How I painted a beautiful view of the Monterey Peninsula from high atop an ancient sand dune and traveled to this windy location by bicycle.
Today was a good test of plein air painting using a bicycle as transportation. From my house in Pacific Grove, California, to Sand City it is a little over eight miles by bike. I’ve often seen this view of Monterey from the highway as you approach the town. How often I’ve imagined the scene looks a bit like a Mediterranean village. Of course, I’ve only been to Nice so I’m not an expert. But when in Nice I thought it looked, from a distance, a bit like Monterey from a distance. I painted in Nice but I didn’t have a bike to carry my plein air gear. Painting in Nice is very distracting. In the picture, what you don’t see is that this is a topless beach. My powers of concentration –on painting!– are very good. But here in Monterey I had another problem, wind.
The bike carried my gear very well. The wire baskets and the rack encapsulating the rear wheel were all of one piece and so very sturdy. Two used, black brief cases fit, on in each side, in the baskets and held paints, thinner, brushes and everything else. Strapped with bungees across the rack, straddling the baskets, was my half-box French easel. On the handlebars was my wet canvas carrier. All of this gerry-rigging worked very well and felt solid.
This location is atop massive sand dunes. These 10,000-year-old dunes stretch from Monterey north to Moss Landing. Some of the dunes are used to launch hang gliders. Like I said, it was windy today. One of my rules is never to paint when it is windy. Rules. Ha. After riding my bike so very far with so much gear, do you think I wouldn’t paint? But there are very good reasons NOT to paint in the wind. The first reason is obvious: the canvas is a sail or, should I say, a kite. Which means that the wind may decide to lift your canvas, easel and all, and send it up, up and away. When this happens the chances are 99% for certain that your painting will land face down. I know this from experience. Oh, and never turn your back on your easel when the wind is blowing. That crashing sound you hear behind you is the wind pushing your painting into the sand, dirt, and gravel. It’s like the wind knows…
I set up my kite, I mean, my easel on this expansive overlook on top of the windy dune and jammed the legs of it deep into the sand, never for a moment believing that this would make any difference, but I was happy in my self-delusion. One of the other reasons for not painting in the wind is that the easel rattles constantly, unnerving one completely. It’s hard to concentrate under these conditions and today was no exception. After an hour of struggling with a painting of this amazing scene, and getting more and more jittery from the threatening wind, I wiped the canvas clean and, debating whether to give up, plucked up my defiance and began again. It was best to just do quick oil sketches so as not to have to worry about too much detail. So my second attempt was with an attitude that nothing was going to stop me from painting, that, in fact, I would paint TWO paintings just to show the wind who is the master. Now a sense of peace descended upon me and, for once, I felt good and peaceful and fully appreciative of the glorious day and place. Here are the two 14″x11″ oil on boards that I painted. Just sketches, but, in a way, they caught the vibrancy of the experience.
Afterward, I happily packed up the bike and rode home along that coast and up and over that hill you see in the paintings to Pacific Grove and my studio. Then home.