Thursday, September 30, 2010

Four Corners & Colorado Plateau series - #5 & 6

Here are two more from the Hwy 160 drive.  One is the Church Rock study that I wasn't originally going to post because it was quickly done and basically just an experiment with the paint already on my palette using canvas paper.  But, today, as I was finishing the smaller piece I started yesterday, I decided to work it a bit more and figured I may as well post it because I didn't get the other piece I started finished, either - I decided to try that in washes, so it had to dry.

The second is the windmill from 2 days ago.  Ugh.  I guess I'm setting myself up for disappointment when I try to paint something detailed and small using a medium I'm not experienced with using.  With pastels, it would have been much easier to control the lines for making the blades on the windmill.  Here,'ll see.

I'm out of the gessoed boards I made, so I'm off to the art store to pick up some small canvas panels.  We'll see if painting on those is any better/worse.

Church Rock study - #5
9x12 inches
oil on canvas paper

Since this was just a study, no thought was given to composition, so there it is - right in the center of the paper.  I was really interested in playing around a bit with the subtle mauves and grays, along with the shadows, in the structure itself.  I really didn't want to spend much more time on it, but it does look a little better than it did after the first session.

Desert water - #6
5x7 inches
oil on gessoed card

Windmills are a common occurrence in arid climates such as the Colorado Plateau; they are often the only source of water for miles.  I'm not sure if this is still actively collecting water or not; the tank itself had a range of colors from the metal and rust, and some graffiti that I wasn't going to attempt to paint.  Despite how unimpressive this small painting turned out, I could see doing a larger, more detailed painting of the same subject later.  The dark red cliffs in the background open up to Monument Valley.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall colors & blog anniversary

I realized today that yesterday was actually the one-year anniversary of my art blog.   It's hard to believe a year has gone by since I began the more formal process of documenting my artistic endeavors and process via this blog.  I've mentioned it before, but my inspiration for joining the blogosphere was all the art blogs I was reading that were inspiring *me*.   I found that the blog helped discipline me to create things regularly,   and while maybe there were few, if any, readers, I wrote as if there were people who were interested in my thoughts and artwork.  

And thank you to those who have been regular readers, or occasionally stop by for a look, and to those who take the time to comment; it sort of helps validate the effort put into the posts.  I used to not leave comments on other blogger's sites, but then realized that I wanted people to know that I was reading and enjoying their artwork and blog.   I guess it falls under the "do unto others" theme.

Anyway, yesterday I set to work on my quota of 2-3 paintings, but got stalled out on the first one because of extra details it needs (it's a windmill).  I'm still not confident enough with the alla prima handling of paint, especially on these small sized canvases, that I can just do precise applications of paint wet on wet and get it not goofy.  So, I'll probably add the last bit to that one later after the sky is dry, and continue on.

In the meantime, here are two fall color paintings I did with the extra paint on the palette after I'd done the Four Corners paintings for the day.   And a couple of photos from the short hike we went on along Hermosa Creek out by the Purgatory ski area yesterday afternoon.

aspen leaf portrait
7x5 inches
oil on gessoed card

Based on a photo I took on our Purgatory Flats hike last week, this was done from a graphite drawing on  the card.  I learned a lot from doing this still life painting.  I happen to really like vignetted paintings, so I went with that here.  Unfortunately, I thought about it a little late, so it's not as spontaneous as I'd have liked.  

Aspen hillside
5x7 inches
oil on gessoed card

Another based on the Purgatory Flats hike from last week.  This was a good exercise in just seeing things as abstracted blocks of color and value - something I'm definitely getting much better at.  If this were a bigger size, I probably would have added a it more detail, and finished the scattered pines on the two higher hills.  Still trying to figure out the best way to get fine lines for the well as sign the painting - clearly, a brush isn't working so well for that.  

Hermosa creek
The view to the right from the double-track trail, about a mile from the trailhead.  This creek is used by fly fishermen, and we spoke with three who were fishing it that day.  Rainbows, native cutthroats and brown trout inhabit these waters.

Colors of fall 
The view to the left of the trail, up the slope.  Aspen tower over the firs scattered within their stands.

Hermosa Peak afternoon
Better light on the way back shows the aspen-covered hillsides and meadow through which the creek runs, with Hermosa Pk. is in the distance.

Meandering creek 
On the dirt road back to Hwy 550, Hermosa Cr. is a series of oxbow meanders through the meadow.  According to an interpretive sign nearby, the area had extensive restoration work after years of cattle grazing took their inevitable toll on the ecosystem of the creek.  Thankfully, the area is now closed to grazing.  A brilliant stand of aspen breaks up the evergreen forest in the distance.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Four Corners & Colorado Plateau series - #4 & 5

I had planned to post these yesterday, but by the time I finished painting for the day, it was too dark to take photos [I usually take them outside].

The first is of a wash - one of many that run through the plateau country.  Most are dry except right after a rain; this had a few residual pools of water, which were no doubt gone within the next day or so.  They follow the path of least resistance, usually bordered by sandstone outcroppings and cliffs, as shown here.

Along the wash  - #4
oil on gessoed card

It's been good practice to mix up a variety of greens for the grasses, shrubs and trees.   The clouds for this were based on what was out my window at the time, so it's got a touch of plein air.  

Outcropping  - #5
oil on gessoed card

Jurassic period Navajo sandstone is the predominate rock along Hwy 160 as you cross into AZ.  It forms both cliffs (as in Lake Powell) and scalloped cross-bedded slopes - a testament to its eolian (dune) origins.  Grasses and other hardy desert shrubs take hold along the eroded debris piles and in the fissures.  

Monday, September 27, 2010

Four Corners & Colorado Plateau series - #2 & 3

Two more done today for this series.   My plan is to keep all of these as alla prima pieces and not re-work any, lest I get bogged down in trying to fix mistakes; it's best just to recognize the issues and try to avoid them in the next painting.   I'm also not overly concerning myself with composition issues at the moment; I'm choosing photos where the composition is interesting enough to me to warrant painting it.

I actually completed 4 paintings today, including a larger one on canvas paper of Church Rock, and a still life of sorts.  It was fun, so I will probably mix up the landscapes with other subjects and post them as groups.

For now, here are the next two.  Clouds for both are from memory and rather spontaneously painted, which is probably quite obvious.

Cottonwood View  - #2
5x7 inches
oil on gessoed card

Cottonwoods against weathered Navajo sandstone rock indicate the presence of water in this arid climate.  I'm sort of starting to figure out the best sequence to add the various elements and not turn everything into an overblended mess.  

Towards the Rise - #3
5x7 inches
oil on gessoed card

Heading west along Hwy 160, the road takes many curves and undulations through washes and over small elevations on the plateau.  Need to work on the cloud placement for sure.   Those yellow highway marks are a challenge to get right, and mistakes aren't easily corrected.  Better luck next time on that.  

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Go take a Hike: Crater Lake trail

No painting today, so instead I'll share a selection of the photos taken from today's hike, which is what I did instead of stay inside.  We try to do long day hikes on Saturdays or Sundays, as long as the weather holds up.  Today was another perfect fall day:  temps in the 70's, even at 11,000', and a bright, sunny day.  The aspen are continuing to put on a glorious display for everyone driving up Hwy 550.

Crater lake is an alpine level lake located at the base of North Twilight Peak in the San Juans.  The trail starts at Andrews Lake, right off Hwy 550, about 10 miles south of Silverton.  Last summer when we were  visiting Durango, we started this hike, which is 5.5 mi. to the lake.  Living at sea level and being out of shape made even hiking less than two miles along the trail seem like a grind.  It starts around 10,000' and only gains about 800' during its course to the lake.  Here is a photo I posted earlier taken on the same trail last summer.

North Twilight Peak, as seen from Hwy 550 on the drive ~1 mile from the turn-off to Andrews Lake.  Fresh snow is visible on the north face after a storm we had 2 days ago, and look at those aspen in their full-on-disco fall color!

Afternoon light usually results in really washed-out photos, but we seldom get to the trails this far up the highway before about 11 a.m. (it's about an hour drive from Durango).  Having no clouds doesn't help that, but what are you gonna do?  Answer:  make the best of it!

Aspen stand with rock outcroppings on hillside.  In general, aspen don't grow above about 9,000', and these were one of two stands anywhere near the trail.  

Gray limestone and pink/tan sandstone are the rocks seen from bottom to top here.

Engineer Peak, again.  Yes, it's true:  I have a fixation with this mountain.  I am quite sure I'm not the only one living in the area who does; it's just that cool.

It manages to look good even in midday sun.  As we approach the forested section of the trail, it disappears from view for a bit, only to reemerge from a different vantage point, as we'll see below.

Trail, in shadow.  Through a forested section the trail goes, shortly after entering the Weimenuch Wilderness.  Wilderness = an area untrammeled by man and where man does not remain.

A bit later, I passed a group on horseback with 2 pack mules.  They were heading home after a successful elk hunt.  It's bowhunting season here, so anyone who can bag a bull elk with a bow clearly has some excellent hunting and archery skills.  I was impressed.

Elk generally remain in the high country throughout spring, summer and fall, and are seldom, if ever, seen during the day.  In the winter and at dusk, they descend from the mountains into the open meadows in search of food.  I'm confident I'll be seeing plenty of them this winter.

Twilight Mountain, as seen en route.  Out of the forest and into a meadow of golden-brown fall grasses with a smattering of fir.

This about half way to Crater Lake - just under 3 miles.

One of the "money shots" of Engineer, showing a view you'll not see without some work.  Stands of aspen continue to delight hikers' aesthetics as they form patchworks of color along the contours of the terrain below.

Crater Lake.  Sparkles from the sun dance off the surface as a slight breeze hits the surface.  Residual snow resists immediate melting in the shadows and along the steep slopes.  A few large skimmer-type dragonflies were patroling the shoreline in search of food.

Reeds at the water's edge are also fading to their fall colors.

Crater lake pano
Sit and have lunch, and enjoy the peace and quiet.  A handful of other hikers were scattered along the shore, also enjoying a beautiful autumn day.

A bold visitor.  This chap apparently is quite used to human presence, and given his proximity, we figured he probably is either casing for food opportunities or perhaps defending his territory.  This almost looks like a telephoto shot, but it's only 70mm - that's how close he was.
Engineer on the way back.   Look how the light changes as compared to the above photo.  

Like I said, it's just that cool, and looks good from all angles.

Symmetry and form in the rocks.

On the way back, and waiting for Wayne to catch up, I decided to go have a closer look at the rock outcropping in the meadow about 2 mi. from the trailhead.  It's composed of Leadville limestone, a Mississippian-period rock formed from widespread seas that existed 320 million years ago.  

And, it has fossils!  Click on the photo to see the perfect star-shaped center of these remarkable examples of early marine life forms.  

Paleozoic bas-relief with moss.

I could have spent hours crawling around on these rocks, taking photos and just delighting in the patterns and shapes of these fossils.  

They don't look like the crinoids I've seen in the analogous limestone (Redwall) in the Grand Canyon.  Regardless, they are beyond awesome.

Andrews Lake - late afternoon.  

Back at the trailhead, I had a few minutes to take some final photos of Andrews Lake, this time in better light.  

The photos I took at the start of the hike were so poor they weren't worth keeping.  This one does a bit more justice to the lake, thanks to lower level light.


Friday, September 24, 2010

A new series and a new medium

It's finally time to shake things up in the studio a bit.  I've been working exclusively in soft pastels for the past year (almost), and while that has been great and I don't plan to abandon them, I am feeling the urge to return to oils.

I say "return", because for over 12 years, I worked exclusively in oils...but never on 2D canvas, and never a single landscape, still life or portrait.  The "canvases" were polyresin equine sculptures and the method of painting was decidedly different than the direction I want to go now.   It would often take me weeks to complete a single piece, done in multiple thin layers and glazes, with much attention given to minute detail and careful blending and color matching for real equine coat colors and patterns.   Brush strokes or any kind of impasto technique was absolutely, positively not acceptable, nor was loose, impressionist-type work; it was all about photorealism.   That was good for many years, but eventually I got burned out and desperately needed a break.

So, while I feel comfortable working with oils, it is somewhat limited in scope:  no alla prima painting, no juicy.   Over the past several years, I've accumulated many oil painting technique books, with a focus on landscapes.  I've managed to replace almost all that were lost by the PO this past spring, and I've been re-reading them.  I follow many landscape painter blogs and almost always have books by contemporary or deceased master artists I get from the library.  I'm inspired by the works of O'Keeffe, Hopper, Maynard Dixon, Edgar Payne, and contemporary landscape painters Ed Mell, Matt Smith and Clyde Aspevig.

Our trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, across a good slice of the Colorado Plateau, was the inspiration for a new series of paintings, based on the photos taken during the drive along Hwy's 160, 89 and 64, and of course, the Canyon itself.

Here's the piece that kicked it off - my very first landscape painting in oils:

West from North Timp Pt
5x7 inches
oil on gessoed cardstock

Perhaps not the recommended subject matter for a first painting in oils, but it worked for me.  Reason:  it's a subject matter I'm very well-aquainted with, and thanks to haze and time of day, what would normally be an overwhelming degree of detail had been rendered to a series of horizons in simple shapes and a simple palette.  What better way to work than as a value study devoid of distracting detail?  Plus, it follows the tenets of atmospheric perspective.

I probably fussed over it too much, and it was clear that I need to overcome my resistance to loading the brush with paint, but it was somewhat exhilarating.  I ended up doing it in two sessions, as I needed to correct some values and the paint was just too thin.  

For those familiar with the Grand Canyon, you'll instantly recognize this topography is not in the main part of the park:  those wide benches are known as the Esplanade, which is the thickest layer of the Supai group of sandstones and mudstones, and it trends thicker and towards forming these slickrock extensions as you head west.  The reddish cliff layer visible in the lower left section is the Redwall limestone, so named from the stained appearance from the 4 Supai group layers above it.  

I used a simple palette of burnt umber, ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, yellow ochre and titanium white.   BU + UB makes a glorious chromatic blue-black - perfect for those receding horizons.  

Anyway, my goal is to do 2-3 of these small studies per day, working my way across the Colorado Plateau.  I figure by the time I work back to the Mesa Verde area, I should be much more proficient!  And probably pretty close to 100 paintings as well.

Here is the first in the Four Corners & Colorado Plateau road trip series (or, second, I suppose):

Road to Red Mesa
5x7 inches
oil on gessoed cardstock

Alla prima - added cadmium yellow and A. crimson to the palette for this piece.  Red Mesa is past Four Corners and on the Navajo Nation, as is all of Hwy 160 as soon as it enters AZ.  I had issues with the paint thickening, possibly because the oil was leaching into the palette board I was using, so I may add some walnut oil for future paintings so the paint is less tacky.  I'm used to using Liquin for a drying/glazing medium, and may use it in the future.   

The cardstock, which I made from existing white archival matboard pieces cut to size and coated with 2-3 layers of acrylic gesso, works okay, but I may switch to small canvas boards in the future.  These are nice because they are excellent to practice on, but if a piece turns out well, it can be framed.

I'll keep tossing pastels into the  mix, probably as pieces for this series, and maybe some random other pieces as well.  For now, though, it's onward along Hwy 160 towards the Grand Canyon!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More fall colors in pastel

Just finished, and another based on a photo taken on our hike 2 days ago.  This looks to the north, as the trail crosses an open meadow in the valley.  A still-green stand of cottonwoods on the left lead to Coal Bank Hill and Potato Mtn. to the right - a cloud-cast shadow on its lower slope.  A stand of yellow aspen defines the northern boundary of this attractive meadow, which still has a surprising number of wildflowers.

Along purgatory flats
7.5 x 11 inches
320# sandpaper on matboard

It's always nice to return to sanded papers after working on a low-textured paper like Strathmore.  This piece was done almost entirely with Nupastels, with my favorite dark green Sennelier and some others for the sky.  No finger blending at all here; just layering and scumbling.  

A few more photos from that same hike:

"Late arrivals"
An unknown species of butterfly feeds on a late-season daisy in the meadow

"Not all is golden"
This backlit sumac (I think) branch shows off its brilliant orange leaves against the forest of aspen

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fall comes to the San Juans

Back when I lived in AZ, I always loved the fall.  In the desert, it meant a break from the hot temperatures and resuming outdoor activities, like backpacking in the Grand Canyon.  In the higher country, the mornings are crisp, the air is dry and there is a distinct change in the quality of the light.  And, of course, fall colors.   In the west and southwest, that means patches of broadleaf deciduous trees interspersed with conifer forests, and coupled with the mountains, canyons and plateaus of the region.   Greens fade to yellows, rusts and brown as the grasses and wildflowers fade away and go to seed.  The whole land has a warm, inviting glow to it.

People rave about "fall colors" in the east coast, particularly in New England.  They are hit or miss, I found, and the season is short - about 2 1/2 weeks.  One good wind or rain storm, and it's over sooner.  Once the leaves are gone, the forests are completely barren and lifeless for the next 6 months.  I found that depressing, and never looked forward to fall.

Now that I'm back home, the excitement over fall has returned.   Everyone waits for the aspen to turn, and turning they are!  Yesterday, we hiked the trail that we did the day after we got into town:  the Purgatory Creek trail.  It goes through several stands of aspen, and we hoped that we'd see some of them in full color.  We weren't disappointed.  The trail starts across from the Durango Mtn. Resort (formerly known as Purgatory Ski Resort), follows the creek down the mountain and onto a valley where Cascade creek runs.  The views of several mountains are spectacular.  

I'd originally planned on doing another series of landscape paintings, focusing on oils, but I couldn't resist doing another small pastel today, based on one of the photos I took along the trail yesterday.  Another piece is on my easel, probably finished up tomorrow.  This is a good way to include some photos from the hike without a separate post, so below are some of my favorites.

"aspen trail"
7x5 inches
Strathmore paper on foamboard

It was just great to pull out the high-key yellows for this painting.  The sky looks a bit flat in the photo; we had overcast skies and rain all day, so the actual painting looks better in person (don't they always, though?).   

"Aspen curves"
A tall aspen with a graceful, curving trunk, is flanked by smaller trees and evergreens on the trail

"West Needles in Shadow"
This view to the east along a rock outcropping shows the patches of aspen, both yellow and green, amongst the fir and spruce forest on the West Needle Mtns.

"Engineer & Aspen"
Engineer Peak is visible to the northwest in this view from the Purgatory Flats river valley

"Cascade Creek"
Just under two miles from the trailhead, the trail approaches this perennial creek, which attracts fly-fishers as well as hikers and backpackers

"Color Study"
These stands of aspen show off their range of colors in this abstracted image, shot at 70mm

"An Intimate View"
A small branch of aspen leaves, backlit by the afternoon sun, shows color detail and shadows, in contrast to the bokeh of the distal trees and sky

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Two small landscapes: East & West

Resuming the landscape theme here, with two small pastels that were another experiment of sorts.  I wanted to see how it would work to dry mount some Strathmore paper on foamboard, both as a painting surface and just for ease of handling (and, more importantly, framing).  I see lots of pastelists talk about painting on paper mounted to Gatorfoam, archival matboard, or other rigid backings.  But, no one explains techniques or materials they use.

I've experimented with the 3M photomount spray, which was messy, toxic-smelling, and didn't seem to work all that well.  I've used the double-sided tape that scrapbookers use, and while it wasn't messy, it wasn't terribly efficient, especially for larger sized pieces.  And, I've never used it with pastel papers - only sandpaper and only on matboard, not foamboard.

I came across a glue stick (Elmer's, I believe) in the scrapbooking section of the store a few weeks ago, and it looked like something worth trying.  Permanent adhesion, acid-free (important; I've had drawings from college ruined from using rubber cement) and in a stick form, so not messy and probably wouldn't buckle the paper.

Using some of the strips remaining after trimming the Strathmore papers to 12x12" and some acid-free foamboard pieces, I decided to give it a try and make some 5x7" panels.   I have a Logan matboard cutter, which is extremely handy for getting a nice straight edge on foamboard.    

I found that a good technique was to draw a line on the wrong side of the paper, apply the glue past it, and then carefully line up one corner edge to the foamboard.  Starting in the center and pressing out seemed to be effective at removing/preventing bubbles, at least in the 3 samples I tried.  Then, after it had dried for a minute, I carefully measured the two remaining edges and cut them with a small hand-held Xacto blade.

The glue, which was in a dry stick form to begin with, dried without darkening or warping the paper, and assuming I got it past the edges, has kept the paper from lifting.  It was easy, not messy and had no odor.  So, I'll be using that for any paper mounting to backing surfaces from now on, and with any photos I mat as well.  

Anyway, here are the two paintings.  They were done quickly; I tried to keep things loose.  The first is based on a photo taken in northern NM a few weeks ago; the cloud is actually in CO.  I simplified the scene by removing a bridge and other undesirable elements that were in the photo.  Just a line of trees, some brief foreground, and the sandstone mesas to anchor the cumulonimbus.   

The second is a farm in PA, from a photo taken on our move drive.  I was drawn to the simple shapes of the treeline and the way the golden grass/grain splits the cornfields and curves around, almost like a river in a canyon.  

Monsoon Season over the Mesas
5x7 inches
Strathmore paper (blue) on foamboard

Field of Plenty
5x7 inches
Strathmore paper (rust) on foamboard

Monday, September 20, 2010

Abstracted Cloudscape #15: redux

Here is my latest (and maybe last, for a bit) abstracted cloudscape.   It's actually a completely new version of #9.  Different palette and different approach, although it's still not exactly what I was hoping for.  What prompted me to redo it was an experiment, of sorts - I had some square cut papers for this series sitting on my studio table, which is a beautiful walnut inlay of Danish modern design.  In this dry climate, it needs to be oiled periodically to keep the wood from drying out.  Apparently, I'd neglected to wipe off the excess Old English oil, and although the table looked and felt completely dry, some small spots of oil had spread onto the bottom sheet of paper.

Wondering if this would ruin the paper for painting, I decided this would be a good two-way experiment to see if the oil would soak through the pastels and show on the paper and re-do the earlier piece.

abstracted cloudscape #15 - approaching sunset, #2
12x12 inches
Strathmore 500-series paper (dark blue)

For this, I used blues that were slightly grayer/warmer than the previous version (which can be seen by panning down the page a bit).  I got rid of the pinks and peaches and stuck with yellows and gray-muaves.  I also tried to improve the composition a bit by spreading the clouds out.  And tried to keep it looser with minimal finger blending.  I like it better than v.1.

I am itching to get back to some landscapes, and also want to start working in oils.  I have two small pieces, one in oils, one in pastels, that are completed as I write this.  I'll probably post those tomorrow.  My goal now is to work on doing at least 100 oil paintings, and to complete at least 2-3 pieces per day, in oils and/or pastel.  

Friday, September 17, 2010

Abstracted cloudscapes #13 & 14

Two more, finished yesterday.  I find myself going back and forth between the higher-chroma sunsets and the afternoon skies with lots of grays.   For me, each of these are a chance to really study and explore the clouds, and I learn much with each painting.  In contrast to plein air painting, where the eye sees the true colors and subtle nuances within the shadows that cameras often miss, it seems to be the opposite with clouds.  As much time as I spend observing them in life, either from my deck or along hikes, they simply change too quickly to always remember the subtle things.

My camera, however, does capture those ephemeral details, often missed otherwise, especially with a limited dynamic range.   When cropped to an unusually close-up view, they become quite visible.  And add to my never-ending fascination with them.  Whether I'm able to actually capture those details accurately, artistically, in my paintings is a different matter.  But, I try.

abstracted cloudscape #13 - cumulus, shadow & light
12x12 inches
Strathmore 500-series paper

This is perhaps one of my favorites to date.  Based on a photo taken the day after winter officially began,  these clouds were part of a winter storm that produced no rain or snow, but lots of wind and a series of photos that are amongst my favorite taken while down in Bisbee.  This crop is a transition between clouds mostly in dark shadow and those in the sun, which I chose to show the range of values.  The sun is at its lowest point in the sky, to the south, in mid-afternoon.  The small canyon and ranch below was in deep shadow.

abstracted cloudscape #14 - cumulus, luminescing
12x12 inches
Strathmore 500-series paper

Here is an example of the cloud detail I mentioned in the second paragraph above.  It was of a recent photo of a late afternoon cloud from my deck, as I waited for sunset.  The location of the sun is clear; it forms a bright, crisp edge along the cloud.  It's the inner part of the cloud were things got interesting - clouds within clouds, casting shadows and reflecting light.  Blues from the sky superimposed on the colorful purple and pink grays of the cloud vapors, looking almost like a Tiffany lamp.  The base holds on to its deep purples and blues.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Abstracted Cloudscapes #11 & 12

I had planned to post these yesterday, but we had a guest visit, so no time to take photos.  I'm still on a roll with these, even though some definitely turn out better than others, and at times, it seems as though I keep running into the same wall [of problems].

abstracted cloudscape #11 - crescent moon afternoon
12 x 12 inches
Strathmore 500-series paper

This is the crescent moon, as seen in late afternoon from my deck, on Sept. 12.  Scattered clouds were drifting by to the south where it slowly tracked across the sky, often obscuring it.  I sat and waited with my camera until it came into view and was framed by the clouds.   My goal here was to capture the precise, perfect shape of the moon and its very well-definied edges with the amorphous clouds surrounding it.  It looks much better in person, and I was rather happy with it.

abstracted cloudscape #12 - cirrus sunset
12 x 12 inches
Strathmore 500-series paper

On the other hand...this piece I'm not at all happy with.  But, I resisted the urge to throw it directly into the trash without posting it here.  Despite my best efforts to capture the loose, sweeping feel of the clouds, they still look stiff and contrived.  Even the colors aren't what I was after - too light in areas.  It reminds me of a child's scribble painting.  But, it certainly qualifies as an abstract.  It's a shame, because these clouds create the most brilliant, beautiful sunsets as the light passes through their ice crystal forms, and I'd love to be able to capture that.  Perhaps this is another piece best suited for oils.  

Monday, September 13, 2010

Abstracted Cloudscape #10

Here is #10, another that almost went into the trash earlier today.  I realized what part of the problem is when I'm having issues with placement and scale of the clouds, and that it has to do with the position of how I paint:  flat on the table.  I have two easels - a French-styled wooden easel for plein air painting, and a cheap-o studio tripod deal that I bought so many years ago I can't remember where or when.  There's no room to set up either of them in the living room where my studio is, so I've just been working flat.

I have observed that when I prop the painting up against the wall to compare it to the reference, there's almost always something that is off, despite my measurement efforts.  Obviously, the solution is to paint upright.  So, I ran down to the nearby Walmart, and got a $10 table easel that can hold canvases up to 12" high.  It is perfect for small paintings, and I came back and re-worked this painting so that I'm satisfied with it.

abstracted cloudscape #10 - cumulonimbus, resolving
12 x12 inches
Strathmore 500-series paper (blue)

This is another based on that magical time of day in the late afternoon, right before sunset.  Color starts to first hit the lower level clouds on the bottom, and the dense, lower-level cloud surfaces away from the sun are already in shadow.  A storm has come, left its payload of rain, and now absorbs back into the atmosphere from which it came, surrounded by its small, scattered accessory clouds.  The anvil of the thunderhead still retains its basic shape, but the abrupt edges now fade to windblown waveforms that melt into the sky.  

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Abstracted Cloudscapes #8 & 9

Two more.  Number 8 was completed yesterday.  I think I used a total of 6 colors, and each was selected for value vs. specific color.  Clouds, especially these billowy cumulus congestus have subtle changes in value, but in order to capture the volume and luminescence, you need to look carefully where those shadows occur.  I'm not always able to reproduce what I see exactly the way I want, but I keep working at it.

abstracted cloudscape #8 - cumulus congestus
12 x12 inches
Strathmore 400-series paper

I am pleased that with this piece, I successfully resisted any finger blending to it.  Scumbling and varying pressures of the pastels.  I think it may also be getting a bit easier to work on the Strathmore paper as far as layering goes.  

abstracted cloudscape #9 - approaching sunset
12 x12 inches
Strathmore 400-series paper

I worked on this piece late yesterday afternoon and early evening.  I tried a different technique for it, starting with placements of the lightest colors and gradually working around them.  It seemed to be working okay.  This morning, I looked at the painting in natural daylight and the colors were...awful.  The dark blue was too warm and not bright enough and what I'd thought were light oranges were garish and all wrong.  I just pulled it off the board and tossed it immediately.  But, figuring that I had nothing to lose, I sat down and decided to rework it, just to see if I could.  It's sort of a smudgy mess, but I did end up fixing the actual colors a bit more, and I'm posting it anyway, funk and all.  The values, however, are a bit off.  I really liked the photo this was based on, so I may revisit it at some point in the future...maybe with oils.  I definitely see that doing these sweeping clouds with soft or lost edges is a weak point for me, vs. the cumulus.  If I keep pounding away at them, and trying new techniques, perhaps I'll have one of those "ah-ha" moments.  

Those moments are probably one of the best things about being an artist, and the best part is that they never stop.  Unlike my original chosen career, where I got as good as I ever was going to with those skills, as an artist, that won't happen.  

It reminds me of a quote by Atul Gawande, MD, in his wonderful book Better :  "Betterment is a perpetual labor."   That certainly applies to artists as well.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Abstracted Cloudscapes #6 & 7

Back in the painting groove again after our trip, and here are the latest two in the abstracted cloudscape series.

Both are on Strathmore 400-series pastel paper.  I was beginning to run low on my existing pad, so I went down to our local art store.  Apparently, they don't carry the 400-series pastel paper in 12x18" anymore, so I bought some 500-series tinted charcoal paper.  We'll see how that goes when I switch to it.  I like the paper simply because it's pretty inexpensive and so I don't worry about wasting it.  It accepts blending and layering much better than Canson M-T, but because its tooth is limited, it does force one to be a bit more judicious with pastel placement.

abstracted cloudscape series #6 - desert cirrus sunrise
12 x 12 inches

I did this painting yesterday afternoon, under less than optimal lighting conditions.  My studio table, which is in our living room, has a west-facing window.  When I have my computer monitor on to view the reference image, the afternoon light often causes the true colors and subtle nuances to be obscured.  So, this morning, when I came down and looked at it, it needed color adjustments.  Setting the painting aside for hours, or a day, is hugely helpful to see these and other discrepancies that were overlooked during the painting process.  

abstracted cloudscape #7 - sunset salute
12 x 12 inches

Another high-chroma sunset.  This was done on rust-colored paper, about the same as the orange/rust colors in the clouds.  I am having trouble resisting the urge to finger blend these paintings, and while it does give a soft look to parts, at other times, it makes the piece look overworked.  I'm still trying to figure out the best way to approach the blocking in of clouds like these, where there are areas of multiple colored clouds that have smudges or tiny patches of blue sky showing through.  And, I've also found that despite the usual rules of pastel painting - light over dark - this doesn't always work so well.  Laying yellow over the darker mauves and purples often results in an ugly dulled color.  

I need to resist the urge to finger blend on some of these, even if paper shows through, and see how I like it.

Oh - a milestone here:  #6 makes the 100th pastel painting I've completed to date since I started painting last fall.  I suppose now I can officially call myself an "artist" now :).   

Friday, September 10, 2010

Labor Day trip to north rim of GCNP- Part II: the Canyon

The north rim of the Grand Canyon differs from the south rim in several ways.  For one thing, only about 10% of the visitors to GCNP go to the north rim,  making it much less congested.  The elevation is also about 1000' higher than the south rim, resulting in views that allow one to almost look down upon the distal horizon.  The reason for this is the series of faults and the east Kaibab monocline that produced the Canyon:  the earth rose and the water cut a channel through the sedimentary layers along the fault line.  Side canyons formed as water found its way to lower points, causing more rapid erosion.  There probably remains some debate amongst geologists, but I believe it is generally accepted that the Canyon itself is about 5-6 million years in age.   It averages 10 miles across,  a mile deep, and is 277 miles in length.  The rocks that form it span in age from 245-1700 million years [1.7 billion].    Simply put, the magnitude and scope make it hard not to be impressed.

We arrived at Timp Pt. around 5:30, AZ time, on Friday afternoon.  Monsoon season was either over or was on a brief hiatus, so there were no concerns about rain.  In fact, it was a cloudless day for most of the drive, which is always less than optimal when hoping to get some great photos.   However, clouds had appeared to the west as we drove, and some lingered over the canyon itself that evening.

We secured a campsite, but after taking a walk down the road, discovered that the next site over actually had a better view (a plus for me, as I had planned to paint, and wasn't keen on hauling my pastels and easel out 1/2 mile to the other vista we found).  So, we relocated our gear, just as the sun was setting.

Sunset at Timp Pt.

This was the view about 20' from our campsite.   The view is to the south and slightly west.  Not a high-drama sunset that can often be seen at the south rim due to the direction of the light, but this instills a sense of calm, I think.  There was a lot of haze in the Canyon, either from Las Vegas or dust particulates from the dry air and wind.

Mid-morning light
Because of the haze and lack of clouds, I didn't end up taking that many photos, or at least with the intent that they turn out "photo-worthy".    But,  you can't come to the Grand Canyon and not take at least some photos to remember the stay, so here is one.

The western edge of Powell Plateau is seen to the left, connected by a saddle to Steamboat Mtn.  The Colorado river is on the distal side, running between the sets of reddish cliff sets.  The Havasupi reservation is on the south rim.

Saturday was "do your own thing" day; Wayne went on a hike along the Rainbow Rim trail, Dave and Eva took their mountain bikes along the same trail, and I attempted to paint.  I had earlier cased out the prime location for setting up an easel, and thought I'd be able to do at least a few paintings.  But, it ended up being quite hot, and instead of setting up the easel in the sun, I pulled a chair over and painted in the shade.  Because it was so difficult for me to narrow down a composition sitting there, I ended up using a photo and sketching the basic shapes in from the thumbnail view, and then working from the view.

The painting isn't posted because it got pretty significantly smeared when it was taken out of the car after we got back.  I may try to fix it, but haven't had the desire to thus far.  It suffered from the limitations of my pastel palette, although as with the previous plein air paintings, it was a valuable process nonetheless.

On Sunday, our group decided to go hike along a different portion of the Rainbow Rim trail.  This trail, which starts at Timp Pt. and ends at Parissawampitts Pt., is 18 miles in length, one way.  It's a multi-use single track trail open to any non-motorized form of transportation.  It follows the contour of the rim, much of which requires long cut-backs through the forest in order to cross the drainages to the side canyons before they become impassable cliffs...

We drove out to North Timp Pt., and before we knew it, we'd decided to go all the way to Locust Pt., 6.5 miles away.  None of us were planning such an ambitious hike, but given that the trail was essentially level with minor changes in elevation, and in shade much of the way, it didn't take on Death March proportions.

View approaching Locust Pt.

We had to hike 6 miles through the forest before the rim came into view again.  N. Timp Pt. is immediately to the left.  Steamboat Mtn. is above it to the left.
The gray-white cliff formation is Coconino sandstone, which overlays the dark red Hermit formation.  In this part of the canyon, the Hermit is frequently covered with vegetation.

Eva, Dave and Wayne at Locust Pt.
Everyone is happy that we made it and can now turn around and hike the 6.5 miles back to the car.  North Timp Pt, and the location of our car, is right above Eva's right shoulder.

It's easy to underestimate distances and scale in the Canyon; it is probably less than a mile as the crow flies, but impossible to get to without a hike of several miles.

The hike back:  Ponderosas and a view
I opted to take photos of the trail on the way back.  Better lighting and a more leisurely pace.

This is looking back towards Locust Pt., showing the hint of the rim ahead, and the beautiful ponderosa pines.

Through the aspens...

This is heading back to N. Timp.  We are still on the north side of the drainage heading east, well before cutting back across the draw.  The trail heads through this lovely stand of aspen before dropping down on its approach towards the cutback part of the trail.

...and a grassy meadow
After the trail drops down from the N. Timp Pt. ridge, it enters the draw - a beautiful grassy meadow with aspen, fir and pine.

After another ~3 1/2 miles or so, we are back at N. Timp Pt.  Dave and Eva had powered through the hike without stopping, having been a bit low on water.  It was after 4 p.m., and the light was turning the Canyon into a series of silhouetted shapes, ever fading as they disappeared into the western horizon.

N. Timp Pt. pano

What is car camping with friends all about?  Hikes like these, sitting around a campfire each night after a hot meal, and of course, drinking beer.  No one came unprepared, and especially after a 13 mile hike, cold beer sounded like an excellent idea.    Here is the informal "beer tree" or "beer shrine" that was going at the campsite.  It looks rather white trash until you realize there is no Coors,  Old Milwaukee, or Budweiser, or cans - just Ska microbrews and some Sam Adams and Full Sail Pale Ale:  the Good Stuff.  The spontaneous placement of the bottles in this common location appealed to our artistic aesthetics (and sense of humor), so it had to be captured on digital film before the bottles were collected prior to our departure.  

Sunrise at Timp Pt.

Due in part to both early morning insomnia and my motivation to actually get up and out of the tent for the 1/2 mile walk down a spur trail off of the Rainbow Rim trail to the actual Timp Pt, I did manage some sunrise photos.

There is something special about sitting on the rim of the Canyon before sunrise and watching as those first rays hit the far edges of the rim and then sweep across the depths, casting shadows here and there on the buttes and canyons.  It was quiet, save for some small birds that were diving and cavorting through the otherwise still air.   As much as I'd like to be, I'm not much of a morning person.  So, being able to actually get up and watch the sunrise (around 5:45 a.m.) was a treat.  Dave, an accomplished photographer, had gotten up the morning before to shoot sunrise photos, so that also helped motivate me to get up.

Light across points and plateaus
In this telephoto view to the southeast, Stina Pt. remains in shadow, while the upper sandstone cliffs of Powell Plateau receive early morning light.  A small, distal triangle of the south rim falls between. The elevation drop between north rim (of which Powell Plateau is part of) and the south rim is evident in this photo.

So, after a wonderful weekend enjoying the tranquil beauty of the north rim with friends, we packed up and headed home on Monday morning.

Hmm...just realized it is Friday already!  Sky Friday posts to resume next week.
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