Plein Air at McNee Ranch State Park

I woke up early yesterday and drove down the coast from San Francisco to take in the early morning hours at the foot of Mt. Montara and do some plein air painting.  I took pictures with my cell phone camera to help share the experience.  After a short climb up some steep trails with my easel and supplies in tow I settled on a spot where the sun was casting a shadow over the side of a hill dotted with trees.  Here is the spot with the lighting as I painted it.


And here is my basic setup for oil painting outdoors:


I forgot two important things on this outing, water and bug spray.  I should know by now that each of these can make painting much more pleasant but I still managed to really enjoy the day.

The sun was shining but with the Pacific Ocean just to the right of the picture and a bit of fog hanging around, I felt a chill and a coolness to the landscape so I started with an ultramarine blue underpainting to help relate the finished painting to how I experienced the morning.


Over the next couple of hours, I developed each section using the underpainting as a guide for value relationships and leaving small flakes of the underpainting exposed here and there in the final painting which took on a cool and shadowy feeling.


By the time I finished painting, the light had changed quite a bit and the hill in the foreground no longer had the large shadow cast over its side, as you can see here:


Changes in light, clouds, and weather present some special challenges to painting outside but I always try to keep in mind that I’m not copying what I’m seeing, I’m responding to it and the painting takes on a life of its own at some point.

This was my first trip to Mt. Montara at McNee Ranch State Park but I’ll definitely be going back for the beautiful views and relative seclusion from life in the city.  I’m finding that the bay area has quite a few nearby place where you can forget how close you are to a big city and explore nature.  I’m sure there will be more examples of plein air paintings in the coming weeks.  Thanks for reading and, always, thanks for your comments!


6 thoughts on “Plein Air at McNee Ranch State Park

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