Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tes Nez Iah Cottonwood - #41 FC-CP

Next in the Four Corners series is a view that is seen only a few seconds later on the drive, also along the edge of the Chinle wash.  Tes Nez Iah is a small populated area located along the wash; its name, meaning "tall cottonwoods" in Navajo, is a testament to the presence of water in this area.

Cottonwoods are one of my favorite trees, as I've probably mentioned before.  They have wonderful, organic shapes and defy any orderly arrangement of their trunks or branches.  They are a rich, vibrant in the spring and summer and turn a beautiful yellow in the fall.  I loved the juxtaposition of the two trees against the rising edge of the sandstone outcropping.  To me, it almost resembles a still life.

Tes Nez Iah Cottonwood
oil on canvas panel

Even though I'm posting this as "finished", I may go back and adjust a few things.  The photo had a small fence that ran to the edge of the cottonwood; I may go back and add it as I liked it, and possibly adjust the values on the tree a bit.  I attempted to make the greens of the shrubs/grasses different from those in the cottonwood in terms of temperature and value, but I'm not sure it's enough.  I also feel this needs clouds.  

Number 42 in the series - another 6x8 study - is fished, but I'll wait to post that tomorrow.  

Monday, November 29, 2010

Approaching Chinle Wash - #40 in FC-CP series

Finished yesterday, but no opportunity to take a photo, as it snowed all day.  Today was bright and sunny, and the town got about 5-6" of snow.  I'll probably be really sick of snow by the time March rolls around, but for now, it is a novelty.

Chinle wash is an important drainage in the Four Corners region.  Originating in southern Utah, its course follows and crosses the Comb Ridge monocline for part of its north-south orientation.  The Anasazi that inhabited the Comb Ridge area 1200 years ago relied on it for water, as do current-day Navajo living in the area.  It continues south through AZ, passing through the town of Chinle before terminating in Canyon De Chelly.

The wash, seen just to the left edge of the road on the other side of the guardrail, curves around and through a series of sandstone walls and bluffs at its intersection with Hwy 160.  The highway forms a sweeping, dramatic curve as it passes over the wash, disappearing between a section of sandstone and continues east.

Approaching Chinle Wash
oil on canvas panel

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving road trip in photos

Our four-day Thanksgiving trip to Phoenix came and went in the blink of an eye, and we are now back home.

On our drive down, the winter storm that went through the region blessed us with some amazing skies and thankfully no precipitation.  I'm looking forward to getting back to studio work tomorrow, but in the meantime, I thought I'd share some photos of the dramatic and varying clouds from drive to Phoenix and a few others taken during the trip

It had been about 22 years since I'd been on Rt 491 [formerly Rt 666] between Farmington, NM to Gallup, NM.  I don't remember much of it from that trip, aside from going past Shiprock, so I felt like I was seeing it for the first time.

Stormcloud undercarriage

Tattered accessory clouds to this large stratocumulus cloud give an ominous feel along the highway just south of Shiprock, NM.
 Snow to the east

The higher mountain/mesa to the west received blowing snow flurries from what looks like a huge tsunami.

Ford Butte and clouds

One of the dozens of volcanic diatremes in the region, this one was on the east side of the highway.

Sweeping shadows

A band of clouds forms dramatic light and shadows on this stretch of the highway looking west.  The AZ border is about 20 miles as the crow flies.

Cliffs, wash and clouds

Having left Gallup, we are now heading west on I-40, and some shallow cliffs form as we approach the AZ border.

 Altocumulus over Winslow

This striking cloud covered the western sky for a good portion of our drive into AZ.  The sun forms the bright spot in the left 1/3.
 Clouds and cinder cones

About 20 miles east of Flagstaff, these rounded hills make up part of the San Francisco volcanic field.
 Ruins with a view

On Thanksgiving day, we went on a short hike (no trail) to some prehistoric ruins (Hohokam, I am assuming) atop a mesa right near I-17.  The view was tremendous, and afforded a strategic advantage for whomever built this multi-roomed dwelling several centuries ago.
 Safe keeping

This well-preserved bird's nest, built within the imposing arms of a teddy bear cholla, is an excellent deterrent from many predators.

Seen on the way back down from the ruins.
Grand finale       

A stop for gas near Sleeping Ute Mtn., south of Cortez, CO, offered an incredible sunset view as our trip drew to a close.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Plethora of Primed Painting Panels: DIY

A bunch of finished MDF painting panels drying in the garage

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I am one of these DIY'ers when it comes to cutting expenses without cutting corners on quality.  And, I also like to try new things and experiment.  For artists whom money isn't much of a concern, and/or are selling most or all of the paintings they create, this post probably won't be of much interest to you.  But for those that either have more time than spare money, or simply like the idea of making your own painting supports, I thought I'd share my experience in doing so.  I'll post updates with my experiences for materials or techniques that that Do Not Work.

I have included a list of supplies throughout the post that are bolded, as well as important things to note.

First off, what are the advantages making your own panels? 

1.  Significant savings
2.  Customized sizes
3.  Your choice of materials, and local availability
4.  Simple to do

How much savings?  Here is a comparison of what it cost to produce 40 9x12" triple-primed panels, vs. what you'd pay retail for the same number.

4x8' sheet of MDF [medium density fiberboard] untempered:       $8.00 @ Home Depot
Cutting fees                                                                                     no charge (may vary)
Alkyd Oil Primer, 1 qt. can:                                                             $11.00 @ Ace Hardware
2" paintbrush, for oil paints:                                                              $5.00  @ Ace
OMS:                                                                                                    $7.00  @ Ace

and COST PER PANEL:                                                             $31.00     @ $0.78/ea

Cost to purchase 40 9x12" hardboard panels @ Dick Blick:        $90.00      @$2.25/ea.

That's a savings of almost $60 and a couple hours of your time, and the $90 doesn't include shipping charges.   For me, I think of other art supplies that I could buy with that money, and that makes me happy.  Not only that, but this incorporates the entire cost of the primer into the initial batch; even with triple priming, not even half the can was used.

Here is how I made my panels, and some recommendations based on my experience:

My local hardware store, who I use whenever possible, did not carry any type of hardboard or MDF, so I had to go to our Home Depot.   Importantly, they also will cut the board for you, which is what puts this project in the "simple" vs. "tedious nightmare" category.  I brought along a schematic sheet of the sizes I wanted from the panel, but had to modify that since their saws can't cut anything less than 12" in width.  I'd hoped to get some 6x8" panels, so instead, I have 4 11x15" panels that I can cut by hand into smaller sizes, along with those I wanted.

Important:  go in with a carefully drawn schematic diagram of the sizes you want; you will absolutely need it to refer to when marking for the cuts.

Important:  when you or the employee is measuring the cuts on the board, make all your marks at the same time from one end.  We (the employee who helped me) did not do this, and as a result, an inch was lost due to the saw blade cuts, resulting in the final panels that were an inch shorter.  Measuring all at once spreads the "blade loss" evenly for each panel, and actually facilitates easier framing.  Home Depot states that it charges $0.25 per cut beyond the first two, but they didn't charge me anything for the multitude of cuts that I required.

While I gave the #'s for 9x12" panels, what you can get from a 4x8' sheet is totally up to you, depending upon what sizes you like to paint.  Here is what I originally planned:

4    18x24" panels
4    12x18" panels
16  9x12" panels
6    6x8"   panels

I ended up not doing the 12x18" panels, and couldn't do the 6x8" on their table saws, so I have 20 9x12" and the 4 11x15".  I will experiment with cutting smaller panels from these later.

Next, you'll want to quickly sand off the flash from the panels to give them nice, smooth edges.  I used both #220 grit and #320 grit wet/dry sandpaper.  To be prudent, use a dusk mask.  I found this took about 20-30 sec/board to do.  Have the stack next to you, and you can knock them out in no time.

brush, alkyd primer and Painter's Touch primer

Note:  I added an extra step for some of these panels by using Painter's Touch primer.  This was necessary when I was painting in oils on resin sculptures, as it sealed the surface and allowed the subsequent gesso and oils to adhere properly.  However, the purpose of an oil or alkyd-based primer is to seal the surface and thus protect against future seep of chemicals in the fiberboard that could later discolor the painting.  In this instance, it is acting as a sizer and primer in one. 

IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE:  Alkyd primers, whether purchased from the hardware store or a specialty art product (like Gamblin), contain compounds that are not good to breathe!  It is imperative that you do this in an area where there is good ventilation, and follow the instructions for safe usage on the can.  VOC's [volatile organic compounds] can cause neurological damage.  Of course, if you paint with oils, you probably already know this and take precautions - OMS, Turpenoid, Liquin, blending and glazing mediums, varnishes, etc., all contain these compounds and should be used with care.

After the board edges are all sanded, use an old towel or rag and wipe off the dust from each, and give each a firm tap on the ground to get rid of anything larger clinging to the edges.  

Next, lay down either several newspapers, or better, a plastic dropcloth for painting.  This can get messy and to avoid getting paint on your hands, wear rubber gloves.  

Have your panels all in a stack, and after your primer is well-stirred, you are ready to begin painting.

After some quick trial and error, I found the quickest way to paint was to hold the edge of the panel with one hand and paint it at an angle, rather than painting it flat on the ground.  When painting, don't worry about brush-strokes or the inevitable debris that will find its way onto the wet panel - insects, pet hair, etc.  Work quickly and make sure the panel is covered, including the edges.  After it's finished, carefully lay it down on the plastic or newspaper to dry, and run the brush over the edge where your glove may have been.  

After the panels are dry, which will be anywhere from 30 min to a few hours, depending upon the brand, you can add a second coat of primer.  Two might be fine, but I wanted to err on the side of caution as far as preventing future discoloration, so I used 3 coats over the course of 2 days.   

The final step:  a light sanding with #320-grit sandpaper.  This will quickly remove any foreign junk that has found its way onto your panels, and can level any uneven areas or brushstrokes on the panel.  I don't need my surfaces mirror smooth, so I spent maybe 20 sec. on each panel, if that.  For safety concerns, use a dusk mask or respirator and wear an apron or use an old towel on your lap (what I do) to catch the dust and keep it off your clothes.  

I would recommend waiting for 1-2 days for complete drying and release of the volatile compounds in the primer before proceeding with the oils.  My panels, just completed a few days ago, are now sitting under heavy weights to flatten them out a bit.   I'm hoping they'll be ready to use when I run out of my existing canvases.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A trio of small studies: #37-39 - FC & CP series

Busy day in my studio today - the next three small studies in the series, and an initial block-in of color on #41, which is 11x14".   By the time I'd finished the three smaller works, the larger went really fast.  Nice smooth canvas and the paint put down effortlessly.

Junction - #37
6x8 oil on canvas paper

In "Junction", interesting things are going on.  One cliff terminates in a concave, tree-covered slope.  Another cliff begins as a convex rise to the east formed of pale yellow-pink sandstone.  The much higher Black Mesa resides in the back.  I didn't really capture the steep slope or its sharp-edged contours in this painting, but that is what the center area represents.  
Organ Rock Approach - #38
6x8 oil on canvas paper

If this looks familiar, it should:  we are back to the O.R. monocline.  I love this view of it as the highway bears to a slight northeastern direction to curve around the rock slope to the south.  As the highway turns the corner, that's when you see the full view of the monocline.  I did take more photos of it on the trip back, but for the sake of continuity, I'm only painting views seen from the passenger side.  

Rez Quartet - #39
6x8 - oil on canvas paper

More creatures - bovine-style.  At least I think they are sort of cattle-shaped!  At this point in the drive, we are past Kayenta and Black Mesa, and a new mesa is present, forming cliffs of a reddish-purple sandstone.  The land the cattle graze on is beautiful pink sand.  How these are able to find nourishment out here is a puzzle to me - the green you see is mostly tumbleweed, not grass.  

Tomorrow, it's another road trip, this time to Phoenix to spend Thanksgiving with Wayne's family.  Due to a major storm that is supposed to roll in tonight and produce snow and possible dangerous driving conditions, we will be heading south through Farmington and Gallup, and then west along I-40 to Flagstaff, instead of this route along Hwy 160.  We are planning on returning via Hwy's 89 and 160, though.

I'm preparing a couple of posts to go up while I'm out of town.  I'm not sure I'll have any internet access (or very limited at best) until we get back sometime late on Saturday.  So, regular posting will resume on Sunday.

Everyone have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

A trio of smaller studies - FC & CP series

Since moving to larger canvases during the course of this series, it has slowed down my completion and painting process a bit, and has caused me to be more judicious in the images I choose for these larger paintings.  This is a Good Thing.  However, I also felt a bit of a quandary:  there are images I want to paint, but don't feel warrant the larger sizes.   Plus, I want to try and maintain my goal of 2-3 paintings per day.

Solution:  return to the 6x8 quick studies on canvas paper, and sandwich those in between the larger paintings to maintain the sequence of the return trip.  The studies are a good way to warm up for working on the larger pieces.  Some may turn out to be keepers, but the canvas paper has not resumed being particularly fun to work on since I quit using it a few weeks ago.

So, these studies bring us up to #34, 35 and 36.  Paintings 37-44 are already in various stages as well.

Near Middle Mesa - #34

In #34, we are back on Hwy 160, still on the Navajo Nation, and east of Tuba City.  Middle Mesa is a small trading post/gas station, and these attractive hills of rounded Navajo sandstone topped by the red cliffs of the Carmel formation.  Combined with the bright yellow flowering shrubs and scattered juniper, it makes for a very attractive view on the south side of the highway.

Cow Springs View - #35

The name for #35 refers not to a location (although there is a Cow Springs Trading Post), but the name of the rock that makes up distinctive outcroppings along this stretch of the highway.  Black Mesa lies behind.  

Rez Trio - #36

Here's a new twist [and challenge to paint] for the series:  the introduction of creatures.  Often seen out in the sparsely vegetated land on the reservation in small groups, they are often in want of food.  The star of this painting - a big varnish roan appaloosa - looks like he gets plenty to eat.  They graze amongst scattered tumbleweed and large groups of juniper.   In reality, they were protected from the highway by a fence, but I never include the fences in any of these paintings.  First off, I hate barbed wire fences; second, a transverse fence blocks the viewer out as it blocks the horses in.  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Culmination and Pathway - FC & Colorado Plateau series

Here are the next two in the series.  I'd hoped to get them posted yesterday evening, but didn't finish the work on the first one in time to get a non-flash photo.  It took me a bit longer to complete these, as I moved up to a bigger canvas.

Of all the photos I took during our stay at Timp Pt, I chose this as the sole representative of the Canyon itself.  It's actually taken from North Timp Pt., in the afternoon of our long hike.  Much of the canyon topography is now in shadow, making it a bit less daunting to paint, and allowing the focus to be on the basic shapes as well as a unique feature of this area of the park:  the Esplanade - a cliff-forming layer of sandstone that forms wide slickrock benches as you head west.  In the main part of the park, it forms the top layer of the red sandstone/mudstone rocks known as the Supai Group.  

oil on canvas board

In addition to going with a bigger size for this piece, it is also the first done on an oil/alkyd primed surface.  As soon as I started painting on it, I realized why so many artists favor this surface.  I'm sold.  This actually represents 3 painting sessions over 4 days; I finished the right lower quadrant yesterday, but still may go back and tweak a few things.  

The biggest challenge in this painting was deciding how to render the foreground area with all the busy-ness going on.  I would have left more out had I been painting from life and could see what was behind all those trees and shrubs.  I just paint them as shapes.  To me, there is nothing that screams out "amateur" more than someone who tries to paint individual leaves, grass blades, etc., in their landscape paintings.  

As a DIY kind of person, and someone who is looking for ways to save money without sacrificing quality, I primed these myself, using Ace hardware's premium brand of oil-based alkyd primer.  The ingredients are the same, but significantly cheaper.   I used gesso-primed canvases, so they were already sized.  One coat of this alkyd primer was all that was needed - it filled in much of the texture of the canvas and they were ready to use 24 hrs. later.  

Here is the first layer on the next painting, titled "Pathways".  We are now on our return trip, and this view of a side canyon heading to the Marble Canyon gorge is seen in mid-morning light, on the west side of Marble Canyon, and now it's the Echo Cliffs that are in the background.  I need to darken up some values and work on the foreground detail a bit in the next layer; things are looking a bit flat in certain areas.

Pathways - first layer
oil on canvas board

Monday, November 15, 2010

Plateau Shadows - FC & Colorado Plateau Road-trip series

I didn't give much thought to the title of this series of paintings when I began it about 6 weeks ago, sticking to a purely descriptive term of the geographical location and region the paintings encompass - Four Corners and the Colorado Plateau.  Technically speaking, Four Corners only extends as far west as Kayenta, so we left that a while back, but I wanted to maintain some consistency in the titles.   I just hope it isn't confusing or misleading for anyone not familiar with the region.

The bottom line is that this is all about the Road Trip.  I've always loved road trips, probably because we took them when I was growing up, often in the form of extended car camping trips.  I would guess many readers have similar experiences and can relate to the delights of the changing scenery and sense of adventure that go with auto travel.

We are now on the final section of our drive:  the Kaibab Plateau.   At the small establishment of Jacob Lake, we take Hwy 67 south towards the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  After beginning in a ponderosa pine forest, the road continues to rise and eventually opens up to a broad meadow that now has aspen and some spruce.  At the time of the trip, the grasses were in their mature summer greens with hints of yellow and rosy-browns.  Clouds distal near Vermilion Cliffs are now directly overhead, casting shadows on large sections of the forest and meadow.

Hwy 67 travels about 45 miles due south before terminating at the North Rim Lodge.  Multiple FS roads lead off of the highway to head for destinations more remote, and the occasional FS or NPS cabin is seen; I decided to keep  them in this painting, in fact.  Their small size gives a sense of how large this meadow is.

Plateau Shadows 
oil on canvas 

This was done in a single session, and I limited the palette to ultramarine blue, sap green, cadmiums red deep, orange and yellow medium and titanium white.  I found that adding just a touch of sap green (warm) to the UB (cool) was just perfect to take that intense edge off without resulting in a turquoise sky.  

Another important change/discovery I made for this painting was trying a different brush.  I'm not sure why it took me so long to figure out that the brushes could be part of the problem for laying down paint in the manner I wanted, but it did.  The brushes I was using were primarily flats and filberts in various sizes, but the problem is that the bristles are very stiff...too stiff for any type of thick paint application, in fact.   So, on a whim, I pulled out some older flat of softer nylon bristles and noticed a 100% improvement.  

Nice to have those ah-ha moments from time to time - it helps validate the whole process a bit when things are learned.  The result is that I really like how this painting turned out.  I seldom enjoyed painting with greens in pastels, probably because I never seemed to have the right colors I needed [and green isn't my favorite color, either].  But, this was different.  Easy.  Fun.  

Next up:  the destination view.  I'm off to go work some more on it and hopefully will have it finished by tomorrow.

In the meantime, because I found it difficult to narrow down to just one photo of this meadow, here are a few others taken along Hwy 67.  I may revisit some at a later date for paintings.  

Big sky country
Not just for those in Montana

Dramatic lighting
No boring greens or shapes in this forest.

Front row seats
Ignoring the blown-out sky, the stand of bright green aspen really catch the afternoon light in the predominately coniferous forest.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Plateau, Rising #1 & 2 - FC & CP series

My sister was in town visiting for the past 4 days, so my time in the studio and online was limited.   Definitely no time for any blog updates, so now I'm trying to catch up a bit.

For #31, I decided to do both an oil and pastel painting, just to experiment with different media and see how they handled.  The views are slightly different for each and the emphasis is therefore different as well.   At this point in the trip, we are leaving the Paria Plateau and the Vermilion cliffs behind as we head west and begin the 4000' climb up the east Kaibab monocline which forms the Kaibab Plateau and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

As the highway ascends the monocline, the abrupt geological change is striking:  the Triassic Vermilion cliffs terminate and are separated from the beginning of the Permian period Kaibab limestone, forming the top layer of the monocline (and the Grand Canyon), by the surficial deposits in the House Rock Valley.

Plateau, Rising - #1
oil on canvas

For this painting, a small section of the highway is seen below, emphasizing the rapid rise up the monocline.  Pinyon and juniper start to return.  This was a 2-staged painting, and I had fun using the 3 tubed greens in the palette to produce the range of warm and cool greens that make up the vegetation of this desert landscape.

Plateau, Rising - #2
pastel on Strathmore 500-series paper

The emphasis for this piece is the foreground with the trees helping define the contour of the land and providing a sense of scale.  

I decided this piece would benefit from a detailed (for me) drawing to establish values and precise tree locations using a white Conte pastel pencil and charcoal pencil.  It was surprisingly fast and easy to copy the positions of pretty much every tree in the reference photo.  

Which painting is more successful?  I personally feel the pastel version is, for a variety of reasons.

Number #32 was also completed this evening, in a single session.  I will post it tomorrow, and am deciding if I want to do a pastel variation as well.  

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Vermilion Cliffs - FC-CP series

Finally completed is #30 in the road trip series.  This is all about the essence of the cliffs themselves:  angles, curves, edges, details and of course, the colors.  At this point, Hwy 89 runs right next to them and their size and grandeur can be fully appreciated.   The Chinle formation is particularly prominent here; it forms slopes and contours in all directions, and surprise splashes of colors - blues and deep roses - peek out here and there amongst the pale green-grays and pinks.

The Vermilion Cliffs
oil on canvas panel
[some glare from wet paint as I took the photo indoors, and it's a bit on the warm side despite selecting the proper WB]

For this, I made some changes in the palette after pulling out some of my paints and doing a color mixing sheet.   I don't know if everyone does this, but I certainly find it useful.  

Getting tired of the same ultramarine-cerulean blue skies, I used thio green to give a rich turquoise sky.  Thio green is a transparent pigment, but it tints wonderfully, probably due to its intensity.  I also eliminated the alizarin crimson and replaced it with one of my favorite reds - cadmium red deep, which is a cool, opaque red.  I used to mix it with burnt sienna and white to make the perfect equine "nose pink", but with less white and some cad. orange, it makes great Navajo sandstone.  

I also added purple lake, which mixes to form a less intense purple-gray for distal cliffs and a nice chromatic black when mixed with burnt sienna and ultramarine blue.  

I also threw in the other two greens in my collection:  sap and chromatic green.  There were also touches of some other colors I was experimenting with:  brown madder and cadmium red medium.  

Here is what the underpainting/first layer of oils looked like for #30:

#30 underpainting

And, finally - this evening's sunset.  This is the product of a cold front that was predicted to drop some snow.  There were flurries earlier in the afternoon, but no accumulation in town.  And, it's cold!  This is what a snow cumulonimbus looks like:  



By the time the sun was completely set, this entire cloud had vanished, literally, into thin air.  Amazing.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Four Corners series - in pastel

Wanting to remain with the current road trip theme, but with a break from the oils, I decided to do some pastel versions.  I'm not counting these as part of the series as far as numbers go - those are for oils.  And these are views that I liked enough to want to paint, but didn't want to dedicate the time and materials to do them in oils.

My goal was to keep them simple and loose.  And not spend much time on them - less than 45 min.  So, they're more like studies or sketches.  They also made me see some additional deficits in my pastel collection, so I'm back to trying to decide which set(s) I'll get when I can afford to.

Leading the Way
pastel on black-toned w/c paper

This depicts another view of one of the washes leading from the Vermilion cliffs that quickly forms a deep side canyon that drains into the Colorado in this area known as Marble Canyon.  Small rocky cliffs are seen in the foreground, and curve off to a deeper gorge.  The cliffs in the distance:  the Echos.  They look really awful in this painting - too dark in value, a bit too large, and too clunky.  Paper is too small and rough to render them in any convincing detail. 

Towards the Plateau
pastel on black-toned w/c paper

Yep - another road shot.  I love this section of Hwy 89, where the road is straight but rises and falls as it contours the gentle dips in the land.  The eastern edge of the Kaibab Plateau is seen in the distance.  Backlit clouds grace the sky.  

Friday, November 5, 2010

In Profile - #29 FC & CP series

Just off the easel with #29.  I decided this piece was going to be a "one shot deal".  It had a very faint burnt sienna value wash applied a couple of days ago, but I wanted to try the Masonite panel out alla prima style.

It was also a bit of a relief to return to a simpler composition - one of the Echo cliffs silhouetted from the side.  From a distance and without direct light, they take on a completely different look.  To me, they look great from all angles.  And off in the far distance, unassuming, is our eventual destination:  the Kaibab plateau and its erosional masterpiece.  At this point in the day, a row of thin cumulus clouds began to develop towards the west, their edges brightly lit by the sun.  So, they remained.

In Profile - #29
9x12   oil on gessoed panel

I found the surface of this panel to be too slick for my liking; the paint seems to "slide" around, which made painting the clouds particularly challenging.   This did force me to use more paint, which I've been trying to do.  But, I think I'd like a bit more tooth, which another coat of gesso would probably take care of.  

I'm off to work on #30 and the re-gessoed canvas and see how that works...

And here is a different take on "fall colors":  desert wildflowers in fall bloom.  These were taken during our trip to Canyonlands on the long day hike along the Confluence Trail:

A type of sunflower - always cheery

Pretty in Purple 
These also are found around Durango

A type of primrose?  
This was the only plant of its kind I saw on the trail.

Lone blossom

Beauty and the Beast
Delicate purple flowers surrounded by an invasive non-native weed:  Russian thistle, aka "tumbleweed"

A trip to Chaco Canyon

No painting today - a trip to the bank in Aztec, NM, turned into a full day trip to Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and hiking to a few of the many pueblo ruins in the park.  The Chacoan culture began around 800 AD and spanned 300 years.  Multiple Great Houses were built along Chaco Canyon and throughout the region, all connected by a series of roads, and apparently as a trading and commerce hub.

The term "Anasazi" is the name most familiar to people to describe these prehistoric peoples living in the Four Corners region, both cliff and pueblo dwellers, including those living in Chaco Cyn.   However, "Anasazi" translates to "enemy ancestors" in Navajo, a term not favored by modern pueblo people such as the Hopi and Zuni, who are descendants of the the Anasazi.  So, they are increasingly referred to as "Ancestral Puebloans".

The architecture and masonry skills these puebloan people developed 700 years before any European set foot in the region are remarkable; one can only imagine the splendor of of these pueblos during the peak of their occupancy.

 A corner of a wall in the  Hungo Pavi ruin.  A perfectly straight wall from non-perfectly straight sandstone "bricks".

Masonry styles vary by pueblo and age of construction; I took several photos of the facades and marvel at the abstract patterns they form.
 Masonry detail of Hungo Pavi wall.  Remarkably intricate (and sturdy) laying of sandstone and mortar, with the wood cross-beam for support.   Wood is scarce in this area, and apparently these logs had to be transported 50 miles...by foot.
Outside of the largest of the Chaco Great Houses - Pueblo Bonito.  During its inhabitation, it was multiple stories and had hundreds of rooms.

One of the T-shaped doors in the large Pueblo Bonito ruin; this style of door is also seen in ruins of cliff dwellings, such as those in Mesa Verde.

These Great Houses were carefully planned and built over decades and sometimes centuries.  They also contained round, subterranean  structures known as "kivas", where fires and ceremonies were held.

 Another room in Pueblo Bonita, showing another series of doors and rooms.  With covered roofs and small windows, these rooms probably maintained reasonable temperatures even in the summer due to the thick walls and insulating properties of rock.   Wood beams show the height of the ceiling; the doors are short and necessitate stooping to walk through.

 Looking up out of one of the Pueblo Bonita rooms, a door and small window are visible, along with what appear to be a second set of beams and maybe a third floor.

A remarkable feat of engineering, for sure.
A section of the Pueblo Alto Trail Complex loop that leads through a narrow slot between two sections of sandstone.  It looks like a tight squeeze, but it's not.  Nonetheless, I had to take this photo as we entered it.  

After this short but steep climb through the sandstone cliffs, the trail  and overlooking Chaco Canyon.  It is from this trail you can get a real sense of the scale of these ruins.

Below:  Kin Kletso ruins, as seen from the top of the plateau and trailhead:

 A sampling of pottery sherds found by people who  resisted the temptation to pocket them (which is very illegal and hugely unethical), and instead placed them on a rock so others could see them.  Some plain gray, some textured, and some painted. Why paint designs on functional objects?  Because creating art and appreciation for beauty and design is as old as humanity.  Even in small pieces, the level of skill and craftsmanship of these vessels is apparent.

 New Pueblo Alto ruins.  About a mile after ascending the plateau these ruins are seen.

 Masonry detail of New Pueblo Alto ruins.  These apparent etchings into the sandstone caught my eye; they are clearly animal figures, and look equine to me.  If so, this dates them after the original builders left; horses were not present in the region until the Coronado invasion expedition in the mid-16th century.

Perhaps they are ancient versions of a child drawing on the walls with a crayon?
 A view across Chaco Canyon from the trail.   The sun was heading right to the left of the mesa across the canyon, and a sunset from this vantage point would have been unbelievably beautiful.
We didn't have time to hike to the main petroglyph and pictograph panels, but did take a short hike to some historical petroglyphs.  I'll save those for another post with some other rock art I've photographed recently.  

Catching some rays

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