Sunday, July 3, 2011

Monsoon clouds from my deck, plein air, 12x12, pastel

Monsoon season appears to be upon us here in the southwest, which for many living in the region, is a much anticipated time of the year [in fact, it just began pouring rain as I sat to type this].

Monsoon Skies Over Perins Peak
12x12 inches
pastel on black Strathmore

After finishing up a plein air piece I did from our trip to Andrews Lake on Saturday, I looked outside this morning, and saw these amazing cumulus congestus clouds building to the west over Perins Peak and the hogback.  

So, I headed up to our top deck, set up my el-cheapo aluminum easel, and whipped this out.  Being able to paint some skies is a nice (and needed) break from all the landscape greens, which start to wear me out after a pretty short period of time.

Clouds are the disciplinarians of location painting, to be sure.  They wait for nothing and change rapidly right before your eyes...especially these potential stormclouds.  So, they lend themselves to quick, gestural strokes to block in colors and shapes.  I usually do little to no blending on this black Strathmore, but I did that for the clouds here.   I think I was reminded of why I don't finger blend much on this paper...

I spent about 45 minutes on this painting, and by the time I was finished, the cloud had expanded to fill much of the immediate sky, had lost all of its sharp edges, and it was clear that rain was eminent in the La Platas to the northwest.  


Here are a few photos taken during our PFH (painting/fishing/hiking) trip to Andrews Lake on Saturday afternoon, with emphasis on the clouds.  I'll save the rest for the post that goes with the painting.

Soaring amongst the clouds
An osprey flies over Andrews Lake against a backdrop of clouds
(this was shot at 200mm, so everything is compressed as far as distance goes...the clouds aren't that close)

Into the sun
Some clouds that intermittently blocked the light during our short hike

Afternoon storm over the San Juans
These are the mountains just north of Silverton.  It was probably raining in Ouray.

Spruce silhouetted against horizon clouds


  1. Beautiful. Reminds me of Joni Mitchell,
    "I've looked at clouds from both sides now,
    from up and down, and still somehow,
    this cloud's illusion I recall,
    I really don't know clouds at all."
    But you know them--and you've captured them beautifully in your painting.

  2. Hi LeAnn - thanks so much for your comment! Clouds are one of my very favorite subjects to paint (and photograph, for that matter), but even still, I feel like Joni sometimes.

    Clouds are not easy to paint under the best of circumstances (like from a good photo in one's studio), so painting them as a "moving target", if you will, is a real challenge, albeit one I enjoy :).

    I hope you have a wonderful and safe 4th of July!

  3. Wonderful painting and cloud photos. Clouds are so hard to do realistically - just like portraiture. The eye just picks up lines and shapes that are wrong. I think it is hard wired in us. I didn't know you were so close to Ouray. One of my college roommates has lived there for many years. It is a lovely small town.

  4. Thanks Ruth. I totally agree with you about painting clouds, and their comparison to portraits as far as not looking right. The lines and edges on this cloud aren't exactly to my liking; the paper has its limits as far as how much pastel can be laid down (basically, one layer), so adjustments are difficult.

    Nonetheless, it's good practice to paint them from life, just like portraiture, to get really familiar with their "anatomy".

    Yes, Ouray is about 70 miles from Durango. It is a wonderful little town, isn't it? I hope to go back and spend more time there.

  5. The osprey/cloud photo is a favorite for sure.
    You have been very busy lately!!

  6. Hi Jala - I ended up taking several shots of the osprey against the clouds, and it was hard to pick one to put on the blog. Later, I'll post one where the bird is much closer.

    I've felt incredibly energized by the summer weather, our hikes, and all the outdoor painting I'm finally able to do. I'll just ride that wave until it peters out...which I'm sure will happen.

  7. Ride that wave! Hopefully your great energy will continue a long time. I on the other hand am totally suffering with the summer. I don't do well in heat or cold--only in the in-between weather, spring and fall.

  8. That sucks...I thought you'd be digging the summer. Although, it's probably hotter in Boulder than here? Maybe not - prior to the monsoons, it has been hitting the mid-90's...hence, our fleeing to the high country regularly.

    You need to become a seasonal nomad, I think :). Winter in Mexico and summer in some bitchin' mountain town like Breckenridge, and the rest of the year in Boulder.


Your thoughtful comments add value to this blog - thank you so much for taking the time to leave them!

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