Posts tagged Volcan Mountain
Late Summer Volcan View

Late Summer Volcan View

18x24 oil on panel

This piece completes my 10 painting series examining the plant life on Volcan Mountain in Julian California over the course of the last year. In late August the grasses on the mountain have been bleached by the sun and and rustle in the hot breezes that move about the mountain. The grassy ridges and meadows seem to bounce the brilliance of the of the sun back to the sky. Light and heat seem to come from everywhere. 

Walking down the trail after the long hot hike to the 5,500 foot summit I was struck by this lovely long view up the westerly face of the Volcan Mountains. It's a timeless sight, a succession of ridge lines and valleys, habitats in large part still untouched. 

I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to spend a year scrutinizing this beautiful environment under the sponsorship of the Marjorie and Joseph Rubenson Endowment for Art and Science of the Volcan Mountain Foundation. My lifelong love of the wild lands of Southern California has become a driving mission to preserve and protect wherever we can. As my knowledge and understanding of the the importance of wild spaces has widened, my commitment has deepened. The hard work of the Volcan Mountain Foundation is a gift to the future. It's fight to preserve and protect over 17,000 acres since 1988 has protected the headwaters of the watershed that feeds the San Diego Basin, and has preserved the incredible biodiversity of wildlife and wild lands.

The soul opens watching a hawk circle in an updraft, startling a doe and her fawns in a grassy meadow, hearing the throaty jumble of sound a wild turkey unleashes from it's perch high in a tree top, and knowing that all of us are carefully observed by a thriving community of mountain lions.

Knowing that the Manzanita, Oak, Cedar, grasses and shrubs move through their reproductive cycles, producing flowers, seeds, nuts and berries in an unending cycle of regeneration is deeply reassuring. It is in the natural setting that the continuum of time is felt as much as it is understood. 

We are forever in debt to those who combine conservationist though with sustained hard work to preserve and protect our natural world. I offer heart felt thanks to the Volcan Mountain Foundation for their exceptional good work, and to the Marjorie and Joseph Rubenson Endowment for the opportunity to develop paintings that express my gratitude for all the Foundation has accomplished.


I will present the series to the Volcan Mountain Foundation and their supporters at a fund raising dinner on December 2. It will move to the Julian Public Library, where I will conduct a "Conversation" about the paintings and the experience of being an Artist-in-Residence on December 3 at 10:30. The show will continue throughout December and then move down slope to the Ramona Library. The exhibition will continue to move down the watershed to San Diego. Specific dates to be arranged.

Cedar Grove
Cedar Grove
Volcan Mountain
12x16 Oil on Panel

Roughly three quarters of the way to the 6000 foot peak of Volcan Mountain the trail plunges into a stand of Incense Cedars. For most of the year the deep shade is welcome, and at others the shelter these enormous trees offer is welcome when wind and rain descend on the mountain. In the hush that the trees and their feathery branches create, powerful trunks rise like ancient doric columns holding up the sky. Their erect and powerful presence is counterbalanced by curving branches and soft, feathery greenery. In late summer when pink and green immature cones nestled in the rich green arching right and left I couldn't resist making the scene the subject of a painting.

The completed painting is at the top of the post.

Bee and Manzanita Blossoms
Bee and Manzanita Blossoms
Volcan Mountain
12x16 oil on panel

In late February I was entranced by the waxy white blossoms that covered all the manzanitas as I hiked up Volcan Mountain. It looked as if there were drifts of snow on either side of the trail. The hardy plants, with their famously hard wood and their thick, rigid leaves produced the most delicate blossoms in pristine white. With the lyrics of Edelweiss ringing through my brain, I took photo after photo of the delightful clusters. 

 I found one composition that I loved for a juxtaposition of bright white blossoms and a crazy cast shadow pattern on the leaves below. I was framing a number of compositions of it when one of the bees that were moving all over the mountain flew into my photo. Magic! 

My focus in this residency has been on the plant life on Volcan Mountain. As we all know, there would be no plant life without bees. The depth and breadth of the work done by these industrious creatures is nothing short of miraculous. 
 In a series of paintings about plants there must be a Bee!

The completed painting is at the top of the post.

Peeling Manzanita
Peeling Manzanita, Volcan Mountain
18x24 Oil on panel

One of the pure pleasures of hiking on Volcan mountain is walking through an extensive tunnel of manzanita at the base of the Five Oaks Trail. Never before I first ventured to Volcan Mountain had I found myself enclosed by a tangled forrest of 10 to 12 foot high manzanitas. Such a pleasure! As long as I can remember I have loved manzanita's satisfyingly smooth bark that seems to glow with an inner light. It's trunks and branches look almost animal, as if there are muscles rippling under the surface of the warm and lusterous surface.

The plants are interesting all year, producing delicate blossoms, berries of multiple colors, and then they do this! Starting around May the trunks and branches start shedding their old bark. As the plants grow, cracks develop and the old bark begins to roll up into tight curlicues. The newly exposed bark is a bright green but transitions within a matter of days into the gorgeous orange, red, purple colors the plants are known for.  The color combination lit my art heart on fire, and I felt like giggling when I focused on the curling shapes of the old bark.

Like a snake, the plant sheds the outer skin that has protected it for the year. Tannins make the bark bitter and even toxic to some invasive organisms, and they also give the plant it's distinctive coloring. By November the shedding process is complete, and all the old curled up bark has blackened and fallen away. The new bark has matured into it's luminous reds, oranges and purples and is silky once again. 

The finished painting is at the top of the post.

High Summer Manzanita
High Summer Manzanita
Volcan Mountain
12x16 oil on panel

By early August the pace of my hikes up Volcan Mountain was slowed by the heat. The upside was that I spent even more time than usual with my favorite plants, observing their changes since I visited with them 3 weeks prior. Most plants were pulling down in the heat of summer. My hiking partner suggested that summer probably wasn't a great time to find plants doing much of interest. Shortly after we came across this manzanita that was doing all sorts of showy things at once. He nodded appreciatively and promised to never dismiss mother nature for a day much less an entire season!

My value scheme for the painting

Mid way through laying in the first layer of color

All light and shadow, warm and cool is established

After several days of refining the details the painting is complete

Volcan Mountain
12x16 oil on panel

A tangle of waist high gooseberry bushes have drawn my attention time and again as I have hiked up Volcan Mountain. They are thick in the shadow of the second rise of the mountain, just past where I generally sit in a meadow to rest my legs, have a bite to eat and watch the hawks circling on the wind rising from the valley below. Each month the gooseberries show off in a new and delightful way. Their thick, glossy leaves first shelter hanging blossoms that fuchsia fans would love, then in spring they produce spectacular yellow pods that develop a bristling brilliant crimson stubble. As summer's heat builds the pods deepen in color, turning red and then moving to a rusty brown. The leaves loose their luster, begin to look tattered and drop leaving arching canes to weather the winter.

Just another marvelous cycle of regeneration I've been following while hiking Volcan Mountain!

I more closely documented the steps in developing this painting than I usually do. Below is the sequence, covering about a month of elapsed time.

This time the finished piece is repeated here at the bottom, in order to make all the changes in each step more visible.

Oak Catkins
Oak Catkins
Volcan Mountain
12x16 oil on panel

Early March in the mountains above Julian is cold and much of the plant life is still dormant. As I hiked up the beautiful 5 Oaks Trail on Volcan Mountain I rounded a switchback and was stopped in my tracks. Above me was a dome of 6 to 10 inch tassels swaying in the breeze. Delicate strings of brilliant spring green puff balls (a technical term) were dotted with bright red seeds. Lush groupings of these opulent tassels sprang from the ends of all the branches, and each was topped with small scarlet leaves, sporting tender white peach fuzz. The effect was dazzling in the still largely brown and grey environment.

I have since read that these beautiful displays are called Catkins and are the male flowers of the Oak. They produce pollen abundantly that is spread by the wind to the much smaller, harder to detect female flowers. Clouds of pollen are released blanketing anything beneath the tree. If any finds its way to it's target, the female flowers begin their development of acorns, and the spent catkins dry up and drop from the tree.

The endless varieties of beautiful excess that procreation stimulates are awe inspiring!

Here I have just begun to apply color to my value sketch.

I have applied color to the entire image, trying to stay true to the values of the sketch I began with. I begin to establish the warm and cool tones and basic shapes created by light and shadow. 

In this photo I am several days in. I have begun to define the details more closely, rounding form and creating the play of light and shadow that dappled the otherwise bare grey branches.

After a number of days spent refining, I found a place between suggestion and description that I liked.
The completed painting the first image in this post.

Spring in Julian
Spring in Julian
oil on panel

I have gone missing, I know. I've been living a technological nightmare. A computer melt down has stopped all forward motion for a couple of months now. Rising from the debris, I'm forging ahead with a shaky smile, and a deep seated drive to properly organize and back up...

This is another in my series of paintings done for the Volcan Mountain Foundation who were lovely enough to select me as their first Artist in Residence. Volcan Mountain sits above the town of Julian in Northern San Diego County which is famous for it's apples. Orchards create a patchwork around the town, and the trail to the top of Volcan Mountain starts by cutting directly through rows of well tended trees.

I love begining and ending each hike among the apple trees. They mark the season so vividly. Gnarled grey branches well up with bright red and pink buds, which in a blink burst into tender white and pink blossoms. Small green fruit is revealed as petals drift to the ground like snow.  Buried in tender new leaves, the shiny new apples grow as the days warm. Their color and flavor brighten and insects, birds, rodents and larger mammals enjoy the bounty. The town of Julian fills with pies, cider and happy tourists.

Last Leaves - Volcan Mountain

Last Leaves - Volcan Mountain

This painting is the second painting done for my residency with the Volcan Mountain Foundation ( My mission this year is to capture the change of the seasons through the cycles of the plant life in the Volcan Mountain wilderness area.

This image was captured on a cold and rainy day in late October when clouds sat low on the mountain. As we hiked, trees we neared would emerge from the fog while others remained simple silhouettes.  There was a hush broken only by the drip from branches creating a rhythm that changed as mist gave way to passing bands of rain.

The grays were endless in number, and created a reflective mood. The browns of plants pulling in and down were wrapped in white as fog blew around and through branches, shrubs and golden grasses. In this quiet setting the very last of the fall leaves provided startling flashes of color. They drew the eye, creating a beautiful counterpoint to all the subdued, muted colors. 

The panel with my value drawing, in Burnt Siennna.
I use this to place the elements in the composition and make sure I can capture what I am after. 

Here, after several sessions of work, I have the basics of the background and the branches painted. I have yet to begin work on the leaves, so there you see the underpainting. It took several more days of work to complete the image to my (and my family's) satisfaction. The completed painting is at the top of this post.

Acorns - Volcan Mountain

Acorns - Volcan Mountain
12x16 oil on panel

What better subject for the new year than the acorn! Beginnings, possibilities, great things to come... All the rich potential for a majestic oak is contained it the beautiful nut that wears a cap! All the birds that will find homes in the oak's branches, the squirrels that will store it's nuts for winter,  all the deer, coyote and bobcat that will pause in it's shade in the hot summer, and all the oxygen the oak will release into the air is in that beautiful nut that fits so perfectly in the palm of your hand. Magic!

This is the first of the paintings I will be producing as the Resident Artist for the Volcan Mountain Foundation. I was approached by representatives of the Foundation while exhibiting at the Festival Of Arts in Laguna Beach last summer. They were looking for an artist to kick off their residency program. I love the wild lands of northern San Diego County and investigated the Volcan Mountain Foundation. I found that it was a group that had purchased, bit by bit untouched tracts of land on Volcan Mountain in order to prevent development and preserve open space. I admired their mission, and my work seemed a perfect fit for their desire to celebrate the wilderness preserve that now spans 2,900 acres rising behind the city of Julian, CA, and offering sweeping views of both the coast and the desert on a clear day. See

I wrote a proposal, submitted a portfolio of my work and was selected by the Volcan Mountain Foundation. I plan to produce around 10 paintings of the plant life on the mountain through the cycle of the seasons. At the end of the year the Foundation will hang a show of the collection of paintings at the time and place of their choice.

Being involved with this organization is deeply satisfying for me. I greatly admire their mission, and the success they have had in preserving land that is still so untouched and will remain so in perpetuity. I get to routinely hike the mountain and gather photos of all the plants there, and I have the pleasure of developing a series of paintings that will be used to draw attention to the preserve and the unique beauty of the California environment. Perhaps it will help inspire others to protect and defend our shrinking wild environments.

This is a photo of the underpainting. Done in Burnt Sienna, this is how I place my image on the panel, develop the pattern of values and make sure I like the composition.

Here I have begun to weave the background of leaves that the branch I am focusing on is nestled into.   

Here I have spent several sessions on the acorns and leaves in the foreground. Several more are required to finish the detail of the subject, and to balance it with the background.

The finished painting is found at the top of the post. 

Back to work!
I haven't posted in some time, and I'm pleased to be back!  I spent the summer happily exhibiting the paintings you watched develop on this blog at the Laguna Beach Festival of the Arts. They were well received and the entire experience was wide and wonderful. In September I took some R and R, reading thick novels, swimming in the extraordinarily warm Pacific and reacquainting myself with  my sweet family and friends. 

During that time I had an on going conversation online with the Volcan Mountain Foundation and ultimately wrote a proposal and was selected to be their first Artist in Residence. Volcan Mountain rises to the East of the historic town of Julian in beautiful Northern San Diego County and is the top of the watershed that delivers water to northern San Diego and points north. The Foundation bought or helped facilitate the purchase of some 17,000 acres of the mountain, just ahead of the developers. This forward thinking group is hosting scientists and artists to come, do their work there and look at the mountain through their own lens. 

I plan to visit Volcan Mountain several weekends throughout the year to hike and take photographs of the plant life documenting seasonal change. I will then generate a series of paintings that will be exhibited to help develop awareness of the wilderness preserve and the importance of the rich flora and fauna thriving there. I will also post the paintings here as I generate them.

You know that something is meant to be when everything in you sings "yes!" My love of  Southern California, hiking, plant life, painting and the preservation of wild spaces are all satisfied in this new opportunity. The stars aligned, and I couldn't be any happier!

The dramatic gate to the wilderness preserve designed by local artist,  James Hubbell.
 After the hike to the 5350 foot summit we took refuge under gracious old oaks as a rainstorm (!) passed. It was silent, drippy and soul satisfying.

After the storm passed I ventured out with my camera to capture some of the Autumn display of nuts, berries and falling leaves. The trail moved through Riparian and Chaparral ecosystems then into grasslands, high meadows and forests of pine and 5 varieties of oak.

As we descended the sun began to break through and drew my camera lens left and right as it dramatically touched the landscape here and there.