Tom Graves - Plein Air Painter


When I paint, I try to capture the feeling that inspired me to paint that location. I will try to make the viewer feel the heat or the cold of the day, the brightness of the sunlight, the movement of the water, and the mystery of the distant plains and hills. I consider myself to be first and foremost a painter of light. I love the California sunlight in all of its forms including dazzling light, reflected light and changing of the quality of light over distances and with haze, as well as the feeling that such light is able to inspire. My favorite times of day to paint are early morning or late afternoon, when the light is low. I particularly enjoy the afternoon haze that we get here in Southern California and the way it makes the mountains look. I am still learning to see and appreciate the California landscape, with its many colors and textures.

Trail Head 30x40
Biography Autumn in California 30x40

My favorite area to paint is the Santa Monica Mountains and the vast open areas and parklands. I enjoy hiking and biking there, and often return to paint locations that I find that way. My favorite time and place to paint is December in Sycamore Canyon and the Wendy Trail, near to where I live, when the Sycamore trees turn yellow and orange. The color of the trees against the deep blue of the California winter sky, the blue-green of the hills and the warm colors of the old grass and bright yellow-green of the new grass is something I will never be tired of. I also enjoy the mountainous regions around Malibu Creek State Park. When I painted on the East Coast, my favorite days to paint were after a snowfall, when the air was clear, the sky was deep blue, and the Earth sparkled. The only thing that I miss about painting on the East Coast is the snow.

Picture Galleries

I have always enjoyed the outdoors. As a child, I spent every available minute outdoors, and as an adult, I continue to do so. I especially enjoy the sunny skies of Southern California. All of my painting is done on location, en plein air. I have never been able to paint anything worthwhile from a photograph. The colors and values are wrong and a photograph simply provides no inspiration for me.

When I decide to go paint, I sometimes drive around looking for a spot for hours. After painting, I find that my eyes are extra-sensitive to color, and the landscape glows for me all the way home. It is often on drives home from painting that I will spot my next painting location.

Herrontown Afternoon Sun 24x30
Contact Carnegie Boathouse 30x24

When I paint, I try to stay off of the beaten path, so that I am not bothered by hikers or bikers. I have at times perched precariously on rocks or on the edge of roads or steep cliffs to paint a scene that I wanted. Once, I was completely drenched, canvas and all, by a rogue wave while standing on a rock painting the ocean near Point Mugu. Sometimes, on days when I am tired and uninspired, I will force myself to go out to paint, and often I will perk up and produce something nice.

The size of my painting is often determined by my perceived level of energy and enthusiasm when I go out to paint. On tired, less sure days, or if I havenít painted for a while, I will paint a small (18x24) canvas. On energetic, enthusiastic days, I will paint large (30x40). On a typical day, I will paint on a 24x30 canvas. And sometimes I will produce nice paintings on tired days, and terrible paintings on energetic days. I always paint with oil paint, no medium, on linen canvas with flat bristle brushes because it feels very natural to me. I always attempt to complete each painting while working on-site outdoors, and may return to the site once or twice. I compose my paintings on the spot on location, and start right in painting. I put the finishing touches on at home in the studio. I like to constantly keep looking at my paintings. Sometimes I will touch up an old painting because I suddenly saw something in it that I didnít see before. For me, no painting is finished until it is sold and away from my eyes.