Sunday, October 31, 2010

Towards Vermillion Cliffs - #26 in Four Corners series

Productive day in the studio - two paintings finished.  I'll post #27 tomorrow, but here is #26, titled "Towards Vermillion Cliffs".

The Vermillion Cliffs are without a doubt my favorite of the geological features along the drive to the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  They mark the second step in the Grand Staircase - a geological sequencing of rock layers beginning with those within the Grand Canyon ("chocolate cliffs"), and ending with the youngest rocks that form Bryce Canyon to the north.  Composed of the same layers as the Echo Cliffs - the Glen Canyon group - these cliffs are decidedly different in appearance and character than the Echo Cliffs.  They form the southern edge of the Paria Plateau and are not inclined.  As with the Echo cliffs, these also overly Chinle formation slopes.

The late afternoon sun on these cliffs is what gives them their name - it is by far the best time to see them.  Not getting direct east/west sun, they positively glow with warm, earthy reds, cool purple-mauves and pale pink-yellows of the Navajo sandstone, and their rough, angular facade creates stunning shadows.

These are all the features that make this a painter's dream.  I have no doubt I will come back to paint these cliffs from life at some point.

Towards Vermillion Cliffs
9x12 - oil on canvas

This went a bit easier for the second layer.  I learned some things from this painting that I applied to #27, hopefully to better effect.  The sky - thick, cross-directional cirrus - is what was happening out my studio window...does it count as "plein air" if I don't go outside?  

And, here are a couple of photos from our drive to Moab on Thursday:

La Sal Mtns. with red rocks and snow
This is unmistakably Utah:  sandstone canyon country and volcanic mountains in the same view.

Cottonwood in yellow spendor
Beautiful cottonwoods were at a rest stop about 20 miles south of Moab, and I made Wayne stop so I could take photos.

Red rock and a range of colors
The beautiful sculpted rock of Navajo sandstone forms the backdrop for this group of cottonwoods that are clearly marching to the beat of their own personal drummers as far as commencing fall colors go.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Arches NP in Black & White

Our trip to Moab and Arches National Park was, as expected, outstanding.  We ended up hiking 17 miles of trails over the two days, and were rewarded with stunning views and lots of photos that I was quite pleased with.

Feeling poorly for most of the day today [for reasons unrelated to our trip or the hiking], I did not end up spending the day painting as planned.  But, I did edit my photos, and while doing so, decided to revisit the black and white format for some.  Those that have been following this blog for a while probably recall that b&w images have made their appearance from time to time.   They can be seen in these posts.  

Probably all contemporary photographers who work in b&w photography draw influence and inspiration from master photographer Ansel Adams, and I'm no exception.  This past April, I was fortunate to see many of his photographs at the Tucson Museum of Art as part of a special exhibition.

I'll definitely be posting more of the photos from this trip, in color, but I thought I'd start by distilling the rock and landforms of Arches to their bare essence of shapes and values in some black & white (or monochrome; there is one with a slight sepia tint to it).   I love color, of course, but every now and again, it's good to remove oneself from that potential crutch.  And, sometimes, the images are just more powerful in black and white.

Tower of Babel
This remarkable free-standing towering wall of sandstone layers is located a few miles within the park boundary.  

North Window Arch
Eroded sandstone forms are framed by this large arch in the Windows section of the park.

Sandstone Icon
Delicate Arch, one of the most famous natural arches in the world, frames a section of the Windows area of the park in this view to the southwest.

Delicate's Shadows
Mid-afternoon fall light casts strong shadows from this beautiful free-standing arch, which frames a portion of the snow-covered La Sal Mountains to the southeast.

Towards the Light
The afternoon sun casts its rays from the corner of Landscape Arch before dropping below the sandstone horizon.  This arch is the longest natural arch in the world, spanning a whopping 306 feet from base to base.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A trio of fall color pastels

As promised in yesterday's post.

First two on #400 sandpaper; second on my last sheet of w/c paper toned with Golden pumice ground + black acrylic.

Fall Shadows
8.5 x 11 inches

Based on a photo taken during my shoot last week in La Plata Cyn, this lone oak with its dramatic late afternoon light and shadows captures the essence of fall.  Shortly after I took this photo, the sun fell behind the ridge, and the light was gone.  I placed the clouds to form a diagonal with the tree and rocks and balance the composition a bit.  It's my favorite of this group.  NuPastel, Unison and Senneliers.

Fall on the Animas
11x9 inches

The late morning sun backlit these riverside trees (not cottonwoods) and produced a beautiful contrast (and reflection) in the river.  It's been a while since I've done water and reflections, and don't want to get too rusty, since I'll be painting many more of the Animas in the future.  I whipped it out in about an hour yesterday.  Mostly NuPastels for this.

Fall color along Ohwiler Ridge
9x12 inches

Another from the La Plata Cyn shoot.  The bold shapes and fall color blocks lent themselves nicely to an abstracted image, so that's what my goal was for this painting.  This is also the first time I used finger blending on the black surface; normally, it kills the color, but it worked well here, probably because the grit allowed for additional layering.  

We are heading to Moab tomorrow for an overnight trip and 2 days of hikes around the Colorado river and Arches NP, so I'll try to load up some more photos from our Canyonlands trip for Thurs and Friday's posts.   

Aspen in Black #10

This was actually completed a few days ago between oil sessions, but I had hoped to get another finished to post at the same time.   I went in a different direction with today's paintings, which I'll post tomorrow when I finish 1-2 more.

This is #10 in the series.   It may be time to switch to cottonwoods and other riparian trees for fall colors, since the aspen references are starting to dwindle a bit, and I have reference photos taken in various locations that I'm really excited about painting; this fall color gig could run well into winter!

I have really enjoyed doing this series, both because it has allowed me to work with bright, saturated colors - a contrast to the muted earth tones of the oil series - and because it has allowed (forced?) me to spend more time looking at trees and my approach to painting them as abstracted, organic forms.  

Aspen #10
12x9 - pastel on toned w/c paper

A few sky photos from yesterday and today, courtesy of the pacific storm that has been passing through this region for the past several days.  Night-time lows have dropped to the low 20's and the trees in town are busy dumping their leaves in earnest.  

Monday afternoon - Oct 25

Sunset, Oct 25

Sunset warm-up, Oct 26

Sunset main act, Oct 26.  Sublime.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Four Corners series - updates

Yesterday and today saw more work on the next four in the series.  Time to take a pastel break, I think, and give these time to dry and for me to mull over what I need to change in each.

First is #25, the one that I was decidedly unhappy with.  After analysis, I figured out the glaring issues I didn't like, and addressed (or attempted to) those.  I'm calling it finished, but I'm not thrilled with it.  I should call it "Lost in Translation", because that's a bit what it feels like.  What drew me to the photo was the scale of the monocline when seen close, the curves of its cliffs and slopes, and the blue-red-green arrangement.  

I wasn't able to get the right colors for those pink-red cliff slopes, but cadmium orange added to the palette did the trick.  
Echo Facade
9x12 - oil on canvas panel

Here are the first go-arounds for #26-28, the first two done yesterday.  Twenty-eight was done this afternoon, and I actually added more to the road in #26 (so it is done, sans the stripes).  

#26 - first color layer

#27 - first color layer

#28 - first color layer

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Four Corners series - #26, 27 & 28

"...Nothing is less real than realism.  Details are confusing.  It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things." - Georgia O'Keeffe

Back in CT, I was at our local library escaping a particularly miserably hot and humid day this July, reading a book of Georgia's work, when I came across this statement.  I wrote it on the back of a receipt, which miraculously didn't get tossed out for the next several months it rode around in my purse.  After reading this great selection of quotes on fellow artist Casey Klahn's blog, I was inspired to find it and post it here.

These words really struck a chord with me when I read them, and now that I've relocated the quote, I should write it in big words above my studio, particularly as I paint this Four Corners series.  Today, no paintings were completed - I worked instead on sketches for the next three in the series.  Two are complex - loaded with lots of shadows and interesting shapes, but a tad overwhelming in some ways.  How to distill them down to the bare essence - to select, eliminate and emphasize, as Georgia says?  That will be the challenge here.  It may not work; we shall see.  It seemed easier to do with the earlier part of the series, but now, the land is growing in complexity, and the canvases are growing in size.  I've often thought, and still believe, it is far harder to choose what to leave *out* of a painting than what to put in.  Anyone can copy a photograph, and while I can appreciate the skill that goes into creating photorealistic works, it's not ever the direction I want my landscape paintings to go.  I was, and still am, fully capable of making a drawing look like a photograph.   Exacting, time-consuming, good way to develop drawing skills, but the photo does all the thinking for you.

Looking back on my life, I've never done things the easy way, or started out gradually when embarking on a new hobby or venture.  My very first backpacking trip was a 21-mile, one night trip along one of the rougher, steeper and more remote trail sections in the Grand Canyon.   It took 7 years of medical school and a residency, and 8 years of struggling in private practice to get to the point I'm at now:  retired from medicine, and emerging on a hopeful career path as a successful artist.  I'm sure most art instructors would recommend starting out with some simple still life studies when beginning to paint with oils on canvas...although I suppose that now having 25 paintings under my belt makes me not so much a beginner anymore.  But, I don't want to paint still lifes, at least not yet!  And, I like challenges.

These are the next three challenges.  Given the success I had with "Painted Desert #2", I'll probably stage these similarly - two layers of color.  And try really, really hard not to get caught up in too much detail.

#26 sketch - 9x12 



One of these three images I love so much that I have decided to do a larger version in pastel as well.  I'll leave it to readers to guess which one it is.  I have to make sure that I even have the colors I need before I begin, though.

This late afternoon's sky.  I love my 18-70mm lens!

Perins close-up

Snow and fall color dichotomy

Smelter Mtn and Perins with clouds

Friday, October 22, 2010

Four Corners series: Echo Cliffs

Here is #24 of the Four Corners roadtrip series, finished today.    As the drive continues north, the landscape changes yet again - the Echo Cliff monocline rises , running in a north-south direction. The Chinle formation fades away, soon only visible as the pink-gray bottom layer of the monocline here.  The Echo Cliffs are one of my favorite parts of this drive.  They were named by one of the members of the Powell Expedition (the 2nd, I believe), who, while standing on the edge of Marble Canyon, noticed that his yell produced an echo.

The Glen Canyon group [Wingate, Kayenta and Navajo sandstones] make up the portion of the monocline above the painted desert rock, from bottom to top.  To the left of the highway, the earth rises to the west, obscuring for the time being the narrow section of the Grand Canyon known as Marble Canyon, or Colorado River Gorge.

Echo Cliffs
9x12 - oil on canvas

It ended up taking more time to finish than I thought it would, and was deceptively more challenging to paint than I originally thought.  The main reason for this, I think, was trying to resolve the debris slopes vs. cliffs on the upper part; they are identical in value and so-so close in hue, with very subtle shadows separating them.  Even looking at the photo, I see that the aerial perspective of the distal edge of the monocline isn't quite right.

I also finished #25 this evening, but am not altogether happy with it.  It presented even more issues, namely a very complex cliff face, so it took some thought to figure out how much detail to include to make it look convincing without being over-worked.  I may end up adding an additional layer to it.

Today's sky - a storm from the Pacific has dropped the temperature and produced lots of rain over the past few days, and has the look of a winter storm:

And, it has added some snow to the highest peaks of the La Platas, as seen yesterday morning:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Painted Desert #2

Today's painting - the completed "Painted Desert #2".   Painted with Alizarin crimson, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, ultramarine blue and titanium white, which gives a wonderful muted palette of cool and warm grays.  Working on an underpainting that is essentially the same as the finished piece works well for me; it's how I painted for years doing mixed media equine sculpture.

I also detailed this out a bit more than the other paintings, both because the canvas is bigger, and because some detail, specifically in the small rock piles and caps, helps draw the eye around and unifies it a bit [at least this was my thought when painting it].

Painted Desert #2
9x12 - oil on canvas

Feeling ambitious, I did underpaintings for the next two in the series.  The first is loosely color-based; the second was a simple monochromatic using all the paint mixed to a earthy gray.  I can see modification (more sky) that needs to be made for the final painting, which is an easy fix.

#24 underpainting

#25 underpainting

And, finally, here are some photos taken on a walk I took down the Animas River Trail this morning, which is a fantastic multi-use trail that is probably close to 10 miles in length.  The Animas runs through town, adding to the reasons Durango is such a wonderful town to live in.

Cottonwood color close-up

Quartet of lady mallards
Not the best photo, but who can resist ducks - they always seem so happy!

Fall colors on the Animas

Late bloomer

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Aspen on Black #9, and fall color photos

I got a late start today, so only one aspen painting finished.  The surface for this was a mix of the acrylic chalkboard paint and Golden fine pumice ground, applied in two coats to the w/c paper.  It was the best so far of the black surfaces I've worked on for this series; the pumice ground really helped improve the tooth.

For those interested in making your own black surface, here is the method I used:

- approximately 1:1 mix of acrylic paint and Golden pumice ground mixed in small container.  I have a spray bottle, so I added enough water to thin the paint to a thick spreadable consistency; adding too much water will result in more than two layers required.

- tape watercolor paper to masonite board or other hard surface with blue or pale yellow masking tape (made for going around corners; its adhesive isn't as robust as regular masking tape, making it easier to remove), leaving a 1/4" border on each side.

- using a 1" el-cheapo house painting brush, apply in linear strokes to cover the paper with an even layer of the acrylic/pumice mix, insuring that the entire surface is covered.  Let dry.

- apply a second layer, either perpendicular to the first or in the same direction.  Let dry.

- once paper is completely dry and the tape is removed, there may still be some curling of the paper.   I then place them between the pages of a heavy book for the rest of the day to completely flatten the sheets.  They're ready to go the next day.

Aspen #9
12x9 inches

The fall colors here in the Durango area are pretty much at their peak now - that includes the cottonwood and various species of oak that cover the hillsides of the mesas surrounding town.  One of my favorite locations to go for photos is out by the town of Hesperus, out towards La Plata Cyn.  We first went there last summer on our trip out here, and again shortly after we moved to town.   

Here are some photos from that drive, including two from the road south that leads to Farmington, NM.  I will be going back there probably tomorrow during better light to get more photos of the road to the south - the cottonwoods and other river trees were stunning!

Towards La Plata Canyon.

          Waxing moon over oak-covered hillside.

Clouds to the east, and rich browns and yellows of fall foliage.

Aspen, spruce and oak.

Sunset sky near New Mexico.

Approaching twilight.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Four Corners & Colorado Plateau series - #20, 21 & 22

Back to the oils today.  And, the last two I'll do on the canvas paper - it was just a tedious chore to try and get any wet-in-wet work done; the paint layers were tacky within minutes of going on the paper, so it seemed like a fight between myself, the oils and the paper.

Out of frustration, I decided I'd at least try and get the first layer/underpainting done on the next in the series, using OMS-thinned washes of the existing paints on one of the primed canvas boards I have.  Paint went on much easier and even with the thin layers, allowed for blending.  So, there you have it:  canvas paper pads (Strathmore) = exercise in frustration.  No mas.

At this point in the road trip,  Hwy 160 terminates on Hwy 89, which runs N-S, south to Flagstaff and north through some small towns in the Navajo Nation (Gap and Bitter Springs), splitting to Hwy's 89 and 89A, which lead to Page & southern UT, and the north rim of the Grand Canyon, respectively.

It is an incredibly scenic drive, and starts at the 160 junction in the Chinle formation, more commonly known as the Painted Desert.  This Triassic period rock, created from colorful mudstones from Mesozoic-era river sediments, forms flattened hills and slopes.  Once its overlying harder rock layer (Wingate sandstone) is worn off, the Chinle formation quickly erodes away.

Painted Desert Intro
6x8 inches - canvas paper
Initially, the hills are separated from the road by a wash with sagebrush and other high desert vegetation

Painted Desert #1
6x8 inches - canvas paper
As we head north, the Chinle slopes cover more of the landscape and their mauve, yellow and red layers line the highway.  I love the abstracted shapes and contours they form.

underpainting for Painted Desert #2
9x12 inches
canvas on board

Photo taken indoors with a flash...

Here are a few photos from the sky this afternoon - we had clouds and rain throughout the day, and some snow was visible on the highest peaks of the La Platas northwest of town.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Series intermission

I didn't manage to get any painting done yesterday - just a page of thumbnail sketches.   I was originally planning on working in oils today, as I don't have sheets prepared for the aspen on black series yet.

Then, I decided that I wanted to just pull out the old standby - 400-grit sandpaper - and do some "for the heck of it" pastels.   There were two ideas bouncing around in my head for paintings, and so those are now actualized.

First up is an idea that I've long been wanting to do for a while - an abstracted landscape based on the dark, brooding storm sky against a bright, sunlit foreground.  Inspiration came from multiple sources, including pastelist Wolf Kahn's work, my blogger friend Jala's abstracted paintings, the work of Marla Baggetta, and my observations and photos.   In fact, the trees in this piece were based on a snapshot I took from the car during our drive back from Aztec, NM, about 2 weeks ago.   This was done with no photo reference directly handy - just a mental idea of what I wanted.

Plus, I love the compliments of blue and orange together.

11x9 inches
pastel on 400-grit sandpaper

Foreground is all NuPastels; sky is all MV Thunderstorm Grays, and the trees are Sennelier and Unison. Looking at it now, I think it would be improved with some of the foreground cropped away.  

The second piece is a more traditional landscape, but with effort to avoid extraneous detail.  Interestingly, it's also based on a photo taken during a drive back from Aztec about 2 months ago - the clouds were glorious, so it was time to get a sky fix in.  I knew at the time I took the photo I needed to paint it.  Plus, I really like painting roads [even though I can't seem to get the divider stripes to turn out the way I want].  I left out the telephone poles and some buildings.  The fence and group of trees stayed.

South of Town
9x11 inches
pastel on 400-grit sandpaper

Here are a few more photos from our Canyonlands trip:

Left:  faded flowers of some Rabbitbrush in front of the sandstone walls on the drive towards the park.  Right:  A lone pinyon pine stands against the sandstone cliff outside the park.

A juniper casts long shadows across sandstone slickrock by our campsite at Hamburger Rock.

Another view from our campsite, looking to the east.  A twisted juniper is wedged in the sandstone dome I stood on to take the photo.

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