Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer Garden - plein air, pastel painting, 9x12 inches

Summer Garden
9x12 inches - pastel on Strathmore
©2011 S.Johnson

Today I went out with the Four Corners Plein Air Painters group, as a guest of Jan Goldman, one of the group's few pastelists.  Location was another private residence located in the Animas river valley, but to the east of the river.  The stand-out features of this property were the amazing landscaped gardens with this lush, perfectly manicured green lawn.  

I absolutely loved the boulders and flagstone steps leading up to an upper tier of the yard, so that became the focal point.  Hollyhocks, daylilies, Russian sage, daisies, yarrow, hosta, purple coneflowers...this garden had it all.   

This originally started out as a 12x12, and while no one suggested it at the critique session, I brought it home and Wayne thought there was too much lawn...and there was, as you can see in the photo below.  A good reminder about how just a simple crop can improve the composition significantly.   They had other very good suggestions (like sky too dark, same value as lawn) that I was grateful for, and when I got home, I finished the piece up and made those changes.   It was tempting to try and add some of the billowing cumulus clouds forming to the north over the distal mountains, but with all the busy detail from the garden, I felt it might be too distracting.  

I feel very fortunate to have met artists in both the Four Corners group as well as the local Friday painters - all are so friendly and it's just nice to go out with a bunch of artists to socialize and get helpful critiques.  

Here are some photos from the critique session, along with a couple from the gardens:

We all loved the vignetted look of this unfinished [oil] painting

A beautiful watercolor of orange daylilies and hosta, my painting, and a close-up of daisies, yellow lilies and the fence, done in acrylic glazes - the photo doesn't begin to do those paintings justice

More oil paintings of different garden perspectives, and a more distal view of the mountains

Mary Ellen is the group's abstract and palette knife painter, and this was a small piece by her standards - isn't it fabulous?  It is an old barn down the road a bit.  

Two more oil paintings and part of Jan's pastel to the left
Lori was painting right behind me and we both were really into the dark tree shadows behind the pink hollyhocks.  Her view is standing and mine was seated...after a night of insomnia, I wasn't feeling up to standing for 3 hrs.  In fact, I was pleased that this painting turned out worthwhile; it did take a lot longer to complete than usual.

Daylilies and Russian sage


Purple coneflowers (Echinacea) and yarrow
I am so delighted to see coneflowers growing in gardens here - they were one of
my favorite garden flowers when I lived in CT

Monday, July 25, 2011

Shoreline - pastel, plein air, 12x12 inches

Another of the pieces done on location and finished up in the studio:

12x12 inches - pastel on Strathmore
©2011 Sonya Johnson

This was painted last Friday, I believe, during a fishing/painting trip to Haviland Lake.  Back in mid-May, we'd hiked to the north end of the lake to a small and somewhat secluded peninsula away from the main shore that all the campers and most fishermen use, and it didn't seem that, I decided to bring my french easel along for this trip.  However, after hauling it over 1/2 mile from the parking lot and across a good section of large broken rock, I was less enthusiastic about my decision and my shoulder and hand were nice and fatigued by the time we arrived to the location.

However, it took me pretty much no time at all to settle on this view - this small extension with its rocks, lots of neat grasses and reeds, and of course the lake reflections.  The distal shore has a slope of pine-fir-spruce to the left that transitions to a flat open area with some scattered pines and the distal Hermosa Cliffs and their aspen-covered slopes.  

I was thankful I'd put the Terry Ludwig dark eggplant (V100) pastel stick in my plein air box, because it's one of the few dark pastels I have to use for deep shadows (and I can see why so many pastelists find it an indispensable part of their palette).  I ended up finishing up the conifers in my studio, and did some touch-ups on the reeds and water reflection.  

I'm not sure the blue on the right side of the lake reads properly, but that's what was going on - small ripples were producing these sky blue bands and the bottom wasn't visible at all.  If this was sanded paper, I could keep tinkering with them until they looked right, but it isn't and thus my ability to make adjustments is a bit limited.  I already adjusted them twice (and reshot the photo just before I started this post), but I don't think it helped.  

I've wanted a hummingbird feeder ever since we've lived in Durango, and in June, I bought a couple of inexpensive feeders.  It's been a few weeks, and now the little birds have been visiting the one off our lower deck regularly.  Of course, one of my ulterior motives was having them for photographic subjects. So, there will no doubt be periodic pictures of little hummers showing up here from time to time.  

They are so entertaining and fascinating to watch, and quite frankly, just plain cute.  I can't identify this species from my Audubon field guide, unfortunately.

Here are a few from the other day:

Having a look inside
This one was literally right outside the door, perhaps 2' away, and hovered long enough for me to get this photo.  What I like about this photo (aside from the unique perspective) is that the directional motion of the wings is visible - they appear to be moving in a figure-8.

Having a drink
How these birds manage to live on nothing but sugar water is amazing to me

Taking a break
The birds seem to use the little perches maybe 1/3 of the time during their visits.  A few will just sit for close to a minute, either feeding or just sitting and looking around

Sunday, July 24, 2011

River Curves - plein air pastel, 12x12 inches

Finally, another finished painting to show...

River Curves
12x12 inches - pastel on Strathmore
©2011 Sonya Johnson

The stack of unfinished plein air paintings continues to build, but at least I did some touch-up work on this one today in my studio to post.  It's from the paint-out I went to on Friday with the local plein air painter's group, and is of a view of the Animas as seen from a choice piece of private property in the beautiful Animas river valley.  

I normally try to avoid standing in direct sun, but honestly, this view was just too good to pass up.  Embankments in shadow and the sparkling reflections off of the river as it rounds the bend, with some of the current curving across a rocky stream bed, and producing the mini area of "white water".  When I first started the painting - around 8:30 a.m. or so - the angle of the sun was low enough to cause the distal 1/2 of the river to be almost entirely white from reflections.  I painted it that way initially, but as time went on, more blue showed up, and I altered the painting accordingly.  The view is looking directly to the east (oh, how I need an easel umbrella!), and the distal cliffs were deep in shadow.  When the light hit the edges of the sandstone cliffs and the green slopes, I knew that was the light I wanted to capture. 

Later that same day, Wayne wanted to go fishing in Cascade Creek, up Hwy 550.  We had been there on a hike the week before, and I found two "must paint this" sites.  So, I did another afternoon painting, not finished, of course, from one of those locations.  I got decent photos of the other, and may break down and do some studio work to paint it.  

In the meantime, here are some photos taken from last week's hike along Cascade Creek, along with a couple taken up the road at Coal Creek, finally allowing me to get my "smooth water" fix with the camera:

Skyward aspen silhouettes
Monsoon clouds passed overhead for much of the hike, but no thunder and we got no rain at all.  By the time we were heading back to town, the clouds had significantly broken up.

Old farmer's cabin.  No date posted anywhere on its windows, but it is considered a historical building by the FS.  I don't think it's maintained, but it's in really good shape.  

As delicious as they look:  wild strawberries!
One of the perks of mountain hiking in the summer is finding some ripe berries in a forest meadow that's also full of wildflowers and butterflies.  

A view of Cascade Creek
Turns out, there are wild, non-native Brook trout in this creek.  Most too small to eat, but Wayne caught several on the second outing.

Coal Creek waterfall
My favorite of the wide-angle shots @31mm

Boulder cascades
My favorite of the standard shots - @48mm
Artsy-fartsy shot made more so by use of edge blur filter and punching up the saturation, which I normally don't do.  I think it works here, though, and I may just print out a 10x14 print of this baby and hang it on my wall.
I've always loved the look of shots like this, and until last Saturday, I'd never taken any myself.  They require a tripod and a slow shutter speed.  Since I don't have a N/D (neutral density) filter for my lens, I had to wait until the light was with an overcast monsoon sky.  Instead of tinkering around with shutter priority mode, I stuck with aperture-priority and stopped it down to f/25 - the max for my 18-70mm lens.  That resulted in a shutter speed of 1/4 sec and perfect blur of the water and the widest depth of field focus possible.  Whereas I don't want that when shooting wildflowers, wildlife or winged invertebrates, it's just what you want in a landscape scene like this.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Riverside Cottonwood - pastel, plein air, 12x12

Riverside Cottonwood
12x12 inches - pastel on Strathmore
©2011, Sonya Johnson

So, this is the 5th painting I've done since my last post, but the only one that I've actually finished.   Well, it clearly could use some more work, but I'm calling it done.  It's from a new location along the Animas river that I discovered last week during a walk along the river trail and a really short walk from the Albertson's parking lot, which is nice when I'm lugging the french easel along.  The view faces west, and in the morning, the painting location is in complete shade.  I'll likely return then.

I loved the tree and its interesting branches.  The trunks (there are 4 of them), though...I just couldn't make them work.  Despite this, I really got into a zone while painting, and enjoyed the process of just losing myself in the moment and really losing track of passing time.  

I was sitting about 3' off the heavily used urban trail, so more people than usual stopped to comment.  It's funny to me when people come up and say "wow - that's beautiful!", and I'm thinking:  "eh...not so much."  I thank them anyway, because that is the gracious thing to do.  

A couple of the other paintings hold promise, I think.  Lime creek, Haviland Lake, the Colorado Trail and the Animas river make up each of the other four.  Why don't I just sit down and finish them?  I don't know.  But, I will.  Each has a story to tell with it.


Here is a pano of the sunset from July 13.  The multiple colors fascinate me:

Deck sunset

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Plein-air paintout in Bayfield, pastel

Today, I went out again with the Plein Air Painters of the Four Corners to nearby Bayfield.  It's about 20 miles east of Durango and has tons of farmland, horses (including four owned by friend and accomplished equine sculptor Sarah Rose, and lots of scenic views that are quite different than Durango's.  

Our painting location was LaPlatte Lake - a privately owned lake that the owners allow public use of (including fishing), and fed by the Los Pinos river.  I'd never been there before, so it was a new place to check out.  It turned out to be a most idyllic place for painting, and since fishing is allowed, I know it will be easy to get Wayne over there.

Stream Reflections - SOLD
pastel on Strathmore, 12x12 inches
©2011 Sonya Johnson

I walked around a bit, but had no problem finding my first location:  the reflections in a stream running by the lake.  It was in shade, and had these great sky, tree and stream bottom patterns to try and paint.   Reflections are never easy, so I decided to give it a whirl.  I really liked the melodic lines created by the clumps of grasses along the edges of the stream.   

Amazingly, there were no mosquitos!  And not even a slight breeze, which was good, because I managed to lose the roll of tape in my bag and had to rely on used tape already on my board to secure the paper.    At the end-of-the-day critique, people thought the right side wasn't reading as water, so I came home, added a touch of blue and some more green on top, and I think that did the trick.  

My attention span for painting without stopping is about 2 hrs, and this I finished in about 1 3/4 hrs, I think.  Timing was good, because by then, I was in full sun (see below), and it was getting hot.  So, I had fun walking around and seeing what everyone else was working on; I should have taken photos, but didn't want to bug people for permission to post them (though I doubt anyone would have minded).

While casing the area for my second painting, I took a few photos:

My seated plein air set-up
lightweight, el-cheapo Daler-Rowny easel 
and folding chair.  Pastel box goes in my lap.

Small fish near the edge of the lake

Two-tailed Swallowtail feeding on common milkweed

Edge of one large field adjacent to the lake

Jan and Lori, both of whom invited me to this paint-out, were painting on the other side of this field along the dirt road and another stream.  Even though it was in full sun, I liked the view from the area, so I did this as my second piece:

East Towards Bayfield
8x16 inches - matboard with Golden pumice/black acrylic
©2011 Sonya Johnson

I could have used my French easel to better use for this painting; tall grasses and reeds from the stream obscured most of the field from a seated position.  I ended up finishing it when I got back because we ran out of time before I was done.  There was a really neat fence or corral on the left side that I tried to add in from memory, but it looked bad, so it got snuffed.  And, even though the horizon-level clouds were coming up behind the distal mountains as shown, I don't really like my version.  I think it could use a few more sky holes as well.  

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Courtyard Window, plein air, pastel - 12x12 inches

As suggested in my last post, here's something different, subject-wise:

Courtyard Window
12x12 inches, pastel on black Strathmore
©2011 Sonya Johnson

This is my painting from Friday, painted in the courtyard of the historic Rochester Hotel in downtown Durango.  This was with the informal group of local plein air painters that meet on Fridays.  Plenty of views to choose from, but I decided on this view of the window of the adjacent Artesanos Design Collection - a fabulous place that carries furniture and arts from Mexico.  The storefront facades of the building have stucco atop the brick, but I really liked this window, as well as the brick colors and pattern, and the surrounding foliage, of this seldom seen side of the building.

The hardest part was trying to draw straight lines freehand.  Nature usually isn't linear, save for water horizon lines, so I never had to worry about it until now.  It's not perfectly plumb, but that's easy to fix when matting it.  The ever-changing shadows were also something to consider.

Unlike fellow artist and blogger Ruth, who does remarkably detailed pen and watercolor paintings of building entryways and facades, including every brick, I will never have that degree of patience.  So, the brick pattern is merely suggested here.  The lower part of the wall was adobe or painted concrete, and I liked the contrast of color and texture with the brick.  Painting the Chaco series gave me good practice for doing this wall!

Some subtle reflections from the adjacent foliage in the window, and a slight suggestion as to some inside items, and that was it for the window.  


Here is a cool 2-part pano of yesterday afternoon's sky from the deck:  crepuscular rays from an edge-lit cloud.  Note the upward-cast shadows from the cloud itself:

Yesterday, we did a hike along the Colorado Trail starting from Molas Lake.  We were turned back by monsoon rain about 3/4 of a mile before we got to the Animas River, but it cleared up again, allowing us to take a spur trail to check out Molas Creek.  

Here are a few photos from that hike:

Snowdon Peak from the CT near the Molas trailhead

Trail through an aspen stand

Corralohiza maculata - native orchids!
Seeing these beautiful little flowers along the trail was possibly the highlight of the hike 
This particular species of orchid contains no chlorophyll, which explains the lack of any green pigment

Even deep in the forest along a hillside, lightning is always a danger during a storm

Waterfall along Molas Creek
seen from the spur trail off the CT coming back
With a ND filter, slower shutter speed and a tripod, this would make a killer shot

Ominous Skies
This was taken 23 minutes after the above photo, less than 1/2 mile from the car.  Conditions change quickly, and when you see skies like this and hear thunder, it's time to beat it back to the trailhead ASAP.  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer Hillside, pastel, plein air, 9x12

A late afternoon trip down to my favorite location along the Animas River....

Summer Hillside
9x12 inches, pastel on black Strathmore
©2011 Sonya Johnson

...with a different view.  The river, despite its flow continuing to drop, is producing some remarkable rapids that were tempting to paint.  But, after doing many mountains and lots of water, I decided I liked this view from the bank, looking up the small hillside to the south.  

It is filled with summer grasses of assorted colors of greens and yellows, along with small patches of an unknown yellow wildflower are scattered across the red earth.  The trail leading down to the river, and my location, is seen in the lower right corner, partially obscured by a patch of yellow clover.  

Trees were first, clouds were last.  The top blue is a new one of my Mt. Visions that is just dandy for skies.

It was a bit breezy, due to the clouds.  Some kayakers came and put in right in the same location, owing to the good wave action.  So, we all practiced our craft on a wonderful Durango afternoon, our souls  nourished by the Animas river - the River of Lost Souls.  

The sky off our bedroom deck, taken right before I posted this:

Tomorrow, the local Friday plein air painters are meeting at an old hotel downtown.  If I can manage to drag my unit out of bed, I'll hopefully be joining them at 8 a.m.   We might all have something to chuckle over as I maybe attempt to paint linear structures on location.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

More cloud studies from my deck, pastel

It's officially "cloud season" here in Durango, and after having a few months completely devoid of anything of interest in the sky, I'm celebrating!

Clouds Against the Slope of Smelter Mtn
12x12 inches, pastel on black Strathmore
©2011 Sonya Johnson

This was actually done on the same day as the previous cloud painting, later in the afternoon, and from our lower deck.  Smelter Mtn. is in its full summer greens, courtesy of lots of Gambel's oak.  These clouds, probably a combination of cumulus and altostratus, displayed very windswept tails.  Just like the cumulus, they're constantly morphing into new shapes and sizes.  

And, from yesterday morning, also from the lower deck:

Morning Sky with Twin Buttes
9x12 inches, pastel on black Strathmore
©2011 Sonya Johnson

The bottom half of the sky in the distance was filled with the thin, nebulous altostratus clouds.  These are fun, because they have lots of lost and found edges, although this paper makes obtaining that effect sometimes difficult.   Higher up and closer are scattered altocumulus, forming broken patches and ridges.

I did another painting from the deck yesterday afternoon, just prior to the rainstorm we had, on Strathmore charcoal (laid surface) paper, but it's just too crappy to post.  The neighbors who came up through the garage stairs saw me working on it and thought it was "beautiful", and no offense to them, but it was not.  

I didn't post the photos I took from our trip to Andrews Lake that I promised earlier, as I got carried away with the whole Engineer Mtn. theme, so here are today's load of photos:

Andrews Lake 
3-part pano

For a fun comparison, here's what Andrews Lake looked like on February 12.  Taken from almost the same location, it's sort of the middle of the pano shot:

Osprey close-up...sort of
This was as close a shot as I could get of her flying over
 the lake.  

Anemone multifida - on the hill where I was painting

Sultan and Grand Turk Peaks, as seen from the Crater Lake trail
3-part pano

Taken in a small winding meadow stream off the trail - where did all of those teals and purples come from?  This might be my new favorite water abstract.

A section of the meadow stream...would be an awesome location for painting if not for the clouds of mosquitos

Rock outcropping and monsoon sky
3-part vertically-oriented pano

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You are welcome to use these for PERSONAL USE ONLY.   Artists can use the photos to paint their own ORIGINAL art.  If you share or use any image content on this blog, you need to attribute it to me.  Kindly do not remove my name from the photos, or the signature off my paintings if you share them.  I purposely re-size everything I post here to minimize theft (read:  people making money off of my original work without compensating me).  
Want to use any of my photos or artwork images for stock (commercial) purposes?  Email me and we'll discuss terms and rates.   Ditto if you'd like to purchase a high-quality print of anything posted here.
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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Engineer Mountain - a matter of perspective

First off, I hope everyone had a fun and safe 4th of July holiday weekend!

Ours was great, and got off to a great start yesterday morning with a hike up the trail at Coal Bank Pass on Hwy 550 to the local favorite mountain:  Engineer.   I've painted it, and photographed it on numerous occasions, and hiked it back in July '06.   I'll never get sick of it.

And, as such, I thought I'd combine the different perspectives I have of this mountain, via painting and photos, and as an artist and a hiker.

First, is the plein air piece I did on Friday, during our trip to Andrews Lake.  Actually, I had Wayne drop me off at Andrews specifically so I could paint Engineer, while he drove up the road to fish in Molas lake.

Engineer Mountain from Andrews Lake
16x8 inches
pastel on board with black-toned Golden pumice ground

The painting isn't anything to write home about; I struggled to get the right shades of green for the various slopes, and to try and effectively balance detail vs. abstract shape and eliminate poor compositional elements (namely, a bunch of spruce trees in the foreground).  It didn't help that some hiker went out of his way to come over and chat with me and ask me about the "chalks" I was using.  Well-meaning, but when he showed up, that was the end of the painting session.  

Despite the painting's shortcomings, I still found the process valuable, and I'll keep painting Engineer both from photos and on location.  

Now on to the photos from the hike yesterday.  The neat thing about this perspective of Engineer is that it shows the approach for summiting it (a non-technical climb).  See the lines of snow?  They show the east-facing slope the trail goes up.  

Along the forested trail
This photo is for fellow pastelist and blogger Dan;
go have a look at his blog to see why

A snowbank holds interesting shadows from surrounding trees, and casts its reflection in a small alpine pond by the trail, about 1 1/4 miles from the trailhead

Striking patches of Parry's Primrose were blooming at alpine and sub-alpine zones.  This is one of the earliest bloomers, along with the marsh marigolds seen in the background, at 10,000'+ elevations.

Base of Engineer pano
4-part landscape-oriented image shot at 18mm (so a wide angle of a wide angle view)
This is where we sat and hand lunch.  Click on photo to see larger image.
The snow to the left?  It's one of the thin lines of pastel in the painting.  

Approach to Engineer
click on the photo to see a larger picture; there is a peep coming down the trail on the snowbank just to the left of the middle give a sense of scale and how steep the trail is

Engineer Slope pano
3-part @18mm 
After this, it was time to put the camera away for the climb (we accidentally took the dicey route, very steep and lots of loose rock and dirt)

Scree Slope
The whitish-gray rock that forms the vertically-jointed cliffs is a Tertiary-age igneous sill (volcanic rock that has formed intrusions in older sedimentary rock).  It sounds like broken pottery as you walk across it.  This is not a hike to do if you cannot handle exposure.

Engineer Bench pano
2-part @18mm
View is to the northwest, showing Grizzly Peak to the left, along with several other smaller ranges within the San Juans.  The pile of rocks in the lower right-hand corner were stacked to form a small semi-circle on the leading edge of this ridge.
Note how many more clouds there are than in the earlier photos

Sky Pilot (Polemonium viscosum) eking out a living in a crack in the rock at 12,600'+

Due to rapid build-up of monsoon clouds over the mountains, along with sudden wind gusts and distal thunder, we opted not to go for the summit on this hike.  An earlier start on a day when no rain is forecast is on the agenda for the future.

Looking Back

Fourth of July wouldn't be complete without fireworks, and we had the best view in town right from our deck.  First time shooting them, and I was finally starting to get the hang of it by the time the show ended:

How do you photograph fireworks, you ask?  
Two absolute requirements:
1) a DSLR camera with capacity for manual exposure (BULB setting, with cable or electronic shutter device)
2) a tripod
All these were shot at f/5.6, ISO 200 equivalent, both manual and automatic focus.  Exposure length variable.  Open the shutter when the firework goes off, and close it when the streamers fade away - 2-4 sec.

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