HaBonim Beach Nature Reserve:
Scouting for Plein Air Painting Locations

Early morning Thursday I met my outdoors-painting buddies at the famous HaBonim Beach to find plein air painting locations in the seashell carpeted coves.

Arguably one of the most beautiful beach trails in Israel, HaBonim has one small challenge - the hike between coves is a rocky-sandy climb.

Lena and I were planning to go there ever since we started our painting trips, but we had to wait a year or so for the little baby to get big enough to sit in a shoulder harness.

Well, it’s been a year. Covid lockdowns are over (hopefully!), the baby’s grown, we all got vaccinated, the park re-opened and spring is in full bloom – let’s go!

HaBonim Beach, Israel. Watercolor and gouache on paper, by Netta Canfi, israel-illustrated.com

Where is Habonim Beach?

The access road is very bumpy and full of potholes. Really feels like the middle of nowhere.

Places We Found that I Want to Paint

It was our first time there, so the plan was mainly to scout for good spots in which to set up our easels, in future visits. Here’s what we found:

Netta at Habonim

• The Beaches and Coves

Absolutely gorgeous! Habonim coves make for the most curvy coast in Israel.


• The Blue Cave

We almost missed it! Well, not really. You need to look for the trail signs.
One slab of rock had fallen over another and between them they formed a cave just over the water.
It has that impossible green-blue color, definitely worth a painting.

We’ll just have to find a safe place to sit on the rocks. You are looking down into it, peering thru the roof, as it were. 

The Blue Cave

• Piles of seashells, slowly being eroded into sand

First into squarish, mosaic-like pieces, and then into a coarse, light sand.
Lots of exciting textures!

Sea shells textures

• Carpets of tiny flowers all over the place. 

Everything is in full bloom! March and April are the best time of year to visit.

• Textures of Rock Formations

A good geological tour all along the beach.

Geological formations

• I’m very glad we took the easy sandy road back to the parking lot because it had the most amazing view all by itself.

We found a surprising, soft-round-vegetation landscape dotted with carpets of little flowers that look like a fantasy ride out of a theme park. 

I want to paint it!

A surprisingly pretty view on the back road of the reserve.

• Small Lizards

This one is called Homet in hebrew.
We saw animal tracks all over the place.

Small lizard we call

• Vegetation vs Erosion

These plants cast their roots like a net over the sand, and capture it. Slowly they make small round mounds of greenery that holds on to the beach and prevents the tides and winds from eating it up.

The vegetation holds back eroding forces that threaten to eat up the sand.

Important facilities at the entrance to the HaBonim Beach Nature Reserve:

• Toilets

• Lifeguard tower

Best time to visit

At the end of March and beginning of April. EVERYTHING is in bloom, and green and lush.

Shade

No shade, except for the veranda at the entrance to the park.

Beautiful rocky shoreline

Hiking the HaBonim Beach Trail 

You can click here to skip to the part about painting

Thursday is a weekday, and with still no tourists, we practically had the place to ourselves.

For some reason we didn’t get a map-leaflet like you usually do, but it’s an easy trail to follow and you can’t really get lost here.

You just make your way along the beach and come back on the sandy road, slightly further inland. 

A trail markerThis is a trail marker.

A couple of must-have warnings:

  • There is only one spot for swimming, with a proper lifeguard station and basic beach facilities.
    Other coves along this shore are dangerous to swim in, so don’t.
  • You need to take drinking water with you.
    It’s about a 2 hour round trip, but if you’re like us, stopping every 3 meters to take photos and ponder at the plants and rocks, then it will take longer.
    Obviously much longer if you plan to stop and paint!
  • Bathrooms are only at the entrance to the reserve.
  • The trail is not really difficult but does include climbing up and down rocks and sand.
  • As always in Israel, bring sunscreen and a hat


Ecological Disaster

It wasn’t all perfect.

There’s still tar on the beach, and it will be a while before cleaning is done.

This was one of the worst ecological disasters in Israel’s history, a combination of an old and shadily operated Iranian oil tanker heading for Syria, and a mighty winter storm.
You can read about it here: 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/21/oil-spill-from-passing-ship-blackens-israel-mediterranean-shoreline

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Israel_oil_spill


Why Like Dis?!

Right next to the famed Blue Cave, some people decided to take a dump. Literally.

They also left food wrappings and plastic waste, and - this one I didn’t understand – fill a natural pool in the rocks with halves of pita breads. They were full of mold and it was downright disgusting. 

Appalled, we reported this to a Pakach (park ranger) we met at the next cove.

What kind of people do such things, we asked him.

Not people, he said, they were probably fishermen. He hurried to the cave to assess the damage. 

I have a feeling that, because the park was so empty for a year, some people thought they can do whatever they wanted. 

There were a couple of fishermen standing on the rocks right on the water. When I saw them I thought it would be interesting to paint them. Now I was just upset. It explained the pita bread in the shallow pool. They were using it to keep fish or to make bait.

I just don’t understand how people can trash a place like this. I don’t get it.

On the flip side, there was also group of Arab teenagers there, who were cleaning the beach. I’m not sure in what capacity. 

They kept to themselves and seemed happy to be there. Who wouldn’t be? It was such a beautiful morning, with a rare perfect weather, and the place so serene and beautiful. 

I wish people would keep it that way.


Sea of green :)

Finally Sitting Down to Paint Something

We made it back to the starting point with an hour to spare before I had to head back, and so we sat down in the shade to rest and eat and paint:

Here's my little painting again

I was looking at this part of the beach when I arrived in the morning. 

I had the most futuristic experience – a work meeting video conference, right there on the sand. My partners very impressed with my location!

So, while we were talking about our project, I was looking at this horse-shoe shaped cove for a good 20 minutes.

Reference pictures of the cove I painted

Now, having looked and looked at similar shapes and colors for a good three hours, I was more than ready to put it down on paper.

I chose a zigzag composition.

I love the way the white triangular shape of the sea breaking on the far outcrop of rocks echoes the dark triangular shape of the inner rocks.

As you can see in the reference photo, the shapes are stretched more horizontally in reality. 

I considered painting a double spread, but the pages in this sketchbook are perforated, So I sort of squished the interesting shapes into one page.

The colors I used were:

• Ultramarine Blue

• Phthalo Blue

• Cerulean blue

• Yellow ocher 

• Viridian

• Lemon Yellow

• Titanium White gouache 

The result I think is more dynamic and less serene than the actual, rather flat scene. It was an interesting exercise. 

Changing the proportions changed the overall feel of the painting.

I added a darker layer of blue to the sea to make it darker but messed up the horizon line a bit. Note to self – do that more carefully next time.

It took me about 30 minutes.

Sitting at the picnic tables in the shade was just perfect. It would probably be different if we weren't alone there, so thumbs up for weekdays.

Painting Gear

This time I opted for minimal supplies. Here is the extra small set up which fits into my backpack with room to spare: 

Minimal painting gear for outdoors!
  • Tiny Blockx watercolor palette, supplemented with a few Daniel Smith half pans.
  • Tube of titanium white gouache.
  • Small watercolor sketchbook by Rougier&Plé  (9x14 cm).
  • Foldable water cup.
  • Brush roll.
  • some water-soluble colored pencils.
  • A small towel, and a plastic bag in which to carry it back home wet.
  • Also - not in the picture - a three-legged folding stool to sit on.

Plans for Future HaBonim Painting Trips

Bring an umbrella for shade, or at least the diffuser for the sketch-easel, and a wide brim hat.

We found a picnic table at the far end of the red trail – it has a terrific view (but no shade). 

The plan is to arrive early to “catch it” and sit there comfortably to do a larger painting.

On the inner sandy road it’s about a twenty minutes’ walk to that spot. Should be rather easy even with all the gear.

Most importantly: Hurry up and do it while everything’s still green and blossoming! In two months' time it’s likely to become a yellow desert again.

That’s it for my first impression of Habonim.

Oh, and there’s an airstrip nearby with the same name, with a large para-diving club – if you feel like seeing it all from above!

A red ultralight buzzed us when we waved to him. I just love airplanes.


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