Cloud Studies

Cloud Studies

I was going to be on my own for an hour while waiting for an event. I didn’t know what I’d find in this recently opened park but I was prepared to paint plein air, even though the weather seemed iffy. The park itself is essentially a series of city-block-sized, flat-topped artificial “hills” on whose cambered sides is planted what they’re calling a “sea of flowers.” On top are a few bits of sports-themed topiary and some cartoon characters. The current blooms were muted, and the square hills looked more like bunkers to me. I walked the perimeter. I climbed up top again and looked around. Really? Was my imagination so dull that I could find nothing to paint?

Ten kilometers away, however, winds from the northeast were driving heavy clouds across the Tatun Group, a cluster of volcanic peaks that tops out at 1,120 meters (3,675 feet). Glad to be in the rain shadow, I sat on the grass and watched great curls of mist roll down from the summits. After awhile, I pulled out my DIY Inktense Plein Air kit for a couple of small studies. The Arches rough  watercolor paper doesn’t like to be scrubbed, so I worked it as little as possible. Quick though they were, these are among my more successful attempts at painting this kind of weather with the Derwent Inktense ink blocks.



Napa Backyard

NapaBackyard_InformalA friend has graciously invited us to stay in her house in California’s famed Napa Valley. Every morning, we awaken to a beautiful dawn. On any given day, we might see low clouds, patchy fog, or a bright blue sky. The clouds are usually long gone by noon, and the midday heat is a bit easier to take when one can sit inside where it’s cooler, and look out the large windows. Evenings can be brisk and breezy. A couple of times, we even built a fire in the fire pit so we could sit outside and watch the stars appear.

The backyard here is actually a small vineyard surrounded by classic Napa trees: pines, redwoods, oaks, maples and eucalyptus. I’m nursing a bad case of poison oak just now, but I can still paint, and I’m grateful for this marvelous view! This painting was a very quick study, focusing on shadows and capturing the various greens.

Derwent Inktense on Arches rough 100% rag paper
5.9×8.75”/15x22cm – plein air

Poplar Beach

PoplarBayLiveShotFour of us went for a walk on Poplar Beach, south of Half Moon Bay. All told, we had 10 legs. I saw this gully and went over there to do some painting. That left 8 legs to keep going. Sometime later, Ping turned around, leaving 6 legs to continue onward. Shya has 2 legs and Ellie has 4. Guess who went the farthest?

In any case, I was happy to sit on the sand and paint the crumbling cliffs. The coastal pines rimmed the skyline. A little breeze shifted the sand. I got lost in the painting, and suddenly it was time to get back before the parking meter expired.

As is so often the case, I had to run back to where everyone else would be waiting for me. This time, I was barefoot, though, holding my sandals.

When I caught up with my wife, we realized we were still 6 legs short. Plus, two of those legs had the key to the four wheels. Okay, yes: technically it’s five, if you include the steering wheel.

But who’s counting?

Anyway, here’s the informal picture of the finished painting. I did some details after we got home.


Coit Tower

CoitLiveShot_20170623The others had gone for a walk while I had to wrap up some other business, but I still had an hour and a half before lunch. I left the apartment where we’re staying in San Francisco, and headed out to the waterfront again. I wanted to see the Coit Tower again. When my wife Ping and I first visited San Francisco several years ago, we hiked up to the tower, and, just a couple of days ago, our friend Shya took us up there for a view of the city.

You can see the tower from several places on the waterfront, but it’s not particularly close. I found a decent spot by the Exploratorium where I had a clear view of it. The wind blew strongly enough that I wondered if I would lose one of the water brush covers! The ink dried very fast, but I was able to get a pretty good likeness of the tower in about half an hour.

Then I had to run back, so I wouldn’t be late for lunch!




The final image.




Under the Bridge

Bay Bridge From Pier 24 SFO Inktense 22x15cmWe’re spending some time in San Francisco with a good friend. The first day, we walked along the waterfront. I noticed a nice spot with a particular view of the Bay Bridge. When I had a chance, I went back down there with the newest iteration of my Inktense plein-air kit and found a seat on a big block of concrete, just to one side of Pier 24.

I was just starting to sketch in the basic layout on my Taiwanese “Fuang” watercolor paper when an Indian gentleman took an interest and sat down beside me to watch. I said hello, and we chatted while I was sketching.

“They just took your picture,” he told me, indicating a couple that had just passed by. “You’re world famous now!”

He was still with me when the sketch was done. As I brought out the Inktense kit and started painting with it, he told me proudly that his son does design work on computers. I enjoyed our chat.

“Okay, sir,” he said, as he stood up. “You have a good day.”

I definitely did. I hope he did, too.


Inktense Plein-Air Kit 2.0

DIY Inktense Plein-Air Kit

From the old “Mickey Mouse” Inktense Plein-Air Kit to the new TOBOT!

I’ve been working with Derwent’s Inktense ink blocks for years now. They’ve become my go-to medium for painting plein-air and they’ve gone all around the world with me. Since I’m often traveling with a group, I have to paint quickly (when I have time at all), so I need gear that is light and compact, and that takes 60 seconds to set up or pack away again.

I designed the first kit to allow me to use the ink blocks like pan watercolors. The drawback to my first design (encasing each block in clay) was that I found it difficult to get at every last bit of the ink. The little corners were hard to reach with the brush.

Replacing the fully-embedded blocks proved risky, too. I had some trouble surgically removing the nearly-empty section and replacing it with a new one.

The main difference in Version 2.0 is that I am setting the blocks on EDGE, with half of the block exposed. This way, I don’t have to try to clean so many corners in order to use all the ink.

I’ve also eliminated a couple of colors I didn’t use (including White). I’ll keep you posted on how it works for me. Check out the video to watch me put this kit together from scratch.