well that we're now happily offline friends is wonderful too.

Some of our trips, we'll leave the city to visit some of her coastal plein air spots around Pacifica. We tested whether the two of us could manage to heave my power chair into her small convertible's back seat and it worked! So in future you'll see some plein air seascapes too, from every vantage point that can be reached by a paved path. This is only the start.

Today I'm glowing with joy at the sight of it and feel much better than I usually do after a massive exertion. I got a little sunburned, just enough that I got enough sun to feel great.

I've got home care coming, so today's daily painting will likely be done in the evening by artificial light. I have all those photos to sort through and choose a good subject for today's painting though, so watch for a new post. I feel good and definitely ready to paint again! My home care worker just arrived so watch for a new post - today's post - in a few hours.

Yesterday I was a bit too tired to post after I got back but it was completely worth it! Big thanks to Reba for making the day such a joy!


  1. Oh Robert I'm so pleased for you. Just reading this I can see your joy shines through. I love this painting. I think its one of your best.

  2. Thank you! I had a wonderful day and the painting did come out one of my best in my eyes too. I can't believe how the composition just grew organically while I was blocking it in. I made changes like bringing the sky color back over some reeds that were leading out of the painting, but that didn't matter. Because the paper was so good I was able to cover the misplaced element completely.