For the last year, Donald Neff has painted the streams around San Jose, California, a place once known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight, and now usually known as Silicon Valley. He hoped to do a stream a week, resulting in 52 paintings. He completed 60, and now he is ready to share what he learned.

Friends and collectors have told Neff that his paintings have improved over the year, and although the artist resists this notion, he does note that his paintings became looser and more colorful over the course of the project. And it could very well be the area in which Neff learned the most was history. “When I started I wasn’t interested so much in the history surround the streams, but things snowballed,” says Neff. “I scoured the internet for all the creek names, and a lot of conservation groups and other local groups got interested in my project and helped me. There’s a lot of history in the places I painted.”

“Rain Free,” by Donald Neff, oil on board, 8 x 10 in.

If this sounds like a good book project to you, then you’re in good company. “I’m definitely going to do some kind of book,” says Neff. “I’m starting on that now. People are asking for calendars, too.”

“Morning,” by Donald Neff, oil on board, 8 x 10 in.

Neff emerged from the project with admiration for the conservation groups and their volunteers who work to clean up the waterways of Silicon Valley.

The streams were sort of a slow-moving target, but changeable nonetheless. A lack of rain this year meant that many of the creeks turned out to be dry culverts. He found something artistic in most of them anyway. Neff reports that conservation groups in particular proved to be excellent partners for him, and on occasion he painted a stream while members of a conservation organization cleaned up the waterway.

“But I Go on Forever,” by Donald Neff, oil on board, 8 x 10 in. A Tennyson poem about a brook took hold of Neff’s imagination at one point in the project.

“Beaver Sign,” by Donald Neff, oil on board, 8 x 10 in.

“Sin City,” by Donald Neff, oil on board, 8 x 10 in. Painted in a part of the valley that once served as a locus for vices.

Neff completed a video summing up his yearlong project, and along the way he wrote blog posts documenting his activities. He also worked up a cool map on Google showing the location of his painting spots, with popup windows of his paintings. Those interested in learning the artist’s approach to painting should note that Neff will serve on the faculty at the Plein Air Convention & Expo, scheduled for April 13-17 in Monterey, California.


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