I paint landscapes. When I paint a landscape of San Francisco, I start by covering the canvas with a bright color: a shimmering violet, perhaps. Then I work back with the raw umber (brown) and ultramarine blue. The architecture is old and pure for a city. Anywhere I put my easel, I can find an inspiring picture. If I cross the bay and paint Berkeley, I begin with a darker shade. So many trees crowd the streets near the university and so much grunge down towards the bay. The houses and their compact yards are eclectic; dabs of orange, crimson, and cobalt blue cover my pictures. I know exactly how to paint Palo Alto since I’ve done it before. With a soft blue background to set off the filtering light from the great oak and sycamore trees swaying over the stucco cottages and cracked sidewalks. But Dublin, how to paint a city that at first looks too new and too sterile?
Where is the ambiance in Lowes, Target, or Safeway? Dublin abounds with bike paths and trails but are they picturesque enough, especially those running between the new houses in the hills? The once rolling topography is now covered in developments or bulldozed in to mesas. How can I capture the delicate flowers median of San Ramon and Dublin Boulevards or in the tumble weeds edging the empty fields of Camp Parks or Tassajara Road?
Perhaps, the answer is simple. Dublin’s culture is subtle. It needs a fine brush or even a color pencil. I start with a light, warm gray wash on the canvas. I sketch in the roads, the buildings, the trees and bushes. Then I stop to take a sip of coffee and look back at what I produced. It looks like an architecture drawing for a new housing development or mall. I need to add something else; I add the people.
For my pictures on the west side I could spend months painting hundreds of kids and adults playing soccer or baseball over at the Sports Fields near the library. I capture a team of pint-size soccer-players in Cadmium orange jerseys against the brilliant green fields. They stand out even more against the warm gray background I began with. In San Francisco, they would be lost in the kaleidoscope.
One day, I set my easel outside of the library and spend time drafting the dramatic entrance and soaring architecture. I sketch in three kids chasing each other among the pillars and book-shaped benches. Their mothers stand nearby talking, one wearing a patterned crimson sari that becomes the focus of the painting until a couple come by with a small dog donning a lemon yellow sweater. When I stand back to observe my work, I realize no one is looking at the building; it is the people that draws the eye.
I head to Shannon Park and produce a painting that does not look like it came from Dublin at all. A vibrant green-shirted woman with a group of kids clad in the uniforms of summer: shorts, t-shirts, and sunburns. They squat near a small creek, searching the water for fish and creepy-crawlies. I need to use a lot of pale yellow for the dappled sunlight and Cerulean blue mixed with dark green for the shade. Their white summer camp shirts almost glow against the wooded background. Overhead, you can see the bridge leading to the community center.
Some days there is too much to choose from at Emerald Glen Park. If I come in the evening I might be lucky enough to see the kite flyers. Imagine the amazing rainbow kites against the scorched hills. I rarely can make it, but on a Thursday evening I might be able to set up my easel by the rosebushes and paint the farmer’s market. But how to recreate the fresh kettle corn or the tantalizing smoke wafting up from the barbecue? The piles of fruit and vegetables compete with the vibrant shoppers and strollers in the foreground.
In the morning, I paint the grandparents and their tiny charges among the two playgrounds in Emerald Glen Park or the Tai Chi group sheltered within the grove of pines. On a weekend I might catch a Cricket game in progress or someone using the bocce ball court, but most likely it will be another soccer game. Either way, I will need to paint fast; no one stands still. If I am lucky my blurry brush strokes will capture the movement. However, I am not sure even my drafting abilities are equal to the whirling and whizzing skateboarders, scooters, and bikers at the skateboard park. Perhaps I’ll start with the tots on the 3-wheeled scooters before attempting the daredevils flying off the edge of a bowl. In the end, I will put aside my easel and pull out my camera to capture one of the clusters of cyclists speeding through town or meandering up the Iron Horse Trail. It will be hard to breathe life back into the painting from a photo, but I will try, for the hues of their garish jerseys are intense against my tan Dublin background.
I have used up my warm gray on painting the landscape of Dublin. In the summer I add more Naples yellow and in the winter more Chromium oxide green between the earth-tone buildings and dark purple roads. But warm gray is the primary color of Dublin and I have gone through a huge tube of it. Not to worry, I still have a ton of other colors I can mix for what makes Dublin wonderful: the people.