Even though Capitola Plein Air is in its third year, this was a new event for me. I was glad that they had an event so late into the season, since I got the plein air bug fairly late in the application year. I am fortunate to live in California, which has no shortage of plein air events. I also have gotten into camping during these events as well, as I have been doing so for the last 3 events I’ve participated in. I sacrifice some creature comforts, but since housing is more and more scarce during plein air events, it opens up more possibilities for me in terms of potential money saved. Camping near the coast in any season can be a bit dubious in any season (forget what you think you know about beaches, California’s coast can get COLD) but with it being November? I was a bit nervous. I ended up camping at Sunset Beach State Park because it was the only site left. I would have liked to have been closer. I ended up about 25 minutes away.

Day 1

I got to Capitola at around 2 PM, checked in and got my canvases “stamped”(in this case, stickered). I only had so much time to get to my campsite, set up tent, and come back to Capitola to meet my fellow artists at the Shadowbrook restaurant for the mixer. I got everything set up and got back to Capitola around 4 PM. It was nice to see so many familiar faces in the show. I’d say I knew about 13 of the 40 artists, which is pretty good for an event like this. I got to meet some new cats to the scene: Franklin Lei and Heather Ihn Martin. This was their first foray into serious plein air competition, so I gave them as much advice as I could before I went to catch the last bit of light of the first day of competition.

6x6_CPA2017_Sergio_Lopez_Against The_Waning_Light
“Against The Waning Light”
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I painted this one very quickly. I wanted to treat it as a warm-up. The silhouette shape of the big eucalyptus appealed to me.

There was plenty of talk of painting nocturnes at the mixer and I wasn’t done with painting yet. As I was driving around I saw some folks setting up their lights and easels for some night painting. I ran into Rich Brimer and Anette Power painting the wharf from a cliffside parking lot near the Venetians. Rich had a really cool lighting set-up that put ours to shame, but he was gracious enough to let me borrow his headlamp.

“Capitola By Human Light”
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I prefer these types of nocturnes to be loose. There is so much inherent mystery in the night that it makes sense to make a painting that invites the mind to put the painting together in your own eyes. I heard a lot of mentions that it seemed like a fire was happening in the painting. I can see that.

Day 2

This was going to be the first serious day of painting for me.  It started off as a nice warm and sunny morning. I went down to Pleasure Point, which is a popular surf spot for the locals. As I was painting this one, I was told about the story of Jack O’Neill, and how he put a lot of his own money into retrofitting the cliffs against erosion before he passed away. He had a lot more things to say, but as far as chatty onlookers go, he was one of the more interesting folks on the spectrum.

“Jack’s Place”
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The weather was changing to something more gray, and impending rain in the horizon made it sort of tricky to figure out what I was going to paint next. I scoped out the area and found this park near the beach that I hiked around. I liked the big groves of eucalyptus that lined the creek, and there was potential in depicting a sliver of the neighborhood surrounding the park.

“Through The Eucalyptus”
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 It ended up being one of my favorite paintings that I did during the event.


It was getting late in the afternoon at this point. The sun was starting to peek out a bit, and I still had yet to paint near the main tourist area of town. I took my time to find a scene I enjoyed. This view had a lot going for it. As a painter I enjoyed the design of it, and I think there is enough for the casual viewer to take in. I think I should have drawn this one out better in the beginning, and worked out a couple of design issues, but I didn’t have enough time with the light changing the way it was. This is one of those times where it becomes very difficult to be an alla prima plein air painter.

Day 3

In the morning I did a little exploring of the parks near Capitola that had views of it. I found plenty of paintable subjects but since it had to be of Capitola for the show, it was too limiting, from a distance. I came back to town and found a vantage point from a cliff above Capitola Avenue. This was another complex piece that required more planning than I gave it. The flat light was both the blessing and curse. It also started to rain a bit toward the end, which made me paint a little hastier than I wanted to. I may decide to redo this one as a studio piece. We’ll see.

The rain was off-and-on for the rest of the day so I hung out indoors until I went back out to catch the last light of the day. This was a fun task that I gave myself to make an interesting minimal composition.

8x12_CPA2017_Sergio_Lopez_Into The_Lonely_Ocean
“Into The Lonely Ocean”
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Day 4

This was the one day that we were required to paint in downtown Capitola. The day got more and more beautiful as it went on, so when I started, it was pretty cloudy, and we even got rained on for a short time, but after that it just got better and better. This was a very complex scene. Even though I simplified it plenty, I still ended up with a pretty complex painting. I wish I had an extra 11×14 in. frame that I could have used to frame this one up too.

“On Capitola Avenue”
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For my final painting of the event, I went into the neighborhood near downtown and found this really  cool Victorian house with an interesting color scheme. I thought a small canvas would go well with the intimate view I chose to paint.

“Cherry House”
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The reception was at the gymnasium of a local middle school. Hardly the prestigious area for an art show of a certain caliber, but I understand that you just have to make do with what you are given. Laurie Kersey was the judge, and we brought in our work in the morning so she could decide our fate.

A fun aside: as we were waiting for the judging to be decided, Franklin and company decided to set up and paint while we waited! It was great to see that fresh energy brought to a plein air event since I hardly see it amongst the veterans. It was infectious enough that I decided to sketch them sketching in my notebook. I was pretty rusty so you won’t see those here, but I was inspired by their energy and enthusiasm.

Other cool things that I saw were fellow painter Scott Hammil’s awesome truck-bed plein air set-up. He build himself a pull-out mobile studio complete with a bed. It’s perfect for weekend painting getaways or car camping at events like this. I’m very jealous.

I am happy with the amount of friends of mine who got awards, including myself. I had a great time at this event and would recommend anyone who isn’t too far away to check it out. Sales were pretty light, but I hope that can change next year.

To check out more pictures from the show, click here: https://capitolapleinair.com/

Just for fun, if you are interested in checking out this new concept for my Youtube channel, please check out my other blog post that I created while in Capitola:

Swag Bag “Unboxing” – Episode 1: Capitola Plein Air 2017

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