January week 5 – Mustard in the Vineyards

Yesterday was the opening reception for two artists at A Woman’s Eye Gallery Annex.  The room was vibrant with watercolors, acrylics, color pencil and art stix in swirls, lines, and imagination captured in “Themes and Variations.”  While people were sipping wine and discussing texture and techniques, I overheard this question:  “How long did it take you to create this piece.”

I don’t remember if the answer was in hours or days.  But unfortunately it seemed that the inquisitor was trying to calculate the “per hour” price of the piece.

Sometimes I wish people would ask that of one of my images especially if they feel the “price tag” is too steep.  I’d love to say, “Well, this vineyard shot took no less than 10 hours to create.”  After all I had to get to the location specifically with this or a similar image in mind.  Sometimes I need to go back several times for the conditions to be right which might mean it took me weeks!  Then there is the post processing and printing time.   But those of you who are photographers already know all this. Seldom is an image produced by “happenstance” or just jumping out of the car on your way somewhere else.

So here we are in Napa Valley where January and February welcome the yellows of the wild mustard (planted) among the vineyards.  In addition to it’s beauty it does serve a practical purpose.  It is planted to provide habitat for birds that will eat specific bugs and worms (nematodes) that attack the vines. Also the mustard’s root system helps open up the soil to allow it to better receive water and nutrients.  The mustard once plowed under also provides “food” for the vines.

For me the mustard provides oceans of yellow as subject or background color. The vineyards at Leapfrog Winery are particularly bountiful right now.  With late afternoon sun the naked vines seem to emerge from the flowing yellow much like palm kelp at low tide.  Lots of depth of field captures merging lines of the rows of vines and the yellow pathways between them.

Another fun subject in the winter vineyard is the left over curls of the vine tentacles and the few dried up clusters of what was once voluptuous merlot-to-be. Using a long lens (400mm) with a shallow depth of field (f/6.3) will isolate a subject and cause the mustard field behind to become one sheet of yellow.

Other subjects at this time of year are fun to play with:  old fences covered with moss and lichen, vines with a few old leaves still clinging to them,  lines and curves in the fields and winery buildings, cows under silhouetted oak trees, and empty glasses (to mention just a few)

Myth says the mustard was planted by missionaries dropping mustard seeds, so on the next years’ journey when the path was overgrown with grass and vegetation the yellow of the mustard would mark the way.  Each mission is planted about one day’s walk from the other.

So how long did it take to capture these images?  Let’s just say, enough time to create a “priceless piece of art!”

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