Feel free to contact me if you would like more information.

3948 Valley Vista Dr
Camino, CA, 95709
United States

Plein air landscape artist David Yapp paints scenes of California in oils. Subjects are as diverse as the California landscape itself and include the Sierra Nevada mountains, the oak covered hills and scenic coastline. David uses palette knife and brushes in a style that is reminiscent of impressionism.

David Yapp Blog

David Yapp's blog of plein air painting in oils of the California landscape.

Blood and Fire

David Yapp

A break in the trees opens to a view that I have often passed and wished to paint for some time. The powerful effects of the King Fire that laid waste to thousands of acres of forest has revealed this expansive panorama.

On the hillside where I stand, dead pines reach skyward with rib-like branches arcing earthward. Sad aged bones, no marrow, no life left in them, cling to the hillside like a skeletal army.

Beyond, still untouched by the fire—an undulating blanket of forested hills in indigo hues that progressively dissipate into the distance. To the northeast the peaks of the Crystal mountain range pierce the horizon, a paradox of granite and air suspended like a veil in the morning light.

I work swiftly to capture the scene before the light changes—one man’s attempt to capture the ethereal qualities of light and atmosphere using merely a hog-hair bristle brush and pigments mined from the depths of the earth.

Now complete, I stow the painting in my car—time for a cup of tea before I head out to seek another vista.

“Hello, I just wanted to see what you are working on.” I turn round to see the source of the greeting. A stocky, middle-aged man gestures towards the now empty easel. The blue and gold embroidered patch catching the sunlight on the man’s arm notifies me that he is a California Highway patrolman. His gold badge, inscribed, “D.A. Blood” informs me of his name.

Blood lifts his arms in horizontal fashion to frame a view. “Wrong direction,” I point to indicate the view I was working from.

He pivots round. “Ah . . . going for the Blue Ridge Mountain look.” He smiles and scans the view. “I’m Dave Blood,” he extends his hand, which I shake, in what seems more like a formal British social interaction than a brush with local CHP.

“I have just put the painting in the trunk, do you want to take a look?” We walk to the back of my car I open the trunk and we view the painting.

“It’s nice, but I am more of a watercolor man myself.” I visit a lot of the galleries in the Sonoma, Napa area with my wife. Saw the work of Joshua Meader in a Gallery in Bodega Bay. When you step up close to his work, all that color and texture—it’s a very visceral experience.”

“So you paint?” I ask.

“Well, I did . . . no, not now. You know, life, it’s all about time.”

We continue to talk for a little while longer about the King fire and he gives me a few suggestions on other potential painting locations.

“I should leave you alone so you can get back to work,” he says returning to his black and white, CHP utility vehicle. Accelerating up the highway, D. A. Blood is back on patrol, ready to intercept more unsuspecting plein air painters, at large on the mountain road.

The highway is busy now, the morning traffic of locals, lumber trucks and Tahoe tourist traffic speed by—busy people with so much to do in such a limited time. Below me the forest, gleaming in the morning sun is slowly, patiently in the process of regenerating itself from the ravages of the fire. As Blood said, “Life . . . it’s all about time.”


David Yapp

Crystal range clr-sml.jpg

“Welcome to your friendly, Pollock Pines Safeway.” The happy voice on the loudspeaker attempts to dispel the store’s corporate nature and lure me into the false belief that it has grown up along with the pine forest that surrounds it. With no art stores nearby, I am here to buy walnut oil. This is my preferred oil painting medium, which I will use during my afternoon painting excursion.

The cheerful blond cashier, her name inscribed on her badge, “Valkyrie”, checks out my groceries. Perhaps for some misdemeanor she has been expelled from the otherworld, forever destined to scan groceries for the unsuspecting residents of Pollock Pines.

With my groceries retrieved from the Norse goddess, I head up the Iron Mountain road. The view is obscured on either side by a thick wall of pine trees. Occasionally I glimpse the distant mountains to the north through brakes in the branches.

Fifteen miles on, after a continual ascent, I see a clearing in the trees. The view opens up to an expanse of pine forest and in the distance, some 30 miles away the Crystal mountain range, punctuated by snow-covered peaks and ridges. I set up my easel in the clearing. I am working on a larger than normal canvas so need two painting parasols to shield the canvas from the glare of the sun’s reflected light. The metallic silver of the parasols give the appearance of a satellite, ready for some intergalactic art exploration.

I lay down a wash of transparent earth yellow and then draw in the framework of the composition and block in the tonal values with the same color. Using a rag, I wipe away areas I am not happy with and then repaint them until I have a strong composition. Tomorrow I plan to return to add the color.

Behind me as the afternoon light diminishes and evening descends, I hear an intermittent loud booming sound. What creature of the wilderness, can this be? Do I need to make a rapid retreat to safety from an incensed bull elk or other large mammal?

I look behind me, to see a sickle-shape wing silhouette slice through the evening sky like a boomerang. It’s a nighthawk. The sound is created by the male as he goes into a courtship display dive. Much like the breath vibrating a reed in a wind instrument, the air traveling through his primaries creates this loud booming sound.

Could this mysterious avian creature, cutting through the dusk like a scythe, be I wonder . . . the flight of the Valkyrie?

nighthawk sml.jpg

The passage of time and light—the Cosumnes River

David Yapp

Alders on the Cosumnes River

The wild ribbon of ice cold water of the Cosumnes River races down from the Sierras. Centuries of its persistent action has cut a winding canyon through the granite slabs of the foothills. Digger pines clothe the canyon sides, their plume-like foliage trapping the afternoon light like the silken matrix of a spider's web.

I take the sandy trail south of the bridge, pushing through manzanita bushes and descend under the shelter of winter-stripped oaks to the bank of the river. A surging, hurtling force of white foam, the culmination of the previous week’s rain and snow, is declaring mastery over the parched land.

I set up my easel in front of three white alder trees along the river's edge. I want to capture the strong vertical forms of their trunks rising in counterpoint to the horizontal stress of the surging river. Yellow catkins hang from gray branches like plumbline pendants swaying in the afternoon sunlight. A startled belted kingfisher rakes over the surface of the river, its rattling call rising over the din of water over granite.

I continue to paint. A thin veil of cloud mutes the light emanating from the winter sun. The once illuminated branches, now a shadow of their former glory, weakly reflect the suns rays. Then as the sunlight slips completely from view, the canyon and all within yield to the shadows of the gloaming light—the departure of another day.

Sojourner in a winter wilderness

David Yapp

Mokelumne Winterscape

I thought it was simple, turn back the way I had come, follow the blue diamonds posted on the trees and the tracks in the snow. This I thought would lead me back to the trailhead after a pleasant afternoon of painting. That was at 5 p.m.—it was still light then. Now it is past 8 p.m. and dark and I have got no closer to finding my way out of the wilderness.

Dead mossy branches jut out from the pine trees around me. A cracked tree stump protrudes at an acute angle out of the snow. From these I see fuel and shelter and decide to make camp here for the night.

I have not planned for an overnight stay in the wilderness so have no tent or sleeping bag. I remove my backpack, pull out the different items from it. A painting umbrella, my canvases, paint palette all get utilized on one side of the tree stump, creating a barricade from the wind. My snowshoes interlaced with pine branches become shutters on its opposite side. The ground covered in snow, I overlay with moss-covered branches.

The moon rises through the trees leaving splashes of light on the snow. Stars of pristine clarity in the clear air shine through the breaks in the trees. The wind picks up and then subsides.

It is too cold to sleep. I collect branches, and from an ailing tree, crumbling bark. I build a fire. The pine branches snap like fire crackers, the resinous bark spits and smokes, exuding a strong smell of incense.

I am thirsty from the hours of hiking with a heavy pack, but have little water left. I take my metal paint canister, empty it of mineral spirits and the sludge of paint deposits. I wash it out as best I can and fill it with snow. This I place in the fire, the metal handle glowing red, the snow hissing as it turns to water. I drink the Smokey snow-melt trying not to think too deeply about the effects of heavy metals—the residues of previous painting expeditions still contained within the canister.

Slowly the snow melts underneath the fire. The heat recedes as the fire descends ever deeper into a snow crater. I build a new fire, then another and so the night proceeds. Occupied by this task I am kept warm and comforted through flame and physical activity of collecting fire wood.

Twilight comes, a long overdue owl hoots in the gathering light. I pack up my things and hike down into a snow-clad meadow. The sun rises. The shadows of the pines indicate like a compass my bearings, and in turn, the northerly direction I must take to find my way out of this winter wilderness.

As I walked out one Sunday morning

David Yapp

The last shreds of morning fog were progressively evaporating, beckoning me to explore the valley below. The sun’s rays threatened to consume the last remnants of mystery hidden within the valley’s forested recesses.

I descended down the south facing grass slope, through oak and buckeye that had been stripped bare by the winter winds. Arriving at the valley floor, I followed the trail that accompanied the course of the creek. The watercourse was overgrown with oaks, brambles and the discards of last year’s vegetative exuberance.

In the distance two shabbily dressed individuals with dirty cloth sacks were scavenging amongst the winter brambles—for what I assumed was pine cones to fuel a nocturnal campfire. Like fearful feral animals sensing danger they progressively moved on as they saw me approaching. As if to give them respite from my imminent approach, I stopped for a short while and contemplated the sunlight filtering through the the fretwork of winter-sodden branches and the rushing creek below.

I resumed my walk and on turning the bend of the trail, I discovered the man on his haunches, a weathered, pewter-colored pan in his hand sifting through the alluvial deposits of an insignificant gully that ran alongside the trail.

“You panning for gold?” I asked reticently, not wanting to sound too inquisitive. “Yearp” he replied in a slow drawn out way, hoping that his lack of eye contact, arched back and broad shoulders would deflect any further questioning. “You ever find any?”, “Yearp . . . in the creek below.”

I moved on, aware that my gold panning friend was not in any hurry to share his secrets of mining in the El Dorado county hills. Above on the slope his partner, a girl with bleached blonde and vermillion hair continued to scour the slope for a more combustible treasure.

Further down the trail I suddenly became aware that the creek had now been replaced by a deep emerald green pool, morning mists rising off its surface, intermingling with the purple, yellow and gray of the winter branches that grew along its periphery. The bright white head and flanks of a buffle-headed duck acted as a beacon in the shadowy pool.

Traveling on, the now sandy, ochre-colored trail was intermittently pierced with pools of rainwater collecting in its gullies and ruts. Shadows of the winter branches diffusing into the water like pigment suspended in an encaustic painting. Above the trail two spotted towhees clowned in the leaves, seeking to unearth some slumbering invertebrate. Flanking the trail were the jade leaves and oxidized metallic branches of manzanita bushes—water droplets from the previous night’s rain encrusted the edge of each wedge of jade like crystalized sugar.



A boxy Labrador jolted towards me on arthritic limbs, ball in mouth, coughed his friendly welcome. An old man on rickety legs soon followed, drooping mustache and stout staff in hand. “Where is it? Where is it? Where’s the ba-ull? he groused in a hoarse, uncongenial voice. “It’s in his mouth” I replied. “Humph” he retorted and off he went erratically splashing through the puddles in pursuit of his hound.

I continued onward and eventually I noticed an offshoot to the trail descending down to the lake through a corridor of trees. And there in the distance, facing towards the lake, stood one, sun-bleached, white deck chair—placed as if to invite me to a time of quiet reflection, to come away and rest awhile.


“I come here to commune with the wood nymphs.”

David Yapp

Mt Tamalpais from the Eucalyptus trail

The last remnant of the morning’s fog shrouded the sun making for a cooler ascent up the Oakwood Valley fire road. A short hike brought me to a widening of the trail, and turning back towards the way I had come, a view northwards to distant Mt Tamalpais framed by eucalyptus trees.

The afternoon drew on with an assortment of dog walkers and joggers passing by. A thin olive-skinned guy—blue bandana restraining tousled black hair—ascended the trail and soon retraced his steps as if not finding what he was looking for. A lady with a blissful smile sauntered by as if in some dreamlike state.

“You’re being productive.” It was Jerry the animation guy whom I had met earlier in the week. He stopped for a chat, his row of earrings catching the sunlight as we talked about the painting process. Our conversation was abruptly broken by a loud discordant ringing, and Jerry was off, alerted by his cell phone to attend to some more pressing matter.

“Wow, its come along!” It was the blissful lady on her return down the trail. “It was all red before.” We discussed the aesthetic benefits of having a red underpainting and how it interacted with the later paint layers and brought unity to the picture.

“I’m Tara, Green Tara. She was a goddess you know, perhaps from Tibet, I’m not sure. She may be around here now”. Tara gestured with her head to indicate that this wood was perhaps the Green Goddess’ latest stomping ground.

“I come here to commune with the wood nymphs.” I feel my throat tighten as I fumble for an appropriate response, not wanting to corroborate on the report of diminutive woodland folk. Instead I fished in my backpack and pull out a postcard with one of my previous paintings of Mt Tam on it. Perusing the card, she lightly traced her fingers over its surface, mirroring the brushwork in the painting.

“This is a very spiritual path” she continued. “Can you feel it? You can feel it too—that’s why you’re here.”

“This is a very special place" she said "and I am moved—and now I have this.” Tara gazed at the postcard, then suddenly clutched it to her chest as if rediscovering some long-lost keepsake. With a parting smile, she turned and then resumed her journey down the woodland path.

I continued my painting until the light faded. I mused on my earlier interaction—the ethereal intangible quality of woodland nymphs, and the meaning of a “spiritual path.” Then I considered the man foretold in Hebrew writings, rooted in history, flesh and bone, yet divine. Who lived a life of suffering for us and affirmed “I am the way” the spiritual path for weary travelers. In reflective mood, I packed up my easel and made my way home in the dwindling light of the woodland path. 

"My neighbor, he gone stole my rifles…"

David Yapp

El Capitan from Valley View. 9" x 12", oil on canvas.

Its an early Friday morning, I'm heading east on my way up to the Sierra Nevada Mountains in anticipation of catching a good weekend's painting. Driving through Manteca I stop off at The Mangy Moose Cafe a small narrow breakfast bar cafe half way out of town.

I sit down next to an old guy, Butch—big white tobacco-stained beard, handlebar mustache and cowboy hat. We get talking, he shares with me a little of his roots and his peregrinations in the West. "You live in town?" I ask, "No" he answers in a dry raspy voice, "I live 3 miles out of town." "You like it?"  "It's ok" he continues, "but my neighbor, he gone stole my rifles…if he come round again, he be goin' to the morgue." Here I was, having grown up on the rainy side of the Atlantic, watching TV matinees of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, now finding myself face-to-face with the wilder side of the Wild West.

After a selection of further anecdotes from Butch—that really was his name—I depart The Mangy Moose and continue up highway 120. Passing Chinese Camp, then Moccasin, I climb falteringly up Old Priest Grade, my transmission making vehement sounds of protest.  Eventually I arrive on Big Oak Flat, and turn into the Forest Service Station seven miles beyond Groveland.

Having purchased a campfire permit and discussed with the ranger the pros and cons of dispersed camping on forest service land, I head up towards Yosemite. Just outside the park boundary I turn off on the road to Hetch Hetchy and set up camp in a forest that had been victim of the not-long-past rim fire.

The afternoon takes me in to Yosemite, seeking a suitable subject to set down in oils. I come to Valley View, the low-angled sun hitting broadside the massive rock expanse of El Capitan, its golden rock face reflected in the turbulent waters of the Merced river.

As the final hour of daylight approached I found I was joined by a small gathering of photographers. One especially conscientious man wearing waders was submerged knee-high with his tripod in the river. The scene reminded me of a group of earnest herons gathered at the end of the day in high hopes of one final prize catch.

As the dusk descended and the photographers departed, I finished up my own prize catch and headed back to my camp for a meal in the near pitch-black forest of charred trees.

Springtime in Tinker's Dell

David Yapp

Tinker's Dell, 9 x 12" Oil on canvas

Last weekend I did a small 9 x12" painting of a patch of woodland in the park not far from my home. The wood has a slightly unkempt feel about it, but this appealed to me as you can almost forget you are in the middle of the city.

It reminds me a lot of an English woodland, so I liked the idea of creating a painting that could almost have been painted a century ago in some hidden valley in the downlands of England.

Today I visited the the wood again, taking with me a bundle of books to read. A red-shouldered hawk flew onto the dead branch of a tree, obviously on the lookout for a lunchtime snack. Eventually he swooped down to the ground creating a big arc with his black and white barred wings and ascended with some unfortunate rodent in his talons.

I was reading a poem by the 16th century poet, George Herbert: 

The Answer

My comforts drop and melt away like snow: 

I shake my head, and all the thoughts and ends,

 Which my fierce youth did bandy, fall and flow

 Like leaves about me: or like summer friends, 

Flies of estates and sunshine. But to all, 

Who think me eager, hot, and undertaking, 

But in my prosecutions slack and small; 

As a young exhalation, newly waking, 

Scorns his first bed of dirt, and means the sky; 

But cooling by the way, grows pursie and slow,

And setling to a cloud, doth live and die 

In that dark state of tears: to all, that so 

Show me, and set me, I have one reply, 

Which they that know the rest, know more then I.

I must confess I don't always find Herbert's poetry easy to grasp. But after reading this poem, I happened to read Psalm 39, which seemed to tie-in with Herbert's poem. Here are a few verses:

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end

and the number of my days;

let me know how fleeting is my life.

You have made my days a mere handbreadth;

the span of my years is as nothing before you.

Each man's life is but a breath

Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro:

He bustles about, but only in vain;

He heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.

But now, Lord, what do I look for?

My hope is in you.

The real-time nature illustration that unfolded before me and these short readings were a reminder of the transience of life. We can place so much importance on the activities we busy ourselves with, and yet forget to turn to our creator who gives us the very breath of life.

Painting Pinnacles

David Yapp

Painting the peak—working with a palette knife.

Pinnacles National Park is a group of rock spires and crags that rise out of the Gabilan Mountains in central California. Tectonic plate movements and the subsequent erosion of of the rocks caused these monolithic forms.

I camped on the eastern side of the park and on the Friday morning with backpack, canvas and painting paraphernalia, I hiked the gradual ascent up the Condor Gulch trail. About a mile along the trail I found this view of Hawkins Peak framed by some raggedy pines.

On the first day of painting the weather was slightly overcast, which lent a brooding atmosphere to the scene. On the second day, in which I resolved the painting, the sky was a more typical Californian clear blue sky. Fortunately I had pretty much laid down the sense of light I was after on the first day, so the second day was more about refining the details. Below you can see the stages as I worked on the painting.

I met some interesting folks on the trail, including some mountain climbers, a park volunteer and a photographer. But the grand finale to the painting trip at the end of the second day was the sight and sound of the california condors as they flew over the gulch which is so aptly named in their honor.

The painting in process

Blocking in the composition.
Adding the color masses.

Refining the forms.

The final painting—Hawkins Peak from Condor Gulch.

Painting Hope in the New Year

David Yapp

The view across Hope Valley to Stevens Peak.

The summer that I had visited Hope Valley I was taken by the wide alpine meadow, cradled among the mountains and bisected by its boulder strewn creek—it had a very pastoral feel. Here I was again, now in the New Year experiencing a very different valley. 

The sky was a crisp blue, with the sunlight bouncing off a carpet of snow. As I dropped down into the valley I was taken by the view of the mountains to the south and how they were veiled by a screen of trees in the foreground. A tracery of bare metallic aspens with a  strong vertical emphasis and the wave like forms of the pine branches complemented the blue shadowy mass of the mountain in the distance.

Early stages.

Mid-way along.

The final painting.

Snow, Ice and Sunlight—Painting the American River

David Yapp

The interplay of sunlight and ice on the American River

The Saturday after New Year's Day I headed east on Highway 50 and pulled over 6 miles west of Kyburz to paint the South Fork of the American River. A layer of frost covered the ground, much of the river was frozen, and overlaid on the ice was the remains of the first of the season's snowfall. The early afternoon sun caused the bank on the north side of the river and its trees to glow with light, bringing into sharp contrast the cool ice-bound river and the deep shadows of the cliffs above it on the river's southern side.

I scrambled down the bank, found a secluded spot overlooking the river and set myself up to paint.

I worked swiftly with a palette knife, gradually building up thick swathes of paint. The blade enables me to apply paint quickly and to manipulate it on the canvas to create form and movement.

The light that had so inspired me began to shift and the illuminated branches soon became enveloped in the encroaching late afternoon shadows.

I wrapped up around dusk, pretty pleased with my afternoon's work. Then off I drove up the mountain to Strawberry, for dinner at the lodge that was once a stop on the Pony Express. 

At work on the river bank.

A snapshot of the final painting.