Up until 1998, I'd always drawn and painted people, particularly enjoying making gesture-based sketches like the one below, drawn probably around 2000, sometime around the time of the show.
In 1998, I met a number of artists who lived in my part of the county, north Monterey County, in California. A couple of them, Bill Fenwick, and Barbara Edell Poole, were involved in the beginnings of the creation of what became Friends, Artists, and Neighbors of Elkhorn Slough, an environmental action group focused on the protection of Elkhorn Slough and its surrounding watershed.
Bill proposed that we, collectively, join to paint in protest of a development of close to two hundred homes and nine holes of golf on land at the most sensitive part of Elkhorn Slough — its northern edge.
Everyone knows, worldwide, how beautiful the Monterey peninsula is. Where we lived, in north Monterey County, and along the wetlands of Elkhorn Slough, the land's more subtle beauty had been entirely overlooked. North County was where they put the junkyards, the landfill, and the power plant. It wasn't thought of as beautiful.
But the health and beauty of the Monterey Bay depends on the health of Elkhorn Slough, which serves as a nursery and feeding ground for many of the species of animals, sea creatures, and birds who live there. Elkhorn Slough is also a major stopping place and feeding ground for birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway.
The slough is a wetland that is affected by the tides. When the tides are in, the water deepens and turns blue. When the tides are out, large stretches of it become mudflats — as you see in the satellite view — which makes hungry birds more than happy, as they find tasty morsels to eat.
So, five of us gathered once a week for four weekends in the fall of 1998 — four painters, Bill, Barbara, Gloria Shaw, and myself, and one photographer, Kyle Dawn Hills, who documented what we were doing. We wanted to paint the places that were threatened by development, and call attention to the particular beauties of the slough, as well as its importance to the health of the bay itself.
Thus began something that would have an impact and grew in ways that we could not have foreseen.... (to be continued)
Where do you find inspiration?
Do you find it in a beautiful place? A landscape that takes your breath away? A sunset that catches you, and holds you to the spot, as you watch its colors intensify and glow and then fade into the colors of dusk?
It seems pretty common, here in Calistoga, that when you ask someone how they're doing, their response is to smile, shrug their shoulders, and say, "It's another day in Paradise...."
Last year, our Chamber of Commerce filmed a video commercial for visitors to our town, and I was asked to be a part of it. They wanted to film me painting a beautiful view. How do you choose one beautiful and inspirational view to paint, when you are surrounded by so many possibilities?
So I chose the spot that eventually was the source of the painting above, Oak Tree, Vines, and Mt. St. Helena, thinking it was both beautiful and convenient – on the highway just north of one of the filming locations, at a time when the light would be good and the crew would just be finishing at the previous location.
But Carolyn at the Chamber had a much better idea, which was how we all wound up at Jericho Canyon Vineyard just as the last rays of sunset touched the highest hillside vineyards. Filmakers call it "the Golden Hour." And that's how the couple above happened to be walking between the vines, holding hands, cast in a golden glow, not far from where I was standing with my easel and the painting I'd been working on.
Photos of me painting on location at Jericho Canyon Vineyard, near Calistoga, during the filming
Although my scenes didn't make the video – in this digital age, can you still say they wound up on the cutting room floor? – the Chamber is now using photos of me painting, from that day, in a couple of ads on the web.
It was a beautiful day, in an incredibly gorgeous place, in light that touched the peaks of the mountains with a golden glow. It is really an inspirational place!
So... what inspires you?
A couple of weeks ago, I headed down to San Francisco (A.K.A. The City) for a workshop given by the good people at California Lawyers for the Arts at Fort Mason Center. Fort Mason, an army post for over a hundred years, and the main U.S. port for the Pacific campaign during WWII, is now an arts and cultural center housing all kinds of artists and arts and cultural groups and organizations.
The subject of this workshop was Relax with Tax: The Essentials of Income Tax for Individual Artists of All Disciplines, a subject I generally find mystifying at best. It was an excellent workshop, which I recommend to anyone who, like myself, could never have been an accountant. They also offer a wonderful variety of workshops on subjects where the law and the arts cross paths, for people working in all the arts - both in the Bay Area and in Southern California.
It was a glorious spring day (except it was January - hello, climate change!), and droves of people were walking and biking all along the waterfront. After the workshop, I joined them.
Then, heading along the waterfront, through the Presidio and back towards the Golden Gate Bridge, I discovered Mark di Suvero sculptures at Chrissy Field. Oh, glory! The tiny figures in the photographs give you an idea of the monumental scale of these sculptures.
The show, presented by SFMOMA, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, can be seen there through May 26, 2014.
The last golden rays of the late afternoon sun lit up the bridge and these massive sculptures with a warm, glowing light. Moments of magic... and then, happy, and sustained, I found my way to the bridge and the road north.
Trees on Oat Hill
Trees on Oat Hill is a painting of the view from the front of my Franz Valley studio. I just this week completed it — a reworking of a piece I originally painted a few years ago. I always liked the composition (and, of course, I love the view), but the colors were a little subtler than those in most of my paintings.
When I paint on location, I generally feel tied to a more literal vision of the landscape in front of me — and that was the case here. It's when I get in the studio that I can use my photographs, my memory, and my imagination, and see where the painting wants to take me.
Now that it's completed, dry, and framed, it's on its way to Rutherford Ranch Winery's new art gallery space, where you might be able to find it a little later this week. Rutherford Ranch Winery is located at 1680 Silverado Trail South, in St. Helena, and is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.
Also going to Rutherford Ranch Winery's gallery are Autumn Celebration, Sunset on Oat Hill, and Across the Meadow II, where they'll join a number of my other paintings.
I had the absolute pleasure of giving a demonstration for the painters at the Artists' Round Table in Santa Rosa, California, in November. They meet once a month at the Veterans' Memorial Building, and welcomed me heartily. Here's a sequence showing the progress of the painting. My thanks to Marlene and Sharon, who took the photos and shared them with me, so I could share them here!
Working from one of my photos of a vineyard on Petrified Forest Road, near my old home, I began drawing in the composition, and, as usual, checked it upside down to see if it was working.
I think most of the members were surprised when I continued painting upside down. (I probably spend at least a third to half of my time working upside down on each painting - sometimes more.)
Often painters will block in their darks first, which is, I think, a good idea. It allows you to get a good sense of strong values from the very beginning. However, I tend to work a little differently. I like the unmitigated brilliance of the light colors laid down on the canvas first, and then tend to add darker colors later.
Here, I'm painting right-side up again.
The most challenging part of giving a demonstration is talking about what you're doing as you're doing it. The poor brain has to shift back and forth from creative mode to linguistic mode. I think I mostly made sense! And the painting seemed to progress well, though I had to just stop talking now and again so I could take it in without distraction.
I wasn't finished by the end of the demonstration time, but the painting had come quite a ways from its beginnings.
At this point, I had solid patterns of shapes and lights and darks, waiting only for a little more magic. I used to keep my shapes larger and more abstracted - at one time I probably would have called this nearly finished. I was tempted to do it with this painting, too - I like the way the big shapes are working together.
After continuing to work on this back in the studio, this is how the painting looked — many layers later. But it didn't feel quite done yet. I needed to sit with it a while, to figure out just what it was it needed. This is the part of my conversation with the painting — one of the best metaphors I know for my painting process — where my job is to sit still and listen, in order to coax the painting into telling me just what it needs next.
What the painting needed, as it turned out, was mostly greater variation in the blues of the sky (which you can see in the photograph I worked from) and some yellows in the leaves of the vineyard.
My thanks to A.R.T., and to Diana Anderson for inviting me to give the demonstration for them!
Mustard and Mt. St. Helena
I've finally resolved this little painting of one of my favorite views in Calistoga! (I first painted it in a different palette and on a very different scale – at 36"x 48" – in Mustard and the Mountain.) I'd begun it some months back, posting the various stages of its development on Facebook, until I needed to stop. I'd altered the sky from yellow to blue (as part of a development I'd expected), when the painting announced that it wanted the sky to be much deeper and redder. (Yes, sometimes paintings do that – and it's always a good idea to listen to them.)
The red glaze was too red, but – ooooh – it was lovely. I lightened it, but the painting wanted just a little more of that beautiful glaze. I'm sorry I didn't photograph that final, lovely glaze - which was a radiant coral red. I knew the sky wouldn't stay that way, but I needed to live with that color for awhile before I was ready to let go of it.
The final stage of Mustard and Mt. St. Helena combines hints of that vivid, luminous coral glaze with the orange and yellow glow of a sunset sky. This is the third time I've painted this view, and each time the beauty of the place astounds me all over again.
I'm giving a painting demonstration in Santa Rosa, California, on Wednesday for the Artists' Round Table, a Sonoma County art organization that meets monthly and features painting demonstrations, much like the Napa Valley Art Association. I'll be bringing this painting, along with some others, as one of my examples of my work. Now to decide what else to bring along....
New small paintings
I just finished two small paintings today that I began some time ago. Sunset on the Ridge, above, began as an in-class demonstration – the one attended by the couple that gave the Napa River Inn and me five stars! I had set it aside, and then moving, the death of my father, and preparations for Open Studios intervened. Today I gave it the last few brushstrokes it needed to be ready for unveiling.
Trees by the Lake is another painting begun some months ago. I worked on it last week, and today it came to completion. I work from photographs; this photograph is taken of a lovely spot on a small ranch where I used to live, not far from Calistoga.
I took the photos of these paintings quickly in late afternoon light today, so it doesn't quite do them justice, but at least you get an idea of something of what they look like. I'm hoping to get them framed this morning before I pack up for the first Calistoga Art Market.
The Art Market is presented by the Calistoga Art Center, today from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eighteen artists working in various media will be there. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone's work. The Art Center is located at the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga, California, at 1435 North Oak Street.
The weather was beautiful for us on Saturday! With enough time to prepare ahead of time (no rain to compete with), I was able to put up more artwork.
It was really lovely to get a chance to talk with people who had driven all the way upvalley to see me! This spot is a bit out-of-the-way, compared to other parts of the valley, but the cottage on the property actually is where I used to live, and whenever it was too hot or cold to work in my barn studio in Franz Valley, my kitchen served as my small works studio.
One of the other benefits of showing my work here is that I was able to explain (and point to) just where in the neighborhood quite a few of my landscape subjects are located.
Last year, someone I know, who handles the business end of things for her painter husband, thought I might like making some of my paintings into tiles, and recommended to me a place that did them. The tiles looked beautiful, and people liked them, so this year I had more made, and had little 2" square tiles made, too, for magnets. I like having the magnets on my refrigerator (well, I do enjoy being able to look at my paintings!), and now have more to choose from!
Given the cloudy skies we had both weekends, it was appropriate that I had paintings from my Skies series here, too. They're a little different from the landscapes, but all I had to do to find them was look up.
Some people may remember coming to my Open Studios just across Petrified Forest Road, at the Right Ranch. I lived up on the hill, at the top of the ridge, with beautiful, unobstructed views of the sky. One year we had marvelous skies, day after day, and I would perch at the top of the hill and point my camera skyward. This series was the result (and, yes, the clouds really were in those shapes).
As the rain threatened to return on Sunday, I consolidated my paintings undercover as much as possible. I rather like seeing them all together like this, though it's not a combination I would ordinarily assemble together. By the way, the top left painting is of Davenport Landing, just north of Santa Cruz – only the second seascape I've painted. One of these days I may work on more seascapes... I like challenging myself to try new things. It's one of the things that keeps me engaged creatively, and constantly learning.
My studio mate, Sequoia Buck, likes to create scarecrows – and this is one of them. She greeted people as they came to my little alleyway gallery.
On Sunday, finally, the rains came, just as it was nearly time for our Open Studio to close. I had moved many of my things inside and undercover already, and packed up everything else under the cover of my canopies and umbrellas.
My thanks to all who visited this year! I appreciate it, and very much enjoyed getting to chat, and share my work, with everyone.
Rain did not dampen our spirits on Saturday, although they did prevent me from getting my work up until afternoon, since I'm outside at Studio #48. Then, with more clouds threatening, I just put up a bit – just in case I had to move it all quickly.
Sunday was clear and lovely, and I was able to hang paintings! I have a lovely space to show my work in, at Sequoia Buck's studio (I used to live in the cottage there until I moved into Calistoga a few months ago, too).
One of the things I enjoy about Open Studios is that I am able to show work that I may not show in other places – whether it's my humorous mixed media collage paintings, my sketches and block prints, my abstract paintings, or (sometimes, though not this year) my figurative work. They are all part of my creative process, whether they usually get seen or not, and here I can share all of them.
Although you don't see them here, I have paintings from my Skies series and simple abstract paintings, and next week, with no rain threatening, I'll be able to bring more of everything.
An odd thing happened when I moved... the small paintings I'd been working on (mostly 8" x 10"s) throughout the year have decided to hide, and I haven't yet rediscovered where they've gone. I did find a couple of them, and I'll bring them next weekend. With luck, the other ones will emerge (sheepishly, perhaps)... I can only hope.
I've printed lots of new greeting cards and matted reproductions, and have more of the tiles I first had made for last year's Open Studio. And this weekend I will have a painting or two or three in process, up on the easel (I tend to chat with people a bit, so how much painting I am likely to get done is questionable).
Sequoia is giving demonstrations in handmade papermaking, too (you might even be able to try your hand at it yourself), and has her handmade paper-and-photo collage mixed media pieces on exhibit, along with beautiful, colorfully bound journals she makes from her paper.
You can find us there on Saturday and Sunday, September 28th and 29th, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 5140 Sharp Road, just off Petrified Forest Road west of Calistoga. We're Studio #48 in the Napa Valley Open Studios catalog. Come and visit us!
It's hard to believe that Napa Valley Open Studios is this weekend (two days away). I'm packing as much as I can of two months' worth of preparation into these last few days. My father helped me with many of my Open Studio setups – I think of him as I pull out my canopies – especially the place on the leg of one that's a little wonky, from Dad's impatience when it wouldn't cooperate one year.
This year I'll be at Studio #48, with Sequoia Buck, which is actually where I just moved from a few months ago. Sequoia is a wonderful artist who took painting and mixed media classes from me a few years back, and combined the mixed media techniques we used in class with her own skills as a handmade papermaker and commercial photographer. She'll be demonstrating papermaking there, and I'll have work in process on the easel – and may demonstrate a little, too, if there's time.
I'll have the painting of birds above there, too. It's a little different from my landscape paintings – and related to a series of abstract paintings I've done. Some time back, I'd photographed birds on the deck rail at my parents' house. Every morning, my father would put out bread crumbs for them, and keep feeders filled with bird seeds and suet. (His father used to feed gray squirrels daily in the empty lot next to their home in Seattle, so there was a precedent for this....) Both he and my mother kept a sharp watch out for the crows that would scare off the smaller birds.
One day when I was visiting, nine or ten birds were perched on the rail and around the birdbath. It was a party! I took photos, one of which was the source of this painting. I wasn't sure what I would call it until just last night – they were, after all, his birds. So now it's My Father's Birds.
If you're in the area, I hope you'll come see us – the next two weekends – September 21-22 and 28-29, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. We're on Sharp Road, just off Petrified Forest Road west of Calistoga. Just follow the signs!
Karen Lynn Ingalls
I am an artist in Napa and Sonoma Counties, in California. I paint colorist landscapes of rural California, teach art classes and lessons, and live in Calistoga, California. I also teach private, group, and corporate art workshops in Napa Valley, Sonoma County, and other parts of Northern California.