Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A trip along the San Juan Skyway, plein air and photos

Phew.  Over a week since my last post!  Where did the time go?  All good intentions to paint after last Tuesday's outing went by the fact, I spent probably 1 1/2 hrs. walking around with my gear along the Animas River trail on Wed, but never found a spot that suited my fancy to paint.  On Thursday, I opted to take a hike instead of paint outside.  More on that later.

But, that changed with our 3-day camping trip up near Rico, CO.  Temps have been in the low '90's here in Durango, so it's a great time to head to the higher elevations of the San Juans before the monsoon season kicks in (which, at the moment I'm typing this, could be today).  At my suggestion, we decided to head up along the scenic highway known as the San Juan Skyway.  This 230-mile loop drive has to be one of the most scenic drives in the country.

We are dedicated car campers, so with our cat in tow (his first camping trip), we hit the road early Sunday morning.  Plan:  hike, paint, fish and just hang out.

Snow Spur Creek
9x12 inches
pastel on black Strathmore

We stayed at the Cayton campground north of the small mining town of Rico along Hwy 145.  Aside from having an unlimited potential for painting, it's close to our favorite locations:  Lizard Head Pass and Trout Lake.  Unfortunately, Wayne forgot his tackle box for the trip, so his plan to fish the Dolores River and Trout Lake was foiled.  He improvised by buying some worms and hooks in Rico, and on Sunday afternoon, we headed up to the trailhead for Lizard Head to paint and fish.  

Snow Spur creek drains part of the Lizard Head wilderness area, and is incredibly scenic as it forms a meandering path down the hillside on its way to the Dolores.  In fact, this area is so scenic that it's hard not to be inspired by views - both grand and intimate - as an artist.  Lots of whitewater in this shallow creek, which made for a challenge to paint.  The meadows were lush shades of green with grasses and low shrubs, and lots of bright yellow dandelions.  I know these flowers get no respect, being so commonplace, but they really add some beautiful color to the hills and meadows, and at these elevations (~9,800'), they are the only thing blooming in abundance.

I did two other plein air pieces during the trip.  I've decided to split those into separate posts, mainly as an excuse to spread out some of the photos I took along the trip.

Here are some photos from the first day of the trip:

Dolores River from the bridge leading to Cayton campground

Jacob's Ladder 

Prairie Smoke

Yellow Monkeyflower
Thyme Leaf Speedwell

I don't think most readers know this, as it has been close to 1 1/2 years since I've posted any, but I love shooting abstract images of water - the small ripple patterns formed by the water, the reflected light from both the surface and creek bottom, along with the random motion of the water itself are mesmerizing to watch.  You can see more here, here and here.  Small streams and creeks are excellent sources for new material, so I obtained many new photos from this trip.  These are from a tiny stream alongside the road leading to the campground: 

Water Abstract #1 - Blur

Water Abstract #2 - Starry Night 02

Water Abstract #3 - Bubbles!

Aspens on the hillside
This was the basis for another plein air piece done from our campsite on the same evening

More tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lemon Reservoir and the Florida River - pastel, plein air

Another great day spent enjoying the perfect weather and painting...

Along the Florida 
12x12 inches
pastel on black Strathmore

Today's trip was to Lemon Reservoir, which is about 15 miles east of Durango, along the same road that leads to Vallecito Reservoir.  The Florida river (pronounced Floor-EE-da) runs down from the mountains and into the reservoir, and there is a day use area with lots of parking right where it enters, which was ideal.

I was lucky to sit in the shade of some cottonwood trees to paint this view looking upstream.  Decided to try a square format for it, partially for grins, and partially because I didn't have any sheets trimmed to the usual 9x12.   I think it worked pretty well, although I see I need to adjust the right shoreline a is a bit too sloped.  

After I finished, I wandered back up and decided to do a view of the lake itself, using the 1:2 format boards, which I'm totally into now:

Looking Across Lemon
8x16 inches
pastel on 4-ply board with Golden pumice/black acrylic ground

The dam of the reservoir is situated in the left 1/3 of the painting (purposely), right behind the tip of the pine-covered slope.  I liked the group of rocks in the foreground and the solo shoreline tree on the right bank, so I kept those in the painting.  The grassy meadows were so many different shades of greens, with reddish-brown grasses, which required some creativity to render with my plein air palette.  

And, now, more reasons to always carry one's camera on these painting trips...

While driving down the dirt road, which follows the eastern shore of the lake, to this location, I encountered a most unusual site:

"Where is mom?"

Sheep!  A herd of a few hundred, at least.  Ewes and lambs were pouring off the side of the hill and onto the road, right before the dam.  They were slowly heading in the same direction I was.  I shot a few photos from my car window while waiting for the stream of ovines to break so I could continue on.  

After I finished the first painting, I took a break and walked around with my camera before heading back up to the main parking area, and I noticed this Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia), running back and forth down to the edge of the river.  What a cute little thing he is:

Tons of butterflies, but I only got photos of two:

Common Branded skipper

Unidentified - a Frittilary species? - on one of the many species of fleabane daisies

About the time I was heading up with my gear, I heard the unmistakable sounds of...sheep!  In the 1-2 hrs. that I'd passed them, the herd had caught up.  Some had wandered down the trail and were grazing right by the lake:

At the parking area, which is separated from the dirt road by a grassy field, this is what we see:

Lambs everywhere!  
I had no idea there were this many sheep in CO

And, now, following up behind to keep everything in order and moving - a Border Collie:

Along with a Great Pyreneese following up the rear: 

And of the three sheepherders, as the flock disappeared up the road:


Honestly, this is a big part of the reason I enjoy the plein air trips.  The wildlife, butterflies, and the unexpected events like these sheep just add to the experience, and I'd have missed all of it if I decided to stay inside and paint.  

Of course, I love taking these photos, and sharing them with you all.  I hope you enjoy them, and the story that goes with them.  

Monday, June 20, 2011

More outdoor pastels - ACEO, 16x12

After the recent plein air work I've been doing, I can't seem to find the desire to sit inside and paint, so today seemed like a good day to do some quickie florals and a tree sketch.  These are in the round brick wall garden located about 40' from the condo, in a grassy median strip on our street.  A large selection of marigolds, petunias and pansies were planted a few weeks ago, replacing the tulips that bloomed in early spring.

ACEO floral trio
2.5 x 3.5 inches each
pastel on black Strathmore

My pastel palette is lacking in saturated purples and violets needed to paint some of the flowers, but that will change in the next few days when the open stock pastel order I placed with Blick comes in.  I ordered over 60 pastels - mostly Mt. Visions, and a few Richeson Handmade - but I also ordered some of the Ludwig intense dark violets.  Almost every pastelist I know raves about these colors in particular, so I had to give them a try.   They are unlike anything in my current collection.  

And, then a study of this fascinating tree that is right across the street:

tree study
16x12 inches
pastel on Strathmore charcoal

It's nothing to write home about, but t'was good practice nonetheless.  The tree, in addition to having smooth white bark with the dark scarring, has these reddish strands of leaves(?) that hang down like thin fronds of hair.  It's quite remarkable, and very tall.  I have no idea of its identity.

And, in keeping with tradition, here are some photos taken at Santa Rita Park, last weekend, in the community garden:

Yellow and pink columbine



Purple & Blue - unidentified

Crimson and white columbine

Beautiful bi-color bearded iris

Friday, June 17, 2011

Molas Lake and Snowdon Peak - pastel, 8x16

Snowdon and Twilight from Molas Lake
8x16 inches
pastel on archival board with Golden pumice ground

...from our trip to Molas Lake on Wed.  

It was a warm day (89 deg.) in Durango, so we headed up Hwy 550 to Molas Lake (~10,000'), for an afternoon of painting and fishing.   Early summer is here, and the snow is rapidly melting off the mountains, although not quite as fast on the north face of these two 13'ers.

I loved the abstract patterns the residual snow formed against the dark volcanic slopes of the mountains above timberline.  The biggest challenge painting this on location was the ever-changing reflections in the lake.  Overhead cumulus clouds and breezes would cast shadows and ripples, completely changing the appearance.  Because of the white mass of snow, I left out the clouds.   It was about 90% completed on location, and I finally got around to finishing it this afternoon.

Here are some other pictures taken from the trip:

Marsh Marigold (Psychrophila leptosepala)
One of the earliest blooming flowers in the alpine snowmelt bogs and marshes, these can be seen in large numbers from the road

The Grenadiers from Molas
View is to the southeast

Snowmelt waterfall near Lime Creek
Aspen, spruce and fir surround this transient drainage into Lime Cr.

Sandstone slope and aspen
To the east along the small trail leading above Lime Creek

Afternoon cloud against the hillside
Another small stream runs down the side of this slope to Lime Creek

Twilight Peak from Hwy 550 and the Lime Creek drainage

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Plein Air in La Plata Canyon

This morning, I met with fellow Durango pastel painter Jan Goldman, who is a member of the Plein Air Painters of the Four Corners group, as her guest, and we headed up to a private ranch property located along the beautiful La Plata Cyn, for one of the bi-weekly member paint-outs.

Tres Amigos
12x9 inches
pastel on black Strathmore

The property is set far off the road leading up the canyon, so we were afforded unique views of the La Plata mountains, as well as mountain meadows with blooming lupine, aspen stands and scrub oak.  This was an all-day event, with painting in the morning, a wonderful lunch provided by Doris, the sister of the property owner, followed by more afternoon painting and a group critique at the end of the day.  

Tres Amigos was my morning painting, of three aspen in a grassy field.  Scrub oak are the last trees to leaf out in the late spring/summer, and are in their warm yellow-green stage.  These aspen have lots of scarring on the bases of their trunks, resulting in the dark patches on the bark.

 Silvery Lupine in bloom

East of Parrot Peak
8x16 inches
pastel on matboard with Golden pumice ground + black acrylic

After I finished the first painting before lunch, I walked around the property to find a good spot to do this 1:2 format painting, and this was it.  Parrot and Madden Peaks are part of the La Platas and are on the west side of the canyon.  Madden Peak has just a bit of snow remaining, and some transient clouds showed up that of course I had to add.  The dirt road leading to the parking area and ramada can be seen, along with the colorful lupines.  

The day was uneventful, save for a minor mishap in the afternoon when a large hornet or yellow jacket got too close to me and I reacted by jerking my leg...and sent the pastels, which were in my lap, flying out of the box, on the ground, in my lap, and down the seat of the chair.  Thankfully, all were recovered and none damaged.  

In the afternoon, the group reconvened at the ramada and did a critique session.  Having peer critiques of one's work can be invaluable, I think.  A few people suggested I lighten the values on the lupine in the painting above, which I did when I got home.

Here are some of the paintings from the group, with most media (oil, w/c, acrylic, pastel) being represented:

I had a great time, and everyone was very friendly and welcoming, so I'm looking forward to attending more of their paint-outs and hopefully becoming a member.  And thank you again to Jan for allowing me to attend as your guest!


At the end of the day

Monday, June 13, 2011

Animas River Days in Durango

June has been a banner month for photography!  Exciting and new subjects for me to shoot at every turn, and I've probably been supplied with enough reference material to tide me over for years when I'm not painting outdoors.  And lately, the subjects have been transient and not amenable to any location painting, such as the train trip.

I've decided I'll probably dole the photos out in between paintings, or as an inclusion to those done of a particular subject (such as the Rancho de Taos church).

My intentions to paint today went by the wayside, so I thought I'd share some photos I shot yesterday during part of the Animas River Days event held each June here in Durango.  

Enter the event known as "Kayak Rodeo":  whitewater kayakers take turns riding a huge standing wave and doing tricks on it (underwater turns, helical spins and such) to gain points.  Getting "flushed" is sort of the equivalent of getting tossed off a bull or horse, except that you can paddle back and ride the wave again if you can.  Each kayaker has 2 runs for a minute each, which are both scored.

I've never shot a sports event before, but this was such a blast.  I shot over 300 photos over the course of the two hours.  We were lucky to be positioned at this ideal viewing spot for the event.

Here are some of my favorites, and I hope you enjoy them as well!

Making a turn 

Setting up against the wave
Kayakers try to position themselves at the base of the wave to ride it and perform their tricks; this competitor has a good position...right next to the brown "wall"

In control 

Kayak rodeo:  not just for the boys, but for girls with pink kayaks!

Coming up for air - this professional entrant has almost finished a 360 roll in the center of the wave

Tag-teaming it for fun - not part of the competition, but what a great shot

Banking to the right at the leading edge of the whitewater

Are we having a great time or what?
One of my favorite photos; this guy's smile epitomized the entire event

Leaning into it

Concentration is key to staying on top of things

Enjoying more wave riding after the competition

I seriously love this town.


Tomorrow I'm going out with the Four Corners Plein Air painters group, so hopefully I'll have an actual painting or two to post soon.

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