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 bit...it 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 finally...one 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.  


  1. Beautiful paintings! And I loved the photos--especially the butterfly closeup - amazing!

    I raised sheep as a 4-H project long, long ago-thankfully not 100!

    Enjoyed your post as always.

    LeAnn aka pasqueflower

  2. Hi LeAnn - thanks as always for your comments! When I was in high school, I was in FFA (I would have loved to have been in 4-H). I raised rabbits, but lots of members had market lambs, and I remember how fun the county fairs were.

    And the trick to the butterfly photos: persistence, patience and a telephoto lens!

  3. Absolutely enjoy these photos and stories, and you've just made a great case for getting the hell out of this room and out there where it's all happening. Good point--not to mention the excellent result of the plein air effort! That moving water is amazing. Best.

  4. Ack! You fell off of my blog list. So I sent out the Border Collie and the Great Pyrenees to find you, little lamb, and now you're back in the flock. It's a good thing.

  5. Wow Sonya, the water in your first painting looks like it is just waiting for some toes! Both of these have such a great sense of place and I really enjoyed your photos. Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. Oh, Sonya, abolutely beautiful paintings and photos! Looks like it was a great outing...I especially like Looking Across Lemon, maybe because I miss the great expanse of water, which is beautifuly rendered.

  7. Bill - I always enjoy and appreciate your comments, and this one made me chuckle. Now with your new Coolpix, you have no excuse not to get the hell outside and share your adventures! Thanks too for the nice words about the paintings. After I was mostly finished, I stood back and said: "hey, all those random pastel marks actually do look like water - go figure!"

    Hi Sam - nice to hear from you again; I thought I'd fallen out of blogger favor or something. Which happens. The working dogs send their regards :).

    Hi Sandy - thank you kindly for your comments, and I'm delighted you enjoyed the photos, too! The water in the river was crystal clear and ice cold from the mountain snowmelt - very refreshing on a warm summer day.

    Thanks Liz - you would have loved it up there! If you and Mike ever decide to come up for a visit, we'll go. Lemon lake looks really attractive at this time of the year.

  8. Beautiful! Love the photos and the story too. The paintings are wonderful. The water in the top one is amazing - you can really feel the sun hitting it. Lovely!

  9. Thanks, Debbie - I'm glad you enjoyed the photos, too! I really enjoyed painting the water in the first one, and everything came together for that painting really well, I feel. Sometimes when you start, you never know how it will go.

  10. Your top painting is wonderful and I don't know how you managed to get the water looking so much like water!!
    Love the sheep + dog photos. I think the human + working dog connection is a very cool thing.

  11. Thanks, Jala; I am not exactly sure how I managed to get the water looking so much like water, either, esp. with a dry medium. All those separate colors just came together somehow :).

    I agree about the working dog + human connection. It's seldom seen anymore, so I was really delighted to have been there to see this and capture it in photos. A very cool moment in time.

  12. Lovely work as always Sonya :) We rode up the Burnt Timber trail yesterday, when we came home there were hundreds of sheep on the road, still...they must be gathering up a bunch of them to head up the to high country for the summer.

    Let's get together soon :)

  13. Hey Sarah - thanks much! That's really interesting about the sheep. Wayne was just telling me used to see them up around Molas Pass years ago in the summer. I had no idea they did any type of massive sheepherding operations like this anymore.

    Yes, let's definitely get together soon (and I owe you a note or a call)!

  14. Love seeing these photos. I've been on that road to Vallecito! Your really got the feel of the blue/brown/green water. And, the sheep are an extra!

  15. I love the Florida river picture. The texture of the water is wonderful. That must have been fun seeing all of the sheep, dogs and shepherds. We had a Great Pyrenees mix when the kids were small and she was the greatest dog ever. She was so gentle (but HUGE), I never had a moments worry for me or the kids when she was around. Border collies on the other side NEED a job.

  16. Along the Florida and Looking across Lemon is great! Thanks for sharing this! I like how you did the rocks as well as the body of water in the painting Along the Florida . Thanks for sharing this!

  17. Look at all those sheep!! Holy cow! What a great trip. Your paintings are beautiful, I especially love the way you paint water with both warm and cool colors in it. And your photos are just gorgeous too. I'm glad you shared all of this because I pretty much never paint plein air. This kind of makes it feel like I was there with you. :)

  18. Thanks Pam - the drive to Vallecito/Lemon lakes is very scenic, isn't it? The sheep were really something else; I've never seen so many in one place in my entire life!

    Hi Ruth - thanks much :). I've always thought that Great Pyrenees seemed like really gentle dogs, and I imagine this one was probably employed as a guard/babysitter for the sheep. Totally agreed about the border collies - this one was living the dream of any border collie, for sure!

    Hi Daniel - thanks so much for your comments! I was pleased with the way the rocks came out, but I'm not sure I could even tell you how I did them...

    Hi Crystal - thank you so much; I really appreciate your comments! I'm glad you enjoyed the photos as well, and I'm delighted I could help bring this plein air experience (minus the bugs, sunburn and wind gusts) to you :).


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