Plein Air- Point Cavallo, Sausalito

Last weekend, me and a few friends went out and painted plein air at Point Cavallo, in Sausalito.  There are some wonderful views out to the Golden Gate Bridge and SF from there, but I couldn’t find a particularly good composition.  Instead, I focused on these bold, white military buildings with strong contrast. 

I liked how the orange/red roofs popped against the green background, as well as the clean, hard shadow lines.  The painting took about 1 ½ hours on site, with this  preliminary sketch taking about 20 minutes ahead of that.

Joseph sort of poo-poo’d the notion of preliminary sketches that take too long (although he was quite game for very quick, compositional thumbnails), but as a more novice painter, I find spending a bit of time on a preliminary sketch helps me see perspective, assess values, and decide which details I’d like to remove and which I’d like to accentuate.  Basically, it’s a getting to know you phase.  Then, when I get to work on my painting, I can keep my linework to a minimum, and instead can concentrate on “painting with my brush and not with my pencil.” 

The more I paint, the more I feel like this early “brainwork” phase is very critical, because it lets me build a roadmap for how I want to build my painting, sequentially.  I try my very best not to jump into the painting without first having spent a few minutes just standing there and __really thinking a little bit__ about just how I’m going to build the painting.  This wash will go first… While it’s wet I’ll do this affect to this area… After that dries, I’ll do this local color for the roof… I’ll then drop these shadows onto that same area wet on dry, towards the end… These details will happen last… That sort of stuff. Of course, it’s just a road map, and stuff happens along the way, but I find it very useful to have that basic mental structure to build your painting around.

From there, I worked on my painting.  I laid my wash in the background, cutting around the building and chimneys.  What a pain!  :PI brought that around to foreground, where I played with some wet into wet textures.  Before the background dried, I then went back up and did the soft, distant trees.  When that dried, I did the local color for roofs, and the first wash of shadows down below, where the porch is.  By then I could also put the shadows in the foreground.  Then, back up to the roofs, where I lay the cast shadows in, as well as the darker shadows under the porch.  Finally, the very dark, opaque foreground trees and the people walking, as well as some detailing in the background. 

I was pretty satisfied with the result, but later, on coming home, I looked the painting over and decided I wanted to change a few simple things.  A very common thing for me with plein air work.  I decided I wanted that white face of the building to really pop.  So, I darkened up the shadow in the foreground, as well as some of the shadows under the porch and on the roof.  I also felt like a bit of my brushwork was sloppy on the roof line, so I mixed up a very opaque green and cut those lines around the chimneys a bit. For stuff like this, I sometimes use Chromium Oxide with some Dioxazine Purple or other colors.  Chromium Oxide is, frankly, a pretty pukey, dull green.  Not very sexy.  But it’s opaque as hell, and this is very useful at these later stages.  I’ve tried doing some of this sort of “late in the game” work before with other colors, only to be able to see through the brushwork.  Not desired!  Instead, I do a bit of the detailing with this pigment mixed in, and it really helps push my values. 

Here's the two versions side by side.  The differences are subtle, but the values have shifted in the shadows, and some of the cut lines around the form of the roof are much cleaner.  Note the change in the foreground shadow as well.

First version

First version

Final version

Final version

In the end, I ended up with this painting.  Not too shabby for a morning’s work!  J I was a happy camper, and best of all, I got to go paint and chill out with Orin, Yvonne, and Efrain.  Yay!