Report from the Field of Greens
My second week at Chalk Hill Residency starts with a whipping wind, but I am not going to let that get me down. On Monday morning, I set up outside, close to the house, to stay out of the elements. I paint the shed attached to the farmhouse. (The color is a nice switch from all the green.) I sketch from inside the farmhouse and from inside the car at various locations on the property.
When it’s too windy to be outside any longer, I head inside and make color charts to help me keep my greens straight.
In the evenings, I paint small still life paintings of the very interesting and colorful objects around the house.
The “field study” is emerging – my pencil thumbnail drawings have made way for small color sketches. The first painting was done at 10 a.m. on Monday. By Wednesday, the weather has improved, and over the course of the week, if I happen to be near the field, I begin each painting on the hour, working quickly to capture the light and shadows.
On Saturday, the field looked entirely different because red clover was opening all over! If my suspicions are correct, my muse could be glowing magenta in a few days – won’t that be fun to paint!
We had visitors this week. On Thursday a group of watercolor artists from a Sonoma mental health program came to paint, and we talked about how to use color to paint a landscape, with cool colors in the background and warm colors in the foreground to create depth. It was great to be able to share art with this delightful group which comes to visit once during each artist's stay.
On Friday, Klea and Nikki, the creators of the San Francisco-based art blog, “In the Make,” came for a studio and site visit. We had dinner at Alice's house, shared a bottle of local wine and they spent the night in the residency house before heading out on the road for a series of more studio visits from here to Vancouver, British Columbia.
An observation. The field study, laid out on the table in front of the window facing the field captures the attention of each person who comes into the farmhouse. And every one has a definite opinion on which “o’clock” is their favorite.
If the point of an artist residency is to devote time to a practice, and to explore and experiment - it is working. I may or may not come away with great paintings, but I realize now that may not be relevant. In just two weeks I have learned that I can spend hours, days, weeks focused on making art without major distraction. I begin to understand that I have a process, and am evolving a practice that is a great learning experience.
Oh, and I am finally figuring out "green."
Day One: I jumped into the truck with Alice Warnecke, the program director of the Chalk Hill Artist Residency, to bump along the gravel roads of the Warnecke Ranch and Vineyards. We travel alongside vineyards, up open hills, down forested lanes and to the access points with paths that cut over the hills, through the vineyards and meander down to the Russian River.
First impressions: it’s green everywhere and the vistas go on forever. It’s going to be a great challenge to see the subtle color shifts and find the intimacy in the landscape. I’ll be walking around with my sketchpad and camera, watching the light at different times of day.
Some practical wisdom comes from Margo, a Warnecke family member and advisor to the residency, “Oh, and since it’s spring, watch for rattlesnakes and, of course, the poison oak is everywhere. We haven’t seen too many bobcats recently, but they’re here.”
Time to get on my big girl hiking boots, fill my backpack and strap on my easel. (Gulp.)
Day Two: City girl visits the white farmhouse
A 20-acre portion of the ranch is for sale, including a mid-century farmhouse. This is where I set up this morning. I figure out how to open the cattle gate (there is a first for everything) and wander onto the former sheep ranch stomping loudly and chanting “no snakes, no snakes” and wonder what other creatures like to live in the deep grass of the meadow. There are some interesting light effects with the white barn in sunlight. I do two 8 x 10 paint sketches today, and look forward to coming back to the same place at the same time of day on another day to work on paintings.
Day Three: Spring break on the Russian River
Today I hiked on the other side of the property and hauled my gear down the path to a wide gravel beach on the river – a peaceful, bucolic setting. Within minutes, a kayaker paddled by, commenting on how lucky I was to have access to this private, quiet and beautiful section of the river.
About 5 minutes later, as I was completing the set-up of my pochade box, a trio of young men on paddleboards exclaimed, “Look, she’s got one of those old-timey cameras…take our picture!” I told them it was for painting and they were clearly disappointed. I suppose I could have put my black painting apron over my head, pointed the easel at them and said, “Say cheese!”
And then, after an hour of painting solitude, a couple with two young boys pulled their canoe up on the beach and right under the trees that I was painting. Right in the shadows that I was painting. The shadows that I was working on that very moment. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow…
Day Four: The house inspires still life
My residency overlapped with an abstract painter, Ron Nadarski, and while I was out in the field, he was in his studio until late at night. Last night, we chatted as he was getting ready to do a photo shoot of his large-scale work. And today, he was gone. His studio is now available (and closer to the farm house) so I am thinking it could be my evening studio for still life – if I can stay awake past 9 pm!
About the house – it is an old two-story farmhouse with crooked and bowing floors, chipped paint and hand-me-down furniture from various houses on the property, an eclectic assortment of books, art works, photography and objects. The result is quite remarkable – and Margo has curated “intentionally random" vignettes at every turn. I know I am going to have to paint some of these in my new night studio.
Day Five: Took a quick trip back to real life, dealing with the distractions I’ll be able to avoid for the next few weeks. Dropped off a painting at Marin Open Studios gallery, drove to industrial southeastern San Francisco to pick up a package that was returned to its depot after two failed delivery attempts at home. (Hey, I’m away!) Picked up more food and art supplies from home and took a long, hot shower. And then drove back north in Friday getaway traffic. Alice texted to say they were gone for the weekend, and to help myself to fresh eggs from the chickens.
Day Six: In need of a critique
After a day's break from seeing the work so far, my fresh eyes revealed I need to sharpen my angles – even though the hillsides are undulating, when painted that way they look a little mushy. Got a surprise phone call from Dorallen Davis, at artist and teacher who kickstarted my entry into painting. When I told her I was in Healdsburg for a month of painting at the Chalk Hill Residency, she was very pleased, and asked if she could speak to me as a teacher. Of course -- there is no one here to critique me but me! She reminded me to mix my greens – blue in the distance, red in the middle and yellow in the foreground. That's just the advice I needed to hear, and kept repeating it to myself in the late afternoon as I faced west across the vineyards and towards the farmhouse. The green challenge is compounded, as I work to keep shapes in masses, sharpen my angles, and deal with the downward perspective of the vineyard!
Day Seven: Too windy to paint outside!
The weather is changing. I went to the car and turned on the radio to hear a forecast – the wind will be even brisker tomorrow. The sky is intensely blue with puffy white clouds we don’t often get in Northern California. I walked around the areas near the house that are protected from the wind and sketched some more intimate landscapes.
I have been percolating an idea to paint the hill and field next to the farmhouse in varying lights. Perched at the desk inside, I’ve been noticing and sketching the shadow lines at various times of the day. Monet did his haystacks, perhaps I’ll do my field.
OK, so where are the paintings? They are drying in the barn, and not ready to be photographed yet. But as soon as they are, I'll start posting them :-)
About the artist
Linda Rosso is a California artist who delights in the colors she sees out of the corners of her eyes. Read more...
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