Sunday, 21 July 2013

Oil Painting 3 - Chinatown, San Francisco

Probably the busiest pavements in San Francisco, Grant Street, is never quiet through Chinatown with 24hr bustle.The deliberately 'over the top' oriental architecture, the masses of lanterns, signage and packed street level shops culminate in an intense jigsaw of colour that would translate well into oils.

There seems to be a lot of large street furniture in the US that can be useful to a street painter to tuck in-between and keep the hazardous easel legs, turpentine and oil paint out of the crowds.

I seemed to attract a large number of older generation Chinese men to really intensely study my painting process and spoke with a few fellow painters despite a language barrier. I think there must be an enormous appreciation of craft in this demographic.

The composition i have chosen isn't 'neck-craningly' wide, instead wanting to have the majority of the picture plane filled with Grant St.'s cacophony of colour. Just as you need dark around light to know that it is light, I have brought into the frame quite a plain, spacious sunlit wall on the right as a breather, that highlights the depth and attack on the senses of the main street.

Oil Painting 2 - Up on the Roof

Roof terraces have always had an appeal to me and I am sure to other cold English people living in rain dripping pitched-roof houses and watching American television.

So now it is my turn to share in the Californian sun, with our accommodation having a flat roof with access and a fascinating vista right the way around. From up here we can see cable cars, the sea, Alcatraz and the Sister Act church, as well as Lombard Street, some Steve McQueen 'Bullit' and 'The Rock' car chase scene locations and even some of Scorpio's hideouts from 'Dirty Harry'.

This painting is a morning view, I often try and start something that isn't too challenging to travel to for in the mornings, so having this lot literally upstairs was perfect. Early mornings in San Francisco are quite misty so this painting started around 9.30am until noon over 5 days. I was keen to capture some typical Victorian-style colourful architecture along with the cable car route, and the distinctive incline streets and flat intersections.

It was quite a perilous place to paint with no rail or barrier which I have tried to relate with an exaggerated pull down to the nadir vanishing point.

The harsh relatively continuous sunlight is facilitating some enjoyable experimentation with injecting strong colour into shaded regions.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Oil Painting 1 - The Crookedest Street in the World

Oil Painting1 - 'The Crookedest Street in the World'
We allowed ourselves a few days much needed R and R on arrival to get over the jet lag, see some sights and get to grips with our new surroundings before sourcing the equipment and starting work.

Our accommodation is in North Beach relatively close to this landmark - Lombard Street.

You probably already know this street it has featured in that many films, photographs and computer games. Hitchcock used it in Vertigo and it played a popular role in Grand Theft Auto.

The street used to be a straight 27% gradient drop before town planners introduced 8 hairpins to slow down the speeding Model T Fords in 1922. With the equally famous cable street cars dropping you off at the top, it's fun to walk down the hill amongst the flower beds and watch the drivers winding down the hill.

It's a difficult subject to capture despite everyone having a go with their camera. The obvious vantage point is at the bottom of the hill looking back at all 8 turns although I have attempted a different view that hopefully locates the viewer in the centre of the action rather than a postcard view from a distance.

I have tried to reflect the steepness of the hill by flipping the canvas into a portrait and condensing a 180 degree sweeping viewpoint, looking both up and down the hill from midway, into the tall format. This is a similar approach to a previous subject I painted in Shrewsbury, a steep winding road into the County town known as Wyle Cop (read more about that painting here ) -

This has given quite a 'cartoon' feel to a very cartoony landscape full of bright colours in the Californian sun, epitomised most by the resulting near vertical car near the centre of the composition.

The bright colours I am using I sourced over here, are a range of Gamblin oil colours made in the US. I decided it better to buy over here rather than ship all the equipment.

The curves in this section of the road and the curved sweep of the painting contrast the strict grid format of the rest of San Francisco seen in this painting further down Lombard Street as it heads up Telegraph Hill towards Coit Tower. The other landmark squeezed into this composition (and slightly enlarged to be noticeable) is the Trans-Atlantic Pyramid Tower.

Friday, 12 July 2013


This blog is an attempt to informally document our 2013 painting excursion across the United States of America. the project was Kickstarter funded, our first attempt at crowd-funding, and you can see the project video, and what amount was raised for what rewards here -

Our previous painting project 'Year of the Boat' involved purchasing a 60ft Narrowboat and touring the inland waterways of Britain producing nearly 80 oil paintings all 100% painted directly in front of the motif. See the blog for that adventure here -

Whilst the Year of the Boat has proved very successful in having a mobile studio setup, what was a stressful element was the constant travelling and pushing to finish the tour spending only a few days in each spot. This may sound perfectly acceptable, even luxurious to most, but the practice of painting takes a little longer to scratch the surface of an area, ideally having 3 to 4 days with each piece of work.

So with this excursion to the US we have adopted a different format, limiting the travel and basing ourselves in two major spots for longer periods - San Francisco and New York. Two very different but culturally rich, iconic locations I had never experienced before where we have booked into self contained accommodation for as long as we can afford. So we have just over three weeks in San Francisco in July, a short road trip to Yosemite National Park and Las Vegas, and then flying to New York for the full month of August painting the Big Apple.

The main purpose of the trip is to try and produce a large strong body of en plain air paintings around these World Art Capitals. I shall not be selling the work whilst in the US but ideally I would like to use this showcase of work to develop contacts in the New York art scene that would enable future visits and he stocking of US art galleries.

Wish me luck, and hope you enjoy the ride!