Plein Air

A Different Place Entirely

“A different place entirely” is how a painter friend described Meeker Slough in a blog entry. One of the locations I chose for our Plein Air Fridays class, the slough in my opinion deserves five stars as an East Bay painting spot. It is mostly accessible through the part of Richmond’s Bay Trail that borders the Marina Way development and perhaps because of that it feels far, far away.

Photo of students painting at Meeker Slough.

The wind blows through our gear as we get ready to start painting.

“An old mudflat channel along the Richmond Southeast Shoreline that became constrained from over 100 years of urban development starting in the late 1800s,” the slough used to be considered one of one of the ten most toxic spots in the Bay Area. Thanks to the cleaning efforts of UC Berkeley, it is possible to pass through without being significantly exposed to PCBs, arsenic, lead and mercury. It is a Clapper Rail habitat and
Photo of a female student in front of an easel.

Working in perspective to capture the vast expanse that is the Slough.

home to numerous other species. This is apparent on any visit as the birds don’t seem to mind the warning signs posted on the fence bordering the slough.

Despite this history, Meeker Slough has become a painting destination in the East Bay, perhaps because of the beauty of Richmond’s Inner Harbor, or because of how distant it is from the freeway noise. In October, the grasses turn orange, and during winter our mild weather makes it possible to paint in less windy conditions. Of Meeker Slough, painter Karen Zullo Sherr said,

Every time we are there people want to go back again. It is actually a very modest place on the Bay trail so close to the condos on the bay in Richmond. But the more you look at the place the more you see to paint. Last time we were there it was high tide and it was completeley different. A different place entirely.

Maybe it is this variation what makes us return. I do know I have sold each and every one of my Slough paintings. And while summertime tends to come with the winds that bring down our foggy skies, that part of Richmond tends to be sunny and warmer than other East Bay spots. To see some artistic interpretations of Meeker Slough by the East Bay Landscape Painters, please visit this link.

Blake Garden Did Not Disappoint

Photo of a woman with a viewfinder

Finding the best composition in a field of flowers.

Photo of a man painting

A sunlit path makes very dark shadows.

Photo of a mom and daughter

These students are clearly having too much fun!

Yesterday was our first Plein Air Fridays session at the Blake Garden. The day was beautiful and the temperature, perfect. This Berkeley garden did not disappoint those of us who were hoping for an afternoon free of cold wind and overcast skies. Everybody was on time and we met near the reflecting pool, where dappled light dotted the grassy area around it.
After a demo on how to use a viewfinder and how start an acrylic painting, the students dispersed and I began making rounds. I forgot how much walking is involved when students are spread out. The Blake Garden spans ten acres!
There are two spaces left in this class. Registration ends June 30.

Blake Garden Delights

For our first visit to the Blake Garden, I thought I should talk about its enduring appeal to east bay painters. While the garden “contains a large diversity of plant materials that grow in our Mediterranean type climate” as well as “new and historic garden design and structures” I’ve long suspected this is not why artists flock to this enclosed space. It is more because, unlike other (and perhaps more) popular gardens in the area, this one packs a lot into a relatively small and it seems to have been designed with the plein air painter in mind. No, there aren’t a lot of benches, but there is plenty of shade near its most popular attractions, and a high number of secluded nooks and crannies where one may paint undisturbed. If to this you add that it lies nestled in a very quiet neighborhood, protected from the worst winds, you realize what a jewel it is.

No matter what the result is, the garden encourages you to reflect on your work. This is a place where you can hear your own thoughts, where you can listen to your quiet artist voice. Seven years ago, I was able to write this after a day of painting at the garden: “I didn’t feel inspired by the reflecting pool or anything else. For some reason, i didn’t feel very talkative and retreated into the northern part of the garden. At the bottom, I saw a pool formed by creek water and then I saw a bench. It felt like the place was beckoning me, so I stayed. Onlookers had to leave the path to come see what I was doing, so I felt safe. I was going for the feeling of the place. I love this painting.”

I miss dearly a painter friend of mine, who often wrote about the Blake Garden on our East Bay Landscape Painter’s blog. Even though she was a fantastic painter, on some days she struggled, and let her frustration flow freely: “This painting was a struggle to work on, after my easel broke and I had to work on the ground. The colors developed in a way I liked but in the end I lost some of the composition and may work on it from memory. I like Blake Garden but never get a painting I like there.” But other days were better: “What a good idea it was to go to Blake Gardens this week. Every year when the fruit trees start to bloom I want to find a place to paint them. The cherry and plum are blooming on Thousand Oaks.”

What a wonderful assurance it must be to know that no matter how our paintings may turn out, the Blake Garden will always welcome us with open arms.

Plein Air Class Starts June 2

photo of two women students painting outdoors.

Students bring a variety of setups to this outdoor class

Dust off that acrylic or oil set you received last christmas. Act on your resolution to spend more time on your own development. or finally embark on an activity that brings the satisfaction of learning something new. Learn how to paint the sights you love with as much or as little feedback as you desire. Use the media of your choice. I can help you with acrylic, oil, watercolor, gouache or pastel. We’ll spend two weeks at each painting location so that students can either begin a new painting or complete the one begun in the previous session.

I am excited to announce that will be teaching this popular class again this summer, but this time I will be offering plein air in a different way. Students will be able to buy a package of six Friday afternoon classes and take them in June, July or the beginning of August. The fee is $200. Learn more here!