Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spring Flower Series - Pansy portraits

In the interest of keeping things fresh, I've decided to alternate between various subjects here on the blog.  Now that spring is here, it is fitting to have a series dedicated to the ambassadors of the season - the flowers.   Last spring, I spent much of my time going around and photographing flowers, mostly domestic varieties everyone is acquainted with, along with the wildflowers I found in my local area.   I became immersed in that season, as it is probably the highlight of New England (along with the 2 weeks of fall foliage).   To see the extensive Picasa album of flowers from last year, click here.

I arrived in Tucson just in time to experience the desert in full spring bloom.  The El Nino winter, resulting in higher-than-average rainfall, produces spectacular displays of spring color.  I have been out on almost daily hikes collecting photos of those wildflowers, and will be posting images in future posts.

In the meantime, however, here are a series of lovely pansies (or violas) that were taken a few weeks ago in the retaining wall garden at the Jonquil.  It's no wonder they are a favorite for flower gardens and porch containers; their bright colors and cheery face-like features are always a delight to see.

So, to start out the spring floral season, here are the pansies:

A Study in Blue

From Behind

White Solo Act

A Pair in Purple and White

Party of Five

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rock Art Series - San Pedro River

Ever since I was a kid, I've had a fascination with rock art made by prehistoric cultures.  I was probably first exposed to it on one of our many camping trips through the southwest.  Many, if not all, of the ancient peoples living in the southwest created images on the most durable and readily available canvas:  rocks.   Archaelogists have studied, described and attempted to explain the meaning of the images painted or pecked into the rocks, but ultimately, much of it remains an enigma.

In the southern region of AZ, the most well-known prehistoric culture inhabiting the area around Phoenix, Tucson and as far east as the Tombstone area were the Hohokam.  They were an agrarian culture, with their villages located near water sources now known as the Gila, Salt and San Pedro rivers, and probably lived in the area for perhaps 500-700 years, around 1000 AD.  It is a testament to their resourcefulness, intelligence, toughness and respect for the land that they were able to survive for so long in such a harsh and unforgiving climate.  For reasons unknown, they disappeared before history began (read:  the Coronado expedition in the mid 16th century).  Their living descendants may be the native people that were occupying the land during Coronado's travels - the Tohono O'Odham (formerly known as the Pima and Papago).

In addition to finding Hohokam village ruins throughout the region, there are numerous areas of rock art panels found.  What is interesting is that they generally were not found in the same locations as the villages.  I recently finished reading a book on the Hohokam rock art of South Mtn., located in Phoenix, which is at least a few miles away from the Gila river.  Hundreds of panels are present in these mountains, usually near drainages or other water sources.

Prior to and after reading this wonderful book (I will have to provide the author/title in a later post), I've been visiting sites of rock art, and of course, taking lots of photos.  The book provided some useful terms  used to describe the images, so I'll be using those in my descriptions as well.

A quick primer on rock art:  "pictograph" - refers to images painted onto the surface of a rock, as with the Mogollon rock art panel shown in the Council Rocks post.  "Petroglyph" refers to images actually tapped, or pecked, onto the surface of the rock, using a set of rock tools (hammer and chisel).  The superficial, patinated layer of rock is removed, exposing the pale underlying rock.  The degree of repatination (due to the combined effects of water, sun and time interacting with the mineral layers of the rock) can help date the petroglyph.

Whatever the reason the Hohokam created these delightful and fascinating abstract designs may never be known, but art is art, so I am pleased to be able to share the work of artists long since gone, but whose spirit remains with us generations later.  Enjoy!

Location:  adjacent to the San Pedro River, off of Charleston Rd., ~10 miles southwest of Tombstone.  These panels were on an outcropping of rocks along the trail, perhaps 1/4 a mile east of the river.

Mixed panel
A spiral - a common Hohokam design - is seen to the upper left.  A series of connected, curving lines and shapes, along with a linear ladder-type design are seen to the right.  Below the rock fissure a few anthropomorphs (human-shaped), quadrupeds (generic four-legged animals) and a snake form are seen, and the snake appears to be connected to a cross and other curved lines.

Mixed panel, detail
Spirals are thought to possibly represent visions or dreams by shamans.

Mixed panel #2
More anthropomorphs, and what appear to be either faces with headdress or prints (bear?) are seen, along with some anthropomorphs and a circled cross - another common motif seen.

Sun design, quadruped and lizard(?)
Quadruped is either a bighorn sheep or deer; the Hohokam typically gave their ungulate forms long, upright tails and horns that often pointed in the wrong direction.

Unknown animal form
This could be a reptile with toe detail.  The branching of the tail could be demonstrating movement.  The design below looks as if it were rubbed out.  There is something that looks like a "crossed ribbon" design  (looks almost just like the pink breast cancer ribbon design on the flash drive stick I'm using now!)

Vertical panel
This block/ladder pattern makes use of the orientation of the rock, and originates with some unidentifiable figures above.   Given that the Hohokam were not cliff dwellers like the Anasazi, the image is probably not a ladder.  

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bisbee: A Retrospective

I never cease to be amazed how quickly time flies.  For one thing, it's been too long since my last blog post, and I'm hoping to remedy that now that things have somewhat settled, at least for the next few weeks.  Between dealing with some time-wasting personal issues, I also had to spend time packing for my Bisbee departure and helping my mom before/during/after her surgery.  Limited computer/internet access then became the main issue.

Thanks to the wonderful services of the Pima Co. public library here in Cortaro and their free WiFi, I am all set to resume postings to my blog.  The upside of my lack of computer and internet time is that I've been spending lots of time and collecting new material.

This post is about a week later than I had intended, but I still wanted to post it anyway.

My winter spent in Bisbee was really a positive and memorable experience for me, and I was sad to leave.  I tried to experience as much of the essence and energy of the town as I could, and was pleased to have made some lasting friendships along the way.  My experience working as an innkeeper was "interesting", but it did keep me busy for a few months, which was good.

I took many photos of the area during my stay, most of which were not urban-based.  However, Bisbee is a very attractive and charming town, and I offer here a sampling of images of the town.  At some point, I'll post the rest to the Bisbee album in my Picasa gallery, which I started last year when I was out.

Snow in Bisbee
Residual snowclouds are seen to the west in this view taken from Castle Rock sometime in December.  Snow is already melted off of the south-facing slopes of the Mules.

One of the many abandoned silver or copper mine shafts seen on the side of the hills surrounding Bisbee.
This one is located along an un-named trail I called the "traverse trail" as it traverses the side of the hills on the north side of the town.

A View of Main Street
Taken in the morning, this shows the architecture of the buildings, all of which are original but either maintained or restored since the town was built in 1880.

"The Iron Man"
Bisbee's tribute to the "virile" [actual word on the plaque] men who worked the mines in Bisbee.  This sculpture made me laugh every time I walked by it.  It's located on Tombstone Cyn Rd, the main road through Old Bisbee and about 1/4 mile down from The Jonquil.

A View of Old Bisbee
Taken from Hwy 80, that circumvents the main town to the south, the canyon and hillside layout of the town can be seen.  

"B" on the Mountain
Typical of many towns and cities in the west, Bisbee also has its initial on the hillside.  The view is to the  northeast and shows part of the area known as "Brewery Gulch".  Terraced areas are sites of previous homes that did not withstand the tests of time.

Staircase with Ivy.
No description of Bisbee would be complete without showing at least one of the dozens of concrete staircases that are scattered throughout the hillsides.  Many are public; some lead to private residences and many lead to nothing at all anymore.  This particular staircase is adjacent to the City Hall building and leads past some homes to a public park on the south side of town.

"Perfection Bread"
One of Bisbee's many wall murals, this one is clearly old and is maybe 100 meters up Tombstone Cyn. Rd. from the Jonquil.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Experimental and exploratory - pastels

Last week, after looking through a collection of random abstract photos I've taken looking for the next subject for a painting, I decided to use it as an opportunity to experiment with color. Understanding colors is crucial to creating a successful painting, regardless of the style, medium or subject matter chosen. I find it often to be a weak link in my own work. I spend a lot of time reading books, magazines, and reading/surfing artist blogs, as I love to see how other artists handle color in their work.

I also decided that this practice would be a good way to use up some of the Canson Mi-Teintes paper I have had in my art supplies for the past 10 years. Many, if not most, pastelists find the surface to be less-than-desireable to work on, as it has a patterned texture and doesn't have much tooth to hold pastel. It can be an exercise in frustration to work on, and I'd have to agree with others who say it's not a good surface for beginners to use. However, I've seen absolutely fantastic works created on it, so clearly it *is* possible to make it work.

I wanted to experiment with compliments and also high-chroma/high saturated colors, as well as greys.

Using a scrap piece of my wet-dry sandpaper, I chose colors that I liked that I thought would harmonize well together. They looked vibrant and intense on the black surface of the paper.

However, light-colored Canson is nothing like dark sandpaper, and the same colors that looked vibrant and glowing looked weak and anemic on the Canson.  Ugh.  Figuring "what the heck?", I began vigorously blending the pastel into the paper with my index finger [gloved]. 

Instead of immediately tossing the paper in the trash, I decided to experiment with scumbling, lines and colors, layering without blending.  Light over dark, dark over light, hard edges, feathering, scumbling - it was totally random and I loved the process.  As I continued, I realized that I was learning a lot and that the paper was actually more responsive than I'd hoped. While the end result isn't anything I'd describe as a purposeful painting, or of any artistic merit, I found it to be tremendously valuable, and I'm keeping it as a reference rather than binning it: 
abstract color study
9x9" Canson

From that, I went on to do this small study, also an abstract.  It is based on a photo I took of a granite boulder along the Agua Fria river trip.  I have taken several photos of rock surfaces over the years, as I'm drawn to the shadows, cracks and textures of the rocks.  I modified the composition a bit from the photo, and did a small value/notan study.  A graphite drawing was first done, and then using some of the techniques/colors from the above piece, I did this little study:

Granite abstract study
pastel on Canson, 6x9"

Abstracts offer such an excellent way to explore color, design and composition by allowing oneself to be freed of "convention".  So, I will definitely be doing more in the future.  In the meantime, I've been using Canson for more studies and quick landscapes, and will be posting those in the future. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Evening at Whitewater Draw

This past Friday, local artist and friend, Liz, and I took a trip to a nearby wildlife refuge called Whitewater Draw.  I'm not sure how it gets its name, as there is no white water (rapids) there.  However, it is a well-known destination for human, bird and mammal gatherings.  Our purpose:  sunset photos.  Liz has already shot some beautiful photos of the area, but luckily, she was up for another trip. 

The weather was glorious - warm and sunny, with no wind.  No clouds, alas, but that ended up being not a bad thing. 

Whitewater Draw is located in the basin area east of the Mule Mtns. and west of the Chiricahua Mtns., and near the towns of McNeal and Elfrida.  It's a quiet, unassuming place, and it gets much of its water from the drainages from the eastern part of the Mule Mtns, including the creek that runs behind the motel.  Its biggest attraction is probably the large numbers of sandhill cranes that spend part of their migratory path there, but it attracts countless other species of waterfowl as well.  We had both heard that the cranes were gone for the season, but that didn't deter us.  I was interested in getting some reflected light from the sunset, since there are no other bodies of water nearby. 

It is a birder's paradise:  shortly after arriving, we discovered the horned owl that roosts in the rafters of the large shelter on the property.  After giving me an intent, contemptuous stare, he turned his head, and flew off before I could get a photo.  My first live owl sighting, too!  The ponds and sloughs had many species of ducks, and we saw a tall, slender white bird poised motionless in the shallow water - probably a stork of some kind.  And - sandhill cranes!  Hundreds of them, sitting or resting or roosting or whatever it is that they do, along a distal part of the preserve at the edge of the water.  Sandhills are large birds, about 3' high, and grey with black tipped wings.  We also discovered a small cluster a bit closer, although a telephoto lens would have been in order to get any bird-focused photos.

So, in these photos, the birds aren't the main attraction; they are more akin to the back-up singers in a band, since some of the photos just wouldn't be the same without them.

I hope you enjoy this selection of evening and sunset photos taken this past Friday at Whitewater Draw:

Late Afternoon
The calm water in this pond reflects the fading afternoon light, along with the distal trees and proximal grass.  A smattering of small ducks can be seen as well. 

Sun Sets over the Draw
The eastern Mules are the backdrop as the sun casts its setting rays across the water.

Evening Tranquility
A trio of ducks enjoy the calm waters of the draw.
Sunset Glow
The warm rays of the setting sun cast their reflections on the water in this wide-angle shot.

Mountain Reflections
The reflected sky and mountain silhouette create a minimalist, almost abstract, quality to this image.

Evening Flight
Hundreds of sandhill cranes take to the sky as the sunset deepens it to a brilliant orange.  Their reflections form an interesting pattern along with the vegetation in the mirror smooth surface of the water.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sky Friday - Cumulus Sunset

Here is a 4-part set of the sunset from last Saturday. It was a cumulus kind of day - all types seen: humilis, mediocris, congestus and of course, cumulonimbus. As per usual, I got many shots, and several turned out quite well. One was the reference for a painting posted earlier in the week.

These four are essentially taken from all 4 directions, so are almost a 360 degree view of what I saw that evening.

Celebrating the glorious cumulus cloud:

To the West
Huachucas to the right side of the image.  The sun casts beautiful crepescular rays behind this nearby cumulus mediocris, while a row of stratocumulus make up the far horizon.

To the South, over San Jose Peak
This 18mm shot shows the variety of shapes and colors in the evening sky.  Most are cumulus humilis and c. mediocris, with the lowest level - stratocumulus - visible over the mountain and in the distance.

Cumulonimbus to the East
This magnificent cloud reflects the pink rays of the sun, while its attendant "accessory" clouds are already out of the range of the sun's main rays.

Cumulus Congestus to the North
These towering pink cloud columns and lower level stratus layer lie north of the Mules.  Congestus often build rapidly and often transform into cumulonimbus (rain-producing). 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Water Abstracts #4 - Continuation

Due to the unusually wet winter we've had, the creek behind the hotel has been flowing continuously since the first set of water abstracts were taken back in early Feb.  The water never looks the same on the rocks, proving just how ephemeral each of these images truly are.  I find both the movement of the running water and the sound of it both mesmorizing and soothing, and could probably spend all day hanging out down at the creek.  We got more snow last night, so I'm confident that the creek will continue its flow for as long as I'm still in Bisbee.

These four are so very different, yet were all taken on the same day and within about 15' of each other.  

Yin and Yang

Mosaic #2

Starry Night

Golden Crossing

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Three faces of a sunset - pastel

After photographing some recent and particularly pretty sunsets lately, I was inspired to paint some.  The skies here, and subsequently, the sunsets, are so varied that nothing ever looks the same or even close to the same when I go out. 

These paintings show radically different perspectives of a sunset, based on location and type of cloud.  There is the high-drama, high-chroma sky in the west where the sun sets.  These are the real attention grabbers and fun to paint due to the use of bright, saturated reds, oranges and yellows.  An eastern sunset sky gives a more muted presentation:  pinks, purples and blues, but beautiful all the same. 

The cloud type is of course what gives the sunset its character - thinner, diffuse cloud layers transmit the rays of the sun, transforming them into color.  Cumulus are lower, dense clouds of small droplets absorb little and reflect more.  Mid-level clouds, such as altocumulus, can surprise or disappoint, depending upon their location relative to the setting sun. 

The first two paintings are based on photos taken at the same location on the same evening.  The last one was based on one of the photos I took this past Saturday, also at the same location south of town on Swan Rd. 

"Cirrostratus Sunset" - 12 x 9"
pastel on Colourfix paper with black underpainting.
After taking the photo, I see some adjustments that can be made.  As before, the surface of this paper was a challenge and made the painting time-consuming.  It looks grainy and a bit stiff in the photo, but I do like the way the colors turned out.  First chance I had to use the MV sunset colors I purchased last month! 

"Cirrus Sunset to the East" - 12 x 9
pastel on Canson Mi-Tientes paper, smooth side
I completed this study relatively quickly last night.  Inital layer is blended into the paper and clouds scumbled lightly on top.  It doesn't translate so well in the photo; the colors aren't quite so saturated or the cloud edges so rough. 

"Cumulus to the East" - 11 x 9"
pastel on 320-grit sandpaper using alcohol wash underpainmting
$85 ppd, ready-to-frame
The alcohol wash was quite effective in this painting, allowing me to get the well-defined edges of the various layers of cloud seen here.

I look forward to doing more sunset paintings, and definitely plan on doing larger size paintings once I'm back to CT. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tennessee Barn - pastel with underpainting

Based on this month's WetCanvas pastel forum spotlight challenge, this painting was completed Sunday evening.  The purpose of the challenge was to use a wet underpainting for the painting.  Paula Ford hosted the challenge, and as usual, provided a lovely selection of photos to choose from.  I've used underpaintings/washes a few times, but after this exercise, I think I'll use them more often.

I chose a photo of an old barn in Tennessee.  I have a fascination with old, abandoned buildings and barns, so this was an easy choice.  Aside from the appealing subject matter, the image, with its layers of hills in the distance, was a good example of aerial perspective [by which elements will become cooler and greyer in color as they recede from the viewer's position]. 

Photo was cropped to a 9x12" scale, and I chose to keep the barn the prominent feature (not just the focal point) in the picture.  The Colourfix paper I used has a rough surface that doesn't allow for precise and small detail to be added, so that was another good reason to keep the barn a bit bigger. 

I used pastels of different values to lightly block in the main shapes of the sky, hills, trees, barn and foreground.  Using a small wash brush and rubbing alcohol, I then painted them quickly into simple shapes into the paper.  Rubbing alcohol is great because it dries quickly and does a good job of spreading the pastel pigment onto the paper. 

Here are the two paintings for comparison:

"Summer Comes to the Old Barn" - pastel
9x12" Colourfix
$85 ppd, ready to frame

Monday, March 8, 2010

A trip to Council Rocks - a photo-essay

Yesterday, two local artist friends and I took a day trip out to the Dragoon Mtns.  Mike is a photographer/web designer and Liz is an encaustic painter and photographer.  Destination was the area known as Council Rocks - a historical site known to be a meeting place for Apache tribe members Cochise and Geronimo.  The rock facades also have rock art believed to be 1000 years old and created by the prehistoric peoples living in the area - the Mogollon. 

The weather report was a bit sketchy, with a 30% chance of rain predicted for late afternoon/evening.  During our trip, the fair-weather cumulus transitioned into rainclouds that luckily bypassed us as far as precipitation went.  They did, however, enhance the landscape photos we took. 

Below is a selection of some of my favorites from the trip.  I ended up heading out later that evening to shoot some sunset photos, and I'll be posting that series perhaps tomorrow.  Winter is taking its time departing, but it's providing some beautiful skies in the meantime!

A look to the past
Important communication symbols or just ancient graffiti?  No one knows for sure, but these enigmatic designs continue to enchant and fascinate those who see them.

Close-up of pictograph panel
Two figures - human, perhaps? - are shown in detail.

Council Rocks
The actual Council Rocks are between the large balanced rock to the left and the large boulder to the right.  A path leads to the pictograph panels, which are on the second large rock to the left.  The meeting room area is formed by the large group of boulders to the right.

Sky reflections
This small pool of rainwater adjacent to a huge boulder reflects both the nearby grasses and the clouds from above.

Geological and botanical still life
A variety of contrasting shapes, colors and testures add interest to this landscape/still life image

Easter Island meets the Dragoons
This balanced slab of rock has recognizable facial features sitting atop this weathered granite monolith.  Oddly, I didn't even notice the face until I looked at the photograph later.

Sheep's Head rock and rainclouds
The dark stormclouds add a sense of drama to the sunlit face of this portion of the mountains.  Scrub oak and desert grasses make up the foreground.

I will probably post the rest of the photos I took to a picasa gallery of the Dragoons at some point; new photos will be visible in the picasa feed at the bottom of the blog page when they're up.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Water Abstracts - #3

Here is another set of water abstracts taken in the Agua Fria NM area, along with a few from the Mazatzal Mtns. area. On my drive back from Flagstaff, I stopped at a trailhead just south of Payson and went on a short hike. The trail was very scenic, and eventually lead to a small drainage called Deer Creek.   I got a variety of photos, some of which will probably make it into future blog posts, and certainly some reference material for paintings. 

The large, colorful rocks in the Deer Creek drainage give a very different look to these abstract photos than the previous series posted.  Enjoy!

Green not with Envy

Precious Metals

Color Cache


More to follow soon!  Besides clouds and skies, these abstracts are probably my newest obsession, and while I thought I might run out of new ideas or subjects, that hasn't been the case.
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