Friday, June 10, 2011

Spruce Shadows - plein air pastel, 12x9

Spruce Shadows
pastel on black Strathmore

We are back from our 3-day trip to Taos, NM and vicinity.  And, as always seems to be the case, my expectations and plans seldom materialize into reality:  in this case, to do several plein air pieces on the trip.  In fact, this was the only one, and it's certainly not unique to Taos, or New Mexico for that matter.  But, that's okay - at least I got one painting in.

The trip was great, and we saw and did a lot in a relatively short period of time.  Since it was the first time I'd been to this region of New Mexico, it served as a valuable exploratory trip for future painting expeditions:  finding the most scenic and feasible locations for painting, and getting a general idea of the area itself.  

Contrary to most trips, I didn't get a lot of photo-worthy landscape photos, although I scored big in some great photos of other subjects.  Part of this was due to the issues with smoke from the huge forest fire in northern AZ:  on Wed late morning, the smoke was so thick that it made being outside at all unpleasant at best and unhealthy at worst.  We were exceptionally lucky that the winds changed and there was absolutely no smoke or haze during our drive back yesterday.  

This painting was done on Wednesday at our campsite, after a full day visiting the famous Mission church in Rancho de Taos, the Taos Pueblo, driving along the Enchanted Circle loop, and taking a short hike in the mountains after the smoke had blown away.  Incidentally, it was also my birthday, and really was a perfect topper for the day.  

This tree, which I believe is an Englemann spruce, was right next to our campsite.  I was originally a bit dismayed by what appeared to be no good plein air views at the campground, but as I looked at this tree, I realized that its roots, bark texture and colors, and the afternoon light hitting it would be worth painting.  

set-up with my French easel 

As usual, I was aware of the shortcomings in my pastel palette, particularly the greens.  But, that's part of the challenge, I guess, of plein air painting with pastels.  I'm looking forward to adding more to my collection with both a gift certificate I received for my birthday as well as the check from the juried show.  

Anyway, despite the lack of on-location painting, I did get a ton of source material for studio paintings.  I'll probably work those in between local plein air work.

Here are some select photos of other subjects taken around the campground:

Globe Flower (Trollius albiflorus)

Hoverfly (Syrphidae family) visiting a Wild Strawberry flower
These look like bees, but do not bite or sting

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
This individual was very beat-up - this is one of the earliest butterflies of the season - but they are quite striking when their wings are intact.  

Western blue-tailed butterfly - male (Cupido amyntula)
"Blues" - members of the Gossamer Wing family of butterflies, are abundant at this time of the year.  I have been lucky to photograph many species, and I'll share more photos in future blog posts.

Clematis (Atragene occidentailis)
These lovely flowers are low vine formers and usually found in deep shade along moist mountain hillsides - like our campground.


  1. Belated Happy Birthday! Love your photos, especially the butterfly.

    LeAnn aka pasqueflower

  2. Happy Birthday!

    Sounds like a great trip, even if it wasn't quite perfect :-) I know exactly what you mean about things not always quite working out exactly as planned - I've had a few of those trips lately, too.

    Love the tree - roots and bark make some great subject matter, don't they?

  3. Thanks Debbie! Yeah, your trip to Maine was a bit like mine in that regard, wasn't it ;)? I guess the best bet is to expect the unexpected and make the most of what each day brings.

    I might not have thought to paint the tree, save for several artists (including yourself and Dan Michael) who have done some really wonderful tree paintings recently. I'm sure I'll do more!

  4. Happy b-day!
    When you get your new pastels, I say go for the Unison Darks. You won't regret it! :)


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