Noticing a Brilliant Blue Sky

Noticing a Brilliant Blue Sky

Mixed media substrates on wood, paper, and cardboard

On Friday, July 27, about 1:00 p.m. I drove into the Livermore – Pleasanton area and marveled at how blue the sky was as I descended from the Altamont. On the way back home about an hour and a half later, I drove through the back roads as has been my habit ever since I commuted into Livermore daily in the early 2000’s. I enjoy checking on the crops, seeing the animals, and the circling hawks.

Altamont Pass Road winds through the golden sun-baked hills which now are mostly black from grass fires. I again thrilled at the blue sky behind the turning, white, windmill blades. The road joins Grant Line a short way before it crosses the two canals that move water south through the central valley. Between the canals is the Mountain House Bar & Grill where Altamont Road heads north and Grant Line continues east.

Gesso with mesh on cardboard

There is a little rise in the road as it goes over the second canal, and from there I can look out over the whole valley between Tracy and Lodi up to the north. There is a grey-purple blanket hovering over the Central Valley. The sky in Stockton has been a dirty white all week. To the west of us there was a fire on Wednesday and the air smelled of smoke on Thursday. The Yosemite area to the east of us has been burning all week. Friday, Redding, quite a bit north of us, was burning. No matter which way the air moves, we get the smog.

This summer we have had a breeze almost every day, and some days it has been windy, but by the end of the week little air was moving. My plan for last week had been to put in as much yard time as I could, to get finished with the spring clean up which I normally complete in May. The part of the yard that isn’t cleaned yet is in sun all afternoon. With the temperature near 100º, I’m only out there from 6:30 p.m. to almost dark.

A week ago, I had set out materials on my work table for making collage, but couldn’t seem to make

Gesso with marks and paint wash

a start. I decided to look at a mini-course on Jeanne Oliver’s network ( called “Inquire Within”, where the instructor starts with her method of preparing a surface which can be scratched into leaving marks when it dries. Or, the gesso mix can be put on through a stencil to add texture in a specific pattern. She uses gesso thickened with plaster of Paris, which I don’t have, but I mixed in baking soda instead.

I applied her method to eight different surfaces: watercolor paper, wood panels, and several kinds of cardboard. After the gesso dries, she rubs acrylic paint on the surface and then wipes off most of the paint before it dries, leaving a light color tone with darker areas where the scratch marks or a stencil were used.

Gesso through stencil on wood

Most of what she is doing is basic stuff I’ve heard or seen before, but it is good to refresh my memory and get me actually doing something with materials. In the next videos she demo’s selecting images and parts of photos and how she incorporates them into a piece so they don’t look like magazine cutouts.

While she is instructing on technique, she is talking through her process of choosing and combining images, deciding where to paint, then changing her mind and doing something else. She reverses something that doesn’t work out well, and applies a different technique. Hence, the title: “Inquire Within” by checking with her inner feeling about the piece as she goes along.

Gesso stencil on watercolor paper
Canvas on cardboard with gessoed stencil

So far I only have substrates waiting for images, but at least I’ve started some work. It doesn’t look like the heat and bad air are going away anytime soon.

Gesso and paint on wood with string that was on the brush


Maybe I’ll actually complete something.


One thought on “Noticing a Brilliant Blue Sky

  1. I gave this a try. I did several practice pieces and was happy with one! I didn’t get the thickness that I was looking for though. Also broke the bank at Hobby Lobby and Michaels this month already!!!! Oh well I’m having fun!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *