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.  


  1. A very simple but elegant composition. I noticed right away the un-plumbness, and hand made character of the piece. I think that's what makes it so nice.

  2. You are making the case for black paper. I can't get enough of the cool blue.


  3. Thanks, Bill. I also was drawn to the simplicity of the composition, and the darkness of the window. I was sort of hoping that I could get away with it being not perfectly plumb for the reasons you I definitely appreciate the validation ;).

    Hi Casey - yeah, I'm hooked on working a black surface; you should definitely give it a try. I think it would work very well with your style and use of color. I just love the optical effect it has on the pastel - perhaps absorbing vs. scattering light and making the pigments look even more pure and vibrant?

    In fact, there were at least 4 other pastelists at the paint-out, and all were really intrigued by the surface. I carry the Strathmore pad with me, so I gave out a couple of sheets and explained how to prepare it with the sandpaper. I also ordered a bunch of 18x24" sheets of it so I can go bigger.

    Thanks, as always, for your comments.

  4. Love this composition, what a nice piece!

  5. This is lovely, Sonya. Aren't partial architectural drawings fun? The out of plumbness is not really distracting at all because the overall color palette and balance of the drawing are so nice.

    When you think about it, there is not as much absolute straight line in architecture as some might say. Except for perhaps glass and steel, most building materials have quite a variation in texture and even edge. Our brain puts in the sharpness when it puts together the whole. Perhaps that is why we don't miss it in art so much. And if WE put in the edge, it better be very correct.

    I don't use a straight edge when I ink anymore, just at the beginning of the preliminary sketch. It's almost a matter of trusting that the line drawn will be relatively right. Thanks for your kind words about my architectural drawings. You have made a wonderful start. I hope you try some more.

  6. Thanks, Susan - something different that ended up working! BTW, thanks for the location of Wilson Arch; I've only been to Moab once, so that's why it wasn't immediately apparent. We did see a small plane fly through it on that trip, though.

    Hi Ruth - thanks for your comments and insights, as always.

    I hadn't really thought about it, but you're right about the absolute straight lines in buildings. Plus, with most being surrounded by various degrees of vegetation, that helps.

    The historic district of town, which is on the same street I live on, has beautiful late 19th century homes that I've often thought of painting. You would no doubt love them; some brick, some shingle, some wood, and most are impeccably maintained and restored and landscaped accordingly. I'd love to do a series of them, actually.

  7. I really enjoy your color palette on this one, Sonya. Plus, the overall feel of it is very inviting and intriguing; so much so that I would love to just wander around in that building! Very nicely done!

  8. Thanks, Sandy - "intriguing" and "inviting" are both great qualities to have in one's painting, so I am thrilled that you feel them with this painting!


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