Monday, August 27, 2012

Howard Creek Ranch: a perfect week

Mendocino sunrise. 11"×14", Oil on linen panel

It's been nearly a month since we returned from our impromptu week-long getaway at Howard Creek Ranch Inn on the Mendocino Coast, and I finally have good photos of what I did there (some of the works retouched later). So, it's about time that I told you about this extraordinarily beautiful and friendly place and our charmed week there (please click on any image to see a larger version).

The painting above is a quick plein air study of the Pacific Ocean, done early on our very first morning there, from a little wooden platform above the beach. Since the sun was rising behind me, the sky in the west, above the ocean, is still dark, but the first beams already reach the sand and the foam of the waves rolling towards the beach. I find that overall rhythms of paintings done near the ocean is very much defined by the rhythmic sounds of the waves, as they come towards you and then gracefully roll back. My breath and my arm movements align themselves with this rhythm, and this determines the overall pattern of brushstrokes. 

Highway 1 across Howard Creek. 16"x12". Oil on linen panel.
This spot, with a wide view of the coast and the ocean, is about three minutes walk away from the farm – so we returned to it every day and never grew tired of it. On the left is what you see if you turn away from the ocean and  towards Howard Creek Ranch on the midday of a sunny day of late July: Highway 1 crosses Howard Creek here, but one can walk under the bridge towards the farm: down to the buildings on the left, behind the trees, or up the hill for a walk in the forest.

At this spot, and on this day, everything seems to have both rhyme and reason: the curves of the green trees follow the grander curve of the rolling hill, and the bridge bearing gracefully repeats the shapes of tree trunks. Even though the day was really sunny and clear, the color of the sky changed repeatedly as I was painting, turning from deep blue to blinding yellow-whites, with occasional hints of greyish-purple fog, and back to the depths of the blue. Since my overarching memory of this day is its burning sunniness, I've strengthened and connected the yellows and reds later in the studio, bringing back the day's bright harmony with the large circle of hot colors.

Carriage House. 20"×16", Oil on linen panel

This is a view of the room we stayed in, called "Walden", in the old carriage house, overshadowed by tall trees under high skies. 

If it looks somewhat shabby in the painting, it's because it is – on the outside. You don't get the impression of staying in a modern bed-and-breakfast; it's almost as though you are really staying at a ranch. Inside, though, everything is beautifully handcrafted, with overwhelming attention to every minute detail – a genuine style and the high art of woodwork you would be unlikely to find in the priciest hotels. To add to this charming duality of overall impression, upstairs there is a large living room, complete with a diverse library and a jacuzzi, contrasting with a garage (containing a very old and merrily green tractor) combined with Sunny Grigg's (the owner's) workshop downstairs.

Beach Cabin. 20"×16", Oil on linen panel

Here is a view of another little building, called "Beach Cabin". This study remains as I've brought it home from the trip, untouched in the studio – and I am still not quite sure whether it is complete or not. 

Here, one of the most charming features of the place comes across even more directly than in the previous one: the tall trees raising to the sky high above the buildings, seeming, from the lawn, even higher than the hills behind them. With the Pacific Ocean quietly rolling its waves on the other side, this gives one this ever-present feel of seclusion, distance from the outside world with its hectic noise, the impression of a charmed place filled with peaceful magic. 

Mendocino Sunset. 16"×12", Oil on linen panel.
The last work I want to show you today is a study of sunset, from the same spot as the first study of sunrise. 
The first sunset we saw there was absolutely stunning – even Eugene, who generally doesn't appreciate southern sunsets (when the sun doesn't color the whole sky in all shades from orange to violet, but just drops itself behind the horizon, like an egg yolk onto a frying pan), was amazed. But it was too late to run for the easel, so we've decided to come back next day to the same spot.

But here is the thing about planning to catch a sunset – you are totally dependent on weather, and the next three days were more foggy and cloudy, so the sun remained nearly invisible. Finally, two days before the end of our vacation, the sky cleared (or almost cleared), so I've decided to try. But it was nothing like the first day – the sky was colored in very subtle shades, which were changing every half a minute, but the sun remained invisible. That's when I started the painting above.

The next day, it was sunny at last – so sunny that the sun burned my arms and hands during our morning walk (and I don't even want to talk about my face...). In the evening, I was nowhere near a state in which I could seriously paint, and – isn't it always so? – the sunset was brilliant again. I was standing there, on this same spot, trying to capture it in my memory, while Eugene was merrily clicking away with his camera.

And so, this work is not only the end of the day, and the end of our charmed vacation, but also a memory: a later studio attempt to unload whatever of the two brilliant sunsets, the first one and the last one, I did manage to commit to my memory...

If I have overused the word "charmed" in this post, that's because it is really the overall impression of this place, and of our week there, that I've brought home with me, that I tried to capture in these paintings, and that, I hope, will remain with me as long as possible.
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