Kern County Plein Air 2017

Last week was spent in Bakersfield, California for my third year of participation in the Kern County Plein Air Invitational. I felt like I needed to redeem myself after the debacle that was last year’s event. For reference, please check out my blog post from last year: Link.

This year went a lot more smoothly. I came in with a plan to maximize my effort in the event. I got away from trying to do larger paintings from life (something that doesn’t come naturally to me) and instead focused on just how I like to paint from life, which are small studies in the range of 6×8 inches. I took them as far as I could within the confines of two hours. For something that small, I can get pretty far. The only thing that gets in the way is the size of the detail at that size.

They gave us “strongly suggested” locations for us to go to every day. I went to each of the locations, but some of them I obviously like more than others. The first place was Pioneer Village at the Kern County Museum. It is a “village” made of historical buildings, houses, and recreations of old California shops and habitats arranged in sort of an outdoor mall that you can do a walking tour of. There were some neat old Victorians that may have made for good subject matter, but this scene’s composition spoke to me.

6×8 inches. Oil on linen mounted on board. Available.

One of the places I really wanted to revisit since last year was west Highway 58.Past McKittrick on the hills it becomes a lot more green and you get to higher elevation. The wildflowers begin to peek out. I found an awesome view that you could see a big part of the southern San Joaquin Valley beyond the hills. There were these big masses of junipers that helped frame the foreground. It was a decent painting, but of one of my favorite places in Kern County.

“Beyond The Mass Of Junipers” 6×6 inches. Oil on canvas mounted on board. Available.

On my way back to my host’s place I stopped on the side of the road just outside of Buttonwillow. I really liked the dusk light on the distant hills. It got dark too quickly to get very far on it but I still like the feeling captured in it.

“Dusty Dusk” 5×7 inches. Oil on linen mounted on board. Available.

The next morning was spent at Hart Park Lake in northwest Bakersfield. There were a good handful of us who painted there so it was nice. It was a really nice morning too, which was probably why so many people stuck around to paint there.We visually entertained the park goers, and most of us walked away with nice paintings.

“A Serene Feeling” 6×8 inches. oil on linen mounted on board. Sold

I drove all the way out to Kernville. I love that drive out east through the Kern River Canyon. This year the river was raging. I didn’t find anything I really wanted to paint around Kernville or Lake Isabella. I had to stop at Kern River Brewing Company, though. That place is awesome! On my way back I stopped at a pullout in the canyon and knocked out this quick 5×7 inch painting.

5×7 inches. Oil on linen mounted on board. Available.

I did some more scoping out during that evening and ended up near this orange grove east of Bakersfield near Arvin. The orange trees were blossoming, and it smelled glorious! I was happy to paint there just for that. I like this painting but it was too sketchy to put up for sale. It just feels unfinished. I am likely going to use it as a study for a larger painting later.

5×7 inches. Oil on linen mounted on board. NFS.

Day 3 had us go out near the Bakersfield National Cemetary. It was pretty because it was out next to the hills, and had a high enough elevation to have a good view of the valley. I found a nice little pullout that gave me a good place to set up for the morning.

“The Hills Are Alive” 6×8 in. oil on linen mounted on board. Available.

I did a lot of not painting that day, and didn’t go back out to paint until late afternoon. This was a scene that I found while driving earlier in the morning. I actually worked on this one a little more after I took this picture but this still gives you a good idea of how it turned out.

“One Of The Few Left” 6×6 in. oil on linen mounted on board. Available via Kern Arts Council.

This is probably one of the most abstract expressionist plein air paintings I’ve done. I was trying to capture a fleeting light effect. It’s so difficult because the color of your canvas is influenced by the color of the light, so as soon as you remove it from that light’s influence, the effect you thought you captured might be removed from your finished canvas. This was a pretty minimal picture, but I worked on it a lot, because I was chasing that effect as the light kept changing on me.

8×12 inches. Oil on linen mounted on board. NFS.

The next day was spent painitng at Tejon Ranch. it wasn’t as spectacular as last year which had a beautiful bloom of poppies within the canyon. Most of the day was overcast, as well. That also put a little damper on the enjoyment but it was still nice. I found a scene I enjoyed enough to paint, and I think I did a good job recording the light in the canyon. I am going to work on it a bit more to refine it and send it to a gallery. I feel like it’s almost there.

11×14 inches. oil on linen mounted on board. NFS(for now)

Because the light wasn’t amazing, I wasn’t so motivated to paint so I explored the area instead. Tejon Ranch is private property, so you need someone with access to go beyond the gates. Might as well take full advantage if you are so lucky. I found a scene with paintability even under flat light. There was a small herd of cows that were staring at me the entire time. On the path there I sort of spooked them, then they all just turned to me from a distance. They started with fear, then went to cautious curiosity, then indifference once they assessed I wasn’t a threat, and finally they ignored me and went to graze somewhere else. At one point they were about 15 feet away from me. Do cows ever spontaneously rush at you? I did my best not to frighten them any more but I wanted to keep them at bay just in case.

“Banquet For Bovines” 14×11 in. oil on linen mounted on board. Available via Kern Arts Council.

There was still a little time left in the day to paint after leaving Tejon Ranch. It wasn’t too far away from WInd Wolves Preserve. I only had about an hour to try to find something to knock out real quick. I found the flowers I wanted at Tejon hiding over here.

“Painted Hills” 5×7 in. oil on linen board. Private Collection.

On the last day of painting, we were required to do our Quick Draw in downtown Bakersfield. It’s already not that inspiring of an area, but to put an overcast on the sky, and wind? Now it’s a real test. I did what I could. I don’t think this is a great painting but it was adequate. I was able to sell it, at least.

“Who’s Playing” 5×7 inches. Oil on linen mounted on board. Sold.

As of this post being published, the Arts Council of Kern website hasn’t updated the website with the award winning paintings. However, you can use this link to check back in and see who are the winners:

Bonus: On my way home I went on Highway 58 west to San Luis Obispo. I wanted to visit the Carrizo Plain National Monument to see if the wildflowers were in bloom. Boy were they ever! I’ve never seen anything like it! Check out the video I shot to get some sense of what it was like out there. It doesn’t compare to being there in person of course, but I hope you enjoy it.

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